Bailout or Investment? Student loan debt

It’s not a student’s fault that the government shifted student loans over to private lenders who started increasing the interest rates on the loans. It’s also beyond a student’s power to determine what college costs. In 1980, the price to attend a four-year college full-time was $10,231 annually—including tuition, fees, room and board, and adjusted for inflation—according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2019-20, the total price increased to $28,775. That’s a 180% increase.

Needless to say, the income to be earned with the degree did not also increase by 180%.

Tuition prices alone increased 36% from 2008 to 2018, while the real median income in the U.S. grew just over 2.1% in the same period, according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Zane Heflin, policy analyst at The New Center and author of the report titled “The New American Dream: Alleviating the Student Debt Crisis,” says the ramifications of the 2008 Great Recession are still hitting the higher education world, and students are paying the price.

“The two main drivers of the rising cost of tuition are reduced state funding and the incentive for tuition raises as an unrestricted revenue to benefit colleges,” meaning colleges can choose to spend tuition money however they wish, Heflin says. “States and local communities are spending less per student. Someone has to take on that cost, and unfortunately it’s been the student.”[1]

2019 report from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points to cuts in statewide higher education funding for the rapid tuition increase in the last decade.

“Overall state funding for public two- and four-year colleges in the school year ending in 2018 was more than $6.6 billion below what it was in 2008 just before the Great Recession fully took hold, after adjusting for inflation,” the report reads. “In the most difficult years after the recession, colleges responded to significant funding cuts by increasing tuition, reducing faculty, limiting course offerings, and in some cases closing campuses.”[2]

One way or the other, all of us will pay for this outrageous increase in costs for college. One way we’ll pay is to not have access to physicians, dentists, engineers, architects, therapists and counselors, school teachers (happening now), and other professionals who learn what they must know by going to college.

Don’t want to subsidize college education? Schedule an appointment with your friendly plumber for your next dental care.

A second way to address this issue would be for those professionals to charge a lot more when you obtain their services. If you think medical care or attorneys’ fees are high now, just wait until the cost of college means fewer professionals available for your needs AND the higher costs the remaining professionals will charge you.

A third route to address student debt is for policy makers to move past partisan bickering to formulate realistic policy changes regarding higher education. One option would be to remove interest from student loans, or fix it at a very low rate, in order to reduce the cost. It is absurd to allow higher education debt to exist in a marketplace alongside, for example, consumer debt. The need for a new car or a vacation in the Bahamas is far less a priority than the societal need for medical science researchers.

Another option for policymakers would be to reformulate the Pell grant program, expanding the amounts it provides to a more realistic total and allowing the grants to cover graduate school. Perhaps even more critical is the need for government to control the interest rates on student loans. Interest on graduate loans are higher than on undergraduate loans, yet a growing majority of jobs—public school teachers, for example—demand a master’s degree plus regular continuing education credits. Currently, unsubsidized loans for graduate students have a 6.54% interest rate (for the 2022-2023 academic year), while undergraduate students get a 4.99% rate on both unsubsidized and subsidized loans. 

The topic again brings up the comparison between the United States and other nations which provide free college. Even India provides free higher education.

But even if compromise is the only way forward, the U. S. needs to develop a plan that does not bury the poorest students in debt. Sliding scale tuition is one idea. There are already Pell Grants, which provide some money for poor students toward the costs of higher education, and expanding those grants to apply to a broader need is a good point to consider. After decades of providing free college, Britain has taken this approach with policies where “students pick up the bill for, on average, around 65 percent of the cost of the education they receive, with taxpayers plugging the gap. More students are enrolled than ever before and those students benefit from more per student funding than the generations that paid nothing for college.” [3] 

 According to a recent article at online magazine The Best Schools:

“Why is college so expensive? There are a lot of reasons — growing demand, rising financial aid, lower state funding, the exploding cost of administrators, bloated student amenities packages. The most expensive colleges — Columbia, Vassar, Duke — will run you well over $50K a year just for tuition. That doesn’t even include housing!

“…Administrative costs: These costs account for roughly $23,000 per student every year. This is double the amount that Finland, Sweden or Germany — all boasting top-performing education cultures — spend on the same essentials.

