Category Archives: Education

Puerto Rico’s High Court Clears Way for Vouchers, Charter Schools

Source: Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week, August 10, 2018

Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court has dismissed a legal challenge to the U.S. territory’s plans to allow charter schools and vouchers, spelling a potential end to one of the biggest controversies about the island’s education system since two major hurricanes hit the island last year. Earlier this year, the island’s government approved a plan to create “alianza” schools, which are intended to be like charter schools, as well as a “free school” selection program similar to vouchers. …

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Puerto Rico’s Teachers Battle for the Schools Their Students Deserve
Source: Jesse Hagopian, The Progressive, May 9, 2018
 
On May Day, thousands of Puerto Rican teachers, parents, and students launched strikes and boycotts to push back against austerity measures that would close nearly 300 schools, lay off 7,000 teachers, convert public schools into privatized charters, and cut public sector pensions. I spoke with Mercedes Martinez, President of Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, about the neoliberal attack on the schools and public sector, the worker strikes and boycotts of May Day, and the brutal response of the police. …

Puerto Rico Plans to Shutter 283 Schools
Source: AJ Vicens, Mother Jones, April 6, 2018
 
The Puerto Rico Department of Education announced late Thursday that it would close 283 public schools next school year, citing a decline in enrollment of nearly 39,000 students and the island’s ongoing budget crisis.  “Our children deserve the best education we are capable of giving them taking into account the fiscal reality of Puerto Rico,” Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said in a statement issued in Spanish Thursday evening. “Therefore we are working hard to develop a budget that will allow us to focus resources on student needs and improve the quality of teaching.” In early February, Keleher and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló introduced a sweeping education reform plan that called for closing several hundred schools over the next several years and introducing charter schools to the island. The governor estimates the plan will help save $466 million per year by 2022, according to figures in his most recent fiscal plan meant to address the island’s staggering $120 billion in outstanding debts and obligations. Those figures do not take into account the estimated $95 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Maria. …

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The State Lawsuit That Could Set a Precedent for Nationwide Student-Loan Refunds

Source: Natalia Abrams and Senya Merchant, The Nation, August 9, 2018
 
Lawsuits against one of the largest servicers of federal student loans, Navient, have garnered headlines in recent weeks. Following the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s groundbreaking lawsuit against the company in 2017, four additional states have followed suit, including California, in an effort to enforce state consumer laws and protect student-loan borrowers from unscrupulous business practices. Navient, a publicly traded company hired by the Department of Education to service over $100 billion in federal student loans, is the most criticized company in consumer finance. Now, one of the most consumer-friendly states in America is taking the company to court. Should California Attorney General Xavier Becerra prove successful, attorneys general around the country willing to take a stand against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her efforts to decimate state-level student-loan protections would be able to use this as a model to check abusive student-loan companies. …

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Have a student loan? There are some lawsuits you need to watch
Source: Michelle Singletary, Winston Salem Journal, July 8, 2018

If you have a student loan, there are some lawsuits you need to watch. Navient, the country’s largest servicer of student loans, is facing several lawsuits by state attorneys general accusing the company of, among other things, steering borrowers to payment options that cost them more money. Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit against Navient and two of its subsidiaries, Pioneer and General Revenue Corp., alleging misconduct that included misrepresenting the order in which the company would apply extra loan payments and failing to properly discharge federal student debt for borrowers with a total and permanent disability. …

Former Rep. Kline Continues Shilling for For-Profit Education
Source: David Halperin, Republic Report, June 20, 2018

Rep. John Kline (R-MN) defended and protected for-profit higher education businesses while chairing the House education committee, even after many companies in the industry were caught engaging in widespread predatory and deceptive practices. Now that he’s retired, Kline is cashing in, serving on the board of Education Corporation of America (ECA), which operates poorly-performing for-profit colleges, and, in a new op-ed in The Hill, arguing that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should drop a lawsuit charging giant student loan company Navient with deceiving and cheating borrowers across the country. …

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White Hat Management Leaves Ohio Charter Industry

Source: Mitch Felan, WKSU, August 8, 2018
 
White Hat Management, the once-prolific Ohio charter school operator and early advocate for school choice in the state, is leaving the charter school business. The company has been steadily losing contracts over the past few years in the competitive market. …

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When it comes to facing down Ohio’s well-heeled charter school lobbyists, will state lawmakers be leaders — or lapdogs?
Source: Brent Larkin, Northeast Ohio Media Group, July 24, 2015

…… In the past 17 years, Ohio’s two largest charter school management companies — David Brennan’s Akron-based White Hat Management and William Lager’s Columbus-based Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) — have funneled more than $6 million to Republican candidates and causes. In the last election cycle, ECOT alone gave more than $400,000. The payoff? About $1.76 billion in taxpayer money has flowed into charter schools run by Brennan and Lager since 1998.

