Lessenberry: Privatizing Michigan health care

Source: Jack Lessenberry, Windsor Star, September 27, 2016

This is a story that hasn’t gotten major attention, but which is deeply worrying those who work with the mentally and developmentally disabled in Michigan: They fear the Snyder Administration wants to partly or totally privatize mental health services in the state. … The governor has long been a fan of privatizing services, and their fears mushroomed after an early draft of the governor’s fiscal 2017 budget called for privatizing the $2.4 billion public mental health system. That hasn’t happened yet. But the state does seem to be moving in that direction. Last month, a number of mental health advocates walked out of a meeting with state officials on how to coordinate mental health service services and payments. They had worked hard this spring to come up with a set of core values they believe need to be part of any new state proposal. … Hoyle said he wanted the state Department of Health and Human Services to commit in writing to support the core values they had agreed on in April, after a series of meetings between the advocates with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. Though Calley is commonly regarded as being more conservative than Gov. Rick Snyder, he has an autistic daughter, and his participation was generally praised. However, Calley doesn’t control the legislature. The prison food scandal was bad enough. But far worse are the scandals at the now-privatized Detroit Medical Center, where the Detroit News reported last month that medical instruments are frequently filthy, and that doctors have attempted to operate with tubes clogged with old blood and bone fragments. … Additionally, he said, costs and recovery periods are much harder to quantify than, say, the average recovery time for a broken arm. “The conflict over whether to spend more dollars for a higher quality of life for the individual or provide less care for higher profits will always be present,” he said. Wayne County’s Watkins, who has a long background in government and politics as well as health care, doesn’t see privatization as necessarily an evil. “Much of the current community health system is private non-profit.” The danger, he said, lies in the threat “of a wholesale transfer of taxpayer dollars for mental health services to the private, profit making insurance companies.” …


Town hall meetings set on mental health funding, bid to privatize
Source: Christina Hall and John Wisely, Detroit Free Press, September 21, 2016

A series of town hall meetings about mental health funding and services in Michigan is kicking off Thursday, with the first of three meetings in metro Detroit to be held in Oakland County. Each event is to have a panel of state legislators from their respective counties to hear from advocates, community mental health leaders and citizens concerned about mental health reform. Other town halls are scheduled for venues in Macomb and Wayne counties. … Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal earlier this year included language that was interpreted to allow for privatizing the administration of Medicaid spending on mental health. It later was withdrawn, but some patient advocates fear it will return in January when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is expected to report to the Legislature on proposals to reform the state’s mental health system. …

The price to privatize mental health care
Source: Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Public Radio, September 1, 2016

Six months ago, an early version of the governor’s next budget had so-called “boilerplate” language that appeared to do just that. According to an analysis by Crain’s Detroit Business, the budget “calls for privatizing the $2.4 billion public mental health system by turning over state funding to Medicaid HMOs.” This hasn’t happened yet. But a new policy is expected to be finalized this fall and presented to the legislature in January, and mental advocates are worried. …

Are Snyder’s proposed changes to the mental health care system good for Michigan?
Source: Ryan Grimes, Michigan Radio, March 29, 2016

So it’s understandable that the governor’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year has caught the collective attention of Michigan’s mental health community. Snyder is eyeing the state’s $2.4 billion mental health care system. He proposes turning a large part of the funding to Medicaid HMOs, the largest of which are for-profit. … Under the governor’s plan, Medicaid would go through HMOs rather than straight to community mental health departments. Fischer tells us it was suggested that the governor’s proposed plans would save over $200 million, but there’s some uncertainty as to how the Snyder administration arrived at that number. He says organizations like the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards “have started to delve into that and say, we don’t see those savings.”

Snyder backs off mental health privatization
Source: Justin A Hinkley, Lansing State Journal, March 11, 2016

Eighteen days after one lawmaker called it “a nonstarter,” Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration has officially backed off a request to allow private health maintenance organizations to manage public mental health dollars. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said in a statement Friday that language in Snyder’s fiscal 2017 budget request calling for the shift “needs to be replaced.” As reported by the State Journal on Feb. 23, Calley said Friday he’d convened a work group of representatives from both sides of the issue to develop new budget language over the next two months. … In his statement, Calley said he’d asked the Community Mental Health Association, the HMOs and others to come up with language that would send more money to direct services and better integrate the two types of care.

Proposed state budget would result in mental health care privatization
Source: Paul Kampe, The Daily Tribune, February 24, 2016

A proposed 2017 budget recently delivered by Gov. Rick Snyder could result in the privatization of the state’s community mental health system and the largest cut to the system in the state’s history, according to local mental health officials. “Boilerplate” 298 would create a so-called “carve-in” system with for-profit Medicaid health plans. The transfer of responsibilities currently held by the public health system to for-profit Medicaid health plans could result in a $300 million reduction in behavioral health services, according to Oakland County mental health care officials. The change, which would affect approximately 300,000 Michigan residents, would take effect in late-2017.

Official: Snyder not privatizing mental health

Source: Justin A Hinkley, Lansing State Journal, February 18, 2016
An administration official sought to assure lawmakers on Thursday that Gov. Rick Snyder is not pushing to privatize state mental health services. In what state Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, said “contemplates a major shift,” the governor in his 2017 budget proposal called for shifting management of Medicaid dollars for mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities from groups of public community mental health organizations called Prepaid Inpatient Health Plans, or PIHPs, to private health management organizations, or HMOs. The move was quickly criticized by community mental health groups as a bid to send public health care dollars to profit-driven companies.

Immigrant Detention System Could Be in Line for an Overhaul

Source: Miriam Jordan, Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2016

A recent Homeland Security Department decision to consider ending the widespread outsourcing of immigrant detention could mean overhauling a $2 billion-a-year system built around private prison contractors that house the majority of immigrant detainees. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency within Homeland Security that oversees immigrant detention, says the current system is efficient and cost-effective, given the congressional mandate to have 34,000 prison beds available each day. Transferring control of all immigrant prisons to ICE “would require an 800% expansion of ICE capacity” to replace facilities that are privately run, said a senior ICE official who declined to be identified, adding that it likely would cost “billions of dollars.” … The review comes after a federal report concluded privately run prisons were less safe than those operated by the government, and after advocates complained about conditions for immigrants in privately run detention centers. … On Wednesday, human-rights and immigrant-advocacy groups are set to deliver a petition with 200,000 signatures demanding that Homeland Security follow the Justice Department’s lead. Dozens of for-profit prisons are contracted to hold undocumented immigrants, at a cost of $127 a day a person, as they fight deportation in court, await removal from the country or seek asylum in the U.S. Roughly 10% of detainees are held in ICE-controlled facilities, more than two-thirds are in private detention centers, and the rest are in state or municipal facilities. As of Aug. 8, there were 33,676 immigrants in detention, with 24,657 of them in private facilities, ICE said. More than half of those in ICE custody don’t have a criminal conviction. …


Ending Private Detention Would Turn System ‘Upside Down,’ Says Immigration Enforcement Chief
Source: Roque Planas & Elise Foley, Huffington Post, September 22, 2016

