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Posts Tagged ‘privatization’

If It’s Booker vs. Trump? I May Seriously Consider “None of the Above”

March 11, 2019 Comments off

A number of friends I know who do not follow the privatization movement closely see Cory Booker as a viable alternative to Donald Trump. An eloquent African-American who embodies racial justice and has ascended the political ladder from Mayor of Newark to U.S. Senator, Mr. Booker is the heir apparent to the Clinton-Gore-Obama legacy of centrism in the Democratic Party— a level headed moderate. But, as Jacobin writer Eric Blanc reports in his bluntly titled article “Cory Booker Hates Public Schools” Mr. Booker is really the embodiment of neoliberalism, a candidate who fully embraced every element of the so-called “school reform movement”, and— therefore— is a candidate who would attract both Wall Street and Silicon Valley backing.

I am among many voters who begrudgingly cast a vote for Hillary Clinton knowing that such a vote effectively endorsed the Obama-Duncan legacy but fearing (rightly as it turned out) that Donald Trump’s direction for public education would be even worse. If Mr. Booker is the nominee for the Democrats, who can public educators– or for that matter any public employees– turn to?

Over the past two decades I’ve witnessed NCLB, RTTT, and now ESSA, take instructional decisions out of the hands of teachers and put them in the hands of those who design standardized tests. At the same time, governance decisions about public education moved from local school boards to the State Houses who favor test-and-punish methods and free market solutions to public schools. Ultimately vouchers will enable all but the neediest parents to abandon public education in favor of sectarian and/or high-priced private schools… and while those schools will be free from the constraints of teaching-to-the-test the public schools will continue to be “measured” by standardized tests linked to age-based grade-level cohorts.

Given the devolution of public schools under GOP and neoliberal leaders, I may well cast a vote for none-of-the-above if I am faced with Booker vs. Trump. I await some kind of word from the other Democratic candidates on their positions on public education… but do so in dread for I fear that the “reform” movement has captured the imagination of voters.

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Something Positive Emerges from the Ashes of the Amazon Debacle: Public Awareness of Tax Breaks

March 9, 2019 Comments off

The NYTimes today featured an article by Matthew Haug describing the tax breaks developers received in the construction of Hudson Yards, an ambitious project that involved the construction of several multi-millions dollar office towers, infrastructure upgrades, and parks and a new school on the West Side of Manhattan. The article’s title, “Amazon’s Tax Breaks and Incentives Were Big. Hudson Yards’ Were Bigger” seemed to implicitly accuse those who supported Hudson Yards but opposed Amazon as hypocrites. But from my perspective, the article did something more important than pointing out hypocrisy: it pointed out that not all tax credits are money grabs by a singular billionaire, that not all tax credits have an adverse impact on nearby neighborhoods, and ALL tax credits need to be examined in the sunshine before they are agreed upon by politicians.

The Hudson Yards project DID make several billionaires even more wealthy… but since government cannot directly provide capital for major projects like Hudson Yards (or Amazon for that matter), some venture capital is required and that venture capital requires a high rate of return since, in some cases, the venture capitalists make bad decisions by investing in projects that do not pan out at all. But unlike the Amazon project— which benefitted one corporation that has a deserved reputation for undercutting wages, displacing local small businesses, and rewarding shareholders with the profits made on the backs of overworked employees and underfunded local governments— Hudson Yards engaged multiple businesses most of whom will receive tax breaks contingent on the creation of new jobs. Also unlike the Amazon project, Hudson Yards was coordinated and devised in concert with the local government. Finally, Hudson Yards was taking an area of the city that the Times described as:

…a neighborhood that included a stubby collection of brick warehouses, factories and tenements built when the Hudson River docks were busy. In the middle was an unsightly rail yard.

Hudson Yards supporters believe the development, which included an extension of the No. 7 subway extension, parks and other improvements, will make the Far West Side an overall better neighborhood. And as for critics of economic development projects like the Amazon one, the Times concludes its article with this:

Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn, a Democrat who is a founder of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, said it was smart to expand the No. 7 subway and create parks on the West Side.

