Former J2S employee says company is to blame for huge turnover

Source: David Bailey, WZZM, June 30, 2016

After weeks of investigating the situation inside the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, the 13 Watchdog team heard a different perspective regarding severe under staffing issues at the facility. Former J2S employee Amanda Bockheim says she’s concerned the company will be able to renew its contract with the state in light of what she knows about the business. She worked for eight months in the administrative office for the company during a very difficult time.  It’s generally accepted J2S has been short-staffed for at least the past year. … A state audit from the state’s auditor general released this winter found that J2S was short 81 percent of the time over a 4-month time frame.  Shortages were as much as 22 on a given day.  Despite the problems, J2S is bidding on the contract that will begin on September 1, 2016. … She says as a former scheduler, she believes J2S is almost solely responsible for having extreme turnover and absenteeism causing staff shortages and poor care.  She says recruiters at J2S would tell applicants one thing during the hiring process and then it would be switched when the workers finished orientation at the facility. … Mark Williams is the Local 261 AFSCME representative for the state employees and says Frain is wrong for blaming the problems on his state employees. …


Schuette investigating alleged abuse at veterans home
Source: Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press, May 25, 2016

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said Wednesday he is investigating abuse at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and asked for information from anyone with firsthand knowledge of mistreatment of veterans there. But Michigan Democrats say Schuette, a Republican who is considered a likely candidate for governor in 2018, should have acted much sooner on complaints that go back five years. They noted that in a 2011 court case against the state that featured claims of abuse at the home, an attorney for Schuette argued that “residency at the home is completely voluntary, and the residents are free to leave at any time that they wish.” … Dillon noted Schuette’s office opposed veterans who complained of abusive care from contracted employees when some residents of the home joined with a state employee union to try to stop the state privatization of about 170 nursing aide positions, at an estimated annual savings of $4.2 million. …

6 companies interested in Grand Rapids Home for Veterans contract
Source: David Bailey, WZZM, May 23, 2016

New documents obtained by the WZZM 13 Watchdog team show six companies are interested in bidding on the contract for nursing services at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. Notably absent from that list is the current contractor, J2S, a company that’s been under fire for months for not staffing the facility by state guidelines. J2S has done the work since 2013. … J2S representatives are not listed on the sign-up sheets for a mandatory site visit earlier this month which may indicate that leaders at that company perhaps no longer want the contract. Representatives from the following companies attended the mandatory session as part of the state’s contracting program: Vibrus Group, Maxim Healthcare, QCI Healthcare, Arcadia Heath Services, Career Staff Unlimited and Care One Inc. …

Staffing shortages continue to plague Grand Rapids Home for Veterans
Source: David Bailey, WZZM, April 21, 2016

The 13 Watchdog team is taking a look at new allegations of staffing shortages at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. We are also investigating why nursing assistants can now work at the facility without passing a certification test. … New documents we obtained show the Home for Veterans made a new agreement with J2S giving the company more flexibility to bring new people in. The document shows GRHV will accept CENA (Competency-Evaluated Nursing Assistants) applicants who have successfully completed their CENA training but have not yet completed their certification under federal guidelines. The applicants, according to the documents, have four months to get their certification or they must leave the GRHV. …

Privatization savings fade as vets home answers audit
Source: Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press, March 26, 2016

… But the planned remedies — another pay hike for the contractor and bringing in more oversight —could mean higher costs to care for the veterans than existed before the privatization push. The audit confirmed warnings the state received about inadequate staffing and quality of care going back to 2011, when the state first tried to privatize the nursing aide positions. … Now, actions are happening so quickly that officials aren’t able to pinpoint all the associated costs, though Redford told the Free Press he believes there is “still a substantial reduction in cost” from when state employees served as nursing aides. … The state recently approved the fourth increase in the cost of the J2S contract since the company bid on the multi-year deal expected to cost less than $7 million a year. The state also granted the home authorization to hire other nursing contractors to supplement J2S, especially on weekends. A state ombudsman is now beginning to serve the home, and the administration has given a thumbs-up to a suggestion from lawmakers that a “chief compliance officer” be added to the home to make sure things are done right. … Under the original contract, J2S, which has not returned phone calls from the Free Press, had a pay range that went from $13.99 an hour for nursing aides to $24.50 for supervisors, according to records released by the union. A 2013 amendment hiked that hourly range, bringing nursing aides to a low of $14.48 for nursing aides and a high of $26.24 for supervisors. Another amendment, late in 2013, hiked the range to between $14.99 and $27.17 an hour. Then, at the start of 2015, the state hiked the pay again, to a range of $15.95 to $27.52 an hour. … Even without including the performance bonus provided for in the latest amendment, the base pay for the private nursing aides has increased about 21% since the contract began. State nursing aides were paid more than $20 an hour.

