Category: Tax policy

The end of the line

It is with both sadness and a sense of great relief that I tell you this will be the final post on PPS Equity. [Here's Nancy's farewell.]For two years we have documented inequities in Portland’s largest school district and advocated for positive change.  Along the way, we’ve explored how to use new media tools to influence public policy and foster a more inclusive form of democracy.

The reason for this shutdown is simple: we are moving our family out of the district, and will no longer be stakeholders. A very large part of our decision to leave is the seeming inability of Portland Public Schools to provide access to comprehensive secondary education to all students in all parts of the city. We happen to live in a part of town — the Jefferson cluster — which is chronically under-enrolled, underfunded and besieged by administrative incompetence and neglect. We have no interest in playing a lottery with our children’s future, and no interest in sending our children out of their neighborhood for a basic  secondary education. These are the options for roughly half of the families in the district if they want comprehensive 6-12 education for their children.

While there are some signs that the district may want to provide comprehensive high schools for all, there is little or no acknowledgment of the ongoing middle grade crisis. If the district ever gets around to this, it will be too late for my children, and thousands of others who do not live in Portland’s elite neighborhoods on the west side of the river or in parts of the Grant and Cleveland clusters.

It cannot be understated that the failure of PPS to provide equally for all students in all parts of the district is rooted in Oregon’s horribly broken school funding system, which entered crisis mode with 1990′s Measure 5. A segregated city, declining enrollment and a lack of stable leadership and vision made things especially bad in Portland.

But Portland’s elites soon figured out how to keep things decent in their neighborhoods. The Portland Schools Foundation was founded to allow wealthy families to directly fund their neighborhood schools. Student transfers were institutionalized, allowing students and funding to flow out of Portland’s poorest neighborhoods and shore up enrollment and funding in the wealthiest neighborhoods.  Modest gains for Portland’s black community realized in the 1980s were reversed as middle schools were closed and enrollment dwindled. A two-tiered system, separate and radically unequal, persists 20 years after Measure 5 and nearly 30 years after the Black United Front’s push for justice in the delivery of public education.

PPS seems to be at least acknowledging this injustice. Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson laid it out to the City Club of Portland last October: “It is a civil rights violation of the worst kind… when based on race and zip code roughly 85% of white students have access to opportunity in rigorous college prep programs, curriculum and resources compared to 27% of black students.”

Despite this acknowledgment, the district is only addressing this inequity in the final four years of a K-12 system. We don’t, in fact, have a system, but a collection of schools that vary significantly in terms of size, course offerings, and teacher experience, often correlating directly to the wealth of the neighborhoods in which they sit.

As the district embarks on their high school redesign plan, which is largely in line with my recommendations, predictable opposition has arisen.

Some prominent Grant families rose up, first in opposition to boundary changes that might affect their property values, then to closing Grant, then to closing any schools. (They seem to have gone mostly quiet after receiving assurances from school board members that their school was safe from closure. Perhaps they also realized that they have more to fear if no schools are closed, since it would mean the loss of close to 600 students at Grant if students and funding were spread evenly among ten schools. In that scenario, the rich educational stew currently enjoyed at Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson will be a thinned out to a thin gruel. It would be an improvement for the parts of town that long ago lost their comprehensive high schools, but a far cry from what our surrounding suburban districts offer with the exact same per-student state funding.)

There is also opposition from folks who reflexively oppose school closures, many of them rightly suspicious of the district’s motivations with regards to real estate dealings and their propensity to target poor neighborhoods for closures.

Finally, there is opposition on the school board from the two non-white members, Martín González and Dilafruz Williams.

González’s opposition appears to stem from the valid concern that the district doesn’t have a clue how to address the achievement gap — the district can’t even manage to spend all of its Title I money, having carried over almost $3 million from last year — and that there is little in the high school plan that addresses this. (It’s unclear how he feels about the clear civil rights violation of unequal access this plan seeks to address. It seems to me we should be able to address both ends of the problem — inputs and outcomes — at the same time . The failure to address the achievement gap should not preclude providing equal opportunity. It’s the least we can do.)

