April 27, 2012

Headlines

Don’t let business lobbyists kill the Post Office
In 2006, in what looks like an attempt to bust the Postal Workers’ Union, George Bush signed into law the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. This law required the Postal Service to pre-fund 100 percent of its entire future obligations for 75 years of health benefits to its employees – and not only do it, but do it within ten years. No other organization, public or private, has to pre-fund 100 percent of its future health benefits. “No one prefunds at more than 30 percent,” Anthony Vegliante, the U.S. Postal Service’s executive vice president, told reporters last year.  The new law forced the postal service to come up with about $5.5 billion a year for the ten years following the bill’s passage. In 2006, before those payments kicked in, the USPS generated a small profit. Not surprisingly, the USPS is now basically broke. The 2006 law also bars the Postal Service from offering “nonpostal services,” which means the USPS can’t, say, open up a bank, or an internet cafe, or come up with any new entrepreneurial ideas to generate new income, as postal services do in other countries. The transparent purpose of this law, which was pushed heavily by industry lobbyists, was to break a public sector union and privatize the mail industry. Before the 2006 act, the postal service did one thing, did it well, and, minus the need to generate profits and bonuses for executives, did it cheaply. It paid for itself and was not a burden to taxpayers…This is a classic example of private-sector lobbyists using the government to protect its profits and keep prices inflated. Sen. Sanders is pushing a bill that would delay the end of Saturday delivery for two years, and prevent a number of post-office closings, but the writing is on the wall, unless there’s a public outcry. So definitely write your congressman and ask him to roll back Bush’s idiotic law, and at least give the Post Office a chance to sink or swim on its own. Rolling Stone

Reason Foundation report touts privatization momentum
The areas for which states are considering private contracts vary widely, ranging from lotteries and liquor sales to child welfare and other social services. Some of the proposals discussed seem unlikely to happen in the near future, while others are quietly being put into place in multiple states through legislative and sometimes gubernatorial action. The report says that an increasing number of states, including Utah, Arizona, California and Hawaii, are looking seriously at privatizing their cash-strapped state parks to varying degrees, from handing over the facilities to private operators to allowing private companies to sell food or offer particular amenities. “In budget battles, parks are the perennial loser,” says Leonard Gilroy, one of the report’s authors and director of government reform at Reason. “It strengthens the argument and says, ‘hey, look, the alternative here is closure.’” Stateline

SC: Statewide school bus privatization stalls
A proposal to privatize South Carolina’s school buses, endorsed by Gov. Nikki Haley, is going nowhere this year. Instead, by a 103-2 vote, the S.C. House Thursday voted to form a study committee to look into the issue. Studying the issue is a compromise after no consensus could be reached to require the state’s school districts to take over operation of their own bus systems. Under the privatization proposal, districts either could operate the bus systems themselves or contract operations out to private companies….Lawmakers and some school districts who fear the state’s promised payments to school districts to offset the cost of operating or contracting out bus operations will not keep up with rising fuel and vehicle costs. If that happens, school districts could be forced to ask local taxpayers to pay higher taxes. The State

OH: Report: ODOT could save millions if it closes rest areas, sells equipment
‎More than $6 million can be saved by downsizing the Ohio Department of Transportation’s fleet of vehicles and closing two rest stops in eastern Ohio, according to a report released Thursday by Auditor of State Dave Yost….The preliminary report recommends closing two rest areas on I-70 near I-77 at an annual savings of $492,000. ODOT recently invested $180,901 on one of the rest stops to repair the asphalt and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act….The study, expected to be completed this year, will examine the benefits of leasing the Turnpike, bonding against future toll revenue, privatizing rest stops and other options. Middletown Journal

April 26, 2012

Headlines

US Reps introduce bill to outsource investment adviser oversight
Government to pay contractor executives more
IL: Just how does Chicago’s Infrastructure Trust work?
MI: Legislators propose big cuts for state prison system
OH: Franklin County Children Services ok’s privatizing all foster care

US Reps introduce bill to outsource investment adviser oversight
Two U.S. House lawmakers unveiled legislation Wednesday to let the Securities and Exchange Commission outsource oversight of investment advisers to a private body, a move aimed at stepping up scrutiny of the industry. The bipartisan measure, introduced by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, would set the stage for merging adviser oversight into the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Wall Street’s self-policing body. Finra isn’t explicitly mentioned in the bill, but many in the industry believe it is the only organization poised to take on oversight of the more than 12,000 investment advisers currently registered with the SEC should the regulator give up the role. Finra hasn’t been shy about wanting the job. Wednesday’s proposal comes amid concern the SEC doesn’t have the resources to adequately oversee advisers. Only about 8% of advisers were inspected by the SEC last year.  The Wall Street Journal

Government to pay contractor executives more
The government is raising the cap on what it pays contractors’ top five executives to $723,029, a 10 percent increase, federal procurement officials announced Monday…”Current federal employees have had their own salaries frozen for two years and new employees will have to pay four times as much in retirement contributions, saving the government $75 billion. Yet nothing is being done to trim out-of-control contractor spending,” said John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees..”This rate of growth in the cap (both from 1995 onward, and in this most recent year) has far outpaced the rate of inflation, the rate of growth of private-sector salaries generally, and the rate of growth of federal salaries — forcing our taxpayers to reimburse contractors for levels of executive compensation that cannot be justified for federal contract work,” Lesley Field, acting administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said in the notice. Federal Times

IL: Just how does Chicago’s Infrastructure Trust work?
Michael Likosky, director of the Center on Law & Public Finance at New York University, has prepared  an infographic showing how Chicago’s new Infrastructure Trust works. NYU

MI: Legislators propose big cuts for state prison system
The state would close and privatize a 1300-bed prison in Ionia and three juvenile detention facilities and make significant cuts to prison support staff under budget bills moving quickly through the Legislature…Union leaders say privatization efforts attempted under former Republican Gov. John Engler were largely failures, and they can recommend other ways to save that don’t primarily involve the loss of public-sector jobs.  Detroit Free Press

OH: Children Services ok’s privatizing all foster care
Foster parents licensed by Franklin County Children Services must find a private agency to work for if they want to continue caring for children in their homes. The agency’s trustees voted 6-1 yesterday to disband the internal foster-care system at Children Services, a move that effectively privatizes all foster care. About 75 percent of foster-care services have been bought from provider agencies for some time, officials said. Yesterday’s decision affects about 260 foster parents who had remained licensed through the agency…No county-licensed foster parents spoke at the meeting. But Trustee Doug Moore, who voted against the resolution, said he has heard from many who are not happy that the county is severing its last direct ties to foster families. Moore also said that agency administrators didn’t inform trustees early enough or give them a chance to discuss the policy proposal before The Dispatch reported on the plan last month. “Every time I turn around, we are subcontracting stuff out,” Moore said. Columbus Dispatch

