Author Archives: Info Center

Video: Profiting from the GI Bill

Source: Aaron Glantz, Adithya Sambamurthy, Center for Investigative Reporting, July 7, 2014

The post-World War II GI Bill helped veterans live the American Dream. But a new GI Bill designed to help those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is coming under fire. The Center for Investigative Reporting found more than $600 million dollars in GI bill money had gone to hundreds of for-profit schools in California with low graduation rates and high rates of student loan default.

Related:
For-Profit Schools Under Fire For Targeting Veterans

Source: Larry Abramson, NPR, Morning Edition, April 5, 2012

Hundreds of thousands of veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, eager to get an education under the new post-Sept. 11 GI Bill.

Many vets looking for a school find they are inundated by sales pitches from institutions hungry for their government benefits. Now, lawmakers are looking for ways to protect vets without narrowing their education choices….Some members of Congress are worried that for-profit schools are ripping off the government by luring students into programs that seldom lead to good jobs..

…..Concern about the lead generators’ sales tactics has prompted Congress to explore tighter limits on the public funds that can go to for-profit colleges. But Sweizer says limiting government funding would just hurt the schools that are trying to deal honestly with vets. Instead, he says, schools that don’t deliver what they promise should be punished.

Kentucky prison food contract up for bid

Source: Adam Beam, Associated Press, July 4, 2014

The $12 million contract to feed Kentucky’s 21,200 prison inmates is up for bid for the first time since a 2010 audit found significant problems with the state’s current contractor. But some of Kentucky’s biggest critics of Philadelphia-based Aramark now say they are satisfied with the company’s response to the criticism. …. Aramark’s contract expires at the end of this year, and Kentucky officials have already put out a request for proposals and hope to decide on a contractor by September. Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler confirmed the company would be bidding again for the contract. … But Aramark could be getting some competition. South Dakota-based CBM Managed Services is considering bidding on the contract…..
Related:
Audit: State overpays by thousands of dollars on prison food contract
Source: Valarie Honeycutt Spears, Herald Leader, October 8, 2010

An audit of the state Department of Corrections’ $12 million food service contract with Aramark Correctional Services has found that the state is overpaying the company thousands of dollars a year and is not ensuring that Aramark serves the proper quantities of required ingredients or meets its obligations. State Auditor Crit Luallen released the report Thursday.

Jefferson Parish contracting changes are proposed, after death of their most vocal advocate

Source: Adriane Quinlan, The Times-Picayune, June 10, 2014

Two weeks after political activist Margie Seemann died, contracting reforms that she long advocated are headed for a vote by the Jefferson Parish Council. The proposal, on the council’s agenda Wednesday, would limit the council’s discretion in awarding contracts by placing the decision largely in the hands of a technical committee that must consider a price in its evaluation. The changes were put forward by Councilman Chris Roberts, who worked with Seemann and her group, Citizens for a Good Government. The group sought to curtail the council’s discretion in awarding contracts, with the intent of limiting the influence of contractors that make political contributions to politicians, said Seemann’s sister, Margaret Baird.

Related:
Jefferson Parish Contracting Reform Proposal Misses the Mark
Source: Bureau of Governmental Research, February 26, 2013

The Jefferson Parish Council has released a draft ordinance that would make changes to the parish’s process for evaluating and awarding contracts for nonprofessional services. The proposal comes following pressure from the media and citizens to revamp contracting processes that stand far apart from norms and best practices. While the proposal makes some welcome changes, it is problematic in several respects and fails to meaningfully address a fundamental weakness: the council’s extraordinary discretion over contract elections.

Private Services in the Public Interest: Reforming Jefferson Parish’s Unusual Approach to Service Contracting
Source: Bureau of Governmental Research, May 2012

From the press release:
Today BGR releases Private Services in the Public Interest: Reforming Jefferson Parish’s Unusual Approach to Service Contracting. The report shines light on contracting processes that are highly irregular and uniquely vulnerable to abuse.

Jefferson places the power to select contractors with the Parish Council instead of the executive branch, an abnormal approach for a government with an elected executive. But as the report reveals, this abnormality is relatively minor compared to a second one: the Parish Council’s nearly unfettered discretion in the selection of contractors. The Parish Council is free to ignore the work and recommendations of evaluation committees and make its own selections.

Making matters worse, the council regularly defers to the council member in whose district the contracted service will be performed.