Williams noted that she doesn’t trust district administrators to carry out such large scale redesign, especially in light of the bungled K-8 transition which she also opposed. It’s hard to argue with that position; the administration has done little to address the distrust in the community stemming from many years of turbulent and destructive changes focused mainly in low-income neighborhoods.

But more significantly, Williams has long opposed changing the student transfer system on the grounds that it would constitute “massive social engineering” to return to a neighborhood-based enrollment policy. Ironically, nobody on the school board has articulated the shameful nature of our two-tiered system more clearly and forcefully as Williams. But as one of only two non-whites on the board, Williams also speaks as one of the most outwardly class-conscious school board members. In years past, she has said that many middle class families tell her they would leave the district if the transfer policy were changed.

(Note to director Williams: Here’s one middle class family that’s leaving because of the damage the transfer policy has done to our neighborhood schools. And it’s too bad the district can’t have a little more concern for working class families. I know quite a few parents of black and brown children who have pulled their kids from the district due to its persistent institutional classism and racism.)

Williams (along with many of her board colleagues) has also long blamed the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the massive student outflows from our poorest schools, but this is a smokescreen. Take Jefferson High for example, which was redesigned in part to reset the clock on NCLB sanctions. Yet despite this, the district has continued to allow priority transfers out. Jefferson has lost vastly more funding to out-transfers than the modest amount of Title I money it currently receives.  If we don’t take Title I money, we don’t have to play by NCLB rules. (This is not a radical concept; the district has chosen this course at Madison High.)

It is hard to have a great deal of hope for Portland Public Schools, despite some positive signals from superintendent Carole Smith. We continue to lack a comprehensive vision for a K-12 system. English language learners languish in a system that is chronically out of compliance with federal civil rights law. The type of education a student receives continues to be predictable by race, class and ZIP code. Special education students are warehoused in a gulag of out-of-sight contained classrooms and facilities, and their parents must take extreme measures to assure even their most basic rights. Central administration, by many accounts, is plagued by a dysfunctional culture that actively protects fiefdoms and obstructs positive change. Many highly influential positions are now held by non-educators, and there is more staff in the PR department than in the curriculum department. Recent teacher contract negotiations showed a pernicious anti-labor bias and an apparent disconnect between Carole Smith and her staff. Principals are not accountable to staff, parents or the community, and are rarely fired. Positions are created for unpopular principals at the central office, and retired administrators responsible for past policy failures are brought back on contract to consult on new projects.

If there is a hope for the district, it lies in community action of the kind taken by the Black United Front in 1980. The time for chronicling the failures of the district is over.

In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”

I think this Web site has served to establish injustice. Many of us have tried to work with the district, serving on committees, testifying at board meetings, and attending community meetings. My family has brought tens of thousands of dollars in grant money and donations to the district, dedicated countless volunteer hours, and spent many evenings and weekends gathering and analyzing data.

There is no doubt that injustices exist, and there is no doubt that we have tried to negotiate. It’s time for self-purification — the purging of angry and violent thoughts — and direct action. It’s time to get off the blogs and take to the streets.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Why you should vote Yes on 66 and 67

In Multnomah County:

  • the vast majority of taxpayers (96.7 percent) would see a reduction (12.6 percent) or no change in their income tax under these measures. The wealthiest 3.3 percent would see a slight increase in marginal rates.
  • there are 91,000 students in public schools.
  • there are 83,592 people on the Oregon Health Plan.
  • there are 6,380 seniors and people with disabilities in long-term care.

Tens of thousands of local students, seniors and the disabled face devastating cuts to critical services.

Thousands of teaching and educational support professionals face lay offs and furloughs. These jobs, which support the greater local economy through spending power, can be preserved with a yes vote.

“Job killing taxes” is an oxymoron. These modest tax increases, which will only affect the wealthy and corporations, will preserve jobs and vital community services.

