PERS task force recommends privatizing state universities

Source: AP and KTVZ.COM, November 1, 2017

A task force has recommended how to shrink the state’s pension-fund deficit by $5 billion, and two of the suggestions – including privatizing the state’s public universities – got a cold reception from Gov. Kate Brown. Brown thanked the seven members of her task force for their research and commitment to identify ways for Oregon to keep its promise to retirees. She had convened the task force to identify opportunities to pay up to a quarter of the Public Employee Retirement System, or PERS, unfunded liability. That deficit has ballooned to at least $25.3 billion. … Governor Brown has also expressed to staff serious concerns about the task force’s proposals to privatize public universities and sell SAIF.

Education Dept. could scale back help on loans

Source: Maria Danilova, Associated Press, October 30, 2017
 
The Education Department is considering only partially forgiving federal loans for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, according to department officials, abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of erasing that debt.  Under President Barack Obama, tens of thousands of students deceived by now-defunct for-profit schools had over $550 million in such loans canceled.  But President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is working on a plan that could grant such students just partial relief, according to department officials. The department may look at the average earnings of students in similar programs and schools to determine how much debt to wipe away. …

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States Sue Over Scrapping of Obama-Era Rules on For-Profit Colleges
Source: Douglas Belkin, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 17, 2017

A coalition of Democratic attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Education Department and Secretary Betsy DeVos for not enforcing an Obama-era rule intended to protect students and taxpayers from predatory for-profit schools. In June, Mrs. DeVos suspended the so-called “gainful employment” rules before they took effect. If enacted they would have cut off federal funding for schools where students leave with high debt and end up in jobs with low salaries. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., calls Mrs. DeVos’s suspension of those rules “unlawful” and accuses her of trying to “run out the clock” through a series of delays until she can implement new regulation…..

Trump and DeVos fuel a for-profit college comeback
Source: Michael Stratford, Politico, August 31, 2017
 
For-profit colleges are winning their battle to dismantle Obama-era restrictions as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolls back regulations, grants reprieves to schools at risk of losing their federal funding and stocks her agency with industry insiders.  More than seven months into the Trump administration, DeVos has: Moved to gut two major Obama-era regulations reviled by the industry that would have cut off funding to low-performing programs and made it easier for defrauded students to wipe out their loans; Appointed a former for-profit college official, Julian Schmoke Jr., to lead the team charged with policing fraud in higher education — one of a slew of industry insiders installed in key positions. …. Stopped approving new student-fraud claims brought against for-profit schools. The Education Department has a backlog of more than 65,000 applications from students seeking to have their loans forgiven on the grounds they were defrauded, some of which date to the previous administration. …

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County services for disabled moving to private providers

Source: Rita Price, Columbus Dispatch, October 30, 2017
 
Federal rule changes about case management and Medicaid payments are forcing county disabilities boards throughout the state to privatize and outsource many of their remaining programs. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has mandated “conflict-free case management” by 2024 in Ohio, which means counties cannot be both the coordinator and the provider of services paid with Medicaid waiver funds.  But county boards still must pay for services and put up the local share of the Medicaid match — in Franklin County, more than $60 million a year for adult waiver services. Medicaid waivers provide money for community-based services so that people don’t have to be in an institution to get the care and programs they need. … Some 300 members of the county’s adult-services staff are to become ARC Industries employees in January 2019. … ARC is the disabilities program that provides job training, workshop employment, transportation and other services. Although ARC already was a nonprofit employer for people with disabilities, the workshops and programs have been staffed by county employees. Early childhood and school programs can continue to be operated by the board because they’re not funded through Medicaid waivers. … Initially, Morison said, the board’s costs might increase as a new infrastructure is established. He expects it to even out in coming years. …

Florida proposal seeks to clear the way for public funding of private schools

Source: Jeffrey Solocheck, Tampa Bay Times, November 1, 2017
 
The chairwoman of the State Board of Education, charged with supervising Florida’s system of free public education, has proposed amending the state Constitution to permit funding of some private schooling.  Marva Johnson, a Gov. Rick Scott appointee to the state board and the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, filed a proposal Tuesday to exempt education from the state’s constitutional ban on using public funds for religious organizations.  She further recommended that state money go to private schools, including religious ones, to support students whose individual learning needs are not “completely met and accommodated” at their zoned public schools. … The proposal is a long way from becoming reality. The commission would have to approve it, as would 60 percent of Florida voters.  But if the Constitution were amended as Johnson has proposed, it would set up a major shift, paving the way for state-funded school vouchers, something the Florida Supreme Court ruled a decade ago violate the Constitution. …