April 25, 2012

Headlines
Public-private deals seen boosting road projects
More universities charging more tuition for harder majors
IL: Chicago City Council approves mayor’s public-private infrastructure plan
NM: City shuts off water, sewer for ticket nonpayment
PA: Phila. district outlines plan for drastic overhaul
LA: How Jindal reshaped Louisiana’s public education system based on ALEC’s blueprints
NC: Unwise outsourcing of prison health care – opinion
FL: Gov. Scott signs privatization of reclaimed water bill into law
NY:  NYC high-schoolers on strike

Public-private deals seen boosting road projects
Financing for roads and highways is likely to attract a growing number of public-private partnerships once Congress passes federal transportation funding, a panel of experts at a Federal Association of Municipal Analysts conference in Las Vegas said on Friday. Congress last month opted for a 90-day extension of transportation funding amid a standoff between Democrats and Republicans over competing long-term proposals, casting uncertainty over the eventual level of federal spending for building and repairing highways…However, the partnerships cannot replace public funding, experts at the conference said. “One point is funding, and another is financing,” said Joung Lee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which represents state transportation departments. Gasoline taxes, both federal and state, account for the bulk of funds for building and maintaining highways, and revenue from these is in decline in real terms. More fuel-efficient vehicles and a federal gasoline tax long set at a flat rate of 18.4 cents per gallon are pushing this primary source of road revenues down. “We presented the Congress with a wide variety of financing options,” said Lee, showing a wide matrix including endless possibilities, such as drivers’ license surcharges or other taxes and fees. “What is lacking is the political will to implement any of these options.” Chicago Tribune

More universities charging more tuition for harder majors
A growing number of public universities are charging higher tuition for math, science and business programs, which they argue cost more to teach — and can earn grads higher-paying jobs. More than 140 public universities now use “differential tuition” plans, up 19% since 2006, according to research from Cornell’s Higher Education Research Institute. That number is increasing as states cut higher-education spending and schools try to pay for expensive technical programs…Some worry that higher tuition will put off low-income students. “The fear in all of this is will it lead to people being rationed out of classes?” said Ronald Ehrenberg, the Cornell researcher behind the tuition study….In Florida, if Gov. Rick Scott signs a bill approved by the Legislature, certain universities will get to charge tuition at their own rates rather than what’s mandated by the state. USA Today

IL: Chicago City Council approves mayor’s public-private infrastructure plan
The Chicago City Council on Tuesday approved a plan to use public-private partnerships to finance an ambitious $7 billion program to overhaul the city’s aging infrastructure…Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the multibillion-dollar plan in February, saying Chicago would go ahead with projects without waiting for federal assistance or raising taxes…Some urban planners and policy experts were skeptical that remaking a city on such a grand scale could be pulled off without either raising taxes or privatizing major pieces of infrastructure, as former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley did with the Chicago Skyway and the city’s parking meter system…The City Council on Tuesday rejected alternative proposals from aldermen who remain skeptical about the plan. One of those alternative plans would have required the council’s approval of all Trust-funded projects, set aside 1 percent of the nonprofit’s operating budget for oversight and empower Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate the Trust. “It’s not free money. It’s gonna come to us in user fees and taxes,” said Alderman Leslie Hairston. “Things that will add to the burden the city is already imposing, we’re gonna saddle them with.” The Republic

NM: City shuts off water, sewer for ticket nonpayment
With more and more vehicle owners simply deciding refuse to pay red light camera and speed camera tickets, private, for-profit companies and municipalities are growing increasingly desperate. America’s second-largest city shut down its photo ticketing program last year largely because residents who could not afford the $500 citations did not pay them. On Monday, Las Cruces, New Mexico announced it would shut off the utilities of city residents who refused to pay Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian company that owns and operates the cameras…The city provides gas, water, sewer and trash services. Ordinarily, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission prevents shutting off the utilities of low-income residents from November 15 to March 15. This is primarily a safety issue as lack of heating during a cold snap — Las Cruces recorded a -10 degree temperature in 1962 — could endanger the elderly. The commission also protects the seriously ill and customers on Medicaid or on assistance from a charitable organization. A spokesman for the commission, however, told TheNewspaper that no such protections apply to utilities run by a municipality. To have service restored, Las Cruces and its private vendor will charge a $48 re-connection fee on top of $125 per ticket. .Las Cruces gave Redflex approval to issue speeding and red light tickets three years ago. In January, a local university was unable to prove the program delivered a substantial safety benefit. Last year, a majority of voters in Albuquerque voted for the removal of red light cameras.  The Newspaper

PA: Phila. district outlines plan for drastic overhaul
The plan – subject to public comment and SRC approval – would close 40 schools next year and 64 by 2017, move thousands more students to charters, and dismantle the central office in favor of “achievement networks” that would compete to run groups of 25 schools and would sign performance-based contracts. Knudsen, in a news conference, avoided references to the “Philadelphia School District.”..Teachers union president Jerry Jordan decried the radical restructuring as the SRC divesting itself of many of the core responsibilities of public education. He called it a “cynical, right-wing, market-driven” blueprint. “This is totally dismantling the system,” Jordan said. “It’s a business plan crafted to privatize the services within the School District.”  Philly.com

LA: How Jindal reshaped Louisiana’s public education system based on ALEC’s blueprints
Last week, he signed into law a suite of landmark reform bills that will likely change the direction of public education in Louisiana forever. But not all change is good, and critics say both Jindal’s agenda and the strategy to move it come right from the playbook of conservative advocacy group ALEC, in an effort to revive Jindal’s national political profile. Louisiana is now home to the nation’s most expansive school voucher program. Charter school authorization powers have been broadened. And teacher tenure policies have been radically transformed. Louisiana already had something of a reputation as a radical-reform state, thanks to the post-Katrina educational climate in New Orleans. But not all change is good, and education advocates have deep concerns about the efficacy of Jindal’s overhaul, and the interests that have pushed it. “With these laws Gov. Bobby Jindal has sold our kids out for his political aspirations,” said Karran Royal Harper, a Louisiana parent activist and education advocate. The bills all sprinted through the state legislature. Committee hearings were conducted at a breakneck speed, Democratic lawmakers complained, and members were asked to vote on amendments they didn’t actually understand. When the House took up a bill changing teacher-tenure rules, it ran the session past midnight, refusing to break until they called for a vote…ALEC’s 2010 “Report Card on American Education” (PDF) suggested that lawmakers overwhelm their opposition in exactly this manner. “Do not simply just introduce one reform in the legislature—build a consensus for reform and introduce a lot,” the report authors told ALEC members. Salon