Opinion: Stop penny-pinching our veterans
Source: Michigan State Representatives Henry Yanez and David Rutledge, Detroit News, March 27, 2016

Our tax dollars should be used wisely to provide services to veterans, and not to line the pockets of corporations profiting at the expense of these veterans. The bottom line must be the excellent care of our veterans and not penny-pinching to improve a financial spreadsheet. Our veterans deserve caregivers who do their jobs well and respond to their needs. We look forward to hearing from the new interim MVAA Director James Redford about his plans. We will monitor the Grand Rapids home to ensure that residents are safe. No one should worry that if they fall they won’t receive help quickly. No one should be afraid to speak up and demand excellent care. Our veterans put the safety of their fellow citizens before their own. It’s time that we put the care of those veterans first.
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MBTA takes first major step toward privatization

Source: Nicole Dungca, Boston Globe, June 30, 2016

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s warehouse operations could be run by a private company by October, as T officials take a major step toward outsourcing a part of the agency. MBTA officials on Thursday released a request for proposals from outside firms for the operations of its warehouse, which T executives have blasted for being inefficient and dysfunctional. The move is already prompting fierce opposition — and a request for arbitration — from the agency’s largest labor union, whose members could lose jobs. James O’Brien, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, pledged to appeal the move, under a federal process that — if successful — the union argues could eventually cost the T significant federal funding. … At the T, warehouse operations would be the first department to replace public workers with private ones since the Legislature lifted restrictions on outsourcing at the agency. …


MBTA union willing to cut new workers’ pay if management limits privatization
Source: Adam Vaccaro, Boston Globe, June 27, 2016

The largest labor union representing MBTA workers wants to make a deal. The 4,100-employee Boston Carmen’s Union says it’s willing to cut wages for new employees if it means the T will limit privatizing jobs done by members. Union officials presented the proposed deal at a Monday meeting of the T’s governing board, saying it would save $24 million for the agency over four years. The proposal would extend the Carmen’s current contract with the T two years, to 2020. Under the proposal, new full-time employees would see an 11 percent wage reduction over their first four years, and new part-time employees to see an eight percent reduction over their first six years. Additionally, wages would grow by 1.5 percent per year in 2019 and 2020, a lower rate than the usual 2.5 percent annual increase. In exchange, the union is asking the agency not to contract out services done by its members. It would allow one exception: the agency’s central warehouse, which employs 34 Carmen’s Union members and which the T has discussed recently as a potential service to privatize. …

Legislators blast plan to privatize T warehouse jobs
Source: Nicole Dungca, Boston Globe, June 13, 2016

Legislators and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority workers blasted potential plans to outsource jobs in the MBTA’s warehouse operations, as officials on Monday made their case for privatizing the department. Saying the warehouse operations system is “completely broken,” T officials are pushing to outsource about 38 jobs in a department that costs approximately $4.2 million annually. … Also Monday, MBTA officials revealed that they had quietly replaced Transit Police officers with private security agents at the “money room” where employees count cash fares — a move that sparked criticism from police union officials who said they had little notice and noted that the T had hired the security agency that employed the gunman in this weekend’s mass shooting in Orlando. … [Michael Keller] blamed the T’s system, noting that it runs the central warehouse only 40 hours a week, despite 24-hour maintenance. He also said the system encourages mechanics to take parts even when a stockperson isn’t there to track the inventory — which contributes to the system’s inaccuracies. …

