Posts Tagged ‘privatization’

A Billionaire’s Generous Offer Put Into Perspective

May 20, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes and virtually every major news outlet in America featured an article describing billionaire Robert F. Smith’s decision to pay off the debts of every single graduate of Morehouse College, the historically black institution that invited him to speak at their commencement. Described as ” the richest black man in America”, Mr. Black made his fortune in investments and he characterized this generous donation as an investment in the future of the graduating class at this college, a donation he hoped the graduates would replicate in the future.

Mr. Smith’s donation of roughly $11,000,000 is heartwarming and exemplary, but it is a relatively inconsequential donation to a billionaire. According to a related NYTimes article, Mr. Smith “…has amassed a fortune that Forbes estimates to be worth $5 billion”, which means that his $11,000,000 donation is analogous to a $220 gift by an individual who has “amassed a fortune” worth $100,000.

As readers of this blog realize, I read and was blown away by Anand Giridharadas’ book “Winners Take All” which described how billionaires are slowly but surely taking control of our country and how many billionaires use their largesse to mask the fact that their business practices are the underlying cause of the problems they are “solving”. Here was his take on Mr. Smith’s donation:

“This is generous, no doubt,” said Anand Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All” and a frequent critic of large-scale philanthropy. “But a gift like this can make people believe that billionaires are taking care of our problems, and distract us from the ways in which others in finance are working to cause problems like student debt, or the subprime crisis, on an epically greater scale than this gift.”

Mr. Smith’s donation also illustrates the flaw in allowing a small number of individuals to amass huge sums of money and allowing them to spend it in a way they see fit. Based on what the NYTimes reported Mr. Smith’s donations are all worthy but they are somewhat idiosyncratic. For example he’s made large donations to relatively conventional causes: colleges and universities; museums; the arts; and, as was the case at Morehouse, scholarships. But he also made donations to organizations that mirror his personal interests in music:

He bought and restored a storied resort, Lincoln Hills, outside Denver, where black jazz musicians like Duke Ellington once played. And he has founded programs to support music education and minority entrepreneurship in Austin, Tex., where he lives, and Chicago, where Vista has an office.

Mr. Smith’s story is especially compelling because he accrued his wealth on his own, moving from a comfortably middle class background in Denver to that of an individual who could invite John Legend, Seal, and a youth orchestra to perform at his wedding on the Amalfi Coast.

But many billionaires spend their money in ways that are counterproductive to the well-being of our country. The Koch brothers, for example, spend millions to elect anti-environmental and pro-fossil fuel politicians at all levels of government. The also spend millions to create think tanks that issue reports that reflect their libertarian views and join forces with other like-minded billionaires to acquire media outlets to champion the findings of those reports. The messages about “government being the problem”, “welfare queens”, “Willie Horton”; “failing public schools”, and “taxes that are too high” are all the legacy of well heeled donors who are interested in maintaining a status quo that provides them with economic and political leverage…. a status quo that is debilitating to democracy.




Mandatory Universal Community Service: The Best Chance to Unite Our Nation

May 15, 2019 Comments off

Looking at the news and social media today, it is increasingly evident that we are no longer the UNITED States of America. Indeed, as a result of the libertarian foothold that emerged as a result of Reaganism and Milton Friedman’s economics and the opportunity for bloggers like me to publish ideas without the filter of the news media, we are increasingly individualized, personalized, and, therefore, isolated from each other.

Looking back at how this disintegration and dis-unity occurred over the course of my 72 years, I think the current state of affairs emerged from one misbegotten concept: the abandonment of the universal draft and the creation of the volunteer army. In retrospect, there was a chance to define America as a nation of citizens that cared about each other in the late 1960s. The war in Viet Nam was tearing our country apart as thousands of students idealistic anti-war college students took to the street and thousands of their working class cohorts were drafted to fight the war.

Then President Richard Nixon and Congress rightly perceived that one of the underlying causes of the dissent among college students was the inherent unfairness of the draft. Those who had political connections or wealth found ways to game the system by securing deferments. Those who had the good fortune to reside in areas where draft quotas were readily met never had to worry about being involuntarily drafted and could drift through their college-aged years without the fear of being conscripted to serve in the military. At the same time, those who resided in areas where few volunteered for the armed forces could expect to be drafted upon graduation or if they failed to make progress as undergraduates.

In 1969, Congress gave President Nixon the authority to modify the selection method for the draft. His initial “fix”, implemented by Executive Order, was to replace the existing draft system with a lottery whereby those eligible for the draft would have their birthdates assigned a number from 1 to 366. Those with lower numbers would be vulnerable to the draft and those with higher numbers no longer needed to worry. Any males in my age cohort can recall their draft number and their reaction when that number was revealed.

But the inherent inequities of the system were not addressed by the lottery as Two years later, he abandoned the draft altogether, replacing it with the all-volunteer army. In retrospect, this decision represents a missed opportunity.

WHAT IF instead of replacing the draft with an all volunteer army the President and Congress agreed to replace the draft with two years of voluntary service to be completed by all citizens before the age of 25. Those who wanted to serve in the armed forces could do so at a time that suited them and those who wanted to defer their service obligation until after college and/or graduate school could wait. This would have appealed to the idealism of the anti-war group by engaging them in the War on Poverty while allowing those who wanted to serve in the military to do so without feeling like they were alone in their commitment to making our country a better place.

