A New Orleans East charter school that closed in June after subpar performance has come under fire again, this time for selling computers purchased with public dollars. From May 20 to June 24, officials at Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business sold $15,760 worth of computer equipment to parents and teachers to help pay off the school’s debts. But doing so might have run afoul of the school’s charter and state policy, which prohibits schools from selling items purchased with federal or state funding, according to a report Monday from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office. … The ensuing investigation found that the school had sold 86 computers, phones and projectors, all valued at less than $500 per item. Half were bought with Title I grants, federal dollars that schools receive for educating low-income students. Auditors said they could not determine how other items were bought because their serial numbers were missing or mismatched.
Health care for Louisiana’s most vulnerable residents could face “dire circumstances” if the state reduces its financial commitment to the hospitals that took over for the former charity system privatized by Gov. Bobby Jindal, the chief executives of the medical centers warned Thursday. The Alliance of Private-Public Partnership Hospitals for Louisiana’s letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, follows a meeting this week in which Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert testified the contracts may have to be restructured.
Opinion: Financial risk of charity hospital ‘privatization’
Source: John Kennedy – Louisiana State Treasurer, shreveporttimes.com, October 25, 2013
The reason advanced by the Jindal Administration for privatizing Louisiana’s charity hospitals is that a private hospital like Lafayette General or Ochsner, for example, can manage a hospital more efficiently, and therefore cheaper, than the state.
That’s why I was taken aback when the chairman of the private entity taking over the Shreveport state hospital testified before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget that the private contractor’s costs to run the Shreveport facility will be the same as the state’s. Where, then, will the Jindal administration’s promised annual savings of $150 million come from if not from achieving operational efficiencies?
Dig deeper into the details and it becomes apparent that the planned “savings” won’t result from lower costs but from getting more money from the federal government through an accounting change. This won’t make the charity hospitals or Louisiana’s Medicaid program, which pays for the hospitals, more efficient. It will just make them more expensive, fueled by additional federal (American taxpayer) money…..
…Louisiana’s track record with CMS is not good. CMS has previously rejected similar financing strategies designed to leverage federal money. In the early 1990s, for example, Louisiana and other states adopted financing strategies such as “provider taxes,” “provider donations,” and “intergovernmental transfers,” designed to launder federal Medicaid funds into state funds in order to draw down more federal funds. CMS and Congress spurned them all. …
As part of these accountability efforts, a growing number of states have enacted laws that require charter schools to close if they do not meet certain performance benchmarks. In states such as Ohio, these laws have sometimes been borne out of state lawmakers’ frustration that authorizers have not been making the tough decisions to close charter schools that have failed to meet the academic goals in their charter contracts. In other states, including Mississippi and Washingon, state lawmakers have enacted such provisions as more of a precautionary measure to ensure that as public charter schools open for the first time in these states, if there are under-performing charter schools, they will actually be closed. This document provides a brief description of existing state policies regarding the automatic closure of low-performing public charter schools. As of September 2015, 15 states had enacted such policies: Alabama, California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississipi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.
Source: KATC, October 5, 2015
UL is responding to new allegations that it may have overspent thousands of taxpayer dollars to a UL food service provider. According to a newly released legislative audit, UL was over charged nearly $5,500 for tailgating events by food service provider Sodexo, from October 10th, 2009 to November 7th, 2013. During that time, the audit says Sodexo allegedly overcharged UL nine times. However, both UL and Sodexo say they’re working to credit the university back that money.
Audit report: UL at Lafayette food services company catered parties for student union director for free
Source: Lanie Lee Cook, The Acadiana Advocate, October 5, 2015
An audit released on Monday revealed the company selling food services to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette overbilled the school on some occasions, provided free catering for non-university events involving a former school official and brokered unwritten meal deals with university employees in exchange for cleaning services and football tickets. The state Legislative Auditor’s findings come almost a year after university auditors discovered possible misappropriation of public funds in its dealings with Sodexo Management Inc. The school is now “reviewing its contractual relationship” with the company, according to a written response to the audit by UL-Lafayette President Joseph Savoie. … Sodexo also owes the university money for cleaning services, as the union’s housekeeping staff cleaned the student dining hall — which is under lease and operated by Sodexo — while on the university’s clock and in exchange for meal plans, according to the audit. Each employee who cleaned the dining hall received a meal a day from July 2009 to August 2014, costing Sodexo at least $33,213, yet part of Sodexo’s contract includes cleaning the facilities it leases.