Twelve Months Later: The Impact of School Closings in Chicago

Source: Carol Caref, Sarah Hainds, Pavlyn Jankov with assistance from Brandon Bordenkircher, Chicago Teachers Union Research Department, 2014

From the press release:
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) released today a report on the state of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) one year after the Board of Education (BOE) voted to close 49 elementary schools and one high school program, the largest, one-time school closing action in U.S. history and a decision made in the wake of massive opposition and protests throughout the city of Chicago.

The study, titled “Twelve Months Later: The Impact of School Closings in Chicago,” looks at what happened as a result of the mass school closings of 2013, and answers such questions as: Were CPS promises for receiving schools kept? How much money was saved? Did resources increase at affected schools? Have services increased for special education students at consolidated schools.

On May 22, 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked BOE shuttered 50 neighborhood school communities, “turned around” five schools and co-located 17 others. Faced with widespread opposition to this action, CPS promised hundreds of millions of dollars in capital improvements and transition supports for schools receiving students from closed schools. CTU examination of the evidence has found, however, that promises made to receiving schools were hollow in many cases and only partially fulfilled in others. Among the findings:
– Receiving schools are still disproportionately under-resourced compared to other elementary schools.
– Students were moved to schools with libraries, but funds weren’t available to hire librarians. Just 38% of receiving schools have librarians on staff, whereas across CPS, 55% of elementary schools have librarians.
– Computer labs were upgraded at receiving schools but only one-fifth of these schools have technology teachers.
– CPS touted iPads for all receiving-school students, but included few related professional learning opportunities for teachers.
– CPS spent millions on large-scale programmatic changes at 30 elementary schools, but the success and continued funding of STEM and IB programs remain to be seen….
Related:
Despite Community Pleas, Three Chicago Schools Slated for Privatization
Source: Kyle Lydersen, In These Times, Working In These Times blog, April 24, 2014

The Chicago Board of Education’s vote on Wednesday to convert three public elementary schools into “turnaround schools” run by the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) was no surprise to most parents and teachers. The board has consistently voted to close schools or turn them over to private management—laying off most of the staff in the process—despite overwhelming opposition, anxiety and outrage expressed in heartfelt testimony by parents, teachers, students and elected officials at scores of public meetings…..Even before the April 23 meeting, the board members should have been well aware that public sentiment stood firmly against “turning around” McNair Elementary, Gresham Elementary and Dvorak Technology Academy, all of which are in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. …. AUSL already runs 29 Chicago schools with more than 17,000 students. Now it will take over the three elementary schools in the fall, and 147 employees, including 76 teachers, will lose their jobs. The school district says that the teachers will be allowed to reapply for their jobs and that about 60 percent of teachers laid off from turnaround schools receive positions somewhere in the Chicago public-school system by the next fall. But these jobs can be anywhere in the city, offering little consolation to parents who emphasized how teachers at neighborhood schools are like family to the students, especially since multiple generations have attended the same schools and even had the same teachers…..
Related:
Protestors Brave Sub-Zero Weather in Bid To Freeze Chicago’s Charter Expansion
Source: Matthew Blake, In These Times, Working In These Times blog, January 22, 2014

On Tuesday night, a few dozen die-hard Chicago Teachers Union members and students braved the bitter cold to hold an overnight candlelight vigil outside the Chicago Public School’s downtown headquarters, protesting the expansion of charter schools in the city. … In spite of the so-called polar vortex sweeping over the Windy City, a few dedicated souls even camped outside headquarters overnight until the CPS Board of Education arrived Wednesday morning to consider adding 17 new charter school campuses from eight separate charter networks. But the board, following the recommendations of CPS officials, voted to approve seven of the charter applications. … Despite the early promise of charters for labor, their faculties continue to be almost entirely non-union. Moreover, there is arguably little evidence charters improve student performance, while there is plenty to show charters weaken organized labor. Chicago began to build charters in 1997; they now make up 138 of the district’s 658 schools. The school board recently opened 15 new charter campuses after closing 48 neighborhood public schools in summer 2013…..

Chicago charter schools rake in thousands in ‘disciplinary fees’
Source: Traci G. Lee, MSNBC, January 3, 2013

As public funding for Chicago charter schools increases, so do questions about accountability and governance within these publicly-funded–but privately-run–institutions. According to the Chicago Public Schools’ 2013 budget, charter schools will receive nearly $483 million in funding, up more than 13% from funding in 2012. … But a recent report raises red flags on the lack of accountability at one of Noble’s charter schools. Marsha Godard, a parent at Chicago Bulls College Prep, told DNAinfo Chicago that she paid nearly $2,000 in fees to keep her son at school. … Godard’s son was fined for various offenses, including an unkempt appearance and not making eye contact. Other items in Noble’s strict student code include ”chewing gum, possessing soft drinks or energy drinks like Red Bull, eating chips, not tucking in a shirt after being warned and carrying a permanent marker.”