Could outsourcing fix this T problem?
Source: Nicole Dungca, Boston Globe, June 12, 2016

T officials Monday plan to make the case for privatizing the sprawling warehouse department, which employs about 38 employees for approximately $4.2 million annually. Officials say it could lead to major improvements to the T’s maintenance operations and will represent one of the first efforts by Governor Charlie Baker’s administration to test the suspension of the so-called Pacheco law, which puts up hurdles for outsourcing state jobs. … The majority of the T’s inventory — about $38 million — is at two central warehouse locations in Everett and Charlestown. Maintenance workers usually call upon the warehouses when their own supplies — for things as simple as cables, brake rotors, and air filters — at their garages run out. T officials say that process, which can take up to 80 hours, should take about 12 by industry standards. That’s partly because the main warehouse is only open for eight hours a day, five days a week, compared with the maintenance department, which is working around the clock. … Officials say fixing the system internally could prove to be too expensive, especially as the agency looks for ways to balance its books. Polcari said the T would need to upgrade its warehouses and equipment, which could cost about $14.5 million. Officials hope the agency’s fiscal control board will sign off on a timeline that would allow the T to put out a request for proposals later this month, then select a bidder by the middle of August. …

The next big MBTA battle will be about privatization
Source: Adam Vaccaro,, June 7, 2016

In nearly a year since new management took control of the MBTA, the agency has taken several steps to achieve Gov. Charlie Baker’s directive that it get its financial house in order. … But it has yet to act on what proved to be Baker’s most contentious plan for the agency a year ago: To outsource parts of the agency to private companies. … In a conference call last week, MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve told reporters that privatization — or “flexible contracting,” as the T calls it — will be a focus of the agency in the coming weeks. He said the agency is examining “several initiatives we’re going to move quickly on to leverage flexible contracting” as part of a strategy to cut down on a budget deficit projected for $80 million next year, even after accounting for fare hikes and the end of late-night weekend service. …
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Why Is The Walton Family Foundation Putting Another $250 Million Into Charter Schools?

Source: Maureen Sullivan, Forbes, June 30, 2016

Billionaire sister and brother Alice and Jim Walton have explained this week’s $250 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation to aid in building charter school facilities as a salute to their parents’ emphasis on education. “My parents spent a lot of time with us growing up just enforcing the fact that education is what could really be the great equalizer in the world,” says Alice Walton, the only daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and his wife Helen, in a video promoting the initiative. … The foundation describes the Building Equity Initiative as “a first-of-its-kind nonprofit effort to provide charter schools with access to capital to create and expand facilities.” The nonprofit Civic Builders will manage the initiative, which will focus on 17 cities* where the foundation already makes grants. … The new initiative, which is in addition to the $1 billion already announced, will provide low-interest loans to non-for-profit lenders that will help finance school facilities. There will also be more resources made available through real-estate, technical and financial advice. The Waltons say they hope their investment will act as a “vote of confidence” for charter schools and inspire others to follow their lead. …


Walton Family Foundation commits $250 million for new charter school facilities
Source: Emma Brown, Washington Post, June 28, 2016

The Walton Family Foundation on Tuesday announced that it would commit $250 million to help urban charter schools deal with a problem that has sometimes slowed their growth: access to facilities. The money will go to nonprofit lenders and charter school developers, who will use it to help finance buildings for new charter schools in 17 cities, including the District. … The new effort from the Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune, is expected to create space for an additional 250,000 students by 2027, according to the foundation, which has played a key role in driving the expansion of charters during the past two decades.

