Obama’s orders protecting federal contract workers face reversal by Trump

Source: Joe Davidson, Washington Post, January 18, 2017

In a 100-day action plan in his “Contract with the American Voter,” Trump promised to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama.”  The 100-day clock starts Friday with Trump’s inauguration. We don’t know what’s on the chopping block, but trade associations are willing to show him what to ax.  An August 2015 letter from four government contracting associations to White House Chief of Staff Denis R. McDonough and Senior Adviser Valerie B. Jarrett said Obama had issued 12 government contracting executive orders resulting in 16 new regulations. It was sent by the Aerospace Industries Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Professional Services Council (PSC) and Information Technology Industry Council.  “[T]he net effect has been to significantly increase the costs of doing business with the government …” the letter said. “Therefore, on behalf of the thousands of companies our organizations represent and their hundreds of thousands of employees, we respectfully request that no further presidential directives primarily focused on government contractors be issued for the foreseeable future.” …

The list of orders has grown slightly since the organizations sent their letter, “which was not formally responded to,” according to Alan L. Chvotkin, PSC’s executive vice president. PSC has asked the Trump transition team to evaluate certain executive orders “for near term action.” Although the associations claimed to speak on behalf of the companies’ employees, those workers benefit from many of the regulations the companies oppose. Other business organizations challenged Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” directive that allowed agencies to bar contracts to firms with workplace violations. A federal-district court judge in Beaumont, Tex., agreed with the corporate groups and largely blocked implementation of the order the day before it would have taken effect in October. This is an easy one for Trump to nix. He doesn’t have to do anything but let the judge’s order stand. … But if things like paid sick leave, a minimum wage and protection from workplace violators are dumped, it is the contractor employees who would pay the price.

[Ed. Note: For a detailed list of some of the actions affecting contractors and their employees, see full article.]

Criticizing Kansas, feds deny extension of KanCare privatized Medicaid program

Source: Bryan Lowry and Hunter Woodall, The Kansas City Star, January 19, 2017

Federal officials have rejected Kansas’ request to extend the state’s privatized Medicaid program for another year after raising concerns about the program’s transparency and effectiveness. Kansas is “substantively out of compliance with Federal statutes and regulations, as well as its Medicaid State Plan,” concluded investigators from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services after a review in October, according to a letter sent to state officials on Jan. 13. That federal agency oversees the program. Four days later, CMS rejected the state’s request to extend the program through December of 2018. Kansas’ authorization for its privatized system ends at the end of this year. The state must take corrective action to ensure the continued existence of KanCare and submit a plan to address federal officials’ concerns by Feb. 17. Kansas privatized its $3 billion Medicaid program in 2012 under the KanCare umbrella at Gov. Sam Brownback’s urging, shifting the bulk of responsibilities for providing services to three private managed care organizations. The program relies on a combination of state and federal funding. Federal investigators identified a series of shortcomings with the program’s administration, including diminished oversight by the state and a failure to provide beneficiaries with clear and consistent information. … Among other problems identified by CMS investigators: The state lacks a comprehensive system for reporting and tracking critical incidents for beneficiaries on the disability waiver, and no data exists to show unexpected deaths were investigated within required timeframes. …. The letter also faults the state for allowing the managed care organizations to develop their own appeals processes. Under federal rules, the state should have either developed or approved that process. … There’s a possibility that the new administration could be more lenient on Kansas, but Gatewood said this puts pressure on state policymakers to respond regardless. … The federal government spends $1.28 for every dollar the state spends on Medicaid. If Kansas fails to meet federal standards, it will put that money at risk.

Report questions health claims of Medicaid privatization in Kansas
Source: Tim Carpenter, Topeka Capital-Journal, November 17, 2016

Frustration among legislators and Medicaid service providers with management of Kansas’ privatized system resurfaced Thursday in conjunction with a consulting firm’s report asserting the overhaul failed to deliver on promises of improvement in quality of health care. The critique occurred as the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback faced a $350 million tax revenue shortfall in the current state budget and worked to develop new contracts with insurance companies running the $3 billion KanCare system serving 400,000 poor, disabled and elderly Kansans. Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer shared confidence four years ago an approach directed by the private sector would foster better medical outcomes. Colyer, a Johnson County surgeon, vowed reform would “provide our most vulnerable Kansans with superior service at a more sustainable price.” … Leavitt Partners produced the report by reviewing federal and state data and through interviews with KanCare providers at behest of the Kansas Medical Society, Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved and Kansas Hospital Association. Representatives of these three Kansas organizations joined with other health groups to outline for House and Senate members of the KanCare oversight committee their views on administration of privatized Medicaid in Kansas. Many of the complaints surfaced in previous legislative hearings. There was consensus the duplicative process of obtaining service-provider credentials from managed-care companies had to be standardized and centralized. In a strange twist, there was testimony KanCare providers encountered difficulty returning money to MCOs due to accidental overpayments while also enduring delays in receiving millions of dollars in appropriate compensation from those same companies. …


Kansans affected by privatization of Medicare eager to find forum, listening ears
Source: Tim Carpenter, Hutchinson News, August 25, 2016

Bronaugh said her son’s nursing-care hours were cut 40 percent at about the same time she raised questions about Sunflower’s noncompliance with contractual obligations. She shared documents showing Sunflower staff claimed she lied about her son’s disability to secure help he wasn’t eligible to receive. Bronaugh said the false allegations were an attempt to silence her and get her to drop an appeal of the nursing time. … Her feedback would have been the type likely to surface this week during a five-city listening tour that was to have provided Brownback officials insight into the governor’s 4 percent budget cut to some Medicaid providers on July 1. The $38 million was reallocated in an attempt to balance the state’s budget. Forums in Topeka, Overland Park, Wichita, Pittsburg and Dodge City were canceled to limit public disclosure of how Kansans viewed KanCare. The $3 billion system serves about 420,000 disabled, poor and elderly Kansas residents. Officials of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, as well as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, acknowledged growing pains with KanCare, but told state lawmakers the collaboration with private industry ought to be viewed as a success. Bipartisan criticism of the Medicaid cut did lead Brownback to recommend restoration of funding through adoption of a special tax on hospitals. …

Kansas Providers Bristle, Brace for Medicaid Cuts
Source: John Commins, Health Leaders News, June 1, 2016

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s $56 million cut to the privatized KanCare Medicaid program is facing blowback from healthcare providers. In a media release detailing the cuts, Brownback said KanCare’s 4% reductions to providers, which take effect on July 1, would exempt home- and community-based services and almost 100 hospitals defined as rural, densely settled rural, frontier and critical access hospitals. … In a sharply worded open letter last week, however, Kansas Hospital Association President and CEO Tom Bell threw the baloney flag and accused the governor of attempting to obfuscate the scope of the cuts, which were part of more than $80 million in reductions to the overall state budget. … More than 30 of the state’s 107 rural hospitals are in danger of closing, and Bell said the ongoing effect of the KanCare cuts has become “obvious.” … Kansas remains one of 19 holdout states that reject Medicaid expansion and the money that comes with it under the Affordable Care Act. As a result, Kansas has lost an estimated $1.2 billion in federal matching funds. Brownback privatized KanCare in 2013 with assurances that the leaner and more efficient program would improve access to care. So far, those promises have not materialized. Providers and patient advocates hate it, and commercial payers aren’t happy with it either. The Witchita Eagle reported last week that KanCare’s health plans, Sunflower, UnitedHealthcare and Amerigroup, reported losing $52 million in Kansas in 2014.