NC: Unwise outsourcing of prison health care – opinion
Hiring private contractors to take over the state’s prison health care system is a bad move for North Carolina and for all of us in the state who pay taxes. Privatization won’t save money, and if other states are a guide, initial low-ball bids and multiple malpractice suits will push the state’s costs even higher. Deliberate understaffing at Central Prison has led to many negative outcomes. But it looks like the Perdue administration would rather scapegoat 2,500 prison medical professionals than acknowledge its own culpability and fix the problems. Let’s call this privatization proposal what it is – either a leadership failure or a sweetheart deal for a private prison contractor with job promises to high-ranking lame-duck politicians and political appointees looking for a parachute because the boss decided to forgo another term…Despite the lack of evidence in other states that outsourcing saves money, the Department of Public Safety decided to look at privatization as a way to cut costs. But significant cost saving from privatized prison medical care is illusory, according to Alex Friedman, an editor at Prison Legal News. States that have turned medical care over to for-profit companies find themselves in the middle of negligent care lawsuits. It’s happened in Florida, New York and New Jersey. News Observer

FL: Gov. Scott signs privatization of reclaimed water bill into law
Another measure (HB 639) originally created a firestorm among environmentalists concerned that it would have allowed the privatization of “reclaimed” water, or water treated by sewage facilities. The final version of the bill will make it easier for counties and cities to use the treated water for irrigation without getting a permit. Palm Beach Post

NY:  NYC high-schoolers on strike
Occupy has caught young students’ attention — and some are planning to join the May 1 general strike. In a short video released last week, a group of students from New York’s Paul Robeson High School stand in an unremarkable classroom: school bags slung over wooden chairs and busy pinboards in the background. Their message, however, is a radical one: at front and center of the shot, a young man holding a white sheet of paper announces a mass high school student walkout on May 1, the day of the Occupy-planned general strike.  “Dear New York City. We the students of public education are here to inform you of the injustice that is taking place in our school system,” he begins, surrounded by members of the school’s student leadership, some staring defiantly into the camera with arms crossed. After listing student grievances including the privatization of the public school system, budget cuts, school closures against community wishes and over-policing in schools, the young man announces the May Day walkout to nearby Fort Greene park in Brooklyn. Salon

April 24, 2012

Headlines
U.S. suspends controversial outsourcing training program
NY: Public kept in dark about sweet deals NYC charter schools
NY: Nassau County lease of sewer plant faces hurdles
PA: Anti-public education group funds gay, Muslim Dem as stealth candidate
OH: OSU advances $400M parking privatization
ID: Idaho among states pushing private school credits
CA: Occupy the Farm activists reclaim agricultural land in SF Bay Area

U.S. suspends controversial outsourcing training program
The U.S. Agency for International Development has suspended funding for a program under which Filipino nationals were trained to work in offshore, English language call centers that serve U.S. companies. The program drew heavy criticism from lawmakers who said it posed a threat to American call center workers….Congressman Tim Bishop (D-NY) and fellow Congressman Walter Jones (R-N.C.) on Friday wrote to USAID administrator Rajiv Shah to complain about the program, known as JEEP (Job Enabling English Proficiency). JEEP used USAID funds to train students in the Philippines troubled Mindanao region, which has seen unrest by Muslim activists, to work in call centers and other industries. Feinstein said JEEP was initially conceived as a way to help students in the region integrate into Filipino society. “The intent of the program is to enable these youth to make productive contributions to society, and to reduce alienation and marginalization that may make them vulnerable to the influence of terrorism and extremism.”  Information Week

NY: Public kept in dark about sweet deals NYC charter schools
SUNY trustees are rushing to approve a whopping 50% increase in the annual per-pupil management fee the state pays to one of the city’s biggest and most controversial charter school operators. Under the plan, the Success Charter Network, run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, will see its management fee jump from $1,350 to $2,000 for each pupil enrolled at its five schools in the Harlem area. Moskowitz, who currently runs 11 charter schools throughout the city, has made no secret of her plans to expand that number. The jump in her network’s management fees from 10% to 15% of total state aid per child, however, would place it nearly on a par with fees charged by the city’s few for-profit charter operators…The increase for the Success Network is being carried out in a stealth manner, as is an accompanying proposal to reorganize its five Harlem schools — Harlem Success Academy 1 to 5 — under a single nonprofit corporation, even though they are located in three separate community school districts. Moskowitz submitted a formal application in March to both the state and the city to amend her charters for the five schools.  But it was not until a week ago, on the evening of April 17, that the DOE informed local parents and community education councils by email that a hearing to solicit comments on the proposal would be held three days later. “When we asked to see the actual proposal, we were told we would have to file a Freedom of Information (Act) request,” Noah Gotbaum of the District 3 Community Education Council on the upper West Side said. “How can the public respond when we can’t even see the real documents?” New York Daily News

NY: Nassau County lease of sewer plant faces hurdles
A long-term lease of Nassau’s Sewer and Storm Water Finance Authority, outlined in September by Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, has drawn interest from Severn Trent Services, Veolia Environment VE SA and United Water, a unit of Suez Environment Company SA. However, it is not clear if and when any lease contract might be approved. State control board officials and Democratic legislators have criticized the proposal. Credit agencies say public assets – from roads to parking garages – should not be leased to private companies if the cash raised from them just papers over deficits.
About $115 million of the money raised by a long-term lease of the sewer system would be spent closing deficits in 2013 and 2014, according to Fitch. It views this strategy “negatively.” Reuters

PA: Anti-public education group funds gay, Muslim Dem as stealth candidate
How far is the school privatization juggernaut willing to go to disguise and promote their agenda?  The Betsy DeVos-led American Federation for Children, through its PA affiliate Students First and its funding recipients, is financing the campaign of Fatimah Muhammad. She is an openly gay, African American, Muslim candidate for State Representative in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary in the 188th District. The primary is on Tuesday, April 24. Adding to the irony, a 2012 recipient of Students First funding has sponsored fliers touting 27-year old candidate Muhammad’s liberal credentials and her willingness to challenge Governor Tom Corbett’s “War on Women.”  Daniel Denvir wrote in the Philadelphia City Paper,     “This is politics at its most cynical: major funders of the pro-choice, pro-Muhammad ad are anti-abortion Republican extremists.” If you follow the money trail, it shows that Students First has been funded solely by American Federation for Children in the 2012 election cycle. Gov. Corbett was the keynote speaker at the American Federation for Children’s national conference last year. (I was outside with protesters from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and D.C.) Betsy Prince DeVos’ family and that of her husband Dick DeVos, have been leading funders of Focus on Family, Family Research Council, Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Proposition Eight, and other anti-abortion and anti-gay rights organizations.  AlterNet

OH: OSU advances $400M parking privatization
Ohio State has sent out an official request for proposals (RFP) to private companies interested in managing campus parking operations, hoping for a bid of at least $375 million…Companies interested in bidding must include a bid amount, a 50-year commitment and a cap in the annual parking rate increase that is consistent to historical increase. Gee also said in the email that no current Transportation and Parking employee would lose his or her job from a new contract….In a survey sent out to faculty, 92.4 percent of participants said they do not support the university’s consideration to privatize parking. Gee, however, said the survey was flawed and the accuracy of it should be questioned. Several cities such as Chicago, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis have moved toward parking privatization, but no public universities have made the switch.  The Lantern