Please join me in voting “Yes” for both Oregon measures 66 and 67.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Foundation Fallacies

Discussion on the recent article PPS and the philanthro-capitalists touched on the inequities engendered by local school foundations. That discussion raised a couple common misconceptions about direct funding of schools, which I’d like to dispel.

1. “…my guess is that the [Title 1 funds] lower income schools receive equal, if not exceed, the amounts raised by foundations.”

If you browse through the school profiles published by the district, it’s easy to see where one could come up with this idea. In general, rich schools have positions funded by local school foundations (LSFs) and poor schools have Title 1 money. There are two problems with this assumption. First, it’s false. Second, even if it were true, it still wouldn’t be equitable.

Looking at dollars-per-student added to school budgets last school year from Title 1, Local school foundations (LSFs) and PTAs, eight of the top 10 schools in per-student additions are non-Title 1 schools: Abernathy, Chapman, Ainsworth, Forest Park, Irvington, Duniway, West Sylvan, Rieke and Stephenson. These schools raised between $273.60 (Stephenson) and $570.03 (Abernathy) per student.

Madison High, with over 65 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals got no Title 1 money. Benson High, with over 58 percent free and reduced, also got no Title 1 money.

One more example: Ockley Green K-8, with nearly 3 out of 4 students in poverty and 8 out of 10 non-white, got $189.84 per student in Title 1 money, while Ainsworth K-5, with less than six percent on free and reduced lunch and 80 percent white, added over $400 per student. Ainsworth’s teaching staff was increased nearly 33 percent through direct funding by parents.

More importantly, the idea that foundation money would simply supplant Title 1 money is misguided. Title 1 money is provided by the federal government to help ameliorate the problems associated with poverty, and there are very specific guidelines for its use. While foundation dollars reduce class sizes and preserve “enrichments” like certified art and music teachers and advanced college placement programs, Title 1 money is almost entirely spent on academic support (resource rooms, reading teachers, etc.) to help bring disadvantaged students up to grade level .

Even if Title 1 provided the exact same amount of money per student at poor schools as LSF money provides at rich schools, it still wouldn’t be nearly enough to overcome the disadvantages students affected by poverty must overcome, much less be equitable in terms of the kinds of programs schools can afford to provide their students.

2. “…one third of all funds raised goes directly to the Portland Schools Foundation, an umbrella organization that provides grants to close achievement gaps between students throughout the school district. One third to employ educators, a third to enrich our kids and a third to help others. Sounds fair to me.”

When you put it that way, it almost does sound fair. Almost. But there’s a problem with the assumption, and with the math.

First, until this school year, no money from the Portland Schools Foundation’s “Equity Fund” ever paid for a single teaching position at any school. This year, under the leadership of Dan Ryan, schools were finally allowed to spend this money on teaching positions; eight schools were awarded between $20,000 and $55,000. That’s a handful of full-time-equivalent teaching positions for the entire district.

For comparison, in one school year the LSFs at Lincoln High, West Sylvan Middle,  Ainsworth Elementary, Forest Park Elementary, Duniway Elementary and Bridlemile Elementary raised $224,680, $198,878, $193,766, $156,684, $113,187 and $110,005 respectively.

The problem with the math of thirds cited here is that only money used to pay for certified teachers is subject to the Equity Fund contributions, and the first $10,000 is exempt. So, for example, let’s say a school raises $150,000 at their auction, and decides to put $50,000 toward a teaching position. They’ll spend the rest on classroom aides, computers, books for the library, classroom supplies, and an after-school arts program, all of which is fully exempt from Equity Fund contributions.

For the teacher they hire, after the $10,000 exemption, they would tithe 30 percent of $40,000, or $12,000, to the Equity Fund. That’s eight percent of their total funds raised, not a third.

To be clear, nobody should be discouraged from supporting their kids’ school. But the system we have today is grossly unfair. Local school foundations have allowed wealthy neighborhoods to preserve pretty decent “public” schools while the rest of the district fights over crumbs. Dan Ryan is doing what he can to make the system more fair; allowing Equity Fund dollars to pay for teachers was an important first step in that direction.

