Archives for category: For-Profit

The National Superintendents Roundtable published a report calling on tech vendors to get out of the way during the pandemic and “Just Stop It.”

COVID-19 has unleashed a tsunami of work for school superintendents as they distribute food to students, implement distance learning, and prepare for a different fall school environment. What’s not helping, they say, is a flood of sales calls from technology vendors offering to help.

The Roundtable surveyed its members on this issue and the responses, in a report entitled Just Stop It!, reveal a deep vein of irritation with marketing campaigns aimed at schools during the pandemic.

A press release detailing the study’s findings was published in 142 outlets in a matter of hours, ranging from Dow newsletters and Yahoo Finance to publications from Nevada to Pennsylvania. These outlets hold a potential audience in the millions. Very detailed accounts of the study were also published by Brian Bradley in Education Week and Dian Schaffhauser in The Journal.

The complete report on the study’s findings can be found here.

Denis Smith, former official in the Ohio State Education Departnent, describes here the commitment of the Founding Fathers of the nation and Ohio to “common schools” or public schools.

In our own day, however, radical libertarians—anarchists, in fact—have opposed the Founders’ vision and sought to replace the common schools with consumer choice. In place of the goal of equality of educational opportunity, these anarchists—such as Jeb Bush and Betsy DeVos—have promoted individual choice through privately managed charter schools and vouchers for religious schools.

The anarchists are repudiating our history and traditions in their efforts to eliminate any sense of social responsibility and they do so cynically, claiming that they are doing it “for the kids” who will be abandoned as the rich get richer and the poor get vouchers are low-quality schools.

More than 200 advocates of public education endorsed this open letter to Joe Biden, which was published on Valerie Strauss’s blog “The Answer Sheet” at the Washington Post.

They call on presumptive Democratic nominee Biden to reject the stale and failed policies of the past 20 years.

Their letter (our letter, since I signed it) begins with this preamble and then offers a list of specific proposals that together represent a fresh vision for American education:

Dear Vice President Biden:

As the Democratic Party presumptive nominee, you have the power to fight for the public schools and colleges and universities that our students deserve. We are concerned educators, public education advocates, union members, parents, and students, writing to request that you demonstrate your commitment to that agenda.

Over the past decade, politicians on both sides of the aisle have made devastating cuts to public education, while privatizing public schools, scapegoating educators, and providing massive tax breaks to corporations and the rich.

These attacks have resulted in a national teacher shortage and reduced educational opportunities for many of our students — especially students of color, those from low-income households, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities.

The public health and economic emergencies resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have only made public education more vulnerable. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of public education itself is at stake.

Read the list of sensible, research-based, intelligent policy proposals, which would inspire students and teachers and improve education for all students.

Please open and read.

Tweet with the hashtag #EducationIsAPublicGood and @JoeBiden

ProPublica dug up a shameful story, just one more for an era of shameful stories. I wrote previously that the Trump presidency will make Teapot Dome look like a tea party. For those of you who don’t know, Teapot Dome was taught in the textbooks as the prime example of political corruption.

The following is a textbook case of profiteering at the expense of vulnerable people.

A former White House aide won a $3 million federal contract to supply respirator masks to Navajo Nation hospitals in New Mexico and Arizona 11 days after he created a company to sell personal protective equipment in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, secured the deal with the Indian Health Service with limited competitive bidding and no prior federal contracting experience.

The IHS told ProPublica it has found that 247,000 of the masks delivered by Fuentes’ company — at a cost of roughly $800,000 — may be unsuitable for medical use. An additional 130,400, worth about $422,000, are not the type specified in the procurement data, the agency said.

What’s more, the masks Fuentes agreed to provide — Chinese-made KN95s — have come under intense scrutiny from U.S. regulators amid concerns that they offered inadequate protection.

Stan Karp has written a brilliant critique of federal policy and Betsy DeVos’s audacious and vicious assault on our nation’s public schools and their students. Don’t believe those who say that Congress has blocked her most horrendous actions. She has used her authority and exceeded the intent of Congress to advance her single-minded and narrow-minded pursuit of privatization. When Congress tries to blunt or control her actions, she simply ignores Congress. She is out of control. She treats members of Congress like her household help.

Karp reviews the failures of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Then he shows how the pandemic has given DeVos the tools to wreak havoc on our public schools, which enroll the vast majority of children.

He writes:

The emergency CARES Act, passed without a single dissenting vote and signed in March, was the first of several massive pieces of federal legislation rushed through Congress in response to the pandemic. While the CARES Act didn’t include the same kind of signature federal initiative that RTTT represented for Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, it did give Duncan’s successor, the wildly unpopular, right-wing billionaire Betsy DeVos, extraordinary powers in a host of important policy areas.

