Most highly educated American Jews are least religious — study

American Jews with the highest level of education are the least religious, according to a new study.

The Pew Research Center study on religiosity and education in the United States, published Wednesday, found that the more years of schooling American Jews have, the less religious they are. Most Jews who have not graduated from college believe in God, and nearly 40 percent say religion is important to them. But only about a quarter of Jews who have graduated from college believe in God and say religion is important to them.

(By contrast, reports Pew, “among Christians, those with higher levels of education appear to be just as religious as those with less schooling, on average.”)

Orthodox Jews are partly a reason for the difference. The study said that on average, the Orthodox are more religious and have less secular education than their non-Orthodox counterparts. But education accounts for a split among Orthodox Jews as well: 93% of Orthodox Jews who have not graduated from college believe in God, while 82% of Orthodox college graduates do. More than 80% of both groups say religion is important to them.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews cross the street in Brooklyn (photo credit: Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

Among non-Orthodox Jews, the differences are even starker. Nearly double the number of non-college graduates believe in God (45%) as do college graduates (23%). Nearly 30% of non-Orthodox Jews without college degrees say religion is important to them, while the number falls to 20% among those who have graduated.

Both groups have low rates of prayer attendance: 12% of college graduates and 17% of non-graduates attend services at least weekly.

A Pew study from December found that Jews are the world’s most-educated religious group, with an average of more than 13 years of formal schooling.


Jews Establish Blacklist of Colleges and Academics Critical of Israel

They sure hated Joe McCarthy’s blacklist of Communists, though.

BARELY THREE WEEKS after the Knesset passed controversial legislation that would deny entry into Israel to any foreigners who publicly support a boycott of the country, a small but vocal Jewish organization that fights anti-Israel activism on American college campuses published a list Wednesday of all the professors in the United States who have ever called for an academic boycott of Israel.

The AMCHA Initiative, which operates out of the University of California Santa Cruz, unveiled several interactive maps designed to give viewers what it said was “the ability to visually understand the distribution and geographical patterns of anti-Semitic activity on U.S. college and university campuses.”

One of these maps, the “Interactive Academic Boycotters Map,” identifies with different colored markers the institutions of higher education in the United States with faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel. The universities are divided into categories according to the number of boycott supporters they employ. Each category is assigned a different colored marker.

By clicking on any marker on the map, a viewer can obtain a list of all the names of faculty members who have signed a public document endorsing the academic boycott of Israel. The list only provides names and not department affiliations. It does not specify what documents the faculty members signed.

The universities with the largest number of boycott supporters, according to the interactive map, are both in the California state system: UC Berkeley with 47 names on its list and UC Davis with 46. Altogether, the lists contain hundreds of names.

Among the other interactive maps published by the AMCHA Initiative today is one called “The BDS Scorecard Map,” which documents the voting results of campus BDS resolutions dating back to 2012.

The AMCHA Initiative, founded in 2011, is a non-profit that monitors “anti-Semitic” and anti-Israel activities on U.S. university and college classes. A year ago, the University of California became the first public university in the United States to issue a statement condemning “anti-Semitism” on its campuses, though it stopped short of a blanket denunciation of anti-Zionism. The AMCHA Initiative was the driving force behind this landmark declaration. The group has frequently come under attack, however, for conflating “anti-Semitism” with condemnation of Israel.

“The anti-Semitism plaguing our nation’s colleges and universities continues to grow,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, AMCHA Initiative founder and director, in a statement. “One of AMCHA’s main goals, one we take very seriously, is documenting and exposing the threat. We hope these new education and research tools will prove helpful to advocacy organizations, government officials, university administrators, researchers and concerned parents, students and university stakeholders.” …

* * *

Source: Read the full article at Haaretz

13 Questions That Scare Charter School Advocates

The Network for Public Education is challenging the Trump/DeVos anti-public school agenda. According to NPE, “DeVos and her allies have worked for decades pushing charters, vouchers and neo-vouchers such as education tax credits. DeVos even supports virtual charter schools that have a horrific track record when it comes to student success.”

This campaign picks up urgency as Arizona just passed legislation providing its entire student population with vouchers to attend private, for-profit, and religious schools. The law is modeled on Trump/DeVos proposals.

The public is often confused by the Trump/DeVos assault on public schools because they frame it as promoting “choice.” In response, The Network for Public Education prepared a thirteen-point question/answer toolkit to expose the lies and distortions of charter school, voucher, and tax credit advocates. The full toolkit is available online. This report excerpts key items from the toolkit.

1. Are charter schools truly public schools? Charter schools are contractors that receive taxpayer money to operate privately controlled schools that do not have the same rules and responsibilities as public schools. Investigations of charter school operations in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, and elsewhere have found numerous cases where charters used taxpayer money to procure school buildings, supplies, and equipment that they retained ownership of, even if the school closed. In most states, charter schools are exempt from most state and local laws, rules, regulations, and policies governing public and private schools, including those related to personnel and students. Calling charter schools “public schools” because they receive public tax dollars is like calling defense contractors public companies. There are so many substantive differences between charter schools and traditional public schools that charters can’t be defined as public schools. Our communities deserve a school system that is truly public and democratically governed by the community they serve.

2. Do charter schools and school vouchers “hurt” public schools? Charter schools, vouchers, and other “choice” options redirect public money to privately operated education enterprises, which often operate for profit. That harms your public schools by siphoning off students, resources, and funding and reducing the ability of public schools to serve the full range of student needs and interests. In Nashville, TN, an independent research firm MGT of America estimated the net negative fiscal impact of charter school growth on the district’s public schools resulted in more than $300 million in direct costs to public schools over a five-year period. While alternatives to public schools may provide better options for some children, on the whole charter and voucher schools perform no better than the public school system, and often worse. At the same time, they have a negative fiscal impact on existing public schools and are creating a parallel school system that duplicates services and costs. The idea that funds should follow the child (portability) will seriously reduce public school services. Let’s stop draining our public schools and work together to strengthen them.

3. Do charter schools get better academic results than public schools? The charter school sector does not get better academic results than public schools and often performs worse. Charters sometimes appear to do better because they can control the types of students they choose to serve. The most rigorous and most expensive study of charter school performance commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education found no overall positive effect for charter schools. A recent study of charter schools in Texas found charters overall have no positive impact on test scores and have a negative impact on earnings later in life. Despite the advantages charter school have to selectively enroll students, concentrate instruction on teaching to the test, and push out students who pose the most challenging academic and behavior problems, these schools still do not out-perform public schools.

4. Are charter schools and vouchers a civil rights cause? Charter schools, vouchers, and other choice options increase the segregation of students. This results in separate, unequal schools that isolate black and Hispanic students, English language learners, and students with disabilities in schools with fewer resources and less experienced teachers. Segregation robs all children of the benefits of learning with others who have different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. A comprehensive analysis found 70% of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools – double the share of intensely segregated black students in public schools. Half of Latino charter school students attended racially isolated minority schools. A national study of charter school operated by education management organizations found only one-fourth of these schools had a racial composition similar to public schools. We need a public system that is about advancing the well-being of all, not just helping some families and children get ahead while leaving the rest behind.

