… In North Carolina, the GED test, which was formerly administered by the nonprofit American Council on Education is now under the control of a public-private partnership with Pearson VUE, the largest for profit testing agency in the United States. The changes in administration will prove to present many difficult obstacles for North Carolinians trying to take the GED test—most of these low-income, minority citizens. … Rather than $35 for a series of five tests, the price tag is now $120 for only four tests, which equates to $30 per test. … Additionally, now that all tests are electronic, the GED tests will only be offered at locations approved by Pearson VUE. All existing testing centers must now have the sufficient capacity and equipment in order to offer the computerized test. Currently, the test will only be offered at community colleges. This limits accessibility for test takers who may not have sufficient transportation methods. …
A private ambulance service that transported more than a half-million patients a year in six states abruptly shut down without explanation, leaving dozens of cities and towns scrambling for medical transportation options this week without a word of warning.
First Med EMS, based in Wilmington, N.C., served hospitals and other medical facilities in more than 70 municipalities in Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. It operated under the names TransMed, Life Ambulance and MedCorp, boasting in publicity materials: “We take pride in our performance and the safety of our patients. We refuse to compromise on this.”
First Med’s website was inaccessible Tuesday, and calls to corporate offices either reached disconnected lines or weren’t answered. Company workers said in Facebook posts and tweets that they were told the corporation had declared bankruptcy, but no bankruptcy documents were yet on file in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
First Med was the largest EMS service in Ohio, where at least 1,500 paramedics and other medical workers were left jobless in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, Cincinnati, Youngstown and numerous smaller towns.
First Med also provided services in Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News in Virginia, as well as Wilmington, N.C.
Much of First Med’s business was “non-emergent” transportation — such as taking dialysis patients to their weekly treatments and shuttling nursing home patients to doctors’ appointments — and officials in some cities said there should be little impact on patient treatment. …
In July, the increasingly right-wing legislature in North Carolina passed a bill to divert $10 million from the public school budget to create vouchers that would give low-income students up to $4,200 a year to pay for private school tuition. Such vouchers are a popular conservative proposal for “reforming” failing public schools.
North Carolina’s vouchers, which will become available in 2014, allow public money to go to unregulated private schools that are not required to meet any educational or teacher preparation standards. In addition, thanks to the way the law was written, the money will be available to “home schools”—literally schools set up in someone’s house. Homeschooling traditionally has been done by parents. But the state recently changed its home schooling law to allow people who aren’t parents or legal guardians educate kids in a group setting. The only requirement for such schools is that the teacher have a high school diploma, that the school keep immunization and attendance records on its students, and that it give kids a national standardized test every year….
Aqua North Carolina, the state’s biggest private water utility and frequent target of customer ire, is pushing to switch to a new method of raising customer rates without public hearings.
If approved, it would be a first in North Carolina, based on a new law passed without opposition this summer by the state legislature. Now before the N.C. Utilities Commission, the question of public hearings involves a number of current and former regulators with ties to the water utility industry.
The law allows private waterworks to adjust rates several times a year through a streamlined review to pay for water and sewer upgrades. It governs all private water utilities in North Carolina, potentially affecting more than 170,000 customers statewide. …
From the Columbia River Crossing bridge project in the Pacific Northwest to the Illiana Expressway project in the nation’s midsection to Maryland’s Purple Line light rail project, a number of transportation projects that involve public-private partnerships (P3s) and/or tolling have been in the news of late. Meanwhile, a state Supreme Court decision in Virginia appears likely to pave the way for more tolls and P3s in that state. I also have updates on projects in a number of other states as well as links to recent related reports and articles.
From the summary:
With the movement of government activities to leverage cloud computing, government agencies are now increasingly writing and negotiating contracts with cloud service providers. While agencies have been writing and negotiating contracts for many years, contracts for cloud services present a special set of challenges. In this important report, Shannon Tufts and Meredith Weiss present a detailed analysis of 12 major issues that need to be addressed in all cloud contracts. In addition to traditional issues such as pricing, cloud computing contracts require that a variety of data assurance issues be addressed, including data ownership, access to data, disposition of data, data breaches, and data storage location.
