Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Private Money, Public Impact

Source: Jane Hoback, State Legislatures Magazine, May 2015

A creative new “pay-for-success” funding approach for social programs is gaining steam—but also detractors. …. Proponents say the financing method—with a track record of about five years—presents little risk to taxpayers and ultimately saves states money. But critics caution it is too soon to tell, arguing the new model is unproven, risky and expensive, and potentially excludes social programs not attractive to investors. ….

Back To The Drawing Board On Consolidated Dispatch

Source: Carrie L. Gentile, CapeNews.net, April 24, 2015

With Town Meeting resoundingly objecting to housing a consolidated emergency dispatch hub in the Gus Canty Community Center, selectmen will now have to decide how to proceed. …. During last week’s Annual Town Meeting, voters rejected an appropriation made by selectmen to convert part of the community center on East Main Street into a dispatch hub and instead approved a smaller amount of $75,000 to place it on the third floor of the Falmouth Fire Rescue headquarters on Main Street. Advocates state the fire station is better equipped and better suited for such a purpose, while the community center remodeling would cost more and take away municipal recreation space. While the final decision lies with the board, the Town Meeting vote sent a strong message to selectmen and the town manager to reconsider their choice. ….

Privatized skating rinks freezing out the public /In Milton, skaters take a back seat to the needs of Curry College

Source: Jasper Craven, Boston Globe, March 7, 2015

Families loved the Max Ulin Ice Rink, a place where they could skate for free, get rental skates for growing feet, and buy a cup of hot chocolate at the snack bar while the Zamboni machine polished the ice. Back in 2009, when the state still ran the rink, records show that managers opened the doors for 40 hours of public skating during December school vacation. But today, skate rentals are no longer available, the skate-sharpening machine is gone, and the snack bar is usually closed. There’s still free public skating, but the hours are unpredictable and often inconvenient — just 22 hours during the last December vacation. Across the region, privately managed state-owned skating rinks such as Ulin Rink offer significantly less public ice time than their state-run counterparts — whether for free or a for a fee — and less than the minimum of 16 hours a week required by state rules. The eight rinks managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation typically provide almost 20 hours a week of free public skating, compared with an average of 12.5 hours at the other state-owned rinks, based on current schedules. And the 34 rinks run by towns or private groups often charge admission…..

Friendly FIRE

Source: Chris Maisano, Jacobin, Jacobin, Issue 15/16, Fall 2014

Social impact bonds offer private interests yet another opportunity to enrich themselves at public expense. …

Goldman Sachs wants you to know that it’s not just about plundering the globe for profit — it wants to do a little good along the way. That’s why the vampire squid has started founding seemingly innocuous philanthropic outfits like the Urban Investment Group (UIG).

Established in 2001, the UIG is the perfect embodiment of what labor journalist Bob Fitch used to call “friendly FIRE,” per the old shorthand for the finance, insurance, and real estate industries. Always attuned to the public-relations value of its activities, UIG promotes itself with a gauzy language of community uplift centered on the buzzword “double bottom line”: the simultaneous pursuit of social change and return on investment.

In a gesture of exquisite irony, its first investment was in the Dorothy Day Apartments, an affordable housing development in Harlem named after the founder of the anticapitalist Catholic Worker movement. Since then, it has invested billions of dollars in projects such as community health centers, charter schools, early childhood education, low- and moderate-income housing units, small business loans, and community development grants. As Alicia Glen, the former UIG chief currently serving as deputy mayor for housing and economic development under Mayor Bill de Blasio, put it: “We’re not all evil squids. We’re nice little calamari.”

Glen’s highest profile deal as head of UIG was a $42 million investment in Citi Bike, the privately funded bike-sharing program whose signature blue bicycles have become ubiquitous throughout Lower Manhattan and the gentrified zones of north-central Brooklyn. But bikes may not be the most important legacy of her tenure at Goldman. The bank, together with some of the biggest names in social policy, philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector, has led the way in establishing the burgeoning field of social impact bonds (SIBs)…..

