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

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Editorial: 'Stop the giveaway to charter schools'

I'm re-posting this editorial from today's Tampa Bay Times in full because it's spot on.

Once again legislators are looking for ways to undermine Florida's public school system by giving more taxpayer dollars and freebies to charter schools, including those run by for-profit management companies. At a time when school district budgets remain squeezed for cash, two House bills would give charter schools more opportunities while undercutting traditional public schools where most Florida students attend. Public schools are bought with public money, and they should not be given away to schools operated by private interests.

The bills would turn on its head the notion of charters as alternative schools with considerable autonomy in exchange for less district support. Instead of being outside the system, charter schools would gain favored status yet still lack taxpayer accountability. One bill, HB 7009, would require districts to give unused school space to charters for free, or only for maintenance costs. And HB 1267 would guarantee that charters receive about $1,200 per elementary student — and more for high school students — for construction and maintenance from general revenue dollars when the Legislature has now failed for two years to invest construction and renovation dollars for public schools.

The Legislature should end its fixation with charter schools as the answer to all that ails Florida's school performance. Some charter schools are successful, but many aren't. Stanley D. Smith, a professor of finance at the University of Central Florida, has done an analysis, controlling for poverty and minority characteristics of elementary schools, that shows "we should question the state's increasing emphasis on charter schools because as a group they underperform traditional public schools." He also studied high school test scores and, using the same methodology, found that charters and traditional schools performed the same.

If a charter wants to use an old public school property, it should do what is happening in Pinellas County. University Preparatory Academy, a charter school, is negotiating with the Pinellas School Board to buy the former home of Southside Fundamental Middle School in St. Petersburg's Midtown neighborhood. If the two parties work out a deal based on fair market values, both sides win.

The Senate still has time to get this right. Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Lutz, should understand the conflict better than most lawmakers when it comes to the difference between public schools heavily regulated by the Legislature and charters. He is the co-founder and business administrator of Dayspring Academy, a 12-year-old nonprofit charter in Port Richey. As a legislator, he has a responsibility to ensure that public schools are adequately financed. An open spigot to less-regulated charters — when public schools have been shortchanged — is not in his constituents' interests.

Gov. Rick Scott, with his newfound interest for public education and teachers, should tell legislative leaders that traditional public schools must come first and that charter schools, while they are here to stay, should not be getting guaranteed tax dollars every year to build and maintain schools that are run by people who don't answer directly to the voters.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Murdoch wants FCC to change rules so he can grab L.A. Times

Rupert Murdoch's criminal media empire could expand even more wildly in the U.S. if he's able to get the F.C.C. to get rid of some of its basic regulations. Murdoch's NewsCorp company is stepping up lobbying efforts revise a media ownership rule that would prevent the company from acquiring The L.A.Times and other newspapers in markets in which it already owns television stations.

British billionaire Murdoch is also moving to get billions in U.S. public school district contracts for his Amplify Corp., contracts which would give him access to records and data pertaining to every student and their family in the district. This while he and his media companies are still being investigated for criminal use of wire taps and use of public records.

Craig Aaron, president and chief executive of Free Press, an advocacy group that supports diverse media ownership is quoted in Sunday's New York Times:
“We’re talking about Murdoch owning more newspapers in a year when people are still being arrested at the News of the World." 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wall St. is bullish on school closings

Moody's in no mood for public schools. reports that Wall St. likes the mass closing of public schools.
The Philadelphia School District's plan to shut almost 1/10 of the district's 250 schools, as competing, taxpayer-funded charter schools draw off one-third of the district's student body and Gov. Corbett cuts state aid, is "positive from a credit perspective" because it shows school officials "are intent on reducing expenditures" even if it makes them "unpopular," writes Moody's analyst.
There's no mention of the Dept of Justice's pending actions against Moody's for defrauding investors.

Pritzker leaving Chicago. Who's complaining?

What we miss or lose out on on a local level we more than gain because of her involvement on a national level,” says Marty Nesbitt, who co-founded the Parking Spot airport parking management company with Ms. Pritzker. -- Crain's
Pritzker (Bloomberg pic)
It seems Obama is about to appoint Hyatt's union-bashing billionaire, Penny Pritzker, as his next Commerce Secretary. It's clearly a patronage appointment, the usual payback to Chicago corporate and political leadership for their support in last year's election. Pritzker was Obama's chief fund raiser. That's also the obvious reason why Pritzker was appointed by the mayor to sit on the school board. It's not like she had any other qualifications. Last week she left her position on the  board in preparation for her departure to D.C.