Florida lawmakers, officials call for reform of private schools that get state scholarships

Source: Beth Kassab, Leslie Postal and Annie Martin, Orlando Sentinel, October 25, 2017

Lawmakers, local elected officials and policy experts are calling for reform after an Orlando Sentinel investigation revealed that private schools take nearly $1 billion in state scholarships but have little oversight. The Sentinel series detailed how private schools can submit falsified fire inspections and hire teachers with criminal backgrounds — sometimes without Florida Department of Education officials noticing for years. Sen. David Simmons, a Republican member of the education committee, said he is considering legislation to enact reforms. …

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State revokes Melbourne private school’s scholarships
Source: Beth Kassab and Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel, October 24, 2017

A private school in Melbourne with ties to two other schools already sanctioned by the state will be revoked from Florida’s scholarship programs, the Florida Department of Education said Tuesday. Yakol Christian opened in August with fewer than 20 students, all of them on one of the state’s three scholarship programs that pay nearly $1 billion in private school tuition for children from low-income families or those with a wide range of disabilities. The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that the church that shares the same name and storefront space as the school has ties to a pastor who ran two earlier schools and was charged earlier this year with lewd or lascivious molestation after a 15-year-old student said he improperly touched her. Samuel Vidal, 41, denies the allegations through his attorney and no trial date has been set. …

After student alleges abuse, principal shutters one private school, opens another.
Source: Annie Martin, Leslie Postal and Beth Kassab, October 18, 2017

After Palm Bay Police began investigating principal Samuel Vidal Jr., who was accused last year of lifting the shirt of a 15-year-old student and putting his mouth on her breast, Vidal shut down his private Christian school. But the police investigation didn’t stop Vidal, 41, from winning approval from the Florida Department of Education to open a new private school in Palm Bay and collect nearly $200,000 in state-backed scholarships. And even after Vidal was charged with felony lewd or lascivious molestation, prompting the state to pull scholarships from the second school, it approved yet another school this year with ties to Vidal. The case illustrates just how easy it can be for operators to open private schools with little scrutiny and to benefit from public scholarships in Florida, which runs one of the largest school choice programs in the country. …

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White House says it’s considering increasing the federal gas tax for infrastructure

Source: Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post, October 26, 2017
 
The White House is revisiting an increase in the federal gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements President Trump promised to deliver on the campaign trail.  That news was conveyed to House members Wednesday in a meeting by Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn. … After campaigning on a promise he would lure private capital to invest in infrastructure, Trump in late April said he would be open to bumping up the federal gas tax, which has not seen an increase since 1993.  Some Democrats, notable among them Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.), ranking Democrat of the House Transportation Committee, have fought an upstream battle to increase the tax. …

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White House eyes 7-cent gas tax hike for infrastructure plan
Source: Melanie Zanona, The Hill, October 25, 2017
 
The White House may back the first hike in the federal gasoline tax in decades in order to pay for President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure package.    Trump’s economic adviser Gary Cohn told moderate House lawmakers at a private meeting on Wednesday that they’ll get a chance to vote on a gas tax hike early next year as part of an infrastructure bill, according to two lawmakers who were present. The discussion over the fuel tax during the meeting was first reported by Politico Playbook.  “Cohn seemed receptive to it,” one meeting participant told The Hill.  Separately, an industry source tells The Hill that the White House intends to back a 7-cent gas tax increase to pay for U.S. roads, bridges, highways and other public works, though it’s unclear if the proposal would be included in initial infrastructure legislation or if the administration will push to have it added at the committee level. …

Rural America looks to Trump to help with crumbling infrastructure
Source: Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, October 16, 2017

