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Posts Tagged ‘Governance’

Public/Private Partner’s Perspective: Turn Public $$$ Into Private $$$ and Use as You Please

March 16, 2019 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features a heartbreaking article by Kim Barker describing a complicated scam involving Southwest Key, a charity that operated migrant shelters and operated several charter schools designed to serve children of migrants. While this charity has high-minded mission, it seems that it was really a front for several individuals to convert millions in public funds and donations into high salaries and a large bank account full of unspent money. The scheme to do this involved requirements that the non-profit charity and non-profit charter school rent properties, contract with food service, and contract with cleaning services that were run by the same individuals who operated the nominally non-profit shelters and schools.

After reading this, I concluded that whenever one reads a glowing article about public-private partnerships or charter schools that are not bound by the same regulations as public schools, they should keep this quote from today’s article in mind:

“This is public money they could turn into private money,” said Jaime Huerta, the former superintendent, who was laid off recently after repeatedly battling with Southwest Key. “And then they could use it for whatever they wanted.”

As the article expand, Mr. Huerta was “laid off” because he had the audacity to seek competitive bids for cleaning, maintenance, and food services and discovered he could save tens of thousands of dollars that could be used to remedy deficiencies in the school. Shame on him for cutting into the profits of shareholders!

And where was the board that oversaw this enterprise?

Although Promesa’s school board is supposed to be an independent watchdog, Southwest Key has effectively controlled it. For years, the board has consisted of Mr. Sanchez; another charity executive, Alexia Rodriguez; Mr. Sanchez’s longtime friend and real estate partner, Ruth Hsu; and a Latino activist and retired disc jockey. Two new members joined last month.

For those who think private enterprise will solve the problem of corruption… keep this quote in mind.

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NPR’s “Dog Bites Man” Headline: “DeVos Announces Support for Proposed School Choice Tax Credit”

March 1, 2019 Comments off

An article in the NPR blog had this completely unsurprising headline:

“DeVos Announces Support for Proposed School Choice Tax Credit”

The article was equally unsurprising in terms of who supported it and who didn’t. As the article noted, the “school choice tax credit” idea is nothing new: several states have adopted the ALEC inspired legislation that enables wealthy donors to make contributions to a slush fund that can be accessed to pay for presumably indigent children to enroll in the “school of their choice”… that is unless the school is in a well-funded district or a school whose costs are prohibitive. What “choice” does that leave? A for-profit charter school or a religiously affiliated private school that underpays its staff and offers religious training as part of the curriculum.

Dog bites man is NOT news. Neither is the political reactions to a warmed over ALEC bill promoting “choice”.

Diane Ravitch’s Recent Post and Steve Nelson’s Recent Article Flag the Debate We Need to Have: How Much is Enough?

February 5, 2019 Comments off

A recent post by Diane Ravitch and a recent op ed article by Valley News columnist Steve Nelson underscore the need for us to have a national debate on the question “How Much is Enough?”.

How much is enough for setting income tax brackets? The debate about taxing billionaires sidesteps the question of whether higher tax rates are needed for the top 10%, or top 20% Or the question of whether roughly 50% of the voters are not required to pay ANY income tax?

How much is enough for setting the maximum taxable limit for social security? As written in previous posts, the “social security crisis” could be solved for decades if we eliminated that maximum taxable limit for social security. What aren’t we talking about that?

How much is enough for business tax breaks at all levels? I have railed against the scandalous tax breaks offered to Amazon, Foxconn, and Walmart. But it is possible that small businesses might benefit from some kind of break in their taxes and those kinds of breaks might enable them to stay open and hire local people at a living wage.

How much is enough for the privatization of public services? As a school superintendent for 29 years, there were many instances where it became clear that it was better to hire a contractor to perform work that was to hire staff members. An easy example is plowing snow. In order for school district employees to perform that task the district would need to have trucks capable of pushing large volumes of snow. Tougher questions revolve around the provision of food services, transportation, maintenance, and business support services. Arguing that ALL privatization is bad is akin to arguing that ALL taxes are bad.

How much is enough for regulation? There are undoubtedly regulations that overreach and are needlessly onerous. But the profiteers have persuaded elected officials (and voters) that anything that restricts profits is “over-regulation” and that the market will punish those who pollute too much or treat employees badly. As we witness the dismantling of the EPA, Consumer Protection Agency, and virtually all regulatory controls at the federal level voters MAY be getting to appreciate the role regulations play in their workplace and in our society in general.

How much is enough to ensure our safety at all levels (i.e. national defense spending? local police and fire departments? hardening of schools?) We need to spend SOME money for our Armed Forces and we need to ensure that we take care of those who served our country in the military… but do we need to subsidize corporations that manufacture obsolete fighters, arms manufacturers who supply weapons to our allies (like Saudi Arabia), and private contractors who supply the military at high profit margins (see the question on privatization). We need to have professional police forces and fire departments, but do the police need military grade weapons to protect small towns and suburbs? Do we need armed police officers in every school, church, and shopping mall? We need safe and secure schools, but do those schools need bullet proof windows, 24/7 surveillance cameras, and sophisticated entry mechanisms for every door?

