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EduClips: From Contaminants at Hawaii Schools to the Lone Star State’s ‘Broken’ Education Fund, School News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Biggest Districts

By Andrew Brownstein | March 8, 2019

EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.

Broward County — One Year After Parkland Shootings, Fort Lauderdale Schools Opt Not to Fire Superintendent Runcie: One year after a deadly school shooting forever changed the nation’s sixth-largest district, the Broward County School Board voted against firing Superintendent Robert Runcie. The 6-3 decision dealt with Runcie’s performance beyond the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High that killed 17 and wounded 17 more on Feb. 14, 2018. That performance — including improvements in academic and disciplinary measures for minority students — was highlighted by 90 public speakers, all but of five of whom voiced support for Runcie. Many speakers — mayors, activists, community leaders, school principals, and parents — noted a racial and socioeconomic element to the debate over Runcie’s career. The arguments of the parents from Parkland, a mostly affluent and white area, were juxtaposed with those of the African-American community and central Broward County. (Read at the Miami Herald)

New York City — District Hits Cap on Charter Schools, Limiting Sector’s Growth: The city marked a pivotal moment for its charter sector, approving the last seven schools that can open under a state-approved cap. The move likely ends the sector’s growth for now. The Board of Trustees for the State University of New York approved 13 applications — seven that should be allowed to open immediately, and six with “pre-approval” to open if the legislature raises the cap in the future. Charter advocates have been lobbying lawmakers to raise the cap — but with the state legislature now controlled fully by Democrats, that possibility seems dim. (Read at Chalkbeat)

Houston — Chronicle Investigation Calls State School Fund ‘Broken’: It was called a “sacred trust.” Over 165 years ago, Texas invested $2 million and the state’s “most abundant and precious resource” — its land — to create the Texas Permanent School Fund to forever support public education. That trust, dedicated to K-12 schools, is now valued at $44 billion, bigger than even Harvard University’s endowment. But a four-part series in the Houston Chronicle describes that fund as “broken.” The fund has failed to match the performance of peer endowments, missing out on as much as $12 billion in growth and amassing a risky asset allocation, according to a yearlong investigation. Outside fund managers — some of them with professional or personal relationships with Texas School Land Board members, who govern a portion of the fund — have charged the endowment at least $1 billion in fees during the past decade, records show. And, critically, the fund is sending less money to schools than it did decades ago. Last year, the fund distributed only 2.8 percent of its value — roughly half the share paid out by many endowments. (Read at The Houston Chronicle)

Los Angeles — Union Favorite Emerges as Likely Winner of Pivotal School Board Seat: Jackie Goldberg, a union-backed candidate, easily outpaced nine others on a ballot in a special election for the Los Angeles Board of Education, thanks in large part to public support cultivated during a six-day teachers’ strike in January. It is a dramatic reversal in the district, where just last year, the power of the local teachers union seemed to be waning and board members who supported charter schools were in control. If elected, the 74-year-old veteran public official could shift the balance of power on the board. While she didn’t quite get the majority needed to win, Goldberg claimed 48 percent of the vote, making her the strong favorite in a May 14 runoff against a second-place finisher who trailed her by 35 percentage points. (Read at the Los Angeles Times)

Hawaii — Contaminants Found in Soil Surrounding 18 Schools: Elevated levels of contaminants such as lead, arsenic, and chlordane were found in the soil surrounding 18 Hawaii schools, leading the state Department of Education and Department of Health to implement environmental hazard management at each of the facilities. A $587,235 study of 23 schools found that 17 had elevated lead levels in the surrounding soils, six had elevated levels of organochlorine pesticides, and five had elevated levels of arsenic. Five schools did not have elevated levels of the toxins. Officials said they were not surprised by the findings because lead paint was used on the sides of buildings, arsenic as an herbicide, and chlordane to fight termites. Diana Felton, a state toxicologist, said the biggest concern is for small children who are likely to put their hands in their mouths and are more sensitive to the effects of the chemicals. But based on the current amounts, Felton said, the department does not see this as a “potential significant health risk.” (Read at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

Philadelphia — In Shift, School Board Denies New Charter School Applications: In a vote that seemed to signal a shift from the policies of the old School Reform Commission, the Philadelphia school board unanimously denied three new charter school applications. Members of the board, appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney as the city took back control of its schools from the state, said the applicants failed to demonstrate they could fulfill their promises. But the board also indicated it was looking more broadly at the role of the city’s 87 charter schools, which enroll about 70,000 students — about one-third of the district’s public school population. The state-controlled commission, which governed the Philadelphia system for 17 years, was generally seen as supportive of charters. It approved three last year. (Read at the Philadelphia Inquirer)

Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

CIVICS EDUCATION —Pondiscio: Video of Students Confronting Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Green New Deal Offers a Sad Lesson in Using Kids as Political Props (Read at The74Million.org)

FREE SPEECH —How to handle a kid who won’t say the Pledge of Allegiance: First, don’t tell him to leave America (Read at USA Today)

ARTS EDUCATION —Using Arts Education to Help Other Lessons Stick (Read at The New York Times)

SCHOOL CHOICE — The Trump Administration’s Bold New School-Choice Plan (Read at National Review)

PUBERTY —Let’s Stop Ignoring the Truths of Puberty. We’re Making It Even More Awkward (Read at The New York Times)

Quotes of the Week

“[The superintendent] came to me in a panic because he had been accosted by prominent, wealthy alumni of the school who were Mr. Trump’s friends. … He said, ‘You need to go grab that record and deliver it to me because I need to deliver it to them.’” —Evan Jones, former headmaster of the New York Military Academy, on attempts to conceal the high school academic records of President Donald Trump. (Read at The Washington Post)

“The Supreme Court, in a way, allowed this to happen. It went the wrong way, and now they have the chance to fix it.” —John Yoo, law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, on a new federal lawsuit challenging New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to diversify eight of the city’s specialized high schools. (Read at The74Million.org)

“As a teen, I feel the industry is really targeting us, with a lot of edibles in candy and fruit flavors. It’s really scary to me.” —Carson Ezell, a student at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, on a state plan to legalize recreational marijuana. (Read at the Chicago Tribune)

“I hate to say it, but many of us are avoiding the real facts that this is about privilege. All communities have had to deal with the death of a child, whether it be a school building or across the street in the school or in a nearby park. Never have we called upon the firing of the mayor, police chief, county commissioners, yet alone a superintendent.” —Darryl Holsendolph, a member of the NAACP and 100 Black Men of South Florida, after unsuccessful attempts to fire Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie following last year’s deadly shootings at a Parkland high school. (Read at the Miami Herald)

“Without a cap lift in Albany, today will be remembered as the day when progress in providing this city’s students the great public education that they deserve was arbitrarily halted.” —James Merriman, CEO of the NYC Charter School Center, after the last charter schools in the district were approved under a state-imposed cap. (Read at Chalkbeat)

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