Tag Archives: Minnesota

Editorial: Improve foster care

Source: The Register-Guard, October 27, 2017

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch have teamed up in support of a bill to better protect children in foster care. This bill is both badly needed and long overdue. The Senate Finance committee launched an investigation in April 2015 into the increasing practice of states giving the responsibility for some of their most vulnerable children over to private, for-profit companies. … Governors in 33 states responded to the committee’s request for information about the consequences of privatizing foster care, as did one of the largest providers in the country, the MENTOR Network. The results of the two-year investigation were both unsettling and, sadly, unsurprising.

The Senate found there were flaws in data collection and oversight when it came to for-profit foster care, at both the state and federal levels. Procedures set up by states to monitor providers’ performance and outcomes weren’t followed. Children under the authority of the state who received services from private, for-profit agencies were abused, neglected and denied services. Profits were prioritized over children’s well-being. High staff turnover sometimes made it impossible to monitor how children were doing, and foster parents with questionable backgrounds were given licenses to care for children, who were inadequately monitored by the state. …

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Senate Finds 86 Children Died In Care Of Giant For-Profit Foster Care Firm, Citing BuzzFeed News
Source: Aram Roston and Jeremy Singer-Vine, Buzzfeed News, October 18, 2017

At least 86 children died in a 10-year period while in the custody of a giant for-profit foster care company, according to an investigation by the US Senate Committee on Finance. In only 13 of those deaths did the company, The Mentor Network, conduct an internal investigation, the committee found. The Senate committee said the company “falsely” claimed that its child death rate was in line with the fatality rates in the overall foster care system.

The Senate probe started in part because of a series by BuzzFeed News that profiled problems at the company, which was the largest for-profit foster care provider in the country. In one case a 2-year-old girl who was placed at a home run by Mentor was murdered by her foster mother. In another case, a series of boys were sexually abused by a Mentor foster father, whom Mentor paid as a foster parent for years despite a series of red flags. He had requested that he be sent boys who were “male, white, any age.” Though Mentor denied the claim, employees told BuzzFeed News that the pursuit of profits sometimes took priority over child welfare. (The company is owned by Civitas Solutions, Inc., which recorded $1.4 billion in revenue last year and trades on the New York Stock Exchange.)

… As a result of the committee’s investigation, the chairman, Orrin Hatch, and its ranking member, Ron Wyden, introduced legislation Monday to require states to disclose the contractors they use in privatized foster care, and to report to the federal government how those contractors perform. …

The Brief Life and Private Death of Alexandria Hill
Source: Brian Joseph, Mother Jones, February 26, 2015

When the government took her from her family, it outsourced her safety to a for-profit corporation. Nine months later she was dead…..

….What happened in Rockdale that night would be the subject of a weeklong trial in the fall of 2014, focusing on the care of Alexandria. But it also opened a window into the vast and opaque world of private foster care agencies—for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations that are increasingly taking on the role of monitoring the nation’s most vulnerable children. The agency involved in Small’s case was the Lone Star branch of the Mentor Network, a $1.2 billion company headquartered in Boston that specializes in finding caretakers, or “mentors,” for a range of populations, from adults with brain injuries to foster children. With 4,000 children in its care in 14 states, Mentor is one of the largest players in the business of private foster care, a fragmented industry of mostly local and regional providers that collect hundreds of millions in tax dollars annually while receiving little scrutiny from government authorities. Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies. In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe—and duck responsibility when something goes wrong…..

….Mentor and other private foster care agencies say they are committed to children’s well-being, and that nothing can prevent the occasional tragic incident. But in my investigation, I found evidence of widespread problems in the industry—failed monitoring, missed warning signs, and, in some cases, horrific abuse. In Los Angeles, a two-year-old girl was beaten to death by her foster mother, who was cleared by a private agency despite a criminal record and seven prior child abuse and neglect complaints filed against her. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, prosecutors alleged that foster parents screened by a private agency beat their foster son so badly that he suffered brain damage and went blind. (A grand jury refused to return an indictment in the case.) In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a foster father vetted by a private agency induced his 16-year-old foster daughter to have sex with him and a neighbor. In Riverview, Florida, a 10-year-old girl with autism drowned in a pond behind a foster home. The private agency that inspected the home had previously identified the pond as a safety hazard but had not required a fence. In Duluth, Minnesota, a private agency failed to discover that a foster mother’s adult son had moved back into her home. The son, who had a criminal record for burglary that would have disqualified him from being around foster children, went on to sexually abuse a 10-year-old foster girl. In Texas, at least nine children living in private agency homes died of abuse or neglect between 2011 and 2013…..