Kit Carson prison in Burlington to close; 142 jobs lost

Source: Jennifer Brown, Denver Post, June 30, 2016

The prison in Burlington will shut down at the end of July, bringing a loss of 142 jobs in the small town on Colorado’s eastern plains and a devastating impact on the community’s tax-funded services, businesses and schools. … As prison populations have declined nationwide because of criminal justice reform, the number of inmates in Colorado’s 20 prisons also has decreased. Kit Carson Correctional Center, one of three private prisons in Colorado run by Corrections Corporation of America, will become the sixth prison in the state to shut down in the last decade. The Burlington facility now has about 400 inmates, despite a capacity to hold more than 1,400.  Employees of the prison were informed Thursday morning, said Burlington economic development director Rol Hudler, who called the impact of the closure “tremendous.” Hudler said town and county officials have been in discussions about the future of the prison for several weeks with Corrections Corporation of America and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office. … Hickenlooper’s office said the governor has committed to help mitigate the economic impact of the prison closure. The legislature had budgeted $3 million extra for the next fiscal year, which begins Friday, in an attempt to keep the Burlington prison open. Hickenlooper wants to use the unspent funds to help the area recover from the loss of its largest employer besides a hog farm. It was the second bailout for CCA in recent years after lawmakers gave the company $9 million in 2012 to keep the Burlington facility open.


Senate Gives Final OK Colo. Budget, Votes To Keep Private Prison Open
Source: Associated Press, April 17, 2016

Colorado’s Senate approved a $27 billion state budget after heated debate over a last-minute allocation to keep open a privately-run prison in Burlington. Republican budget-writer Sen. Kent Lambert successfully argued the $3 million will give Gov. John Hickenlooper time to negotiate with Corrections Corporation of America. CCA runs the Kit Carson Correctional Center in Burlington. It says it needs the money to avoid closing the facility because the number of inmates there is dropping.

Prison employees risk more cases

Source: Tanner Clinch, TriValley Central, June 30, 2016

Although the entire detainee population at Eloy Detention Center has been inoculated for measles, mumps and rubella, as many as 40 percent of the facility’s employees have not provided proof of immunity to health officials. At the beginning of the measles outbreak that started at the detention center May 26, health officials had the facility’s leadership send an urgent request to all employees to provide proof of immunity. While the majority have provided their paperwork, more than 100 employees have not, according to Tom Schryer, director of Pinal County Public Health. … The facility is owned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, contracted out to be run by Corrections Corporation of America, and there are various subcontractors and federal employees throughout the facility. Other than the federal employees who do health work at the facility, none of the employees are required by law to show proof of immunity in order to work and cannot be barred from working even if there is an active outbreak. …


Health Department Confirms 19th Case of Measles at Eloy Detention Center
Source: Miriam Wasser, Phoenix New Times, June 27, 2016

Despite mitigation efforts, a measles outbreak at the Eloy Detention Center in Pinal County keeps getting worse. Over the weekend, the Arizona Department of Health Services announced the 19th confirmed case and expanded the list of potentially contaminated areas in Pinal and Maricopa counties. (See below for full list.) The facility, located about 60 miles south of Phoenix, is owned by a for-profit company, Corrections Corporation of America, and houses about 1,500 immigrants who are awaiting the outcome of their deportation proceedings. … It’s unclear how many people have been exposed or when the outbreak will be contained, but Pyritz says the detention center is taking precautions to keep sick detainees isolated and to get everyone on the premises vaccinated. Pyritz was unable to say how many people remain unvaccinated. …

CCA irons out agreement to house inmates in Arizona prison
Source: Nashville Business Journal – 12:09 PM CST Friday, February 24, 2006

Corrections Corp. of America has signed a deal with the city of Eloy, Ariz., to house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees through an agreement between the federal government and the city. The agreement enables ICE to hold detainees in CCA’s 1,500-bed Eloy Detention Center. As of Feb. 23, that prison had a total population of 920 inmates. In January, the Federal Bureau of Prisons notified Nashville-based CCA (NYSE: CXW) that it would not renew an option to have inmates held at the Eloy facility. Eloy has housed federal inmates as well as immigration detainees. The detainees were held through an agreement between ICE and the Bureau of Prisons. The way this new agreement works, ICE contracts with the city which, in turn, contracts with CCA to house the detainees. The company expects that the facility “will be substantially occupied” by ICE detainees.

CCA operates 63 correctional facilities, including 39 it owns, in 19 states and Washington D.C.

