Tag Archives: Georgia

Opinion: An Error Message for the Poor

Source: David A. Super, New York Times, January 3, 2014

More than two million people have signed up for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, a tribute to the effectiveness of the “tech surge” the Obama administration deployed to overcome the highly publicized problems with HealthCare.gov that emerged in October. The website’s initial rollout will long stand as a monument to how badly technology contracting can go wrong. But the remarkable recovery also demonstrates what a determined response to such bungling can achieve. Sadly, food stamp and Medicaid recipients can only look on in envy. Just as disaster-relief agencies keep track of hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, students of anti-poverty programs remember a litany of automation and contracting meltdowns — some of them prolonged, even epic. Florida, 1992-93. Michigan, 1998-99. Colorado, 1998-2002. Texas, 2006-7. Indiana, 2007-9. The Colorado Benefits Management System is particularly memorable: When first implemented, it reportedly refused food stamps to anyone who did not have a driver’s license from Guam. ….

…Properly supervised contractors can use technology to improve the delivery of government services. But attention, oversight and willingness to act decisively to remedy fiascoes seem to depend on the wealth and clout of those who are affected….

Why Is One of America’s Most Charter-Heavy School Districts in Suburban Georgia?

Source: Chris Kardish, Governing, December 18, 2013

Hall County, Ga., has quietly become full of charter schools. But its model isn’t what you’d think. … The process for becoming a charter school and getting authorization varies state by state. In Georgia, local boards of education can initiate charter applications, though they need the state board to sign off. A ballot measure passed last year also granted authority to a new commission to approve charter school applications that were rejected by local boards. Hall County’s charter expansion started about six years ago as an attempt to deal with dramatic demographic changes. A district that started the 2000s 80.75 percent white suddenly saw an influx of Spanish speakers (by 2010, the Hispanic population was 27 percent). Today, 61 percent of students qualify for free-or-reduced lunch, a standard measure of child poverty, and nearly 20 percent of its students are English-language learners. Looking to Charlotte and Houston for inspiration, the district launched World Language Academy, an elementary school that instructs all students in English, Spanish, and now Mandarin Chinese. …

Spotlight on Large Urban Counties: Leadership in Action

Source: Katie Bess, Maeghan Gilmore, Jen Horton, Yael Lazarus, Kathy Nothstine, Rob Pressly, Kathy Rowings, Emmanuelle St. Jean, National Association of Counties (NACo), December 2013

From the summary:
Spotlight on Large Urban Counties: Leadership in Action ​highlights noteworthy initiatives of 23 of America’s large urban counties. Covering such topics as economic development, health, justice, resilience, technology, and transportation and infrastructure, the case studies featured here showcase how county officials have seized opportunities to not only meet critical needs, but to strengthen local communities and improve the outlook for growth.

Viewing these examples collectively, several themes emerge:
– Multi-Sector Partnerships. Counties are partnering with public agencies at all levels of government and collaborating with the private sector more than ever. Miami-Dade County helped to arrange a public-private partnership to develop the $904 million Port of Miami Tunnel, expected to ease congestion downtown and promote growth in port activity. Los Angeles County agencies teamed with the local transportation authority and area businesses to address child sex trafficking and provide specialized treatment for hundreds of young victims.
– Investments to Drive Economic Growth. Counties are placing a premium on catalytic public investments that will offer economic and community benefits for years to come. Hennepin County (Minn.) brokered a public-private partnership to develop a major mixed-use transit hub that will spur investments and change the landscape of downtown Minneapolis. Shelby County (Tenn.) is working with local governments, industry leaders and a host of other stakeholders to develop a long-term regional plan to guide infrastructure development and economic growth.
– Streamlined Services for Dependent Populations. Counties are working to better serve dependent populations who frequently cycle through county jails and health care facilities at high costs to the public. King County (Wash.) created a set of strategies to serve people living with mental illness and substance abuse, aimed at reducing unnecessary involvement in justice and emergency medical systems. Travis County (Texas) partnered with a nonprofit to serve inmates with addictions, reducing likelihood of recidivism and promoting long-term recovery.
– Youth Engagement. Counties are investing in young people to train a skilled workforce and engage youth in the community. For example, Multnomah County (Ore.) established an internship program to provide low-income and disadvantaged youth with quality employment opportunities. Douglas County (Neb.) developed a collaborative public art project that engages young artists and juvenile offenders.

Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations

Source: In The Public Interest, December 2013

From the abstract:
Eager for quick cash, state and local governments across America have for decades handed over control of critical public services and assets to corporations that promise to handle them better, faster and cheaper. Unfortunately for taxpayers, not only has outsourcing these services failed to keep this promise, but too often it undermines transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition – the underpinnings of democracy itself. As state legislatures soon reconvene, policy makers likely will consider more outsourcing proposals. Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations serves as a cautionary tale for lawmakers and taxpayers alike.

Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations

Jeffco Schools: Unanimous vote uproots inBloom

Source: Vic Vela, Our Colorado News, November 8, 2013

For months, the Jeffco school board has heard concerns from parents regarding the plans to partner with an out-of-state entity for the purposes of storing student data. Now, after receiving an enormous amount of negative feedback from Jeffco parents, the board on Nov. 7 voted to pull the plug on inBloom, a company that has received resistance from other school districts nationwide. … The board voted unanimously to sever ties with inBloom, a $100 million company, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that provides data gathering technology to classroom dashboards. The district still hopes to create a “virtual classroom dashboard” — a system that would hold students’ academic records in a singular database, something that supporters say would better personalize instruction. But those plans no longer include inBloom. …

…The company’s data gathering capabilities has generated controversy nationwide, primarily having to do with privacy and security concerns on the part of critics. inBloom’s technology is capable of storing thousands of data points on students, including academic information like reading and math scores. But it can also hold personal data, such as a student’s health information or disciplinary records. Jeffco officials have long-said that the district would decide what information is provided to inBloom, and not the other way around. And the district has insisted that the dashboard — which will be provided by a separate software company called LoudCloud — will only collect pertinent academic information that is already being gathered through existing databases, such as grades, enrollment information and student demographics. With Jeffco serving ties with inBloom, it leaves only two states that are currently partnering with the company or that will be doing so in the near future — New York and Illinois. Prior to the school board’s decision, inBloom has seen other school districts in other states back away from their partnership plans….
Related:
Parents sue NY over student data-sharing system
Source: Associated Press, November 13, 2013

A group of New York City public school parents filed a lawsuit Wednesday to block state education officials from sharing student information with the data-storage firm inBloom. The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court in Albany, is based on the claim that disclosing identifiable student data without parental consent violates state privacy laws. … New York has signed up with Atlanta-based inBloom, which has received $100 million in grant money to create a system to store student data on servers accessed through the Internet. Parents in New York and elsewhere have raised privacy concerns about the company. …

Student education data collecting initiative inBloom puts sensitive information at risk
Source: Leonie Haimson, New York Daily News, March 14, 2013

The proposal to store complete sensitive personal information along with grades, test scores, health records and disciplinary records on a cloud comes from the officials who dreamt up ARIS supercomputer boondoggle….The most sensitive confidential data is being shared, including children’s names, emails, phone numbers, photos, which will be stored along with grades, test scores, health conditions, disabilities and detailed disciplinary records….
Related:
Gathering Student Information at Grade Schools Across America
Source: Occupy.com, April 24, 2013

…InBloom, a three-month-old database, is funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. built the infrastructure for the new electronic portal. The state spent $50 million in federal grants to partner with inBloom and finalized its agreement in October to share data with the fledgling company. … Other states that have already signed on to release student data to inBloom are Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Louisiana….

K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents
Source: Stephanie Simon, Reuters, March 3, 2013

An education technology conference this week in Austin, Texas, will clang with bells and whistles as startups eagerly show off their latest wares.

But the most influential new product may be the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school.

In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school – even homework completion.

Local education officials retain legal control over their students’ information. But federal law allows them to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services.

Reed Denies Charter School & Privatization Agenda

Source: Jonathan Shapiro, WABE, November 1, 2013

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed Friday indignantly batted back claims the political action committee he’s helping fund has a pro-charter school and privatization agenda…. The committee has raised more than $200,000 to help support eight school board candidates and five city council candidates. About half the funds are from local business leaders; the other half is from Reed, who says he wants to ensure influence on future school board decisions, like the hiring of a new superintendent. Labor and education leaders have criticized the fundraising group for trying to buy the election and accepting $6500 from Georgia Pacific, which is owned by the conservative activist Koch brothers. …

The Hidden War Against Gay Teens: Private Christian schools are exploiting local laws to raise money while expelling kids for the crime of being not straight

Source: Alex Morris, Rolling Stone, October 10, 2013

…Though there’s a Chili’s closer to their homes, they’ve requested to meet here because if authorities at their school learned they were gay, they would not just be punished, they would be expelled.

