Court Win For Students Over Predatory For-Profit Colleges

Source: David Halperin, Huffington Post, February 21, 2017

Minutes ago, United States District Judge Reggie Walton denied a motion filed by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the U.S. Department of Education from proceeding with the de-recognition of the organization. ACICS needs Department recognition in order for the colleges it accredits to be eligible for federal student grants and loans. Judge Walton said in open court that ACICS had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits of the case, particularly because then-Secretary of Education John King determined in December that ACICS was in substantial noncompliance with the rules governing accreditor performance. … There were rumblings before the hearing that the new Trump-Betsy Devos Department of Education might back down and somehow try to reverse Secretary King’s decision, as lobbyists for predatory for-profit colleges have been openly and aggressively urging. It’s not at all clear how the Department could simply dump King’s decision; from the regulations it appears that ACICS would have to start all over again and re-apply. For today, at least, the Department of Justice, which represented the Secretary of Education in case, diligently and skillfully opposed ACICS’s motion. … ACICS has been the accreditor for some 240 institutions exclusively or primarily, and most of those are for-profit colleges. $4.76 billion in taxpayer dollars went from the Department of Education to ACICS schools in 2015.But ACICS has been the asleep-at-the-switch accreditor of some of the most notorious bad actors in the for-profit college sector, including Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech, Kaplan, EDMC (the Art Institutes), Career Education Corporation (Sanford-Brown), Alta Colleges (Westwood), Globe, FastTrain, and Daymar. …

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Government Moves to Close a Watchdog of For-Profit Colleges
Source: Patricia Cohen, New York Times, September 22, 2016

The Education Department on Thursday moved to shut down the nation’s largest accreditor of for-profit colleges, which had stood watch as failing institutions like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute teetered on a pileup of fraud investigations. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools — known as A.C.I.C.S. — is one of a few dozen different organizations charged with maintaining standards and quality at the country’s more than 5,400 higher education institutions. … A letter from the Education Department said that A.C.I.C.S. was out of compliance with regulations in 21 areas. While it acknowledged some progress, the letter stated that the group’s “track record does not inspire confidence that it can address all of the problems effectively.” The council has said it plans to appeal the decision. “We believe that A.C.I.C.S. has demonstrated that the organization can come into compliance with the Department of Education’s regulations within one year as required under the department’s recognition criteria,” Roger J. Williams, the council’s chief executive, said in an email before the decision was issued. A.C.I.C.S. was responsible for approving roughly 240 institutions that received $4.7 billion in taxpayer money last year. … Although several agencies have been under pressure for slipshod oversight, A.C.I.C.S. has frequently been singled out for the scale of its deficiencies and its low standards. A Senate committee, several state attorneys general, federal agencies and others are scrutinizing its record. In June the national advisory panel on accreditors voted to strip A.C.I.C.S. of its authority after a staff report from the Education Department recommended its demise — a foretaste of Thursday’s decision. …

Government Set To Kill Controversial College Watchdog
Source: Molly Hensley-Clancy, Buzzfeed, June 23, 2016

An independent government panel voted overwhelmingly Thursday to recommend killing one of the largest college watchdogs in the U.S. for failing to act on evidence of wrongdoing at scores of colleges. The vote by the government-appointed National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, or NACIQI, virtually seals the fate of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS. Hundreds of mostly for-profit colleges across the U.S. — enrolling more than 400,000 students — will be left scrambling to find a new accreditor if the Department of Education signs off on the committee’s recommendations to revoke ACICS’ recognition. … During a tense hearing that stretched on for hours, NACIQI heard testimony that ACICS had time and time again given its stamp of approval to schools facing serious allegations of fraud and wrongdoing. The accreditor, whose schools collect billions of dollars in federal taxpayer money, has some of the lowest standards of any independent watchdog agency. Panel members grilled ACICS officials on their accreditation of Northwestern Polytechnic University, which BuzzFeed News reported last month had functioned for years as an upmarket visa mill, faking foreign students’ grades so that they could remain in the country and spending millions of dollars on private homes for the school’s executives. … At the hearing, ACICS argued fervently that its license should not be revoked, saying it had made significant strides towards change and should be given another chance given its size and the potentially serious repercussions of revoking its ability to accredit schools. …

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Toward the Efficient Impact Frontier

Source: Michael McCreless, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2017

For many years, the field of impact investing played host to great debates that involved seemingly irreconcilable positions: Was it possible to achieve both market-rate financial returns and meaningful social impact? Could philanthropic funding coexist effectively with commercial investment? Now, as the field reaches a new stage of maturity, leading social finance organizations are developing models that bring greater sophistication to the work of evaluating investment options. These models, like the investors that create them, vary widely. But they reflect a shared commitment to moving beyond simple either-or choices—and to moving from broad questions to specific solutions. At Root Capital, leaders are using ideas from mainstream financial analysis to calibrate the role that subsidies play in their investing practice.

