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PA Must Reads: The Failure of School Choice and the Food Industry Eats Your Tax Dollars

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

An op-ed in The New York Times this morning points out that “school choice” has increased educational inequality.

If you want to see the direction that education reform is taking the country, pay a visit to my leafy, majority-black neighborhood in Washington. While we have lived in the same house since our 11-year-old son was born, he’s been assigned to three different elementary schools as one after the other has been shuttered. Now it’s time for middle school, and there’s been no neighborhood option available.

Meanwhile, across Rock Creek Park in a wealthy, majority-white community, there is a sparkling new neighborhood middle school, with rugby, fencing, an international baccalaureate curriculum and all the other amenities that make people pay top dollar to live there.

Such inequities are the perverse result of a ‘reform’ process intended to bring choice and accountability to the school system. Instead, it has destroyed community-based education for working-class families, even as it has funneled resources toward a few better-off, exclusive, institutions.

On Sunday, another op-ed detailed how food manufacturers and food service companies are allegedly fleecing taxpayers while delivering food with little or no nutritional content.

The money is ill spent. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has warned that sending food to be processed often means lower nutritional value and noted that ‘many schools continue to exceed the standards for fat, saturated fat and sodium.’ A 2008 study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that by the time many healthier commodities reach students, ‘they have about the same nutritional value as junk foods.’ …

Roland Zullo, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found in 2008 that Michigan schools that hired private food-service management firms spent less on labor and food but more on fees and supplies, yielding ‘no substantive economic savings.’ Alarmingly, he even found that privatization was associated with lower test scores, hypothesizing that the high-fat and high-sugar foods served by the companies might be the cause. In a later study, in 2010, Dr. Zullo found that Chartwells was able to trim costs by cutting benefits for workers in Ann Arbor schools, but that the schools didn’t end up realizing any savings.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette continues its series on inequality this morning with a review of the impact of the recession on African-American households.

This morning, The Philadelphia Inquirer reviews a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education on the pay of presidents of private universities. Before you read the story, you should note two things. First, to be included in the top 1% in Pennsylvania in 2009, you had to earn more than $349,849 and a salary of $1,338,492 would get you into the top 0.5%. Second, as pay among Wall Street Financiers and CEOs has risen rapidly, that has put upward pressure on top executive pay in other sectors like higher education.

Drexel University paid out more than $4 million upon the death of longtime university president Constantine Papadakis in 2009, a figure that put the school first in the nation in chief-executive spending by private colleges …

Thirty six presidents earned more than $1 million in 2009, the latest year for which figures were available, up from 33 the previous year …

Alfred H. Bloom, who led Swarthmore for 18 years until his retirement in 2009, was paid $1.7 million that year, ranking him eighth among the presidents of private institutions nationwide …

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann was paid $1.3 million, ranking her 20th in the nation, according to the survey …

Other top earners were William R. Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University, who was paid $3.8 million; Donald V. DeRosa, president of University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., $2.3 million; Northwestern University president Henry S. Bienen, $2.2 million; and Vanderbilt University president Nicholas S. Zeppos, $1.8 million.

A new entry to the top 10 earners was Charles H. Polk, president of the struggling Mountain State University in southern West Virginia. Polk, who leads an institution that has accreditation problems and a graduation rate among the lowest in the nation, was paid $1.8 million last year.

Finally this morning, Harrisburg Patriot-News columnist Anne McGraw Reeves takes a break from demeaning the unemployed to profile a midstate mom active in the Occupy Harrisburg Movement.

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