There will be additional federal action affecting schools in the months ahead, including attempts to address the financial tsunami that is already engulfing school budgets. But even a cursory comparison between the federal response in 2009 and the initial response to the current crisis provides some clues about the extended emergency ahead for public education.

The CARES Act included $13.5 billion for K–12 schools, $14 billion for higher education, and another $3 billion that governors can split between the two as part of $31 billion in “stabilization aid” for state budgets. But while the total $2.2 trillion legislative package was several times larger than the $800 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, the initial amounts provided for education in the CARES Act were much smaller.

The Recovery Act sent $54 billion in education aid to states primarily for K–12 programs and the implementation of RTTT. Moreover, as noted by Education Week, the “2009 stimulus didn’t just shore up education budgets; its unprecedented windfall of education aid also helped the Obama administration put financial muscle behind its priorities. Those priorities focused on areas like standards and accountability.” To promote those policies, the funds came with prescriptive regulations about their use, including provisions that drove an expansion of charters, standardized testing, and test-based teacher evaluation. States and school districts desperate for federal dollars had to commit to this agenda to receive RTTT’s “competitive grants.”

“The CARES Act doesn’t take the same approach,” Education Week’s analysis concluded. “It’s hard to see discrete elements of a Trump education policy agenda driving current coronavirus aid — although U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos indicated last week she wants to change that.”

DeVos Given Tools of Destruction

The CARES Act gives DeVos multiple tools to do so. It gives the secretary of education authority to waive many requirements outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the omnibus federal education legislation that replaced NCLB. The first — and undoubtedly most popular — use of this authority came when all 50 states sought and received in a matter of weeks a waiver to suspend federally required annual standardized testing for the current school year. The educational irrelevance of these tests and their existence as an obstacle to serving the real needs of students was one of the first lessons of the pandemic.

But DeVos’ new authority has much more sinister potential. The CARES Act gives her the power to waive Title I funding regulations, which govern the largest federal education program supporting children from low-income families. It also allows her to suspend Title II rules defining professional development and Title IV requirements to “provide students with a well-rounded education” including the arts, mental health services, and training on trauma-informed practices — all crucially important in the current crisis. The CARES Act specifically allows schools to shift money from these areas to purchase “digital devices.” By early April, 28 states had received waivers to reallocate ESSA spending.

In the guidelines for distributing the first pot of CARES funding, the $3 billion Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, DeVos blocked any use of funds to support DACA recipients or international students. She also said any monies awarded to teacher unions to provide services defined in the CARES Act would be “inconsistent with statutory requirements,” although last year she authorized church and religious groups to receive federal funds to provide similar services.

DeVos has a long and notorious record of using agency guidance and regulatory action to undermine equity. One of her first acts after being confirmed as secretary was to support the repeal of protections for transgender students, including their right to choose restrooms. She was sued for rolling back protections against predatory lenders at for-profit colleges and threatened with jail by a federal judge for “intentionally flouting” a court order to stop collection proceedings for such loans. DeVos rescinded sexual assault guidance issued under Title IX, a move the National Women’s Law Center said would have a “devastating” impact, and in May released new guidance that weakened protections for victims of sexual harassment and assault. She proposed allowing schools to use federal “student enrichment funds” to purchase guns and used a school safety commission formed in the wake of the Parkland school shootings to recommend repeal of regulations on school discipline practices that were rooted in civil rights concerns. Similarly, DeVos tried to rescind Obama-era rules that required districts to track racial disparities in special education classification rates, an effort a federal judge blocked as “arbitrary and capricious.” In April, DeVos relaxed oversight and accreditation rules for higher education online programs at a time when the pandemic was massively expanding the scale of such programs.

Trump and DeVos on Feb 14, 2017 in Washington D.C. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool
Beyond putting her very rich thumb on the wrong side of the scales of justice, DeVos is now in position to be a key gatekeeper for a new and crushing era of austerity for school budgets. To access the CARES Act’s stabilization funds, states must nominally commit to maintaining recent levels of education funding for fiscal years 2021 and 2022. But DeVos can waive that requirement and no doubt will. Already, she has issued guidelines for distributing CARES Act funds that drive more dollars to private schools and wealthier students by circumventing requirements to allocate the funds according to more progressive Title I formulas.

DeVos undermines equity. She flouts the Will of Congress. She seeks to dismantle civil rights protections.

Unlike Trump, she is not incompetent. She is not stupid. She is very clever. She is diabolical. Trump will never fire her because she sows chaos as surely as he does, but without bluster and braggadocio.

If you need a reason to vote for Joe Biden, think about Betsy DeVos.