Outsourcing plan halted at libraries

Source: Hillary Chester, Prince Williams Times, June 30, 2016

Prince William County staff have ceased their search into outsourcing the management of the library system. In a 7-1 vote at the Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting on June 21 the board decided to cease efforts looking into outsourcing the libraries following their closed session. … Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland, the champion of the idea, was the lone dissenting vote. “I believe, it is our responsibility to look at all options,” Candland said before the vote. Candland proposed outsourcing the libraries’ management at the board’s April 19 meeting. He raised the option as a way to save approximately $3 million during the board’s budget season. …


Efforts to privatize library management ended
Source: Potomac Local, June 23, 2016

A plan to seek requests for proposals to outsource the management of Prince William County’s Public Libraries is dead. The county’s Board of Supervisors voted 7-1 on Tuesday to kill the measure proposed this past spring by Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland. He gave the dissenting vote. …

Library outsourcing: Is $3 million worth the worry?
Source: Hillary Chester, Prince Williams Times, May 18, 2016

Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland brought up the idea as a way to save money. The vice chair of the board said that the county had been approached by a company, later identified as LSSI, to help outsource management and that he had spoken with its representatives. According to the Candland during the April 19 meeting, the county would still own its 11 libraries. … The board did not agree to include outsourcing into this year’s budget at their April 19 meeting, but they did vote 7-1 to move forward with the a review of a RFP proposal. The RFP will return to the board for consideration on June 21. … In FY15 alone, there were 2,958 programs and special events held in the libraries that 105,615 people attended which equals to 246.5 programs and special events a month. For 11 libraries, two of which cost $14 million and $11 million to build, with 291 full-time and part-time employees, the library system’s proposed budget for FY17 is $16.9 million. The net general tax support is $13.8 million. … Gilman’s email also revealed the money saving aspects of the volunteers. The system currently has more than 300 active volunteers, as of April 2016, that save the library $609,996 in salaries year-to-date. Privatizing would reduce the number of volunteers and services. …

What is cut if Prince William library management goes private?
Source: Potomac Local, May 9, 2016

Could a plan to outsource some library operations save millions? The majority of the members of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors want to find out. The Board approved issuing a request for proposals (RFP) from private companies who would bid on taking over the daily management operations of the county’s 11 library branches. Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland said he’s “done homework” and spoken with such a company that could provide management services. The move could save as much as $15 million over the next five years, he added. … Gillman estimates a move to privatize management services could mean a 22 percent reduction in the the library system’s budget. That could amount to fewer new library books and materials purchased, fewer programs for children and adults, and shorter operating hours — things library patrons asking for more of, said Gillman. … By the books, the Prince William County Public Library System employs 208 full-time positions. Many of those are part-time jobs.  Last year, the library system’s adopted budget was $17.4 million, up 19% over the past five years. …

Opinion: Louisiana’s private and parish prisons are little more than warehouses

Source: Robert Mann, New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 1, 2016

The concerns that you and I should have with this are many. First, it suggests that Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) officials were paying insufficient attention to Winn’s operation. That raises questions about procedures at dozens of parish prisons across Louisiana, where 75.5 percent of parish prison beds are occupied by state inmates (the highest percentage in the nation), all housed for less than $25 a day. “Lock and feed is what I call it,” DOC Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc candidly told a reporter recently. Spend 20 minutes reading any one of Bauer’s stories and tell me if you feel comfortable knowing that people convicted of violent acts were supervised in such a cavalier fashion. … That said, it’s important to remember that Louisiana didn’t privatize Winn because corporations and sheriffs run superior prisons. They did so only to save money.  If you run a private or a smaller parish prison, “corrections” may be a foreign concept. It’s often about little more that housing inmates for the lowest cost to generate the most revenue. …


My four months as a private prison guard
Source: Shane Bauer, Mother Jones, July/August 2016

I started applying for jobs in private prisons because I wanted to see the inner workings of an industry that holds 131,000 of the nation’s 1.6 million prisoners. As a journalist, it’s nearly impossible to get an unconstrained look inside our penal system. When prisons do let reporters in, it’s usually for carefully managed tours and monitored interviews with inmates. Private prisons are especially secretive. Their records often aren’t subject to public access laws; CCA has fought to defeat legislation that would make private prisons subject to the same disclosure rules as their public counterparts. And even if I could get uncensored information from private prison inmates, how would I verify their claims? I keep coming back to this question: Is there any other way to see what really happens inside a private prison? …