5. Are charter schools “more accountable” than public schools?Charter schools that fail to perform as expected are rarely held accountable. In theory, if a charter school does not meet its stated goals or if academic results are below stated expectations, the charter sponsor can revoke its charter or refuse to renew it, and families will withdraw their children from the school. This theory doesn’t work in reality. A national assessment by the charter industry found only about 3% of charter schools are closed for academic reasons. The vast majority of charter school closures are for financial reasons. In Ohio, only one of 10 charter school students attend a school rated high performing. In Florida, where millions are wasted every year on charter schools that eventually close, 21 of those that remain open scored a grade of D or below on state assessments. The flood of poor performing charters and the cost to taxpayers will only get worse until we get to the bottom of why this is happening and insist on transparency.

6. Do charter schools profit from educating students? Charter schools are structured and operate in ways that introduce new actors into public education who skim money from the system without returning any benefit to students and taxpayers. Even charters labeled “nonprofit” expand opportunities to profit from public tax dollars and privatize public assets. In Michigan, nearly 80 percent of charter schools have all or a significant part of their operations under the control of for-profit companies. Charter schools are businesses in which both the cost and risk are fully funded by the taxpayers. The initial “investment” often comes from the government or wealthy individuals. And if the business fails, the “owners” are not out a dime, but the customers, who are in this case children, are stranded. Education should not be about making money from tax dollars intended for our children and families.

7. Do school vouchers help kids in struggling schools? Vouchers, often misleadingly called “scholarships,” divert tax dollars meant for public education to private schools that are not accountable to the public and generally do not serve the interests of struggling, low-income students. In Wisconsin, 75% of students who applied for the statewide voucher program already attended private schools. A national analysis of voucher programs found most programs do not cover enough of the tuition to enable poor minority children to access the best private schools. Vouchers are a gift of taxpayer funds to private and religious schools that if expanded will cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.

8. Are charter schools innovative? Charter schools were intended to be centers of education experimentation and innovation, but they generally don’t invent new teaching methods or develop and spread new education practices. They’re businesses first, and schools second. An analysis of 75 Arizona charter schools found little evidence the schools were developing new classroom practices. A study of Colorado charters found that more than 60% of the schools used reform models that are common elsewhere, and their instructional approaches were already being used in district public schools. Public schools have used innovative education models, such as Montessori and project based learning, for decades – well before the advent of charter schools.

9. Are online charter schools good options for families? Online charter schools, also called cyber schools and virtual schools, are a poor choice for students almost every time. A study of online charters in Ohio found students attending these schools perform worse than their peers in bricks-and-mortar schools in all tested grades and subjects. A widely cited national study found students enrolled in full-time, online only schools lost an average of about 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math over a 180- day school year – meaning, in math, an entire year of lost instruction. Online charters run by private education management organizations account for 74.4% of all enrollments in online schools.

10. Do “Education Savings Accounts” lead to better results for families? “Education Savings Accounts” are another voucher-like scheme that redirects public money for educating all children to private, unaccountable education businesses, homeschoolers, and religious institutions. Privatization advocates created these programs because school vouchers are unpopular and because these programs are a way around prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools. Wealthier families in urban and suburban communities would benefit the most from the program because they have more access to private schools and services. An analysis of Arizona’s ESA program found that most families using the program are leaving high-performing public schools in wealthy districts to attend private schools. Rather than diverting tax dollars away from public schools, we should adequately fund our schools so they can have smaller class sizes, more specialized resources for student needs, and more education opportunities to meet the high expectations of parents.

11. Do education tax credits scholarships provide opportunity?Privatization advocates have created tax credit programs because school vouchers are unpopular. These programs are a way to get around prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools which often discriminate on the basis of religion, gender preference, disciplinary history, or ability level. In Georgia, a popular tax credit program allows public money to be used for tuition at more than 100 private schools that refuse to enroll gay, lesbian, or bisexual students. Because the amount of scholarship money rarely covers the cost of tuition at the best private schools, the money subsidizes sub-standard private schools that have less accountability than public schools, discriminate against students, and on average, do not provide children with better education opportunities.

12. Are tax credits scholarships a voucher by a different name? Like vouchers, these programs redirect public money for educating all children to private schools, including religion-based schools. Diverting funds from public schools harms our children’s education because schools are forced to respond to the lost money by cutting staff and programs. In Georgia, the state does not track who is receiving scholarships under the program, and state lawmakers made it a criminal offense to disclose information about the program to the public. Public schools in Arizona get about $4,200 per pupil from the state, but the state’s education tax credit program awards $5,200 on average to parents participating in the program – an additional $1,000 for every child who leaves a public school for a private or religious school. If the goal is to make more high-quality school choices available for parents, then the emphasis should be on helping current public schools be the best they can be. This is no more than a gift of public funds and a scheme to help the wealthy and corporations avoid paying taxes.

13. Do charter schools and vouchers save money? Charter schools increase education costs to taxpayers because they have become a parallel school system that drains money from what’s available to serve all students. School voucher programs can add extra layers of administrative costs and make education funds less transparent and accountable. The result of both programs is more money going to more service providers instead of directly to students and classrooms. A national study found charter schools on average spend $774 more per pupil per year on administration and $1141 less on instruction than traditional public schools. In New Orleans, where all schools converted to charters, administrative spending increased by 66 percent while instructional spending dropped by 10 percent. In New York City, some charter schools occupy public school buildings practically rent free. Charter schools and vouchers are not a way to get better education on the cheap. Because each school or network of schools is its own financial entity, they don’t have the economies of scale that public schools have. So charters and private schools supported with vouchers have to continually find more ways to tap into public school budgets or generate funds from the private sector. This drain on resources threatens the capacity of public education budgets to serve all students.




Alan Singer is a social studies educator, Hofstra University. Follow him on Twitter @ReecesPieces8



They say that the victors write the history. But who writes the fiction?

The Cold Warriors of yesteryear may be asking themselves this very question today.

News recently broke that a reputable publishing house released a book titled “Communism for Kids.” Its author appears to be the archetype of an Obama administration education czar: “Bini Adamczak is a Berlin-based social theorist and artist. She writes on political theory, queer politics, and the past future of revolutions.”

What better literature to which to expose young minds than communist propaganda packaged as a parable, and who better to write it than Ms. Adamczak?

The book’s overview reads in part:

Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true? This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism. Offering relief for many who have been numbed by Marxist exegesis and given headaches by the earnest pompousness of socialist politics, it presents political theory in the simple terms of a children’s story, accompanied by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening.

If you thought the old saw about communism leading to soul-crushing and violent collectivism, economic failure, and human misery only because it had never been implemented properly was dead, think again.

Never mind that communism is antithetical to human nature; that it is inherently authoritarian in its squelching of liberty; or that it is Adamczak’s “lovable little revolutionaries” who are always the first ones to lose their heads after the revolution “triumphs.”

This time things will be different, comrades!

The overview continues:

It all unfolds like a story, with jealous princesses, fancy swords, displaced peasants, mean bosses, and tired workers–not to mention a Ouija board, a talking chair, and a big pot called “the state.” Before they know it, readers are learning about the economic history of feudalism, class struggles in capitalism, different ideas of communism, and more. Finally, competition between two factories leads to a crisis that the workers attempt to solve in six different ways (most of them borrowed from historic models of communist or socialist change). Each attempt fails, since true communism is not so easy after all. But it’s also not that hard. At last, the people take everything into their own hands and decide for themselves how to continue. [Author’s note: When the people — as opposed to the state — “take[s] everything into their own hands,” is not that more classical liberalism than communism?] Happy ending? Only the future will tell. With an epilogue that goes deeper into the theoretical issues behind the story, this book is perfect for all ages and all who desire a better world.