Shutting down for-profit detention facilities would hurt Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ability to do its job, agency director Sarah Saldaña said Thursday amid a review over whether the government should do just that. “It would pretty much turn our system upside down,” she said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, “because we are almost completely contractor-run with respect to our detention facilities.”   Saldaña’s comments fly in the face of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s recent decision to review whether ICE should continue relying on private prison contractors to run its detention centers. … Johnson responded by ordering a review of ICE’s use of privatized facilities to lock up immigrants. An advisory council called by Johnson has until Nov. 30 to submit a report evaluating whether privatized immigrant detention centers should be eliminated. ICE officials pushed back from the start on the idea that the DOJ decision should apply to immigrant detention as well because they have different missions. Immigrant detention is meant to be short-term and non-punitive, while the criminal system is punitive but should also have rehabilitative services, an official said in August. … Saldaña said ICE would not be able to maintain 34,000 beds if it ended its use of private detention centers, in response to questioning from Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). She said later that more than 34,000 beds were filled as of a few days ago. …

How the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Can End Its Reliance on Private Prisons
Source: Sharita Gruberg and Tom Jawetz, Center for American Progress, September 14, 2016

The DOJ’s ability to work toward ending its use of private prisons was made possible, in large part, through the adoption of various smart and widely supported criminal justice reforms in recent years. These reforms have helped reduce the federal prison population and thereby ease the pressure on the BOP to turn to private prison companies. Together, the DOJ’s efforts to reduce its prison population and cut ties with private prisons are commendable steps in the right direction that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, should follow. … Similar to the BOP, the DHS can reduce and ultimately eliminate its reliance on private prisons by adopting sensible reforms to reverse the growth in detention. In the past 20 years, the immigration detention system has ballooned, increasing in size from 7,500 federally funded beds in 1995 to 34,040 federally funded beds today. But the size and nature of the unauthorized immigrant population currently in the United States is also changing. In each year since 2008, the unauthorized population has declined and apprehensions by border officials—a common metric used to measure the number of unauthorized crossings—remain at low levels not seen since the early 1970s. Despite these facts—and DHS’ focus on the priority enforcement categories outlined in Secretary Johnson’s November 2014 memo—the number of detention beds has remained around 34,000, at a cost to the federal government of more than $2 billion annually. …

White House considers ending for-profit immigrant detainee centers but critics say it could add billions to the cost
Source: Brian Bennet, Los Angeles Times, September 6, 2016

The Obama administration is considering an end to the practice of keeping immigrant detainees in for-profit centers, weeks after the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced it would stop its use of private prisons. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, whose agency includes the immigration service and the Border Patrol, in late August ordered a review of ways to end the use of the private facilities. … But immigration officials have pushed back against the idea, arguing that they have no cost-effective alternative to the private facilities and that other choices could be worse. … Cutting out private companies from the system would cost taxpayers billions of dollars more a year and take more than a decade to implement, the official warned. Johnson’s Homeland Security Advisory Council is expected to make a recommendation by the end of November. The secretary has not indicated which side of the debate he favors. Nine of the country’s 10 largest immigration detention facilities are operated by private companies, and they hold about two-thirds of the detainees in a system that currently keeps more than 31,000 people in custody on a typical day. While some centers are located in border areas, others are far from the border because deportation officers arrest migrants living in the interior of the country as well. …

Private prison companies in the US lost more than $2 billion in value—and counting
Source: Hanna Kozlowska, Quartz, August 30, 2016

The first announcement sent tumbling the stocks of the largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group. The latest news deepened their losses. Together, the two companies have now lost more than $2.2 billion in value—CCA $1.2 billion in market capitalization and the GEO Group $917 million. Since the DHS just started its evaluation process, more bad news for the private prison companies is likely. Privately-run immigration detention facilities are as notorious for their conditions as for-profit prisons. Advocates have been exposing problems plaguing the facilities for years. … But this still does not mean the end of the private prison industry. Foreseeing changes in policy from authorities as the US tries to wrestle with its mass incarceration boom, the companies have in recent years turned to diversifying their services. They have been investing in alternatives to incarceration: rehabilitation, monitoring, re-entry and mental health. …

U.S. weighs pullback from use of private immigration detention
Source: Chris Harlan, Washington Post, August 29, 2016

The Department of Homeland Security on Monday said it would reexamine the use of private operators for detention facilities, signaling a potentially major change in U.S. immigration policy. Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement that he has asked the Homeland Security Advisory Council to evaluate whether the use of private immigrant detention “should be eliminated.” He said the review will be finished within three months. … The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — a component of DHS — holds more than 60 percent of its 400,000 annual detainees at private facilities. Nine of the 10 largest detention centers are private, operated either by the Corrections Corp. of America or the GEO Group. The facilities hold individuals who have committed crimes, are awaiting deportation or are pressing legal claims to remain in the country. In 2014, both companies were also awarded contracts to house mother and child asylum seekers; the deals are unusual because the firms receive fixed payments no matter how many beds are occupied.

US considers ending use of private immigration detention facilities
Source: Oliver Laughlin, The Guardian, August 29, 2016

The Obama administration could end its use of private immigration detention centres, the US homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, said on Monday. The announcement follows a landmark decision by the US Department of Justice to phase out private prisons, after a stinging independent review found they were drastically less safe than publicly operated centres. The move, made earlier in August, led to intense pressure on the homeland security department to conduct a similar review, as it relies more heavily on the use of privatised facilities. … The agency’s use of private detention centres has long been criticised by human rights advocates. An investigation published by Human Rights Watch in July found evidence of substandard medical care at a number of facilities, while protests at privately operated family detention centres in Texas have become commonplace. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detains a total of 33,676 people, as of the beginning of August, with an overwhelming 24,567 (or 72%) of these held in the country’s 46 private detention facilities. …

The Feds Could Stop Hiring Private Prison Companies to Detain Immigrants
Source: Madison Pauly, Mother Jones, August 29, 2016

Last Friday, Johnson directed an advisory council to evaluate whether DHS should “move in the same direction” as the Justice Department. The council is expected to report back by November 30. If Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the DHS division that controls migrant detention, were to end its contracts with for-profit prison companies, the decision could be more significant than the Justice Department’s announcement. … ICE’s immigration detention capacity has skyrocketed over the past two decades. Private prisons have played a key role in expanding ICE’s capacity to hold migrants. For-profit prison operators controlled 62 percent of immigration detention beds in 2014, up from 25 percent in 2005. The rewards for private operators of immigration detention centers can be huge: Last year, CCA made 14 percent of its total revenue from one 2,400-bed facility, the South Texas Family Residential Center, after it obtained a four-year, $1 billion contract from ICE.

Homeland Security to review privatized immigration detention
Source: Nolan McCaskill, Politico, August 29, 2016

Johnson said he asked Webster to create an advisory council subcommittee “to review our current policy and practices concerning the use of private immigration detention and evaluate whether this practice should be eliminated.” The subcommittee will lead the review, while the full council will file its evaluation to Johnson and the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by the end of November.

U.S. to review use of private immigration prisons, shares slide
Source: Julia Edwards, Reuters, August 29, 2016

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of DHS, currently uses detention facilities run by Corrections Corp of America and The GEO Group. Corrections Corp of America’s stock slid 9.4 percent and The GEO Group’s stock fell 6 percent immediately after news of the review. Both stocks were rebounding later in the afternoon. Corrections Corp of America earned $689 million from ICE contracts since 2008, 12 percent of its revenue from state and federal contracts over that time, according to the website SmartProcure which tracks government contracts. The company currently manages a facility for Central American women and children in Dilley, Texas. The GEO Group runs a similar facility in Karnes City, Texas and has earned $1.18 billion from contracts with ICE since 2008, about 35 percent of its total revenue from government contracts, according SmartProcure data.