…The SIB market is still rather small in terms of dollars, but its promoters are intent on achieving rapid growth. The current total value of SIB transactions in the US is estimated at approximately $100 million; sixteen states and Washington, DC either have an active SIB underway or are considering implementing one…..

….Public-sector unions are increasingly aware of the threat SIBs pose and have begun to rally against state-level legislation that would expand their use. AFSCME Council 94 in Rhode Island has been outspoken in its opposition to a bill that would allow the state to implement a $25 million SIB program….

Charters Without Lotteries: Testing Takeovers in New Orleans and Boston

Source: Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Joshua D. Angrist, Peter D. Hull, Parag Pathak, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), NBER Working Paper No. w20792, December 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Lottery estimates suggest oversubscribed urban charter schools boost student achievement markedly. But these estimates needn’t capture treatment effects for students who haven’t applied to charter schools or for students attending charters for which demand is weak. This paper reports estimates of the effect of charter school attendance on middle-schoolers in charter takeovers in New Orleans and Boston. Takeovers are traditional public schools that close and then re-open as charter schools. Students enrolled in the schools designated for closure are eligible for “grandfathering” into the new schools; that is, they are guaranteed seats. We use this fact to construct instrumental variables estimates of the effects of passive charter attendance: the grandfathering instrument compares students at schools designated for takeover with students who appear similar at baseline and who were attending similar schools not yet closed, while adjusting for possible violations of the exclusion restriction in such comparisons. Estimates for a large sample of takeover schools in the New Orleans Recovery School District show substantial gains from takeover enrollment. In Boston, where we can compare grandfathering and lottery estimates for a middle school, grandfathered students see achievement gains at least as large as the gains for students assigned seats in lotteries. Larger reading gains for grandfathering compliers are explained by a worse non-charter fallback.

Pittsfield Task Force Investigating Privatizing Water/Wastewater Systems

Source: Andy McKeever, iBerkshires, January 16, 2015

A five-member task force has begun researching the possibility of privatizing the city’s water and waste-water systems. City Council Vice President Christopher Connell previously put forth a petition asking for the consideration. Mayor Daniel Bianchi obliged and put together the task force….. Connell said the city has some heavy financial burdens forthcoming with the waste-water system including an estimated $40 million in capital expenses to comply with state regulations. The waste-water treatment center and water system is just one area Connell is planning to explore privatization….Forestell says this is the third time the city has examined the possibility that he could remember. In both previous times — once in the 1980s and once in the 1990s — it was determined that it was better for the city to maintain control. What rose to the top in those previous examinations was that private contracts were built to grow over time and grew more than the city would have done on its own. Forestell said he ran the numbers over a period of time on a contract developed for a similar community and compared it to the annual changes in city budgets. He found the private contract to be more expensive over the long term…. But there are many differences from then and now. One example is postemployment benefits (retirement, insurance). During earlier investigations, the postemployment benefits and liabilities didn’t factor much into the discussion, according to Connell. Now those liabilities carry more weight…..

At What Cost? The Charter School Model and the Human Right to Education

Source: Kevin Murray, Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 209-2014, November 12, 2014

From the abstract:
From humble beginnings in the early 1990s, charter schools have grown explosively to become a pillar in a market-oriented national education reform in the United States. The fiscal fallout from the financial crisis of 2007-08 constricted educational budgets and intensified the public debate around directing resources to all aspects of educational reform, especially charter schools.

The human right to education is well established in a variety of international treaties and covenants, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The right establishes the obligation of states to provide all young people with a quality education, as defined by the prevailing social and economic context of each country. Guidance provided by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, focuses attention on the acceptability, availability, adaptability and accessibility of education in every context.

The impact of charter school expansion on the ability of U.S. states to implement the right to education for all children has, to date, been little considered in the national debate around education reform. Given the diversity of the legal foundations of charter schools in the states, it is difficult to carry out such an analysis at the national level.

Despite the fact that its public education system is rated among the most effective in the country, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been the site of large-scale implementation of the charter school model. Prominent educational research institutes have analyzed Massachusetts charters and found them – especially the schools located in Boston – to be among the most successful in the country.

