April 2, 2014

News

TN: For-profit charter school bill clears House committee. For-profit companies moved closer to being able to operate charter schools in Tennessee after a much-debated bill eked out a key legislative victory Tuesday. The Tennessean

PA: Critics Alarmed Over Pa. Legal Fees Paid to Firms. Legal feels are racking up in Pennsylvania, according to Dennis Owens of the ABC News branch there. He filed a “request-to-know” with the Office of General Counsel and discovered that DLA Piper billed (and collected) more than $3 million in legal fees on a lottery privatization plan that didn’t go through, Drinker Biddle & Reath was awarded a contract for nearly $1 million in a Voter ID case and Cozen O’Connor received $631,128.98 for Jerry Sandusky scandal-related legal issues.Some critics claim these outside contracts are an inside job, reports Owens, who quotes John Hanger, a former Democratic candidate for governor, with alleging the firms who receive the fees also have, not coincidentally, donated a lot of money to the governor. “Most of the time that’s an excuse to write nice checks to people who have given you campaign donations,” Hanger told Owens. Corporate Counsel

PA: PennDOT Invites Contractors to Bid Contract for 500 Public-Private Bridges. The selected team will manage the bridges’ design, construction and maintenance for a yet-to-be-determined number of years under one contract. The team will be responsible for financing the effort and PennDOT will make payments based on the contractor’s adherence to the contract terms. PennDOT will continue to own all of the bridges and will be responsible for routine maintenance, such as snow plowing and debris removal.  ForConstructionPros.com

KY: University Students Bring Concerns About Public-Private Dining Partnership. The University of Kentucky’s consideration of a public-private partnership for dining services got attention from two fronts during Monday’s meeting. The UK Board of Trustees meeting began with a  student protest.  The protesters asked the board to reject any and all proposals to privatize public dining services at the school.  Their primary concern is with one potential vendor, the Sodexo Group.  The students say Sodexo cited the Affordable Care Act as a reason to cut off full-time benefits for some of its employees at another school.  WEKU

VT: House takes up school privatization bill. The House has started work on a Senate bill calling for a two-year moratorium on privatizing public schools. Under the Senate plan, voters still would be allowed to close an elementary or school in order to send students to another town. But under the provisions of S.91, towns would be prohibited from closing a public school in order to open an independent school in its place.  vtdigger.org

NC: Cornelius anti-toll group names NC Rep. Robert Brawley legislator of year. Toll Free NC, the Cornelius-based group opposed to toll roads, named N.C. Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Mooresville, as its Legislator of the Year on Tuesday. The group said Brawley “stands on principle and speaks the truth even when it’s against his party.” “The private toll lanes on I-77 will end up costing my constituents over half a billion dollars, when we can widen the road where we need it for less than a fifth of that,” Brawley said in a statement accompanying the group’s announcement.“The private company wants the general purpose lanes to be as congested as possible so drivers will have an incentive to pay the toll,” Brawley said. “At the end of the day, instead of solving our congestion problems, the toll lanes ensure congestion.”  Charlotte Observer

April 1, 2014

News

Video: Bill Moyers: Public Schools for Sale? Public education is becoming big business as bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity investors are entering what they consider to be an “emerging market.” As Rupert Murdoch put it after purchasing an education technology company, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone.” Huffington Post

YES! Magazine Challenges Myth of Failing Public Schools. Education Uprising, the Spring 2014 issue of YES! Magazine, questions the assumptions of standardized testing, revisits the statistics used to justify public policy in schools, and imagines a more inclusive and just classroom for all. For decades, the myth of failing public schools justified industrial-scale testing and a privatization agenda. Now, activist educators nationwide are bursting the bubble test, getting culturally relevant, and restoring justice to the classroom. DigitalJournal.com