“[Yet] professor salaries have barely budged since 1970. According to the New York Times, “salaries of full-time faculty members are, on average, barely higher than they were in 1970. Moreover, while 45 years ago 78 percent of college and university professors were full time, today half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.”

“By contrast, ‘According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.’ The New York Times uses the massive California State University system as a case example, noting that between 1975 and 2008, the number of faculty grew from 11,614 to 12,019. By quite a sharp contrast, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183. That’s a 221% increase.”

These increases are driven by greater demand. As society advances with more technological change, fewer jobs are available to those who do not have a college education. Yes, vocational training and trade schools are important, and those programs should be respected and made available as early as high school. In many states, trades like carpentry and electricians are part of apprenticeship programs subsidized and integrated with unions. Right-to-work states suffer the loss.

Finally, it is incumbent on loan and grant programs as well as colleges and universities to ensure that borrowing students receive clear information about their debt. Many financial aid counselors, especially in public universities, fail miserably in providing necessary information as well as making sure that students have a real-world understanding of the debt they’re incurring.

As summarized in Prudential’s Student Loan Debt: Implications on Financial and Emotional Wellness, there is a wholesale lack of understanding of college loan debt among students and graduates: Many student borrowers—53 percent—didn’t know their future monthly repayment amounts. Most—74 percent—were unsure of how long they would be making payments, and 25 percent had no idea whether they had private or government loans.                                                                                                              

Those who are outraged by the idea of student debt forgiveness might take some initiative here to help solve the problem. It will take all of us thinking and contributing to the dialogue in order to best serve the future needs of our nation.

Research has drawn a correlation between education level and living longer, as well as indicating that individuals with a college degree tend to be healthier and happier. Other benefits accrue as well. https://www.utep.edu/extendeduniversity/utepconnect/blog/march-2019/the-hidden-benefits-of-earning-a-college-degree.html

[1] https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2019-11-04/why-is-college-so-expensive

[2] https://www.bankrate.com/loans/student-loans/why-is-college-expensive/

[3] https://reason.com/2019/08/22/democrats-love-to-promise-free-college-but-why-did-u-k-recently-started-charging-tuition/

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/the-real-reason-college-tuition-costs-so-much.html

Freedom from Religion

Book burning on the rise

Senior year in high school included the long-feared ‘senior paper.’ A project of English class, the paper’s thesis had to be approved first then the long drudgery of research would begin. The paper itself, to be footnoted and typed, would form a significant part of the final grade in that class.

I was no stranger to research and looked forward to hours at the local library, which was located only a block from the high school. Unexplored wonders could be found in that quiet place, books on the history of the world and the various exploits of human kind. As I sought further information to prove my thesis, I jotted my notes on 4×6 index cards, another requirement for the project.

My thesis asked the question: Why did existential thought that existed throughout the history of mankind suddenly become an overwhelming condition of modern mankind?

The material I explored included Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization, James Gutman’s Philosophy A to Z, John Killinger’s The English Journal, and a long list of citations from the Bible as well as ancient writings from world cultures. In reading these materials and processing the information into a coherent statement in proof of my thesis, I realized that much of what I had come to believe in my eighteen years was right: Christianity—indeed, all organized religion—was a construct of humanity meant to salve our existential despair.

The difference with the modern age, as so clearly delineated in philosophical examination, is/was that by the very process of advancing civilization, humans have cut themselves off from key partnerships that once provided balm to our woe: Nature, tribal life, our gods, and ourselves, the latter with our frenetic pace and endless amusements. With these alienations, we find ourselves utterly alone, a condition so difficult that we endlessly seek escape in intoxicants, entertainment, and work.

The paper earned me an “A.” I packed it away along with the notecards in their little clasp envelope. I’ve always remembered the paper and the education I gained in my research, but I never looked at those cards again. If the question ever arose, I would have guessed they had been tossed out a long time ago.

Not so. My mother saved them, and they once again entered my domain when a few years ago she handed me a couple of boxes crammed with souvenirs of my life—photographs of junior high and high school friends, letters home from California or the Philippine Islands, clippings of my various public activities through the years. And the notecards.

At first, I picked up the small packet of cards not knowing what it contained. On the outside, at some point my mother had written “Denele’s – what helped her turn away from God!”