KanCare up for renewal despite performance shortfalls
Source: Gabriella Dunn, Wichita Eagle, May 26, 2016

The state will negotiate new contracts for its privatized Medicaid system that some describe as inefficient and ineffective. The contracts will take effect in 2018. … Sunflower, UnitedHealthcare and Amerigroup currently provide Medicaid plans in Kansas. It’s unclear if other insurance companies would be willing to offer plans in Kansas’ privatized system. The three companies reported losing $52 million in Kansas in 2014. To compound financial issues, Gov. Sam Brownback cut Medicaid reimbursements to providers by 4 percent to help fill the state’s budget hole. The cuts will go into effect in July but will exempt critical access hospitals in rural areas along with nursing homes and home- and community-based disability services. …

KanCare companies up for renewal; state to hold meetings
Source: Gabriella Dunn, The Wichita Eagle, May 12, 2016

The three privatized Medicaid companies in Kansas – Sunflower, UnitedHealthcare and Amerigroup – are due for contract renewals, but have been criticized for not meeting previously promised expectations. Medicaid recipients have reported longer wait times and more reimbursement denials since the privatization. And an inspector general position, which serves as a watchdog over the program, has been vacant since January 2014. …

Gov. Sam Brownback says privatized Medicaid is working in Kansas, but some patients and hospitals don’t see it
Source: Steve Vockrodt, The Pitch, January 19, 2016

While health-care providers tell The Pitch that KanCare works relatively well for patients who don’t rely on it daily, it has led to some struggles for people who require more intensive care. Some health-care providers say KanCare requires a quantity of paperwork that’s cumbersome even by insurance-company standards. They add that the system has routinely denied legitimate claims, forcing delays as hospitals and clinics file appeals. All of which belies the state’s claim that a privately managed Medicaid would streamline the bureaucracy inherent in a state-run program. … With this statement, Brownback made clear once again that he wants the Legislature to stay the course with KanCare and reject Medicaid expansion, which is an Easter egg for states to consider as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. Medicaid expansion is seen by its advocates as a way to provide more services to the most vulnerable in Kansas and, at least temporarily, give some relief to the financial millstone around the Kansas budget. …
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Most Americans don’t want new tolls to pay for road and bridge improvements, poll says

Source: Ashley Halsey III and Scott Clement, Washington Post, January 17, 2017

A plan to pump up to $1 trillion into infrastructure by luring private investors won’t win public support if it means new tolls on existing roads and bridges, according to a new poll. In Washington Post-ABC News poll, 66 percent of those surveyed said they oppose a plan that would grant close to $140 billion in tax credits to investors who put their money into roads, bridges and transit in return for the right to impose tolls. While the survey question made no mention of the incoming president, prior to the election Donald J. Trump proposed giving private investors an 82 percent tax credit to put money into projects, credits that theoretically would reduce their need to profit from the investment. Trump said his plan would lead to up to $1 trillion worth of new projects. He said the more than $137 billion cost of the tax credit would balance out because tax revenue would be recouped by taxing the wages of people put to work on the projects and from taxes paid by contractors hired to do the work. But even with tax credit incentives, investors are unlikely to put their money into projects that don’t provide a revenue stream, most likely in the form of tolls on roads and bridges. …At her confirmation hearing last week, Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Transportation, Elaine L. Chao, addressed the issue of where funds will be found for infrastructure investment. … The thinking of Trump and Chao may be augmented by a new panel the president-elect is planning to review how the $1 trillion he expects to raise will be spent. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Trump said he plans name two real estate developers — Steven Roth and Richard LeFrak — to head the new panel. …


Outgoing Transportation Secretary Says Private Funding Isn’t the Answer
Source: Joan Lowy and Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press, January 17, 2017

Stimulating private investment in infrastructure projects, as President-elect Donald Trump has proposed, can cover only a fraction of the costs of solving America’s transportation problems, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned as he prepares to leave office. Financing schemes called public-private partnerships, which involve both government dollars and private capital, are useful and can address about to 10 percent to 20 percent of America’s transportation “deficit,” Fox said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. “But we’re still going to need a fair amount of public funding,” he said. “I don’t see public-private partnership as a 100 percent strategy to solve our transportation problems.” Such partnerships typically rely on revenue from tolls or sales taxes dedicated to that purpose to provide investors with a profit. Major transportation projects financed by public-private partnerships have had a mixed record in the U.S. Several private toll roads have gone bankrupt, but express toll lanes on major highways constructed in part with private capital have had more success. … Trump’s nominee for transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, said at her Senate confirmation hearing last week that she wants to “unleash the potential for private investment.” … Foxx agreed that “there is a lot of private capital sitting on the sidelines today not being as productively put to use as it could be.” He said the Obama administration has laid the groundwork for more private investment through the creation of its Build America Bureau inside the Transportation Department. The bureau is designed to be a one-stop destination for help dealing with federal regulations, applying for aid and accessing useful information. But Foxx also cautioned that “you could put $5 trillion into America’s transportation system and if the money isn’t directed in the right way, we will still have congestion, still have problems.” …

Donald Trump Supports Using Federal Funds To Fix States’ Bridges And Roads, Elaine Chao Says
Source: Igor Bobic, Huffington Post, January 11, 2017

President-elect Donald Trump supports using direct federal spending to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure system, according to his pick for transportation secretary. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) asked Elaine Chao during her confirmation hearing on Wednesday whether she and Trump supported a plan to fix America’s roads and bridges that included “direct federal spending.” “I believe the answer is yes,” Chao said. Trump has said he intends to invest $1 trillion to fix the nation’s infrastructure ― a tall order considering the deficit-averse conservatives in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Chao’s husband, has continually blocked additional infrastructure funding proposed by the Obama administration. Democrats are concerned that Trump’s plan would mostly consist of tax breaks to private-sector investors who invest in infrastructure projects. Critics say such deals often leave state and local governments to foot the bill. … During her testimony, Chao indicated her support for such public-private sector partnerships. “It is important to note the significant difference between traditional program funding and other innovative financing tools, such as public-private partnerships. . . . It’s also important to recognize that the way we build and deliver projects is as important as how much we invest,” Chao said. But she was noncommittal about the issue during questioning, telling the committee that public-private partnerships were “embraced by some.”

The Trump administration says it has to have private help to fund roads and bridges. It’s wrong.
Source: Timothy B. Lee, Vox, January 11, 2017

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump touted plans for $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending. Rather than paying for this directly using tax dollars or government borrowing, he has proposed largely relying on private companies to raise the necessary funds, incentivized by tax credits. At a Senate hearing today, Trump’s choice for transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, touted the advantages of this approach. Chao vowed to “unleash the potential for private investment in our nation’s infrastructure” using public-private partnerships. “In order to take full advantage of the estimated trillions in capital that equity firms, pension funds, and endowments can invest, these partnerships must be allowed to participate with a bold new vision,” she said. “We all know that the government doesn’t have the resources to do it all.” Chao is wrong. The federal government does have the resources to “do it all.” And the costs of infrastructure spending ultimately fall on taxpayers and motorists whether or not financing is provided by private companies. … The way public-private partnerships are usually structured is that a private company puts up money at the beginning and in exchange is entitled to a flow of payments. The company might get the right to collect tolls on a newly constructed road. Or the company might be entitled to fixed, taxpayer-funded payments for use of the road. Either way, the private company is effectively lending the government money and getting paid back over time using taxpayer dollars. And because the company hopes to turn a profit on the deal, the value of these payments is likely to be higher than the interest payments the government would have paid if it had financed the work directly.

