Category: education

Morning Crank: The Ne Plus Ultra of GOP Supervillains

1. Bailey Stober may have been deposed as head of the King County Democrats, but his legacy of profligate spending lives on, in the form of an $1,800-a-month lease (twice what he was reportedly authorized to spend) for an office space in Auburn that has been sitting vacant for several months. This week, the group’s new chairwoman, Natalie Reber, sent out an announcement: The leasing agent for the space had found a tenant.

The bad news? According to Reber’s email to membership:

The leasing agent at the Auburn office has made a deal with the [Dino] Rossi campaign and it sounds like they will be taking over the lease.  While this is not ideal, I think it is reasonable and as far as any talking points, we just simply say, it was a business decision made by the leasing agent.  

Rossi, a current state senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate who is running for the 8th Congressional District seat being vacated next year by retiring Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, is not just any Republican—among Washington State Democrats, he’s the ne plus ultra of GOP supervillains. And, starting next month, he’ll be helping  them pay their rent.

Reber, who is out of town, declined to provide any details about the new arrangement, saying only that the group has “let the leasing agent know that we would like out of the lease and left it to them to find tenants. While that’s being sorted out, I don’t have a comment.”

Natalia Koss Vallejo, the former executive director of the King County Democrats (Stober fired her shortly after another woman filed a workplace misconduct complaint against him on her behalf), says the group considered subleasing some of its unused space to a Democratic candidate while she was still director, but rejected multiple potential tenants because the group had not formally endorsed anyone in their races yet. (The endorsement process is still ongoing.) With Rossi renting part of the space, she says, it seems unlikely that a Democrat will rent out the rest of the office in the future: “The walls in those units are super thin. If I was a Democratic candidate, I would not want to be sharing that space with a Republican.”

According to the state Public Disclosure Commission, the King County Democrats continued to pay rent on the space through at least April, but appear to have negotiated a better deal on their Internet service, which was costing the group more than $450 a month. (According the group’s treasurer, Stober signed the group up for the most expensive Internet service package Comcast offers, one better suited to a midsize e-commerce firm than a political organization which had, at its peak, one employee.) Donations that were withheld while the Democrats debated what to do with Stober, including $5,000 from King County Executive Dow Constantine and a couple thousand dollars from various district Democratic groups that refused to pay their dues as long as Stober remained in his position.

2. The Families and Education Levy, which funds programs to help kids from birth through 12th grade, and the Seattle preschool levy, which subsidizes preschool, will be on the ballot as a single, combined Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) levy in November. (The levy seems likely to share the ballot with what amounts to an anti-levy: A referendum to repeal the $275-per-employee head  tax, whose proceeds are earmarked for programs to address homelessness.) Among other changes, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s levy renewal plan proposes eliminating for a two-year home visitation literacy program for two- and three-year-olds called the Parent-Child Home Program (the plan assumes that future funding for the program will come from the city’s sweetened beverage tax); dramatically reducing funding for programs in elementary schools; and expanding or increasing subsidies for preschool and college to include the very highest-income families.

At a time when the income and wealth gap between Seattle’s wealthiest and poorest residents is increasing and parents who might be eligible for subsidized preschool are being forced to move outside city limits, it’s unclear why Durkan has proposed increasing tax subsidies for wealthy families to send their kids to preschool and college. Currently, the subsidy for preschool tuition declines with income on a sliding scale, from a total subsidy for people making up to 300 percent of the poverty level to a maximum of $535 a year for the highest-income families. Durkan’s proposal would set a minimum subsidy of $1,000 per student specifically for high-income families, for a total subsidy to wealthy families over the life of the program of about $3.6 million.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Promise program, which currently offers a year of free community college tuition to kids at three South Seattle high schools, would expand tuition subsidies to all public high-school graduates, regardless of their family income. Because higher-income students generally qualify for fewer tuition subsidy programs overall, the city would spend more subsidizing their tuition, on average—about $3,000 a student, or half again as much as the $2,000 the city spends on a typical Seattle Promise subsidy today.