Well.

Yes, insomuch as I indeed turned away from the Church of Christ’s concept of God, this project helped. But what my mother could never grasp is that I had been questioning God, or more to the point, religion in general, since age five. By eight years of age, I had settled on key questions no one wanted to answer, typical questions for young people such as ‘Where did God come from?” and “Who did Adam and Eve’s children marry?” The answer always condensed down to “Don’t ask.”

Fast forward six or seven decades while I continued to read and question and discover. I have no regrets that I discarded the blinders imposed by my parents’ fundamentalist faith. I’m happy that my curiosity led me to explore philosophy, natural history, and science with the many mysteries of human existence. What makes me sad is that even today parents still seek to limit their children’s exposure to knowledge that exists outside the boundaries of their rigid belief systems or which violates the dogma of their faith.

The burning of the pantheistic Amalrician heretics in 1210, in the presence of King Philip II Augustus. In the background is the Gibbet of Montfaucon and, anachronistically, the Grosse Tour of the Temple. Illumination from the Grandes Chroniques de France, c. AD 1455–1460.

For example, I once lamented the limited extracurricular activities available at the small rural school my children attended, pointing out that so many opportunities were being lost. Where was the encouragement to attend college, learn music or art, explore the wonders of the world? The response from one parent actually struck me speechless. “Well, honey, somebody’s got to flip the burgers,” she said, fist propped on her hip. “What about that?”

Indeed, what about that? How tragic that her children and so many others would be trapped in that mindset.

The price of limiting the thinking of our children is immeasurable. We see it every day in intolerance even hatred for anyone different, whether ethnic, racial, or gender differences. We see it in embrace of authoritarian figures like Trump who fit a distorted concept of leadership based on an authoritarian god. We see it in the fear of change that leads to violence against those perceived as ‘Other.’

Frans Hals – Portret van René Descartes, Wikipedia

Much of what is written on those cards is nonsensical taken in isolation, like quotes from Heidegger’s book Being and Time (1927) about the two kinds of being, “Sein” meaning all things, and “Dasein” meaning only mankind. Or the postulation of Descartes in his 1637 Discourse on the Method wherein he wrote: Ego Ergo Sic, or “I am, therefore I am thus,” or more widely conceived as “I think, therefore I am.” Pondering these kinds of concepts is not easy and tends to take oneself out of the hum of routine. And away from the strict belief systems of doctrines undergirding religion.

What my mother exclaimed in her quickly penned remark about my notecards is true. Those learning experiences helped me abandon religion entirely. Another big step on that path was a college course in English Bible, where the three authors of the Books of Moses were examined with comparisons of material in Genesis to the Sumerian books of Gilgamesh—and much more. It’s been a lifelong study, full of empathy for others who, like me, struggle with the very essence of existence, remarked by feminist French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Ethics of Ambiguity (1948):

“The sub-man is not very clear about what he has to lose, since he has nothing, but this very uncertainty re-enforces his terror. Indeed, what he fears is that the shock of the unforeseen may remind him of the agonizing consciousness of himself. …Everything is a threat to him, since the thing which he has set up as an idol is an externality and is thus in relationship with the whole universe; and since, despite all precautions, he will never be the master of this exterior world to which he has consented to submit, he will be constantly upset by the uncontrollable course of events.”

For de Beauvoir, freedom comes in the act of trying to be free and accepting that this journey is the freedom.[1] Freedom to believe, to act, to question, to reach out to others in individual acts of kindness—these fulfill us in myriad ways that counter the existential despair of modern life. Understanding that, and the awareness that our personal journey is best seen as an opportunity to make the world a better place, has helped me live a rich life.

I thank the notecards. I thank the Founding Fathers for enshrining my freedom of thought within the Constitution. And I thank my parents and ancestors for giving me the intelligence, if not the freedom, to choose.


[1] Summarized at https://fs.blog/simone-de-beauvoir-ethics-freedom/

Our Republican Religious War

Why keep Trump? Why would career politicians bare their rotten souls to the world in order to keep him in office? It makes no sense when they have another Republican in line to take his place.

What is the prize with Trump? Why is he the one and only person who can carry the Republican banner?