Lawmakers and policy experts say the White House cannot forget rural America as it prepares to release the outlines of its infrastructure spending package. … The emphasis on partnerships worried proponents of rural infrastructure investment. Partnerships with private investors face tougher obstacles in rural areas, because it’s difficult for companies in places with smaller populations to generate the revenue needed to sustain the project. …

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Following NYC, Philadelphia Pulls Pension Stock in Private Prisons

Source: David Gambacorta, Governing, October 27, 2017
 
The Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement voted Thursday to withdraw its investments in the for-profit prison industry, which has been dogged for years by health and safety problems.  Francis Bielli, the board’s executive director, said the board voted 6-1 in favor of liquidating the $1.2 million worth of stock it held in three companies: the GEO Group, CoreCivic, and G4S. The funds will be routed to other investments over several months.  In August, the Inquirer and Daily News published a report on the perils of the for-profit prison industry, which has been paid billions by the federal government since 1997 to house more than 34,000 inmates every year.  A multi-year study by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that for-profit prisons had higher rates of violence and lockdowns, and provided poorer access to medical care, than government-run prisons. …

Student Loan Industry Clashes With 25 States Over Probes

Source: Erik Larson and Shahien Nasiripour, Bloomberg, October 24, 2017
 
The U.S. student loan industry is trying to dodge state investigations into allegedly abusive practices by claiming they’re preempted by federal law, a bipartisan group of attorneys general claimed.  At least two national industry groups asked the Department of Education this year to issue formal guidance barring probes by states, arguing they duplicate federal efforts and needlessly expand regulations, according to copies of the letters obtained by Bloomberg News.  Half the nation is balking. Twenty-five states including Texas, New York, Kansas and California on Tuesday urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reject the requests, arguing that state probes have been effective in returning tens of millions of dollars to borrowers in recent years. …

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Loans ‘Designed to Fail’: States Say Navient Preyed on Students
Source: Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, New York Times, April 9, 2017
 
In recent months, the student loan giant Navient, which was spun off from Sallie Mae in 2014 and retained nearly all of the company’s loan portfolio, has come under fire for aggressive and sloppy loan collection practices, which led to a set of government lawsuits filed in January. But those accusations have overshadowed broader claims, detailed in two state lawsuits filed by the attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, that Sallie Mae engaged in predatory lending, extending billions of dollars in private loans to students like Ms. Hardin that never should have been made in the first place. …

Navient Lawsuit Shatters GOP Privatization Myth
Source: David Dayen, The American Prospect, January 19, 2017

The Trump era is likely to usher in rapid privatization of public goods and services. … Behind these plans to sell off the public sector lies a philosophy that private enterprise can perform government roles more cheaply and efficiently. Perhaps nothing shatters this myth more than a lawsuit filed Wednesday against Navient, a company that administers payments on student loans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington state accuse Navient of “systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment,” using “shortcuts and deception” to rip off students. … Navient committed these alleged violations in part while fulfilling a federal contract for work that could indisputably have been performed by the public sector. … According to the complaint, Navient failed to correctly allocate borrower payments across multiple loans, sometimes ringing up late fees and defaults even when the borrower made the payment. The company steered borrowers into forbearance plans (a temporary break from payments) that increased interest due, rather than other repayment options. The CFPB estimates that $4 billion in unnecessary interest charges piled up on borrower accounts from 2010-2015 because of this. … The CFPB added that Navient gave student borrowers incorrect information for how to maintain eligibility for income-based repayment plans, which only take a sliver of a borrowers’ income every month. … But the Navient lawsuit doesn’t just reinforce why we need the CFPB. It shreds the argument for privatization, particularly of functions the government is perfectly capable of doing on its own. We could easily route student loan payments right to Uncle Sam. But instead, we push them through a predatory actor that needs to commit harm to make it worthwhile. …

Betsy DeVos’s Schedule Shows Focus on Religious and Nontraditional Schools

Source: Eric Lipton, New York Times, October 27, 2017
 
For years, Betsy DeVos traveled the country — and opened her checkbook — as she worked as a conservative advocate to promote the expansion of voucher programs that allow parents to use taxpayer funds to send their children to private and religious schools.  A detailed look at the first six months of Ms. DeVos’s tenure as the secretary of education — based on a 326-page calendar tracking her daily meetings — demonstrates that she continues to focus on those programs as well as on charter schools.  Her calendar is sprinkled with meetings with religious leaders, leading national advocates of vouchers and charter schools, and players involved in challenging state laws that limit the distribution of government funds to support religious or alternative schools. …