But the New Orleans miracle is not all it seems. Louisiana state standards are among the lowest in the nation. The new research also says little about high school performance. And the average composite ACT score for the Recovery School District was just 16.4 in 2014, well below the minimum score required for admission to a four-year public university in Louisiana. There is also growing evidence that the reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no longer included in the data. … But stark problems remain. A recent report by the Education Research Alliance confirmed that principals engage in widespread “creaming” — selecting, or counseling out, students based on their expected performance on standardized tests. In a forthcoming study, the alliance expects to show that lowest-scoring students are less likely to move to higher-performing schools. … For example, Paul G. Vallas, the superintendent of the Recovery School District from 2007 to 2011, boasted recently that only 7 percent of the city’s students attend failing schools today, down from 62 percent before Katrina, a feat accomplished “with no displacement of children.” This was simply false. Consider Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School, one of the city’s last traditional public schools to be “taken over.” Most of its 366 students declined to re-enroll when it reopened under new management in the fall of 2011. During its first year under FirstLine, a charter management organization, Clark had only 117 “persisters,” or returning students, according to a study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, known as Credo. FirstLine could not account for where the students went after they left Clark.
10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans’ All-Charter District Has Proven a Failure
Source: Colleen Kimmett, In These Times, August 28, 2015
…Carver is part of New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD), the first all-charter school district in the nation. In the chaos after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana opted to completely overhaul the city’s failing public schools by putting them on the open market. Ten years later, cities and states around the country have embarked on their own charter-school experiments and are watching New Orleans closely, laser-focused on outcomes. … The study compared charters in Louisiana, the majority of which are in New Orleans, to Louisiana public schools, controlling for factors like race, ethnicity, poverty and whether students qualified for special education. On eighth-grade reading and math tests, charter-school students performed worse than their public-school counterparts by enormous margins—2 to 3 standard deviations. The researchers found that the gap between charter and public school performance in Louisiana was the largest of any state in the country. And Louisiana’s overall scores were the fourth-lowest in the nation. … Community members mourned the closures of public schools that had served as neighborhood hubs. Students at no-excuses charters described feeling like they were in prison, or bootcamp. Teachers felt demoralized, like they didn’t have a voice in the classroom. Parents complained about a lack of black teachers. In interview after interview, people said the same thing: The system doesn’t put children’s needs first.
“Reform” makes broken New Orleans schools worse: Race, charters, testing and the real story of education after Katrina
Source: Jennifer Berkshire, Salon, August 3, 2015
… The awful story was at the root of the decision to fire 7,000 teachers after the storm, the majority of whom were black New Orleanians and the backbone of the city’s middle class. It is the reason why so few locals can be found among the ranks of education reform groups here. And it is a rarely acknowledged justification for the long school day favored by charters here—10, even 12 hours when you factor in the cross-city bus trips that a choice landscape necessitates. … But again and again, the official theme of “measurable progress” was undercut by reminders of the real cost of what ERA director Doug Harris describes as “the largest overhaul of a public school system that the country has ever seen”: the 7,000 teachers whose firing was described as a wound that won’t heal; the shunting aside of special education students and English language learners, especially in the first years of the experiment; the loss of trust among New Orleanians who believe they’ve been shut out of any meaningful decision-making regarding their city’s schools. … It turns out that when you replace a permanent, local teaching force with one that’s largely transplanted and temporary, even the lure of “historic homes at affordable prices” may not be enough to get them to stay. When Bigard asks her standard question—”How many New Orleanians work here?”—the staff member who greets us isn’t sure. “One maybe?” (The correct answer, as I’ll learn later from CEO Jonas Chartock, is two out of twelve.) Bigard explains why she wants to know: that it seems strange to her that yet another organization focused on improving the city’s schools wouldn’t benefit from the knowledge and experience of people who are actually from here.
The Charter School Challenge (Subscription Required)
Source: Leo Casey, New Labor Forum, Vol. 24 no. 1, January 2015
Do charter schools pose an existential threat to public education and teacher unions? One need look no further than post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, widely touted as a national model of education reform, to understand why many observers now answer this question in the affirmative. Today, New Orleans charter schools enroll more than nine in every ten public school students, a share that continues to grow as traditional public schools are closed and new charters are opened. With the growth of non-union charter schools, the post-Katrina teaching force has become significantly younger and whiter, supplanting the predominantly African-American and unionized teaching cohort that was illegally dismissed en masse in the wake of the hurricane. Despite this sweeping change, there is scant evidence that the academic performance of New Orleans schools has meaningfully improved in the nine years since Katrina. But that did not stop U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, an outspoken advocate of charter schools, from declaring that “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”
The LSU Student Health Center’s pharmacy is shifting to private ownership this January after failing as a self-sustaining entity. Pharmacy ownership is not yet open for bids from private corporations, but the SHC expects to have a company contracted and moved into the location by 2016. … Though the pharmacy currently accepts only the insurance offered through the university, the future company’s contract will require it to accept all forms of insurance, as well as Tiger Cash, which has been accepted as pharmacy payment for many years. Morris said the pharmacy’s limited insurance options factored into its loss of revenue.