When Public Schools Go Private

Source: Rachel Cohen, The American Prospect, September 28, 2016

The Census Bureau released new data earlier this month that showed the median household income in 2015 was $56,500, up 5.2 percent over 2014. This marked the largest single-year increase since at least 1967, the federal agency reported. Moreover, this income growth was concentrated among the poor and the middle class, and 2.7 million fewer Americans were living in poverty in 2015 than a year prior. … With that in mind, a new report released today by In the Public Interest, a research and policy organization, makes the case that the increased privatization of public goods and services over the last few decades has contributed to, and exacerbated, the stark inequalities we see today. The report sifts through various sectors that have grown increasingly privatized—from foster care and transportation, to public schools and prisons—outlining commonalities between them, and recommending ways to undo some of the harms of private contracting. … The heated debate over whether charters are “public” or “private” tends to grow quite muddied, particularly as most charter schools are structured as nonprofits. Charter supporters point out that these schools are open to all students, funded by taxpayers, and free to attend—ergo, public. Critics say that charters are happy to take advantage of public laws and benefits when it suits them, and claim private status otherwise. The dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Jim Ryan, remarked in an interview earlier this month that he “scratches his head” when he hears that charter schools are efforts to privatize public education, and that “it’s hard to see how [such claims] have a lot of merit.” … Lastly, In The Public Interest’s new report also discusses the ways in which charter schools accelerate the racial and economic segregation of public schooling—something they say is common for sectors that grow increasingly privatized. They cite research from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA showing that charter schools are more racially isolated than neighborhood public schools in almost every state and large metropolitan area in the country. Rapid charter growth, coupled with increased segregation, In The Public Interest says, helps to destabilize school finances, resulting in fewer resources, particularly for students of color, disabled students, and poor students. …

CCA Plans Layoffs and CEO Pay Cuts As Its Stock Keeps Dropping

Source: Becca Andrews, Mother Jones, September 27, 2016

The Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s second largest private prison company, announced today that it will eliminate 50 to 55 full-time positions—approximately 12 percent of the corporate workforce—at its headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. As part of a new effort to restructure the company and reduce costs, CEO Damon Hininger will also forfeit stock options and compensation worth $3.7 million. … Public opinion also seems to be turning against for-profit prisons. In last night’s debate, Hillary Clinton said, “I’m glad that we’re ending private prisons in the federal system. I want to see them ended in the state system. You shouldn’t have a profit motivation to fill prison cells with young Americans.” CCA’s shakeup is part of a cost reduction plan that aims to save $9 million in expenses in 2017. In its statement, the company noted that some of the risks and uncertainties it currently faces include changes to DOJ and DHS’s prison policies as well as changes in “the public acceptance of our services.”


With Scrutiny of Private Prisons Mounting, CCA Announces Staff Cuts At Its Nashville Headquarters
Source: Chas Sisk, Nashville Public Radio, September 27, 2016

Corrections Corporation of America says it’s laying off 12 percent of the workforce in its Nashville headquarters — an announcement that comes as scrutiny of private prison operators is mounting. The company said in a statement released Tuesday that it will eliminate 50 to 55 jobs from within its corporate ranks. The announcement was made after the close of trading on Wall Street. CCA shares have fallen by half since August. The company is the biggest private prison operator in the United States. … President Obama’s administration has already cut some ties at the federal level. The Department of Justice this summer announced plans to end use of private prisons, and the Department of Homeland Security is studying the possibility. Private prisons have always been controversial, but criticism has grown more fierce since the liberal magazine Mother Jones sent a reporter undercover at a CCA prison in Louisiana.

CCA looks to re-entry program growth as federal contracts shrink
Source: Jamie McGee, Tennessean, September 21, 2016

Corrections Corporation of America is looking to its re-entry programs for growth as the Nashville-based private prison operator seeks to recover from tumbling stock prices and shrinking federal government contracts. CEO Damon Hininger, speaking at an event Wednesday that featured publicly traded companies in Nashville, pointed to revenue opportunities in its growing re-entry division. In three years, the company has begun operating 25 re-entry facilities in four states. … CCA shares have plummeted 42 percent since the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement Aug. 18 that private prison operators would be phased out. A separate report by the Office of the Inspector General, also released in August, pointed to higher incident rates of safety and security issues in private prisons. … CCA’s re-entry homes, which include 100 to 400 beds, are designed to host inmates nearing the end of their sentences to help them have successful transitions into normal life, Hininger said. CCA entered the re-entry segment three years ago when it bought San Diego-based Correctional Alternatives in a $36 million deal. In 2015, CCA added Oklahoma-based halfway house operator Avalon Correctional Services in a $158 million acquisition. In addition to re-entry programs, Hininger said he expects the company to expand its vocation programs within its current facilities as reducing recidivism rates becomes a larger focus nationally. …

Source: Maya Gold, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, September 19, 2016

On August 18, the Justice Department (DOJ) announced it would end its use of private prisons. Eleven days later, Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) Jeh Johnson announced a review to determine whether his agency should do the same for privately-owned immigration detention centers. The moves arrived on the heels of a report from the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General, which concluded that privately owned facilities are less safe and less effective than their government-run counterparts. The DOJ’s newly announced policy aims to eventually end contracts held by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) that currently account for the incarceration of 12 percent of federal inmates. This decision is a surprising one, considering that private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group Inc. (GEO) – which together control 75 percent of the for-profit prison market and take in a combined $3.2 billion of annual revenue – have poured an enormous amount of time and money into influencing the political system. The industry has been heralded as “the biggest lobby no one is talking about,” and the two companies have spent $14.6 million on federal lobbying efforts from 2010 to 2015. … While individual stories about CCA and GEO’s state presence abound, little research has been done on their nationwide efforts to influence politics and policy. A CREW investigation into the two companies’ state-level lobbying and political contributions finds that CCA and GEO have invested in 39 states across the country, donating millions of dollars to political campaigns and hiring dozens of lobbyists. …

The Private Prison Industry’s New Criminal Justice Ventures
Source: George Joseph, CityLab, September 14, 2016

But beyond these traditional criminal justice enterprises, private prison companies have been diversifying their holdings portfolios to capture emerging areas of the criminal justice market. Since 2005, GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America have poured over $2.23 billion into acquiring smaller companies that cater to different parts of the criminal justice system, such as GPS ankle-unit monitoring services, residential re-entry centers (commonly known as “halfway houses”), and prison health care services, according to a new report from the progressive advocacy group In The Public Interest. …

… From 2013 to 2016, the Corrections Corporation of America put down $230 million for residential re-entry center acquisitions. Similarly, from 2011 to 2015, GEO Group spent more than $450 million on electronic monitoring and alcohol monitoring-related acquisitions. In conversations with investors, private prison companies have been quite clear that this diversification seeks to meet the demands of the changing political climate. As Ann Schlarb, a senior vice president of GEO Group, explained at the company’s latest earnings call in April (transcript via Seeking Alpha), the company is “enthusiastic” about expanding its offender rehabilitation services, which they believe is “in line with current criminal justice reform discussions.” As of the first quarter of 2016, GEO Group’s re-entry division manages 21 halfway houses with more than 3,000 total beds, 63 day-reporting centers serving 4,000 participants, 12 residential youth-service facilities with approximately 1,300 total beds, and seven non-residential programs with 1,200 participants. Another GEO group division monitors around 139,000 offenders under community supervision, including more than 100,000 using GPS, radio-frequency, and alcohol-monitoring devices.