Valerie Jablow, parent advocate in the District of Columbia, has untangled a tangled knot of obscure real estate deals, all derived from what is supposedly public property.

It begins with a large D.C. public school building formerly known as Taft junior high school.

At 201,000 square feet, Taft is a very large, DC-owned former DCPS junior high school adjacent to a public recreation area. It was closed in 2008 and since leased to charters–first Hyde, then its successor, Perry Street Prep, which holds a lease for the entire space.

But Perry Street Prep is hardly the only school located at Taft.

Perry Street sublets a portion of the building to LAMB. Perry Street also sublets another portion of the building to the private (and wealthy) nonprofit Charter School Incubator Initiative (CSII), which was founded (per its tax return) to provide new charter schools with facilities at below market rates. And Perry Street sublets yet another portion of the building to a small private school, St. Jerome.

In turn, CSII sublets its rented portion of Taft to LAMB.

And now, LAMB is proposing to rent a portion of its subleased space to Sojourner Truth (presumably in anticipation of moving its entire school out of Taft in the next few years to a new facility in Ward 4).

That lease between LAMB and Sojourner is in the materials on the charter board website for the charter board’s February 2020 meeting.

But the posted lease is missing exhibits A, B, and C. In their place are blank pages.

Jablow works on the old-fashioned assumption that the public has a right to know what is being done with its money and its public facilities.

The D.C. officials have different ideas. To whom are they accountable as they ransack and dispose of the public trust?

Jablow asks the money question:

Why is our city seemingly not ensuring that the greatest monetary benefit from subletting and leasing a publicly owned building goes directly to the public?

TIME magazine has a depressing expose about the $160 billion in tax breaks that the CARES Act awards to the real estate industry, including the family business of Jared Kushner.

The CARES Act is the coronavirus relief package of $2 trillion intended to save mom-and-pop businesses and other small businesses at risk of failing due to the prolonged shutdown.

When Democrats realized that the real estate moguls had pulled a fast one, they wrote repeal legislation that has no chance of passing in the Senate.

TIME’s analysis of drafts of the bills and lobbying disclosures, along with interviews with half a dozen staffers and lobbyists, show that the provisions originated with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s office, which was working with other Republicans on the committee, and were lobbied for heavily by the real estate industry, including a prominent real estate trade group, of which Jared Kushner’s family’s company is a member…

Jared Kushner’s family’s company, Kushner Companies, is a member of NMHC’s advisory committee, according to the organization’s website. That membership appears to be the lowest level of membership and requires an annual fee of $5,000. The NMHC website also lists Avi Lebor, Kushner Companies’ director of acquisitions, as the contact for the company on the membership directory. Lebor was in prison with Kushner’s father and joined Kushner Companies after they were both released, according to Bloomberg. The Trump Organization, which will also benefit from the tax provisions, is not publicly listed as a member of NMHC.

War profiteers.

Randi Weingarten and I talked about what happens next: after the pandemic, how we protect schools and children from “opportunistic” tech entrepreneurs, what does Cuomo have up his sleeve, can we trust Biden to ditch Race to the Top bogus ideas?

Our conversation was recorded and live-streamed by the Network for Public Education. Carol Burris introduced us. The conversation wa facilitated by Darcie Cimarusti and Marla Kilfoyle, the fabulous staff of NPE.

Donald Cohen of the nonpartisan “In the Public Interest” has assembled a brief history of anti-government rhetoric.

He has assembled quotations from the anti-government crowd. It is only 12 pages and a quick, enlightening read.

It is called The Anti-Government Echo Chamber.

Here is the introduction on the ITPI website:

“They play to your fear, government plays to your fear.”

“Will you resist the temptation to get a government handout for your community?”

“Most businesses would tell you that they presently take care of their employees. They don’t need government telling them how to do it.”

“Government is a dangerous thing.”

No, these quotes aren’t from a recent Fox News broadcast about the coronavirus crisis. They’re examples from a decades-long, relentless attack on government by corporations, conservative politicians, and right wing think tanks.

Over the past few months we’ve been collecting anti-government rhetoric from Ronald Reagan to the Cato Institute to the mid-20th-century white supremacist Sen. James Eastland. We’ve dubbed it “The Anti-Government Echo Chamber.”

What stands out is that anti-government rhetoric has gotten clearer and more consistent over time. It’s come from diverse right-wing voices, from white supremacists to the religious right. It’s been weaponized to oppose a wide range of policies and programs, from education to ensuring civil rights. Of course, it’s been selective—focused on the safety net and public services we all rely on but silent about tax cuts, subsidies, and other benefits for corporations.