The experience of Massachusetts charter schools undoubtedly includes positive effects on the implementation of the right to education. A significant number of students who had difficulty accessing quality education in traditional public schools have been able to do so in charter schools. Many of those students are from racial or ethnic groups that have faced historic discrimination in U.S. public schools. In addition, charter schools are, by their nature, adaptations of the public education model and, therefore, increase the adaptability of the system.

At the same time, other aspects of the charter school model raise concerns from a human rights perspective, some of them serious concerns. The extreme school discipline models employed by some charters and the increased use of disciplinary exclusion to maintain social order in the schools both raise human rights concerns that go well beyond the right to education. Also, the existence of an “enrollment gap” between charter schools and traditional public schools, especially in relation to the enrollment of Students with Special Needs and English Language Learners is the source of further concern. Finally, the way in which charter schools are financed, in Massachusetts and in most other jurisdictions, gradually degrades the financial capacity of public school districts. This loss of financial capacity often leads to mass school closings or other major disruptions to the system. In districts with high charter density, this process can reach the point where the capacity of the district to provide for even the basic educational needs of all students comes into question.

Massachusetts and other states with relatively high charter density in urban centers should reinforce regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure the accountability of existing charter schools to legal and regulatory frameworks. In addition, legislative bodies considering laws to allow further expansion of charter schools should carefully consider the impacts of charter school growth on the human right to education of all children in their jurisdiction before enabling such expansion.

School chain agrees to pay Mass. $3.75m to settle claims

Source: Megan Woolhouse, Boston Globe, December 12, 2014

The Salter chain of schools has agreed to pay the state $3.75 million to resolve claims that it used deceptive enrollment tactics, and state officials are now reviewing whether the school will remain an official job training provider through the state’s unemployment office. Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office announced the settlement Friday after its investigation of the school found that Salter used dubious marketing tactics and false promises to lure students into health-related training programs. About 600 students who attended Salter College in West Boylston and the Salter School in Fall River and New Bedford will be eligible for student loan relief through the settlement. The Salter chain is owned by Premier Education Group LP, based in East Haven, Conn., which operates for-profit certificate and associate degree programs at schools throughout New England, under a variety of names. Salter management said in a press release that the chain disputed the allegations, but did not elaborate….

The Demand for Effective Charter Schools

Source: Christopher Walters, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), NBER Working Paper No. w20640, October 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This paper uses a structural model of school choice and academic achievement to study the demand for charter schools in Boston, Massachusetts, with an emphasis on comparative advantage in school choice. I combine an optimal portfolio choice model of charter school application and attendance decisions with a selection correction approach that links students’ school choices to the achievement gains generated by charter attendance. To estimate the model, I use instrumental variables derived from randomized entrance lotteries, together with a second set of instruments based on distance to charter schools. The estimates show that charter schools reduce achievement gaps between high- and low-achieving groups, so disadvantaged students and low-achievers have a comparative advantage in the charter sector. Higher-income students and students with high prior achievement have the strongest demand for charter schools, however, which implies that preferences for charters are inversely related to potential achievement gains. The structural estimates show a similar pattern of selection on unobservables. These findings imply that students do not sort into charter schools on the basis of comparative advantage in academic achievement; instead, disadvantaged students are less likely to apply to charter schools despite larger potential achievement gains. I use simulations of an equilibrium school choice model to quantify the consequences of this demand-side pattern for the effects of charter school expansion. The results suggest that in the absence of significant behavioral or institutional changes, the effects of charter expansion may be limited as much by demand as by supply.

Janitorial firm fined for wage gaffe

Source: Katie Johnston, Boston Globe, September 17, 2014

An East Boston janitorial company has been ordered by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to pay more than $750,000 for unlawfully deducting wages from workers’ paychecks at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority facilities in Boston. Between March 2012 and September 2013, Star Service Corp., a subcontractor of janitorial provider ABM, took more than $959,000 out of 160 workers’ checks for health, pension, and welfare fund benefits but never contributed to the funds, according to the attorney general’s investigation. Under state law, cleaning and maintenance workers at buildings owned or rented by the Commonwealth can receive wages that include pension and health fund deductions, but if no payments are made to those funds, the money must go to the worker. …