Elaine Chao: Unleash Private Investors to Boost Transportation
Source: Joan Lowy, NBC Bay Area, January 10, 2017

The Trump administration is looking to “unleash the potential” of private investors to boost the national transportation networks that underpin the U.S. economy, transportation secretary-designate Elaine Chao plans to tell lawmakers Tuesday.  Economic gains are being jeopardized by infrastructure “in need of repair, the specter of rising highway fatalities, growing congestion, and by a failure to keep pace with emerging technologies,” according to prepared testimony Chao is scheduled to deliver at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Chao emphasized a significant difference between traditional program funding and “innovative financing tools” that can “take full advantage of the estimated trillions in capital that equity firms, pension funds, and endowments can invest.” She added that private investment should be “incentivized with a bold, new vision.”  While her testimony doesn’t detail those incentives, a white paper released by President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign shortly after the election proposes the government provide $137 billion in tax credits to infrastructure investors. The paper’s authors — billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, whom Trump has picked to be commerce secretary, and economics professor Peter Navarro, Trump’s choice to head the National Trade Council — estimate the tax credits will generate an estimated $1 trillion in private sector investment over 10 years. …

Public Infrastructure as Stealth Privatization
Source: Donald Cohen, American Prospect, December 20, 2016

Donald Trump hasn’t released an infrastructure plan but has given a good sense of the direction his administration will take.  His proposal will likely use giant tax breaks to spur a massive increase in private control of public infrastructure in what David Dayen called a “privatization fire sale.” Trump will be able to say the plan will both mean no new taxes and guaranteed profits for investors for decades.  It’s too good to be true. There’s no doubt America needs a massive infrastructure upgrade. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates nearly $4 trillion in needs including decades of deferred maintenance of our drinking and waste water systems, our roads and bridges and more, as well as new infrastructure such as light rail and broadband communications needed respond to 21st century challenges and opportunities. The battle in D.C. will be over four things: Whether and how much we decide to invest in public infrastructure at all, how we pay for it, where investments are focused, and who controls it—private investors or public interests.

Why Privatizers Look Forward to 2017
Source: Donald Cohen, Capital & Main, December 17, 2016

“We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks.” That’s what Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist and cofounder of the website Breitbart, said a few weeks ago about Trump’s plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure. That pretty much fits with what we know so far. Trump wants to “invest” $1 trillion in fixing and building roads, bridges, water pipes and other infrastructure. But by “invest” he means using massive tax breaks to convince private investors to spend the money. … America must invest in rebuilding our infrastructure for the 21st century, but we need to do it right. Doing it right means keeping public control, protecting taxpayers, creating good jobs in an increasingly unequal economy, and addressing climate change. Trump’s plan would lean heavily on the private sector through “public-private partnerships” (P3s). At In the Public Interest, we’ve found that, without protections, P3s hand control of our infrastructure to private investors or cost us more in the long run—or both. … With P3s, the devil is in the details, and we’ve produced resources to help with those details:

  • P3s have the potential to create middle-class pathways for those left out of the economy, but only if they include policies regarding job quality and equity. Here are the best practices to do just that.
  • P3s must include democratic control, real community input and transparency, and create good paying jobs. Here’s the process, from enabling legislation to contract language, to make that happen.
  • Sometimes P3s are used to lease or “sell off” public assets like parking meters and buildings. These deals can lead to loss of control, higher user fees, job loss and future budget issues if we don’t ask these tough questions.

Trump’s infrastructure plan is a privatization trap
Source: Donald Cohen, Huffington Post, December 8, 2016

America must invest in rebuilding our infrastructure for the 21st century, but we need to do it right. Doing it right means keeping public control, protecting taxpayers, creating good jobs in an increasingly unequal economy, and addressing climate change. Trump’s plan would lean heavily on the private sector through “public-private partnerships” (P3s). Without protections, P3s hand control of our infrastructure to private investors or cost us more in the long run—or both. Chicago learned the hard way in the midst of the recession, leasing its parking meters to Wall Street for $1 billion under value. Texas did too when the private investors in a toll road between Austin and San Antonio went bankrupt earlier this year, leaving taxpayers to clean up the mess. With P3s, the devil is in the details. … They must include democratic control, real community input, and transparency, and create good paying jobs. P3s must create opportunities for everyone, not just the few. Sometimes P3s are used to lease or “sell off” public assets like parking meters and buildings. These deals can lead to loss of control, higher user fees, job loss, and future budget issues if we don’t ask tough questions. …

How To Fix The Trump Infrastructure Plan
Source: Joel Moser, Forbes, November 27, 2016

The Trump plan is essentially a tax break for private investment in infrastructure. The criticism generally follows two themes: 1) that it is a privatization scheme and 2) that mere tax breaks won’t create much new infrastructure since most civil infrastructure in the United States isn’t revenue producing and so is unsuitable for private investment which requires, by definition, a return on investment. Were the tax breaks to be used to privatize existing revenue producing infrastructure (as non-revenue producing assets would be of no interest to investors), that would essentially be an off-balance sheet financing scheme by the government—the city, county, state or other unit in question—and the prudence of such a transaction would turn on the adequacy of amount of the proceeds and what the proceeds are to used for: new infrastructure, tax abatements, deficits? There are good and bad ways to privatize assets and good and bad deals for the public. … In this regard, the fears of privatization may be overblown. Let’s see the details of the plan. The second issue, however, is a show-stopper. No amount of tax break will encourage investment in an asset that doesn’t produce revenue. No one will invest in the replacement of defective bridges that have no tolls, regardless of the tax abatement, unless a revenue stream is attached to those assets. …

Infrastructure Build or Privatization Scam?
Source: Paul Krugman, New York Times, November 19, 2016

Trumpists are touting the idea of a big infrastructure build, and some Democrats are making conciliatory noises about working with the new regime on that front. But remember who you’re dealing with: if you invest anything with this guy, be it money or reputation, you are at great risk of being scammed. So, what do we know about the Trump infrastructure plan, such as it is? Crucially, it’s not a plan to borrow $1 trillion and spend it on much-needed projects — which would be the straightforward, obvious thing to do. It is, instead, supposed to involve having private investors do the work both of raising money and building the projects — with the aid of a huge tax credit that gives them back 82 percent of the equity they put in. To compensate for the small sliver of additional equity and the interest on their borrowing, the private investors then have to somehow make profits on the assets they end up owning. … First, why involve private investors at all? It’s not as if the federal government is having any trouble raising money — in fact, a large part of the justification for infrastructure investment is precisely that the government can borrow so cheaply. Why do we need private equity at all? … Second, how is this kind of scheme supposed to finance investment that doesn’t produce a revenue stream? Toll roads are not the main thing we need right now; what about sewage systems, making up for deferred maintenance, and so on? You could bring in private investors by guaranteeing them future government money — say, paying rent in perpetuity for the use of a water system built by a private consortium. But this, even more than having someone else collect tolls, would simply be government borrowing through the back door — with much less transparency, and hence greater opportunities for giveaways to favored interests. Third, how much of the investment thus financed would actually be investment that wouldn’t have taken place anyway? That is, how much “additionality” is there? Suppose that there’s a planned tunnel, which is clearly going to be built; but now it’s renamed the Trump Tunnel, the building and financing are carried out by private firms, and the future tolls and/or rent paid by the government go to those private interests. In that case we haven’t promoted investment at all, we’ve just in effect privatized a public asset — and given the buyers 82 percent of the purchase price in the form of a tax credit. …

Trump promises big on highway funding, could open door to more tolls and privatization
Source: James Jalliet, Overdrive, November 14, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump said throughout his campaign for the White House that he wants major investments in U.S. infrastructure, calling for $1 trillion on infrastructure projects during his presidency. … However, major infrastructure bills are challenging pieces of legislation to pass, especially since Congress changed little in the election, says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Pretty much all the same players are still there,” he says. … Trump says he would incentivize private businesses to invest in infrastructure projects by offering them tax incentives. Such privatization of U.S. roads could lead to more tolls, Spencer says. “The closest Trump came to suggesting how things might be paid for is through privatizing. That sounds good to the financial community but it generally doesn’t play out that well on Main Street — it simply means more tolls,” he said. OOIDA is “open to sustainable funding that’s fair to highway users. The tried and true mechanism of paying for roads and bridges is through fuel taxes. If that’s ruled out, the dilemma gets bigger and harder to resolve.” …

The Perils of Privatization (Podcast)

Source: Building Local Power, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, January 12, 2017

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews David Morris, a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the director of the Public Good initiative. The two discuss the climate surrounding privatization in our economy and how the incoming Trump administration will bolster these efforts nationwide. Morris delves deep into the history of public infrastructure including explanations of how our language around the subject has changed over the years, privatization in other countries, and hope for the future.