ID: Idaho among states pushing private school credits
Idaho is among the states where lawmakers are debating tax breaks for people who donate to private-school scholarships. It’s a big issue in the Louisiana Legislature right now, with a final package in the works. Idaho’s proposal, debated during the 2012 Legislature before the session ended, is smaller than even a scaled-back Louisiana program…Idaho’s plan, touted by Rep. Bob Nonini of Coeur d’Alene, proposed a $10 million credit. Detractors fear this is just another way for religious schools to undercut public education.  The Idaho Statesman

CA: Occupy the Farm activists reclaim agricultural land in SF Bay Area
Hundreds marched yesterday from the Earth Day rally in Berkeley, California to an empty tract of land to establish a new occupation. Occupy the Farm, a coalition of local residents, farmers, students, researchers, and activists are planting over 15,000 seedlings at the Gill Tract, the last remaining 10 acres of Class I agricultural soil in the urbanized East Bay area. The Gill Tract is public land administered by the University of California, which plans to sell it to private developers. For decades the UC has thwarted attempts by community members to transform the site for urban sustainable agriculture and hands-on education. With deliberate disregard for public interest, the University administrators plan to pave over this prime agricultural soil for commercial retail space, a Whole Foods, and a parking lot. Occupy the Farm seeks to address structural problems with health and inequalities in the Bay Area that stem from communities’ lack of access to food and land. Today’s action reclaims the Gill Tract to demonstrate and exercise the peoples’ right to use public space for the public good. This farm will serve as a hub for urban agriculture, a healthy and affordable food source for Bay Area residents and an educational center. OccupyWallStreet

April 23, 2012

Headlines
Public-private deals seen boosting road projects
Community colleges: Privatization without angst
Conservative nonprofit acts as a lobbyist for business
MO: Interstate 70 toll proposal hits roadblock
MI: Unions say charters, privatizing contribute to state employee pension problems
NJ: Privatized paraprofessionals may mean many in middle schools unemployed
Public-private deals seen boosting road projects
With tight budgets at the federal and local levels reducing the availability of public funds for new infrastructure projects, some planners will turn to private investors. “There is ample capital available to invest in revenue-backed U.S. infrastructure projects,” said Little, noting some of the $12 trillion of pension funds could become available for infrastructure investments. However, the partnerships cannot replace public funding, experts at the conference said. “One point is funding, and another is financing,” said Joung Lee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which represents state transportation departments.Gasoline taxes, both federal and state, account for the bulk of funds for building and maintaining highways, and revenue from these is in decline in real terms. More fuel-efficient vehicles and a federal gasoline tax long set at a flat rate of 18.4 cents per gallon are pushing this primary source of road revenues down. “We presented the Congress with a wide variety of financing options,” said Lee, showing a wide matrix including endless possibilities, such as drivers’ license surcharges or other taxes and fees. “What is lacking is the political will to implement any of these options.” Reuters

Community colleges: Privatization without angst
…By such measures, Curtis said, his college is private. By next year, he said, the college will be close to having two-thirds of its revenue come from tuition revenue. But Curtis stressed that his college is embracing many other characteristics of privatization “and they are not all bad.”..But even in the audience of administrators here, not everyone seemed entirely comfortable with the idea of simply embracing privatization as a model…There were also some philosophical questions — although no one challenged the idea that traditional means of financing community colleges are likely dead or dying. One administrator asked how, if such a vision were to be embraced, community colleges would be different from for-profit colleges. Another asked how the idea of community colleges competing for contracts with businesses, creating new profit-making ventures and looking for new markets might make them all competitors with one another. The AACC meeting is one where community college leaders today share ideas and talk of shared values, not one where people talk much about competition with one another. “In the private world you do not necessarily share your best innovations with those who you begin to see as competitors,” said one official here. He asked Glasper if he thought about “the impact on collegiality as we begin to see each other as competitors.”  Inside Higher Ed

Conservative nonprofit acts as a lobbyist for business
The American Legislative Exchange Council, whose members include lawmakers and corporations, drafts legislation on which 1,000 bills introduced annually in state legislatures are based.Despite its generally low profile, ALEC has drawn scrutiny recently for promoting gun rights policies like the Stand Your Ground law at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida, as well as bills to weaken labor unions and tighten voter identification rules. Amid the controversies, several companies, including Coca-Cola, Intuit and Kraft Foods, have left the group…But a review of internal ALEC documents shows that this is only one facet of a sophisticated operation for shaping public policy at a state-by-state level. The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes. The documents — hundreds of pages of minutes of private meetings, member e-mail alerts and correspondence — were obtained by the watchdog group Common Cause and shared with The New York Times. Common Cause, which said it got some of the documents from a whistle-blower and others from public record requests in state legislatures, is using the files to support an Internal Revenue Service complaint asserting that ALEC has abused its tax-exempt status, something ALEC denies. The New York Times

MO: Interstate 70 toll proposal hits roadblock
..State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said last week that he would be ‘shocked” if the Missouri Legislature passes a bill authorizing tolls as part of a public-private partnership to rebuild a 200-mile stretch of I-70 across the middle of the state…The Missouri Department of Transportation said converting I-70 to a toll road would involve adding lanes and replacing interchanges at a cost of $2 billion to $4 billion. The idea was to have a private consortium finance, rebuild and operate the highway. MoDOT leaders suggested the toll road proposal would not likely require a public vote. The proposal faced fierce opposition from the trucking industry, gas station and convenience store owners, and others…Convenience store owners along I-70 voiced concern that a significant percentage of drivers would use free highways to drive across the state and would deal a blow to their bottom lines. The powerful trucking industry decried imposing tolls without a public vote. Post-Dispatch

MI: Unions say charter schools, privatizing have contributed to state employee pension problems
The growth of charter schools and privatizing school jobs is contributing toward a potential crisis in the state’s school employee retirement system because there are fewer workers paying into the plan, union leaders testified Thursday.  Mlive.com

NJ: Privatized paraprofessionals may mean many in middle schools unemployed
Over 200 people came en masse Thur. April 19 to listen and make their case before the Middle Township Board of Education to keep the district’s paraprofessionals as employees of the school district. The board is considering privatizing the district’s 52 regular aides, 13 bus aides and 290 substitute teachers in what it calls a possible cost-savings measure….One issue brought to the fore throughout the meeting was the need to have aides in the schools that supply consistency to their charges along with a level of caring that will only be found in community-based employees who are committed to the district and the children it educates. “Do you have any idea what we do?” Middle School aide Debbie Avicolli asked the board. “We’re with these children six hours a day, longer than any one teacher or administrator. We get to know their strengths and weaknesses. We know what they eat, and in a lot of cases, that they don’t eat at all. We provide them with consistency. We help them be the best they can be so they are receptive to learning.” Privatization of paraprofessionals would result in those employees no longer covered by the state pension plan. Instead, by working for a private company, employees could contribute to other retirement plans such as 401Ks and IRAs. According to sources, it would also eliminate sick and vacation days. Cape May Herald