But tax breaks for specific companies are a different story, said Mr. Lander, who was an opponent of the Amazon deal.

We’re giving away tax breaks without paying close attention to what’s a good deal or not a good deal,” he said.

If the failed Amazon deal compels newspapers and politicians across the country to pay closer attention to what’s a good deal or not a good deal, then some good will come out of this debacle. Who knows, maybe voters will want to provide more funds to the government so that they can upgrade infrastructure on their own as a means of luring business. It’s just possible that good roads, high quality public services, beautiful parks, and good schools might entice businesses to locate in a city or region more so that cold cash.

The Hazards of Unfettered Data Sharing and Poorly Crafted Red Flag Legislation

March 4, 2019 Comments off

Over fifteen years ago I wrote an article for Education titled “A Homeland Security Bill for Public Education“, an article that advocated the sharing of pertinent information among social service case managers, medical professionals, school districts, and police. I reasoned that the various staff member’s confidentiality pledges precluded them from sharing important information with the other agencies in a timely fashion, citing several cases from my work experience where such sharing would have benefitted the clients they were striving to help.

Of late, similar recommendations have come forth in the form of “red flag” legislation that would allow police or family members to take weapons away from individuals with documented mental health problems, individuals who might pose a harm to themselves or others. These “red flag” laws seem to be eminently reasonable. Indeed, some NRA officials and politicians who reflexively oppose any effort to limit anyone’s access to any weapons whatsoever are seemingly open to considering “gun violence restraining orders“.

After reading a recent Motherboard article about the use of data collected by social service agencies, schools, and police in Canada and in several US cities, though, I am having second thoughts about my recommendations and about the efficacy of “red flag” legislation. The Motherboard article underscores the importance of carefully crafting any legislation and/or regulations that deal with data access, for once an individual receives a “red flag” it is difficult to reverse that designation. The article opens with these paragraphs:

Police, social services, and health workers in Canada are using shared databases to track the behaviour of vulnerable people—including minors and people experiencing homelessness—with little oversight and often without consent.

Documents obtained by Motherboard from Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) through an access to information request show that at least two provinces—Ontario and Saskatchewan—maintain a “Risk-driven Tracking Database” that is used to amass highly sensitive information about people’s lives. Information in the database includes whether a person uses drugs, has been the victim of an assault, or lives in a “negative neighborhood.”

The Risk-driven Tracking Database (RTD) is part of a collaborative approach to policing called the Hub model that partners cops, school staff, social workers, health care workers, and the provincial government.

As you can see, the description of the “Hub model” is eerily similar to what I recommended in my 2003 Education Week article. But when I wrote that article, I did not foresee the advent of facial recognition technology… or the widespread use of data warehousing by schools, the medical profession, social service agencies, and law enforcement… or the  avalanche of data that would be collected by social media sites. With all of these technology tools in play, it would appear that some kind of failsafe algorithm might come into play, a means of identifying an at risk individual with laser like accuracy. Such pin-pointing would presumably target those individuals likely to engage in mass shootings or crimes. But it begs the problem of how and when to engage law enforcement officials and how and when to compel an individual to seek treatment for mental illness. As Valerie Steeves, a University of Ottawa criminologist, noted in a VICE article on the use of the Hub model: “As soon as you’re identified [as at-risk], it changes how people interact with you. At that point, you become the problem: ‘we need to watch you, all the time, so we can fix you.’” As one who worked for six years as a high school disciplinarian, I can recall how difficult it was for a youngster who misbehaved as a freshman to shed his or her image as a “troublemaker”… and, as we’ve seen in recent years, Google never forgets. Ill advised posts on social media can limit one’s opportunities as much as poor report cards or low SAT scores.

If we hope to use the massive amounts of data we are collecting on individuals to screen them for “risky behavior” or “mental fitness” we need to enact legislation that sets clear guidelines for the collection and use of that data. We now have surveillance cameras gathering data in schools, shopping areas, at intersections, and, in some cases, on our phones and on our home computers. Who owns that data? Who decides how it can be used? Social media records our “likes” and “loves”, the things that make us laugh, the things that make us cry, and the things that make us angry. Who can buy that data? Who has access to it? Virtually all of our purchases and media consumption results in the collection of data, making it possible for some agency to determine the books we read, the movies we watch, the foods we purchase, the places we are planning to take our vacations, and the major purchases like houses and cars we are examining on-line. Who has access to this data? How is it being used.