[Ed. Note: A full transcript of the audio is also available from the source.]

Six astonishing things Betsy DeVos said — and refused to say — at her confirmation hearing

Source: Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post, January 18, 2017

DeVos seemed to have no understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, which requires public schools to provide free and appropriate education to all students with disabilities. … DeVos refused to agree with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) that all schools that receive public federal funds — traditional public, public charter or private schools that receive voucher money — should be held to the same standards of accountability. … DeVos said she would review gainful employment regulations without committing to enforce them. … DeVos appeared to have no idea what Franken was talking about when he referred to the accountability debate about whether to use test scores to measure student proficiency or student growth. … DeVos did not answer Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) when he asked her what she had learned about the failures of the Detroit traditional public and public charter schools that would inform her decision-making as the secretary of education.


What We Learned (And Didn’t) About Betsy DeVos At Her Confirmation Hearing
Source: Erin Einhorn and Sarah Darville, FiveThirtyEight, January 18, 2017

After weeks of skewering criticism from public school advocates who have painted her as an extremist who opposes public education, Betsy DeVos — a billionaire philanthropist and school-choice advocate — used her Senate confirmation hearing to mention her mother’s history as a public school teacher. She repeatedly stressed that her support for policies such as private-school vouchers is about giving parents control over their children’s education, and she pushed back against critics who suggested that her support of free-market policies has allowed failing charter schools to proliferate in her home state of Michigan. …
DeVos has long lobbied for states to allow parents to use public funds to pay private school tuition. As secretary, she said, she would encourage states to create voucher programs — but not try to impose them. … She said she would “absolutely” support a state that wanted to use federal education dollars to give students $2,100 scholarships for tuition in non-public schools. …

DeVos vows to be advocate for ‘great’ public schools
Source: Lisa Hagen, The Hill, January 17, 2017

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Education secretary Betsy DeVos was in the hot seat Tuesday evening as Senate Democrats grilled the GOP megadonor about her positions on public education and potential conflicts of interest. DeVos vowed during the three-and-a-half-hour confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee that she would be an advocate for public education while defending her support for school choice and charter schools. “The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools,” DeVos said. “If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools.” “But if a school is trouble, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high quality alternative,” she said. When Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked if she would privatize public education, DeVos declined to rule that out. …

In Letter to Senate HELP Committee, 38 Groups Express Concerns with Education Secretary Nominee Betsy DeVos
Source: Center for American Progress, Press Release, January 17, 2017

Thirty-eight groups representing a broad spectrum of education stakeholders have sent a letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP, Committee expressing “strong concerns” with President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as the next U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. “Over the course of her career as a major campaign contributor, soft-money donor, and lobbyist, DeVos has used her considerable wealth to influence legislation and the outcomes of elections to advance policies that have undermined public education and proved harmful to many of our most vulnerable students,” the groups wrote. “While what we know about DeVos’ record thus far is deeply troubling, there remain many critical issues affecting students and schools on which no record exists. As such, we urge all members of the U.S. Senate HELP Committee to make their concerns about her nomination and possible confirmation for U.S. secretary of education known.” The groups signing the letter include AASA, The School Superintendents Association; American Association of University Women; American Atheists; American Dance Therapy Association; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Teachers; American Humanist Association; Americans for Democratic Action; Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Center for American Progress; ….

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education pick, lauded as bold reformer, called unfit for job
Source: Emma Brown, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel and Moriah Balingit, The Washington Post, January 17, 2017

Democrats attacked Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s education nominee, calling her unfit for the job during a contentious confirmation hearing Tuesday evening, while Republicans defended her as a bold reformer who would disrupt the status quo in U.S. education. DeVos told skeptical senators that she looked forward to working with them to improve the nation’s schools. … DeVos also declined to say whether she believes that all schools receiving taxpayer funding — public, public charter, or private — should be held accountable to the same performance standards. She also declined to say whether such schools should be required to report suspensions and expulsions, and incidents of bullying and harassment, to the federal government. … Teachers unions and civil rights groups have argued that DeVos’s support for a free-market approach to education has undermined public schools, which they see as a critical civic institution. … DeVos said Tuesday that she would not coerce states to expand vouchers or charters. But in an exchange with Murray, she also refused to say that she would not work to privatize schools.

What makes Trump’s pick of Betsy DeVos as education secretary so controversial
Source: Amy X. Wang and Heather Timmons, Quartz, January 17, 2017

DeVos is already considered a controversial pick for the nomination, and her confirmation could have an outsized impact on the 50 million students that attend public schools in the US. As the Secretary of Education, DeVos will be in charge of a $70 billion budget, and the federal oversight of the US’s 98,000 public schools that around 90% of American families rely on to educate their children. … Neither she nor her children have gone to public school … DeVos is a huge believer in “school choice,” the idea of allowing public education funds to follow students to whatever institutions (e.g. charter schools or private schools) their parents want. She and her husband have pushed, through millions of dollars in contributions over two decades, both the school choice movement and the spread of charter schools throughout Michigan. … DeVos and her family have donated tens of millions of dollars to legislation and politicians who seek to weaken the power and influence of unions, yet nearly 1.6 million public school teachers belong to the American Federation of Teachers union.

Trump Will Destroy Public Education If We Let Him
Source: Donald Cohen, Huffington Post, January 13, 2017

For all the talk in public education about “choice” there’s another choice that’s often overlooked: who should control public schools? Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick to run the Department of Education, certainly has an opinion. Despite never having taught in, managed, or attended a public school, DeVos believes that public school children should be in private hands. … No wonder she’s a staunch advocate for unregulated charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. No wonder she promotes vouchers that send children to private and religious schools with taxpayer dollars. And no wonder she supports for-profit online schools managed by companies like K12 Inc., launched by a former Goldman Sachs banker. DeVos has spent decades dismantling public education, which she’s called a “closed market,” a “dead end,” and a government-run “monopoly.” … DeVos talks up “school choice” but her real choice is clear. She resents public schools because of what makes them public: transparency, oversight, and democratic accountability. Instead she wants more charter and private schools run by private groups unaccountable to neither parents nor the public who pay the bills.

Teachers unions mount campaign against Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education pick
Source: Emma Brown, Washington Post, January 9, 2017

National teachers unions are mounting an aggressive campaign against Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, arguing that she is an ideological extremist with a record of undermining the public schools her department would oversee. The National Education Association, the largest labor union in the nation, is mobilizing teachers to call and email their senators, urging a vote against DeVos’s confirmation. The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, is scheduled to deliver a speech Monday in which she plans to say that DeVos endangers a new and fragile bipartisan consensus on the federal government’s role in education. … DeVos is a Michigan billionaire and major Republican donor who, during the past two decades, has focused her energy and political contributions on promoting charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools. She played a key role in shaping the freewheeling charter-school sector in her home state, which even some charter supporters say lacks quality, oversight and transparency. And she has been a powerful force in pushing for new voucher programs, donating to state lawmakers who favor such programs. She also has been openly hostile to teachers unions, describing them as standing in the way of an improved education system. … While the union fights DeVos and Trump in Washington, Garcia said, the NEA sees more opportunity to advance its priorities at the state and local level. The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Obama signed into law in December 2015, introduced new restrictions on the education secretary and handed more authority back to states and school districts. In her speech Monday, the AFT’s Weingarten plans to laud the Every Student Succeeds Act as evidence that the country has moved past its bitter education wars, but she will say that DeVos’s ideology threatens to reignite those battles, according to a copy of her prepared remarks. …

Teachers Union President: Betsy DeVos ‘Has Tried To Take The Public Out Of Public Education’
Source: Rebecca Klein, Huffington Post, January 9, 2017