Closure of private prisons could hit Texas in pocketbook
Source: Dane Schiller, Houston Chronicle, September 5, 2016

Thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in lucrative government contracts could be in jeopardy in Texas with the Department of Justice’s decision to phase out the use of privately run prisons. Of the 14 private prisons facing the loss of federal contracts, five are in Texas – the most of any state. The impact will be felt not only in prison yards but also in the tax rolls and cash registers of small towns and local communities. … Wiseman said she fears that nearly all the jobs at the prison will be lost when the company’s federal contract expires in March. … The five facilities in Texas are centered in West Texas. The facilities include two side-by-side facilities at the Reeves County Detention Complex in Pecos, west of Midland; the Big Spring Correctional Facility in Howard County; Eden Detention Center in Concho County; and the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility in Garza County near Lubbock. …

Will states follow DOJ’s private prison move? Some are ahead of the feds.
Source: Joe Davidson, Washington Post, August 26, 2016

Uncle Sam is an influential guy. When he speaks, states listen. If history is a guide, the Justice Department’s decision to phase out private prisons could have an impact well beyond federal Bureau of Prison facilities. Already, some states are ahead of the federal government in closing for-profit correctional locations. The move by the Justice Department could encourage more of that. … Nicole D. Porter, advocacy director of the Sentencing Project, which, like the ACLU, opposes private prisons, provided these examples of states moving away from private facilities:

  • Colorado officials announced plans in June to close the private Kit Carson Correctional Center.
  • Mississippi officials said they will close the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility.
  • D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced that the District would resume operation of the Correctional Treatment Facility when a contract with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) expires next year.
  • Kentucky announced the closing of its last of three facilities in 2013. In June, however, the state said it was considering reopening two private facilities because of overcrowding.
  • Texas closed two private prisons in 2013.
  • Idaho said in February it would no longer send prisoners to a private facility in Colorado.

This quote from America’s largest private prison company shows how much the industry fears criminal justice reform
Source: Michelle Mark, Business Insider, August 25, 2016

This quote, from a 2005 annual CCA report found in the Securities and Exchange Commission archives, reemerged in a New Yorker article on Wednesday. The quote appears to validate claims regarding the private prison industry’s concern with reform (emphasis ours):

“Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. This possible growth depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates and sentencing patterns in various jurisdictions and acceptance of privatization. “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any change with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. “Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.”

The largest chapter of the Texas prison guard union supports closing private prisonsSource: Casey Tolan, Fusion, August 25, 2016

The Texas prison system should close all its private prisons and give more nonviolent inmates parole and out-of-prison supervision, the president of the largest chapter of the state prison guard union said this week. Lance Lowry, the President of the Huntsville AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees chapter, who’s been a correctional officer in the state for more than 20 years, argued in a blog post yesterday that closing private prisons is necessary with the state prison system facing $250 million in budget cuts. There are currently 10,464 offenders in the state’s 15 private prisons and jails, or about 7% of the state’s total prison population, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. About half of Texas’ prison population was convicted of nonviolent crimes. Lowry, who represents 1,500 guards, said the state should shift low-level, nonviolent inmates to parole, probation, or electronic monitoring where they live at home. … The union’s advocacy for reducing incarceration comes amid wider scrutiny of private prisons. The federal Department of Justice announced last week that it would phase out the private prisons it had contracted, a decision that does not affect state private prisons. Private prison guards in Texas have a 90% staff turnover rate, compared to a 24% turnover rate among public prison guards, a 2008 State Senate report found. Public officers are older and more experienced, Lowry said. …

The Tricky Issue of Private Prisons
Source: Charles Chieppo, Governing, August 25, 2016

The reality is that most of the nation’s 2.2 million prisoners serve their sentences not in the federal system but in state and local prisons and jails. And prisons operated by for-profit companies account for about 6 percent of state inmates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Beyond prisons, there are a number of reasons why privatization can be an appealing option for state and local governments. The pay for success approach can shift risk away from taxpayers by conditioning a contractor’s payment on the achievement of various metrics. …

Will America Finally Stop Privatizing Everything?
Source: David Dayen, New Republic, August 24, 2016

Thirteen contracts may seem like too small a disruption to threaten the entire private corrections industry and its $629 million in annual profits. But DOJ’s repudiation has already spurred demands to close other privatized facilities. And the logic of the decision underscores the core truism of privatization, one that citizens are increasingly finding unconscionable: The only way to manage these public operations and skim a profit off the top is to do it deficiently. … It’s not hard to figure out why this happens. Private companies win contracts to manage federal prisons by undercutting the Bureau of Prisons’ operational costs. Unlike the government, private prison companies must also take their profit margins out of their budgets. The only way to make that work is to massively drop labor costs, corresponding to a severe degradation of the quality of prison management. The examples of this are legion. Wages for private prisons are over 20 percent lower than their public counterparts, and the penitentiaries are routinely short-staffed. Equipment requisitions are insufficient. Maintenance is routinely deferred. In one CCA prison in Idaho, corrections officers let the gangs help them run the facility. That reflects the problem with privatization as a whole. Private companies must carry out a government function—be it water, parking meters, mass transit, or K-12 schools—at a lower cost than the government can provide it, while taking their profit off the top. Time and again, the results reveal that to be impossible, at least if you want to provide the same quality of service. Yet we keep privatizing. …
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No ‘snow day’ after ‘decisive victory’ for lunch workers

Source: Ethan Shorey, The Valley Breeze, September 27, 2016

The city’s school lunch workers said they achieved “a decisive victory for all women who feed the kids and the fight for equal pay” after agreeing to a new contract with food service provider Aramark last week. The pay gap for local lunch workers, all women, will “dramatically shrink” as they receive $1.20 in raises over three years,” said the workers in a release. … The agreement, a new three-year deal covering the 81 school lunch employees, was reached last Thursday afternoon in an effort to prevent a one-day strike the school lunch workers had planned for Friday. School officials were planning to treat Friday like a snow day if the strike went forward with their strike. The Breeze reported earlier last Thursday that the lunch workers had struck a tentative deal with Aramark on Monday of last week. … The union originally prepared the comparison of 76 cents for women to $1 for men by using available data of the Pawtucket school support staff positions that are primarily filled by men (custodians) and the pay rate data members have for local school lunch members. The figures compare the hourly pay rates. The local lunch workers are represented by Unite Here, Local 26, a Boston-based union representing 9,000 hotel, food service, airport, and casino workers across Rhode Island and Massachusetts. …


Pawtucket school cafeteria workers threaten to go on strike
Source: Crystal Bui, NBC 10 News, September 21, 2016

School could be canceled for Pawtucket students on Friday due to an ongoing battle between lunch workers and their food service company. Workers are saying there isn’t fair pay, and if they don’t get better contract negotiations, they plan on striking. NBC10 News spoke to Lori Foti, a cafeteria worker who has been serving students breakfast and lunch for more than 20 years. She said if things don’t change, she’s not sure she’ll be able to stay. … The mostly female cafeteria workers said they’re not receiving pay that’s comparable to what male food service workers receive. They’re asking their employer, Aramark, to increase pay and benefits. … Contract negotiations begin Thursday, with a very tight deadline for progress. The cafeteria workers plan to go on a one-day strike if needed. Pawtucket Schools Superintendent Patti DiCenso would not confirm or deny if the city’s six schools would close, but other unions may honor the picket line. The decision may come late Thursday, causing many families to find child care with little notice. …

Elizabeth Warren comes out against raising cap on charter schools in Massachusetts

Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, September 27, 2016

There is a pitched battle underway in Massachusetts over charter schools, with proponents pouring money into an initiative on the November ballot that would raise the state cap on their growth and opponents arguing that charters are draining resources from traditional public schools. Now critics have gotten a big boost: Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she was going to vote against Question 2. Warren, who has been viewed somewhat warily by many public-education activists because of her past support for charter schools, now says she does not support unfettered charter growth in Massachusetts because local school districts can be harmed. Just a few weeks ago, local media noted that Warren, highly popular in Massachusetts, had not declared her position on the charter cap. … Warren released a statement to the Boston Globe that said:

“I will be voting no on Question 2. Many charter schools in Massachusetts are producing extraordinary results for our students, and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools. But after hearing more from both sides, I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind. I hope that the Legislature, the teachers, and the parents can come together to find ways to make sure all kids in Massachusetts get a first-rate education without pitting groups against each other.”