Governing garbage: Advancing urban sustainability in the context of private service delivery

Source: Jacqueline Peterson and Sara Hughes, Cities, October 2017

Abstract:

City governments across North America are increasingly pursuing sustainability aims through novel policies and practices. Such efforts frequently involve changes to municipal services that are provided by the private sector. However, the implications of private service delivery for public sustainability aims are not well understood. We use the experience of Minnesota’s Twin Cities metropolitan area with organic waste recycling to examine how different types of public-private relationships in service delivery shape the ability of municipalities to pursue sustainability through organic waste recycling programs. We find that municipalities with contractual relationships with waste haulers – “organized” systems – have greater success in introducing organic waste recycling than municipalities with licensing relationships with waste haulers – “open” systems. These findings point to the importance of institutional variation in public-private relationships to the success of urban sustainability initiatives and the ability of decision makers to affect change.

Stand your ground, other public safety bills advance

Source: John Croman, KARE, March 28, 2017

In other action, Cornish’s committee passed the Omnibus Public Safety bill, and sent it to the House floor. … The bill also required the Minn. Dept. of Corrections to buy or lease the idle private prison in Appleton, Minnesota, before expanding an existing state prison. Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy previously testified there are more viable options for expanding prison capacity in the state without taking over the Prairie Corrections Facility. AFSCME, the state’s largest public employees union, opposes leasing the prison from its current owner Core Civic. The union argues that standards will fall, along with wages and benefits, if Core Civic is allowed to lease part of the prison to the state and operate the rest as a private prison. …

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Coalition continues to oppose private prison in western Minn.
Source: Tom Cherveny, Echo Press, March 22, 2017
 
A coalition of religious and civil rights organizations will continue to oppose legislation that calls for the State of Minnesota to lease or purchase the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton.  “Locking up people for profit has nothing to do with justice and has everything to do with making millions from human misery,” said Rick Neyssen, a corrections sergeant at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud and president of Local 599 with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees during a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday, March 21. …

Bid to re-open private prison in western Minn. gets new look at Capitol
Source:Andy Mannix, Star Tribune, March 21, 2017
 
Republicans who want the state to start using a privately owned prison in western Minnesota pitched it Tuesday as a common-sense solution for overcrowding in state-owned correctional facilities.  A proposal under consideration at the Legislature would direct the state to buy or lease Prairie Correctional Facility, a 1,600-bed prison in Appleton that’s been sitting empty since losing contracts in 2010. … Rick Neyseen, a local AFSCME representative and sergeant at Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud, warned legislators to “beware of the bait and switch” — voicing suspicions that a lease this year could lead to a price hike or full-on CoreCivic takeover down the road.   “Doing business with CoreCivic is like doing business with the devil,” Neyseen said. “The company cuts corners to make a buck and they profit from human misery.” …

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Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity Releases Report on Charter School Segregation and Performance

Source: University of Minnesota Law School, February 9, 2017

A new report from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School describes how charter schools are worsening segregation and failing to achieve consistent academic improvement. In an important new research finding, the report suggests that moderate or even nominal attempts to reduce school segregation would produce academic gains comparable to—or greater than—those observed in the most highly lauded class of charter schools. The report, titled “Segregation and Performance,” is the first installment in a larger initiative called the Minnesota School Choice Project, which will provide an expansive look at charter education in the Twin Cities. Previous research from the Institute has shown that Twin Cities charter schools suffer from a high degree of racial and economic segregation, while producing mediocre academic performance. The new report demonstrates that both trends continue unabated: of the 50 most segregated schools in the region, 45 are charters. After controlling for demographic factors, academic proficiency in charter schools tends to be slightly lower than in traditional public schools. But this new analysis also singles out a large group of charter schools for additional scrutiny. In this subset of schools, low-income children of color are almost completely isolated in homogeneous environments. … The new report shows that integration remains indispensable to anyone wishing to close achievement gaps or reduce inequality in education.

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St. Paul City Council questions return on investment in Greater MSP