What are we to make of this nightmare cast as a fairytale?

First, the Left never stops in its attempt to win the war of ideas. While Venezuela burns and the modern-day gulag of North Korea persists, in the minds of leftist true believers communism is ripe for rebranding. Just as these adherents cling to the idea that there can never be enough government spending to paper over problems, or power to be usurped and wielded to achieve the Left’s infinite flavors of “justice,” so too do they believe that communism remains the road to utopia if executed properly by the right actors.

Have you ever seen “The Black Book of Communism” mentioned in a movie or incorporated into your children’s curriculum?

Second, the Left believes it imperative to take all measures to convert people to their anti-religion as early as possible. Propagandizing our youth is not only fair game, but the right thing to do from their perspective. While there is something sinister about seeking to influence young minds with political messages with which they may not be ready to grapple — and without presenting counter-arguments to boot — this has been the hallmark of such leftist movements for decades. As progressive education luminary John Dewey wrote in one section of his “Democracy and Education” titled “Education as a Social Function:”

We have seen that a community or social group sustains itself through continuous self-renewal, and that this renewal takes place by means of the educational growth of the immature members of the group. By various agencies, unintentional and designed, a society transforms uninitiated and seemingly alien beings into robust trustees of its own resources and ideals. Education is thus a fostering, a nurturing, a cultivating, process. All of these words mean that it implies attention to the conditions of growth. We also speak of rearing, raising, bringing up—words which express the difference of level which education aims to cover. Etymologically, the word education means just a process of leading or bringing up. When we have the outcome of the process in mind, we speak of education as shaping, forming, molding activity—that is, a shaping into the standard form of social activity. [Emphasis mine]

Third, as always, the Left is laser-focused on competing in culture, of which children’s books are just one small piece. This is a space conservatives have ceded for far too long with devastating effect because if you lose the culture you lose the politics. And while we conservatives believe we have superior ideas, the Left understands that the packaging and distribution of such ideas is essential if its worldview is to prevail.

At the beginning of this piece I invoked the adage that the victors write the history. To that end, I would challenge readers to present a “conservative” history book that has been comparably successful to Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” in terms of its impact on our culture. Have you ever seen “The Black Book of Communism” mentioned in a movie or incorporated into your children’s curriculum?

Can we really claim that we are the victors in this ideological battle?

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child reading

Once again, academia proves itself to be a hotbed of delusional communists, who seek to warp the minds of the young with propaganda.

MIT Press, a publisher affiliated with the world renown Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently published a children’s book titled “Communism for Kids.” Its content is every bit as asinine as the title suggests. According to the book’s description:

“…This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism. Offering relief for many who have been numbed by Marxist exegesis and given headaches by the earnest pompousness of socialist politics, it presents political theory in the simple terms of a children’s story, accompanied by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening.”

Considering that the far-left consists of a bunch of unimaginative joykills, it’s not surprising that the book isn’t very good, as the many one star reviews on Amazon can attest. One reviewer stated, “Essentially the book is summarized thusly: The world is terrible because a bunch of entrepreneurs invented things like television, cars and nice homes. Because of scarcity, not everyone can have those things. Therefore, those things are evil and pursuing them is capitalist brainwashing. Another reviewer wrote “Will sell like hotcakes in Venezuela. They need toilet paper.”

Though the description claims that this book is “perfect for all ages,” it’s not even a very good children’s book. It’s apparently riddled with with academic jargon and references to political movements that no child would understand.

What’s most surprising, is not that a book with this subject matter would be published, but that it was published by MIT press. MIT produces some of the most brilliant graduates in the world, who go on to make countless contributions to the global marketplace through inventions, research, and startups. It’s an engine of entrepreneurship. It’s estimated that if all the companies that were started by MIT graduates were one country, it would be the 17th largest economy in the world. I guess no school is safe from the blathering madness of leftist academics.

Shocking Education Report Shows Taxpayers Paying Hundreds of Millions for Unneeded and Inferior Charter Schools

Photo Credit: Photo by Ismael F. Armendariz Jr.


A blockbuster report detailing how California’s charter school industry has wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by opening and building schools in communities that don’t need them and often end up doing worse than nearby public schools, is a nationwide warning about how education privateers hijack public funds and harm K-12 public schools.

“This report finds that this funding [building, buying, leasing] is almost completely disconnected from educational policy objectives, and the results are, in turn, scattershot and haphazard,” the report’s executive summary begins. “Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent each year without any meaningful strategy. Far too much of this public funding is spent on schools built in neighborhoods that have no need for additional classroom space, and which offer no improvement over the quality of education already available in nearby public schools. In the worst cases, public facilities funding has gone to schools that were found to have discriminatory enrollment policies and others that have engaged in unethical or corrupt practices.”

The report, “Spending Blind: The Failure of Policy Planning in California Charter School Funding,” was written by the University of Oregon’s Gordon Lafer for In The Public Interest, a research and policy center based in Oakland, California.

Its findings are significant on national and statewide levels, especially since California has more charter schools than any other state and the Trump administration has proposed spending $20 billion for a range of “school choice” initiatives, from charter public schools to tuition vouchers for religious schools or to subsidize home schooling. Charter schools are privately run K-12 schools and have become an industry dominated by corporate franchises seeking rapid growth.

The school reform template embraced by the Trump administration’s K-12 privatization agenda would use many of the same fiscal devices and tax-based incentives the new report has documented as wasting California taxpayer funds and harming nearby traditional schools.

Viewed from the level of state politics, where most of the nation’s K-12 education policies are sanctioned and administered, the report highlights a fundamental injustice. California’s charter industry accessed more than $2.5 billion in government-backed bonds, tax credits and grants to lease, build or buy schools in communities where school districts could not meet the legal criteria to build new schools because current or future enrollments would not justify that expansion.

“The most fundamental question to ask about any type of school construction is: how many schools are needed for the number of students we have?” the report asks. “Nearly 450 charter schools have opened [across California] in places that already had enough classroom space for all students—and this overproduction of schools was made possible by generous public support, including $111 million in rent, lease, or mortgage payments picked up by taxpayers, $135 million in general obligation bonds, and $425 million in private investments subsidized with tax credits or tax exemptions. Moreover, since this data was available for only a portion of the state’s charter schools, the real amounts of funding devoted to schools in communities that had no need for more classrooms is almost twice as great.”

The report goes further and notes that despite the charter industry’s assertions that exempting it from regulations would lead to education excellence and innovation, that absence of oversight has led to creating large numbers of shoddy schools in these unwarranted locations.

“The most commonsense question for policy makers to ask when considering funding a new charter school is: will this school provide a quality of education that is superior to that currently available in nearby public schools? Surprisingly, this question is never asked, nor has the data been assembled to easily answer it,” the report says. “This report answers that question for the first time, and for three-quarters of California charter schools, the answer is negative—that is, the quality of education they offer is worse than that of a nearby traditional public school.”

The report cites the statewide charter lobby’s research as the source for that conclusion.