MA schools may be battle in wider fight for profit & privatization agendas
Source: Jule Pattison-Gordon, Bay State Banner, September 22, 2016

Charter expansion in Massachusetts appears to be part of a national movement, fueled, in part, by hedge funds, corporations and wealthy philanthropists. Some professors see a profit motive for those with ties to school-related businesses such real estate and material supplies, as well as the lucrative charter network administration businesses and education consulting services. Others regard the push for charter expansion as one front of a larger ideological battle to tamp down on government and unions and turn over public services to private, free market offerings. …

Report: Charter enrollment increases spending in traditional schools
Source: Amelia Pak-Harvey, Lowell Sun, September 21, 2016

Adding more national attention to the statewide fight over charter schools, a new report from a conservative New York-based think tank concludes that charter-school enrollment actually increases per-pupil spending for traditional school districts. Ballot Question 2, which would allow for up to 12 charter schools or expansions every year, has drawn a heated battle that’s racked up over $18 million in spending from both proponents and opponents combined. … Opponents of the measure, which include the Save Our Public Schools campaign, argue that charter schools take money away from traditional school districts. Sending districts are reimbursed through a complex formula in which money for each student follows a child to their charter school. Yet, a new Manhattan Institute report contends that while charter-school enrollment reduces the net amount of Chapter 70 state aid that districts receive, it increases per-pupil spending in the 10 districts with the largest number of charter-school students. … But after the state’s “unique reimbursement” — which he argued was one of the most generous reimbursement plans in the nation — districts are getting paid a significant amount of money for students they no longer teach. … The report hits at an argument that bolsters the pro-charter school stance — that districts keep getting paid for a student that’s simply not there. The state reimburses the full cost of a student’s tuition by 100 percent the first year the student leaves, and 25 percent for five years after that. Those reimbursements aren’t always fully funded. Even so, Eden said, it still causes an increase in the per-pupil amount. The report uses fiscal 2016 numbers from the Massachusetts Teachers Association website that detail charter-school payments and the number of children sent to charter schools, according to Eden. That analysis includes Lowell, which had 1,490 charter-school students in fiscal 2016. After state reimbursement, the district paid roughly $14.8 million in charter-school costs. In fiscal 2017, Lowell is projected to pay nearly $17 million. …

Out-of-state donors spend big on Mass. ballot questions
Source: Todd Feathers, Lowell Sun, September 20, 2016

Out-of-state donors have spent nearly twice as much to influence Massachusetts’s upcoming ballot measures as in-state donors have, according to recently released campaign finance reports. Groups vying over Question 2 — which asks voters if the cap on the number of charter schools should be raised — are leading the spending spree. Groups both in favor and against raising the cap have raised a combined $18.3 million in 2016, with $11 million of the total coming from outside Massachusetts. One New York-based nonprofit, Families for Excellent Schools, contributed nearly $6 million to the pro-charter group Great Schools Massachusetts. … Charter-school proponents through September outraised and outspent their opponents by nearly 2-to-1. Where that money really came from is hard to ascertain, though. … Great Schools Massachusetts must disclose, for example, that it received nearly $6 million from Families for Excellent Schools, the New York nonprofit that is the single largest contributor so far in this campaign cycle. But Families for Excellent Schools, which was founded by several Wall Street hedge-fund managers, is not required to disclose the source of its money in most situations. Other donors have no qualms about publicizing their advocacy. Jim Walton, the son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and his wife, Alice, donated a combined $1.8 million to the charter-school effort. On the other side of that issue, teachers unions are responsible for almost all the money donated to the anti-charter group Save Our Public Schools. The Massachusetts Teachers Association contributed $4.6 million in 2016, followed by the National Education Association with $1.9 million. …

Should Mass. Expand Charter Schools? A Look At Ballot Question 2
Source: Tonya Mosley, WBUR, September 13, 2016

Question 2 on the November ballot will ask voters if they support giving Massachusetts the authority to lift the cap on charter schools. As it stands, no more than 120 charter schools are allowed to operate in the state; there are currently 78 active charters. A “Yes” vote on Question 2 would give the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to lift the cap, allowing up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charters each year. … In a WBUR poll of likely voters, 48 percent said they would vote against lifting the cap, while 41 percent would vote for it, and 11 percent said they did not know or were undecided. The same poll found that 46 percent think charters drain money from district schools, 38 percent don’t think so, and 15 percent are undecided. …

The Great Charter Schools Debate
Source: Rachel Slade, Boston Magazine, September 2016

In November, Massachusetts voters will decide whether the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) can raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed, or increase enrollment in existing charters in underperforming districts. If the referendum is approved, the city of Boston—which currently has 27 Commonwealth charter schools that operate independently of the district and educate about 14 percent of the student population—will likely see an increase in charters over the next several years. …

Charter School expansion debate continues
Source: Tamara Sacharczyk, WWLP, August 17, 2016

The charter school debate continues to heat up in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Democratic Party voted on Tuesday to oppose a ballot question in November that would expand the state’s charter school cap. Charter schools are publicly funded, but separate from public schools. Some members of the Massachusetts Democratic Party argue if enough students’ leaves a public school for a charter school, a chunk of that school district’s funding will eventually go with them. … Question 2 on November’s ballot would expand that cap, by allowing 12 more charter schools to open, or current schools to expand. Several charter schools have already asked the state for expansions in recent weeks. Here in western Massachusetts, the Collegiate Charter School of the Pioneer Valley applied to start a new charter school for 870 students, and the Hampden Charter School of Science requested to open another school for 560 students. … Several lawmakers at the statehouse are in favor of the November ballot question to expand charter schools, including Governor Charlie Baker. The governor has said charter schools give students and parents more options, and potentially, a better education. …

November ballot question: Lifting the charter school cap
Source: Frank Conte, New Boston Post, July 28, 2016

The most popular governor in the United States wasn’t going to let a mid-July downpour on the State House steps dampen the launch of ballot campaign to lift the state’s charter school cap. Spending down some of the political capital he’s accrued over the last two years, Governor Charlie Baker announced his support for a measure that will potentially increase annually the number of charter schools by 12. … If approved by the voters in November, the ballot question certified by the Massachusetts Attorney General will allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve up to 12 new charter schools each year. Should the board receive applications from more than that number, districts with student performance in the bottom 25 percent of state assessments and strong popular demand will be given preference. In reality, charter school advocates — given the economics and logistics — think only two or three new schools will be approved by the board each year. But teacher union resistance can be overwhelming, even if the changes are small. …

Senate President: Charter school bill all but dead
Source: Associated Press, June 20, 2016

Hopes for a bill aimed at heading off a proposed charter school ballot question appear all but dead on Beacon Hill. Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg told reporters Monday that discussions between the Massachusetts House and Senate on the bill have come to a “dead stop.” … The Senate in April approved a bill aimed at allowing more charters in districts serving at-risk students while largely maintaining the statewide charter school cap. The House hasn’t acted on the bill. The proposed ballot question would add up to a dozen new or expanded charters each year outside of existing state caps.