Source: Jessie Van Berkel, Star Tribune, January 12, 2017

The city of St. Paul gives Greater MSP $125,000 each year to work on regional economic development. But when the City Council heard Wednesday what that has paid for, some members questioned whether the city had been getting its money’s worth. Greater MSP, a public- private partnership, says it has been involved in the creation of 70 new jobs in the city over the past five years, and has helped retain 1,030 jobs. Council Member Rebecca Noecker called the new job numbers “shockingly low,” noting it equates to $9,000 contributed for each job added. … The city’s investment helps pays for the work of 21 employees at Greater MSP, CEO Michael Langley said, and they are going to redouble their efforts to make sure St. Paul gets what it needs. The public-private partnership headquartered in St. Paul is mostly funded by private companies, but Greater MSP draws about a fifth of its $6 million budget from local governments. Its 40-member board of directors includes St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and the CEOs of many companies in the Twin Cities area. St. Paul’s meeting with Greater MSP comes a month after Minneapolis dropped its 2017 funding for Greater MSP from $125,000 to $10,000. The city opted to instead use the money for a new employee who would work on business retention and expansion. Tolbert and Noecker said St. Paul also could do that if Greater MSP is not helping them get the jobs they want. … Greater MSP staff notes on Wednesday’s presentation, obtained by the Star Tribune, encouraged representatives to “be impressive, but not slick. The council has concerns about how we spend our $$.” The notes said some council members think the group spends lavishly, and advised Greater MSP representatives not to talk about the Ryder Cup or Minnesota Orchestra’s European Tour, which Greater MSP staff attended. The note was attributed to St. Paul’s Planning and Economic Development Director Jonathan Sage-Martinson. After Wednesday’s meeting, Sage-Martinson said he advised Greater MSP to talk about projects that were a St. Paul priority. He added that the Ryder Cup generated a lot of visitors to St. Paul. …

How Goldman Sachs could pay for Minnesota’s public preschools

Source: Josh Verges, Pioneer Press, January 10, 2017

In its push for high-quality preschool, Minnesota could turn to investment bankers and philanthropists for the upfront capital that lawmakers have been reluctant to provide. If preschool later proves to save the government money, whether on unspent special education services or by other markers, the investors would get back their seed money and potentially much more. The model, known as Pay for Success, was pioneered in Salt Lake City, where the investment bank Goldman Sachs and the Pritzker Family Foundation received their first preschool payouts in 2015. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, succeeded in inserting the concept into the federal government’s new education policy law. The Minnesota Department of Education recently was awarded one of the first grants, worth $397,000, to explore the feasibility of using Pay for Success to fund early-childhood education. … Minnesota is looking to Pay for Success not for expanding preschool but for boosting the quality of existing public preschools that serve mostly low-income students. Officials are proposing a broad expansion of the so-called Pyramid Model, now used in only about 100 Minnesota classrooms. The framework offers increasing levels of support to children who need it and has been shown to boost social-emotional and academic skills. By training teachers and providing classroom materials and expert coaching, the department hopes to start thousands of 4-year-olds on a path for lifelong success. … The Minnesotans involved in the project also are looking at a long list of markers of success. Besides special education placement, they said they might track attendance and suspension rates, scores on social-emotional assessments and third-grade reading tests, and even teacher retention. Temple said that Pay for Success programs are administratively complex, and that it will be difficult to assign a monetary value to each outcome they intend to track. … The greater challenge, Forsberg said, will be figuring out who will pay those investors back. Quality preschool would figure to benefit many levels of government. Individual school districts and the state would save money if fewer students needed special education services. And if those students succeed in school and life, they won’t burden counties with the costs of incarceration or various social services. …

The new federal tool privatizing Minneapolis public housing

Source: Netsanet Negussie, Daily Planet, June 6, 2016

Samira had gone from one MPHA residence to another, followed by new problems and fears of eviction at each, with little communication from MPHA in the whole process. What’s happening at Glendale and in Minneapolis thanks to Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) has happened across the country. Housing advocates nationwide agree: RAD brings more problems than solutions to public housing residents. … In 2012, HUD Secretary Julian Castro implemented a pilot program, the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) as a response to growing capital needs. Public housing authorities (PHA) see RAD as a saving grace from increasing debt as it allows them to privatize public housing areas and incentivize continued housing assistance through tax credits. The infusion of private capital is promised to financially sustain affordable housing by addressing repairs and renovating properties. … HUD promises that RAD will maintain the number of affordable housing units for residents and encourages this pilot program to be enacted throughout the country as an innovative and “cost- efficient” solution. Since its implementation, 58 percent of PHAs nationwide have already applied for RAD, including the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. …

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Mpls residents protest privatizing public housing
Source: Wayne Nealis, Spokesman-Reporter, March 31, 2016

About 30 residents and their supporters delivered 1,000 signatures to the council meeting on March 30, demanding their homes be repaired and their community be preserved, not demolished. The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA), which owns the 64-year old historic public housing complex, says it doesn’t have the funds to renew the buildings and has proposed selling the property to private developers. … Proposed development options call for demolishing the 184 townhomes and replacing them with high-density market rate housing. The MPHA says the project would include 184 subsidized units for existing residents to return to after construction is complete. Residents contend that public housing communities once dispersed never come together again. … MPHA promises to give residents Section 8 housing vouchers, but as organizer Ladan Yusuf contended, it is an empty promise when there are 12,000 people on the waiting list for vouchers and few landlords in Minneapolis willing to accept them.

