Rachel M. Cohen

Rachel M. Cohen is a journalist based in Washington, D.C., and a former American Prospect writing fellow.

Recent Articles

Will Crumbling School Buildings Get a Piece of the Infrastructure Pie?

Public education advocates are hoping that Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan will help renovate the nation’s dilapidated schools, but lobbying for school repairs is never easy. 

(Photo: AP/Kathy Willens)
(Photo: AP/Kathy Willens) A photo of Charles E. Gorton High School in Yonkers, New York, in July 2012, when the school district was seeking $1.7 billion from investors to overhaul its schools. P aul L. Dunbar Elementary school, a historic, four-story building of orange brick located in North Philadelphia, looks solid and imposing from the outside. But inside Dunbar, water leaks from the school’s aging roof into classrooms, the windows are in need of repair, and the heating system only works some of the time. Dunbar is one of hundreds of schools in Philadelphia and throughout the country that is literally falling apart. From fire code violations to faulty boilers that make it too hot or too cold for students to concentrate in class, structural problems plague as many as two-thirds of America’s schools. By one 2016 estimate , it would cost $145 billion a year to properly repair and maintain the nation’s school buildings. So when President Donald Trump flagged school infrastructure...

DeVos Might Not Force Private School Vouchers on States -- But She Could Promote Them

The Trump appointee, whose nomination comes before the whole Senate tomorrow, could wreak havoc on public schools.

Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images Betsy DeVos appears before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension for her confirmation hearing. I n 1997, when Arizona launched the nation’s first tax-credit scholarship program, allowing individuals to receive tax credits for donating to nonprofits offering private school tuition grants, legislative aides estimated it would cost the state $4.5 million annually. By the 2015-16 school year, the yearly cost of the program had grown to more than $140 million, even though private school enrollment was actually below its 1997 levels. Florida launched the nation’s second tax-credit private school voucher program in 2001, with a cap of $50 million. Today the program tops out at $559,000,000 annually, and will increase to $699,000,000 in the next fiscal year. Pennsylvania’s tax-credit school voucher program, also launched in 2001, was originally capped at $30 million . Designed to provide tuition assistance to private schools, pre...

New Jersey Supreme Court Blocks Chris Christie’s Efforts to Bypass Teacher Union Contracts, Alter School Funding

The legal ruling marks a new setback to the Republican governor’s education agenda.

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
AP Photo/Julio Cortez New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addresses a question on President Donald Trump's travel ban during a news conference, Tuesday, January 31, 2017, in Newark, New Jersey. N ew Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s post-election tribulations continue to pile up. In September, Christie’s administration petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court to vacate a 2011 ruling that found his prior education funding cuts unconstitutional. The petition also requested authority to bypass teachers’ collective bargaining agreements and tenure laws. The outspoken Republican, a long-time foe of organized labor, claims that these employment rules, not school funding levels, squander already scarce dollars and harm students in low-income districts. But Tuesday, New Jersey’s high court denied the Christie administration’s attempts to link tenure and collective bargaining to school funding. Long regarded as a national leader in progressive school finance, the Garden State’s funding formula is...

Teachers Union Battle Escalates at KIPP Charter School

A fight over working conditions and union representation unfolds at a prominent charter school in New York City.

(AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Shari Lewis)
(AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Shari Lewis) KIPP Journey Academy teacher works with a group of students in Columbus, Ohio. P ublic school advocates and labor unions have been pressuring members on the Senate education committee to vote Tuesday against Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s controversial pick to head the federal education department. Pointing to the Republican billionaire’s track record in politics, advocacy, and philanthropy, critics argue that she represents an existential threat to public schooling. Flying under the radar of this high-profile fight is a little-known labor battle escalating at one of the nation’s most well-regarded and politically powerful charter school networks. With 200 schools across the country, the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, is known for boosting student achievement among low-income students, and elevating the “no excuses” style of teaching to the national stage. In late June, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), New York City’s teachers...

Betsy DeVos Alarms Special Education Advocates, Parents

(REX/Shutterstock)
REX/Shutterstock Betsy DeVos at her Senate Confirmatoin hearing in Washington D.C. on January 17, 2017. A t an hour when most parents were headed home for the evening, education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos sat down to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The unusual evening hearing raised a number of red flags before it even began: Five Republicans on the committee together had received more than $250,000 in campaign donations from the billionaire Republican donor and her family, and the Office of Government and Ethics still had not signed off on DeVos's financial disclosures. So perhaps it was not surprising that the roughly three-hour hearing included several bizarre episodes. DeVos cited grizzly bears as a justification for states determining whether firearms should be allowed in schools. The nominee also insisted that student debt rose 980 percent since 2008, when it only rose 124 percent . But the most shocking moment unfolded when DeVos...

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