And it’s been effective—dramatically so. Taxes on corporations and the wealthy have been slashed. Public budgets have been cut. Public goods and services have been privatized, from highways to education. Nearly every state’s tax code is regressive, meaning they collect more taxes from low-income people than high-income people as a share of their income. At the federal level, spending on public health, education, and other nondefense discretionary programs is at a historic low.

Despite what these voices have said, government is the only institution capable of ensuring that things like quality health care, clean water, a good education, well-paid work, and equal voice are available to all. There are just some things that private markets can’t do.

We published “The Anti-Government Echo Chamber” also as a call to action to progressive leaders, thinkers, strategists, organizations, organizers, and activists.

Virtually every policy, program, and issue we focus on relies on using public power to create a fairer, healthier, and safer country and world. Yet, progressives rarely talk about government successes and progress except when under attack. The language we use is often tinged with anti-government attitudes.

Conservatives have long been clear about what they want—less government, a weaker democracy, and more power for corporations, the bigger the better. Progressives have focused on specific issues and campaigns and remained silent on the ideas that unite those issues.

The coronavirus crisis is revealing the dire need for effective, democratic, adequately funded public institutions. We must create our own “Pro-Public Echo Chamber” until our ideas become the new popular conventional wisdom and a governing reality. Are you with us?

The Anti-Government Echo Chamber begins like this:

“The emancipation of belief is the most formidable tasks of reform and the one on which all else depends.”
– John Kenneth Galbraith

“The power of the [corporation] depends on instilling the belief that any public or private action that serves its purposes also serves the purpose of the public at large.”
– John Kenneth Galbraith

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”
– President Ronald Reagan

“The folks who run Koch [Industries] are very clear. They would love to have government just get out of the way and allow companies to compete, whether in their particular sectors or other sectors. They are true believers in small government.”
– Congressional candidate Mike Pompeo when asked if he was influenced by Koch Industries, his largest donor.

“Expansive government undermines the moral character that is necessary to civil society.”
– Cato Institute 2017 Handbook for Policymakers

Anti-government sentiment by corporations and conservative intellectuals isn’t new. In 1914, three years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire killed 145 women and girls, real estate interests lobbied against new building safety codes.“The experience of the past proves conclusively that the best government is the least possible government, that the unfettered initiative of the individual is the force that makes a country great,” said Laurence McGuire, chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York.

But since the 1960’s (particularly after Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign), anti-government rhetoric has gotten clearer, more consistent, and has come from diverse right-wing voices, from white supremacists to the religious right. It’s been weaponized to oppose a wide range of policies and programs, from education to ensuring civil rights. The attack on government is often selective—focused on the safety net and public services we all rely upon but silent on tax cuts, subsidies and other benefits for industry.

I think you will want to read it all.

As the old saying goes, better to steal a million dollars than to steal a loaf of bread. The former is smart thinking, the latter is a crime.

In Livermore, California, the leaders of a charter chain were charged with securities fraud. But they got off without any criminal charges or jail time.

When you read this story, you realize what clever guys they were to figure out such a complex scheme. You have to be an accountant to follow the money.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has charged former CEO of the Tri-Valley Learning Corporation, Bill Batchelor, with allegedly misleading investors when acquiring a $25 million bond for Livermore charter schools.

Batchelor and John Zukoski, the former director of finance for the schools, were charged with a violation of the antifraud provision of the Securities Act of 1933. They were accused of helping prepare and sign a bond-offering document of $25.54 million to fund the purchase and renovation of a Livermore building to house two schools in May 2015. One was a charter school run by the Tri-Valley Learning Corporation (TVLC) and the other was a private school, which Batchelor also managed.

But according to the complaint by the Securities and Exchange Commission filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California and made public this week, both men were aware that TVLC had “serious cash flow problems” that would negatively affect the corporation’s ability to make payments on the bonds. The commission also alleges that TVLC was delinquent on payments owed to vendors, had other debt from a private loan that was overdue by a year and had drawn a bank line of credit to its limit in a previous bond.

But, the bond document failed to disclose that TVLC was in “serious financial distress,” and both Batchelor and Zukoski signed documents stating the material had no misrepresentations or omissions.

Without admitting any wrongdoing, Batchelor and Zukoski agreed to not participate in any future municipal debt offerings. Batchelor agreed to pay a $20,000 penalty, and Zukoski a $15,000 penalty. Both settlements are subject to a court approval, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

TVLC and California Preparatory Academy, the private high school school, went before the Alameda County Board of Supervisors seeking approval for a $30 million municipal bond to finance the purchase of a new high school building at 3090 Independence Drive in May 2015.

The bond was approved, and the Livermore Valley Charter Prep high school and the private school ended up sharing the same space on Independence Drive in Livermore.