Misleading Attacks Distract from Real Issues

There’s a new blog post floating around attacking EdBuild that blatantly (and bizarrely) mischaracterizes what we’re up to. It touches on some important policy areas, so it’s worth correcting the facts.

The post selectively pulls a few quotes from a panel appearance I made a few months ago – and then actually alters several of them – to misquote and mischaracterize the point I was making, in order to construct some sort of attack on EdBuild. I encourage everyone to actually watch the whole panel and see what I had to say – my comments start a bit after 23:00 minutes in. Here’s exactly what I said:

“When you think about bankruptcy, this is a huge opportunity for school districts, and this is something EdBuild is going to focus on. Bankruptcy is not a problem for kids. Bankruptcy is a problem for the people governing the system, right? So when a school district goes bankrupt, all of their legacy debt can be eliminated. And when you’re answering questions that Andy and Mike put forward, like how are we going to pay for the buildings, how are we going to bring in new operators when there’s pension debt? Like if we can eliminate that in an entire urban system, then we can throw all of the cards up in the air, and redistribute everything with all new models. And so, you’ve heard it first, bankruptcy might be like, the thing, that leads to next education revolution.”

Their quoting of me was selective and downright inaccurate, but the bigger tragedy was that it misled and missed the really important opportunity here. They got one thing right, though: Bankruptcy isn’t something that’s sought after, but for districts in perilous financial situations, it can be a huge opportunity. It is a problem for those governing the system to solve – but for kids whose educations are being underfunded thanks to decades of debt accumulated (by those governing the system) it can help fund the education they deserve. If a district isn’t bound by a massive debt load, it can have the flexibility to offer that education to kids. Bankruptcy can be the fresh start a district needs, and an opportunity to move forward.

We created EdBuild in an attempt to more fairly distribute funding within our public education system. We believe that students attending schools in historically underserved communities deserve a fair shot at the future, and that means that we should be stacking resources toward these schools to address the opportunity gap that is growing in our country. But unfortunately, that’s pretty much the opposite of what we’ve been doing.

The problem we’re talking about here is simple: students in low-income districts need more resources to succeed, but the way they’re being funded guarantees that they actually get less. And in plenty of cases, this is because districts are shackled to the legacy debts they’ve accumulated, and unable to put those resources into the classroom where they’re needed. These enormous debts – the result of irresponsibility by previous administrations – are crushing educational opportunities for kids.

This year in Chicago, more than 1 in every 5 dollars in general state aid received for student learning instead went to pay down more than $6 billion in long-term debt in the Chicago Public Schools. If cities, organizations in the private sector, individuals, and basically everyone else are allowed to erase their debt and start over again, why shouldn’t our public schools be able to seek the same recourse in able to better serve their students? There’s something truly perverse and wrong in a system that prioritizes the interests of Wall Street by siphoning taxpayer dollars away from our classrooms to pay for these legacy debts.

Chicago is just one story like this – there’s hundreds of others around the country. Instead of being able to invest adequately in our kids schools, districts are hobbled by a legacy of debt. When we eliminate that debt, it doesn’t redistribute resources between the public and private sectors – it redistributes them towards kids. Removing the burden of debt is an opportunity not only to free up new resources, but to find ways to ameliorate the inequitable distribution of resources between districts based on income.

While we aren’t excited about prospect of any school district going through bankruptcy, the fact is that any district that finds itself in that position is in need of tremendous change, and bankruptcy may be one tool that helps the district and community do right by their kids.

Not only are the attacks about this misleading – they’re misleading about a very important thing. We need to deal with the unfair way we’ve structured funding systems around our schools – on many different levels – and cheap, dishonest political attacks distracting from the facts don’t do that.