By the way… we could institute this kind of universal service today and address the infrastructure upgrades we need while providing meaningful full-time jobs with benefits to millions of millennials. In doing so, we might provide a way for people across our country to get to know each other and become the UNITED States of America.

Millions of Federal $$$ for Charters Wasted Since 2006. Note the Date, Please!

April 23, 2019 Comments off

Jeff Bryant, co-author of a recently released report from the Network for Public Education (NPE), wrote a post for Common Dreams describing Betsy DeVos’ most recent reaction to the report, which was an ad hominem attack of the writers. Mr. Bryant’s summarized Ms. DeVos’ reaction and the NPE’s response in this paragraph:

By denying, distracting, and personally attacking the report authors, she encouraged us to delve further into the evidence that much of the money awarded by the program went to charter schools that are, at best, bungling attempts to start up education businesses that should never have been financed to begin with or, at worst, scam operations that willfully intended to make off with taxpayer money and not suffer any negative consequences.

What I find particularly alarming after reading this post is that the easiest defense of DeVos COULD have been: “The waste, fraud, and abuse happened under the watch of previous administrations and I will be taking the following steps to correct this problem”… because almost all of the documented cases in the NPE report come from actions taken by the DOE under the Obama administration.

She didn’t say that… which means she does not care at all about the need to regulate for profit charter schools or the impact those schools have on the lives of parents, children, and community members.

But here’s what I find even MORE alarming: there are probably at least a dozen Democratic candidates who WILL defend charter schools using that line of reasoning.

My bottom line on charters is that they should be governed by democratically elected boards and subject to the same regulations as public schools.

Has Privatization Benefitted the Public? | naked capitalism

April 9, 2019 Comments off

To ensure public acceptability, some benefits accrue to many in the early stages of privatization in order to minimize public resistance. However, in the longer term, privatization tends to enrich a few but typically fails to deliver on its ostensible aims.
— Read on

It is easy to see how this analysis applies to public schools… and sad to know how few people are aware of this…

Jeff Bryant’s Three Questions Wreaked Havoc at the US Department of Education… But Shine Light of Duncan’s and Devos’ Lax Oversight of Charters

April 9, 2019 Comments off

As noted in a previous blog post, Jeff Bryant co-authored a recent report demonstrating that billions of federal dollars were wasted on charter schools that never opened or operated for only a short period of time. One of Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism posts over the past weekend drew from one of Bryant’s recent articles in AlterNet describing how three questions he posed to several Department of Education bureaucrats reportedly “created havoc” in that department. It seems that during the Obama administration some of the charter schools that received large sums of money from the federal government basically took the money and ran. As a result a directive was issued requiring that some kind of audit be issued by any entity receiving funds for charter schools. That, in turn, led to Mr. Bryant’s recent inquiry at the Department of Education. He wrote:

This is to inquire about the current grant application review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities. Specifically, in 2015, the Department published an “Overview of the 2015 CSP SEA Review Process.” My questions:

  1. Can you provide a similar document describing how the grant review process is currently being conducted for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities?

  2. If not, can you briefly comment on how the grant review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities aligns with or varies from the Overview referenced above?

  3. Regarding a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to State Education Agencies in 2015 emphasizing the importance of financial accountability for charter schools receiving federal dollars, was there any follow-up by the Charter School Program to ascertain how many SEAs complied with this request and what was the nature of the new systems and processes put into place by SEAs to provide for greater accountability?

Send on March 8, the emails he received a voice mail in response on March 15. Here’s Mr. Bryant’s recounting of what happened (or more accurately what DIDN’T happen) next:

On March 15, I received a voicemail message from an official in the public affairs division of the department asking me to call her back. The message started out nice enough but then veered toward criticism. “Apparently you have sent his request to multiple people,” she said (emphasis original), “and that just creates havoc for everyone.”

When I immediately called her back, I explained I had merely sent my inquiry to the contacts provided on the relevant sections of the department’s website. “That’s understandable,” she replied, but for “future reference” I was told to send inquiries to “a director”—though I’m not sure who that is. And I was told again my questions had “created havoc” in the office but that department staff members were “working on it” and would “take a few days.”

As of this writing, I’ve yet to receive any other replies.

Mr. Bryant went on to report that this kind of stonewalling regarding the performance of charter schools is nothing new: it happened in the Obama administration as well as the Trump administration. The sentiment in favor of charters and opposed to “traditional” public schools seems to be baked into the DNA of the department. Here are the concluding paragraphs of Mr. Bryant’s report:

On the issue of how a federal agency could allow charter operators to rip off American taxpayers with impunity, and generally suffer no adverse consequences for their acts, DeVos acknowledged that waste and fraud in the charter grant program had been around for “some time.”

That much is true.

It was under Arne Duncan’s watch that the federal charter grants program was greatly expanded, states were required to lift caps on the numbers of charter schools in order to receive precious federal dollars, and the administration Duncan served in insulted public school teachers by proclaiming National Charter School Week on dates identical to what had always been observed as Teacher Appreciation Week.