While some are jumping for joy and shouting "good riddance" -- Chicago teachers and Hyatt Regency Hotel workers to name but a few -- others who have benefited more directly from Pritzker patronage are crying the blues.
John Canning Jr., founder and chairman of Madison Dearborn Partners, agrees. If she was unable to give because of a conflict of interest, “we'd certainly miss that,” he says. “She's been extremely generous to a lot of causes. That's important.”
But more realistic Chicago corporate types know that they will ultimately profit on the Pritzker appointment.

Pritzker, now ranked 255th on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, was reportedly in the hunt for that job in 2008. But she withdrew her name apparently because of toxic subprime loans involving a failed bank partially owned by her family. There were also concerns that her $1.8 billion net worth included offshore accounts.Aside from Hyatt,

Pritzker is also the co-founder of PSP Capital Partners LLC and Pritzker Realty Group in Chicago and Artemis Real Estate Partners LLC in Chevy Chase, Md., just outside the capital.

It's unclear if the export of school privatization companies and charter operators to other countries, will be included in her Commerce Dept. portfolio.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Charters grease corporate contracts

Rupert Murdoch (AP photo)
Writing in, David Sirota warns us to stop pretending wealthy CEOs pushing for charter schools are altruistic "reformers." They're raking in billions.
 Citing a fact sheet from the for-profit education industry itself, the Washington Post recently reported that “the education sector now represents nearly 9 percent of the country’s gross domestic product” while the “for-profit education is valued at $1.3 trillion, and is one of the largest U.S. investment markets.” Likewise, NPR reports that as he’s launched an education technology division, Rupert Murdoch “has described education as a market worth hundreds of billions of dollars.” This is why the tech site Geekwire predicts another full-scale tech industry bubble, thanks to “K-12 and other education segments now being chased by a mob of investment capitalists.”
According to Sirota, contracts are much easier to land in privately run charter schools because such schools are often uninhibited by public schools’ procurement rules and standards requiring a demonstrable educational need for technology. That reality, no doubt, is part of why charter schools often spend so much more on “administration” and “business services” than do their public school counterparts.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Remember when Crown and Edelman told us how they did it?

It was back in 2011 when Jonah Edelman and Stand For Children, backed by billionaires like Crown, Pritzker, Griffin, and Rauner, took IL politicians and union leaders for a ride.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My colleague asks some good questions

My colleague at DePaul, Ken Saltman, is quoted in this AP Wire story by Kathy Matheson, "Complaint Targets Philanthropy in Public Education." 
"Is it fair for a small number of really rich people to take over educational policy-making?" said Kenneth Saltman, an education professor at DePaul University in Chicago. "Who are the lobbyists really working for? Who's funding them?"
Good questions all.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Behind the Chicago's school closings: Rahm's gentrification

Greg Hinz at Crain's unintentionally gives us some clues about the real reasons for Rahm's mass closures of neighborhood schools and their replacement with privately-run charters and selective-enrollment schools. It has much more to do with reshaping the city's demography, pushing out the poor and people of color from the inner city and replacing them with a new class of young, tech and finance professionals.

Writes Hinz:
 Take, for instance, the paradox that the city has grown wealthier even as it has lost hundreds of thousands of working-class residents, most of them minorities. 
As Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago economist Bill Testa put it, it's good that minorities finally can make it anywhere, including the 'burbs. Everyone should have choices. At the same time, it's undeniable that one reason working-class people are fleeing the city is that the influx of wealthier newcomers is driving up prices.
To some extent, that's classic gentrification because, when those with money fight for space against those without, the money folks almost always win. Forcing lower-income folks out to inner-ring suburbs via pricing pressures can be a real disservice, if only because the suburbs are much less equipped than the city with public transit to get people to work.
Of course, Chicago's gentrification didn't begin with Rahm. It goes as far back as the 1950s and old man Daley's regime. The demolition of Chicago's public housing in the 80's and 90's and the forced migration of thousands of black families out of the west and south sides, out to inner-ring suburbs, began under Richie Daley. The city now has only five census tracts of majority high-income earners, but vast swaths of majority low-income households.

Chicago now has only 5 census tracts of majority high-income earners, but vast swaths of mostly low-income households.  (Chicago Magazine)
Daley together with the Civic Committee and then schools CEO Arne Duncan, also cooked up the Renaissance 2010 school debacle and the unbridled expansion of privately-run charters and new selective enrollment high schools at the expense of neighborhood schools.

