May 12, 2014


Despite Shocking Reports of Fraud at Charter Schools, Lawmakers Miss Opportunity to Increase Oversight. . .On Friday, lawmakers in the House largely missed an opportunity to strengthen oversight of charter schools, passing a bill to encourage charter school growth by boosting federal funding without including several amendments that were offered to increase transparency and accountability. The bill, called the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, increases federal funding for charters from $250 million to $300 million. The bill received wide bipartisan support—it passed by a overwhelming 360-45— although it is being championed by GOP leaders, who tout charter expansion and “school choice” as a central part of their anti-poverty agenda. . . .Very few Democrats pushed back on the legislation, in part because it includes a few provisions sought by charter critics, including allowing charters to prioritize special-needs students and English language learners in the admissions process. Still, this is the first reauthorization of the federal charter program since 2001, and the charter sector has vastly changed and expanded since then. The fact that Democrats did not rally around bids for better oversight indicates how murky the party’s education platform has grown. Charter advocates are increasingly vocal on the left, helping to secure new federal resources; meanwhile, financial and political support for traditional public schools is quietly eroding.  The Nation

New report cites $100 million-plus in waste, fraud in charter school industry. The report, titled “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, & Abuse,” and released by the nonprofit organizations Integrity in Education and the Center for Popular Democracy, cites news reports and criminal complaints from around the country that detail how some charter school operators have illegally used public money. It also makes policy recommendations, including a call for stopping charter expansion until oversight of charter operators is improved. . . .The Obama administration has supported the spread of charter schools but has also called for better oversight. Proponents of charter schools say they provide choices for parents and competition for traditional public schools, but critics note that most don’t perform any better — and some of them worse — than traditional public schools and take resources away from school districts. Some critics see the expansion of charter schools as part of an effort by some school reformers to privatize public education. The Washington Post

Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign to Tackle Student Debt and the Privatization of Education. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced a bill addressing two of her top legislative priorities: The crushing burden of student debt and tax loopholes that allow the wealthiest Americans to shell out a smaller share of their incomes than do many of those in the middle class. The measure would allow people who took out student loans at a higher rate than they could get today to refinance their debt the same way one might refinance a home mortgage. It would also give people with high-interest private loans to roll them over into the Federal Direct Loan program. . . . We want to make quality higher education more affordable, as well as accessible, because we believe that higher education is a public good and no one should have to struggle under the financial burden of going to college. And we are working to combat the privatization of higher education and confront the role of Wall Street in the compounding student debt crisis. Truth-Out

FL: FDOT says no to private toll road in Pasco County. The Department of Transportation is officially passing on a private company’s plan to build a toll road in south Pasco County. In an announcement released Sunday to a citizen’s group spearheading opposition to the proposed road, the department said it had ” rejected the unsolicited proposal from International Infrastructure Partners, LLC.” It included leasing state right-of-way along state roads 54 and 56 to build and operate the road. A private consortium that included International Infrastructure, a Spanish road building company, proposed the elevated toll road last summer from U.S. 19 to U.S. 301. . . . A group called Pasco Fiasco crowded town hall meetings and sent emails to Pasco County commissioners in recent months urging the project’s rejection by local officials. The FDOT started evaluating the project in January. FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad said at the outset that if Pasco did not support the project the department would not approve it.

LA: Lafayette hospital privatization runs over budget in Louisiana. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s privatization deal for the LSU hospital in Lafayette was running $6 million over budget by April’s end, with two months remaining in the fiscal year, raising questions about whether the contracts could cost more than anticipated. The overspending was detailed in an update to lawmakers about payments made for the outsourcing contracts involving nine state-owned, LSU hospitals for the budget year that ends June 30. The hospitals are safety-net facilities that care for the poor and uninsured. . . .The issue comes as federal officials rejected financing plans for six of the hospital privatization deals. The Jindal administration is trying to broker a compromise with the federal agency that oversees the Medicaid dollars that pay for much of the patient services. But a reworking of the financing arrangement could have the state forced to repay dollars that federal officials might deem improper. The Times-Picayune

LA: Our Views: For Jindal, all is well. If you are the governor of a small state and you criticize the president of the United States every time you take a breath, then you ask the health agency in the president’s administration for a very significant discretionary waiver — what do you expect to get? Put that way, we wonder why anyone thought Gov. Bobby Jindal had much of a prayer for the waiver he used to fund a privatization of most of the state’s old charity hospitals. Because not only did the financing provisions deserve scrutiny under federal rules — Louisiana has cheated the U.S. government in various ways many times in the past — the waiver was constructed to pad the state budget that is chronically in crisis under Jindal’s administration. The Advocate

IL: Indiana, Illinois sign deal to build Illiana road. Indiana and Illinois have signed an agreement to build the 47-mile-long Illiana Expressway toll road. The 33-page document posted online May 6 specifies that Indiana will spend $80 million to $110 million and Illinois will pay a minimum of $250 million. The overall cost of the highway between Interstate 65 near Lowell in northwest Indiana and Interstate 55 south of Chicago is expected to be $1.3 billion, with investors expected to pay the remaining costs.  The agreement states the road will be reserved for vehicles using electronic toll devices with no option for paying cash. Agri News

TX: Texas Voters Ban Red Light Cameras For A Sixth Time. Voters in Conroe, Texas flocked to the polls Saturday to become the sixth town in the Lone Star state to outlaw red light cameras. The automated ticketing machines owned and operated by American Traffic Solutions (ATS) lost by 59 percent of the vote. The Arizona-based firm did its best in the final hours of the race to sway the vote. Using a front group directly controlled by ATS executives, the firm paid $50,000 to Jamestown Associates, the direct mail firm used by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and $5000 to Thomas Graphics of Austin to come up with a compelling message. Full color flyers began hitting residents Friday that showed a pair of white children standing on a curb.

VT: Vermont Senate approves school privatization pause. The Vermont Senate has indicated support for a moratorium on allowing public schools to convert to private status.   Brattleboro Reformer