Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Montana decision another nail in Democracy's coffin

Harold Hamm
You can bet Harold Hamm has a big shit-eating grin on his face today. Billionaire Hamm, the CEO of Continental Resources is also Mitt Romney's chief energy adviser. Continental Resources is currently drilling in the Bakken shale, located in North Dakota and Montana. He's contributed $985,000 to the pro-Romney super-PAC with more coming. But Hamm himself just got the gift of a lifetime.

Yesterday's Supreme Court decision in the Montana Citizens United case, put another nail in the coffin of American democracy (what's left of it). The ruling struck down the state of Montana's century-old law that limited political campaign spending corporations amd established the power of a small group of multi-millionaires and billionaires like Hamm to buy the state's elected officials, judgeships and other political appointments on the cheap. What a gift to the Koch Bros. and other deregulation-mad oil, mining and gas frackers. What a disaster for the environment, for public space, public schools, and public decision-making.

The ruling's effect will reach far beyond Montana and into every state and municipal election nationwide. Here in Chicago we've already had a taste of plutocrat rule when the deep-pocketed group Stand For Children came into town and financed the election campaigns of loyal pols who then passed the anti-union SB7 bill. In Wisconsin we saw the Koch Bros. and friends pour $47 million into the Walker recall election.

Even as we now campaign in Chicago for an elected school board, we must also make sure that any new board is truly representative of this city's communities and not another electoral playground for the self-interested corporate elite or nothing will have really changed.

Before you privatize special ed...

Farming out special ed? First check out New York's experience with privatization. Here's the findings of the first of 18 audits being conducted by the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, of the preschool special education program, a $2 billion system that relies almost exclusively on private contractors, many of them for-profit companies, to deliver services to 3- and 4-year-olds. 

NYT reports that companies employing “special education itinerant teachers,” who provide individual instruction at homes, day-care centers or preschools, can charge as much as $122 an hour for these services, under rates set by the State Education Department. The annual bill sometimes exceeds $100,000 per child. 
The first three audits, which have already led to criminal charges, are to be released on Monday.
“This money was intended to give our most vulnerable children the services they needed,” Mr. DiNapoli said. “Instead, the money was used for contractors to landscape their second homes or for no-show jobs. Special-needs kids were shortchanged by contractors that had figured out how to game the system.”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gail Collins' take on privatization

In her column this morning, "Political Private Practice",  NYT's Gail Collins talks privatization, including public school privatization with what she calls  humorization. No one can do it better.
In honor of the campaign season, maybe this is a good time to point out some examples of privatization disasters. Texas tried to turn eligibility screening for social services over to a private company, creating all sorts of messes until it gave up the experiment. The most apocryphal story involved a privately run call center that told applicants to send their documentation to a number that turned out to be the fax at a warehouse in Seattle.

The hottest new wrinkle for private companies eager to tap into public school funding is charter cyberschools. A study at the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center found that only about a quarter met federal standards for academic progress.
Collins's book, "As Texas Goes -- How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda", offers much more in the way of privatization myth debunking including a whole chapter on "The Business of Schools."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

School privateers set up new $10 million "venture fund" for Chicago schools

Here we go again. The Chicago Civic Committee and billionaire Bruce Rauner are pushing a  "venture philanthropy fund" for public school "innovation."  Even though the new fund is supposedly modeled on the Gates Fund, this new collection of school privateers and union busters can buy their way in for a meager $10 million investment. Rahm, of course, will roll out the red carpet.

According to Greg Hinz at Crain's,   
Mr. Rauner, who also chairs the education panel of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, has been talking for years about attracting venture capital to the city school system. In an email exchange this morning, he said he's still interested in finding money to buy underused school buildings and make them available to startup charters, and he congratulated the new group. "We can use all the talent, relationships and fundraising ability that we can get," he said.

WSJ critical of PA Republicans for being soft on vouchers

NAACP protest in Harrisburg, slams vouchers & Gov. Corbett's budget cuts.
There's no better place to get the Ownership Society viewpoint on school reform than from the Wall Street Journal (although lately EdWeek has been running a close second). A June 16th, WSJ article, "Keystone State Kop-Out on Education," by David Feith, lambasts Pennsylvania Republicans for not doing enough on passage of a  state-wide voucher bill which could also serve as a bailout for the struggling Catholic school system.
"Without vouchers, we simply can't continue to bear the heavy cost of operating schools that are financially unsustainable, despite the great service they provide to the wider community," wrote Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in May. That's why the church sponsored "Voucher Sunday" on May 20, deploying students, parents and teachers to promote school choice at more than 1,000 Masses across the state.
Feith begins his piece quoting  pro-voucher Gov. Tom Corbett calling education "the civil rights issue of the 21st century," (how original!) blasting a system in which "some students are consigned to failure because of their ZIP codes," and identifying vouchers as his top educational priority. But unlike Louisiana's rabid voucherite Gov. Bobby Jindal, who just forced the nation's biggest voucher bill though his legislature, Corbett "has been missing in action—failing to endorse the Senate voucher bill at public events, for example, or over lunches with legislators." 