Gov Baker Proposes Bill To Allow More Charter Schools
Source: Paul Tuthill, WAMC, October 8, 2015

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced legislation Thursday to lift a cap on charter schools.  The bill  Baker plans to file would add up to 12 new or expanded charter schools a year with a preference in low performing school districts. His legislation is similar to a ballot measure proposed by a coalition of charter school advocates. Spokesperson Josiane Martinez said the group needs to collect 65,000 signatures to get the question on the 2016 ballot.

State liquor outlets should run more like convenience stores, Utah auditor says

Source: Dennis Romboy, Deseret News, September 27, 2016

Utah’s state-run liquor outlets would better serve customers if they were operated more like convenience stores, according to the state auditor, though he stopped short of calling for privatization. A state audit of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control released Tuesday shows its management lacks the flexibility, data and tools to reach the “level of operational success we expect,” Auditor John Dougall said. … The audit found:
• Stores could be better staffed to handle customers, especially at peak hours.
• Ordering and stocking products could be improved.
• Wages are lower than other liquor-control states but comparable to convenience stores.
• DABC has inadequate tracking and evaluating of store costs.


Privatization, prices debated at Utah alcohol summit
Source: Dawn House, Salt Lake Tribune, September 06, 2012

Researchers disagreed Thursday on whether states, like Utah, that control alcohol distribution do better at curbing drunken driving, underage drinking and overconsumption, but they agreed on one sure-fire way to reduce such social ills: boost the price of booze.
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NTEU: Using IRS employees, not outsourcing for debt collection ‘smart and humane’

Source: Meredith Somers, Federal News Radio, September 27, 2016

The National Treasury Employees Union wants the Internal Revenue Service to retrain thousands of employees facing pink slips for outsourced tax-collection work. NTEU President Tony Reardon said his organization will push Congress for resources IRS needs to teach more than 7,000 employees how to track down late accounts. … A provision within a highway bill passed last year requires the IRS to pass on certain delinquent accounts to private collection agencies (PCAs). The employees who face layoffs work at one of three paper tax return processing sites in Covington, Kentucky; Fresno, California; and Austin, Texas. Their jobs would be phased out between 2019 and 2024. … In its fiscal 2017 objectives report to Congress, the Taxpayer Advocate Service warned that the private debt collection program “includes practices that will harm taxpayers and tax administration.” The program was discontinued in 2009 after TAS warned the program threatened taxpayer rights and raised doubts about its revenue projections. One of the concerns with the new law is that it does not take into account economic hardship, nor does it grant PCAs the power to work out a compromise with taxpayers based on their status. … About 1,800 employees work at the Convington site, while 3,000 and 2,400 work at the Fresno and Austin locations, respectively, and the phase-out of the jobs is just one thing that worries Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). During a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on federal vacant properties, Massie called the news of moving 2,000 jobs out of the city “devastating.” …


Congress could make the IRS use private bill collectors for your taxes
Source: Joe Davidson, Washington Post, November 3, 2015

…Congress is considering legislation that would again allow the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to use outside collection agencies, after previous programs failed twice. The first attempt, from August 1996 through June 1997, lost money. So did the second one.  Former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman stopped the 2006-2009 effort, saying “I believe this work is best done by IRS employees.” … Sixteen senators, including Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, sent a letter to the congressional leadership last month detailing their opposition to the measure, which is included in a highway funding bill. Among their objections:

  • Commission incentives could lead private collection agencies to “jeopardize taxpayer rights” if they “minimize due process in order to maximize profits.”
  • The 2006-2009 program resulted in “the Treasury collecting $63.4 million in revenue while accruing total costs of $67.8 million, a loss of $4.4 million to the federal government.”
  • Private collection agencies “will unfairly target low-income taxpayers.” The IRS can work with taxpayers by allowing them flexible payment schedules or suspending collection actions or reducing the amount owed. But private collectors’ “sole interest is to collect from a taxpayer the balance due…They cannot provide any advice or use the tools IRS employees have.”…

After Years of Cutting Funding, Republicans Seek to Privatize Part of the IRS
Source: Eric Katz, GovExec.com, July 22, 2015

A new compromise package to fund the nation’s surface transportation projects would privatize a major function of the Internal Revenue Service, delighting Republican lawmakers looking to shrink the agency but rankling its advocates. The highway funding bill crafted in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is proposing to raise $2.4 billion by handing the task of tax collection over to private companies. The bill would require the Treasury Department and IRS to contract with private collection agencies as one of several pay-for provisions of the compromise highway bill…Congress authorized the Treasury Department to contract out the task of recouping unpaid tax bills in 2006, but the agency phased out the program in 2009. The National Treasury Employees Union said on Wednesday the program proved unsuccessful, as the government was spending more on administrative fees and commissions to the companies than it took in…“The use of PCAs to collect tax debts has repeatedly been shown to be a waste of taxpayer dollars,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley wrote in a letter to senators. “The Treasury secretary currently has the authority, but has chosen not to enter into such contracts.” She added the commission-based payment incentive led to abuse of the system, and a disproportional focus on low-income taxpayers….

In Danbury, state privatizing in-home developmental services

Source: Mackenzie Riggs, News Times, September 26, 2016

Thirty-seven local clients of the state Department of Developmental Services will soon start receiving their services from private providers instead of state employees. … At present 11 clients receive in-home support and 26 clients receive day services, along with their families, from six DDS employees working out of the Danbury office on Main Street. It was not immediately clear when these changes would be implemented and when the six employees might be laid off. The Danbury office will remain open, with the same hours, while separate case management services continue to be provided by at least 14 DDS staffers. These changes are part of the state’s plan to save $108 million over two years that includes cutting staff and privatizing some services across the state. About half of the savings are expected to come from the privatization of 40 state-run group homes serving some of the state’s most profoundly disabled residents. There are no longer any state-run group homes in the Danbury area. …


Mom sues Dept. of Developmental Services over impact of group home privatization on son
Source: Laura Roberts, Fox 61, September 19, 2016

As the Department of Developmental Services begins transitioning its group homes from the public to private sector, one New Haven mom is pursuing legal action against the plan she calls “criminal.” Lindsay Mathews filed a lawsuit on September 9 in New Haven District Court on behalf of her son George Griffin. Griffin, 51, has lived in a group home in Hamden known as “Brook Street” for more than two decades, and for much of that time he has worked with the same state workers. He has physical and intellectual disabilities that require around-the-clock care. … In August, the state announced that nearly 500 employees would be laid off from DDS. In addition, the group homes in which they worked would be privatized. DDS said the plan would save the state more than $100 million over two years. … Mathews filed an injunction against the state that prevents them from giving her son private care or transferring his private medical information to the new owners of the group home. …

Mother of Disabled Son Goes To Court To Stop State Privatization
Source: Christine Stuart, CT News Junkie, September 12, 2016