The service is part of the $3.9 million final agreement the city reached with Metairie company Empire Janitorial Sales & Services in December. Glass recycling in New Orleans ended after the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. … Empire out-dueled three competitors last fall to win the garbage-collection contract. After the administration rejected every initial bid in November, Empire dropped its costs by $370,000, making its offer the cheapest. The contract expires in 2021, but the city has the option to extend it annually for another three years.
Winn Correctional Center opened its doors 25 years ago as the first privately-run medium security prison in America. And, soon, its life cycle as one of the country’s oldest for-profit facilities will come to an end, when the handoff from Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections is completed. For the first time in the facility’s history, a new ability to scrutinize its inner workings will exist. Until then, Winn Correctional, just like all privately-run prisons, will maintain its legal right to secrecy. … These major corporations are publicly-traded–albeit as real estate investment trusts (aka REITs, making them something like glorified hotels). These are businesses, they’re run as such, and that affords them certain privileges — like keeping their books closed. Sure, “trade secrets” protection serves a reasonable purpose much of the time, but there’s a case to be had that when the commodity is human bodies, some exception should be made. Private prisons hold over a hundred thousand individual lives in effective black boxes.
For Louisiana private prisons, lots of grievances but little detail
Source: Beryl Lipton, MuckRock, April 3, 2015
The first private medium-security prison in the country has almost as many grievances as it has inmates….Winn Correctional Center, a Corrections Corporation of America facility, houses about 1,500 prisoners. Coincidentally, that’s also about as many grievances it gets each year. …
Rather than see the critically needed mental health services at Southeast Louisiana Hospital disappear, St. Tammany Parish stepped up. Officials brought in Northlake Behavioral Health System to operate a scaled-back facility until a long-range plan could be developed. That plan is called “Safe Haven” with the hospital at the core. It will create a mental health treatment community bringing a wide range of private sector services, including critical emergency care and long-range help. … Hospital operation will be put out for bid and only buyers intent on operating a psychiatric hospital need apply, officials said. …
Privatization of Mandeville psychiatric hospital finalized under agreements with Florida company
Source: Kim Chatelain, Times-Picayune, December 03, 2012
In a move designed to save money for the state without diminishing behavioral health care in the region, a Florida-based company on Monday signed agreements to take over operation of Southeast Louisiana Hospital near Mandeville, a state psychiatric facility that has been fixture on the north shore for 60 years. Under the agreement, the state department of Health and Hospitals will give St. Tammany Parish authority to manage all property at Southeast and has signed an agreement to allow Meridian Behavioral Healthcare of Gainesville to operate 58 psychiatric inpatient beds: 42 for youths and 16 for adults. A separate agreement between the parish and Meridian allows the health care company to operate the 58 beds on the Southeast campus.
New Orleans still has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, though a recent study by the Data Center found a 67 percent drop in the city’s prison population since Katrina. The private prison industry appears pleased with its successes, contracting many facilities with troubled records. At least a quarter of New Orleans’ population gets by at or below the national poverty line. Illiteracy is rife. But not everyone agrees: According to a new study by Louisiana State University, a majority of white residents in New Orleans said they believe that the city has mostly recovered, while black residents reported the opposite. … Privatization advocates contend that Katrina brought essential reforms to Louisiana’s education system. But the facts tell a different story. “A key part of the New Orleans narrative is that firing the unionized, mostly black teachers after Katrina cleared the way for young, idealistic (mostly white) educators who are willing to work 12 to 14 hour days,” wrote Andrea Gabor, a professor of journalism at Baruch College, in a detailed story in The New York Times last week. “For outsiders, the biggest lesson of New Orleans is this: It is wiser to invest in improving existing education systems than start from scratch. Privatization may improve outcomes for some students, but it also hurt the most disadvantaged pupils.” … To be clear, poor quality structures were blights on the city even before Katrina. But the United States’ slow economic recovery has emboldened officials in Louisiana and elsewhere who argue that privatized services are far preferable to a well-financed public system. The flood of corporate donations to politicians augments these arguments. Disaster capitalism is a readily exportable commodity. New Orleans still pulses to a resilient rhythm, but those pushing for more private housing, schools and infrastructure are rarely held to account. Without accountability for the abuses of corporate-backed privatization policies, its advocates will simply move on to another city or country to maximize their profits at the expense of poor and marginalized citizens.