October 6, 2014


Was the ‘original bargain’ with charter schools a raw deal?. Charter school advocates didn’t like it recently when Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform issued a report calling for the strengthening of charter oversight and authorization. While noting that many charters work hard to “meet the needs of their students,” the report said that “the lack of effective oversight means too many cases of fraud and abuse, too little attention to equity, and no guarantee of academic innovation or excellence.” It provided some common-sense recommendations, including an innocuous call for the establishment of minimum qualifications for charter school treasurers. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, not surprisingly, bashed the report. . . . Yes, there are many fine charter schools. But seriously bad news about many others keeps coming, and concerns are rising as the number of charters overall is increasing. Washington Post (blog)           

Oped: A Perilous Dependence on Contractors. THE director of the Secret Service has resigned after, among other problems, the revelation that, in a visit to Atlanta on Sept. 16, President Obama rode in an elevator with a private security contractor who was carrying a gun and had an arrest record. The episode raises a crucial question: How thoroughly does the government vet the private security contractors that an increasing number of agencies employ? We live in an era in which our government has become dependent on contractors for our defense and security. But the speed of that industry’s development and our consumption of its services far surpass the agencies’ ability to hold contractors accountable for the vetting and training of their employees. New York Times

IN: The Indiana Toll Road: How Did a Good Deal Go Bad?. . . For one, the Indiana Toll Road, as well as many others, experienced dramatic drops in traffic due partly to the Great Recession. In 2010 it was estimated that the road needed nearly 11 million toll-paying trucks each year just to break even, but only half as many traveled the highway. While the revenue situation improved in 2012, the road’s financing structure may have had an even bigger impact. Using a common project finance tool called anaccreting swap, the consortium hoped to exchange low debt service costs early on with higher costs later, and then eventually refinance. But the consortium’s inability to meet these increasing debt costs that ultimately prompted the filing. The road’s total debt obligations now stand at nearly $6 billion, up from $3.4 billion at the time of acquisition. Forbes

IL: Crucial vote looms on controversial toll road. Nearly a year after backers of the proposed billion-dollar Illiana toll road won a crucial battle to drive the controversial project forward, another showdown looms this week.Opponents hope to halt the effort to build the 50-mile, four-lane highway across southern Will County that would link Interstate 55 with I-57 and I-65. Supporters tout the Illiana as a job-generating economic boon for the state’s fastest-growing county and its burgeoning intermodal freight facilities. Foes predict it will be the biggest boondoggle in state history, saddling taxpayers with $1 billion in costs while defiling farmland and the environment. The Illiana clash ranks as perhaps the most contentious transportation tiff since the 1970s, when former Mayor Richard J. Daley failed to ram through the $1.2 billion Crosstown Expressway that would have bisected the city. Chicago Tribune

MI: New Bills Could Make It Harder To Privatize State Jobs. Under the title “transparency” Michigan House Democrats introduced a package of bills targeting private contractors with the State. The bills (at least on the surface) say that before privatizing, the state should look at all the numbers in the budget, and the impact on communities. Hard to argue with that sentiment – if that was all it did. The bills also prohibit private companies from bidding if they are in violation of any law. Again that makes sense on the surface, but we don’t even hold our own state employees to that standard. wfxd.com

NY: Charter School Backers Rally, Hoping to Influence de Blasio’s Policies. The rally at Foley Square, which included speeches by politicians and a performance by the musician Questlove, was part of a coordinated campaign, organized primarily by charter school advocates, to put pressure on Mayor Bill de Blasio as he and legislators in Albany develop their education agendas in the coming months….While Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was an enthusiastic promoter of charter schools, Mr. de Blasio’s support is far more muted and conditional. This year, the campaign for charter schools has included a website, a social media campaign and a rally that drew thousands. But beyond drawing attention to the city’s struggling schools, it has not included specific, stated goals, like more charter schools, for example. New York Times