“Indeed, the CCSA [California Charter School Association] has identified 161 schools that last year ranked among the worst of the worst—scoring in the bottom 10 percent of similar schools,” it says. “But this has not prevented these schools from collecting $44 million in lease payments, $57 million in general obligation bonds, $40 million in tax-credit investments, and $85 million in conduit bond financing.”

Stepping back from the worst-performing California charters, the report still paints a picture of large-scale failures by an industry whose core rationale was that the schools were wanted and needed in many communities that hungered for a reinvention of K-12 public education.

“The data suggest that at least 30 percent of charter schools fail both tests—they were opened in places that had no need for additional seats, and they failed to provide an education that was superior to that offered in nearby public schools,” it said. “Due to multiple limitations on available data, the actual share of such schools is almost certainly higher. But even by this limited measure, assuming such failures are evenly distributed across all schools, Californians provided these schools combined facilities funding of over $750 million, at a net cost to taxpayers of nearly $400 million.”

The report correctly points out that charters siphoned these multi-millions away from traditional public schools during a period of great fiscal scarcity in California. That, in turn, harmed many existing school districts that were forced to cut or curtail successful programs.

“Such indiscriminate funding comes at a time when schools across the state face urgent needs that are going unmet due to budgetary shortfalls,” the report notes. “Parents, teachers, superintendents, and school board members alike point to model programs in danger of closure; oversubscribed schools that can’t afford to expand; overcrowded classrooms that make personal attention impossible; and insufficient funding for school counselors, social workers, special education, and English language learners.”

The report concludes by restating what many critics of K-12 privatization have been saying for years—that the original vision for a charter school—a locally created and overseen experimental public school—has been usurped by educational entrepreneurs who see great profit-making potential in accessing billions in taxpayer funds. It points out, for example, that charters in the Los Angeles area have used these state fiscal devices to buy and transfer more than $200 million in real estate property to private ownership—all under the guise of improving public schools.

“When California legislators first created charter schools, their intent was clear,” the report notes, referring to the 1990s. “They sought to empower small groups of educators to launch a wide variety of innovative startups that, by experimenting with new approaches to education, would develop superior models fit to meet the needs of the diverse students that make up the state’s school population.

“However, because legislators’ vision for charter schools has not been incorporated into funding formulas, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually on charter facilities have not created the hoped-for incubator of innovation and continual improvement,” it continues. “While some charter schools have proved exemplary, much of the industry has become dominated by the same types of organizations legislators had sought to reform: large chains of schools where materials, methods, and evaluation are centrally dictated and teachers lack the power to set the curriculum; Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) that replicate a single model over and over again with little variation; and schools whose quality of education is no better than that of nearby public schools, and who do not serve to spur improvements in the wider system.”

The report notes that California has raised $500 million from bond sales to fund an upcoming round of public school construction and very strongly suggests that the state develop new criteria to more wisely spend that money than has been the pattern up to now.

“It is not too late to shift course,” the report’s author writes. “With $500 million in newly appropriated general bond funding waiting to go out the door, now is the time for legislators to establish spending rules to guarantee that available funds serve to meet the most critical needs of California students. It is my hope that this report may help shed some light on this pressing issue.”

It’s not just a pressing issue for California’s public schools. As the Trump administration and Congress craft a fiscal year 2018 federal budget, one would hope that the lessons seen in the states on how privatization schemes waste public funds and harm institutions like public schools would be heeded. But just as the charter lobby has prospered in the biggest bluest state, California, there’s even less inclination for government oversight in the reddest federal government in recent memory.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

A first: New York will offer free tuition at all four-year state colleges for qualifying families

APRIL 10, 2017 On Sunday, the New York State Senate passed a budget that includes a $163-million initiative to offer free tuition at public colleges and universities to students with an annual family income of $125,000 or less. The new program represents a first in the United States: Never before has a state offered free tuition to any four-year state university or community college, including students from many families whose income levels would be considered middle class.

The Excelsior scholarship, which was first proposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in January, was included in the state’s $153-billion state budget proposal. The program will be phased in over the next few years, but families earning $100,000 or less will be able to take advantage of the scholarship beginning in the fall.

The new scholarship will break new ground in the US, yet it is only the latest proposal aimed at making college more affordable. Across the country, legislators and education officials have begun reevaluating the rising cost of higher education and the increasing necessity of collegiate training in many fields of employment. A number of cities and states have programs helping students with tuition at community colleges, while Tennessee, Oregon, and Minnesota offer tuition-free community college.

For Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor and education expert at Temple University’s College of Education in Philadelphia, the New York program represents an important and necessary step to help lower-income students in a changing US economy.

“Most Americans attend public higher education, and the price in that sector has risen substantially over time as states have decided to allocate less support on a per-student basis, leaving each individual student to cover more of the bill for their education,” Dr. Goldrick-Rab tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. “It’s quite straightforward – the fraction of the cost of a college education covered by the state goes down, and the fraction covered by a student goes up.”

The high cost of tuition has become an increasingly important issue for many Americans, as rising administrative costs and dwindling financial aid availability continue to inflate the price of a college education for students across the country. A Gallup poll from February 2016 found that 35 percent of Millennials now carry student loan debt, along with a quarter of all Generation Xers. This information can lead many prospective students to question whether going to college is worth the enormous cost, even for those whose families belong to income brackets that have traditionally been able to afford higher education.

“The existing aid system offers insufficient funding to lower-income students, leaving them short, while also excluding the many lower-income students who can’t afford to trust a system that says ‘Trust us, college will be affordable,’ without stating the price,” Goldrick-Rab says. “Moreover, a growing number of middle-class students are also being priced out as their family incomes have stagnated or even declined while public sector prices rise. They are too rich to qualify for need-based aid and too poor to afford college without it.”

The solution may seem simple enough – just enter the workforce straight out of high school. But many point to statistics that indicate that college grads earn far more than their counterparts, with more employers than ever before coming to see a Bachelor’s degree, rather than a GED, as a minimum education qualification for many jobs.

“College is today what high school was 50 years ago,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on a radio interview Sunday on AM 970 in New York City, according to the Associated Press. “If you’re a young person who wants success and a career, a college education is necessary.”

Governor Cuomo’s new scholarship could help up to 940,000 families qualify for the new higher-education benchmark by the time the program is fully implemented in 2019, but there are a few qualifications. First, students must agree to live and work in New York for the same number of years after graduation as they received the scholarship, a condition that could prove troublesome for some students. Second, the scholarship does not cover room, board, and other expenses that could prove prohibitive for many families.

With all this in mind, says William Sanders, a professor of economics at DePaul University in Chicago, it may be worth considering alternatives to college altogether – not just as prospective students, but as a society.

“On the average, students with a college education do better in the job market than students with less education,” Dr. Sanders tells the Monitor via email. “However, college is not for everyone. For this reason, we should pay more attention for training, apprenticeships, etc., outside of college.”

Still, the disparity between the growing necessity of intensive post-high school training for many jobs and the high cost of receiving that training is a crisis that needs to be dealt with, says Goldrick-Rab. States such as Tennessee and Oregon have already begun to explore programs that provide free community college to residents in order to keep less-educated citizens from being left behind.

“The goal should be to lower the price charged, not the cost (which is the money required to deliver a quality education),” says Goldrick-Rab. “We need to restore state support in any manner possible, ideally coupled with federal support, and provide all students with a clear, accessible, high-quality opportunity for education in the public sector.”

