June 20, 2012

Headlines
Charter schools fall short on disabled
Public workers face continued layoffs, hurting the recovery
Debit cards on campus – editorial
The U-Va. mess: Sign of the (bad) times
PA: Liquor sales privatization fails again; new effort planned in fall
IL: New venture fund to focus on education reform
FL: Anti-toll-road activists in uproar over Florida fee hikes
MI: Bus drivers and custodians temporarily stall privatization
MI: Detroit Free Press overlooks guest writer’s ties to right-wing activists
CT: Union protests Norwalk’s trash outsourcing
NC: Environmental group will likely sue to stop toll road
NC: Perdue staffers altered letters on toll road projects
DC: School voucher program supporters strike deal with White House

Charter schools fall short on disabled
A new government report shows that charter schools are not enrolling as many special-ed students as traditional public schools, despite laws mandating that charters take almost every disabled student seeking to enroll….Critics have contended that charter schools refuse to enroll special-ed students, or push them out once enrolled, to save money or boost schoolwide test scores. Charter-school operators and supporters say their enrollment numbers are lower partly because many parents of special-needs children choose to enroll in traditional schools that often are more experienced providing such services, or in private schools that can give those students individualized attention. In addition, charters in some states don’t have access to regional cooperatives, which school districts join to provide costly special-ed services. And charter schools, on average, receive 20% less funding than traditional schools under some state funding formulas. The Wall Street Journal

Public workers face continued layoffs, hurting the recovery
Companies have been slowly adding workers for more than two years. But pink slips are still going out in a crucial area: government.  In California, the governor is threatening to eliminate 15,000 state jobs. When school begins in Cleveland this fall, more than 500 teachers probably will be out of work. And in Trenton — which has already cut a third of its police force, hundreds of school district employees and at least 150 other public workers — the only way the city will forestall the loss of 60 more firefighters is if a federal grant comes through. Government payrolls grew in the early part of the recovery, largely because of federal stimulus measures. But since its postrecession peak in April 2009 (not counting temporary Census hiring), the public sector has shrunk by 657,000 jobs. The losses appeared to be tapering off earlier this year, but have accelerated for the last three months, creating the single biggest drag on the recovery in many areas.  The New York Times

Debit cards on campus – editorial
Given the history of shady dealings between banks and colleges, Congress needs to take a hard look at the increasingly common practice of schools contracting with banks to disburse financial aid dollars to students…Debit cards have received less federal oversight. And, according to a study by the United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, an advocacy organization, nearly 900 colleges and universities have card relationships with banks or other financial institutions, some of which manage student aid disbursements by turning student IDs into debit cards. Some schools save money by outsourcing administrative costs. Others receive payments from the banks..Senator Durbin and Representative George Miller, a Democrat of California, have asked the inspector general of the Department of Education to determine whether the arrangements hurt students or violate federal regulations. They criticized the banks for what they described as “aggressive and misleading marketing” to students and for charging hidden fees that could lead students to quickly deplete their aid accounts. The New York Times

The U-Va. mess: Sign of the (bad) times
The debacle at the University of Virginia over the secretive ousting of the school’s first female president is more than a tale about how one school’s governing board can blunder. It is a sign of these unfortunate times in public education at all levels…Many of the efforts to get state legislatures to pass reform packages that include the reduction or elimination of teacher tenure, evaluation systems that link teachers’ jobs to student test scores, and more, have been done in secret. For example, a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an organization of nearly 2,000 conservative state legislators, worked in secret for years to promote privatization and corporate interests in education and other areas of American society. At the center of the modern school reform movement is the philosophy that public schools should be treated not as civic institutions but rather as corporate entities. That the interim leader is Zeithaml, whose speciality is in the field of “strategic management” speaks volumes about the direction the board wants the school to go. Another central characteristic of school reform is the role of teachers: They don’t have one, at least when it comes to making decisions. Teachers have been scapegoated for many of the problems facing public schools, and their voice has been ignored in the education policy debate. Washington Post

PA: Liquor sales privatization fails again; new effort planned in fall
Efforts in the state House of Representatives to privatize the sale of wine and spirits in Pennsylvania have been called off for the summer, with the proposal’s main sponsor saying that he plans to try again this fall with help from the governor. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said after this morning’s closed-door budget meeting that supporters “have more work to do” before a proposal will again see debate. Pittsburgh Post Gazette

IL: New venture fund to focus on education reform
A new venture fund devoted to education reform efforts in Chicago’s public schools is being proposed by a group of civic leaders under the Chicago Council on Global Affairs…But even as the group, which includes Sonya Anderson of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, Paul Bauerschmidt of CME Group and Gillian Darlow, a principal at the Civic Consulting Alliance, announced the proposed $10 million nonprofit at a downtown event Tuesday at the InterContinental Chicago hotel, the Chicago Teachers Union passed out leaflets outside the hotel protesting the venture. Critics of reform efforts in Chicago say many of the well-funded initiatives to fix CPS involve opening more privately run charter schools and closing down the district’s traditional neighborhood schools. “Venture philanthropy is a slow road to privatization,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in a news release. “Right now, CPS is a revolving door of people peddling expensive, disruptive and ineffective privatization and so-called reform. If we are going to improve our schools it should be with educators and the CTU, not venture capitalists and those who are only out to make a profit.” Chicago Tribune