While I appreciate Ryan’s good work and intentions, I advocate for the abolition of LSFs. Wealthy donors should be encouraged to donate to the district’s general fund and advocate for real, progressive tax reform, so that we can eliminate our two-tiered school system and all students can have access to a comprehensive education.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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PGE, Nike fund anti-tax campaign

Nigel Jaquiss reports in today’s Willamette Week that Nike, PGE and other large Oregon corporations are funneling money to oppose two tax measures on the ballot in January through the Portland Business Alliance and Associated Oregon Industries.

PPS School board director Pam Knowles recently resigned as Chief Operating Officer of Portland Business alliance after five years there.

Nike branding opportunitySchool board co-chair Trudy Sargent sporting the Nike swoosh (photo courtesy Kenneth Libby)

Nike is a long-time corporate partner with PPS, as evidenced by ubiquitous Nike “swooshes” on school district property. Earlier this week, school board members sported Marysville shirts at their meeting to show solidarity with the recently displaced school community. Prominent on the shirts was a Nike logo.

If Nike were serious about supporting schools, they would take a stand for re-balancing corporate and individual taxes in Oregon, skewed against individuals and in favor of corporations for at least 20 years.

But paying taxes doesn’t provide branding opportunities.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Resist No Child Left Behind, don’t embrace it

Note: this is a response to e-mail sent by Carole Smith regarding Oregon schools’ performance as measured against federal benchmarks. See below for the text of Smith’s e-mail. –Ed.

Portland Public School Superintendent Carole Smith’s unconditional support of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) sickens me. “Say what you will about the federal law…” That’s quite an invitation Carole.

Let me start by saying that the roots of NCLB are George W. Bush’s friends in the corrupt Houston School Board who were dishonest from the beginning about the real statistics around their NCLB, lying when it was convenient to cover up their real drop out rates. And then there are those friends of Bush in the text book companies and the “educational consultants” who made so much money off of NCLB “aligned” curriculum while our students and teachers suffered with increased class sizes and less resources. We are sick of corporate style public education system that rations resources; that strips art, music, PE, critical thinking, and most history and geography from our curriculum and replaces it with highly scripted, dumbed-down curriculum for all but the most privileged students. We are tired of the massive influence that real estate developers and anti-tax corporate honchos have on educational decisions.

And in case you think this is just a tirade against Bush, let me add that Obama and Arne Duncan don’t impress me either. Just because they renamed NCLB and call it the Elementary and Secondary Education Act does not mean they have cut the ties to corporate America. Our public education system is still being run by corporations, still suffers in comparison to most other industrialized countries, still is stratified by race and class.

And then Supt. Smith, you have the audacity to blame the students and teachers for these problems? Shame on you. Get rid of the consultants, stand up and reject NCLB, and listen to the teachers who still go to work and try to get some joy and meaning out of the shell of a curriculum you hand them.

This letter from Superintendent Smith makes it clear that this situation will only change when students, parents, teachers and other educational workers unite to fight for a public system that is truly public, that provides a quality education for every student no matter what neighborhood they live in.

Text of e-mail sent from Carole Smith:

Today, the state released reports for every Oregon school and district under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind). Once again, Portland Public Schools had a higher share of schools meeting all the complicated benchmarks set under that federal law than statewide.

I want to particularly congratulate POWER, one of our small high schools on North Portland’s Roosevelt Campus, and Lane Middle School, in outer Southeast Portland — both of which met all the federal standards.

Most Oregon middle schools and high schools fail to meet the federal standards, but those two schools have charted great gains in student achievement, thanks to the dedication and skill of teachers and staff. (Read more about PPS and the federal ratings in today’s news release.)

Along with these success stories, we still have too many schools falling short because too many students aren’t keeping up or aren’t staying engaged. Say what you will about the federal law, I believe we need to reach for high standards. That’s why we’re measuring our progress in preparing all kids for success in life, using defined Milestones — a set of key indicators at early, middle and secondary grades.

