An Alternative, School Centered Proposal to Reimagine Schools
In December, the Coastal Community Foundation released a $32 million dollar proposal, Reimagine Schools, using the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) III funds that came out of the 2020 CARES Act. This would go to support 23 schools in the district with students from primarily low-income and minority communities. Unfortunately, it is a deeply broken plan as it runs the money through third-party operatives, which means that many of the funds would go to consulting and management waste rather than directly to help schools. On top of this, it is using these funds in a very questionable way. Instead of directly helping the schools, which the funds were intended to do, they are using these funds as a way to potentially privatize a fourth of the schools in the district.
There has been understandably a great deal of public pushback on the proposal. There was so much resistance that the school board temporarily tabled the proposal in their January board meeting. Part of the issue is the blatant conflict of interests of many of the board members. However, in their last meeting, the new superintendent-Don Kennedy, suggested that the CCF proposal be put back on the docket with all the ESSER proposals despite it being originally tabled. CCF has continued its push and recently sent e-mails to the teachers in these affected schools.
Though many have rightfully pushed back on a poorly concieved CCF plan, I think it is also important to offer an alternative. I think we could still keep this $32 million dollars in funding to go to these 23 schools, but instead of it being funneled to an organization that is attempting to privatize the schools, it could go directly to hiring more counselors, teachers assistants, teachers, and parent involvement coordinators. Though the actual money would depend on the size of each school, it would come to an average of 1.4 million per school or about 2900 per student (based on the approximately 11,000 students in these 23 schools).
Let’s take one example from Stall High School in North Charleston, which has approximately 1500 students. This means that they could receive $4,350,000. If we err on the high end with benefits included-it would be $70,000 a year per teacher. That money could employ 12 new teachers for 5 years. A very generous estimate for teacher aides with benefits included would be $35,000 a year. These funds could equal 24 new aids for 5 years (or 12 for 10 years). They could alternatively hire guidance counselors, parent involvement coordinators, or other needed positions with those funds. It could be left to each school administration based on what they believe their biggest needs are. Given the lack of substitutes in the district, it might just mean hiring a permanent sub or two to fill in classes. You would not need a third party to run this. It could go directly to the schools.
Unlike the Reimage Schools proposal, there is legitimate research that bringing in more of these educators could have a real positive impact on students. A ten year study from the University of North Carolina and Duke of elementary schools found that an increase in teacher aides significantly increased student performance, particularly in reading. A study from Tennessee’s Star Program where class sizes were reduced from hiring more teachers found that there were significant gains for students that not only impacted them while they were in that classroom but even years later.
The track record on private management companies taking over schools is often deeply destructive. An example of this is what occurred in Detroit with many of the schools being taken over by private management. It was eventually one of the issues that led to the case of Gary B. v Snyder where a federal judge ruled that the Detroit Public School system was failing to give an adequate education to many of its students. We do not even need to look that far to see the poor results of privatization; we can just see the poor track record of many charter schools in our own state with often questionable financial practices and poor treatment of teachers.
To use ESSER III funds as a dishonest way to bring in privatization should not even be discussed much less seriously considered. Our schools could certainly use those funds, but we should trust the administrators and leaders in the schools who actually know how those funds could best help their students not to give it to third party operatives who will expend many of the costs in consulting and management fees and likely mismanage any schools they do take over. Not only will the Reimagine Schools plan fail to improve schools, but there is a real possibility it could negatively impact these schools. It is time to rethink the current proposal and give money directly to the schools that need it not to third-party operatives.