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Across the Returns Continuum
Source: Matt Bannick, Paula Goldman, Michael Kubzansky, & Yasemin Saltuk, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2017

For many years, the field of impact investing played host to great debates that involved seemingly irreconcilable positions: Was it possible to achieve both market-rate financial returns and meaningful social impact? Could philanthropic funding coexist effectively with commercial investment? Now, as the field reaches a new stage of maturity, leading social finance organizations are developing models that bring greater sophistication to the work of evaluating investment options. These models, like the investors that create them, vary widely. But they reflect a shared commitment to moving beyond simple either-or choices—and to moving from broad questions to specific solutions. Omidyar Network has built a framework for pursuing investment opportunities that takes into account not only firm-level impact but also market-level impact.

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Del Paso Heights adult charter school under investigation for allegedly overcharging state

Source: Diana Lambert, Sacramento Bee, February 18, 2017

Highlands Community Charter School is under investigation for allegedly enrolling adult students in primary grades, double-charging the state and claiming a full year of funding for students who attended for a shorter period of time. The Sacramento County Office of Education began investigating the Del Paso Heights school after the California Department of Education raised red flags about Highlands’ reimbursement practices. The adult charter school serves about 1,500 students from a variety of backgrounds, according to Executive Director Murdock Smith. Highlands offers high school completion, English classes, citizenship courses and vocational training. The school opened in 2014 to initially focus on ex-offenders. The county’s investigation became public after Sacramento County schools chief David Gordon distributed a memo to local school districts recommending the audit. … The county office is responsible for providing oversight of school finances and took action after the state Department of Education inquired about potential improprieties. State officials questioned why Highlands only had students enrolled in grades not subject to standardized testing, according to the memo. …

McComb Mayor Won’t Try to Privatize Public Works

Source: Associated Press, February 20, 2017

Pike County’s largest city won’t try to privatize its public works department. McComb Mayor Whitney Rawlings tells the Enterprise-Journal that he felt department heads weren’t ready to take the move. … An Alabama company, ClearWater solutions, pitched the idea to the city in January. The company runs public works departments and government utilities in several southern states. Some McComb officials said they were worried about whether employees would see cuts to retirement and other benefits if they became employees of ClearWater. …

Teachers At A D.C. Charter School Want To Try Something New: Unionizing

Source: Martin Austermuhle, WAMU, February 22, 2017
 
Advocates for public charter schools often argue they’re a better alternative to traditional public schools because charters aren’t weighed down by a central administration, school boards and a unionized workforce. But teachers at one D.C. charter school are now looking to do something that’s commonplace among their colleagues in D.C. Public Schools: form a union.  Teachers at Paul Public Charter School in the Brightwood neighborhood of Northwest D.C. have submitted a petition to the school’s management asking that they be permitted to create a union, the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff. It would be associated with the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers and staff at 229 charter schools in 15 states. If they succeed, it would become the first union in D.C.’s charter sector, which educates close to half of the city’s 90,000 students. Paul converted from a traditional public school to a charter school in 1999. … But any move towards unionization could face a number of challenges, both political and philosophical. Though charter schools are publicly funded, they are exempt from the D.C. law requiring the government to enter collective bargaining agreements with public employees. An organizing effort in 2012 by the Washington Teachers’ Union — which represents teachers in DCPS — fizzled due to legal and political obstacles. A decision last year from the National Labor Relations Board means the teachers’ attempt to unionize will come under the federal law that applies to private sector workers. That gives the school’s management two choices: willingly recognize the teachers’ request for a union, or call an election in which staff would have to vote on whether to unionize. …

Private Prison Group Rejects Push for Independent Audits

Source: The Associated Press, February 17, 2017

The largest U.S. private prison operator has rejected a shareholder resolution seeking independent audits of its detention facilities. The Human Rights Defense Center criticized CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, for the rejection. Center associate director, Alex Friedmann, filed the resolution. He owns just enough CoreCivic stock to attend shareholder meetings and file resolutions. Audits would’ve tracked categories in an August 2016 Justice Department inspector general report, including violence rates and use of force, disciplinary and grievance systems, contraband, lockdowns and positive drug tests. The resolution mentions that in the report, CoreCivic exceeded other private prison groups on prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, sexual assaults on staff, fights, suicide attempts and self-mutilation. In response, Nashville-based CoreCivic noted the audits currently conducted. CoreCivic says the resolution overlooks positive statistics and omits contract prisons serve a different population, often non-U.S. citizens.