How the people of the book became the people of the library


LOD — Sitting on the pint-sized couch in the bright, busy Gan El-Nagmen kindergarten, the stuffed, oversized figure waits, its floppy green arms outstretched for hugs and squeezes from the class’s five-year-olds.

The stuffed doll was made by one of the class parents after reading “Where Do I Go When I Am Angry?” a book in Arabic about how to handle emotions.

It’s one of the many tactile ways in which this kindergarten — like others participating in the extensive PJ Library program founded by the Springfield, Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation — capitalizes on the books it receives over the course of the 10-month school year to teach ideas, values and, of course, a love of reading.

While tangible results are hard to come by, over ten years into this global children’s book-reading network, organizers, publishers and community leaders say the impact the books are having is unmistakable, with young minds increasingly exposed to Jewish ideas — or Israeli values in Sifriyat Pijama (the Israeli PJ Library) and humanistic values in Maktabat al-Fanoos (the Arabic PJ Library) — and publishers are more likely to put those themes into their pages.

The Lod kindergarten is one of 2,800 preschools that take part in Maktabat al-Fanoos, or Lantern Library, the Arabic-language book program created by the PJ Library, a global early childhood reading program that started off as a project to expose American Jewish children to Jewish books.

Maktabat al-Fanoos, one of the more recent additions to the US-based program, now brings books to 90,000 young Arabic readers.

Reading 'xxxx', a Maktabat al-Fanoos book at a Lod kindergarten (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“We’re the largest gifting book program in the Arabic-speaking world,” said Galina Vromen, director of Sifriyat Pijama and Maktabat al-Fanoos.

Maktabat al-Fanoos was established in 2014, nine years after PJ Library and its cascading list of reading programs. It just marked two million books given to all children in Arabic preschools across Israel.

“Now these kids — and their families — are reading the books at home as well, building libraries in houses that may not have had much of a book collection,” said Ahlam al Masoudi, the energetic, veteran teacher at the Lod kindergarten. “They talk about feelings in the books and it helps them figure that out at home.”

The goal of Maktabat al-Fanoos is not just getting the kids to read, but acquainting them with books, said Vromen.

“They shouldn’t be terrified of books and learning to read when they get to first grade,” she said.

That’s a serious consideration for the Arabic-speaking population, which hasn’t always had the wherewithal to read or buy books to have at home.

“Maktabat al-Fanoos makes books very accessible to these kids and their families,” said Fatma Kassem, a supervisor of Arabic pre-schools in Israel’s Education Ministry. “In the past, books were just not as accessible to them, and that made it harder.”

The Education Ministry is a full partner in Maktabat al-Fanoos, contributing 70 percent of the funds used to run the program. It’s not the first time the ministry has had a children’s book program; My Bookshelf At Home was another ministry book-buying program that often required funding from the parents to participate.

“PJ Library just works better,” said Kassem. “It has books on all kinds of subjects; it opens the conversation between parents and kids.”

A report released in June by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in collaboration with Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, also known as the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, surveyed basic skills among people aged 16-65 in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in 34 countries.

When comparing scores between Jewish and Arab adults, there were significant gaps, particularly in literacy, in which Jewish adults scored 264 on average, while Arab adults scored an average of 225 – a 39-point gap.

There are no current figures showing how Maktabat al-Fanoos affects Arab adult literacy, or that of Arabic-speaking preschoolers, but Kassem pointed to clear advantages of the program.

“It enriches their vocabulary,” she said. “They’re using words from the books they’re reading in conversation.”

Working on artwork related to Malak Farooge's Lantern Library book, ' Where Do I Go When I Am Angry' at the Lod kindergarten (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

By the time a child reaches first grade, he or she has a personal library of 24 Maktabat al-Fanoos books.

“This program is creating important change in Arab society,” said Kassem. “There is increasing research that shows that exposure to reading from an early age helps later academic success. And reading is also important for emotional development.

“Everyone takes it home, and they read it all together, all the time,” she said. “It’s a big change, because they might not have been able to buy kids’ books otherwise.”

The books in the program include original works in Arabic from authors such as Safah Amir, Fadel Ali and the late Jihad Iraqi, as well as translations from foreign works. Program evaluation has shown that more than 90% of teachers and parents like the books and consider them high-quality.

There are also books that are read by both Arabic speakers and Hebrew speakers, creating a joint literary experience whose importance can’t be overstated, added Kassem.

xxx, the energetic teacher who loves the teaching opportunities brought to her classroom by Maktabat al-Fanoos (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Maktabat al-Fanoos followed Sifriyat Pijama, the Hebrew PJ Library project, in Israel.

While PJ Library supports Jewish values, and Jewish and Israeli heritage with Sifriyat Pijama, Maktabat al-Fanoos supports universal humanistic values and knowledge of Arabic language and genres, said Vromen.

The Grinspoon Foundation never planned on expanding its children’s book program to this extent, said Vromen. But it believes in the importance of Israel, and Maktabat al-Fanoos helps to strengthen the fabric of Israeli society as a whole, she said.

None of this was necessarily the plan when Harold Grinspoon, the now-87-year-old philanthropist, first came up with the idea of handing out free books with Jewish content to families with young children.

The philanthropist who gives away books

In 2004, Grinspoon was listening to NPR when a report came up about country singer Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which set up book repositories for disadvantaged populations. The philanthropist, who had made his millions in real estate, was gripped by the idea that Jewish books could perhaps bridge the growing gap in the American Jewish community, particularly among intermarried families.

“It was really about Jewish values, it always has been and always will be,” said Diane Troberman, Grinspoon’s wife and co-founder. “In our community, 40% of the Jewish community was intermarried.”

Grinspoon and Troderman were familiar with those statistics from years of donating to different Jewish causes. A self-made millionaire who parlayed the purchase of a rundown two-family home into a real estate fortune, Grinspoon hadn’t always been a major giver.

It was when he met Troderman, his third wife — she was his reader, as Grinspoon, ironically, is dyslexic — that the two began expanding their charitable giving. Both were raised in secular homes, but knew enough about anti-Semitism and assimilation to grasp the importance of a strong Jewish community.

They met with representatives of Parton’s foundation and became convinced that giving away books with Jewish values could help instill greater awareness in their local Jewish community.

The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation began sponsoring Imagination Library in Western Massachusetts later that same year, and continues to do so. A year later, PJ Library was created.

Harold Grinspoon, the founder of PJ Library, reads one of the program's books with a gaggle of children. (photo credit: PJ Library/JTA)

Since then, PJ Library has expanded to more than 200 Jewish communities across the US and Canada, mailing some 200,000 books each month to participating families’ homes. The cost of the annual subscription, which is approximately $100 per family, is split between the Grinspoon Foundation and more than 200 community partners in the US and Canada. In most communities, the local Jewish Federation is the partner, although it may be the JCC or another Jewish organization in other places.

“There was a void for Jewish families in America,” said Grinspoon, chatting over breakfast a few months ago. “And that left room for them to invite us into their home.”

The project grew from its initial roots in Western Massachusetts, to 160,000 subscribers in the first 10 years and now 200,000 families.