Many Christian schools in Georgia and across the nation have similar policies, sometimes explicitly written into a pledge that students or their parents must sign when they enroll. At certain schools, a student need not even engage in acts of sexual “impurity”; simply identifying as gay or acting in support of a gay friend can lead to dismissal. …

…As religious institutions, these schools have the legal right to uphold and enforce any faith-based belief system they please. And parents who enroll their children – if not always the children being enrolled – understand the repercussions of such policies. However, by exploiting recent legislation, Christian schools in Georgia that openly discriminate against gay students have been receiving millions of dollars in diverted public funds as a result of a 2008 law meant to provide funding to help low ­income children transfer to private schools. …

Outsourced Cities, Brought to You by CH2M Hill

Source: Brendan Fischer and Seep Paliwal, October 16, 2013

When the town of Sandy Springs, Georgia, spun-off from Fulton County and established a brand new government, it didn’t sign a Declaration of Independence; it signed a contract.

The 100,000-person town entered into a five-year contract with the for-profit management company CH2M Hill to operate almost all of the town’s services: running trash collection, and street cleaning, and wastewater management, and even security and administration for the courthouse. A for-profit company, rather than public officials and public employees, would be in charge of providing all “public” services except for fire and police departments. CH2M HILL employees, wearing Sandy Spring uniforms and driving trucks with Sandy Spring logos, even enforced municipal ordinances like grass-cutting and parking regulations….

…In the next two years, the newly-created communities of Johns Creek, Milton, and Chattahoochee Hills — which, like Sandy Springs, were wealthy suburbs cutting themselves loose from less-affluent counties — followed suit, signing contracts with CH2M Hill to establish fully outsourced cities. …

…The four towns that had outsourced with CH2M Hill eventually changed course, finding the CH2M Hill contract and fees too costly during an economic downturn. The Town of Milton, for instance, saved $2 million over two years by dropping the firm, says Milton Communications Manager Jason Wright.

While many of the towns have continued to outsource many services, some have found taking certain services in-house has benefits. There is no longer a conflict between what’s best for the community versus what’s best for the corporation (and its shareholders)….

Access Restored for Food Stamp Users, Xerox Says

Source: Associated Press, October 12, 2013

People in Ohio, Michigan and 15 other states found themselves temporarily unable to use their food stamp debit-style cards on Saturday, after a routine test of backup systems by vendor Xerox Corp. resulted in a system failure. Xerox announced late in the evening that access has been restored for users in the 17 states affected by the outage, hours after the first problems were reported….Earlier Saturday shoppers left carts of groceries behind at a packed Market Basket grocery store in Biddeford, Maine, because they couldn’t get their benefits, said shopper Barbara Colman, of Saco, Maine. The manager put up a sign saying the EBT system was not in use. Colman, who receives the benefits, called an 800 telephone line for the program and it said the system was down due to maintenance, she said. … Wasmer said the states affected by the temporary outage also included Alabama, California, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. Ohio’s cash and food assistance card payment systems went down at 11 a.m., said Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Johnson said Xerox asked retailers to revert to a manual system, meaning customers could spend up to $50 until the system was restored. …

Gainesville School Board gives poor grade to janitorial contractor

Source: Marc Eggers, AccessNorthGa.com, September 16, 2013

The Gainesville City School Board Monday night had a “bone to pick” with the janitorial contracting service that took over the responsibility of cleaning city schools beginning July 1st. And it appeared that Cory Crane, Regional Operations Manager for Southern Management, was not aware of the level of dissatisfaction he was about to encounter as he stood before the Board. Crane was filling in for the Manager initially assigned to working with Gainesville Schools who had unexpectedly resigned days earlier. That manager had not informed Crane of the scope of the complaints that had arisen regarding the janitorial service Southern Management was to provide and Crane was obviously taken aback….Calkins and other Board members cited a survey they had circulated among school principals and administrative staff members regarding their experiences with Southern Management’s janitorial services at their respective schools. That survey showed overall dissatisfaction with Southern Management…. After the meeting Chairwoman Calkins said, “We’re willing to give them a second chance. We want it to work out. It’s a large contract…it’s a multimillion dollar contract…because it’s so important to have our schools clean.”…