Proposed bill could merge colleges and universities

Source: Natalie Pate, Statesman Journal, February 18, 2017

… Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, wants a stronger connection between community colleges and universities to improve student performance. Senate Bill 8 would allow community colleges and public universities to merge into one institution. … Courtney said the bill would provide more options for students at a lower cost. … Should the bill pass, community colleges and public universities interested in merging would submit a proposal to Higher Education Coordinating Commission for approval. If the commission approves the merger, the commission would submit a report on the merger to the Legislature. The institutions submitting a proposal for the merger would have to explain how the combined institution would address things such as financial and legal procedures, the transfer of employees, combining a budget, and what academic programs would be offered. … Similar mergers have happened across the country, such as the merger between Georgia State University, one of the state’s four research institutions, and Georgia Perimeter College, a two-year institution. However, Cannon said, to his knowledge, this would be unprecedented in Oregon. …

A new study suggests that school vouchers could actually hurt organized religion

Source: Matthew Rosza, Salon, February 15, 2017

Although school vouchers may be a boondoggle to churches, a new study from The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that “they offer financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities.” The National Bureau of Economic Research found that more than 80 percent of private school students in the 2011/2012 school year attended a religiously-affiliated school, with Catholicism being the most common religious affiliation. The authors studied 71 Catholic parishes in Milwaukee from 1999 to 2013. … Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on whether one believes that religious institutions should focus on religion or on making money by supplanting public schools. … “Our numbers suggest that, within our sample alone, the Milwaukee voucher program has led over time to a decline in non-educational church revenue of $60 million. These large effects are driven by the large size of the voucher program itself,” the authors wrote. …

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More Graduates, Less Criminals? The Economic Impacts of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
Source: Will Flanders and Corey A. DeAngelis, University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform Working Paper, February 3, 2017

Abstract:
Although an abundance of research indicates that private schooling can benefit individual children through higher test scores, the effects on society are less clear. We monetize and forecast the social impacts of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) in the United States. We use existing literature on the impacts of the MPCP on criminal activity and graduation rates. Between 2016 and 2035, students who use a voucher in the MPCP will generate additional economic benefits of $473 million associated with higher graduation rates, and $26 million associated with fewer felonies and misdemeanors, relative to their traditional public school peers.

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The School Choice Voucher: A ‘Get Out of Jail’ Card?
Source: Corey DeAngelis & Patrick Wolf, University of Arkansas – Department of Education Reform, March 8, 2016

Abstract:     
In this report we examine crime rates for young adults who experienced Milwaukee’s citywide voucher program as high school students and a comparable group of their peers who had been public school students. Using unique data collected as part of a longitudinal evaluation of the program, we consider criminal activity by youth initially exposed to voucher schools and those in public schools at the same time. We also consider subsequent criminal activity by the students that stayed in the voucher program through 12th grade compared to those who were in public schools for the same period. We show that the mere exposure to private schooling through a voucher is associated with lower rates of criminal activity but the relationship is not robust to different analytic samples or measures of crime. We find a more consistent statistically significant negative relationship between students that stayed in the voucher program through 12th grade and criminal activity (meaning persistent voucher students commit fewer crimes). These results are apparent when controlling for a robust set of student demographics, test scores, and parental characteristics. We conclude that merely being exposed to private schooling for a short time through a voucher program may not have a significant impact on criminal activity, though persistently attending a private school through a voucher program can decrease subsequent criminal activity, especially for males.

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“For-Profit President”: A Look at How Trump Is Pushing Wholesale Corporate Takeover of the Government

Source: Democracy Now, February 20, 2017

There has been a wholesale corporate takeover of the government. That’s the conclusion of a new report coming out today by the watchdog group Public Citizen. The report looks at how corporate America has benefited from Trump’s first month in office. Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon, is now secretary of state. Goldman Sachs alum now serve several top posts: Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary, Stephen Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist and Gary Cohn as director of the United States National Economic Council. Trump has also signed executive orders to help undo the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and repeal rules requiring financial advisers to give advice based on their customers’ best interests.

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Democracy Now interview with Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

Video version of the Public Citizen report:

Contractor pays OSHA fine for Liberty Bridge fire without appeal

Source: Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 4, 2017

Joseph B. Fay Co. of West Deer, the contractor refurbishing the Liberty Bridge, has paid a federal fine for safety violations that led to September’s construction fire that closed the bridge for more than three weeks. Christopher Robinson, director of the Pittsburgh office of the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, said Thursday that Fay paid the $11,224 fine after a meeting with the agency. … The firm could have appealed the fine, which was issued for what the agency called a “serious” mistake of not properly protecting flammable material during a steel-cutting operation. As part of the $80 million project, an employee was cutting steel on the deck of the bridge Sept. 2 when hot slag fell onto a work platform below, igniting plastic ventilation pipe that was stored there. The fire burned so hot that it buckled a 30-foot support chord in a key area. As a result of concern the structure could collapse, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation closed the bridge for 24 days for emergency repairs. … Fay is paying directly for the cost of the permanent repair. The estimated $500,000 cost of the emergency repair, which involved consultants from 16 different universities and companies across the country, will be deducted from Fay’s final payment as part of liquidated damages for the fire and bridge closure. The company has challenged PennDOT’s additional assessment of $3,033,200 in liquidated damages for the time the bridge and a ramp to it were closed. Mr. Cessna said there has been no resolution yet. …