September 19, 2014


MI: Editorial: Hey, Gov. Snyder: Prison food contract is rotten. Disgusting. That’s the only word to describe the way Michigan has handled privatization of its prison food service. A $145-million, three-year contract awarded to Aramark Correctional Services is saving the State of Michigan about $12 million a year (at the cost of 370 state jobs). But here’s what Michigan taxpayers are buying: Maggots in food prep areas and near prisoners’ food; employees engaging in sex acts with inmates, and the services of two enterprising Aramark workers who smuggled in drugs — one brought 39 packages of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and tobacco into a prison. . . . Critics of privatization say the state’s guidelines focus on only one thing: Whether privatization will save the state at least 5%, with no focus on quality. They’re absolutely right. The problem is that as guardians of the public trust, state officials owe citizens a lot more. Considerations about how services are delivered matter. So do thoughtful analyses of whether a private contractor is sufficiently sensitive to the goal of the public service they’re seeking to provide.  Detroit Free Press

MI: Michigan Dems propose charter school moratorium, call for new oversight standards. Some Democrats in the state House are calling for a temporary moratorium on new charter schools in Michigan. . . . “Michigan has more for-profit charter schools than any other state in the nation,” said Roberts. “State law does not effectively prevent insider dealing and conflict of interest for those who operate charter schools, and yet they spend $1 billion of our taxpayer dollars every year.” The proposal comes in the wake of a Detroit Free Press series detailing instances of wasteful spending, conflicts of interest and poor academic performance by some charter schools, which receive public funding but are governed by different rules than traditional public schools.

IN: Toll Road Operator Gets 90 Days To Prove It Can Pay Debts. The debt-ridden operators of the Indiana Toll Road have less than three months to prove they can meet financial obligations, according to state officials. Stephanie McFarland, a spokeswoman for the  government agency that oversees state-related debt, the Indiana Finance Authority, says the IFA sent a letter to the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. late last month requiring the company to demonstrate it can pay its debts. “We are aware that the ITRCC and its lenders are in the process of finalizing negotiations for a debt settlement,” said McFarland in an email. “We have issued a letter reminding ITRCC of its financial-performance responsibilities, and to demonstrate within 90 days that they are meeting those obligations with their lenders.” Indiana Public Media

Opinion: Actually, public education is getting better, not worse. Few consistent tools are available to measure the quality of U.S. education over time; the best we have is probably the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, first administered in 1971. And believe it or not, NAEP scores have been steadily improving, with most national measures now at or around all-time highs. The biggest gains have generally gone to nonwhite students, helping narrow — though not eliminate — the achievement gap. Other metrics, too, suggest that schools are improving. Dropout rates are at record lows, and the share of high school students who take higher-level courses such as calculus has risen.. . . Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University, argues that the schools themselves are also being demonized, thanks to clear-eyed ideology rather than rose-colored nostalgia. “U.S. public education is the victim of a propaganda campaign to discredit it and promote privatization,” she says. She traces this back to the 1983 “A Nation at Risk” report from President Ronald Reagan’s education commission and argues that business leaders and politicians have increasingly used public schools since then as scapegoats for other societal ills. Washington Post