This report is based on a detailed analysis of five public sector contracts in North Carolina for cloud services. The five case studies included a local government, a state agency, a higher education institution, a local public health organization, and a K-12 public school system. Based on these case studies, the authors developed a series of recommendations for government organizations to guide them in the writing and negotiating of contracts for cloud services. …
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….
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….
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.
Gov. Pat McCrory wants to privatize the state’s economic development efforts and is likely to get his way. The legislature has provided initial funding for the change. But, as the Journal’s Richard Carver reported, the nonpartisan Washington research center Good Jobs First says such a change is risky. Privatization has created huge problems in several states. …
NOpinion: Public-private partnerships the wrong fix for more jobs
Source: ews & Observer, October 28, 2013
…Now the hacksaw is out for another fix. McCrory is moving to repair the state Department of Commerce by cutting off the department’s industrial recruiting, marketing, travel and tourism divisions and putting them under a new public-private nonprofit corporation known as the N.C. Partnership for Prosperity. The idea is that the partnership will free recruiters of red tape and allow for a more nimble approach to recruiting businesses to North Carolina and helping those already here to expand.
The idea is suspect on its face. Why would private business people be better at bringing in businesses than recruiters employed by the state? The answers offered by those who support the change is that the private sector knows more about business needs and has more sales and bargaining experience and that the new arrangement will allow for higher compensation for top recruiters.
The flip-side is that business people may have conflicts of interests – are they promoting what’s best for the state or what’s best for their company or industry? And adding a compensation motive for recruiters may tempt some to cut ethical corners to close a deal. Keeping watch for such abuses becomes harder when previously public functions become less public.
These concerns are not conjecture. As Rob Christensen reported in Sunday’s News & Observer, the type of public-private corporate recruitment partnership being pushed by the governor and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker has had problems in other states involving misuse of taxpayer money. …
Privatization of N.C. Commerce Department gets under way
Source: Ken Elkins- Charlotte Business Journal, Jul 31, 2013
The machinery to convert the N.C. Department of Commerce into a public-private partnership is already under way, a week after the 2013-14 state budget was approved.
… The new 39-member N.C. Economic Development Board met two weeks ago in Raleigh. It heard from Gov. McCrory and Sharon Decker, N.C. commerce secretary.
After years of debate the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners has decided to take out the trash, and send it to Sampson County. Monday night commissioners voted to enter into a contract with Waste Industries hoping to bring an end to the county’s solid waste issues…. After deciding to toss out a plan to refurbish the old WASTEC facility earlier this year New Hanover County Commissioners decided to ship our solid waste problem elsewhere when they agreed to negotiate with Waste Industries. … But just like the trash it is designed to haul away one commissioner says the whole deal stinks. “You know that I’ve been a big proponent of refurbishing WASTEC and handling our solid waste here in county,” said Commissioner Jonathan Barfield. “At the end of the day I think that we’re going to be caught in a long term contract with another outside entity that may in the end cost our citizens a lot more money.”
In the hallway outside meeting rooms at the North Carolina Public Health Association, exhibitors gave away pens, chocolate and brochures. The types of organizations that usually attend public health conferences were in attendance: companies selling electronic health records, vaccine manufacturers and advocacy groups such as the Alzheimer’s Association. But at this year’s conference, there were three new exhibitors – Centene Corporation, Amerigroup and UnitedHealthcare – all companies that potentially would bid for contracts with North Carolina should the state decide to privatize Medicaid, the program that provides health care to almost 1.6 million disabled and low-income patients in North Carolina.
North Carolina’s HHS secretary looking for payers to help her privatize Medicaid
Source: Travis Fain, MedCity News, April 14, 2013
Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration has begun a precipitous climb tackling the reform of one of the state’s most complex and expensive programs: Medicaid. … McCrory’s new secretary at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Greensboro’s Aldona Wos, is gung-ho about overhauling the government health insurance, which serves more than 1.5 million for about $13 billion a year. She’s pursuing it with an energy familiar to those who know her as a political and charitable fundraiser. The retired physician promises the potential privatization of many Medicaid functions will be good for patients and doctors. She’s meeting with doctors across the state, pitching to a sometimes incredulous crowd. She has routine office hours for providers to visit her in Raleigh….The plan is to find three or so entities — likely including private companies — to function as insurance companies for Medicaid recipients….