Why We Sent a Reporter to Work as a Private Prison Guard
Source: Clara Jeffrey, Mother Jones, July/August 2016

But while such investigations were commonplace in the muckraker era, they’ve grown increasingly rare. Why? First, there’s a real concern over ethics. When is it okay for reporters to not announce themselves as such? There’s no governing body of journalism, but a checklist written by Poynter ethicist Bob Steele provides guidelines for assessing when this kind of reporting is acceptable. … To see what private prisons are really like, Shane Bauer applied for a job with the Corrections Corporation of America. He used his own name and Social Security number, and he noted his employment with the Foundation for National Progress, the publisher of Mother Jones. He did not lie. He spent four months as a guard at a CCA-run Louisiana prison, and then we spent 14 more months reporting and fact-checking. We took these extraordinary steps because press access to prisons and jails has been vastly curtailed in recent decades, even as inmates have seen their ability to sue prisons—often the only way potential abuses would pop up on the radar of news organizations or advocates—dramatically reduced. There is no other way to know what truly happens inside but to go there. …

Shane Bauer Talks About His Four Months Working in a Private Prison
Source: Mother Jones, June 23, 2016

Mother Jones: How did you get the idea for this project?

Shane Bauer: The first time I thought about it was while talking to another reporter about writing about prisons. We were talking about Ted Conover’s Newjack, about his experience working as a guard at Sing Sing. I thought, “I should try that at a private prison.” There isn’t a lot of reporting on private prisons because they are not subject to the same public records laws as publicly run prisons and it’s pretty hard for journalists to get inside them. They’re a corner of the American prison system that we don’t know a lot about. …

MJ: How did Winn handle medical care and mental health care for prisoners?

SB: Prisoners regularly complained about medical care at Winn. I met a prisoner who had no legs and no fingers. He had lost them within the past year to gangrene. His medical records showed that he had made at least nine requests to see a doctor in that time. He would go to the infirmary and get sent back; the staff was suggesting that he was faking it. He said he showed the warden his feet, which were turning black and dripping with pus. But CCA had to pay to take a prisoner to the hospital, which costs a lot of money, especially when you consider it made $34 a day for each prisoner. …

Inside Shane Bauer’s Gripping Look at the Workings of a Private Prison
Source: Mother Jones, June 23, 2016

…Bauer’s article also includes profiles of guards and prisoners struggling to survive, “locked in battle like soldiers in a war they don’t believe in.” It also describes his reaction to the stress and risk of being a prison guard—a transformation that revealed the unsettling reality of one of America’s most difficult jobs. “More and more, I focus on proving I won’t back down,” he writes. “I am vigilant; I come to work ready for people to catcall me or run up on me and threaten to punch me in the face.” Shortly after Bauer left Winn in March 2015, CCA announced that it was backing out of its contract to run Winn Correctional Center. Documents later obtained by Mother Jones show that the state had asked CCA to make numerous immediate changes at the prison, including filling gaps in security, hiring more guards and medical staff, and addressing a “total lack of maintenance.” Another concern was a bonus paid to Winn’s warden that “causes neglect of basic needs.”…

The Corrections Corporation of America, by the Numbers
Source: Mother Jones, July/August 2016

The Corrections Corporation of America launched the era of private prisons in 1983, when it opened a immigration detention center in an former motel in Houston, Texas. Today the Nashville-based company houses more than 66,000 inmates, making it the country’s second-largest private prison company. In 2015, it reported $1.9 billion in revenue and made more than $221 million in net income—more than $3,300 for each prisoner in its care. …

CCA Documents
Source: Shane Bauer, Mother Jones, June 23, 2016

Here are legal documents and other records that provided valuable information for Shane Bauer’s investigation into the Corrections Corporation of America’s private prisons. …

What We Know About Violence in America’s Prisons
Source: Mother Jones, July/August 2016

Safety is an issue in all prisons, but accurate data on violence in prisons can be hard to come by. Here’s a look at what we know about physical and sexual assault in America’s prisons—and what was reported at the private prison in Louisiana where Shane Bauer worked. …