On Wednesday, council members expressed concern at the idea of government subsidies for rich families to send their kids to preschool and college. Council member Rob Johnson, who noted that he recently paid preschool tuition for his daughters, said, “I think there is a value for us to provide opportunities for kids at all income levels to participate in the Seattle Preschool Program, but I’m not sure we should be subsidizing ev family that walks in the door.” Similarly, Johnson said he worried that if eligibility the Seattle Promise program is opened up to all students, “kids in my neck of the woods, in Roosevelt, whose parents are really on them to get on it and get their applications in on  time may take up those slots,” while kids with higher needs “who may benefit more form the Promise program may be shut out of it because all those Roosevelt kids got in first.”

Council president Bruce Harrell, who represents Southeast Seattle’s District 2 (where two of the three current Seattle Promise high schools are located) said he understood the argument for socially engineering preschools so they included kids from all over the income spectrum, but drew the line at expanding scholarship subsidies to wealthy families. “I have very little interest [in] subsidies for higher-income families. In fact, I would be opposed to that,” he said.

The committee will take up the levy proposal again at 11:00 on June 6 in council chambers.

3. A few hours after the levy discussion, council members had only positive things to say about an arguably similar proposal to subsidize transit passes for all Seattle public school students students, not just those who are low-income, at an additional cost of about $3 million a year. (The proposal is one of several changes to a sales tax and vehicle license fee measure voters approved in 2014, which was originally earmarked to expand Metro bus service. Because of driver and bus shortages, Metro has been unable to expand service as much as originally planned.) Currently, the city spends about $1 million a year on the youth ORCA program, which pays for free bus passes for low-income students; the change would add $3 million to the youth program and expand it to fund passes for all high school students, and some middle-school students, regardless of income.

Johnson, who originally proposed expanding the youth ORCA program, said yesterday that he would “like us to discuss more options than what the mayor has put on the table, because there might be things like reduced fare for all kids—as opposed to what we have right now, which is a proposal that would give free ORCA cards to all high school kids, some middle school kids, and no elementary school kids.” Discussing the options with staff after yesterday’s hearing, Johnson pointed out that elementary school kids who rely on the bus are most likely to be accompanied by parents (usually moms, often low-income) who rely on the bus to run errands and get their kids to school.

4. The Downtown Seattle Association is hosting a swank-sounding members-only event next week to solicit donations and hand out signature sheets for the effort to repeal the $275 employee hours tax, which is earmarked for housing and homeless services. The location: The Palace Ballroom in Belltown, owned by noted $15 minimum-wage Chicken Little and head-tax opponent Tom Douglas. Appetizers and drinks will be served.

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Controversial Proposed Charter School in South Seattle Bypasses Zoning Hurdle

This post originally ran at the South Seattle Emerald.

Depending on whom you talk to, the Rainier Valley Leadership Academy (RVLA) high school, South Seattle’s first proposed charter high school, is either a long-overdue alternative to South End schools that fail to adequately prepare kids for college, or a financial and pedagogical assault on three public high schools that have managed to improve their test scores and graduation rates despite chronic underfunding and decades of neglect.

To Sue Peters, formerly of the Seattle School Board, the RVLA and the organization set to run the 58,000-square-foot high school, California-based Green Dot Schools, are trying to “undermine” neighborhood schools “by draining public resources and students from them.” (Charter schools are privately operated but publicly funded, so every dollar spent on charter schools comes out of funding for Seattle Public Schools.)

For the past year, Peters says, the school board “has heard compelling, eloquent testimony for Rainier Beach Students imploring the district to invest in their school. … Building another school one and a half miles from [Rainier] Beach would direct potential resources away from the school and undermine these efforts.”

But to incoming RVLA principal Arneidra Lloyd, a former public school administrator who attended Franklin High School, the school offers another alternative for parents who want their kids prepared for college but don’t test or track into the public schools’ AP or international baccalaureate (IB) programs, which can’t accommodate every student. (AP classes are high-level classes that can be used for college credit; the IB program is an intense two-year college prep program.)

“I feel like students should have the right to choose where they go to school, just like we have the right to choose what we put in our mouths, where we live, and who we marry,” Lloyd says. “The right to school is just as important as all those other rights.”