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers union, on Monday excoriated President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education, calling Betsy DeVos “the most anti-public education nominee in the history of the department.” “Betsy DeVos lacks the qualifications and experience to serve as secretary of education. Her drive to privatize education is demonstrably destructive to public schools and to the educational success of all of our children,” Weingarten said in a speech at the National Press Club in which she laid out priorities for public education. … Weingarten spoke specifically about the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed with delicate bipartisan support to replace the long-expired No Child Left Behind Act. She called DeVos “a billionaire with an agenda” who could reignite “education wars” between Democrats and Republicans. … Teachers unions have warned that DeVos’ favored education initiatives operate at the expense of traditional public schools. The billionaire DeVos family, which is based in Michigan, has poured money into propping up charter schools and private schools in the state.  The family helped drive an initiative in 2000 that would allow for students to use taxpayer money to attend private schools in the state. After that initiative failed, DeVos pushed for similar voucher programs around the country.  DeVos has worked to expand charter schools in Detroit, which are sometimes operated for profit. Critics have questioned her support of expanding these programs, as charter schools in Michigan score worse on national tests than their traditional school counterparts ― which also don’t perform very well. In particular, public schools in Detroit are consistently ranked among the worst in the nation on math and reading. …

AOut of options: School choice gutted Detroit’s public schools. The rest of the country is next.
Source: Allie Gross, Vice News, December 19, 2016

In Detroit, choice has come largely at the expense of the traditional public school district and schools like Oakman. As students joined new charters, public school enrollment and funding fell. Unregulated competition pushed these schools into near-unrecoverable insolvency and allowed dubious for-profit charter operators to prosper without establishing a track record of better outcomes for students. A 2014 analysis showed 17 percent of Detroit charter school students were rated proficient in math, versus 13 percent of traditional public school students. Last year less than 1 percent of the city’s schools got an A or B+ rating from Excellent Schools Detroit, a local reform group that provides school information to families. Nearly 70 percent earned a D+ or lower, and 40 percent of those bottom-performers were charters. Earlier this year, seven Detroit students sued the state of Michigan for failing to provide basic access to literacy — two of the kids were enrolled in local charter schools. … Engler signed a measure in January 1994 allowing charters to operate. The first charter schools opened in Detroit in the following year. In the beginning, they fit the original charter school mission: largely mom-and-pop operations that filled an unmet need in the city. Three-quarters of Detroiters were black, and two of those first charter schools were grounded in an Afrocentric curriculum. As charters attracted families with promises of smaller class sizes, increased technology, and minimized bureaucracy, Detroit’s traditional public schools lost students and hemorrhaged funds. Because the short-term costs of losing a student were far greater than the average cost of educating one, this set the public school district on a path toward insolvency. Last year, for example, there were more than 100,000 school-age students living in the city; fewer than 47,000 of them attended the public schools. Take the estimated per-pupil funding figure of $7,500 per kid, and that’s nearly $400 million in revenue missing from the district. …

Opinion: It’s time to stop with the false choices on school choice
Source: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Washington Post, December 16, 2016

By nominating voucher and charter school advocate Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary, President-elect Donald Trump has ignited another round of debate over school choice. Yet as cable-news talking heads argue about whether or what kind of school reform is needed in the United States, parents are having a different discussion at the kitchen table — one based on finding the best school, not whether it’s a “reform” school. Promoting choice at the expense of quality isn’t an education strategy, it’s a political agenda. Rather, those of us creating education policy need to simply focus on providing the quality choices that students deserve. We have seen successes when choice and quality have been pursued together. Some public charter schools, such as the Noble Network and Urban Prep in Chicago, have boosted graduation rates and increased college enrollment for low-income students of color. Noble’s graduation rate is above 80 percent, and 100 percent of Urban Prep’s 2016 graduates were college-bound. Despite charter success stories such as these, however, most children will continue to enroll in their local neighborhood school. We need to ensure that those schools are providing a high-quality education, too. …

How Trump’s Education Nominee Bent Detroit to Her Will on Charter Schools
Source: Kate Zernike, New York Times, December 12, 2016

Few disagreed that schools in Detroit were a mess: a chaotic mix of charters and traditional public schools, the worst-performing in the nation. So city leaders across the political spectrum agreed on a fix, with legislation to provide oversight and set standards on how to open schools and close bad ones. But the bill died without even getting a final vote. And the person most influential in killing it is now President-elect Donald J. Trump’s nominee to oversee the nation’s public schools, Betsy DeVos. Her resistance to the legislation last spring is a window into Ms. DeVos’s philosophy and what she might bring to the fierce and often partisan debate about public education across the country, and in particular, the roles of choice and charter schools. The bill’s proposals are common in many states and accepted by many supporters of school choice, like a provision to stop failing charter operators from creating new schools. But Ms. DeVos argued that this kind of oversight would create too much bureaucracy and limit choice. A believer in a freer market than even some free market economists would endorse, Ms. DeVos pushed back on any regulation as too much regulation. Charter schools should be allowed to operate as they wish; parents would judge with their feet. Detroit Public Schools, she argued, should simply be shut down and the system turned over to charters, or the tax dollars given to parents in the form of vouchers to attend private schools. …

Would Donald Trump’s Giant Voucher Proposal Work For Rural Students?
Source: Alyson Klein, Education Week, December 12, 2016

Most people have taken President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to tap billionaire GOP donor and school choice champion Betsy DeVos as his education secretary as a sign that he wants to make good on his campaign promise to create a massive new school choice program. One problem? School choice, at least in the form of vouchers or brick-and-mortar charter schools, isn’t easy to do in the rural states and communities that played such a large part in Trump’s victory in the electoral College.

Opinion: Public schools may not survive Trump’s billionaire wrecking crew
Source: Nikhil Goyal, The Guardian, November 30, 2016

If DeVos’s nomination is approved, she will speed along the erosion of public education, which has been going on for some time. As I explain in my recent book, Schools on Trial, both the Obama and Bush administrations adopted a market-based approach. This was marked by privatization, austerity measures, expansion of privately managed charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing, school closures, value-added teacher evaluations and attacks on teachers unions. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and Race to the Top program in 2009 were rooted in this ideology. Over the past two decades, as members of the ultra-wealthy rightwing DeVos family, Betsy and her husband, Dick, have been discreetly using their immense fortune to underwrite many of the major local and state crusades to privatize public education. They helped pass Michigan’s first charter school law, pushed a failed Michigan school voucher referendum, helped get hundreds of pro-voucher and charter candidates for public office elected, proliferated charters, weakened teachers unions by advocating for right-to-work legislation in Michigan and warded off a proposed Detroit charter oversight commission in a state where 80% are run for profit with minimal accountability.

Opinion: Why Trump’s Education Pick Scares Unions
Source: Jason L. Riley, Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2016

… Detractors say Ms. DeVos is opposed to public education. But she told an interviewer in 2013 that her definition of educational choice includes schools of all kinds. “What we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the zip code of their family’s home,” she said. “We think of the educational choice movement as involving many parts: vouchers and tax credits, certainly, but also virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools.” In the early 1990s, Ms. DeVos and her husband, a former president of Amway, were involved in passing Michigan’s first charter-school bill. Ms. Weingarten brings a different set of priorities to the education debate. She has fought to keep persistently failing schools open because they still provide jobs for her dues-paying members. She has fought to ensure that government officials, rather than parents, decide where a child attends school. Union influence over education policy in the U.S. is unrivaled, and Ms. Weingarten prefers it that way. Her top concern is better pay and working conditions for her members. Students don’t pay union dues. …

Trump’s Billionaire Education Secretary Has Been Trying to Gut Public Schools for Years
Source: Kristina Rizga, Mother Jones, November 29, 2016

