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Posts Tagged ‘privatization’

$2,000,000,000,000 Bailout Winner: For-Profit Colleges!

March 26, 2020 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes article describing some of the fine print in the $2,000,000,000,000 bailout and this one sentence paragraph describes one sector that won:

And for-profit colleges will be able to keep federal loan money from students who drop out because of the coronavirus.

Further down in the article, which enumerates many intended and perhaps unintended beneficiaries of the new bailout, is a description of WHY the profiteering colleges would benefit:

A provision in the bill would allow all colleges to retain federal funds allocated to help educate qualifying students, even if the students in question dropped out because of coronavirus-related emergencies. While the provision applies to all colleges, critics of for-profit colleges contend that, because those schools tend to have higher dropout rates, they would be able to retain more of the money they collect via federal loans to their students than would traditional nonprofit colleges.

“What’s happening now is causing a crisis for all sectors of higher ed, and I understand the intent, but it would disproportionately help for-profit schools because their dropout rates are higher than other segments of higher ed,” said Toby Merrill, the founder of the Project on Predatory Student Lending.

In a massive spending bill like the one passed by the Senate it is impossible to push back on each and every flaw, but the fact that this was not flagged earlier is, the cynical part of me believes, an indication that for-profit education institutions that benefit because they fail large numbers of students are not an anathema to the leadership of the Democratic party. I hope my cynicism is misguided.

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Another Possible By-Product of Covid-19: We MIGHT Be Disabused of the Notion that Government Should be Run Like a Business

March 23, 2020 Leave a comment

A few days ago, Al Jazeera reporter Andrew Mitroveca wrote and scathing article about President Trump titled “Trump Proves Yet Again that Businessmen Should Not be President“. The article could just as easily been titled “Trump Proves Yet Again that Government Cannot be Run Like a Business“, a premise that is explicitly raised in the opening paragraphs of the article:

Nations should be governed as if they are companies.

Nations should be governed by men or women who have owned a company – preferably a big company.

For generations, this has been the neo-liberal mantra about how nations are organised, who is best qualified to lead and how citizens are expected to play a deferential role at the behest of owners turned presidents or prime ministers.

Donald Trump is the personification of the idea that chief executive officers can slip into the Oval Office from the corner office with ease and acuity, despite the murky means by which they may have achieved their corporate “success”.

The corollary to this CEO to POTUS trajectory is that, once in place, the former businessman will expertly swing a machete to slash the waste, bureaucracy, regulations and duplication that exists in “bloated” governments.

For several years as a public school Superintendent I fell prey to the notions advanced by David Osbourne and Ted Gaebler in their seminal book “Reinventing Government”, a book that both Bill Clinton and Al Gore used to guide them doing their terms of office from 1992-2000. And Osbourne and Gaebler were not the only gurus promoting the idea that business principles could be used to govern democratic institutions like school districts and city governments. Tom Peters lionized the business ethos William Donald Schaefer brought to the management of Baltimore city in his book In Search of Excellence and many periodicals for school administrators picked up on that line of thinking. Indeed, several urban districts, including NYC and Seattle, appointed Superintendents with no background whatsoever in public education on the theory that managing a school district was no different from managing a large complicated bureaucracy like a business or a military operation.

Donald Trump embodies everything that is wrong about the notion that a top-down CEO can solve the complicated problems that face a government… and his character flaws only magnify the inherent flaws of “running government like a business”. Mr. Mitroveca mercilessly illustrates the flaws of electing a business-minded individual to President, especially a seamless self-promoter like Donald Trump:

….No one should be surprised that a businessman who lied habitually would lie habitually as president. No one should be surprised that a floundering businessman would flounder as president. Nor should anyone be surprised by the profound, even fatal, human consequences of Trump’s lies and incompetence.

Clearly, Donald Trump is not the first president to have leveraged the vaunted neo-liberal title of “businessman” into president.