It seems that billionaires can never have enough money and, therefore, to accumulate more and more they can never have low enough taxes. The billionaires have done an admirable job of promoting the idea that ALL taxes are confiscatory, that private businesses can operate more efficiently than government, and that big-hearted philanthropists can move more quickly to solve problems than democratically elected officials and the administrators they hire. Therefore, they have been able to persuade voters that privatization and philanthropy are the answers to the problems facing our country.

As the man elected to the POTUS indicates, the billionaires have done an excellent marketing job. And more importantly, as the appointees to courts over the past GOP administrations indicate, the “long game” of the billionaires is working.

Welcome to the plutocracy.

Maybe we can change our course in 2020.

Seattle Complaint About “Liberal Bias” Has One Flaw: It’s Based on Facts

February 4, 2019 Comments off

Dori Monson, a Seattle talk-radio host who describes himself as “right-leaning”, “center right”, and “libertarian“, recently wrote a post for KIRO radio’s website titled “Seattle Public Schools indoctrinate youth with Scholastic reader”. In this post Mr. Monson uses an email from a listener to describe the “indoctrination” as follows:

My daughter attends fourth grade in the Seattle School District. She has a weekly assignment to read the “Scholastic News” reader that is for reading comprehension. This week’s edition had a cover story titled, ‘Women in the House,’ about the increase of women being elected to Congress with some history of women’s suffrage. While I didn’t have any objections with the article for the most part, it’s the cover that I found troubling for several reasons. On the cover are five newly-elected women to Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.

This cover is the continual far-Left indoctrination by our public schools. First, there are no Republican Congresswomen on the cover. You also have the Socialist agenda being pushed with AOC. The most troubling, however, is that you have two outright anti-Semites represented with Tlaib and Omar, as well as AOC’s association with Al Sharpton and her membership with the Democratic Socialists of America, who support the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement against Israel.

This is how it begins, normalizing people like this by putting them on a cover linked to a story about women achieving.

So… based on one parent’s email Mr. Monson has come to the conclusion that Scholastic is perpetuating some kind of left-wing agenda. Funny… my memory of Scholastic from my teaching and administration days was that it was moderate to a fault and clearly driven by the profit motive… and Wikipedia’s section describing criticisms of Scholastic bears that memory out. Under the heading “Criticism”, Wikipedia offers this critique of Scholastic:

Scholastic has been criticized for inappropriately marketing to children. Also, Scholastic now requires parents to submit children’s names with birth dates to place online orders, creating controversy. A significant number of titles carried have strong media tie-ins and are considered relatively short in literary and artistic merit by some critics.[18] Consumer groups have also attacked Scholastic for selling too many toys and video games to children, rather than focusing on just books. In July, 2005, Scholastic determined that certain leases previously accounted for as operating leases should have been accounted for as capital leases. The cumulative effect, if recorded in the current year, would be material. As a result, it decided to restate its financial statements.

Nothing anywhere about promulgating “leftist propaganda”. Rather, Scholastics biggest problem seems to be violating privacy (in order to sell information on children) or— stated more bluntly— focussing too much on its shareholders!

Nevertheless, Mr. Monson determined that Scholastic was clearly biased and promoting a leftist agenda. But there is a problem with his analysis: in fact the number of female GOP congressmen declined in the 2019 class while the number of Democrats spiked: 
So

So was the report flagging five newly elected Democrats “biased” or factual? And was the decision to flag three of the most diverse members of the newly elected Congress “biased” or factual? Here’s a report from the Washington Post on the day after the election:

The women who ran this year were remarkably diverse — black, Latina, Native American. But noticeably absent on ballots were more Republican women.

“We need to go out and get our women engaged,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership. “We are being dwarfed by the Democrats. This is something we are going to focus on.”

Yes, I know, it’s the Washington Post a left-leaning publication if there ever was one… but they are quoting the president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership for goodness sakes.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am left-leaning, progressive, and all in favor of diversity— which is to say I favor democracy! Here’s hoping there is a counter-alining voice to Mr. Monson somewhere on the airwaves.

DeVos Revisiting Supplement vs. Supplant… A Story that Will be Buried But One that will Undercut School Funding Nationwide

January 30, 2019 Comments off

There is so much happening with the ongoing investigation of the President, the aftershocks to the month long government shutdown, the ongoing debate about the need for a wall, and the severe weather that results from climate change that the USDOE’s intent to review the supplement versus supplant language can get pushed off the stage altogether. Here’s a report from Politico earlier this week on the USDOE’s decision to revisit the “supplement vs. supplant” issue:

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION TAKES ON ‘SUPPLEMENT, NOT SUPPLANT’: The Education Department is out with proposed guidance under the Every Student Succeeds Act that DeVos said makes clear to districts that they have “significant flexibility” when it comes to spending.

