Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Rich Pay Taxes Too

Following Education Realist (whom I admire but nonetheless disagree with), I found the account of Bullis Elementary School:

In Silicon Valley, Bullis elementary school accepts one in six kindergarten applicants, offers Chinese and asks families to donate $5,000 per child each year. Parents include Ken Moore, son of Intel Corp.’s co-founder, and Steven Kirsch, inventor of the optical mouse.

Bullis isn’t a high-end private school. It’s a taxpayer- funded, privately run public school, part of the charter-school movement that educates 1.8 million U.S. children. While charters are heralded for offering underprivileged kids an alternative to failing U.S. districts, Bullis gives an admissions edge to residents of parts of Los Altos Hills, where the median home is worth $1 million and household income is $219,000, four times the state average.

Which pretty much sets the tone of the article:  rich white people are actually using tax dollars to educate their children!  The horrors!

Not all their tax dollars, mind you.  They are paying disproportionately more in taxes, and taking less than their per-student share of education dollars, which they must supplement with their own money:

Bullis has achieved this success while receiving about 60 percent of the conventional system’s public funding.

Parents in Los Altos Hills created Bullis in 2003 because they were angry after the district closed their neighborhood school, said Mark Breier, a founder of the school and former chief executive of

. . .

A foundation set up to help fund the school asks Bullis parents to donate at least $5,000 for each child they enroll. Those who can’t afford to pay should discuss the reason with a foundation member, “recognizing that other school families will need to make up the difference,” the foundation said on its website.

Donations are “purely voluntary,” Moore said. They are necessary because Bullis receives less public money than the district, which has a foundation that asks for $1,000 per child, Moore said. The Los Altos School District last year spent about $10,000 per student, according to state data. Bullis receives about $6,000 in public funding, primarily because it doesn’t qualify for money from a local tax that the school district receives. On average U.S. charter schools get 19 percent less local, state and federal money than traditional districts, according to a 2010 Ball State University study.

But none of this eases the recriminations:

“Bullis is a boutique charter school,” said Nancy Gill, a Los Altos education consultant who helps parents choose schools. “It could bring a whole new level of inequality to public education.”

The growing ranks of U.S. charter schools in affluent suburbs are pitting neighbor against neighbor and, critics say, undercutting the original goals of the charter movement. Families who benefit cherish extensive academic offerings and small classes. Those who don’t say their children are being shortchanged because the schools are siphoning off money and the strongest students, leaving school districts with higher expenses and fewer resources for poor, immigrant and special- needs kids.

. . .

A quarter of U.S. charter schools don’t participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, compared with 2 percent at conventional public schools, according to a 2010 study by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.

That means they aren’t serving a significant low-income population, Erica Frankenberg, co-author of the report and an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University, said in an interview.

California’s 1992 charter law -- the second in the U.S., after Minnesota’s -- says schools should place “special emphasis” on “academically low-achieving” students and make an effort to reflect the “racial and ethnic balance” of the population in its district.

Last year, about 2 percent of Bullis students spoke English as a second language, compared with 11 percent in the district, county data show. Bullis had about half the percentage of Hispanic students or those with disabilities.

The charter school makes it tough for non English-speaking students to attend because it doesn’t have materials in Spanish, Doug Smith, a trustee on the Los Altos school board, said in an interview. Lower-income families aren’t even aware that the school is an alternative, he said.

. . .

“Bullis doesn’t fit with the spirit of the law,” said Gary Rummelhoff, a former president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education who sits on the board of a charter school in nearby San Jose. “It only existed to serve a very wealthy area.”

. . .

Along with leaving the district with the hardest-to-serve students, Bullis-related expenses have hurt the Los Altos school system in other ways, said Randy Kenyon, the assistant superintendent.

For each district student who attends Bullis, the system loses about $5,000 in per-pupil funding, Kenyon said. Los Altos pays about $300,000 a year for the school’s facilities, he said.

I will concede this much:  federal law requires a specific level of service for “special needs” children (a category that has expanded beyond Down’s children to include much more marginal cases like ADHD) irrespective of any other consideration.  Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t doubt the difficulties faced by handicapped children and their families, I would happily support any appropriation, consistent with a balanced budget, in their aid.  But like all other unfunded mandates, this one is wrong, and ought to be abolished.  Yet, for reasons I don’t understand (but for which I will take Education Realist at his word), the only way to escape these mandates is through a charter school.

But otherwise, the reasoning on display here is nothing less than public school clericalism:  ALL YOUR TAX ARE BELONG TO US!  And if you’re rich, then you deserve whatever we dish out to you, including closing your neighborhood school.

I dissent.  No family has a presumptive right to dictate to another family what their educational options should be, and this doesn’t become less true for the White and affluent citizens of Los Altos.


Elusive Wapiti said...

Great post. Yet again, we see that the Left would rather all be equal in misery/mediocrity ("It could bring a whole new level of inequality to public education”) than to have unequal educational excellence.

Also, Silicon Valley isn't populated solely by white folk, but by a sizable contingent of Asians. But then again, blacks and Hispanics aren't there in appreciable strength, thus part of the reason why the educrats complain so much.