For the coming school year, our senior leadership has set goals to increase student performance by 5 percentage points on three of these highly predictive indicators: third-grade reading, seventh-grade writing and credits earned before 10th grade.

We’ve also set goals to close the achievement gap between white students and the lowest performing ethnic subgroup by 5 percentage points on each of those measures.

These indicators will tell us how well our school district is doing as a whole, and how well we are doing for each student by name. They won’t replace the federal ratings and requirements, but they will give us a clearer picture of how well we are preparing our students for success at the next stage of their education — and for success in college or a career.

This is so important that I’m asking the school board to evaluate my performance based on our success in raising student performance in these areas. I’ve told my senior leaders that I will evaluate them based on these targets, too.

It won’t be easy to reach these targets, but keeping more students on track will pay big dividends for the rest of their lives. That’s a goal worth reaching for.

Portland parent activist Anne Trudeau helped found the Neighborhood Schools Alliance.

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Who Funded Pam Knowles’ Election?

This article is reprinted with permission. It originally appeared on the author’s blog Global Ideologies in Education –Ed.

Portland Business Alliance COO Pam Knowles recently won a seat on the PPS school board. She ran against Scott Bailey in a high-price race for the zone 5 seat. Knowles spent $34,030 on her campaign and Bailey spent $33,561 to publicize his candidacy. This begs a few questions: does this de facto “pay to play” policy lock out particular communities, viewpoints, or opinions? Who can raise $30,000 for a high-involvement volunteer position while maintaining a job and raising a family? These questions become even more relevant when considering the election process in Portland: anyone can vote in any zone’s election. (See also this open thread for previous discussion of these issues. –Ed.)

The election process has turned into a media campaign complete with campaign managers, corporate donations, media budgets, and the presentation of false statistics (more on this later; let’s just say Knowles either has no idea what she is talking about or is knowingly misleading the public).

knowles-finance
Location of Pam Knowles’ campaign donations larger than $100

The map above shows the sources of 57 donations to Knowles’ campaign. Several of them are in her district, but the vast majority aren’t even on her side of the river. All of this information is available here through OreStar, Oregon’s election reporting website. These 57 donations account for around $15,000 of Knowles’ $34,030 campaign; the other donations were less than $100 apiece and do not require documentation. I have no doubt that Knowles had the support of some people in her district — some of those sub-$100 donations were from voters in her district — but she certainly pulled in her biggest chunks of funding from the West side (and Portland businesses).

What is Knowles saying that makes the business sphere take note? First, Knowles claims we have a 42% dropout rate. She pushes for “stabilizing funding” for the schools without calling for taxes on businesses (she’s also the COO of the Portland Business Alliance; do you think they like the new tax hikes?). She practically screams efficiency and accountability in the voters’ pamphlet — all while suggesting the K-8 model is here to stay because “research” says it’s better. Added insult: part of that “research” is an overt attack on teachers (they’re more “accountable” in the K-8 model). Question for Pam: why do we have the K-8 model only in one part of town while another part of town (the wealthier side) gets a 6th grade academy and then a 7/8 grade school for middle school?

The claim of a 42% dropout rate isn’t unique to Pam; the Mayor has made the same claim as well (although I informed the Mayor’s office of their error and it sounds like Sam understands the issue). I’ll elaborate on the dropout statistic soon — but I can tell you that Knowles is intentionally misleading the public or completely misinterpreted educational studies (or she never bothered to read them).

Kenneth Libby is an independent education researcher and a recent graduate of Lewis and Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling. He writes about national education issues, testing and philanthropy on Schools Matter and Global Ideologies in Education.

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Wynde: Oregon education commitment “luke warm”

PPS school board member David Wynde takes the legislature to task in an Oregonian commentary this morning.

It’s no coincidence that Oregon has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation. Our lukewarm commitment to education hurts Oregon’s short-term and long-term economic growth.