Why disgrace themselves and their party by dishonoring distinguished veterans and career professionals? Why hear testimony that lays out sharp and clear the bribery and extortion Trump pursued with Ukraine and then pretend it was nothing? Why manipulate sound bites from witnesses by taunts and interruptions in order to feed misinformation to their hapless followers?

Now no less than in 2015, the followers cling to any slim suggestion that Trump is the best man to lead the country. Unbelievable as it may seem, all the evidence of his misdeeds then—stiffing workers, molesting women, cheating on all three wives, an endless stream of bankruptcies and financial shenanigans—and now in the impeachment hearings of his cavalier risk of national security, none of it disrupts the fond narrative that he is the Chosen One who can lead this nation toward some glorious future.

What glorious future do they envision?

It’s a story of turning back the clock and at the same time fulfilling prophecies. We’ll put women back in the kitchen without birth control — that’s keep ’em busy and out of the jobs men need. (Never mind the immediate crisis in household income…) We’ll put Bibles in every classroom and pray hourly at the nation’s capitol. We’ll end the rights of LGBTQ individuals and push back the tide of people of color, declaring once and for all the America is a nation controlled by and for white heterosexual males.

Nothing can be said, apparently, to penetrate the religious fervor of this mindset. They are the monkeys who can hear and see nothing. God works in mysterious ways, and Trump is the way, the unrecognized messiah, the one who has been selected by God Almighty to work His powerful agenda of bringing America back to its reason for existence.

This narrative was carefully constructed over decades of Republican manipulation, a frenzied backlash to the ’60s generation with their free love, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. It was outrage over legalized abortion. It was the pushback to the defiance of an entire new generation against an agenda of conspicuous consumption and materialism at any cost. The Silent Majority were sitting ducks for clever spinmeisters who needed their votes to put the corporatiers in the driver’s seat.

The rewards have continued to flow—destruction of workers’ unions, profits over people, wildly skewed income inequality, continuing devastation of the environment in pursuit of wealth, incarceration of the poor and non-white.

Trump is stupid enough to accept the risk of exposing his inadequacies but smart enough to know he’s being used. He doesn’t care that he’s the mouthpiece of larger forces. He’s in it for himself, his family, and the profits they can generate in one scam after another. He has no concept of right or wrong, no shame, no conscience.

None of that matters to the Devin Nuneses of the world. They have hitched their wagons to the myth of the Chosen One and can’t back out now. The two opposing camps of our nation, one seeking to generate public policy framed in science, compassion and forward thinking and the other seeking to generate policies of near-term greed and blind faith, have never been more clearly defined since at least the 1860s.

This is a religious war.  Even though many people of faith have not given up rational thought in order to serve their religious doctrine, those who long for Someone to rule with a strong hand are dedicated to Trump. His braggadocio stands in for strong character among those willing to compromise in order to worship their golden calf.

Will awake voters show up at the polls in November 2020? Will one side have to kill the other in blood-drenched battlefields, hand to hand combat in our streets and cities? Or are there enough people of good faith and common sense to wrest this nation’s direction back from extremists determined to ensure the prophecies of Revelations, their sacrifice to an angry God with whom they bargain in hopes of walking the promised Streets of Gold?

I ask myself, what can I do today to bring my country back to the Founders’ vision of liberty and justice for all? Quite honestly, I don’t know. I’d like to think that through better education and economic opportunity, people can learn how to think past superstitions and myths, that they would embrace rationalism and equanimity. Sadly, just last week a law was passed in Ohio that permits wrong answers to be counted as correct if the error is based on religious teachings.

The Great Killing Time

The killing won’t stop anytime soon. A subclass of white men can’t find the means to adapt to a world where they are not dominant. They don’t know how to see themselves except as warriors striking down those they perceive as enemies.

The enemies are not just people of color. The “enemies” are thick in the world around these sad failures of evolution. Social change driven by modern science and technology has left them with no fields to plow or wilderness to conquer, no tribal fires. Those were skills living deep in their DNA. Vacant of all but amorphous anger, they sit on their couches, helpless against their sense of violation in a time that requires reasoning and acceptance of Other.