And most of the wanton charter fraud we detailed in our report that ran rampant during the Duncan years is now simply continuing under DeVos, with little to no explanation of why this is allowed to occur.

So at least we have that clear.

When and will it change? That is a question every candidate for President in the Democratic party should be asked and their answer should be heeded… for if it isn’t the “waste and fraud in the charter grant program” that has been around for “some time” will certainly continue in perpetuity.

“Dog Bites Man”: Devos Denies Defrauded Students Debt Forgiveness Despite Court Order

April 6, 2019 Comments off

In a “dog bites man” story, the NYTimes reported that the Department of Education under Betsy Devos’ leadership has refused to comply with a court order that they forgive the debts incurred by students who were defrauded by profiteering colleges. The Times’ Erica Green writes:

The Education Department failed to approve a single application for federal student loan relief in the second half of last year, according to new department data that signals that students who claim they were cheated by their colleges cannot count on help from Washington anytime soon…

Since taking office, Ms. DeVos has tried to overhaul the 2016 process started by the Obama administration that was supposed to pave an easier road for students to secure loan relief after their colleges are found to have misled them with inflated claims of false promises of jobs. The Obama administration approved nearly 30,000 such claims, estimated at $450 million, in its last year in office. The Education Department approved 16,155 from Jan. 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018.

To translate: in the final ONE year of the Obama administration, 30,000 secured debt relief. I the first TWO years of the Trump administration 16,155— roughly half as many students secured debt relief. And contrary to Ms. Devos’ protests it has less to due with litigation by plaintiffs trying to pry more money from profiteers and more to do with the mindset of those leading the department.

Roughly midway through the article there was this exchange between Senator Dick Durbin and Ms. DeVos:

“Don’t you have a heart?” Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, asked Ms. DeVos at a hearing on the department’s budget, where he cited 140,000 “victim students waiting on your department to give them relief so they can get on with their lives.”

“No student should be defrauded, and if fraud is involved, there are consequences, and there will be consequences,” Ms. DeVos replied. “But we should not be judging institutions by their tax status. Let’s be very honest here; there are bad actors on both sides of the equation.”

She added, with some indignance, “Let’s talk about the nonprofits that are doing a bad job, that are subject to bribes, that are lying in order to improve their U.S. News and World Report statistics,” referring to the recent college admissions scandal rocking Ivy League and other elite institutions.

Were I Mr. Durbin, I would express my complete agreement with Ms. DeVos on her final point and then pose the question of what she intends to do with those colleges who are found to be lying in order to improve their US News and World Report standings and ask what kinds of metrics her department is working on to replace those metrics…. for absent metrics like those that resulted in evidence of students being defrauded the entire college landscape will soon be dominated by snake-oil salesmen.

Ms. Devos, her boss— Mr. Trump, and the GOP are all in favor of Darwinian Caveat Emptor Capitalism where the consumer is at fault when they are misled. Maybe a form of Darwinian Democracy will result in a change of thinking in Washington DC.

Small NH Town’s Experiment with Vouchers Result in Deficits, Ballooning Budgets, Turnover

April 2, 2019 Comments off

As reported in an article by Sarah Earle in today’s Valley News, the town of Croydon NH, part of the so-called libertarian Free State Project, is learning that the free market can sometimes be costly… especially in a libertarian State like NH that provides less than $4,000/pupil in state aid to “needy” districts.

Here’s what happened in Croydon in a nutshell. The school board was taken over by a group who wanted to break away from the both the tuition agreement and administrative unit that linked them to the neighboring Newport Schools for grades 5-12. Instead, the small district (it enrolls 28 students in grades K-4) wanted to offer its residents the chance to attend any school of their choice with the proviso that they would only fund $14,000 of the tuition and gain local control of the district by hiring their own Superintendent, business manager and special education staff. To make this happen, the board needed to get a special bill passed by the legislature and secure waivers from the state’s Department of Education. Both were done in short order given the pro-choice GOP legislature at the time and the appointment of Frank Edelblut, one of the underwriters of the lawsuit filed to secure waivers needed to make the breakaway possible, to Commissioner of Education.

Predictably some parents seeking to attend private schools moved into Croydon and when those parents were combined with residents already enrolled in private schools the budget ballooned. A $167,000 deficit in FY 18 followed by a projected $43,000 deficit in FY 19 left the Board with no where to look for cuts except their small elementary school… and when they cut one of the four staff members at the school the others all resigned. When those openings were combined with openings for Business Manager and Superintendent it meant that Croydon had basically no one left on the staff. To make matters even worse, it seems that more folks are moving in to the area trying to take advantage of the de facto $14,000 subsidy to attend whatever school they want.

Despite these financial challenges, most in the town are now satisfied with the decisions made by the board a few years ago. But the road may get a bit bumpier if more private school parents move into the community and if the Newport secondary schools charge more per pupil as their enrollment declines and they begin paying their teachers a more competitive wage.

But Croydon is serving one purpose: those who believe that the forces of the free market will drive down costs are finding that it just isn’t so.