Armed with a Harvard Business degree, a stint as an oil executive and coownership of the Texas Rangers baseball club, former Republican President George W Bush, rode first into the Governor’s mansion in Austin, Texas and then into the White House.

Bush’s tenure as president is defined by one calamity after another. Each one was a repudiation of the sophomoric notion that running a business is remotely akin to running a government with complex, nuanced duties and responsibilities at home and abroad.

A cursory glance at his record confirms this. Bush assured himself, Americans and the world that the post 9/11 invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan would be quick, easy, cheap and effective. He was wrong on every count. The exclamation point of his disastrous geopolitical folly was declaring memorably: “Mission accomplished.”

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, breaching levees, obliterating countless communities and killing thousands. Bush, America’s then CEO president, grudgingly returned to Washington from his 29-day vacation on a Texas ranch. Detached and aloof, Bush hovered above the carnage in a helicopter and boasted, with Trump-like, reality-defying bravado, that a top relief official was “doing a heck of a job”. 

And, finally, in 2008, a stunned Bush was reduced toa talking mannequin as the US economy collapsed and teetered towards depression after the sub-prime scam suddenly unravelled.

Mr. Mitroveca concludes his article with this blunt assessment of why it is a bad idea to run our nation like a business:

So, taken together, Trump and Bush have established:

Nations are not companies.

Nations should not be governed as if they are companies.

Nations should be not governed by men or women who have devoted their private lives to making money.

This same idea can be universally applied to anyone who sees the profit motive as the best means of achieving efficiency in any level of government.

The Lack of Sick Leave One Consequence of the Demise of Unions

March 15, 2020 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes includes an editorial titled “The Companies Putting Profits Ahead of Public Health”. Disgustingly and disgracefully fast food companies are the biggest culprits when it comes to insisting that its employees come to work even if their ill, a phenomenon that led to this finding:

Most American restaurants do not offer paid sick leave. Workers who fall sick face a simple choice: Work and get paid or stay home and get stiffed. Not surprisingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2014 that fully 20 percent of food service workers had come to work at least once in the previous year “while sick with vomiting or diarrhea.”

…Companies have long sought to obscure the details of their sick leave policies, but The Times has obtained new data from The Shift Project, a nationwide survey of tens of thousands of retail workers conducted by the sociologists Daniel Schneider of the University of California, Berkeley; and Kristen Harknett of the University of California, San Francisco. While the federal government reports aggregate data on benefits, the Shift Project data — from its most recent surveys in 2018 and 2019 — provides a look at the benefits offered by individual corporations, published here for the first time. This makes it possible to name names.

The vast majority of workers at large restaurant chains report they do not get paid sick leave, except in the minority of states and cities where it is required by law. The list of malefactors includes the giants of fast food, like McDonald’s, Subway and Chick-fil-A, as well as sit-down restaurants like Cracker Barrel, Outback Steakhouse and the Cheesecake Factory.

And it’s not just restaurants. The data also shows most workers at the supermarket chains Wegmans, Kroger, Meijer and Giant Eagle reported that they did not get paid sick leave.

The lack of sick leave is not only a strain on the workers who need to show up when they are not feeling well, it exacerbates the spread of epidemics.

…Companies that do not pay sick workers to stay home are endangering their workers, their customers and the health of the broader public. Studies show that paying for sick employees to stay home significantly reduces the spread of the seasonal flu. There’s every reason to think it would help to check the new coronavirus, too.

How did it get this way? The NYTimes editorial doesn’t mention it explicitly, but I know from personal experience as a part-time worker and a former school Superintendent that the lack of unions representing employees plays a major role in this change-for-the worse.