Christian Picciolini, a white nationalist who has stepped away from that way of thinking, remarks on the mind-set: “Typically what I found is, people hate other people because they hate something very specifically about themselves, or are very angry about a situation within their own environment, and that is then projected onto other people.”[1]

Whatever the symbols of Other, they will hate. Their hate will fester. Their testosterone drives them to act. What act will satisfy the hate, the need to eradicate the threat?

Murder.

But it’s not just a failure to evolve that drives the urge to kill. As a society, we’ve failed to address the impact of rapid technological and social change. Our schools should be teaching logic, debate and rhetoric, critical tools for rational humankind. Reasoning skills are required if we are to control our emotions and peaceably resolve conflict.

Logic: sensible rational thought and argument rather than ideas that are influenced by emotion or whim; the branch of philosophy that deals with the theory of deductive and inductive arguments and aims to distinguish good from bad reasoning.

Rhetoric: the ability to use language effectively, especially to persuade or influence people.

Debate:  to talk about something at length and in detail, especially as part of a formal exchange of opinion

Shamefully, today public policy discussed even in the U.S. Senate, the highest arena of government, disintegrates into personal attack. The public square, now virtual instead of physical, suffers the same: personal attack instead of reasoned debate.

Shout down anyone who doesn’t agree with you. Call them names. Unleash rage against the Other.

The more we engage in personal attacks, the less progress we achieve in achieving public policy that works for us all. This time will go down in history as the Great Killing. Whether it’s the unevolving who will die or those who reason is yet to be seen.

Can we look forward to a change in educational programs? Can we retrofit people by demanding they go through some kind of training? Can we require our elected officials to focus on the goal instead of wading into partisan squabbling?