Start the investigation of the state Department of Education
Source: Editorial Board, Beacon Journal, July 18, 2015

Let the formal investigation begin, preferably by David Yost, the state auditor, or an independent investigator tapped by the State Board of Education. The target? The Ohio Department of Education, its director of school choice admitting last week that he removed or ignored failing grades for online and dropout recovery charter schools as part of evaluating the performance of sponsors, those organizations that oversee the publicly funded yet privately run schools.

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ALEC Sets the Table for Gerrymandering, Union Busting, Protecting Fossil Fuels, and Privatizing Schools

Source: Mary Bottari, PR Watch, August 7, 2018
 
When the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) convenes its 45th annual meeting of legislators and corporate lobbyists at the swank Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel on August 8, it will serve up a veritable banquet of union-busting, gerrymandering, pro-fossil fuel, and school privatization proposals for lawmakers to take back home. … With citizens turning to the courts and ballot box in a growing number of states to clamp down on hyper-partisan “gerrymandering” schemes, ALEC members will instead be voting on a resolution to defend the right of politicians to keep hand-picking their voters. … ALEC’s latest union-busting bill, which would force unions to hold recertification elections every other year, has long been pushed by anti-union PR man Richard Berman and others. … Over the years, ALEC has worked hand-in-hand with the DeVos family’s group, American Federation for Children, to advance a “cash for kids” model of school privatization, including dozens of bills promoting school vouchers. For decades, ALEC billed vouchers as a civil rights ticket for low-income kids, but then ALEC’s “Education Savings Account Act” created a “universal” system that siphons off public education dollars to private school parents of any income level. Now ALEC is debating a new bill, the “Economic Development Zone ESA Act,” to require the state to pay the equivalent of public school aid toward any private school for students who live in majority low-income economic development zones. Given the cost of a private school education, the likely effect would be to subsidize the ability of middle- and upper-income families in economically distressed areas to pull their kids out of public school. …

Principals’ Union to Go After New Members in Charter Schools Post-Janus

Source: Arianna Prothero, Education Week, July 30, 2018
 
The national union for public school principals plans to launch a recruitment program for charter school leaders.  The initiative comes as unions are anticipating steep membership and funding losses as a result of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus v. AFSCME. The largely non-unionized charter sector could present ample—albeit rocky—territory for expansion for unions. … The American Federation of School Administrators voted last weekend on a resolution to create a charter school recruitment program at its convention in Washington. This is the first concrete move by a union of educators to focus on organizing charter school personnel post-Janus. Neither of the national teachers’ unions offered up such resolutions during their conventions earlier this month. …

Ruling unlikely to end Puerto Rico Oversight Board struggle with local government

Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, July 24, 2018 (Subscription Required)

Puerto Rico bankruptcy judge Laura Taylor Swain’s anticipated ruling on the relative powers of the Oversight Board and the local government is unlikely to end the battle for authority over the debt-burdened U.S. territory. Swain will hear oral arguments Wednesday on an adversary complaint filed earlier this month in the Title II bankruptcy case by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, in which he argued the local government can’t be forced to follow parts of the board’s fiscal plan that deal with policy. Governance issues are likely to remain whatever her ruling, observers said. … Other Puerto Rico government sectors have followed the government in filing adversary complaints challenging the board’s power. On July 9 Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Puerto Rico House President Carlos Méndez Núñez filed a complaint similar to the governor’s. On Tuesday the biggest minority party in Puerto Rico, the Popular Democratic Party, said it planned to submit an adversary complaint on different grounds on the same day. …

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Puerto Rico governor names new utility head after board members quit
Source: Reuters, July 18, 2018
 
Puerto Rico’s governor on Wednesday named a new executive director of the bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), following the resignation of its former head and four of the utility’s seven-member board last week.  Jose Ortiz will replace Rafael Diaz-Granados, who quit a day after being named executive director, leaving the utility with no leadership amid a massive restructuring effort following devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria last September.  Diaz-Granados and the four other board members resigned after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello blasted them for agreeing to pay Diaz-Granados an annual salary of $750,000. The PREPA board unanimously elected Ortiz, an engineer, to the post on Wednesday, Rosello’s office said in a tweet. Ortiz, the fifth PREPA executive director named since the hurricane devastated the island and its electric grid last September, is due to take office on July 23. …

Puerto Rico Bondholders Win Ruling Against U.S.
Source: Andrew Scurria, Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2018
 
A federal judge has refused to absolve the U.S. government of liability for investors’ losses on Puerto Rico bonds, a potential blow to efforts to write down the U.S. territory’s $73 billion debt load.  The ruling issued Friday by Judge Susan G. Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is an incremental victory for hedge funds fighting to get repaid on the $3 billion in Puerto Rico pension bonds These creditors have targeted the U.S. directly, saying the federal government should make them whole for enacting a 2016 law that set them up for losses.  The lawsuit strikes at the heart of the rescue law, known as Promesa, designed to tackle the U.S. territory’s fiscal crisis. Promesa was designed to avoid a taxpayer bailout of Puerto Rico, creating a court-supervised process for wringing debt reductions from creditors instead. …