Given the demographics of this school district and other wealthy areas (i.e., disproportionately white/Asian), I'm wondering if all this soak/penalize the rich talk isn't really a dog whistle to the racialist wing of the Democrat party. A way to cloak their anti-white, anti-Asian tribalist feelings in a veneer of wealth-envy.

Dr. Φ said...

Good point! "Bullis Charter School" has 29% Asian and 5% NAM, although I'm not sure if the article refers to this or "Gardner Bullis Elementary", also in Los Altos. Both have similar demographics.

Anonymous said...

You don't read carefully, if you think I'm a liberal. I'm not even a Democrat, nor did I vote for the current president.

You see the world a tad simplistically. If one opposes charters, must be a liberal. If one supports charters, must be an anti-tax Republican. That sort of thinking is tedious.

You apparently don't have much respect for the law, or people gaming the system any way they can to feed off the public trough. I do. That, not taxes, is the difference between us.

But then again, blacks and Hispanics aren't there in appreciable strength

The first, yes. The second, you're ignorant. Read up. There are roughly as many Hispanics as Asians in Silicon Valley.

Dr. Φ said...

Ed Realist: thank you for commenting. It is an honor to have you take notice of my no-account little blog. That said, I should tell you candidly that you can come across a bit snippy with people even when they basically like you.

Nowhere did I call you a liberal Democrat, and I know from your blog that you are neither of those things. Nor did my post make a link between attitude towards charters and political affiliation; yes, I am aware that support for charters cuts across party lines.

Honestly, I don't think we disagree with each other on any facts; indeed, most of what I know about charters comes from your blog. And I might even concede that your recommendation (if I read you correctly) that charters should be used to isolate the problem students rather than as an escape for well-behaved students is a good one.

But as you yourself concede (again, if I read you correctly), in the current political environment, there is zero probability that the demographics of that isolation would be tolerated. What then? The present arrangement, against all odds, does in fact allow some families to select their children's peer environment. And that I'm in favor of, by whatever means it is achieved.

Elusive Wapiti said...


Re: ignorance. Putting aside the fact that I've spent a significant amount of time in South Bay, therefore I have a decent idea of the demographics of Silicon Valley, before I wrote my post, I referenced CityData for Los Altos' demographics.

I invite you to do the same.

Here, I'll help.

Dr. Φ said...

EdRealist: a couple of more points . . .

"Respect for the law" and "gaming the system to feed off the public trough" are red herrings. I would be extremely surprised to find any of Bullis' critics, with yourself the honorable exception, who concerned themselves with either of these in any general way. The article's author was clearly motivated by almost straight-up class warfare with a racial tinge, as I pointed out at length. So sure, when in the by-and-by we set about abolishing public troughs like Medicaid, TANF, and Section 8, I'll see you your charter schools and raise you the rest of the public education system. But 'till then, I don't subscribe to any moral principle prohibiting wealthy whites (and Asians) from creating a charter school.

Kirk said...

I agree the Bullis parents are engaging in class warfare. It's FUNNY to kneecap their middle class competition with horrible schools. But, as your have so wisely pointed out, SOMEONE should have a good education, and wouldn't it be great if it were their kids? Of course it would be. Now, of course, most of them have in the past avoided the public schools by paying a small fraction of their absolutely fairly gotten wealth to send their children to private schools where they won't be kneecapped the same way the parents have their children's competition kneecapped. Accidentally of course. It's always accidental.

But the problem with that is they had to pay money to avoid the sewage they deliberately created. And that is UNFAIR. These charter schools provide a unique opportunity for them to avoid the mess they created and not have to pay as much for it. That sounds super fair and anyone saying otherwise is engaging in class warfare.

I think we should send their children in forced busing to "vibrant" neighborhoods. You know, what they do to middle class people while they live in gated communities.

Does mentioning how they cut themselves off from the VIBRANCY they create also count as class warfare?

Dr. Φ said...

Kirk: thank you for commenting. I detect, I think, possible sarcasm in your reaction, so let's review a few things.

School "quality" is about student quality. I don't actually know what that means in the rest of Bullis' district, but whatever it is, it isn't the fault of Bullis' students and parents; they did not create the "sewage", deliberately or otherwise. Do we actually know the true attitude of Bullis' parents (as opposed to their mandatory public recitations) towards immigration, "diversity", and the rest? Do we know how that attitude affects policy? If you have actual evidence for this, I'd be happy to hear it.

Kirk said...

School "quality" is about student quality.

So it is IMPOSSIBLE to create a curriculum that will negatively effect learning. That is truly fascinating. All books are created equal. All homework is created equal. All teachers are created equal. All subjects are created equal. The time spent on each subject is also meaningless.

Wow. Really, after you got that out of your mouth how am I supposed to take any thing you say seriously?

How can anyone take anything seriously that comes out of the mouth of someone who can say what you just said?

Oh. But I'm not giving "examples" am I? I need to PRRROOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVVEEEEEE it. Don't I?

Fine. Learning to read by sight word is very inferior to phonetic
reading and can in fact create dyslexia where it did not exist before.

The United States has switched from phonetic to sight words over the past few decades.

So I'm done. Not really any reason to pay attention to anything you say ever again.


Dr. Φ said...

Kirk: you share EdRealist's bad habit of putting words in people's mouth they haven't actually said. However, the quality of Ed's research and writing means he has earned some forbearance. You have not.