This is not the first time the Noble Network has received criticism for the fees. In February, parents protested the Noble Network for charging fees as disciplinary action. According to the Chicago Tribune, Noble raked in approximately $200,000 in disciplinary fees in 2011 and almost $400,000 since the 2008-09 school year….

CPS plans 60 more charters in 5 years
Source: Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune, May 16, 2012

Chicago Public Schools plans to create 60 more charter schools over five years, which would increase the share of privately run charters to about a quarter of all schools in the district. The plan for charter growth, part of a larger proposal for 100 new schools over the same five years, is laid out in an application seeking $20 million for charter schools from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Right now the district’s 675 schools include 110 charters, which get tax dollars but are privately controlled. Private organizations also operate an additional 27 schools, 19 of which are managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership….

Can a New Police Force Turn Around Camden, N.J., One of the Nation’s Most Violent Cities?

Source: Mike Maciag, Governing, June 2014

In hopes of reducing the city’s high crime rate, Camden, N.J., made a controversial and unprecedented move a year ago to replace its police force.
Related:
Camden County Police Take Over, City Agency Disbanded
Source: Paul Clinton, POLICE Magazine, May 2, 2013

A new county police force formally took over law enforcement duties in Camden, N.J., Wednesday, as one of America’s most dangerous cities dissolved its municipal police force. The Camden County Police Department’s Metro Division began operations with 255 officers, including 150 from the Camden Police Department. City officers who didn’t apply were officially laid off Wedesday. Scott Thomson, police chief of the Camden PD, was sworn in as the chief of the new agency. The county force will eventually reach more than 400 officers by the fall and bring a greater police presence to the crime-plaqued city, Assistant Chief Michael Lynch told POLICE Magazine….
Related:
Crime-Riddled N.J. City Considers Axing Police Force
Source: Elizabeth Fiedler, NPR, Weekend Edition Sunday, August 19, 2012

Although considered one of the most dangerous places in the country, past budget cuts in Camden, N.J., have forced police layoffs. Now the city is considering even more dramatic steps: replacing the city’s police force with one operated by the county…. Jose Cordero, a consultant who’s been hired to develop and implement the new police force, says that a lot of the labor contracts have been negotiated over many years. They reflect years past and “not necessarily the challenges in terms of both economic challenges and public safety challenges that Camden city faces.” Cordero says the plan is to hire more officers with about the same budget. One way the regional force could save money, he says, is by hiring civilians to do work that is done by police….

EM: Muskegon Heights not a ‘failed experiment’

Source: Dani Carlson, Woodtv.com, May 12, 2014

After a breakup with its management company and an emergency loan from the state, the Muskegon Heights school district is looking for another company to run it. But after years of money troubles and splitting with Mosaica Education Inc., 24 Hour News 8 asked the emergency manager if it’s worth it for the district to remain open….

Related:
Emergency manager: Mosaica ‘wasn’t a gamble’
Source: Dani Carlson, Woodtv.com, April 28, 2014

The company hired two years ago to try to turn around the beleaguered Muskegon Heights school district has a history of running schools with poor academic performance and lawsuits in Michigan, Target 8 found. Muskegon Heights schools is cutting ties with Mosaica Education — the private for-profit company that signed on to run the fledgling charter district — three years before its contract is set to expire. They say the break-up was a joint decision. When Mosaica failed to pay its teachers on time in late March and the district had to ask for an advance from the state to cover payroll, Target 8 started digging into its past and uncovered a history of problems in Michigan school districts reaching back a decade….

Muskegon Heights ends contract with charter school company
Source: Lindsey Smith, Michigan Radio, April 26, 2014

Mosaica Education and Muskegon Heights Public School Academy have come to a mutual agreement to end their working relationship….Both Mosaica and the charter school district agree not to sue one another in the separation agreement. Mosaica will make significantly less money than originally outlined in the management agreement. It will receive $760,000 it fronted the district to make payroll this year. It will also get roughly $84,000 to pay five administrators who are paid directly by the company. Mosaica is waiving all of its management fees; basically it’s agreed to operate the district this year for free. An attorney for the emergency manager said Mosaica received partial payment for operating the schools last year; between $900,000 and $1.2 million….