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DeVos prioritizes grants for school choice programs. But it won’t help all students.
Source: Elham Khatami, ThinkProgress, October 12, 2017

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled a document Thursday outlining her policy priorities, and while it comes as no surprise that she intends to steer more grant funding to school choice programs, it’s unlikely that the programs will be effective. School choice, or programs that provide alternatives to traditional public schools, has been at the center of DeVos’ national education policy since she was appointed to the Trump administration. Indeed, President Trump’s proposed 2017-2018 budget from earlier this year calls for $1.4 billion to support investments in school choice, including an additional $167 million for the Charter Schools Program and $250 million for a school voucher proposal geared toward private schools — all while proposing $9.2 billion in cuts from other federal education programs. …

Betsy DeVos’ 6-month report card: More undoing than doing
Source: Associated Press, August 10, 2017
 
Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, the news cycle has been dominated by stories of White House controversy: a travel ban, North Korea, health care and more.  Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been busy fulfilling her conservative agenda that seeks to broaden school choice and market-based schooling in pre-K through higher education.  As a researcher of education policy and politics, I’ve been following Secretary DeVos’ first six months in office. Here’s a quick look at what’s she’s done – and what’s been left in limbo. …

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Private Prisons Boost Lobbying as Federal Detention Needs Grow

Source: Dean DeChlaro, Roll Call, October 25, 2017
 
One of the country’s largest private prison companies is spending record amounts on lobbying amid efforts by the Trump administration to detain more undocumented immigrants, federal records show.  The GEO Group, which has contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Prisons and the Marshals Service, has spent nearly $1.3 million on lobbying from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, according to new lobbying records filed with Congress. That tops $1 million spent last year. The firm spent at least $400,000 on seven lobbying firms in the third quarter alone, the disclosures show.   GEO’s increased spending comes as ICE is seeking proposals for five new immigrant detention facilities and the Homeland Security Department is asking Congress to fund more than 51,000 beds, up from the current 34,000. ICE is the Florida-based prison company’s biggest customer, according to its 2016 annual report. …

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Immigrants Are Dying in U.S. Detention Centers. And It Could Get Worse.
Source: Brendan O’Boyle, Americas Quarterly, July 17, 2017

… Trump’s policies are already increasing the number of people held in detention centers, further straining the system. … The administration has signaled its commitment to private prison companies, which also operate immigrant detention centers. This alarms detainee advocates, since five out of the seven detainees who died this year were being held by privately operated providers, and multiple investigations have found privately operated prisons to be more dangerous for inmates. … As it pushes for more detentions, the Trump administration also reportedly has plans to weaken protections for immigrant detainees. …

Immigrant Deaths in Private Prisons Explode Under Trump
Source: Justin Glawe, Daily Beast, May 30, 2017

Men and women held by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are on pace to die at double the rate of those who died in ICE custody last year, a Daily Beast review of ICE records found. And most will die in privately run facilities. Eight people have died in ICE custody in the 2017 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2016. That’s almost as many as the 10 who died in the entire 2016 fiscal year. All but one of the deaths this year, and all but two last year, occurred in privately run prisons. Nine of the 18 deaths occurred at facilities run by GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison company. …

The problem with privatizing prisons
Source: Farah Mohammed, Daily JStor, May 15, 2017

… The theory behind private prisons has translated poorly into practice, however, and has been strongly criticized. Studies showed there were minimal savings compared to using public prisons. A scandal involving the murder of an Oklahoma couple by escaped inmates was linked to lax security at their private facility. Another private Ohio prison saw thirteen stabbings, two murders, and six escapes in its initial 14 months.  In 2011, a Court Judge was convicted in a “cash for kids jail scheme,” in which private prisons had paid him to dole out harsh sentences in order to maintain their prison population. … Under Trump, inmate numbers are expected to increase substantially, following a crackdown on illegal immigration and a new insistence on mandatory minimums (where repeat offenders of even non-violent crimes must serve sentences of years). …

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