School boards warned on privatization

Source: Kayla Friedrich, Stowe Reporter, June 30, 2016

Hard on the heels of Act 46 — Vermont’s education consolidation law — towns from Stowe to Manchester began to study the possibility of converting their public schools to independent in an effort to “maintain local control.” But last week, the Vermont School Boards Association told public school boards that they should not be involved in studying privatization. … However, Nicole Mace, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association, says it is critical for the board to be clear about all the pros and cons of choosing to close the public schools — especially since the board would no longer be directly accountable for education quality at any of the independent schools chosen by parents. An independent school is a private entity governed by a privately selected board of directors. The school board would still exist to pay tuition to another district or approved independent school for the children in its district, and to present a budget to the voters that is the total of all tuition invoices. … In Stowe, a small group of residents and educators — the Stowe Local Schools Initiative — has been working over the past year to determine if privatization would be a viable option for the community. The group plans to finalize a report this summer that will be delivered to the school board and community in the fall. The report will outline what it would take to close the elementary, middle and high schools and reopen them as independent schools. …

A Sea of Charter Schools in Detroit Leaves Students Adrift

Source: Kate Zernike, New York Times, June 28, 2016

The 1993 state law permitting charter schools was not brought on by academic or financial crisis in Detroit — those would come later — but by a free-market-inclined governor, John Engler. An early warrior against public employee unions, he embraced the idea of creating schools that were publicly financed but independently run to force public schools to innovate. To throw the competition wide open, Michigan allowed an unusually large number of institutions, more than any other state, to create charters: public school districts, community colleges and universities. It gave those institutions a financial incentive: a 3 percent share of the dollars that go to the charter schools. And only they — not the governor, not the state commissioner or board of education — could shut down failing schools. For-profit companies seized on the opportunity; they now operate about 80 percent of charters in Michigan, far more than in any other state. … Operators were lining up to get into the city, and in 2011, after a conservative wave returned the governor’s office and the Legislature to Republican control for the first time in eight years, the Legislature abolished a cap that had limited the number of charter schools that universities could create to 150. … In fact, the law repealed a longstanding requirement that the State Department of Education issue yearly reports monitoring charter school performance. … By 2015, a federal review of a grant application for Michigan charter schools found an “unreasonably high” number of charters among the worst-performing 5 percent of public schools statewide. The number of charters on the list had doubled from 2010 to 2014. …


Charter schools multiplying in Mich.
Source: Shawn D. Lewis, Detroit News, July 26, 2013

…While enrollment in traditional public schools has fallen in Michigan over the past two decades, charter school enrollment has increased more than 500 percent since the first school in the state opened in the mid-1990s. The state had less than 4,500 students in 41 charter schools in 1995; more than 130,000 children attended 277 charter schools this past year…

…But a Royal Oak-based think tank cautions gains by Michigan’s current charter schools don’t mean the new schools will be equally effective… The Stanford study, which included 27 states, shows that in learning growth for math, Charter Schools USA, which has 58 schools in seven states, rated slightly below traditional public schools….

California Virtual Academies: Bill targeting for-profit operator K12 Inc. clears first committee vote

Source: Jessica Calefati, The Mercury News, June 30, 2016

A bill that would ban online charter schools from hiring for-profit firms to provide instructional services cleared the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday on a party-line 6-2 vote after a divisive debate about the role private companies should play in public education. … Lawmakers’ efforts a few years ago to crack down on for-profit colleges and universities sent several of the chains into bankruptcy, and if AB 1084 is passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, it would effectively put companies like K12 out of business in the Golden State, too. … But parents couldn’t disagree more about whether companies like K12 should be allowed to operate charter schools in California, and a lobbyist for K12 and two other firms insisted they’re being singled out unfairly. Two mothers who support the legislation testified that the law is needed to force schools controlled by for-profit companies to re-evaluate their priorities and begin emphasizing student achievement above all else, including profit margins and shareholder whims. …


California Virtual Academies defend online charter schools as model of school choice
Source: Jessica Calefati, The Mercury News, April 19, 2016