The proposal that is inspiring this kind of rhetoric is just one component of a planned development at MLK Way S and S Othello Street, right across from the Othello light rail station, called the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center (SEOC), which aims to reduce economic displacement through a combination of on-site jobs, housing, childcare, and education. But it’s by far the most controversial element of the plan.

Last month, the Seattle school board adopted a resolution opposing Green Dot’s efforts to get a zoning variance from the city of Seattle that would allow it to begin construction later this year on a three-story school—one story higher than the zoning rules for the property allow. “I have difficulties with charter schools when they want the money but not the rules that go with the money,” school board member Leslie Harris said.

On Wednesday, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections spokesman Bryan Stevens confirmed to the Emerald that Green Dot just told the city they have “decided to modify their design so that they no longer need a design departure,” and will stay within a smaller two-story footprint—preventing what could have been a drawn-out battle over Green Dot’s right to seek exemptions from zoning rules and eliminating an important talking point for charter opponents

If Green Dot had decided to pursue a three-story high school, it might well have prevailed. (SDCI said this week that the company had the right to at least request the height increase.) Last year, after a process that school board members say excluded school district representatives, SDCI signed off on a request for a three-story Green Dot middle school on Rainier Ave S., just three blocks from Aki Kurose Middle School.

Green Dot doesn’t have much of a record in the Puget Sound region; in addition to the new Green Dot Middle School in South Seattle, Green Dot operates one middle school in Tacoma and just took over a second charter middle school in Kent. Most of their 28 schools are in Tennessee or California, where charter schools were authorized in 2003 and 1992, respectively. (In contrast, Washington State voters just approved charters in 2012, and the initiative is still under legal challenge).

But the company’s plans to expand into the Seattle area raise questions that have been debated for decades on the national stage: Should privately run charter schools have to play by the same rules as traditional public schools, such as hiring a union workforce? (Green Dot’s Seattle-area schools are not unionized). Does allowing some kids to decamp from traditional public schools to charters doom the kids who are left behind to an inferior education? And should the public subsidize schools run by private companies and nonprofits at a time when the state is struggling to find adequate funding for basic public education?

Peters, the former school board member, argues the new school “will almost certainly negatively impact the existing neighboring schools by draining resources and students from them,” and that kids at charter schools often perform worse than those at traditional neighborhood schools. But national studies of charter schools’ impact on neighborhood schools have been inconclusive, and some research does indicate that urban charter schools can benefit black and Latinx kids living in poverty, in particular, even if the jury is outon whether charter schools, which vary widely (and are regulated differently) from region to region, do a better job of educating kids overall.

Walter Chen, a former Aki Kurose assistant principal who is now principal at Green Dot’s Rainier Valley Leadership Academy middle school, says that because Green Dot’s schools are hyperfocused on college prep, they provide a service that other public schools, even those with good IB programs, just can’t offer. “I really think of Green Dot as a social justice organization—we’re founded on the idea that every child, no matter what neighborhood they live in, deserves access to a high-quality school and a pathway to college,” Chen says.

Homesight director Tony To, whose housing-development nonprofit is spearheading the development of the SEOC, acknowledges Green Dot was “controversial,” but says he thinks the school serves an important purpose. “The program that they’re doing, which is a school-wide college prep program, is one that doesn’t exist in the Seattle school district, and it’s a major concern of students that can’t track into a college prep program,” To says. “And the community supported us on that.”

Green Dot classes are highly structured. Students and teachers learn specific gestures to indicate that they agree or disagree or that someone is doing well. Every student gets a mentor, who will—ideally—stay with that student from middle school to high school and even after graduation. The curriculum includes visits to college campuses, building a resume, and actually applying to schools—every student has to apply to multiple colleges at the end of senior year, even if they don’t end up pursuing higher education. “It’s a college-going culture,” Lloyd says. According to Chen, more than 90 percent of Green Dot’s graduating students in California and Tennessee are admitted to college—and 95 percent of their students “graduate, period.”