Crisis in Correctional Care: Pressing for Prison Reform. . . One final area to watch is privatization.  Gabe Eber, Staff Counsel to the ACLU’S National Prison Project, say government alone should administer prisons and the healthcare they provide: “By adding a private, for-profit corporation, you’re changing the nature of the punishment.  You’re giving this corporation considerable power over prisoners who are in the custody of the state, and when you put a profit motive into the provision of healthcare, it may not necessarily be in the interest of the taxpayers or more importantly the prisoners.” But the business of caring for prisoners appears to be a profitable one, and companies pay to play. Virginia’s largest provider of medical services to prisons, Corizon, paid lobbyists here more than $21,000 this year, and its CEO gave $500 to the campaign of Republican Ken Cucinelli.  Another  provider, the GEO Group, spent nearly $15,000 on lobbyists, and one of their top competitors, Armor Correctional Health Services, contributed $25,000 to the campaign of Democrat Terry McAuliffe. WVTF

IN: Investment Firms Buy Chunk of Indiana Toll Road Debt. . . .Indiana Toll Road, which spans about 157 miles between the Ohio Turnpike and Chicago Skyway, has struggled over the past few years with lower-than-expected traffic and a $5.8 billion debt load. The road is operated by units of Ferrovial and Macquarie Group. . . Distressed investing firms have been buying up Indiana Toll Road debt over the past 12 to 18 months, in some cases building positions of more than $100 million, some of these people said. These firms increase their stakes when mostly European lenders sell, including another roughly $500 million trade a few weeks earlier by another European bank, one of these people said. The changing base of creditors has shifted the tide in this restructuring, according to people involved. Some European banks have been unwilling to take write-downs on the toll road debt, but other banks are starting to change course, these people said. More than 40 lenders hold pieces of the company’s debt, they said. A steering committee of lenders including European banks Banco Santander and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA was appointed last year. Wall Street Journal

OR: Liquor privatization: Fred Meyer, Safeway kick in big-dollar donations. More than $1 million has rolled into the campaign to privatize Oregon liquor sales in recent days, according to election records posted Monday. Two big grocery chains put in the money. Fred Meyer, which already had contributed a half a million dollars, added another $500,000, bringing its total to $1 million so far. Safeway, a new donor, gave $656,500. Earlier, the national Distilled Spirits Council kicked in $200,000. A full-fledged opposition campaign has yet to form. The Oregonian

CA: School Boards Association’s Pres. takes on Netflix CEO’s call for privatization for school boards. Josephine Lucey, President of the California School Boards Association and a Cupertino Union School District board member, took on Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ controversial assertion that voter-elected school boards hamper sustainable school improvement. Lucey’s opinion, published on the San Francisco Chronicle’s open online forum, points out what Hastings seems to have forgotten, “Public oversight of local government is the foundation of American democracy.” . .  . Turning to privatization of school boards, Lucey counters, would be akin to suggesting that publicly owned corporations have no responsibility to listen to their shareholders. Who is there to keep the board accountable if not for voters?  School Board News

NJ: Is Christie-Backed One Newark Reform Plan Good For Newark’s Students?….That said, the growth in charter schools is particularly galling to One Newark opponents, who see the hand of controversial Governor Chris Christie behind what opponents believe is a privatization push masquerading as improved “public” education. Indeed, parents and teachers contend that One Newark is merely a shake-up of underperforming schools in disadvantaged parts of the district, with little data to back up the state’s reform effort. . . . “One Newark is a program that appears to place sanctions on schools — including closure, charter, takeover and ‘renewal’ — on the basis of student test outcomes, without regard for student background,” the report reads. “The schools under sanction may have lower proficiency rates, but they also serve more challenging student populations.” The report notes that, when student population dynamics are accounted for, cumulative test scores of the schools slated for closure in fact surpass those that would not be affected by the reform.  Forbes

NY: Lawmakers dump lab plan. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s novel plan to let the private sector finance a $600 million state public health lab in Albany may have been just a little too novel for state lawmakers consumed with sexier and less complex budget issues. The Legislature dropped the proposal for a consolidated mega-lab on the Harriman State Office Campus from the state budget that was approved Monday night. . . . Known as a “P-3” — for public-private partnership — the plan would have allowed the state to enter into a 50-year pact with a firm charged with designing, building and operating the state-owned facility in return for annual “service payments” from state coffers.  Albany Times Union