Last Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate billionaire activist and Republican fundraiser Betsy DeVos as his education secretary. The news came as a shock to the education world—DeVos’ ideas for school reforms are even more radical than what Trump proposed on the campaign trail. … Here are the three most important things to know about Trump’s education nominee: The DeVos family is among America’s most wealthy, conservative clans. A daughter of privilege, DeVos is married to Richard (Dick) DeVos Jr., whose father, Richard Sr., cofounded the multilevel-marketing empire Amway and was worth an estimated $5.1 billion. … Since 1970, DeVoses have invested at least $200 million in various right-wing causes—think thanks, media outlets, political committees, and advocacy groups—as a 2014 Mother Jones investigation revealed. “There’s not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last 50 years who hasn’t known the DeVoses,” Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, told my former colleague Andy Kroll. …

… The DeVoses created a road map for conservatives on how to bring down labor, including teachers unions. In 2007, coming off Dick’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in their home state of Michigan, the DeVoses focused their advocacy and philanthropy on controversial legislation known as “right-to-work.” These laws outlaw contracts that require all employees in unionized workplaces to pay dues for union representation. Back in 2007, such a proposal in a union-heavy state of Michigan was considered a “right-wing fantasy,” but thanks to the DeVoses’ aggressive strategy and funding, the bill became law by 2012. …

… For decades, DeVos pushed to gut public schools. Michigan serves as one of the most prominent examples of what aggressive DeVos-style school choice policies look like on the ground, especially when it comes to the expansion of charter schools. About 80 percent of state charter schools are run by for-profit management companies, a much higher share than anywhere else in the country, and with very little oversight from the state. And this year, the DeVoses were the biggest financial backers of the effort to oppose any new state oversight of charters. …

Trump picks billionaire Betsy DeVos, school voucher advocate, as education secretary
Source: Emma Brown, Washington Post, November 23, 2016

Betsy DeVos is hardly a household name, but the Michigan billionaire and conservative activist has quietly helped change the education landscape in many states, spending millions of dollars in a successful push to expand voucher programs that give families taxpayer dollars to pay for private and religious schools. Now DeVos is poised to spread her preference for vouchers nationwide. … Trump’s pick has intensified what already was a polarized debate about school choice. Advocates for such choice see in the Trump administration an extraordinary opportunity to advance their cause on a national scale, whereas teachers unions and many Democrats fear an unprecedented and catastrophic attack on public schools, which they see as one of the nation’s bedrock civic institutions. Jim DeMint, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, cheered DeVos on Wednesday, saying that “the school choice movement will have a champion in the Education Department.” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said that Trump’s pick “makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.” … Betsy DeVos founded and serves as chairman of the American Federation of Children and its associated political arm, a platform she has used to support candidates who endorse vouchers and charter schools and to attack candidates who don’t. Three decades ago, there were no state voucher programs. Now, according to the advocacy group EdChoice, about 400,000 children in 29 states are going to private schools with the help of public dollars. DeVos is working toward a scenario in which “all parents, regardless of their Zip code, have had the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children,” she told Philanthropy magazine in 2013. Trump has proposed redirecting $20 billion in federal spending toward a grant program for states to expand vouchers and charter schools. He has also said that he wants to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to persuade states to devote another $110 billion toward vouchers — enough, he has said, for every child living in poverty to have a scholarship of $12,000 toward the school of his or her choice. …

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Pick, Has Steered Money From Public Schools
Source: Kate Zernike, New York Times, November 23, 2016

It is hard to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos, Donald J. Trump’s pick as the cabinet secretary overseeing the nation’s education system. For nearly 30 years, as a philanthropist, activist and Republican fund-raiser, she has pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, pressed to expand publicly funded but privately run charter schools, and tried to strip teacher unions of their influence. … But Ms. DeVos’s efforts to expand educational opportunity in her home state of Michigan and across the country have focused little on existing public schools, and almost entirely on establishing newer, more entrepreneurial models to compete with traditional schools for students and money. Her donations and advocacy go almost entirely toward groups seeking to move students and money away from what Mr. Trump calls “failing government schools.” Conservative school choice activists hailed her on Wednesday as a fellow disrupter, and as someone who would block what they see as federal intrusion on local schools. …

How much could Trump’s education secretary damage public schools? Just look at Detroit.
Source: Casey Quinlan, ThinkProgress, November 25, 2016

Throughout DeVos’ career as a school choice advocate, she has aggressively pushed for the expansion of charter schools. Although many charter schools across the country benefit low-income families seeking an alternative to public schools, educational equity advocates often raise concerns that a lack of accountability allows less effective charter schools to thrive. And DeVos has been at the forefront of efforts to push against this accountability. DeVos sits on the board of the Great Lakes Education Project, which advocates for its education reform priorities in the Michigan state legislature. This group is responsible for pushing the legislature to end its plans for a Detroit commission to regulate charter schools. Sixteen years ago, DeVos, and her husband, Dick DeVos, also pushed for a statewide ballot initiative to amend the state constitution so that tax money could go toward private school tuition. Although this effort didn’t succeed, charter schools in the area expanded anyway. The state lifted its cap on the number of charter schools. Twenty-three percent of Michigan students did not enroll in their home public school district in the fall of last year, which allows students to attend charter schools or public schools outside their community, with 10 percent of students attending charter schools.

Nonprofits: More privatization can save state $1.3 billion

Source: Susan Haigh, Associated Press, January 18, 2017

Nonprofit human services providers say they can help solve Connecticut’s budget problems by taking over more state-operated programs, an idea that appears to be gaining steam among some legislative Democrats as well as Republicans. The Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance on Wednesday unveiled a proposal to shift developmental disability residential services and mental health and substance abuse treatment programs from the state to the private sector. The group says its plan would save $1.3 billion over three years. The proposal comes as Connecticut faces a projected $1.5 billion deficit in the fiscal year beginning July 1. Connecticut has a system where both state employees and private nonprofit providers deliver state services. While many Republicans have pushed to privatize those programs, more Democrats, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, support the idea.

Cuomo plans to return NYRA to private control

Source: Ned Campbell, The Daily Gazette, January 17, 2017

News of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to return the New York Racing Association to private control came about 30 minutes into Tuesday’s state Senate hearing to consider NYRA’s future — a meeting in which horse-racing stakeholders and state lawmakers advocated for NYRA’s release from state control.  But lawmakers and others who spoke at the Senate’s Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering hearing didn’t jump out of their seats; instead, they’re  responding with caution. … Caution may have been warranted after last June when, after NYRA was nearly returned to private nonprofit control, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Assembly and Senate leaders extended the state’s oversight for a fifth year. … Supporters of privatizing NYRA, including Marchione and several speakers from Saratoga Springs — home to Saratoga Race Course — said the state’s control is impeding long-term plans and track upgrades. …


NYRA chair says privatization will be job one
Source: Rick Karlin, Times Union, August 10, 2016

The chairman of the New York Racing Association’s reorganization board on Wednesday said the first order of business after Labor Day is to work on the twice-derailed plan to put NYRA back in private nonprofit hands. … Del Giudice is a longtime confidant of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and critics, including track boosters in Saratoga Springs, have faulted the governor for having signaled he would veto a measure that lawmakers passed last session but withdrew at the last minute in June. The temporary nature of the current board brings several disadvantages, including the openness with which the current state-controlled NYRA must operate, CEO Chris Kay said. … Were it a private operation, NYRA could shield some of its plans from other race tracks until they were ready to be put in place. … Del Giudice’s remarks came the day after a former Cuomo official criticized the governor for rejecting the re-privatization plan that was passed by lawmakers but pulled back under the veto threat. …

Andrew Cuomo’s Top Aide Lobbied For Firms With State Business
Source:Matthew Cunningham-Cook, International Business Times, January 16, 2015

Andrew Cuomo pledged to “clean up Albany.” Running for governor of New York in 2010, the Democrat said that ending the state capital’s culture of insider deals and conflicted interests was his number one priority. Yet, in launching his second term, one of Gov. Cuomo’s first actions was to appoint as his top aide Bill Mulrow, a financial executive who has lobbied for firms that have myriad connections to state business. Mulrow has multiple relationships with New York’s finances. He comes to the job from the Blackstone Group, the firm that recently won Cuomo administration approval for a controversial $2 billion power line that unions have slammed as outsourcing energy jobs to Canada. While Mulrow was listed as a Blackstone lobbyist working to influence the $289 billion New York state pension system, Blackstone secured hundreds of millions of dollars in new pension investment commitments for the firm — far more than it had during the four-year period before Cuomo’s first term. And as the New York Racing Association — where Cuomo carries significant influence, appointing nearly half of its board — discusses re-privatization of the state’s race tracks, Mulrow is a close business associate of the only gaming mogul who has publicly expressed interest in bidding on the privatized tracks.