The best Pennsylvania is likely to get now, says Feith, is a bill introduced this week by Republican Rep. Jim Christiana, which would create $200 million in new tax credits for businesses that donate to scholarship organizations.

So even though, Philadelphia has now turned over much of its public schools system to private charter school operators, one-percenter ideologues want more. They believe there may never be a better time to resurrect their previously failed voucher strategy than the present, especially with Mitt Romney's campaign touting vouchers at the heart of his education platform. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Axelrod's old firm behind attack ads on CTU

Obama, Emanuel, & Axelrod
Well, mercy me! Look who's behind those ads blasting the CTU. Why, it's ASGK Public Strategies and AKPD, David Axelrod's old firms. An embarrassed Axelrod is claiming that he no longer has any connection to the firms since he sold them in 2009, when he became Obama's Senior White House Advisor. But he's still very much connected (the A stands for Axelrod) and he pulls down a nice $200,000/year from them.

Among ASGK clients are Citibank, the financial giant that received $45 billion in bailout money after helping to cause the global financial collapse. Citi is also the driving force behind the Mayor's so-called Infrastructure Trust scheme. Another client is the Ricketts family, owners of the Cubs. You might recall, it was Joe Ricketts, the right-wing family patriarch, whose PAC planned the racist ad campaign against Pres. Obama. Rahm Emanuel then feigned outrage and threatened to turn his back on the Ricketts' demand for about $500 million in public funding for the renovation of Wrigley Field.
Emanuel’s top spokeswoman says hiring ASGK won’t win Citibank and the Cubs any favors from City Hall. “If you think hiring Axelrod’s old firm will get you special access or privileges, you are sorely mistaken,” says spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton. “No person or company has an inside track into City Hall.”
Sorry for the break in this post. It took me a couple of minutes to get off the floor and back onto my chair after that one. My side still hurts from laughter. 

Another Axelrod-founded firm — AKPD Media and Messaging — recently produced ads critical of the Chicago Teachers Union, which is locked in a contract battle with Emanuel, who seems hell-bent on destroying the city's public employee unions. AKPD oversaw Emanuel’s ad blitz during his mayoral campaign, and the firm is a paid consultant to his political committee, state records show.  

Like ASGK, AKPD continues to pay Axelrod for selling his stake in that firm. AKPD owed him $2 million, to be paid over four years, when he became a White House aide, Axelrod told federal ethics officials.

Both AKPD and ASKG are housed at the same River North address that’s also home to Axelrod Strategies, the firm he founded upon leaving the White House last year. “I rent space in my old offices, but I work full-time out of Obama headquarters these days,” Axelrod says.ASGK’s managing partner, Eric Sedler, won’t talk about the work the firm is doing for the Cubs and Citibank.
And no one, it seems, will say anything about the anti-CTU campaign.  

All this calls into question the motives behind AFT President Randi Weingarten's recent visit to Chicago. Weingarten spoke in support of the Infrastructure Trust at Bill Clinton's Global Initiative Conference. To her credit, Randi had been in town a few weeks earlier to support and march with thousands of rallying union teachers. But now, here she was rallying support for the very forces that were attacking the CTU in a massive media campaign. According to the Sun-Times report:  
Emanuel was seated onstage next to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, whose largest member union, the Chicago Teachers Union, [was] taking a strike-authorization vote this week, frustrated with Emanuel’s administration, which killed a negotiated 4 percent raise for the teachers last year. Emanuel has said he thinks teachers deserve a raise. His board has offered a 2 percent raise in the first year of a proposed five-year contract and no guaranteed raise after that.
Weingarten and Emanuel didn’t go near that issue Thursday.
Why not?

Cross-posted on Mike Klonsky's SmallTalk Blog

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hedge-fund school reformer Griffin says 'ultra-wealthy' have too little influence

You wouldn't think that Mitt Romney could saunter into Barack Obama's home town and raise millions in one night and walk away unscathed. But that's exactly what he did. Here's how.

Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, Chicago's second richest man (behind Sam Zell) and a major player in Chicago's corporate-style school reform, raised thousands for both Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008. But this year he’s not hedging his bets: he’s going all or nothing on Romney. The founder of the $13 billion Citadel Investment Group and his hedge-fund manager wife Anne Dias Griffin co-sponsored a $3.3 million Chicago fund-raiser for Romney at Chicago's Pump Room on Thursday.

Ultra-conservative Griffin has given more than $1 million to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney SuperPAC, since last December. The Griffins have given another $1 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads SuperPAC since last August and have donated to the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.  He's also a big fan and patron of Rahm Emanuel (no surprise there) and the Griffins contributed $200,000 to Rahm's mayoral campaign. What he like most about Rahm is the mayor's commitment to privately run charter schools and his antipathy towards the teachers union.