April 20, 2012

Headlines
OH: State plan for ‘enterprise universities’ on hold
FL: Miami-Dade to close controversial charter school
CA: Costa Mesa to keep fire department, won’t outsource
FL: Augusta privatized city bus company has new boss with legal problems
Shocking conflict of interest: Private water companies partner with fracking lobby
Google, tech execs accelerate space privatization

OH: State plan for ‘enterprise universities’ on hold
Gov. John Kasich has decided not to include the plan to create “enterprise universities,” which are often referred to as charter universities, in the mid-biennial budget review, because of a stalemate between lawmakers and college leaders.  After years of steady declines in state support, many Ohio college leaders want more freedom from bureaucratic red tape that they say forces them to waste money, Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Jim Petro said yesterday. But many lawmakers are happy with the current oversight, saying that otherwise, taxpayers would have fewer means to hold the universities accountable…Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the administration still believes in the concept of charter universities because it would help make higher education more affordable…Petro’s plan would have cost schools 10 to 20 percent of their per-student state funding in exchange for relief from an array of state mandates, such as rules that govern contracts. The money would have gone to a scholarship fund to attract the brightest students. The Columbus Dispatch

FL: Miami-Dade to close controversial charter school
Miami-Dade School Board unanimously voted to close a charter school accused of holding raunchy late-night parties in its cafeteria. The Balere Language Academy in South Miami Heights has the option to appeal to the state Board of Education. The school’s attorney, Marlon Hill, said it had not decided whether it would…The School Board also decided against renewing a contract with another charter school, Lawrence Academy Elementary, in Florida City. The school has received consecutive F-grades from the state and can be closed under state law. Miami Herald

CA: Costa Mesa to keep fire department, won’t outsource
In a unanimous vote late Tuesday night, the council rescinded layoff notices to 87 firefighters, effectively canceling a proposal to use the Orange County Fire Authority, the Daily Pilot reported. Under that plan, the county was expected to have absorbed most — but not all — of the fire department’s employees. Firefighters had received nearly 43% of the 203 layoff notices sent to city employees since March 2011, when the council began its outsourcing research and implementation. The council will now work on a fire department restructuring plan that aims to improve service and save money. Councilman Gary Monahan said the plan would address high overtime costs…”The administrative staff is quite relieved,” interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold said. “The issue has weighed very heavily on staff, and this decision obviously boosts morale. Everyone is working very hard with less.” Los Angeles Times

FL: Augusta privatized city bus company has new boss with legal problems
An official for Mobility Transit Services LLC met accusations from two Augusta Commission members that his firm might be shortchanging city bus driver trainees with a morsel of company news Monday: Mobility has a new president, and he’s Florida taxicab mogul Cullan Meathe…Meathe has a trail of liens and judgments against him and various transportation companies he owns in Florida and Michigan, according to records on file with the Florida Department of State and published reports. Meathe is named as a party in 31 federal lawsuits filed in Florida, Georgia and Michigan district courts, although all but six of them are closed…Money concerns were raised with Mobility by Augusta Commission members Monday during a work session on the city’s transit contract. Commissioner Bill Lockett said Mobility’s delay in reimbursing driver-trainees a $25 per diem and the firm’s late payments to Augusta vendors gave the perception of “a fly-by-night operation,” but he did not point to Meathe’s background…Mason said the firm’s inability to maintain certain staffing levels might indicate a breach but sought to take the conversation behind closed doors at Tuesday’s meeting, which general counsel Andrew MacKenzie agreed was appropriate…“I do this for a living every day for the federal government,” he said. “This is a bad contract.”  The Augusta Chronicle

Shocking conflict of interest: Private water companies partner with fracking lobby
Two of the country’s largest private water utility companies are participants in a massive lobbying effort to expand controversial shale gas drilling — a heavy industrial activity that promises to enrich the water companies but may also put drinking water resources at risk. The situation — which some watchdogs describe as a troubling conflict of interest — underscores the complex issues raised by the nationwide push to privatize infrastructure and services like water, prisons, and roads. The water companies — American Water and Aqua America — are leading drinking water suppliers in Pennsylvania, where drilling is booming. They also sell water to gas companies — which use a drilling technique that requires massive amounts of water — and have expressed interest in treating drilling wastewater, a potentially lucrative opportunity. These investor-owned, publicly traded water utility companies are also dues-paying “associate members” of the gas industry’s powerful Marcellus Shale Coalition, a fact confirmed by coalition spokesman Travis Windle, who says associate members pay $15,000 annually in dues. Both water companies serve millions of people across the country — Aqua America operates in 11 states and American Water in more than 30. AlterNet

Google, tech execs accelerate space privatization
Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt and ex-Microsoft exec Charles Simonyi are backing Planetary Resources, a new space exploration company to be unveiled April 24…With cuts in NASA’s budget and the end of the space shuttle program at the agency, NASA will need to play a supporting role if it wants to keep itself involved in manned spaceflight. InformationWeek

April 19, 2012

Headlines
LA: Prison sale off the table, but hurdles remain for privatization
NY: Civic coalition seeks greater public oversight of sewage privatization
Why public-private toll roads won’t work
Stop push to privatize Social Security

LA: Prison sale off the table, but hurdles remain for privatization
A proposal to privatize Avoyelles Correctional Center appears to be in trouble, as House members in favor of the measure sought Wednesday to shore up support by dropping a planned sale of the facility. Bolstering the argument that there may not be enough support for House Bill 850, which would seek proposals for privatizing the prison, was Rep. Henry Burns’ decision to put off a vote on the bill after stripping language that would have sold the building and land to the company that would take over the prison. “I think if you have the votes, you move the bill. Apparently, he didn’t,” said Rep. Robert Johnson, who represents the district that includes the prison and has been the most vocal critic of the privatization plan. Burns, R-Haughton, said the measure, “certainly has a much better opportunity now” that the prison won’t be sold. But he acknowledged that not all of the 61 House members who voted to make the bill more palatable by dropping the sale would support privatizing the facility. Burns said he will bring the bill back in about a week, after lawmakers have a chance to mull the reduced proposal. NOLA.com

NY: Civic coalition seeks greater public oversight of sewage privatization

On Monday, the Republican-controlled Nassau County Legislature’s rules committee approved by a party-line 4-3 vote a personal service contract with Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley to broker a deal for the county to privatize its sewage treatment system. The three companies who responded to the county’s Request for Proposal process to operate the plants include British sewage treatment system supplier Severn Trent PLC; Paris-based Veolia Environment SA, which has its American headquarters in Lombard, Ill.; and United Water, Inc. of Harrington Park. “We believe that the public oversight is necessary to protect residents from a potential increase in cost to taxpayers, maintain local control and protect the environment, health and safety for the public,” said Raymond Pagano, president of the Oceanside Civic Association, who was appointed to the NCCCA’s executive board representing Region 4 in southwest Nassau County. Patch.com