FL: Anti-toll-road activists in uproar over Florida fee hikes
That sound dinging across the state this Sunday isn’t just the litany of SunPass sensors going off on the Turnpike. It’s the fists of outraged drivers pinging off the ceiling. Tolls on all state roads will rise by 25 percent this weekend — from $1 to $1.25 — sparking road-fee fury throughout Florida. But that doesn’t mean all drivers are taking the hike sitting down. In fact, a growing insurgency is targeting the agencies raiding drivers’ wallets across the Sunshine State. Advocates such as Carlos Garcia, cofounder of the watchdog group Roll Back Tolls, argue that toll agencies discourage investment in public transit and create a de facto tax on drivers. “If we all added up the money that we paid on tolls, there’d be a lynch mob,” Garcia says. Garcia’s group focuses its ire on the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX). Although tolls on county roads such as the Snapper Creek and Dolphin expressways won’t rise this week, he says Dade’s drivers still pay almost twice as much per mile as cars traveling state-run highways. …Problem is, Garcia argues, MDX has been too successful. Fueled by billions in bonds on Wall Street, the agency’s sole focus is on building ever more toll roads in Dade. In its first year, it took only $20 million from local drivers; last year, it was $121 million. There are dozens of MDX projects, aimed at increasing the number of tollable roads. Miami New Times

MI: Bus drivers and custodians temporarily stall privatization
Bus drivers and custodians battled for their jobs at the Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools board meeting on Monday night. About 70 parents, residents, custodians and bus drivers spent six hours at a high-tension board meeting, which brought one board member to tears, discussing whether or not the district should privatize custodial and transportation staff. After picketing outside of the Galesburg-Augusta High School before the meeting, more than a dozen people stood at the podium during the board meeting to stress the importance of keeping local employees, who they said know and care for the children, in the driver’s seat of school buses. They argued that workers contracted from a privatize company would not be able to maintain the safety, relationships or trust the current staff provides. MLive.com

MI: Detroit Free Press overlooks guest writer’s ties to right-wing activists
In a June 19 Detroit Free Press opinion piece, guest writer Gary Wolfram advocated for the privatization of Michigan’s prison system. The Free Press editors provided a rather innocuous description of Wolfram’s credentials: “Gary Wolfram is the William Simon Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Hillsdale College.” An honest description of Wolfram, however, would also note that he is an adjunct scholar at the right-wing Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the “largest conservative state-level policy think-tank in the nation.” While the Free Press has in the past identified Mackinac connections to their contributors, Wolfram’s affiliation appears to have been overlooked. Media Matters

CT: Union protests Norwalk’s trash outsourcing
City garbage haulers, their union leaders and three Common Council members protested outside City Hall on Tuesday afternoon the city’s plan to outsource garbage collection….The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2405, which represents Norwalk DPW employees, including sanitation workers, was invited to submit a bid but did not, said Larry Dorman, spokesman for AFSCME Council 4. “Workers who have done a great job collecting refuse for the city are being told that they may bid against a private company or private companies to keep their own jobs,” Dorman said. “We find it morally unacceptable to be asked to bid on our own jobs. We’ve declined to do so and we’re here to say we’re going to keep fighting.” The Hour

NC: Environmental group will likely sue to stop toll road
The decades-long push for a toll road through Gaston County faces funding hurdles, but that might not be the biggest obstacle blocking the highway. Legal troubles appear to be waiting on deck and about to jump into the passing lane. The Southern Environmental Law Center, which has already succeeded in challenging a Union County toll project in court, is ramping up its pressure on the Garden Parkway. And state leaders have acknowledged funding for the controversial venture won’t be necessary for another year, as it is likely to be mired in legal trouble in the coming months. Gaston Gazette

NC: Perdue staffers altered letters on toll road projects
Gov. Bev Perdue’s staff drafted a pair of false letters last week in an effort to start the flow of money for two major toll road projects that transportation officials say won’t be ready for state funding until 2014, according to documents obtained by The (Raleigh) News & Observer. The documents indicate that Perdue herself was involved in the issue, which concerns a budget debate over $63 million in start-up money for the Garden Parkway, a highway project near Charlotte, and a planned bridge to the northern Outer Banks known as the Mid-Currituck Bridge. Charlotte Observer

DC: School voucher program supporters strike deal with White House
Congressional backers of the District’s private school vouchers said Monday that they had struck a deal with the Obama administration to keep money and students flowing into the controversial program. Washington Post

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