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The Rise of the Education Poverty Pimps

Why are schools in such fiscally dire straits, if so much additional money is being made available for education?

There has always been a general assumption by most people that individuals and organizations who choose to work in education are a noble and self–sacrificing lot who forgo more lucrative opportunities in the private sector for the less financially rewarding but more personally gratifying work with public schools. 

While this may be true of most teachers and administrators who toil on a daily basis in our schools and classrooms, this description probably would not apply to a whole host of newcomers to the game of education.

Rather than being interested in the altruistic aspect of the work, this group is comprised of greedy opportunists who are drawn like bees to the not so quietly growing pots of money that are being directed to improve schools.

A lot of the recent news related to New York City public school funding has been bleak: f, threats of , all topped off with hiring freezes.

But what is interesting is that while the news has been saturated with stories about looming cuts to school budgets, there have been simultaneous high profile stories announcing billions of dollars of additional money for schools:

  • The “Race to the Top” initiative by the federal government creates a $5 billion fund that will provide states that put forward comprehensive plans for school reform and closing the achievement gap with millions of additional federal funding.  New York state will receive about $700 million.  Of that, about $300 million is earmarked for The New York City Department of Education.
  • In 2006, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), a non-profit educational advocacy group, won a 13-year-long legal battle against New York State which resulted in the court mandating $5.4 billion of additional funding for New York City public schools.

This is only a sample of additional funding that is being made available to our schools and does not include funds from numerous philanthropic organizations like the Wallace foundation which has spent $626 million over the last 10 years in support of education in NYC; or the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which expects to spend $3.5 billion on education over the next 5 years; or Mayor Bloomberg’s own pledge of $130 million to fund a .

So the question is, why are schools in such fiscally dire straits, if all of this additional money is being made available for education?

The answer is simple: Almost none of this money is going directly to individual school budgets. The little that does manage to find its way to the schools is burdened with severe limitations on how it can be spent. 

Where is the money going then if not to the classrooms?  The lion’s share of this money ends up lining the pocketbooks of corporations who develop standardized tests, data and assessment systems -- companies like Pearson or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are making a mint creating curriculum and assessments that differ very little from the stuff that currently exists (also see the controversial $27 million contract snagged by Wireless Generation, owned by the notorious Rupert Murdoch and headed by the former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein), as well as for-profit and non-profit educational consulting firms and support organizations. 

If it were up to me, I would dump all of these parasites and spend the money in ways where it can truly make a difference: focus on getting parents fully engaged in their child’s academic life, including making reading a top priority, not only in the schools but also in the home.

If we could get all parents to be fully engaged in their child’s education, I guarantee you that we would see that achievement gap shrink faster than we ever dreamed possible. 

I would also take a good portion of this money to create a start-up fund for creative minority students who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs. An opportunity to create jobs in our community will be far more useful to us than allowing these corporations to get rich off of the fact that our children are not performing as they should or could. 

Lastly I would allow the remaining monies to go directly to the schools and allow the principals the autonomy to determine how the money can be used to best support the needs of their schools. 

A lot of the money that has been earmarked to go to struggling schools, particularly schools that have been designated as restart schools, come with all of these limitations that force principals to spend millions of dollars hiring outside development consultants and school support organizations. 

They are not allowed to spend the money directly on their schools and are still unable to fire incompetent teachers who suck up millions of dollars in salary and benefits.

I applaud Bernard Gassaway, principal at Boys & Girls High School, for that would have bound his spending to ways that clearly did not suit the needs of his school.

Poverty has always been a beacon for those seeking to profit from the misfortunes of the poor and disenfranchised. We must make certain that this time, the money earmarked to helps those in need actually serves the people it's intended to serve and not simply lines pockets.

Mark August 22, 2011 at 12:22 PM
I basically agree with you, but the Race to the Top funds, for example, are no different from the Obey-Porter funds of 10-12 years ago. Hundreds of millions of dollars went to programs such as Success for All and America's Choice, which had minimal impact on reading and math scores, but did succeed in enriching the program developers and the armies of consultants, paid upwards of $1700 per day. I differ with you on principals' absolute control of budgets. There is a huge sum of money being give to per session and f-status employment of the principals' pet teachers and former employees. There have to be real checks and balances on school level spending. As to ridding the schools of "ineffective" teachers, that would be wonderful if all of the principals were themselves actually knowledgable about education. Currently, the system has a plethora of inexperienced principals with little actual background in education. Many are products of an incompetent principals' academy. It is extremely rare that one hears of the DOE actually dismissing a principal, no matter what malfeasance he commits.
Lynda Costagliola August 22, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Excellent article Mr. Richardson! We definitely need to get this information out to the general public!
Christina August 23, 2011 at 06:50 PM
yes good article the information is out there now what are we going to do about it?

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