Walnut Grove (Podcast)

Source: Criminal, January 6, 2017

Walnut Grove was such a violent prison that one Federal Judge called it “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts.” Today, we have the story of an especially troubled youth prison, the for-profit corporations that managed it, and the small town that relied on it.


As prison closes, Mississippi still reckons with debt
Source: Jeff Amy, Clarion Ledger, September 25, 2016

If you’ve got to keep paying for something, you might as well use it. That, more than anything, might be the logic behind the announcement from Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher last week that the state prison system intends to seek new uses for the recently closed Walnut Grove Correctional Facility. Fisher said last week saying the department is considering using the 1,500-bed facility as an alternative to prison, as a facility to house prisoners after parole violations, or to help prisoners prepare to re-enter society. … Grace Simmons Fisher, a department spokeswoman who is not related Marshall Fisher, said the department owes almost $194 million overall on Walnut Grove and three other private prisons — East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, Marshall County Correctional Facility and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility. She couldn’t break down exactly how much the state owes for each. But it’s clear from bond documents the debt is largest at Walnut Grove — as much as $91 million. That’s in part because the prison is the newest, having opened in 2001. Walnut Grove and East Mississippi were also more expensive because each has 1,500 beds, while the two older prisons have 1,000 apiece. … Overall, the state is scheduled to be paying $21.8 million a year on the prisons’ debt until 2027. That comes out of money that lawmakers appropriate to the Corrections Department for private prisons — $74.6 million this year. …

Privately Run Mississippi Prison, Called a Scene of Horror, Is Shut Down
Source: Timothy Williams, New York Times, September 15, 2016

A privately operated Mississippi prison that a federal judge once concluded was effectively run by gangs in collusion with corrupt prison guards, closed Thursday, its prisoners transferred to other state facilities, officials said. Conditions at the prison, the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, were deemed so substandard by Judge Carlton Reeves of Federal District Court, that he wrote in a 2012 settlement order that it “paints a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.” The move to shutter Walnut Grove, in Leake County, comes one month after the Justice Department announced that it would phase out its use of private prisons to house federal inmates after concluding that such facilities are more dangerous and less effective than prisons run by the government. But the Obama administration decision does not affect states, which have increasingly come to rely on private firms to manage prison populations, including Mississippi. … The Mississippi Department of Corrections said in June that it had decided to shutter Walnut Grove not because of the often-unrestrained violence at the facility, but for budget cuts. Grace Simmons Fisher, a corrections department spokeswoman, declined to comment on Thursday. Issa Arnita, a spokesman for the private prison contractor, said on Thursday in a statement that Management and Training Corporation had “made tremendous improvements to overall operations” at Walnut Grove since it took over management in 2012. But the 1,260-bed facility had been operating since 2012 under a federal consent decree for violating prisoners’ constitutional rights, and in 2014, Walnut Grove was the scene of two major riots. Last year, Judge Reeves extended federal oversight of the prison because of continuing constitutional violations. …

Mississippi closing private prison with history of abuse
Source: Emily Wagster Pettus, Associated Press, September 14, 2016

A Mississippi private prison with a history of inmate abuse is preparing to shut down, three months after state officials announced their intention to close it because of a tight state budget. Thursday is the final day of operations at the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher said. About 900 inmates have been moved to state-run prisons in the past several weeks, and only a few remained in the Walnut Grove prison late Wednesday. Fisher said they would be moved by Thursday. … Utah-based Management and Training Corp. took over management of the prison in 2012 from Florida-based GEO Group Mississippi has been paying MTC $14.6 million a year to run the Walnut Grove prison, which has been one of the largest employers in a town of about 500 residents. The prison had 215 employees in June and was down to 175 about two weeks ago, MTC spokesman Issa Arnita said Wednesday. …

Walnut Grove: Prison loss ‘devastating’
Source: Mollie Bryant, Clarion Ledger, July 9, 2016

Uncertainty hangs in the air of Walnut Grove, a community bracing itself for the loss of its largest employer this fall. The state’s decision to close the privately run Walnut Grove prison, which under federal oversight since 2012 for its conditions, will leave the tiny town facing a precipitous drop in revenue as many residents look for work. … Citing budget cuts and a declining number of inmates, the Mississippi Department of Corrections announced it would close the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in September and transfer its 900 inmates to state-run prisons. The closure will mean about 200 fewer jobs in a town with a population that hovers around 500, and loss of revenue that will lead to furloughs and pay cuts for city employees. … The revenue loss will force the town’s 12 employees to begin a furlough once a week and police to take a $2-per-hour pay cut. … The state pays Management and Training Corp. $14.6 million per year to operate the prison, which is one of four facilities the company runs in Mississippi. While building the private prisons, the state racked up $195 million in debt. The Walnut Grove prison was presented to the community as an opportunity for jobs after the departure of several manufacturing plants. A shirt manufacturing and a glove maker closed several years ago and moved their operations overseas. It was touted as “recession proof.” The city annexed the land where the prison was built in 1999 and later expanded.

Mississippi to close privately-run prison as inmates dwindle
Source: Jeff Amy, Associated Press, June 10, 2016

Mississippi officials plan to close a privately-run prison in Leake County in September, another sign of Mississippi’s falling prison population after lawmakers cut prison sentences. The Mississippi Department of Corrections announced Friday that it would close the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, which is run by Utah-based Management and Training Corp. Commissioner Marshall Fisher said he made the decision because of lower-than-requested state funding in the budget year beginning July 1, as well as the decreasing number of inmates. … Fisher said MTC’s 215 employees at Walnut Grove could apply for jobs at other state prisons. However, the move could be a financial disaster for the 1,900 resident-town in Leake County, Mayor Brian Gomillion said. … The state pays MTC $14.6 million a year to run Walnut Grove. …

Judge Allows Class-Action Suit Over Mississippi Prison Conditions
Source: Timothy Williams, New York Times, October 1, 2015

Inmates at a privately run Mississippi prison where, they say, guards arranged for prisoners to attack one another, ignored fires set by inmates to signal distress, and allowed prisoners to trade whiskey and cellphones will be permitted to file a class-action lawsuit against the facility, a federal court judge ruled this week. The judge, William H. Barbour Jr., granted the request by inmates at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian on Tuesday in their lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections. … The company that operates the prison, the Management & Training Corporation, based in Utah, also runs another Mississippi prison, the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, which is under federal court oversight for conditions including severe and systematic violence against inmates. … At the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, about 70 percent of the 1,200 inmates have some form of mental illness, advocates say. Inmates there say that they are punished for seeking medical care, that toilets often do not work and frequently overflow, and that some inmates live in near-total darkness because light bulbs are not replaced.