Peters, Harris, and other charter school opponents counter that Green Dot’s schools aren’t the only schools that boast a high graduation rate—Rainier Beach, Cleveland, and Franklin all have four-year graduation rates (89.4 percent, 83.3 percent, and 81.7 percent, respectively) that are higher than the district average (77.5 percent), despite having higher student-teacher ratios, more kids who are low-income or in special education classes and, with the exception of Cleveland, higher percentages of attendees with limited English proficiency. And Peters points out that at the one Green Dot school for which records are available, student test scores lag far behind the statewide average—at Destiny Middle School in Tacoma, just over one in four students passed the state’s basic language arts test, and fewer than one in five passed the math exam. Statewide, nearly half of all 7th grade students passed both tests. (After publication, a consultant for Green Dot contacted me to say that those stats require context, and provided a fact sheet and statement from the Washington Charter Schools Association. “Many Destiny students enter significantly behind grade level, and have significant learning needs,” the fact sheet says. “While Destiny students enter far behind, they are catching up.”)

Charter schools have been a contentious issue in Seattle for many years. At least twice since voters passed an initiative allowing charters in 2012, the Seattle School board has adopted resolutions opposing charter schools, and public-school activists pack school board meetings to express their opposition to the schools’ expansion in Seattle. Melissa Westbrook, a schools activist who runs a very active blog about the Seattle school system, says she accepts that charters are “legal. But my main point is that they have to do things legally.” In other words: Green Dot’s zoning issue may be resolved, but their opposition isn’t going anywhere.

Best of Crank: Does “Our Best” Leave Black Girls Behind?

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be hard at work meeting a big deadline (finishing up my book—eek!), so I’m re-running some posts that represent the best of The C Is for Crank in 2017. The posts I’ve chosen include breaking news, longer features, endorsements, and editorial pieces that capture the year in local news.

Today’s post looks at a program funded in this year’s city budget called “Our Best,” which aims to  close the achievement gap and create mentoring opportunities for African American boys. Like former President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” program (which is also in place in some Seattle schools), “Our Best” promotes responsibility, accountability, and achievement for black boys—at the expense, some critics have argued, of black girls, who face different but no less daunting challenges on the way to graduation and self-sufficiency. Additionally, critics such as Kimberle Williams Crenshaw have argued that programs aimed exclusively at young black men enforce antiquated gender roles by promoting the image of boys as future breadwinners and husbands whose success will trickle down to the women they eventually marry; my interview with Crenshaw, a celebrated writer and academic who coined the term “intersectionality,” is here.

This post ran on August 28.

Does “Our Best” Leave Black Girls Behind?

In 2012, only 57 percent of African-American boys graduated from high school in Washington state, compared to 73 percent of their white counterparts.

The achievement gap for young black men goes far beyond their graduation rates. Nationally, African-American boys are twice as likely to drop out of high school as white boys, and are three times as likely to be suspended. In Seattle, African-American boys are nearly three times as likely as white boys to be referred to special education, and these students in general fall far behind their white counterparts on nearly every standard measure of success—from third-grade reading scores to seventh-grade math proficiency to graduation rates. In 2015, 56 percent of white Seattle Public Schools graduates ended up going to a four-year college; just 30 percent of black students did the same. This achievement gap has lifelong ramifications; nearly 70 percent of young black men who drop out of school will end up in prison, and one in three black boys will be incarcerated in their lifetime.

“If you look at discipline data or graduation data or just regular third-grade test data, you’ll see just a huge discrepancy in the gaps between black males and their counterparts,” says Dwane Chappelle, director of Seattle’s Department of Education and Early Learning.

The achievement gap between black and white boys has been documented for decades, but the emphasis on programs targeted at improving the outcomes for black boys is a more recent phenomenon. Last year, after the City of Seattle’s first Education Summit, Mayor Ed Murray convened a 32-member advisory committee to come up with recommendations to close the gap. This year, to help accomplish this audacious goal, Murray organized a Youth Opportunity Cabinet, which includes African-American city department heads, such as Chappelle and Brian Surratt, director of the Office of Economic Development, and announced a new initiative focused on improving young black male achievement, called Our Best. (“If they are given resources that others take for granted, our young black men are our best,” Surratt says.)