At issue is a requirement known as “supplement, not supplant.” The requirement was meant to ensure that poor and minority students get their fair share of state and local education funding by requiring that the federal education funds enhance, but not replace, state and local funds.

The department says the requirement “had become restrictive and burdensome.” Now, “in order to comply, a school district need only show that its methodology to allocate state and local resources to schools does not take into account a school’s Title I status,” the department said in a statement. “For many school districts, the requirement can be met using the school district’s current methodology for allocating state and local resources.”

In previous years, when Title I funding was “…more restrictive and burdensome”, districts had to demonstrate that the federal funds targeted for students raised in poverty were, in fact, spent on those students. In my experience as a Superintendent, this DID require a lot of complicated bookkeeping and there were some occasions where auditors from the USDOE could be picky, but these accounting rigors did ensure that federal funds did not displace the local funds. This strict segregation of federal funds from local and state funds meant that ALL districts— including those serving affluent students— would raise their voices in support of federal funds that were earmarked for children raised in poverty and especially those funds that were earmarked for disabled children.

Those who want the federal government to stay out of education often fail to acknowledge why the federal government got INTO education to begin with. The federal government was advocated for the voiceless children raised in poverty and shunted out of the public schools due to their race or disabilities. Most elected officials at the state and local levels ignored the needs of these children and because their parents did not have the ears of the officials their children suffered in underfunded and sub-standard facilities. The War on Poverty and the Disability Rights movements injected federal funds into public education and with those funds came the so-called “restrictive and burdensome” regulations that anti-public education voters despise.

This just in: government regulations protect the poor and disabled children from underfunded and substandard schools in the same way government regulation protect all citizens from pollution and foul water. Yes, government regulations can be “restrictive and burdensome”, but that is a small price to pay for a just and equitable public education system.

Denver Administration “Accidentally” Sends Letter Threatening Deportation of Striking Teachers

January 27, 2019 Comments off

I try not to be cynical about school administrators, but the latest news from Denver Public Schools who are on the verge of a strike test my credulity.

Here’s a quick overview of what is going on: on the heels of a successful strike in Los Angeles that reinforced the public’s support for public school teachers and antipathy toward charter schools, the Denver teachers decided to strike. But at the 11th hour the Denver School Board invited the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to intervene which, in accordance with state laws, postponed the strike. At the same time as the school board was ostensibly striving to find a middle ground, the Denver Superintendent sent out a memo to administrators imploring them to cross the picket lines. Then, in the coup de gras, her HR department issued a memo indicating that any undocumented teachers who participated in the walk out would be reported to ICE.

In response to the memo, according to Chalkbeat the newly appointed Superintendent offered an apology, stating “…she was shocked the evening before to learn that a district human resources employee had sent an email to schools on Tuesday that said immigrant teachers working in Denver Public Schools on visas would be reported to immigration authorities if they participated in an impending teacher strike.”

Following the school board’s last minute and arguably disingenuous effort to reach a settlement and her administrations admitted effort to recruit administrative staff to cross picket lines, her apology seemed hollow at best and dishonest at worst…. especially given that “…No employees were put on leave as a result of the email”. The Chalkbeat report did indicate, though, that the Superintended DID say that “…the district is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again” but “...did not elaborate on what they are.” 

I do not envy the effort the new Superintendent will have to make to dig herself out of the hole the Board has put her in… but I cannot believe that her decision to look the other way when a key HR staff member threatens to report teachers to immigration officials will help. All of this underscores the fact that teachers only join unions to protect themselves from unenlightened boards and administrators….

 

As Congress Cut Staffers and Leaned on Lobbyists, So Did State Departments

January 19, 2019 Comments off

Diane Ravtich wrote a post yesterday that drew heavily from a Washington Post column by a veteran congressman who was lamenting the gutting of congressional staffers who used to provide both sides of the aisle with factual reports on information and data they could use to make informed decisions and write well crafted legislation. The Congressman noted that as they lost this resource, the private sector filled in with lobbyists who could “helpfully” write legislation and regulations. The result was the de facto privatization of legislation.

As I noted in a comment I left, in a parallel universe, beginning in the late 1970s State Departments of Education began hemorrhaging expertise in the same way. When I began my career as a Superintendent it was possible to call someone in the State Department who could offer guidance on an array of issues from staff development to transportation to school construction to curriculum. While many of us in administration and many school boards lamented the “bureaucrats in the State Department”, it wasn’t until they were cut from the State budget and/or retired that we began to realize what we missed. One of the reasons the Common Core was appealing to Governors was that it provided off-the-shelf “expertise” from contractors. So instead of having to hire staff who understood curriculum, the districts could call a 1-800 number and talk to someone who worked for a vendor to get the information they needed. The ultimate result of State Department cuts, then, was an open door for the Common Core vendors to replace the “bureaucrats at the State Department”.

Smaller school districts in particular need expertise in many areas… and if that expertise is not available at the State level they will outsource it elsewhere. Cutting “bureaucrats” opens the door for privatization of expertise… and lobbyists and salespersons are very happy to offer it.