Back in the late 1960s I worked as a part-time cashier at Dale’s Supermarket in Philadelphia. At the time I initially bemoaned the union dues deducted from my paycheck but came to understand that the contract provided sick leave, insurance (if I opted for it), and assurances that scheduling would be done a week in advance using a seniority-based algorithm. Dales eventually went out of business, in part because competitors paid lower wages to non-union at-will employees who got none of those benefits. The government has made it increasingly difficult for employees to organize and has done nothing to guarantee voters a living wage, health insurance, sick leave, or predictable work schedules. The result is a boatload of folks who are one paycheck away from disaster and a small number of plutocrats who wrote the rulebooks to put them there. Those who fall off the precipice when their part-time hours are cut will be wanting a safety net. Here’s hoping the libertarian legislators who wrote the rules since the Reagan administration repair the ones they took away in the name of the magic of the free market.

As a public school administrator for 35 years, 32 of which I headed or participated in negotiations with labor unions, I witnessed the erosion of the influence of unions– especially in the non-certified staff areas. While teachers unions maintained their foothold in collective bargaining, school districts increasingly outsourced things like food services, custodial services, and transportation to the private sector. This lowered the operating budgets of school districts, making the “shareholder-taxpayers” happy, but diminished the wages and eroded the working conditions of those who formerly worked for the school district. With every successive recession that occurred from 1980, when I began my career as a Superintendent, through 2011 when I retired, more and more services were “outsourced” which meant fewer and fewer “public” employees were governed by the union contracts.

This shedding of union employees in the public sector mirrored what was taking place in the economy at large: it benefitted those who could afford homes and pay property taxes and hurt those who earned the least and were most likely to live in rental properties or in “affordable” homes.

MAYBE one positive effect of the Covid-19 outbreak will be a collective dawning that our system as it is set up now benefits fewer and fewer individuals and those who are benefitting do so at the expense of everyone else. My fear is that the survival-of-the-fittest mentality that undergirds our current system will prevail and the current stratified arrangement we have in place today will become even more baked into our economic system than ever.

Jennifer Berkshire Poses Question: Why Aren’t Democrats Running Against DeVos-Trump Agenda? Because They Helped Create It!

March 9, 2020 Comments off

Jennifer Berkshire, a public school advocate who abhors the profiteering that results from deregulation, wrote an article for The Nation describing how running against the Trump-DeVos agenda for public schools has been a winning theme in House elections and COULD be a winning theme nationally. The article describes several campaigns in Texas, Michigan and Wisconsin where the winning candidate was the one who advocated for public schools and suggests that public schools are highly valued in rural sections of the country as well as in affluent suburbs. At the end of the article she outlines the reasons the Democrats are NOT running against the Trump-DeVos platform for privatization and “choice”:

Yet if Democrats are aware that the roiling politics of education offer the party a potential opening in crucial 2020 states, they are keeping it awfully quiet. On the campaign trail and the debate stage, when education surfaces as an issue at all, the presidential contenders stick to bumper-sticker stuff: higher-pay for teachers, more funding for high-poverty schools, fewer high-stakes tests. Nor do the Democrats have much to say about the rural schools attended by one-quarter of American kids. Public education, as the would-be presidents define it, seems to be a city thing. And other than Betsy DeVos’ reliable role as party punching bag, the Democrats have directed relatively little energy towards distinguishing their vision from Trump’s. Indeed far more ink has been spilled over the party’s internecine dispute over charter schools, an issue that barely affects rural and suburban voters, than on the existential threats to public education in must-win states.

In order to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with GOP education policies, Democrats will have to do more than malign Betsy DeVos. They will also have to draw a sharp distinction from recent Democratic party orthodoxy on public education. For the past three decades, Democrats have embraced the market-oriented thinking that is now reaching its logical conclusion in the form of “education freedom.” By making the rhetoric of individual choice and competition their own, Democrats have inadvertently eroded the idea of education as a public good, making its defense, and the case for higher spending on schools, that much more difficult. And yet, as voters from Texas to Wisconsin to Michigan have demonstrated, public education remains at the very core of Americans’ hopes for their children and their communities. Democrats would do well to listen to them.

In short, Betsy DeVos’ voucher plans are the direct result of Arne Duncan’s Race-to-the-Top ethos of voice and competition and the bipartisanship exemplified by NCLB and ESSA. It appears the Democrats are unwilling to change the narrative they helped create in order to support the argument that public schools need more funding. I hope the party will begin listening to the parents and voters in communities where public schools remain the bastion of hope for the future.