The city has allocated $300,000 for the first year of the program (with few details on exactly how the money will be spent), which is modeled after former President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, but aimed at boys and youth between the ages of 14 and 24. A good portion of that money will support a one-year pilot project, which began in July, to double the number of black male mentors, by providing a clearinghouse and technical support for existing programs; the money will also fund a new special adviser to the mayor on young black male achievement.

Mentors, Surratt says, can give black boys the kind of positive role models they may be lacking in home or at school, and from experience can provide lessons on how to cope with challenges. “It’s not a cultural deficiency model,” says Surratt, referring to a model that says young black men are broken and need to be fixed. “It’s an asset richness model”—one that takes the assets that already exist in the African-American community and puts them to work guiding young men who may be struggling into responsible adulthood.

Our Best also includes a new mayor’s council on black male achievement, with the goal of increasing the number of black boys who graduate high school; providing young black men between the ages of 14 and 24 more pathways to “meaningful,” well-paid employment; and reducing the percentage of young black men entering the criminal justice system.

While the city’s renewed focus on young black male achievement is both admirable and necessary, some worry that male-focused programs like Our Best leave black girls behind.

Black girls are six times as likely as white girls to get kicked out of school—a racial gap in suspension rates that dwarfs the gap between black and white boys.

Like those of their male counterparts, black girls’ reading and math scores are at or near the bottom level, and four in 10 black girls who drop out of school cite pregnancy or parenthood as the reason. Black girls who drop out may suffer greater economic consequences than black boys, largely because the jobs that are available for female high school dropouts pay significantly less than those available to male dropouts. Black girls are also far more likely to be single parents without other sources of support, which compounds the impact of lower wages. Little wonder, then, that the median net worth of single black women is $100, compared with almost $7,900 for black men and $41,500 for single white women.

Moreover, black girls experience harm at school that the standard “achievement gap” yardstick simply fails to measure, such as sexual violence, suicide, harassment and the consequences of single parenting, says Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the founder and director of the African American Policy Forum and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia University.

“There is a whole range of ways that girls are impacted by these environments that people aren’t even talking about because the point of departure is always the boy,” says Crenshaw. Much like health research that for many years only used male subjects, the data available on African-American student achievement is largely centered on outcomes that primarily impact boys, such as the school-to-prison pipeline, creating a feedback loop that leaves girls out. “It’s not just one gender that’s struggling, [but] the conversation up ’til now has assumed that the only students in crisis were boys,” says Crenshaw.

Proponents of Our Best say they’re aware that girls face specific challenges that boys don’t. “We all know that our young ladies need support as well,” Chappelle says. But, he says, “We have to get that infrastructure in place first, and then we will be able to provide the young ladies with support, too.” Supporters of Our Best also insist that by helping young men, the program will benefit young black women as well, by fixing systems that hurt everybody when they’re broken.

“The intent is that if you fix a demographic that is clearly doing statistically the poorest, you are in fact fixing the institutional problems for the other demographics as well,” says City Council member Bruce Harrell, an Our Best proponent. “In fixing a lot of the institutional practices that work to the detriment of young black males, I think young black females and even others will reap the benefits.”

Surratt adds, “Unfortunately, across almost every metric that you can imagine, every social, economic and health indicator, young black men are suffering the most, and so we wanted to tackle this part of the community first.”

Crenshaw, who criticized Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program for excluding girls in a New York Times op-ed piece, is less convinced, calling that theory “trickle-down social justice” that “doesn’t work any better than Reaganomics did.”

Chappelle points to the fact that at least one school in Seattle that implemented the My Brother’s Keeper program, Aki Kurose Middle School, has since added an analogous Our Sister’s Keeper program for girls as evidence that the program will probably expand—eventually.

“Once we get Our Best down as far as young black men are concerned, then I would anticipate we would figure out a way to make sure that we are weaving in the support we need for our young black women, and also other young women of color who have historically been marginalized,” Chappelle says. The question is, how long will it take? And will it be soon enough to help the latest generation of young black girls who are at risk of falling through the cracks?