Mississippi prisons prove dangerous to staff, inmates
Source: Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger, October 5, 2014

Mississippi taxpayers spend more to keep people in prison than on economic development, disaster relief, drug enforcement, hospitals, hospital schools and the state’s entire judicial system combined. So what exactly are taxpayers getting for $389 million in taxes? A system where gangs rule, where corruption festers and where at least one private prison has been called “barbaric.” …. Three different private contractors have operated East Mississippi Correctional Facility since it opened in 1999. The current operator is Utah-based Management & Training Corp., which was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Seeing Squalor and Unconcern in a Mississippi Jail
Source: Erica Goode, New York Times, June 7, 2014

Open fires sometimes burn unheeded in the solitary-confinement units of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a privately run state prison in Meridian, 90 miles east of here. Inmates spend months in near-total darkness. Illnesses go untreated. Dirt, feces and, occasionally, blood are caked on the walls of cells. For years, the prison, the state’s primary facility for inmates with mental illnesses, has been plagued by problems. When a previous private operator, the GEO Group, left in 2012 after complaints to the state about squalor and lack of medical treatment, hopes rose that conditions would improve. But two years later, advocates for inmates assert that little has changed under the current operator, Management and Training Corporation, a Utah-based company. Civil rights lawyers and medical and mental health experts who toured the facility recently painted a picture of an institution where violence is frequent, medical treatment substandard or absent, and corruption common among corrections officers, who receive low wages and minimal training…..
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Public works committee debating plan to privatize garbage collection in Scarborough

Source: Chris Fox, CP24.com, January 18, 2017

A proposal to privatize garbage collection in Scarborough is on the agenda today as the public works and infrastructure committee meets at city hall. Staff are recommending that the city hold a managed competition procurement process for District 4, which includes all of Scarborough, while leaving garbage collection in District 3 to unionized city workers for now. The managed competition procurement process would allow both private companies and the city’s unionized workers to submit bids. … While staff are only recommending privatizing garbage collection in Scarborough right now, the report states that the results of the change will be used as a “guide for future service delivery recommendations” in District 3, which includes the downtown neighbourhoods east of Yonge Street. Officials with CUPE Local 416 have estimated that the privatization of garbage collection in District 4 could mean the loss of 200 to 250 unionized jobs. Those job losses would come after the elimination of 150 positions when garbage collection was first privatized in the west end in 2012.


City officials to report on privatizing trash collection east of Yonge
Source: Shawn Jeffords, Toronto Sun, November 21, 2016

The city is on track to contract out garbage collection east of Yonge St. Councillors on the public works committee voted 3-1 in favour of having city officials report early next year on a path to privatization. The committee made the move a day after Mayor John Tory told the Toronto Sun he will push to contract out garbage in the east end, arguing that it’ll save money. City council will have final say on the controversial issue at a later date. The mayor’s proposal was met with anger from the union that represents the city’s garbage collectors, insisting contracting out their work will not save taxpayers cash. Matt Figliano, of CUPE Local 416, said Tory doesn’t “have the facts.” He referred to a 2015 consultant’s report that said there was no cost savings to be had by contracting out. … The union accused Tory of attempting to fire 500 workers. If the city wants to find savings, it should eliminate managers, Figliano said. “For every four members that we have, we have one manager or supervisor that makes six figures. You’re attacking the hard-working men and women that make an average $50,000 a year. It’s a bloated bureaucracy, that’s what this is,” he said. Councillor Joe Mihevc said the city already has the right balance on trash collection that allows it to get the best cost, a mix of private and public collection. … Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong said he doubts the Ernst and Young report is correct given past experience with contracting out garbage collection in the west end. That saves the city $11.7 million a year. …

Garbage Privatization: Inside Toronto’s Two-Tier System
Source: Stefan Novakovic, Urban Toronto, November 18, 2016

Following the Ford administration’s privatization of residential garbage pick-up east of Yonge in 2011, the City of Toronto’s waste management has remained in a somewhat awkward state of semi-privatization. While residential trash west of Yonge is handled by private companies, the east end remains the purview of City service. However, with Mayor Tory now moving forward with a 2014 campaign pledge to outsource the City’s remaining garbage collection, the whole of Toronto could be moving towards private collection. But how does privatization work? And what are its impacts? In Toronto, the answers to these questions are at once relatively simple and profoundly complex. That’s because there are actually two types of privatization. While the City’s controversial outsourcing of pick-up and disposal follows a relatively straightforward process, a parallel form of privatized service follows different rules. … The privatization of service proposed by Mayor Tory follows a pair of earlier initiatives. A 1995 agreement saw pre-amalgamation Etobicoke privatize collection over two decades ago, while Rob Ford’s 2011 privatization of garbage service west of Yonge effectively bifurcated the city between public and private collection. In both instances—as in Tory’s current pitch—the outsourcing came about as a cost-saving measure. Following privatization, Etobicoke reported average annual savings of $1.8 million, while Ford’s initiative initially saw yearly costs reduced by $11.9 million. With support for Municipal service also hampered by two long and memorable garbage strikes in 2003 and 2009, the push for privatization was relatively well received in subsequent years. In particular, widespread displeasure with the 39-day garbage strike of 2009 eroded public backing for Toronto’s Civic Employees Union (CUPE). Nonetheless, some critics perceived privatized service as an inherent reduction in accountability in transparency, and as a symptom of unwillingness to adequately engage with the rights of unionized labour. …

Statement from CUPE 416 regarding city, Ernst and Young Reports regarding further contracting out of solid waste management
Source: Canadian Union of Public Employees, September 16, 2015

Earlier today, City of Toronto staff released their report on the benefits and drawbacks of contracting out solid waste management east of Yonge Street. This report was further supported by an independent analysis from accounting firm Ernst and Young. … While we strongly believe that public services like solid waste collection are best delivered directly by municipalities, the mixed model currently in effect in Toronto is an effective one which makes sense for residents.

City staff advise against contracting out east-end garbage
Source: Jennifer Pagliaro, Toronto Star, September 15, 2015

Mayor John Tory’s council allies are questioning the numbers used by city staff to recommend against contracting out garbage collection east of Yonge St. A report released Tuesday found it may actually cost more to privatize pickup in at least one east-end district despite what the city says was $11 million in annual savings from contracting out the same services in the west end. That creates a challenge for Tory, who during the mayoral election promised to privatize the remaining garbage pickup, citing cost savings — a long-held position by rivals Rob and Doug Ford. … taff tried to estimate what it might cost to contract out collection versus public service pickup over seven years, from 2017 to 2023. They compared the cost of contracted-out service in Etobicoke’s District 1 to in-house service in Scarborough’s District 4. They based the contract cost on the most recent garbage contract secured in 2014 for District 1. According to the city, those two suburban districts have comparable geography and building characteristics. Staff found the future cost reflected in present dollars of in-house service in District 4 — $96.8 million — is cheaper than assumed District 1 contracting-out costs at $116.8 million. …

Curbside Waste Collection Services Review: Comparison of Curbside Waste Collection Services East and West of Yonge Street
Source: General Manager, Solid Waste Management Services, City of Toronto, Canada, September 9, 2015

The purpose of this report is to present the findings on the comparison of curbside collection districts in terms of costs, diversion rates, service levels and performance. It also provides an analysis of the financial and collection implications associated with the scenarios for contracting out collection services east of Yonge Street (Districts 3 and 4). A review of waste collection service delivery approaches in similar jurisdictions has also been undertaken. An independent financial analysis verification of the analysis was conducted by Ernst & Young LLP and is provided in Appendix C.

Privatized prisons serve terrible meals for inmates — and now protesters will fight back

Source: Alex Orlov, Mic, January 12, 2017

In private prisons, where corporate food contractors are paid to provide nourishment and sufficient calories to prisoners, some are allegedly cutting corners.  Activists will march in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 14 to protest food corporation Aramark, an $8.2 billion company, for allegedly serving subpar food, PBS News Hour reported. Leading the protests will be members of Free Alabama Movement, a group that previously organized a prison labor strike in 2016 to protest the use of free labor in prisons nationwide, a practice they say is akin to slavery. Aramark, their newest target, is a food service provider that serves over 380 million meals in correctional facilities in the U.S. each year. … The crux of the problem is that Aramark and other food contractors have no accountability when it comes to prison food, David Fathi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project said in a phone interview on Tuesday night. … It’s no secret that prison food — in private or public correctional facilities — can be borderline inedible. … According to allegations, Aramark’s service is mediocre at best and dangerous at worst. … It’s unclear what demands Free Alabama Movement will make when they take Washington on Saturday, but the fact that the group is bringing attention to the issue of prison food isn’t to be taken lightly.