Muskegon Heights to become K-12 charter school system under emergency manager’s plan
Source: Lynn Moore, mlive.com, May 25, 2012

In a groundbreaking move, the emergency manager for Muskegon Heights Public Schools is proposing to turn the entire school system into a charter school. Donald Weatherspoon said today he will submit a plan to state officials calling for the creation of a new K-12 charter system. The district’s debt, estimated at $12.4 million, will remain with the current public school district, giving the charter operator a fresh start, he said. No other K-12 charter school system operates in the state.. ..He said he and perhaps one other person would be the sole employees of Muskegon Heights Public Schools. Current staff can apply to work for the new charter system, he said….

The $19 Million ATM Fee: How Better Banking Services Would Protect Our Public Investment in Families

Source: Andrea Luquetta, California Reinvestment Coalition, March 2014

From the press release:
California: A new report released today by the California Reinvestment Coalition reveals that in 2012, over $19 million of state funds meant for family household needs through public assistance programs went instead to ATM fees charged to access the aid provided. The report calls on banks, the State of California, local counties, and nonprofit partners to work together to reduce the amount of money being lost to ATM fees through the CalWORKs program, which serves families with children and accounts for about 85% of the ATM fees.

Related:
Study: Welfare recipients spend millions on ATM fees
Source: Michael Finney, KGO-TV, March 25, 2014

Big banks’ ATM fees rip off $19 million from welfare recipients
Source: gloriasb, DailyKos, March 25, 2014

Big banks lifted more than $19 million out of the wallets of poor people in California in 2012, by charging them unnecessarily high fees for withdrawing cash from their EBT [Electronic Benefit Transfer] cards….

….There’s also a lesser known, behind-the-scenes ripoff that the report doesn’t delve into: When someone swipes an ATM card—whether it’s a bank card or an EBT card–the machine reads the information on the magnetic strip and knows which bank is the source of the money. If it’s a card from a different bank, Bank A charges Bank B a nominal fee for the money transfer and the cost of communicating. Usually, the charge is 25 cents or so. [This interbank fee is not seen by the customer, and is not part of the visible ATM fee.]

But here’s the twist: In California, all of the CalWORKS money is held by Bank of America. So, if someone goes to a Bank of America ATM to get cash from an EBT card, Bank of America doesn’t have to communicate with any other bank at all. Bank of America handles 12 percent of all EBT withdrawals in the state—making it the largest processor of EBT withdrawals. And yet, the bank is charging the state the interbank fee. Those 25-cent fees add up, too–or should I say subtract?–and it’s all pure profit for Bank of America….

California’s Welfare Families Paid Banks Millions In Fees For Public Assistance
Source: Janell Ross, Huffington Post Business, November 21, 2011

…Across much of the nation, administering relief programs such as unemployment benefits and emergency rental assistance has become an increasingly substantial profit center for banks and other financial services firms, according to analysts. Like California, many states have contracted with private companies to distribute these funds. While the contracts have saved states millions of dollars in costs previously incurred for printing and mailing out checks, the agreements often give companies the ability to extract fees from recipients — some of the nation’s most vulnerable families….California’s agreement with Affiliated Computer Services, a Dallas-based division of Xerox, to distribute cash welfare assistance, aid for international refugees, utility grants and other emergency support cost the state’s poor nearly $17.4 million in surcharges and fees last year, according to California Department of Social Services data. The spoils went to ACS and many of the nation’s largest banks.

Multinational company to run Maine virtual school

Source: Associated Press, March 16, 2014

With the approval of a virtual charter school, some Maine educators worry the state will be outsourcing education to a multinational corporation. But supporters argue that large private companies can create better and less expensive virtual schools because costs are spread out over a large number of users. Starting next fall, the Maine Connections Academy will get its curriculum, online platform and some of its teachers from an American subsidiary of London-based Pearson LLC.

Related:
Multinational giant set to run first virtual school in Maine
Source: Tom Bell, Portland Press Herald, March 16, 2014

Some educators worry about outsourcing control, but supporters say a global company can reduce costs by serving so many users…. The company that would become Connections Education began in 2001 as a spinoff business unit of a company called Sylvan Ventures, which saw potential in new online technology and the growing interest among parents for charter schools and homeschooling, Ochs said. In 2004, that unit was sold to an investor group led by Apollo Management L.P., which in early 2011 created a new corporate entity called Connections Education to focus solely on online learning. In the fall of 2011, Pearson acquired the company, paying $400 million in cash. Connections Education at the time had been posting consistent 30 percent year-over-year revenue growth and annual revenues approaching $190 million….