Why public-private toll roads won’t work
It’s hard to disagree with much of what a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial  advocates, like making the highway fund solvent, returning gas tax money sent to Washington back to the states, and loosening the federal strings attached to road money. However, where they’re missing the boat is this notion that private money will be the silver bullet to fix road revenue shortfalls and provide what’s often called ‘gap funding.’ There’s a hefty price that comes with seeking private money to build public roads using public private partnerships (P3s), as well as loss of sovereignty and control over the surrounding free routes (through non-competes clauses that prohibit or penalize expansion of free roads). Not only are toll rates on these privatized roads punitively higher than public toll roads (75 cents a mile versus 12-15 cents per mile on a public toll road), heaps of taxpayer money subsidize these government-sanctioned monopolies (so having to pay a toll, too, is DOUBLE TAXATION). San Antonio Transportation Policy Examiner

Stop push to privatize Social Security
Recent plans discussed on Capitol Hill include privatizing Social Security. With private accounts tied to the Stock Market, returns would not be guaranteed, as they are now. Seniors’ savings could disappear over night and take years to rebuild after a market decline. There’s also the risk of outliving your investments—something that can never happen with Social Security.  Act now to protect your Social Security benefits. Join us in the fight to save your retirement income. The National Committee believes that Social Security is a critical safety net meant to protect everyone and it should not become a windfall for Wall Street. Social Security is the foundation of a secure retirement. It’s designed to protect against poverty in old age and it’s one of the most successful programs in U.S. history. Privatization is NOT a plan to save Social Security; it’s a plan to kill it. We need your support now! Add your voice to the National Committee’s by joining its efforts to protect these crucial benefits.  National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

April 18, 2012

Headlines  
States scrutinize for-profit colleges
Infrastructure privatization leading to inefficient pricing
Diane Ravitch: I don’t understand Michelle Rhee
Right-wing ALEC retreats on most controversial issues
IL: Opinion: Why I am voting against the Infrastructure Trust

States scrutinize for-profit colleges
Rhode Island is considering whether to approve a for-profit osteopathic medical school, as Kentucky leads 22 other states in investigating the for-profit education industry…While some for-profits have attracted federal attention in recent years for higher borrower default rates and questionable marketing practices, states are only more recently taking a harder look at the sector, according to a report released last week by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Jack Conway, Kentucky’s attorney general, is leading a multi-state investigation into the business practices of for-profit colleges. Additionally, he has sued three for-profit colleges in his state, charging violations of consumer protection laws and illegal student recruitment practices. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also brought suit against the for-profit Westwood College this January, according to the report. A ruling issued in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education stressed the role that states must play in approving for-profit colleges, but the AASCU report found that state regulatory agencies are often lax in their oversight of for-profit colleges. Stateline

Infrastructure privatization leading to inefficient pricing
As I wrote at the beginning of the month, putting infrastructure into private hands leads to inefficiently high monopoly pricing. A great example of this fell into my lap today in the form of a press release from Swedish engineering firm Skanska bragging about their participation in the Elizabeth River Crossings project between Norfolk and Portsmouth in Virginia. There are a lot of ins and outs to this, but the basic shape of things as detailed on the project’s Frequently Asked Questions page is that a private company is going to refurbish an existing tunnel and build a replacement for another tunnel and in exchange will collect tolls on the roads for 58 years.Now the problem here, as I said in my previous post, is that while America would do well to engage in more tolling of congested roads it’s very socially inefficient to be tolling on non-congested roads. As Josh Barro pointed out in response this is a special case of the general problem with monopolies and there are two reasonable solutions. One would be competition and the other would be regulation. In this case since we’re talking about two different parallel tunnels across the same river there’s room for at least a limited amount of competition. Or there would be, had the state not elected to parcel this out as a single contract. That leaves us with regulation. But of course the same Virginia Department of Transportation that failed to create competition has also failed to create a sound regulatory scheme. The rates will “for cars using either the Downtown or Midtown tunnels will be $1.59 (off peak) and $1.84 (peak)” and then starting in 2016 “will escalate by a factor equal to the greater of changes to Consumer Price Index or 3.5 percent.”*  Virginia is creating a predatory monopoly that will prey on the wallets of off-hour shift workers for no good reason. Slate

Diane Ravitch: I don’t understand Michelle Rhee
A friend in Alabama went to an event sponsored by Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst. Rhee’s representative told the 20 or so people at the meeting: “Alabama’s charter legislation will not allow for-profit operators to manage charter schools. Period.” Except that her statement is not true. The Alabama legislation says that after the charter is awarded to a nonprofit, it may turn full management and instructional responsibility over to a for-profit operator. It cannot be a spirit of civic generosity that motivates for-profit corporations to lobby the Alabama legislature to pass the bill. Why would Rhee’s representative be so misinformed, or why would she seek to mislead?..Her organization allegedly has raised more than $200 million and is well on its way to raising $1 billion. This money will be used to attack teachers’ unions; to strip teachers of any job protections; to promote vouchers, charters, and for-profit organizations that manage charter schools; and to fund candidates who want to reduce spending on public education and privatize it. I have heard rumors about big-name donors to Rhee, but can’t verify them. StudentsFirst does not release the names of its contributors. Let me add that I find offensive the very concept of “StudentsFirst.” The basic idea is that teachers are selfish and greedy and do not have the interests of students at heart. So students need a champion to protect them against their venal teachers, and Rhee is that champion. Supposedly, Rhee and her allies — assorted billionaires, big corporations, wealthy foundations, and rightwing governors — are the only people who can be trusted to care about our nation’s children. Washington Post

Right-wing ALEC retreats on most controversial issues
Apparently in response to the corporate exodus, and to the contradictions between ALEC’s stated mission and its policies, the organization issued a press release today stating they are “eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force that dealt with non-economic issues” and that they would be “redoubling our efforts on the economic front.”… Wisconsin Gov Scott Walker was a proud ALEC member when he was in the state legislature, and introduced several ALEC bills approved by the Criminal Justice Task Force. Since becoming governor, he has continued to push these ALEC-supported “criminal justice” efforts…During this period of growing prison populations, then-Representative Scott Walker introduced several bills between 1997 and 1999 that would allow private prisons in Wisconsin, including one to privatize state prison operations (see the ALEC bill here), and another allowing private corrections companies to open prisons in Wisconsin to house inmates from other states (see the ALEC bill here). Walker noted in 1998 that CCA wanted to expand into Wisconsin. While those bills did not pass, some inmates were contracted-out to private prisons in other states, and CCA has registered lobbyists in the state ever since. AlterNet

