March 4, 2014


Virtual Schools Continue to Proliferate. Full-time virtual schools continue to have serious problems with respect to education quality, diversity, accountability, and funding, according to a new national study published today by the National Education Policy Center. . . “Full-time K-12 online learning is growing exponentially. Many policymakers praise it, and taxpayer money supports it,” says the report’s editor, Professor Alex Molnar of the University of Colorado Boulder, where the NEPC is housed at the CU Boulder School of Education. “And yet, there has been little high-quality research to support the claims that justify its rapid expansion.” National Education Policy Center

PA: PGW sale means higher gas bills, says advocacy group. Philadelphians are in for a big hike in their gas bills after the sale of Philadelphia Gas Works to UIL Holdings Corp. for $1.86 billion, an advocacy group is warning. Food & Water Watch warns that if gas utility privatization is anything like water privatization, then customers will pay the price with rate increases. Philadelphia Business Journal

PA: Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett: Liquor privatization not dead yet. Corbett fought for liquor privatization and pension changes during last year’s budget negotiations but wasn’t able to get them through the Legislature. Delaware County Daily Times

ID: House passes measure allowing for partial privatization of services at state universities. House Bill 549, which now goes to the Senate, would not require the schools to shift to private services, but would extend the opportunity to do so where it currently does not exist. The bill passed on a 53 to 14 vote.

TX: Toll troubles: URS set for hefty layoffs in Austin. URS Corp., one of the Austin area’s largest engineering companies, is set to lay off 79 employees in April — nearly 9 percent of its local staff — because its contract to operate the Central Texas Turnpike has not been renewed, the company disclosed in a notice sent to the Texas Workforce Commission. . . URS is the contractor that launched the Central Texas Turnpike in 2006. The turnpike, 65 miles long, includes portions of State Highway 45, State Highway 140 and Loop 1, also known as MoPac Expressway. URS Corp., based in San Francisco, is one of the largest private Austin-area employers, with more than 950 workers. Austin Business Journal

WI: Editorial: Toll roads aren’t the answer for Wisconsin. . . Instead of a two-tax system, Wisconsin would be better off taking the current road and using the gas tax as the primary source for highway funding. Critics will say the state’s gas taxes are already among the highest in the country — and it’s true that Wisconsin ranks 14th among all states. But at 51.3 cents per gallon for federal and state gas taxes, Wisconsin is less than 2 cents per gallon morethan the national average of 49.5 cents. We don’t need a new and inefficient tax like toll roads in southeastern Wisconsin.  Journal Times

NJ: Wanna buy a bridge? Neighboring state turns to private sector to fix crumbling spans. As New Jersey wrestles with how it will pay for its crumbling roads and bridges once the Transportation Trust Fund runs out of money in two years, Pennsylvania is looking to enter into a public-private partnership to reconstruct its spans. Color New Jersey’s transportation commissioner intrigued.  The Star-Ledger

NJ: Franklin schools nix plan to outsource paraprofessionals, substitutes still at  risk. The school board has decided not to outsource paraprofessionals, including teachers’ aides, but will have to find other cuts to meet a $1.75 million budget gap, the interim superintendent said. . . Despite the strong support for the move indicated by a loud burst of applause when the outsourcing announcement was made, many of the more than a dozen attendees who still came up to the microphone to comment chided the board for considering the move in the first place, and for not including the substitute teachers. The Star-Ledger

KS: Wichita council weighing change to no-bid policy for public-private projects. . . Bidding would no longer be required for construction work jointly financed by city and private money – if general contractors agree to select their subcontractors through a competitive process approved by city staff. The city also plans to engage a third-party expert in these instances to verify construction estimates and contracts. Projects entirely financed by taxpayers would still require competitive bidding.