Griffin told the Chicago Tribune earlier this year that he felt the “ultra-wealthy” like himself had “insufficient influence” in politics.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Koch Bros. summits dominate the right-wing movement

Koch summits are regarded as a holy grail of sorts for conservatives seeking cash for their initiatives, blogs Kenneth Vogel at Politico. The Koch Bros. raise hundreds of millions for right-wing groups and individuals at these summits and the money is leveraged to take over existing organizations like the libertarian Cato Institute.Writes Vogel:
Koch Industries, the brothers’ privately owned oil, chemical and household products company, has sponsored the summits twice a year since 2003 and they are where it all comes together in Koch World. The donors, like regulars Foster Friess and Rich DeVos and first-timers like Sheldon Adelson, are gently pressured to give while the invited operatives jockey to impress the Kochs and their donors with presentations on campaign and legislative strategy.
There’s also a collection of A-list dignitaries that has in recent years included rising political stars like Eric Cantor, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell and Rick Perry, talkers like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck — even Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Thomas.
Among other groups receiving money directly or indirectly from the Koch Bros. summits, according to Vogel, are: The Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and The Federalist Society, as well as advocacy groups including the 60 Plus Association, National Right to Work, the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.

The policy implications for education are enormous as the brothers work through groups like ALEC to promote privatization, school vouchers, and other market "reforms" in the public sector.

The next Koch summit is scheduled later this month in San Diego.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The death of Philly's public school system

Coming soon to your city -- if it hasn't already got there
Here's what a state takeover, a decade of corporate-style "reform" under the so-called School Reform Commission, and privatization have done to Philadelphia's public schools. 

Writes Kathy Matheson, Associated Press:

Helen Gym
The City of Brotherly Love is boiling over with frustration. It's not just the $700 million in education cuts this past year. It's not just a loss of state aid, which led to a massive rally and 14 arrests. And it's not just the plan to close 40 of Philadelphia's 249 schools within a year.
"For 10 years we've lived with promises that privatization and choice options would be the magic bullet to a lot of the problems," said parent Helen Gym. "What we found is chasing after these silver bullets has really drained schools of resources and starved them to the point of dysfunction." 
Ed historian, William Kashatus writes in the Inquirer:
Privatization fads have come and gone throughout the long, troubled history of education reform. Philadelphia's last such experiment took place just 10 years ago, when the state created the School Reform Commission and handed dozens of schools over to corporations, nonprofits, and universities. In the end, there was no measurable improvement in academic performance.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Testing contractors bleeding La. schools dry

John Kennedy, state Treasurer, holds two books listings contracts for the Department of Education. Kennedy spoke with the News-Star Editorial Board on May 23. / Margaret Croft/The News-Star
The Louisiana Department of Education is spending more than $132.9 million with two out-of-state companies for standardized tests.The department has 70 current contracts worth more than $1 million each. That adds up to $282 million, more than half of which goes to contractors outside of Louisiana.
The biggest beneficiaries of current contracts are Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corp. for $93.1 million and California-based Pacific Metrics for $39.8 million. The six current contracts for the two companies account for $132.9 million. According to its website, Pacific Metrics develops online student assessment systems with items aligned to the Common Core State Standards in English, language arts and mathematics. --

Friday, June 1, 2012

Gov. Walker called on Rhee to help him fight Wisc. teachers

Soon after Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker moved to crush the state's teacher unions, he called on Michelle Rhee for help. While she declined to actually come to Wisconsin and stand behind Walker in the face of angry teacher protests, Rhee did come to Walker's rescue on more than one occasion.

Mother Jones writer Andy Kroll gleaned this from some of Walker's newly released internal emails.
Rhee did defend some of Walker's anti-union measures twice on television soon after he announced his plan. "The move to try to limit what [public-sector unions] bargain over is an incredibly important one," she said on "Fox and Friends."  Months later, Rhee appeared alongside Walker at a DC meeting of the American Federation for Children, a hard-line conservative education organization founded by Betsy DeVos, the wife of Amway heir Dick DeVos and a funder of numerous conservative causes.

Since leaving DC, Rhee has embraced and promoted a more conservative, anti-union education reform agenda. She pushed a bill in the Tennessee legislature that ended collective bargaining for teachers, stumped for Ohio's SB 5 bill (later repealed via referendum) which restricted bargaining rights, and has worked as an unpaid adviser to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a tea-party-favorite who "has never met a voucher or a charter school he doesn't like," as one education reporter put it.
* Also see Richard Kahlenberg's Washington Post piece from February 27, 2011, "Gov. Scott Walker can thank Michelle Rhee for making teachers unions the enemy" and Alex Pareene's post at Salon from May 9, 2011, "Michelle Rhee joins Scott Walker at school voucher group’s “policy summit”.