IL: Opinion: Why I am voting against the Infrastructure Trust
Chicagoans angered by the consequences of privatizing city parking garages and meters better hold onto their wallets.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Infrastructure Trust Ordinance, scheduled for a vote at tomorrow’s City Council meeting, could make those previous deals look like child’s play.,,Yesterday I voted against sending this ordinance out of the Finance Committee.  The convoluted “smoke and mirrors” financial arguments deserve far more scrutiny than possible in the few days aldermen had for review. Too many questions remain open about the true public benefit, return rates, escape clauses, employment opportunities for residents (especially women and minorities), whether the city might do some of the projects more cost effectively on its own.  Exactly who are these private “partners” coming to our “rescue?”  Aren’t some of them re-constituted entities of firms whose greed contributed to the nation’s economic meltdown?   As with the parking meters I also voted against, I see too little transparency, accountability, oversight or evidence to justify a leap of faith into what could prove another bottomless pit of financial risk for Chicago taxpayers. NBC Chicago

April 17, 2012

Headlines
The war on public sector workers – Dean Baker
IL: Critics of infrastructure trust say it needs more oversight
IL: Infrastructure privatization and the loss of faith in the public sector
FL: Fla Senate women flex muscles
MI: Rochester school board  votes to outsource busing, custodians

The war on public sector workers – Dean Baker
Politicians across the country are using heaping doses of the politics of envy to try to arouse the anger of workers. However, their targets are not the corporate CEOs pulling down tens of millions of dollars a year in pay and bonuses. Nor is it the Wall Street crew that got incredibly rich inflating the housing bubble and then took government handouts to stay alive through the bust. The targets of these politicians’ wrath are school teachers, firefighters and other public sector workers. They are outraged that many of these workers still earn enough to support a middle-class family. Even more outrageous, many of these workers have traditionally defined benefit pensions that assure them of a modicum of comfort in retirement. Having managed to ensure that most workers in the private sector did not benefit much from economic growth over the last three decades, the same upward redistributionist crew is turning their guns on public sector workers. Huffington Post

IL: Critics of infrastructure trust say it needs more oversight
The proposed expansion of public-private partnerships to rebuild Chicago would give a board dominated by corporate financiers handpicked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel the power to hammer out multimillion-dollar deals without many of the checks and balances meant to keep City Hall in line. Even after the mayor revised his plan to try to win over aldermen ahead of a key City Council hearing Monday, the ordinance still does not provide for oversight by the inspector general, guarantee compliance with state transparency laws or prevent board members from leaving and immediately joining companies they just helped win lucrative contracts. Emanuel is now offering to explicitly give aldermen the power to vote on projects financed by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust that involve city money, assets or land. But the measure does not extend that authority to the CTA, Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Park District. Even if those sister agencies are allowed to weigh in, their boards are all appointed by the mayor. “The whole ordinance reeks of ‘trust us, trust me — I’ll do the right thing,’” said Julie Roin, a University of Chicago Law School professor with expertise in local government. “But there aren’t any controls. Maybe he is to be trusted and the people he appoints are to be trusted, but how do we know?”  Chicago Tribune

IL: Infrastructure privatization and the loss of faith in the public sector
The Sun-Times has some excellent reporting on an undersung element of late-Daley privatization: “Chicago faces $200 million claim over privatized parking garage.” How’s that again? The company that bought the city parking garages (brought to you by Morgan Stanley, the same giant behind the parking meter deal) claims the city promised no new parking garages with public parking would be built in the vicinity of their purchased garages. That didn’t happen, and now they want dough. While it might sound typical of the city’s misadventures in privatization, regularly used in the media as a cautionary tale, we can take some cold comfort in not being alone: claims to exclusivity for privatized infrastructure are a regular, and regularly controversial, aspect of public-private partnerships, as Brad Plumer writes: Moreover, a road that’s privately owned for 75 years has the potential to conflict with other public-policy goals. For instance, as a recent GAO report (pdf) found, four of the five privately-funded toll road projects in the last 15 years included non-compete clauses that prevented the government from building nearby roads. As Tim Lee notes, “real-world privatization schemes are often explicitly protectionist.” So what if a state, say, later decides that it wants to build a rail network that competes with the private road? All sorts of complications could arise. Chicago Mag

FL: Fla Senate women flex muscles
On the final day of the 2012 legislative session, Sen. Paula Dockery worked the Senate chamber, counting “no” votes on a bill to turn failing public schools into private charter schools. She and fellow senators — mostly women — had rallied against the controversial proposal for weeks. The Miami Herald

MI: Rochester school board  votes to outsource busing, custodians

Choosing from what they called a “bucket of bad choices,” the Rochester Board of Education voted 7-0 Monday night to outsource transportation, custodian and partial grounds services beginning in the fall. I’s a move that will save the district almost $12 million over the next three years and it’s necessary, board members say, as the district is facing a $10.8 million shortfall next year — the largest in Oakland County, Superintendent Fred Clarke said.It w as a vote wrapped in emotion: Board members and a crowd of about 100 people listened for almost an hour as transportation employees pleaded with the board to keep their jobs…The move will, essentially, eliminate the entire transportation and custodian departments as well as three grounds positions in the district. All of the employees in those departments will receive layoff notices, except for the transportation manager, who will be kept in that role for one year to help facilitate the transition. Patch.com

April 16, 2012

Headlines
TX:  Austin studying whether to end outsourcing, despite higher costs
IL: Chicago faces $200 million claim over competing garage
NE: Neb turns to more traditional child welfare system
NJ: Cory Booker, more Stalin than superhero
NY:  Leader of charter schools indicted for fraud
NY: Leaders of new group have an “interest” in education
LA: Teachers seek to oust Louisiana Gov

TX:  Austin studying whether to end outsourcing, despite higher costs
Austin is taking a hard look at whether the city should curtail outsourcing of municipal jobs and appears poised to go the opposite way of communities elsewhere that have turned jobs over to contractors to cut costs…The catalyst for the review was a routine contract extension last month for a cleaning company working for Austin Energy, the city-owned electric utility. Austin Energy proposed extending the contract, but council members, after questioning why the city needs to employ an outside company, rejected the contract. Instead, a unanimous council directed the city staff to bring the 10 positions in-house, at greater expense to the city, mainly to provide health care…The council resolution states that public-sector jobs can raise the quality of life for the local workforce, particularly through retirement and health benefits, and it questions whether outsourcing guarantees a bottom-line savings for the community. Austin American-Statesman