15 years ago, I thought that the notion of data sharing was straightforward. The school district’s guidance counselor assigned to a student, the social worker assigned to that student, the probation officer working with that student, and the mental health counselor working with that student, and the physician(s) working with the should all feel free to share information with each other. Each clearly had the student’s well-being at heart and they would each benefit from sharing whatever they knew without completing reams of paperwork or getting clearance through their chains-of-command. Now, I’m not so sure, particularly when the data platforms like those used in the “Hub model” are privately operated and owned and there are no clear parameters on how and when the data are purged.

These questions are complicated and thorny. Presumably we would want to know that someone who is planning a mass shooting has acquired a stockpile of weapons. We would also want to be able to confiscate weapons from someone who is a potential terrorist and know who is communicating with on-line ISIS recruiters. But is everyone who is stockpiling weapons a threat to us? Is everyone who is researching Arabic and Muslim websites a potential terrorist? Is a website purporting to be an ISIS recruitment site a bona fide site?

It would be helpful to have these issues brought to the forefront now, before the data being collected are made available to whomever is willing to pay for it for whatever purposes they wish. I just googled myself. I have 36,000+ that came forth in .42 seconds. The 8th item on the list from MyLife.com indicates that I once lived in Portland, OR. That is demonstrably false…. but there it is for all to see and draw their own conclusions. I’m leaving it there because their is no way I can keep track of all the misinformation that is accumulating. But if I were identified as someone “we need to watch…, all the time, so we can fix you” I might not sleep too soundly as the misinformation accumulates.

 

 

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”.

Privatization of Probation Case Managers: What Could Go Wrong?

March 1, 2019 Comments off

Jeremy Mohler’s recent In the Public Interest email described the recent shareholder report from CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) that:

bragged about their December 2018 acquisition of Recovery Monitoring Solutions Corp., which provides electronic monitoring and case management services to municipal, county, and state governments in Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Minnesota.

It’s bad enough that prisons are privatized, because once they are viewed as “profit centers” their “revenue stream” depends on a constant influx of prisoners which, in turn, depends on a constant flow of individuals who are arrested. But once “case managers” are added to the payroll the profitability will rely on “efficiency” which translates into the diminishment of services, the diminishment of living wages for employees, and, inevitably, the diminishment of qualifications. It would not surprise me to see the for-profit prisons “re-training” guards to become “case managers” who would view their assignment as remotely monitoring scores of ex-prisoners from a computer screen instead of interfacing with them and helping them navigate their way into the job market. Moreover, given the need for full prisons, I would not be surprised to see recidivism rise…. because the lifeblood of for-profit prisons is, well, prisoners.

The Beat Goes On: Oakland Joining Denver and LA Pushing Back Against Billionaire Reformers

February 15, 2019 Comments off

The first three paragraphs of Nick French’s Jacobin article provides a good overview of the national pushback that is underway:

Wherever there’s a battle over public education lately, a billionaire is somehow involved. Los Angeles, Newark, the “education reform” project as a whole — the ultrarich always have their hands in efforts to antagonize teachers.

One city they’ve now set their sights on: Oakland, where teachers are in the middle of union contract negotiations and just authorized a strike. Some teachers stayed out of school in one-day wildcat strikes in December and January, joined by many of their students. According to posts circulating on Facebook and Instagram, Oakland students have planned to call out sick in solidarity with teachers today.

Just like other teachers’ union battles these days, the contract fight pits students and working people against billionaire pro-corporate school reformers and the politicians backing them.

Slowly but surely the word seems to be getting out…. privatization is corroding public education and undermining the kind of instruction that teachers provide to children. MAYBE one of the political parties will realize that their “bi-partisan” support for the test-and-punish “reform” beloved of the billionaires and privatizers is hurting children, demoralizing teachers, and diminishing middle class jobs.

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.