The mother of a disabled 51-year-old who lives at a state facility in Hamden is suing the Department of Developmental Services for transitioning its work to the private sector in order to save money. … At a recent press conference, Mathews said she didn’t believe private sector workers could take care of her son like the state workers she called “family.” The decision to end all residential services for state residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities was made in August when DDS Commissioner Morna Murray submitted a plan to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget office. The plan is expected to save the agency $42 million in 2017 and nearly $70 million in 2018. Under the plan, 30 group homes will be converted to private operation by Jan. 1, 2017. In March, it announced the closure of two regional centers in Meriden and Stratford. Those facilities will close by October and several other day programs also will be transitioned to the private sector. … Mathews, according to the lawsuit, is refusing to sign releases that would authorize DDS to share her son’s confidential medical information with third parties. … The lawsuit goes onto say that DDS informed Mathews that it’s able to release her son’s records to Residential Management Services, the nonprofit provider who won a bid to take over the care of the Brook Street residents, including Mathews’ son. Mathews received a letter from Thomas Dailey, the regional DDS director on Sept. 1, claiming that it was free to release her son’s records to “qualified entities” that it regards as “business associates” of the department for the “purpose of continuity of care.” Mathews wrote to DDS to reiterate her objection to the records being released and is asking the court to intervene. According to the lawsuit, Mathews is hoping the court will require the state and its employees to continue to provide services to her son. …

Mother of Disabled Son Goes To Court To Stop State Privatization
Source: Mark Davis, WTNH, August 25, 2016

Many parents with disabled adult children say other parents should not fear privatization following the layoff of hundreds of state workers. These parents say their sons and daughters are doing well with the non-profit private providers through the state Department of Developmental Services. The Governor says using private providers more is a national trend and he’s right about that. Several parents we spoke with today say it’s working well for them. … The Governor’s office says after this latest round of layoffs at the end of the year and more people are transitioned to the private providers, the state should end up saving about $70 million. …

Connecticut releases plan to privatize dozens of group homes
Source: Susan Haigh, Associated Press, August 16, 2016

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration released a plan Tuesday to privatize 40 group homes and other services for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, a move the union representing hundreds of affected state employees warned will “decimate” the state of Connecticut’s ability to provide services to the disabled. … She said the plan, which is projected to save the agency nearly $70 million, continues to provide “cost-effective, community-based options” for individuals served by DDS. It calls for cutting 605 related staff positions, 113 of which have already been eliminated. While Murray acknowledged the transition will “create personal challenges” for many dedicated state employees, she said the state is requesting that private provider agencies give hiring preference when possible to those workers displaced by the privatization initiative. … Under the DDS budget plan, 40 state-run group homes will be converted into private group homes. It also includes the previously announced closures of the Ella T. Grasso Regional Center in Stratford and the Meriden Regional Center, congregate living facilities for people with severe developmental disabilities. There also are plans to privatize state-run day and in-home support services. …

Union: Privatizing group homes would ‘decimate’ services
Source: Susan Haigh, Associated Press, August 16, 2016

The union representing workers at dozens of state-run group homes facing privatization say the proposal will “decimate” the state of Connecticut’s ability to provide services for the disabled. SEIU 1199 New England spokeswoman Jen Schneider says the union is urging Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to “find a better way than balancing the budget on the backs of the disabled.” Morna Murray, Malloy’s commissioner at the Department of Developmental Services, submitted a plan Tuesday that turns over 40 group homes and other programs for people with intellectual disabilities to private, nonprofit agencies. It also eliminates 605 related staff positions, 113 of which have already been terminated. …

ECOT attendance inflated by 9,000 students, audit finds; $60 million in state funding in jeopardy

Source: Patrick O’Donnell, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, September 26, 2016

Ohio’s largest online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), was paid for 9,000 more students than it should have last school year, an Ohio Department of Education enrollment audit has found. In a letter to the school today, the department tells the school that it has proper documentation for only 6,300 of its 15,300 students – a 59% gap. The letter does not spell out how much money ECOT could be forced to return, but with ECOT receiving $109 million last year for the 15,300, $64 million in money is at risk. … A ruling from Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer French later this week could make the audit irrelevant. French heard a week of testimony earlier this month on an ECOT challenge of the audit and the ways the state is counting enrollment. … At issue is whether ECOT must only show that students have enrolled and that they log on, however briefly, to avoid truancy violations and to receive full state funding for each student. The state has been seeking proof that students are spending more than one hour a day online, as early reviews showed,  Because the school in the past has not had to provide documentation of the work that its students do, school leaders have said it’s unfair to expect the documentation retroactively for the just-finished 2015-16 school year. …


Ohio says ECOT charter school may owe taxpayers $60 million
Source: Julie Carr Smyth, Akron Beacon Journal, September 26, 2016

A state review has found that enrollment at Ohio’s largest online charter school is nearly 60 percent lower than originally reported, potentially jeopardizing about $60 million of the e-school’s state funding from last year. The Ohio Department of Education told the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow about its findings Monday. It comes amid a legal battle over how head counts for the school and other online schools in Ohio are determined. … About 500 school-age children who would otherwise enroll in a Summit County school district are registered at ECOT. ECOT receives about $5,900 per student, meaning nearly $3 million is taken from local school districts, which generate their funds from local tax levies and state aid. … If the state audit is accurate, ECOT may be claiming funding of $3 million in the Akron-Canton area for hundreds of unsubstantiated student time. ECOT is managed by Altair Learning Management, a for-profit company whose executives are among the biggest Republican donors in the state. The school tried to block regulators’ access to student log-in and log-out information, charging the education department imposed illegal retroactive rules on it for counting students. …

Ohio legislature might delve into e-school attendance
Source: Jim Siegel, The Columbus Dispatch, September 19, 2016

When legislators return to the Statehouse in November, a mess awaits them in the form of an ongoing fight over ensuring that online charter schools are paid only for students who are actually enrolled. … Many people also want to see how legislators will react to the Department of Education’s effort to require e-schools to produce data on log-in durations as a basis for how much the schools should get in state funding. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a school that gets more than $100 million per year in state taxpayer dollars and is run by a major GOP donor, is suing to block the department from asking for log-in records. A preliminary review in March found that ECOT students logged in for about an hour per day. The log-in records are a new requirement for online schools to show that students are getting the state-mandated 920 hours of “learning opportunities” for funding purposes. ECOT and a number of other e-schools are struggling to produce adequate data. … For traditional public schools in Ohio, funding is based on enrollment, not attendance. ECOT argues that under the law, a student could log in for as little as a minute per day to earn full per-pupil funding. But Tom Ash of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, said a student in a traditional school could not get away with that: leaving after first period would make a student truant, which could eventually land the student in juvenile court. …

Education Insider: ECOT fears impact on enrollment if Ohio finds school overbilled
Source: Bill Bush and Mary Mogan Edwards, Columbus Dispatch, September 7, 2016

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel’s Ohiocheckbook.com shows that the state paid only eight companies more in the most-recent full fiscal year than the $114 million ECOT got. The eight include health-care giants UnitedHealth Group and Medical Mutual and pharmacy-benefit manager Catamaran OptumRx, plus AEP’s Ohio Power Co. and a few huge highway-construction firms. Although ECOT is a public school, not a company, that’s still pretty big. … He also made clear in the filing that for the past 13 years, the state had never tried to figure out “actual ‘participation’ criterion” of ECOT students in return for handing the school so much money. So imagine ECOT’s surprise when, this year, the state actually tried to figure out whether ECOT students were participating in schoolwork, as we speculate might be a requirement of the state’s compulsory education laws. As Dispatch reporter Jim Siegel reported Monday, the department seemed as if it were going to cave in again after ECOT lobbyist Neil Clark complained at a meeting with officials from the department, the legislature and the governor’s office in February that ECOT wasn’t equipped to provide the participation data. The department indicated at the meeting that it was prepared to delay a once-every-five-years attendance audit by another year. …

State Says More Ohio Online Charter Schools Can’t Document Their Student Numbers
Source: Andy Chow, WKSU, August 29, 2016