The killing will continue.

~~~

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/08/conversation-christian-picciolini/595543

Our Ideals: At What Cost?

It’s a noble idea to do whatever it takes to bring out the best in every child. Even nobler is the determination to go the extra mile for children with disabilities. But while those ideals successfully pushed through legislation requiring schools to provide testing and special education for youngsters with such needs, they were less successful in funding those requirements.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1975, is still waiting for full funding.

A January 8, 2019 article in Education Week outlines this failure in stark detail:

Congress never funded the IDEA for the full amount that was authorized when the law was first signed. At that time, Congress estimated that it cost states twice as much to educate a student with disabilities as it does to educate a general education student, and the law authorizes the federal government to give up to 40 percent of that excess cost to states.

Congress has never come close to that mark; its $12.3 billion contribution in fiscal 2018 is more like 15 percent of the excess cost.

An additional $85 billion would be required — per year — for the taxpayers to provide full funding for its 40% of the cost. And that says nothing about the 60% of the cost required from the states. When facing a total cost of over a quarter trillion dollars per year for special education, it’s no wonder legislators have shied away from mandating adequate funding.

In poorer states like Arkansas, there’s no doubt that this is an unachievable goal. As noted in my January 2019 blog post, The Undiscovered Cost of Inclusion, in many cases, special needs students are placed into regular classrooms without the support they need, leaving teachers and general education students to bear the sometimes outrageous burden posed by special needs students.

For example, schools simply do not have the money to hire a caretaker for every profoundly intellectually disabled (ID) child or tutors who might be able to make some small improvement in the life of an ID child. The end result is that, under force of law, schools must accept these children or risk being sued by distraught parents.

Few dare draw back the curtain on the real story resulting from the ADA and IDEA. It’s not just the finances, which haven’t even been calculated in over twenty years. Assessment is performed unevenly often with minority students on the losing end. Not only is funding inadequate, but distributed as unevenly as the assessments.

A 2014 report by New America, a Washington-based think tank, asserted that the out-of-date, complicated formula that the federal government uses to distribute money to states has resulted in small districts getting more federal money per student than larger districts, and shrinking school systems receiving more federal dollars than school districts that are growing.

No one has calculated present-day costs to teach an ID student, or assessed the impact of increasing numbers of autistic children. No one has figured out how to prepare classroom teachers for the increasingly common occurrence of disabled children in their classes without the caretakers they need.

Should all teachers be required to be trained in special education? Who changes the diapers? What happens to the rest of the students when teachers are forced to spend class time with special needs students?

How much is such well-intentioned legislation misleading parents into holding unreasonable expectations for their child with serious disabilities, that he or she can lead a “normal” life?

This Education Week article should be required reading for every American. We’ve placed the burden of educating special needs children on our school systems without providing adequate funding. All our children are paying the price. Not only the children, but the teachers who are underpaid in normal circumstances, and highly underpaid as well as undertrained for the task of providing proper services to disabled children.

At the very least, it is past time for studies and legislation — with adequate funding — that will reflect the current reality of special education—how many students and how impaired, the actual costs of educating them to the greatest extent possible, and which address the collateral necessity of educating general education students in a manner that advances our society.

 

Where Trump voters come from

Arkansas continues its dereliction of duty in educating its young people with the May 22 announcement by Gov. Asa Hutchinson that he will promote current Education Commissioner Johnny Key to the governor’s new cabinet position of Education Secretary. With this promotion, Key will add another $3,450 per year to his already ridiculous salary of $239,540 and gain ever greater leverage over the hapless citizenry of our state.

Readers may remember the insidious maneuvering required to cram Key into the commissioner position in the first place. Back in 2015, Key’s work history and educational achievements did not qualify him for the job. The law required a master’s degree and ten years teaching experience. When Gov. Hutchinson seized on the idea of putting Key in the post, a bill rushed through the legislature allowed the commissioner to evade these requirements if the deputy commission held those credentials.  Not that the commissioner would be required to obtain the advice or consent of the deputy in any given matter.

Key graduated from Gurdon (Arkansas) High School then received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1991 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He never taught a day in his life. That is, unless you count his and his wife’s operation of two pre-schools in Mountain Home, Noah’s Ark Preschool and Open Arms Living Center, operations that for years applied for and received tax-funded grants while flagrantly teaching religion. Another state legislator, Justin Harris (West Fork) also operated illegally with such dollars for his Growing God’s Kingdom preschool. All three schools received funding from the state under the Arkansas Better Choice (ABC) program administered by the Department of Human Service (DHS). After complaints were filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the state had no choice but to amend its grant guidelines.

AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith told Church & State. “The administrators of the Arkansas Better Choice (ABC) program violated the Constitution by funding [these] religious activities.”

According to a 2011 Arkansas Times report, “Sen. Johnny Key gets almost $200,000 in public money a year in support of his Noah’s Ark Preschool in Mountain Home, which also provides Bible lessons and daily prayers. Nearly 300 agencies — many of them with religious roots — receive $100 million a year in public Arkansas Better Chance funding to provide preschool for poor children.”[1]

The stated mission of the Harris preschool was to “share the love of Jesus” with students, and the school operated with a Christian curriculum that included a “Bible time” for verses, stories and prayer. The school’s handbook also assured parents that staff members will “strive to ensure that your child feels the love of Jesus Christ while preparing them for Kindergarten.” The preschoolers, it continues, would be taught “the word of God” so that they can “spread the word of God to others.” They also prayed over students with disciplinary problems and laid on hands to “cast out demons.”

~~~

Key began his career in public service in 1997 when he was elected to serve as a justice of the peace on the Baxter County Quorum Court. He was elected to three two-year terms in the House of Representatives, followed by a tenure in the Senate that began in 2008. Term limited out of the legislature, Key served as associate vice president for university relations at the University of Arkansas system, a position he began in August 2014, a half-year before his friend the governor found him a cozy role at the helm of the state’s education system.

Yet even while in the legislature, Key demonstrated his dedication to the extremist religious agenda in education:

He was active in education issues, including responsibility for exploding the number of seats that receive state dollars to essentially finance home-schooling, by qualifying millions in spending on “virtual charter schools” that provide assistance to students who don’t attend conventional brick-and-mortar schools. His special language, never debated on the floor, lifted the cap on such payments from 500 to 5,000 students.[2]

Simultaneously, the state excused itself from any oversight of home-schooled students. There are no tests, no monitoring, no method by which to ensure thousands of Arkansas home-schooled kids are actually learning anything,

Key has also been a champion of public charter schools in the model promoted by the Walton heirs. While first lauded as a path for parents dissatisfied with their children’s education, charter schools have come under increasing scrutiny for siphoning money away from public schools with less than excellent results. Even worse, soon after taking over as education commissioner, Key became the default school board for Little Rock’s troubled schools. The district struggles with low-income, high minority populations where schools routinely earn “D” and “F” ratings in student outcomes. Key’s answer? Charters.