As for impact: In a survey in 2013 of some 25,000 PJ library subscribers, 75% said they discuss Jewish-related concepts and values more because of PJ Library books, and 58% reported that PJ Library influenced their decision to build upon or add a Jewish tradition to their home life, whether with a Passover Seder, Friday night dinner or Purim costumes.

(The organization surveys its results every three years, and the results for the 2016 survey were not yet available for this article.)

The majority of PJ Library subscriber families have been part of PJ Library for three years or less, according to the most recent survey. Some 46% of subscriber families identify with one of the three major North American Jewish movements, and 28% identify themselves as “just Jewish.” One in five subscriber families identifies as interfaith.

“Harold has driven this,” said Troberman. She often jumps in for Grinspoon, whose speech is somewhat hampered by the surgery he had for tongue cancer years ago.

“It’s all measured on the return on investment,” said Grinspoon, pointing out the relatively inexpensive program. “How else could we reach Jewish families so inexpensively?”

A global bookmobile

There are now a total of 530,000 children’s books in English distributed around the world each month by PJ Library. That’s not counting, of course, the 90,000 books distributed to Arabic readers in Israel, or the 340,000 received by Sifriyat Pijama readers in Israel.

Galina Vromen, the director of Sifriyat Pijama and Maktabat al-Fanoos, the Hebrew and Arabic branches of PJ Library (Courtesy Galina Vromen)

In the US and Canada, the books come in the mail for the young readers, making them “the best missionaries,” said Vromen, the Grinspoon Foundation executive director in Israel.

“The kids get the envelope in the mail, and there’s no way parents can get away without reading it,” she said. “In Israel, where it gets distributed in the classroom, there’s the peer pressure of the other classmates having read it.”

Israel’s Sifriyat Pijama books couldn’t be sent by mail because they would have ended up in the post office as packages, and Israeli parents don’t have the patience to stand in line at the post office to pick up a book, said Vromen.

Instead, they came up with the solution of giving the books out in the classroom.

Once they ended up funneling the books through the classroom, the program gained the power of the teacher, said Vromen. It turned out that most teachers read to their young students almost every day,

“They are our best emissaries,” she said. “They liked that the books are good and that they value education.”

It was the teachers who “really took to the program,” said Vromen. Sifriyat Pijama began with 3,500 kids in 2009 and has ramped up to 340,000 along with the 90,000 Arabic-speaking kids.

“The Education Ministry has really taken this on board as part of what teachers do,” said Vromen. The ministry also provides financial support, buying the books and handling the curriculum used by teachers in the classrooms.

Preschool kids getting their Sifriyat Pijama books in the bags given out by the PJ Library program (Courtesy PJ Library)

Sifriyat Pijama is currently distributing four books a year to half of the Hebrew-speaking first- and second-graders. The plan is to distribute to the entire school system by next year and to all Arabic-speaking schools within two years.

“I’m a convert for the government involvement,” said Vromen. “If you want massive impact, you need the government and there are a lot of great people in the Education Ministry. I communicate with them at all hours of the day.”

Kids — and parents — still read books

How did such a relatively small idea become such a powerhouse in the children’s book industry? The best answer is probably that kids and their parents still want to read books together before bed.

Parents and small children want “something tangible to read at night,” echoed Catriella Freedman, who runs the program’s newest addition, PJ Our Way, for preteens.

It’s a truism backed by stats from one of PJ Library’s surveys, conducted every three years: A significant number of parents — some 35% — are still reading to kids, often past the age of 8.

Parents like reading to kids beyond age 8, and PJ Library is honing in on that habit (Courtesy PJ Library)

Reading to kids, and making sure they’re still looking at printed books, is important to parents, said Freedman. Yet the “brilliance of Harold’s idea” was putting Jewish values into that content, “making it easy for them,” she said. “And they don’t want it on an iPad, they want it in a [printed] book.”

The timing of PJ Library with the explosion of personal devices and the games kids play on iPads and tablets was actually a boon for the program, added Troberman.

“Because of parents’ desire to limit screen time, they’re over the top about making sure kids are read to,” she said.

Freedman runs PJ Our Way from Zichron Yaakov, the northern Israeli town where she moved to Israel from the US with her family nine years ago. With a background in Jewish education, she had thoughts about how PJ Library should expand, and shared them with Grinspoon when they met by chance several years back.

“PJ Our Way is very much based on those ideas,” said Freedman.

Now there are 21,000 preteens signed up for the book program, with 13,000 books send out each month, “a huge number for this age group,” which is “so locked into” tablets, video games and apps.

Her focus, for now, is on the preteen set in the US, where the program has grown because of a perceived vacuum in content for that age group.

“It’s a platform for Jewish families to feel connected,” said Freedman. “So why have PJ Library stop at age 8?”

Reading PJ Our Way books (Courtesy PJ Library)

Dina Rubin, a fourth-grader from Cleveland, Ohio, is one of ten PJ Our Way national design team members.

She said she likes getting to meet people close to her age all around the US, as they meet virtually one Sunday a month. But reading books is, of course, the best part, said Rubin, who likes mysteries, fantasy and graphic novels, but won’t turn down a good non-fiction book.

She’s not averse to the Jewish aspect of PJ Our Way, either.

“It kinds of makes me feel closer to my religion,” said Rubin. “If it’s about a famous Jewish person, it kind of makes me want to do that kind of stuff.”

It’s been a challenge finding Jewish content for that age group, said Freedman, as most tween books are geared for slightly older kids, not the 9-to-11 set.

But just as PJ Library has changed the face of Jewish children’s literature, PJ Our Way has done the same.

The preteens have a big say in what they read and how they share that with fellow readers.

A PJ Library mentor meets virtually with her “readers” six months in advance of books chosen, going through the roster of titles and, once they are selected, making videos and writing blog postss about each book. There are also Skype chats with the authors.

“Kids love authors, they’re like rock stars,” said Freedman.

Reading PJ Our Way books at summer camp, one of the newest additions to the PJ Library plan (Courtesy PJ Our Way)

Once PJ Library extended to a slightly older readership, Grinspoon, whose foundation also helps Jewish camps through JCamp180, a program designed to help non-profit Jewish camps fundraise and be sustainable — wanted to send books to sleepaway Jewish camps.

Now JCamp180 camps can apply to receive PJ Our Way books each year, one per camper per summer. The program is up to 68 camps for summer 2017, up from 46 last summer.

The incentive to get kids to go to Jewish camps comes from their younger siblings’ PJ Library books, which have a sticker asking whether they’re planning to go to camp this summer.

The PJ effect on publishers and writers

With the increasing number of titles it distributes, PJ Library has also influenced the growing number of Jewish children’s books, and the publishers that seek them out.

“PJ Library has done a wonderful job of getting Jewish values and books out into the market, they’re remarkable,” said Joni Sussman, publisher of Kar-Ben Publishing, the largest Jewish children’s book publisher, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

A Kar-Ben title, 'The Passover Scavenger Hunt,' which was a PJ Library pick several years back (Courtesy Kar-Ben Publishing)

Named for the youngest children — Karen and Ben — of the two founders, Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler, Kar-Ben was established in 1975 to publish its first book, “My Very Own Haggadah,” a children’s Passover Haggadah. The company was later sold to the Minneapolis-based Lerner Publishing group.

The publisher now receives about 1,000 manuscripts a year, and publishes around 20, said Sussman. These days, a lot of their work is with PJ Library.