For weeks, the state has been battling with its largest online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow or ECOT, over how it records the number of hours its more than 15,000 students spend learning. Those hours are critical to the funding of ECOT and all charter schools. Now, three more online charters have received letters from the Ohio Department of Education detailing issues with the way they track student instruction. The challenge for these e-schools is to document and record each individual student and how much time they spend “in school” participating in learning opportunities. … The Buckeye Online School for Success or BOSS uses what’s known as a bell schedule. A student has to log-in for each class during the day and if that student misses a class they can log-in later to see what they’ve missed. But ODE says BOSS doesn’t have software to accumulate learning opportunity hours by day, month and year. The same goes for the Quaker Digital Academy. The Virtual Community School or VCS offers 41 programs for students to use to learn but according to the state, only two of those programs track the hours and one relies on parental documentation. Aldis says these reviews show that e-schools are still in the early stages of figuring out how to measure up to the state’s standards on attendance. …

Struggle with ECOT nothing new for Ohio education administrators
Source: Jim Siegel, Catherine Candisky, and Bill Bush, Columbus Dispatch, August 14, 2016

Today’s legal battle potentially involving hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars paid to online charter schools in Ohio began more than 15 years ago with an audit, an unusual agreement and a mysterious scrawled signature — followed by years of legislative inaction. … Back in 2002, state officials weren’t thinking about checking for 920 hours of attendance or tracking students’ computer log-in durations. Few rules and regulations governed new online schools, and attendance concerns were much more basic: Were students getting computers and could they actually log into the fledgling Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow’s system? ECOT resisted the department’s efforts. Some arguments were similar to ones made today as the Education Department tries to verify that ECOT students are getting the minimum 920 hours of “learning opportunities” required by the state, and the school sues to block use of that data for funding purposes. … The illegible signature belongs to David Varda, then associate superintendent at the Ohio Department of Education, who signed the odd funding agreement with ECOT in January 2003. Little did he know it would impact attendance audits of the school for years to come and become the centerpiece of a lawsuit filed by ECOT in July, which claims the agreement prohibits the department from using log-in durations to determine funding. …

Dave Yost wants Ohio to reform how online charter schools are paid
Source: Catherine Candisky, Columbus Dispatch, August 11, 2016

Ohio’s e-schools should be funded based on what their students learn rather than attendance or time spent online, Auditor Dave Yost proposed Thursday. … Yost’s remarks come as the state’s largest e-school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, is embroiled in a legal battle with the Department of Education over efforts to audit its attendance to ensure students are participating in the minimum 920 hours of “learning opportunities” required each year to obtain state funding. A Franklin County judge rejected ECOT’s request to block the audit, and last week ordered the school to turn over attendance records, including student computer login durations. A preliminary audit in March found that most ECOT students were logging in for only about an hour per day, education officials said. … Yost said tax dollars should pay for what the state is trying to buy: “A citizen who can read and write and do the math and, most of all, who can think, and that can’t be produced just by time in chair.” Yost asked the GOP-controlled legislature to take up the issue when lawmakers return to the Statehouse this fall. …

Ohio Wins Its Fight to Force Charter School ECOT to Hand Over Data
Source: Andy Chow, WKSU, August 2, 2016

The state’s education department won a major battle over the attendance fight with ECOT, Ohio’s largest online charter school. A judge says ECOT must hand over the log-in information of its 15,000 students in order for ODE to conduct its attendance audit. ECOT’s Neil Clark says log-in data is not an accurate way to tally student instruction per day. …

ECOT ordered to turn over attendance data to state
Source: Candace Candisky & Jim Siegel, Columbus Dispatch, August 2, 2016

A Franklin County judge ordered Ohio’s largest online charter school on Monday to turn over attendance data sought by the state Department of Education. Common Pleas Judge Jenifer A. French gave ECOT until 5 p.m. today to comply. “These documents shall include, but are not limited to, spreadsheets showing the log-in and log-out data of the ECOT students randomly identified by (the education department),” French wrote in a two-page order. … The education department wants the records to complete a routine attendance audit used to determine whether students are getting the minimum 920 hours of “learning opportunities” required by the state. The order marks the second ruling against ECOT since the online school sued the state last month in an effort to block the audit, arguing that using log-in durations violates the law and a 2003 agreement signed by the school and the department. Attendance counts play a key role in determining how much state funding a school gets. …

Ohio’s fight against its largest online school continues
Source: Molly Reed, WKBN, July 26, 2016

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is still refusing to release records to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) for an attendance audit. The ODE said it wants students’ log-in and log-out times to determine the funding ECOT receives from the state. The ODE wants this information to see if students are actually getting the 920 hours required in online charter schools, which became a law in February of this year. But, ECOT said this violates a 2003 contract with the ODE on keeping track of attendance through just log-in times. … ECOT’s consultant Neil Clark said the system Ohio wants ECOT to follow just won’t work. He said the system of having a teacher sign off on students’ participation is more efficient than using the state’s system, which would have a parent sign off. … Stacey Fisher has a daughter who used to be an ECOT student, but she is enrolling her back into a traditional school in the fall because of ECOT’s system. … The ODE also wants the login in durations so it can determine if the $108 million it paid ECOT in 2015-16 was inflated. That money is based on the amount of students enrolled in the school. Saturday, the state asked a judge in Columbus to have ECOT give records for 1,500 students, randomly picked by the ODE, to show the state how ECOT tracks their schoolwork. …

Ohio Lawmakers Call for Charter School Changes Following ECOT Controversy
Source: Karen Kasler, WKSU, July 13, 2016

The Ohio Department of Education has started its audit of student attendance at the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow after a judge denied ECOT’s request to stop that audit. But questions about the laws that govern charter schools have supporters and opponents once again calling for changes. The Ohio Department of Education’s audit seeks to determine if the nearly 15,000 students that ECOT claims are enrolled are getting the 920 hours of learning for which the state is paying ECOT more than $100 million a year. ECOT had claimed that if the audit went forward, the school might have to close because of a significant loss of funding – and ECOT says that could happen because the state is changing the rules that under which it is audited. … The education department says in its response to ECOT’s lawsuit that the school’s required to document students’ log-in and participation, and said an early review of ECOT’s records found most students logged on for only an hour a day – not five.  While the judge’s order allows the state audit to go forward, ECOT says it’s still pursuing its lawsuit. It argues that the five hour per day log-in requirement for online charter school students is not in state law. …

Online Charter School Sues To Stop Attendance Audit Just Days Before Its Scheduled Start
Source: Karen Kasler, WOSU, July 11, 2016

The state’s largest and most controversial online charter school has sued to block the state from a delayed attendance audit that was supposed to start today, and could end up costing it millions of dollars. The lawsuit seeks to stop the Department of Education from auditing the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT – an audit that had been scheduled for February, then put off till mid-June, then set to start today. These audits are done every five years to determine if student enrollment matches the number of students for which the state pays the charter to educate – money that comes from traditional public schools. Longtime lobbyist Neil Clark is a consultant for ECOT, which he says since 2003 has had a contract with ODE on how audits will be done. He said ODE now wants to change that process, including checking that students log in for at least five hours a day, which he says isn’t spelled out in state law. … ECOT claims nearly 15,000 students are enrolled, which would make it larger than all but eight public school districts. The Ohio Department of Education hasn’t responded to ECOT’s lawsuit, but has said in a statement that the agency is committed to completing its regulatory duty to review attendance at all charter schools and ensure that all charter schools are getting appropriate funding. At least two schools have had to give back hundreds of thousands in state funds after fewer students were found than were claimed.