Much ink has been spilled over the Little Rock situation including Key’s desire to terminate the state’s Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and the Public School Employee Fair Hearing Act in the 22 traditional schools in Little Rock. As noted by one observer, “In the absence of democratic governance and oversight, Arkansas schools are hiring unqualified teachers without a public disclosure requirement, undermining labor standards for teachers, contributing to school re-segregation, and defrauding the public.”[3]

Tracking the details of the Little Rock fiasco, the Arkansas Times reported that the previous superintendent, Baker Kurrus, who was fired by Key before his takeover, thought charter schools “probably unconstitutional when operated as parallel, inefficient and not particularly innovative or successful ventures in Little Rock. He mentioned then that the loss of 120 students for this latest expansion potentially meant a loss of approaching another $1 million in annual state support to the Little Rock District for lost students.”[4]

~~~

No effort was made by the state to require Key or Harris to refund the millions in tax dollars they had appropriated over a period of years to operate their religious schools. And of course they didn’t honorably offer to do so. The ABC program only marginally amended its procedures for granting funding. The guidelines now require that no religious instruction occur during the “ABC day,” a set number of hours of purely secular instruction. Whether religious instruction occurs before the ABC day commences or after it ends is not the state’s concern. Since children are often picked up by school vans or dropped off by parents before the parents’ work hours and held until the end of the work day, anywhere from two to four hours of religious instruction is usually possible.

And who would know if these schools violate the ABC day with a little prayer at lunch or a few minutes of casting out demons?

The ABC program, as it stands, does not require any kind of viability test where a school would have to prove that its religious instruction could stand on its own two feet without the use of tax dollars. In fact, if tax dollars didn’t support the rent, utilities, insurance, and salaries for general operations, these schools would cease to exist. Repeated questioning of DHS / ABC money managers has yielded zero interest in developing or implementing such a test.

Neither Harris nor Key were censured for their illegal use of public funds for their religious schools. And while Harris quietly served out his remaining term in office before retreating to private life, Key has been awarded one of the highest paid positions in state government. If Key didn’t know he was breaking the law in accepting ABC grants, he’s incredibly stupid. Surely somewhere in his years of college he must have brushed up against the idea of separation of church and state and the hard line between tax dollars and religion. If he did know, he deliberately violated the U. S. Constitution, aided and abetted by the state’s willfully ignorant wink and nod.

Now Key reigns supreme over the state’s educational systems, welcomed with open arms by a governor whose own dedication to religion is no secret. After all, Asa Hutchinson is a proud graduate of none other than Bob Jones University, a private, non-denominational evangelical university in Greenville, South Carolina, known for its conservative cultural and religious stance. Refusing to admit African-American students until 1975, the school lost federal funding and ended up in court for not allowing interracial dating or marriage within its student body. BJU hit the news again in 2014 after a report revealed that administrators had discouraged students from reporting sexual abuse. [See the New York Times report.]

Apparently Johnny Key’s religious beliefs and willingness to breach the Constitution’s bright line between church and state are the primary criterion by which he has been judged the perfect man to be in charge of Arkansas education. It’s past time to assume ignorance as the underlying problem in Key’s malfeasance. The fact is that Hutchinson, Key, and every other complicit authority over our state’s educational systems knowingly evade the Constitutional separation of church and state in order to pursue their “higher calling” to religion.

~~~

See also this recent Forbes article on the failure of charter schools.

~~~

[1] https://arktimes.com/columns/max-brantley/2011/11/09/state-paid-bible-school

[2] https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2015/02/10/whats-afoot-on-bill-to-change-qualifications-for-state-education-commissioner

[3] https://medium.com/orchestrating-change/272-broken-promises-the-lawless-aftermath-of-arkansas-act-1240-a8e26ce751e8

[4] https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2016/05/07/johnny-key-fast-tracks-lr-charter-school-expansion-in-walton-helped-enterprise