“They’ve certainly raised the profile of Jewish children’s books,” said Sussman. “These books are now going into many homes that, frankly, prior to PJ Library, wouldn’t have found their way there. What’s great about Jewish children’s books is that no matter where they are on the spectrum, you can find something to learn in a non-threatening manner.”

Ditto for Maktabat al-Fanoos, which has ended up supporting new authors like Malak Farooge, a Tel Aviv University-trained social worker who wrote “Where Do I Go When I Am Angry?” after working with young children and mothers in a battered women’s shelter.

Farooge has always written poems and prose, but submitted the book draft to a new authors’ competition at a local book organization, which then published it, and later connected her to Maktabat al-Fanoos.

“I wrote about anger, and how kids deal with anger,” said Farooge. “There’s not a lot of ways to do that with Arabic, with books that teach about the emotional world and emotional language.”

'Where Do I Go When I'm Angry?' by Malak Farooge Abu-Raiya, is one of several new Maktabat al-Fanoos books by local authors (Courtesy Maktabat al-Fanoos)

The second printing of her book was for Maktabat al-Fanoos, which meant that thousands of families were receiving copies and bringing a new culture into their homes, said Farooge, something that probably wouldn’t have happened were it not for the reading program.

“Until Maktabat al-Fanoos printed it, not many people bought it, because I’m a new writer, and new writers’ books don’t get bought in the same way,” she said.

For now, she wants to carefully tread the line between writing books that work for Maktabat al-Fanoos and writing prose that comes from her own emotional world, and plans on finding that balance.

The global program has created a similar demand for more original Jewish children’s books, and there are more being written now, said Kar-Ben’s Sussman. Other publishers are also getting into this niche market, knowing that PJ Library will buy a number of books in a given year.

“If PJ Library takes a book, that’s a big sale,” said Sussman. “We still publish what we publish, with books that aren’t necessarily part of the PJ program, such as a Holocaust story or same-sex family. We need Jewish in setting or context.”

Even to a secular children’s book publisher like Chicago’s Albert Whitman & Company, PJ Library can help shift the number of Jewish children’s books, as the publisher has now produced approximately 25 PJ Library titles, said Andrea Hall, an assistant editor at Albert Whitman.

“You can’t get away from the impact they’re having,” said Rena Rossner, a literary agent who specializes in children’s books and young-adult fiction. “There are a lot of living, breathing Judaism in books that PJ Library wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, but it is a wonderful program.”

Rossner, who lives in Israel but works only with English-language books, would like to see more PJ Library books that have “enough” Jewish content and values but better quality.

“I’d like to see books about characters who happen to be Jewish rather than in-your-face Judaism,” she said.

These are arguments and discussions that don’t bother Grinspoon and Troberman. They love the fact that Jewish books and values — or Hebrew or Arabic books — are what’s being discussed.

“I said to Harold, ‘You will change the world of Jewish publication,” said Troberman. “A Russian rabbi said we are the largest pluralistic congregation in the world, and when you look at PJ Library that way, it’s absolutely true.”

Loans ‘Designed to Fail’: States Say Navient Preyed on Students

Ashley Hardin dreamed of being a professional photographer — glamorous shoots, perhaps some exotic travel. So in 2006, she enrolled in the Brooks Institute of Photography and borrowed more than $150,000 to pay for what the school described as a pathway into an industry clamoring for its graduates.

“Brooks was advertised as the most prestigious photography school on the West Coast,” Ms. Hardin said. “I wanted to learn from the best of the best.”

Ms. Hardin did not realize that she had taken out high-risk private loans in pursuit of a low-paying career. But her lender, SLM Corporation, better known as Sallie Mae, knew all of that, government lawyers say — and made the loans anyway.

In recent months, the student loan giant Navient, which was spun off from Sallie Mae in 2014 and retained nearly all of the company’s loan portfolio, has come under fire for aggressive and sloppy loan collection practices, which led to a set of government lawsuits filed in January. But those accusations have overshadowed broader claims, detailed in two state lawsuits filed by the attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, that Sallie Mae engaged in predatory lending, extending billions of dollars in private loans to students like Ms. Hardin that never should have been made in the first place.


“These loans were designed to fail,” said Shannon Smith, chief of the consumer protection division at the Washington State attorney general’s office.

New details unsealed last month in the state lawsuits against Navient shed light on how Sallie Mae used private subprime loans — some of which it expected to default at rates as high as 92 percent — as a tool to build its business relationships with colleges and universities across the country. From the outset, the lender knew that many borrowers would be unable to repay, government lawyers say, but it still made the loans, ensnaring students in debt traps that have dogged them for more than a decade.

While these risky loans were a bad deal for students, they were a boon for Sallie Mae. The private loans were — as Sallie Mae itself put it — a “baited hook” that the lender used to reel in more federally guaranteed loans, according to an internal strategy memo cited in the Illinois lawsuit.

The attorneys general in Illinois and Washington — backed by a coalition of those in 27 other states, who participated in a three-year investigation of student lending abuses — want those private loans forgiven.

Voices of Navient Borrowers
For some students who took out these loans, the debt can be a burden that weighs them down for decades. Here are some of their stories.

“The biggest mistake of my life”
BORROWED $62,000; NOW OWES $121,000

Attended ITT from 2004 to 2009; earned a B.A. in computer science. Now an I.T. Specialist in New London, Wis.
In a pair of cases that could affect hundreds of thousands of borrowers, they have sued Navient. The lawsuits cover private subprime loans made from 2000 to 2009.

These cases have parallels to the mortgage crisis that helped drive the American economy into recession, both in scope — borrowers in the United States owe $1.4 trillion on student loans — and in the details of the misdeeds claimed. Working together, the lenders and colleges were preying on a vital part of the American dream, the government lawyers say: the belief that higher education can help lift people toward a prosperous future.

That was Ms. Hardin’s goal. Today, she is a 33-year-old waitress in Seattle who still owes $150,000 in student loans and pays $1,395 a month, more than her monthly rent, to Navient. If the attorneys general succeed, a chunk of her debt could be erased.

Navient, which is based in Wilmington, Del., has denied any wrongdoing and is fighting the lawsuits. It does not originate any loans itself, but when it split off from Sallie Mae, it kept most of Sallie Mae’s existing loans. It collects payments from some 12 million people — about one in four student loan borrowers.

“We have a proven track record of helping millions of Americans access and achieve the benefits of higher education,” said Patricia Nash Christel, a Navient spokeswoman.

Sallie Mae said in a statement that Navient “has accepted responsibility for all costs, expenses, losses and remediation arising from this matter.”

‘Lose a Little More’

Perhaps more than any other company, Sallie Mae is synonymous in America with student loans — and, in the years after the lending boom, crushing student debt.

It got its start more than 30 years ago as a government-sponsored enterprise, collecting payments on loans that were backed by a federal guarantee. By the mid-2000s, Sallie Mae had become a for-profit, publicly traded company no longer tied to the government, although it still made most of its money by originating federally guaranteed student loans.

But the company also had a sideline in private loans. Those came with higher interest rates and fewer protections for borrowers than the federal loans. And if the borrowers stopped paying, Sallie Mae was stuck with the loss.

The Accusations Against Navient
Ways in which Navient was accused of misleading or cheating borrowers.