Special Report: The profit motive behind virtual schools in Maine
Source: Colin Woodard pressherald.com, September 3, 2012

Documents expose the flow of money and influence from corporations that stand to profit from state leaders’ efforts to expand and deregulate digital education….. A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers. K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of education publishing giant Pearson, are both seeking to expand online offerings and to open full-time virtual charter schools in Maine, with taxpayers paying the tuition for the students who use the services….

Riders call for Nassau to chip in for NICE bus service

Source: News12, March 24, 2014

Bus riders and advocates are calling for Nassau County to contribute more to the county’s privatized NICE bus system to improve services. Before 2012, the county contributed $10 million per year to the MTA to run the public buses. Now, Nassau contributes $2.5 million to Veolia, the company that operates NICE.

Related:
Our Views: Privatized bus service found lacking
Source: The Island Now, January 23, 2014

One of the major improvements promised by Veolia, the private company that now operates Nassau Inter-County Express bus system, is that riders will be able to track the buses with the GPS on their smart phones. … That service will be implemented sometime in 2015. But it will mean little if an overcrowded bus passes them by or if the rider is forced to stand in a crowded bus on a regular basis. A survey taken by the French research firm Ipsos (there’s no Long Island firm that could have taken this survey?) shows that riders don’t think the service by NICE, the private operator that took over for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is, in fact, very nice. In one year the percentage of customers who said they were satisfied with the bus service dropped in 12 months, from 52 percent to 29 percent. …

Long Island Bus To Privatize
Source: Jim O’Grady, Transportation Nation, 11/11/2011

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano held a press conference in a Garden City bus garage to announce that Veolia Transportation, a private company, will assume operations of Long Island Bus from the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority on January 1….

…On that day, the bus service’s name will be changed to “NICE,” an acronym for Nassau Inter-County Express. The buses will also sport a new orangey look (see photo above).

Mangano says the move will reduce Nassau’s yearly subsidy to the service from $9 million, which it was paying to the NY MTA, to $2.26 million. He said Veolia would keep fares the same in 2012, which is not a savings for riders because the NY MTA wasn’t planning on raising them. If Veolia wanted to raise fares after that, Mangano said the company would need approval from a new 5-member Bus Transit Committee made up of Nassau County residents.

Veolia would keep the line’s 48 routes, at least to start. But Mangano said efficiency of service might mean “consolidating” routes in the future….Bowden said she expects privatization to thin the ranks of the 981-member workforce and that workers will face cuts in benefits.
Updated:
Bum’s rush to privatize Long Island Bus takes the ‘public’ out of transportation
Source: Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner, December 6, 2011
Privatizing of LI buses shows flaws in system
Source: Lisa Colagrossi, WABC, December 08, 2011
Nassau’s Private Bus Company to Cut Service
Source: Janet Babin, Transportation Nation, 03/02/2012

D.C. Seeks to Combine Lottery Contracts

Source: Associated Press, March 13, 2014

The District of Columbia’s chief financial officer has proposed combining the city’s two long-troubled lottery contracts, saying it would save the city money and ensure sufficient participation by local businesses in the lucrative deal. CFO Jeffrey DeWitt said in a letter to the D.C. Council on Wednesday that he’d like to solicit comprehensive bids for the city’s numbers-game and instant-ticket business when the numbers-game contract expires next year. The letter was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press. The city’s $38 million numbers-game contract is held by a joint venture between Greek gaming giant Intralot and local businessman Emmanuel Bailey. A federal grand jury has been investigating the circumstances surrounding that contract since 2012. Meanwhile, the city’s instant-ticket contract has expired, and its supply of tickets is dwindling. The D.C. Council rejected an instant-ticket proposal last year because it didn’t comply with a district law that requires 35 percent of major contracts to go to local businesses. …
Related:
DC lottery contract is the subject of a federal probe with numerous officials under scrutiny

Source: Associated Press, December 10, 2012

…Regardless of the outcome of the probe, the awarding of the lottery contract — which went to Greek gaming company Intralot in 2009 — illustrates systemic problems that open the door for elected officials to play politics with the contracting process and influence who wins…. The lottery probe has the potential to be the most sweeping of them all because of the number of people being investigated. The awarding of the contract was a bruising, years-long fight that left no one completely satisfied — including the winning bidders….

Alexander: I Took No Bribes on Lotto Contract
Source: Alan Suderman, Washington City Paper, December 10, 2012

More Weird Details on Lottery Contract
Source: Alan Suderman, Washington City Paper, December 7, 2012