Sorry, Betsy: IDEA Charter DID Use Federal $$$ to Buy Luxury Box Seats for Spurs, Lease a Private Jet

February 29, 2020 Comments off

I was incredulous when I heard Representative Mark Pocan ask Betsy DeVos a yes or no question about the IDEA Charter school’s decision to use federal money to lease a private jet. After recounting the lavish expenditures of the IDEA charter chain, which included the purchase of a luxury box for San Antonio Spurs’ games, and the purchase of one of the Board member’s property for $1,700,000 and the payment of another board member’s real estate fees for that purchase, Representative Pocan posed the following question: “Should a charter school be able to use federal money to lease a jet”. Rather than answer the question, Ms. DeVos attempted to give some context to explain why it wasn’t a “simple yes or no question” to which Mr. Pocan retorted: “Actually, it IS a “yes or no question” at which point he restated the question. Over the course of the next few minutes this dance continued with Ms. DeVos at one point asserting that the claim about the jet purchase was based on a false report.

Because I am willing to give a besieged administrator the benefit of the doubt, I used a Google search to see if the IDEA school leased a jet and found this headline from the Houston Chronicle:

After backlash over $2M luxury jet, IDEA charter schools to stop spending $400K on Spurs tickets

The first two paragraphs of the article by Jacob Carpenter provide an outline of what transpired:

Several weeks after IDEA Public Schools nixed plans to spend millions of dollars on a charter jet lease, the charter network’s leader announced the end of additional “hard to defend” spending practices Thursday, including the purchase of tickets and a luxury box for events at San Antonio’s AT&T Center.

In a letter sent to IDEA’s 7,000-plus employees, CEO Tom Torkelson apologized for spending patterns that have brought unflattering attention to the state’s largest charter school organization. The network’s since-reversed decision to ink an eight-year aircraft lease and its spending on San Antonio Spurs games have drawn criticism from the Texas AFT, an umbrella organization for teachers unions throughout the state.

The caption under Mr. Torkelson’s picture suggested he could offer the a business rationale for the lease and the luxury boxes…. but as Representative Pocan noted in his presentation of these examples of mismanagement (if not outright fraud) none of these actions would EVER pass muster in ANY public school in America. But somehow the GOP has persuaded voters that unregulated capitalism is the best means of providing public services. Here’s hoping whoever the Democratic candidate is that they will be able to set the record of misappropriations before the voters and change their minds… that is unless the neoliberals continue to hold sway in the party.

USA Today Article Exposes USDOE’s Flawed Logic on Deregulation

February 28, 2020 Comments off

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As reported recently in this blog, a USA Today investigative team determined that a for profit college with no students or faculty members was fully accredited by ACSIS, an organization that was barred from accrediting colleges by the Obama administration because it had approved several programs that were not able to provide jobs for graduates or support for their students. One of Betsy DeVos’ first actions as Secretary of Education was to restore ACSIS’ status as an accrediting agency. Why?

DeVos has made it one of her priorities to roll back some of the federal regulations around accreditation. Her argument: Fewer regulations could allow colleges to create training programs quickly to fill holes in the workforce. Critics say cutting back the rules would make it easier for shoddy or predatory institutions to take advantage of students. 

In the case of Reagan University the critics were right. And if you guessed that ACSIS accredited Reagan U you have been paying attention!

The Problem is Deregulated For Profit Charter Schools

February 24, 2020 Comments off

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Fred Hess and Matthew Rice miss the point in their article about charter schools and the 2020 election. The Democrats don’t oppose charter schools, they oppose deregulated and for profit charter schools that are not governed by elected school boards who convene their meetings in public. But that idea doesn’t fit the Conservative narrative and so they repeatedly frame the issue as unions versus taxpayers and parents… with Democrats on the side of unions.