Renaissance 2010 was a dismal failure in terms of improving Chicago's public schools if that was ever its real intent. It was quietly junked and replaced with the current strategy of mass school closings in mainly black and Latino communities under the banner of under-utilization.

The Sun-Times confirmed today that 90% of the students impacted by CPS school closings are African-American.
Of those 129 schools located mostly on the South and West sides, 117 are majority black. And 119 of them have a percentage of black students higher than thedistrict average. At the 129 schools on CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s list of schools that could be closed this year, 88 percent of the students are black. Schools with at least 90 percent black students account for 103 of the 129. Just nine are majority Hispanic.
Byrd-Bennett insists that "race is not a factor" in the process to close schools in an effort to “right size” the district. Rather, she says, the population decline has led to “under utilization.” But it's not hard to see how the destabilizing of neighborhoods through gentrification and the accompanying concentration of wealth and resources in the downtown and South Loop area of the city, has pushed low-income families out of their former communities leading to this population decline.

Many other targeted schools aren't under-utilized at all but are in cusp neighborhoods targeted for gentrification. CPS has also artificially intensified the crisis by redefining under-utilization to mean classrooms with fewer than 30 students and overstating the numbers of lost school enrollment.

All part of the plan.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Language of the Ownership Society

I'm always taken by the language of the Ownership Society. I'm dazzled by how it's used and misused to obfuscate and mystify. For example, I love the word sequestration. For one thing, as a blogger, I've gone about as far as I can go with the fiscal cliff, as in: "We're not afraid of the fiscal cliff. Many of us are already over it."  I even had the term banned as own of my New Year's resolutions. You've never heard it since then. Have you?

Of course, sequestration is nothing new. The working poor and the rapidly disintegrating middle class have been the targets of sequestration for the past three decades or more. 

You could say it began with the dismantling of the labor unions during the Reagan years. Or maybe in the '90s with Clinton's so-called "welfare reform." Sequestration  currently takes the form of  foreclosures, the cutting of real earnings relative to productivity, pensions, and medical care for the sick and elderly, reduced access to education, and other so-called "entitlements." In general we've nearly all been sequestered to one degree or another, through the greatest redistribution ever of public wealth from the bottom to the top in response to the de-industrialization of America.

But now I'm all into sequestering those who deserve to be sequestered. Here in Chicago for example, I'd like Katten Muchin Rosenman, the law firm that swung the parking meter deal, to be sequestered. I was cursing at them just the other night after walking half-way up a long Lincoln Avenue  block in below-freezing weather. Late for a meeting. My numb fingers fumbling for 8 quarters. Dropping one in the snow. Damn, now trying to work a credit card into the slot and then finding out the buttons weren't working. Then having to walk on the icy sidewalk half a block back to the car and then a block back again to my destination. What is this but another form of sequestration?

Meanwhile, Richie Daley lands a cushy job with the law firm. I say, sequester their asses.

Actually, sequester his whole damn family. And while we're at it, how about a sequester for Rahm, too? Remember, he was the "new sheriff in town" who was going to play hardball with Chicago Parking Meters, LLC. He dropped that ball like a hot potato. Sequester him too.

Sun-Times wanted for aiding and abetting

Sequester Madigan
And then there's the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board. I had hopes for them recently after their reporters did such a great job exposing the whole UNO charter school scandal (and while you're at it, sequester UNO's Juan Rangel, and Boss Madigan, please). 

But today, the Sun-Times ran an editorial supporting the Nekritz pension-robbing bill (which has about as much chance of success as a man walking through hell with his underpants soaked in gasoline). The Nekritz bill not only takes away cost-of-living increases for the elderly; it raises the retirement age (work 'til you drop) and shifts the  cost of paying for teacher pensions from the state to already cash-starved local school districts.

The S-T editors even admit that the bill is unconstitutional. In their words, "We worry it may violate a clause in the state Constitution that protects pension benefits."  Damn right it does. 

Isn't it a crime to aid and abet a criminal who is knowingly engaged in an illegal act?Sequester them, please. 

Good Reads

In considering these dramatic shifts in wealth seizure and redistribution, two important articles caught my attention and are worth a read. The first was this review by the Reader's Sam Worley of Christine Walley's new book, Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago. The second was a story in Sunday's New York Times -- "Recovery in U.S. Lifting Profits, Not Adding Jobs" by Nelson Schwartz.

They both shed light on what this latest version sequestration is all about.

Cross posted with Mike Klonsky's SmallTalk blog.