IL: Chicago faces $200 million claim over competing garage
Under the $563 million, 99-year deal that privatized four city-owned parking garages in downtown Chicago, City Hall made a promise: It wouldn’t allow any parking facilities to open nearby. That was six years ago, under then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. Today, though, you can park just a block away in a new garage at the 82-story Aqua building — and it’s cheaper, too. That’s angered the consortium of investors who took control of the garages and thought they were safe from competition. Their group, known as Chicago Loop Parking LLC, has filed an arbitration claim against the city that could leave Chicago taxpayers on the hook for $200 million or more. The Emanuel administration also is fighting a separate, $13.5 million claim stemming from another privatization move spearheaded by Daley — the unpopular 75-year deal that turned over the city’s parking meters to private investors and led to higher parking-meter rates. That deal calls for the city to reimburse the private investors — operating as Chicago Parking Meters LLC — for lost revenue from drivers who use, and sometimes misuse, disability license plates and placards to park for free in metered spots. The meter company claims it doled out $13.5 million worth of free parking between February 2010 and February 2011, the Sun-Times has reported, and it’s demanding that City Hall pay up. Emanuel is fighting that. The bill for the past year hasn’t come in yet. Both parking claims are coming from companies controlled by the Morgan Stanley financial services firm. Partnerships assembled by the Wall Street giant hold a 99 percent stake in Chicago Loop Parking LLC and a 50.1 percent interest in Chicago Parking Meters LLC, city records show. Chicago Sun Times

NE: Neb turns to more traditional child welfare system
Three years after Nebraska turned its child welfare cases over to nonprofit agencies, top state officials admit that the privatization effort has wasted millions of dollars and failed to significantly reduce the number of children taken from their their homes. The Nebraska Legislature passed child welfare measures this year as lawmakers acknowledge the privatization efforts has been a debacle that failed because of a lack of funding, no clear goals, and little oversight that allowed costs to soar for reasons that still aren’t fully known. The newly approved legislation marks a return to government system in all but two Omaha-area counties. The state also will hire more social workers to reduce caseloads and create a new child welfare watchdog. WSLS

NY: Leaders of new group have an “interest” in education
..In a nutshell, the group [StudentsFirstNY] wants to preserve and extend the education policies of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and battle the teachers union, which has had an increasingly rancorous relationship with Bloomberg…The New York StudentsFirst group is an offshoot of the national organization StudentsFirst, created by former Washington, D.C. schools superintendent Michelle Rhee. It includes many who have backed the Bloomberg administration’s education policies over the years — people who even their foes have come to call reformers. The name persists after 10 years of “reformers” running the city’s schools and racking up a decidedly mixed record. Whatever they have or have not done for students in New York City and beyond, though, these policies have helped make some people rich and successful.Take board member and former city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. After making about $250,000 a year in that job, Klein cashed in in 2010 when he became head of the education division at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Press accounts at the time said Klein received a $1 million signing bonus and salary of $2 million, along with stock options, and a $1,200-a-month car allowance. He also was reported to be eligible annual bonuses of up to $1.5 million a year. That bonus, one would expect, would hinge to some extent of the success of the education division, which sells technology to public schools…Also on the board of StudentsFirstNY is Geoffrey Canada, chief executive and founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone…Canada, though, is somewhat of a special interest himself — a big beneficiary of Bloomberg and his policies. Harlem Children’s Zone received at least 102 contracts, totaling more than $71 million from the city in the 10 years ending in 2009. The organization reportedly got more than $500,000 from Bloomberg himself between 2001 and 2008. It also operates three charter schools. Huffington Post

NJ: Cory Booker, more Stalin than superhero
After the internet erupted in response to the heroic exploits of Newark‘s mayor, Corey Robin decided to puncture everyone’s bubble. He culls up a passage from Slavoj Žižek on the “Supreme Genius” leader that is comically hyperbolic.* But his main point sticks: The whole story speaks to a quintessentially American love of amateurism and cowboy theatrics, but it also speaks to our neoliberal age: like the superhero of comic-book lore, Booker is a stand-in, a compensation in this case for a public sector that doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work—the reason we put more stock in the antics of a Batman Mayor than a well paid and well trained city employee—is that we’ve made it not work: through tax cuts, privatization, and outsourcing, policies that Booker himself often supports. Lefty admiration for Booker has always struck me as odd since, in most of his policies, he’s the prototype for a fiercely moderate Democrat. He’s repeatedly sliced the city budget significantly. His sizable police cutbacks have become a national story, as the Newark crime rates creep up…And, as Robin points out, Booker has not been shy about privatizing city services. Critics in Newark are calling his proposal for an independent water agency a repeat of his failed 2010 privatization bid. They might not be far off. Plans to put water services in private hands are floating around in Pittsburgh and Detroit, and whispers of the p-word surround major water infrastructure changes in Philadelphia and Chicago..In his latest budget, the number of charter schools are slated to expand 21 percent over the next five years. Forbes

NY:  Leader of charter schools indicted for fraud
When state investigators demanded last year to see personal tax returns filed by Eddie Calderon-Melendez, the founder and chief executive of a troubled network of charter high schools in Brooklyn, he produced them. One problem, according to the investigators, was that those state tax returns were falsified and had never been filed. Then, when the investigators studied the books of one of the schools, Williamsburg Charter High School, they found that Mr. Calderon-Melendez had used a school credit card to pay for parts of a European vacation, including accommodations at a Paris hotel and some expenses in England, they said. On Thursday, a grand jury in Brooklyn indicted Mr. Calderon-Melendez on 11 felony counts, including tax fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records. “While earning a six-figure salary funded largely by taxpayer dollars, the defendant robbed the State of New York of much-needed revenue when he failed to pay his taxes for six years in a row,” Eric T. Schneiderman, the state attorney general, said in a statement…Almost all of the money to operate the three schools came from public financing, according to investigators. Mr. Calderon-Melendez failed to pay at least $70,000 in state and city taxes on his income during those years, the authorities said. He also spent about $1,800 on personal expenses in Europe, which he charged to a school credit card, then had employees falsify school records to cover up that spending, according to the indictment. No other employees of the schools or the Believe network have been charged. The New York Times

LA: Teachers seek to oust Louisiana Gov
Two teachers have launched a recall drive to oust Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and state House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) from office. Angie Bonvillain and Brenda Romero, teachers in Calcasieu Parish, have launched recalls for both over the education reform policies recently passed by the legislature. The policies include relaxing teacher tenure rules, increased power for school administrators to fire teachers, tying test scores to teacher performance and the promotion of school vouchers, along with the creation of new charter schools…The two said the policies pushed by Jindal will be destructive to public schools, moving money toward private schools and relying on test scores to gauge teacher performance. Romero noted that the group also is looking at Jindal’s plans for the state’s retirement system and his efforts to privatize state prisons to galvanize support. “He waited until he was elected for a second term and then unleashed this entire change of the education system. Now he is going after the retirement system,” Romero told HuffPost. “This is all very fascist to me.” Romero suggested that Jindal is not working alone, saying that she believes the American Legislative Exchange Council is behind Jindal’s efforts. Huffington Post