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Union rep: Keep food workers, hire private manager

Source: Lloyd Jones, Conway Daily Sun, July 17, 2018
 
Would the Conway School Board consider hiring a private manager for the food service program and retaining its 12 employees rather than going entirely the private route?  That’s the alternative AFSCME Council 93 Regional Coordinator Steve Lyons is proposing in order to save the jobs of his union members.  The board voted not to renew the 12 employees’ contracts and to authorize School Superintendent Kevin Richard to enter into negotiations with Cafe Service’s Fresh Picks, a Manchester-based food service provider, at its July 9 meeting. … Lyons told the district that once it goes down the path of privatization it probably cannot turn back.   “I think you are making a bad decision,” he said. “Getting out of it, you’re getting out of it for good. The companies will come in and replace your equipment. They’ll make it so it’s economically unhealthy for you to (switch back).” …

Consultant: District Wasting $1M Annually on Inefficient School Bus Routes

Source: July 10, 2018, School Bus Fleet

LAKEWOOD, N.J. — A school district here is wasting over $1 million a year, a transportation consultant has found, on inefficient school bus routes that it outsourced to private companies, while some of its own buses go unused, Asbury Park Press reports. The consultant, Ross Haber of Ross Haber Associates, was hired earlier this year to pinpoint potential cost savings in the public school transportation program, according to the newspaper. Lakewood Public School District spent about $9 million on public school transportation over the past school year. The report comes after the district took a $28 million loan from the state to settle a budget deficit for the upcoming school year, Asbury Park Press reports. … Haber’s preliminary findings are posted on the school district’s website and he shared an update on Thursday at a public meeting that was attended by school officials and dozens of district bus drivers and aides, Asbury Park Press reports. The report finds that inefficiencies include too many bus stops, empty seats on buses, and buses being contracted while some of the district’s own buses sit idle. …

Trump Administration Backs Off Reshuffling of Student Debt Collection

Source: Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, July 9, 2018

The Department of Education planned this month to begin reshaping the role of private debt collection firms in handling student loans by pulling defaulted borrower accounts from a handful of large private contractors. Lawmakers who control the department’s budget had other ideas. After a recent Senate spending package warned the department against dropping the debt collectors, the plan is on hold. And it’s not clear how those companies will figure into the Trump administration’s proposed overhaul of student loan servicing. Private loan servicers handle payments from borrowers on their student loans and provide information on payment plan options. … The tactics and performance of debt collectors have come under attack from Democrats and consumer advocates. And the Education Department has been involved in a years-long legal dispute over contract awards for the collectors. But the Trump administration, in a resolution of that legal fight, in May said it planned to cancel the entire debt collection solicitation. … Members of Congress, who have already expressed concerns about aspects of the department’s so-called NextGen loan servicing system, warned in separate appropriations bills against the move. … The week after Senate appropriators voted the bill out of committee, and just before it planned to start reassigning borrower accounts, the department notified collections firms it was postponing that step. …

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Editorial: The Student Loan Industry Finds Friends in Washington
Source: Editorial Board, New York Times, March 18, 2018
 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made clear even before taking office last year that she was more interested in protecting the companies that are paid by the government to collect federal student loan payments than in helping borrowers who have been driven into financial ruin by those same companies. Ms. DeVos’ eagerness to shill for those corporate interests is apparent in a craven new policy statement from the Education Department. The document claims that the federal government can pre-empt state laws that rein in student loan servicing companies if such a law “undermines uniform administration of’’ the student loan program. …

Banks Look to Break Government’s Hold on Student-Loan Market
Source: Josh Mitchell and AnnaMaria Andriotis, Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2018
 
Private lenders are pushing to break up the government’s near monopoly in the $100 billion-a-year student-loan market. The banking industry’s main lobbying group, the Consumer Bankers Association, is pressing for the government to instate caps on how much individual graduate students and parents of undergraduates can borrow from the government to cover tuition. That would force many families to turn to private lenders to cover portions of their bills. While that could mean lower interest rates for some, it could constrain funding to households with blemished credit histories. A group of investors also is lobbying for legislation to provide a clearer legal framework for “income-share agreements,” under which private investors provide money upfront to cover tuition in exchange for a portion of a student’s income after school. …

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Stanley County won’t outsource school food service

Source: Dave Askins, Capital Journal, July 10, 2018

Meals served to Stanley County School students and staff will continue to be prepared by district staff. At its regular meeting on Monday, the school board declined to accept a proposal to hire Thrive Nutrition to handle food services in the district. … At June’s special meeting, board members had questions about staff, their compensation and cost savings. … Asked by board members about out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance, Headlee said there is some cost to employees. Veteran SC teacher Shirley Swanson, who routinely attends board meetings, said at June’s meeting that health insurance is currently paid in full for the employee. … Thrive Nutrition’s 401K match, Headlee said, is discretionary, not guaranteed. … The cost savings a district can realize by outsourcing food service to Thrive Nutrition is based on the procurement by 30 facilities, which means more buying power. …