Residents Resist Public Housing Privatization in Minneapolis
Source: Chris Gray, Socialist Alternative, June 9, 2015

…. The current proposal is to bulldoze Glendale Townhomes and evict residents during the construction process to make way for the construction of a 500 unit privately owned apartment complex, of which 184 units would be reserved for residents with Section 8 vouchers. MPHA officials maintain that the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program is a “sustainable” way to continue to fund public housing, which is currently experiencing a budget shortfall. Organizers point out that the budget shortfall is manufactured, part of the arbitrary “sequestration” cuts to federal programs last year, and that the city has the funds to cover the difference if affordable housing were a real priority.

City of Willmar abolishes assessor’s office, Kandiyohi County to take over

Source: Shelby Lindrud, West Central Tribune, May 16, 2016

Starting July 5, Kandiyohi County will provide assessing services for the city of Willmar, as the Willmar City Council approved resolutions to abolish the city assessor’s office and enter into an agreement with Kandiyohi County during Monday’s city council meeting. … The two city employees who worked in the assessor’s officer were offered employment with the county and have until Tuesday to make their decision. … If one or both of the city’s appraisers want to stay with Willmar, the AFSCME contract gives employees of abolished departments the opportunity to move to other positions within the city, which could cause the lay off of other city employees. The two current city appraisers and one former spoke at the meeting, all asking for the council to reconsider the abolishment. … As part of the agreement with Kandiyohi County, Willmar will pay approximately $375,000 total to the county for assessing services in 2016 and 2017. As part of the agreement, the city will also give the county the city assessor’s computers, a police squad to be used by the county assessing staff for transportation and would pay the wages and benefits of an Assessor II for several weeks if the county needs to hire someone before July 5 to handle the added workload from the city’s business. …

Private juvenile center conceals abuse inquiries and pressures county to keep its business deal

Source: Tom Scheck, Curtis Gilmore, MPR News, May 2, 2016

Last spring, Caroline Mattson informed her superiors at Minnesota’s largest private correctional facility for boys that three boys had told her they’d been sexually abused by an employee. They began an internal investigation, prompted either by that report or another. But the leaders there — at Mesabi Academy in Buhl, Minn. — did not tell St. Louis County authorities about the allegations, a decision that avoided outside scrutiny and may have evaded state law. Six months later, in October 2015, county officials learned of the alleged incidents, which both triggered their own investigation and contributed to a decision to end a contract critical to Mesabi’s ability to operate in Minnesota. … On Friday, county officials said they had closed their six-month investigation into Mattson’s allegations without determining any maltreatment had taken place. They said they had insufficient evidence. But St. Louis County also confirmed Mesabi Academy didn’t report several allegations of sex abuse to authorities. State law required the academy to report such allegations to St. Louis County Child Protection or law enforcement within 24 hours of being told. In all, the county said Friday it had closed its investigation into 20 allegations of maltreatment over the past 14 months, saying in each case that maltreatment could not be determined. In at least three of those cases, it was clear that Mesabi Academy knew of allegations but did not report them to the county. It’s not clear how many others it kept secret.

… Mesabi Academy can be a harsh and violent place. Workers say they sometimes fear for their safety and frequently break up fights among residents. Since 2009, it has generated far more complaints about conditions and treatment than any of the other 60-plus juvenile facilities overseen by the Department of Corrections, an examination of records by APM Reports shows. Before the sex-abuse allegations emerged last spring, employees had been criminally charged with sexually abusing residents three times since 2000. … Mesabi Academy’s nonprofit parent in Pennsylvania, KidsPeace, wouldn’t make officials available to respond to questions Friday evening, saying it wanted to talk with county officials after reviewing the information.

Governments Struggle to Root Out Fake Minority Contractors

Source: Mattie Quinn, Governing, April 2016

It’s a problem that’s shown up all over the place. In Louisville, Ky., the metro sewer district banned two minority businesses from receiving future contracts after it was discovered that they were subcontracting with nonminority-owned businesses. An audit in Pittsburgh found the city didn’t even have a way to track how much work was going to DBEs. The city of Denver has also been dealt a blow by contracting scandals in recent years. … Nationwide data on DBE contracting programs is spotty. The National Association of State Procurement Officials doesn’t monitor them, and relies on state offices to track fraud and abuse. But states’ efforts vary widely. A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2011 found that the Federal Highway Administration did not have the right tools to properly monitor states’ DBE programs for transportation construction. The GAO has published a smattering of reports over the past 25 years on women- and minority-owned contracting programs with two main conclusions: More information was needed, and the contracting world in general lacks women and minorities. … Overhauls like the ones in New Orleans and Minnesota are cause for optimism, says the National Association of Minority Contractors’ Stemley. And while he says there’s plenty of room for improvement in DBE programs across the country, he believes the high-profile cases of fraud and noncompliance are the exception to the rule. Still, he says, the onus is on states and cities to step up their efforts to attract more minority- and women-owned businesses.