Oregon’s response to this crisis couldn’t be more contrary to President Barack Obama’s strategy. The president is using stimulus dollars to blunt school cuts and spur important reforms because he believes education is vital to our nation’s economic growth.

In Oregon, we say education is a priority, then slash schools and programs for lack of funds. The state does not have the same budget flexibility as the federal government, but other states keep their schools operating.

We are suffering a dismal failure of leadership in Salem. Even with a Democratic super majority in the legislature a Democratic governor, nobody is taking the lead in proposing reforms our inadequate, unstable revenue stream, and nobody seems to connect the dots between education and the economy as Wynde does.

Perhaps we need to look at local funding options again. If the state of Oregon doesn’t have the sense to fund our future, perhaps the people of Portland do.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Stadiums v. Schools: your voice needed at City Hall

Update: Council approved the measure with an amendment introduced by Dan Saltzman removing the $15 million from a new urban renewal district around PGE Park. Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz voted no on the modified deal. Kudos to Saltzman for taking the county and school district into account, and for Fish and Fritz for opposing the deal outright. If the city doesn’t come up with the $15 million by September, the deal is off.

Original post:

The Portland City Council votes tomorrow today on a deal that would commit something like $89 million of public funds to build one stadium and renovate another for Merritt Paulson, the millionaire son of Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. The source of the funds would be Tax Increment Financing from a new urban renewal district.

Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen and state representative Nick Kahl explain how this takes money from our schools and social services, and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz explains how this type of deal is at odds with her vision of spending scarce public funds in the neighborhoods where people live (among other things).

Amanda is the only City Commissioner who appears likely to oppose the deal at this time. Randy Leonard and Sam Adams are definite yes votes; Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish may be on the fence.

This is on the agenda for 9:30 am Wednesday, March 11. If you are unable to attend, please call or send e-mail to Fish (503-823-3589, nick@ci.portland.or.us) and Saltzman (503-823-4151, dsaltzman@ci.portland.or.us) in particular, urging them to oppose this welfare-for-the-rich deal.

Update: Multnomah County chair Ted Wheeler will testify against the stadium deal tomorrow, as will PPS school board member Trudy Sargent (see below).

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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In the news: another teacher on budget cuts, PPS board to consider lease in Pearl

Portland Public Schools teacher Caryn Cushman challenges Ted Kulongoski’s call for teachers to work (more) for free, and the PPS board of education considers a lease for a new school in the Pearl district tonight, a move questioned by PAT president Rebecca Levison, among others (I questioned the idea when it was first floated a year ago).

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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In the news: Teacher on K8s, state funding cuts

In a letter to the editor in today’s Oregonian (not published online), Portland Public Schools eighth grade teacher Sheila Wilcox gets to the point about our state funding cuts and PPS’s “already underfunded experiment in K-8s”:

As a teacher in a K-8 school in Portland, I am extremely dismayed at the talk of more unstable funding for education. Already, I am teaching eighth grade in a portable classroom on my school’s playground.

The building is poorly insulated, and the heating system is inadequate. My students have next to no access to technology (our mobile lab will be used for testing for the rest of the year), no music, and our library is the worst I’ve seen in my 13 years with the district.

I have tried to speak with several district officials and have been put off or dismissed altogether. How sad that our already underfunded experiment in K-8s will be shortchanged this school year, once again.

The still unfinished K8 transition gives students less while costing us more (much like the rigid Gate’s style academies we seem stuck with, despite the model being repudiated by the Gates foundation). The district seems to have lost interest in K8s, distracted by both the budget and the coming unveiling of the high school plan.

Also in today’s paper, Betsy Hammond writes that Oregon is alone among states discussing a shortened school year (despite most states being in fiscal crisis). Oregon is unique for both its unstable education funding, and its unwillingness to protect education from such draconian cuts.

A national shame on our Democratic Party-controlled state house and governor for failing to avoid such immediate cuts, and, most importantly, to address the long-term inadequacy and volatility of our revenue model.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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