Steering borrowers away from income-based repayment plans
Navient “systematically deterred” its customers from enrolling in income-based plans by instead steering them toward other options that were simpler for the company, according to the lawsuits.

Making predatory loans to students likely to default
From 2000 to 2009, Navient’s predecessor company, Sallie Mae, from which it split off in 2014, made private, subprime loans to borrowers it knew were likely to default, state attorneys general from Illinois and Washington said.
Private loans were often profitable for the company, but a portion of them — the riskiest part of Sallie Mae’s portfolio — were not. The company made subprime loans to students who would not otherwise qualify, including borrowers with poor credit who took out loans to attend schools with high dropout rates.

Those subprime loans were a bargaining chip, the government lawyers said, a tool Sallie Mae used to build relationships with schools so that the company could make more federal loans to their students. The federal loans were the real prize, because they came with a built-in safety net: If a borrower defaulted, the government would step in and reimburse the lender for most of its losses.

Sallie Mae could afford to absorb the losses from its private loan business as, essentially, a marketing cost of snagging more lucrative loans. In a 2007 internal note, quoted in Illinois’s lawsuit, Sallie Mae described its strategy of using subprime loans to “win school deals and secure F.F.E.L.P. and standard private volume,” a reference to the Federal Family Education Loan program that generated most of the company’s profits.
Defaults on one set of subprime loan products were between 50 and 92 percent every year from 2000 to 2007, according to Illinois’s lawsuit. Students did not know about the risk, the state said in its lawsuit, but “this fact was no secret to Sallie Mae.”

Those defaults did not discourage Sallie Mae, the lawsuits show. From 2000 to 2006, Sallie Mae increased the number of borrowers with one kind of troubled loan to 43,000 from 165, an increase of some 26,000 percent.

Sallie Mae was not the only one with an incentive. The schools themselves often had a reason to push private loans.

Under Education Department rules, no more than 90 percent of a school’s tuition payments can come from federal funding. That means at least 10 percent must come from private sources. At for-profit schools, which rely heavily on federal lending, private loans — even ones to borrowers likely to default — were crucial for staying under the threshold.

Some schools made deals with Sallie Mae to subsidize its losses, regulatory filings show. The owner of the Brooks Institute of Photography, Career Education Corporation, once one of the largest for-profit chains in the country, had a typical arrangement: From 2002 to 2006, it agreed to repay 20 percent of Sallie Mae’s losses. In 2007, it increased its subsidy to 25 percent.

Early on, Career Education treated loan losses as a routine business expense. On an earnings call in August 2006 — the same month that Ms. Hardin began her studies — an analyst suggested that the company should “be willing to lose a little more money on some of these students to get them in the door,” according to a transcript of the call.
The company’s chief financial officer replied, “That’s absolutely our intent.”

But the next year, the tide turned. Government investigations revealed that financial aid officers had been accepting kickbacks, junkets and even stock options in return for steering students to certain lenders. A regulatory crackdown followed, just as the economy plunged into recession.

As defaults piled up and heads rolled — Sallie Mae’s chief executive stepped down — Sallie Mae abandoned its riskiest practices. In early 2008, the company ended its subprime lending and told at least seven major operators of for-profit schools, including Career Education, that it would stop making private loans to many of their students.

In 2014, Sallie Mae and Navient broke apart, and Navient retained the troubled loans the company had originated years earlier.

But for the students, containing the damage was not so easy.

Lenders can hound students for payments on their debt, or sell it to a collection firm, long after they have written the loan off as soured debt. And because student loans cannot typically be wiped away through bankruptcy, many borrowers have no choice but to continue chipping away at their balance, no matter how dire their financial situation.

Ms. Christel, Navient’s spokeswoman, defended the company’s lending practices as typical for the time.

“Hindsight is always 20/20,” she said. “We have called for tools to improve upfront borrowing decisions, and we also support bankruptcy reform that would allow struggling borrowers the option to discharge federal and private student loans in bankruptcy after a good-faith effort to repay.”

Career Education did not respond to requests for comment.

Decades of Debt

The school that Tom Panzica, 42, attended shut down nine years ago, but he is still carrying $6,000 in debt for a degree that turned out to be useless. Every month, he sends $100 to Navient.

Mr. Panzica, a firefighter in Chicago, enrolled in Medical Careers Institute to learn sonography. But the school offered no clinical training — and it neglected to tell its students that without that training, they would not be allowed to take the industry’s licensing exam.

After Mr. Panzica graduated, he discovered that he had none of the qualifications needed to land a job.
Medical Careers closed in 2008, and a group of students sued, accusing it of making false claims. The case was settled. Mr. Panzica received around $3,000, less than half of what he had borrowed from Sallie Mae to pay his tuition.

Several students, including Mr. Panzica, then sued Sallie Mae, arguing that it was unfair to expect repayment on a loan made for fraudulent goods. The case went to arbitration, where the students lost.

Students in California also lost a lawsuit against Sallie Mae. They had sought the dismissal of loans they took out to attend California Culinary Academy, a Le Cordon Bleu affiliate also owned by Career Education, which paid $42 million to settle a class-action claim that it inflated graduation and job-placement rates. (When Career Education shut down its Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools in 2015, the food-world celebrity Alton Brown posted his approval on Twitter, calling the chain “a culinary puppy mill.”)
A judge tossed out the case, and an appeals court panel upheld the decision. One of the panel’s three judges dissented, writing that the complaint plausibly suggested that Sallie Mae “knew what C.C.A. was up to.”

For Adam Wolf, the lawyer who represented the students, the decision still rankles. “Sallie Mae facilitated the fraud,” Mr. Wolf said.

Arbitration clauses, buried in the fine print of loan contracts, have largely thwarted students’ legal challenges. But the attorneys general are not bound by those clauses. Their cases may be the only avenue left for borrowers to get relief, said Edward X. Clinton Jr., the lawyer who represented Mr. Panzica.

Borrowers who take out federal loans to attend schools that misled them can apply to have their loans forgiven, but private loans lack that protection.

To Ms. Hardin, that is deeply frustrating. After eight years of payments, her balance has dropped by only $1,000.

“I’ve cried on the phone several times,” Ms. Hardin said of her regular fights with Navient.

When her husband, a chef, saw that Washington’s attorney general had sued Navient, he asked Ms. Hardin what she would do if the case somehow led to her loans being wiped away.
Again, she teared up. Since graduating, she has never had any spare cash to travel, or save or plan any further than the next month’s loan bill.

“We want to open a sandwich shop,” Ms. Hardin said. “The money could be going toward that.”

Florida legislature committees vote to allocate funds for Jewish school security

(JTA) — The budget committees of the Florida State House and Senate each voted to set aside funds to upgrade security at Jewish schools.

The amounts set aside by the lawmakers in the votes on Wednesday range from $254,000 up to $500,000, the Associated Press reported.

There have been threats made to 17 Jewish Community Centers and Jewish institutions in the state so far this year.

Many of the threats were part of the more than 100 bomb threats called into Jewish Community Centers and Jewish organizations. A dual Israeli-American citizen living in southern Israel has been arrested, accused of making most of the threats using high tech-equipment from his bedroom,

Republican State Rep. Randy Fine told the Associated Press that the money allocated by the state legislature would pay for security upgrades to protect the some 10,000 students at Jewish day schools throughout the state. Among the security upgrades would be fences and bullet-proof glass.