In a letter sent to teachers Monday afternoon, the schools’ academic administrator, April Warren, called the newspaper’s investigative series “a gross mischaracterization of all of the work that you all do on a regular basis.” But despite their broad condemnations, neither Warren nor other school officials alleged any specific factual inaccuracies in the series. … The California Charter Schools Association and California Teachers Association on Monday said the Legislature should take a hard look at whether for-profit companies like K12 should be operating schools in California and whether the state can do more to ensure charter schools are overseen properly. … Online charter schools only work with a fraction of the kids enrolled in California’s roughly 1,200 charters, but that doesn’t mean they should be held to a lower standard of accountability, said Emily Bertelli, a spokeswoman for the California Charter Schools Association, which publicly called for the closure of a K12-run school in 2011 only to see the school reopened with a new name under the same authorizer. …

K12 Inc.: California Virtual Academies’ operator exploits charter, charity laws for money, records show
Source: Jessica Calefati, The Mercury News, April 18, 2016

California’s largest network of online academies is different: Although the schools are set up like typical charters, records show they’re established and run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., whose claims of parental involvement and independent oversight appear to be a veneer for the moneymaking enterprise. The company — the subject of a two-part investigative series by this newspaper — says the schools operate independently and are locally controlled. But the academies’ contracts, tax records and other financial information suggest something entirely different: K12 calls the shots, operating the schools to make money by taking advantage of laws governing charter schools and nonprofit organizations. … California law is silent on whether for-profit firms are even allowed to run charter schools. So before applying 14 years ago to open the state’s first online academies, K12 treaded cautiously into a new market, creating a series of nonprofit organizations whose names match those of the schools. That means each California Virtual Academy is considered by the IRS to be a charitable organization that need not pay taxes, even though K12 effectively controls the schools by providing them with all academic services. … A close look at the contract between California Virtual Academy at San Mateo and K12 raises questions about why a truly independent board of directors would ever agree to the terms, said Luis Huerta, a Columbia University expert on online schools. Under the contract, which Huerta reviewed for this newspaper, K12 handles almost every aspect of the public school’s operations. It’s responsible for writing curricula, hiring principals, recruiting students and much more. In exchange, the company is entitled to compensation that can amount to as much as 75 percent of the school’s public funding. …

California Virtual Academies: Is online charter school network cashing in on failure?
Source: Jessica Calefati, The Mercury News, April 17, 2016

But the Silicon Valley-influenced endeavor behind the lofty claims is leading a dubious revolution. The growing network of online academies, operated by a Virginia company traded on Wall Street called K12 Inc., is failing key tests used to measure educational success. Fewer than half of the students who enroll in the online high schools earn diplomas, and almost none of them are qualified to attend the state’s public universities. An investigation of K12-run charter schools by this newspaper also reveals that teachers have been asked to inflate attendance and enrollment records used to determine taxpayer funding. … At the same time, K12’s heavily marketed school model has been lucrative, helping the company rake in more than $310 million in state funding over the past 12 years, as well as enriching sponsoring school districts, which have little stake in whether the students succeed. … Each 180-day school year, students are supposed to gain an equivalent number of days of learning in each of their core subjects as measured by standardized state tests. Instead, online charter students nationwide are advancing the equivalent of only 108 days in reading compared with their peers. And they’re not advancing at all in math. The students are learning so little in that subject that it’s as if they hadn’t attended a single math class all year. And in California, the Stanford report shows, the students attending online schools such as those operated by K12 and other smaller companies are falling 58 days of math instruction behind their peers rather than advancing 180 days. …

VIRTUAL PUBLIC EDUCATION IN CALIFORNIA: A Study of Student Performance, Management Practices and Oversight Mechanisms at California Virtual Academies, a K12 Inc. Managed School System
Source: In the Public Interest, February 26, 2015

From the abstract:
This report examines management practices and student academic performance at California Virtual Academies (CAVA), the largest provider of virtual public education in California. Our research shows that students at CAVA are at risk of low quality educational outcomes, and some are falling through the cracks entirely, in a poorly resourced and troubled educational environment.