A Convicted Felon on Steve Perry’s Charter School Governing Council – There should be a law!

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On December 5, 2000, Carl McCluster was sentenced to five years’ probation for embezzling $114,000 from a program meant to help homeless veterans in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

According to the court order, the defendant was placed on home confinement for the first six months. (The Judge order that, “The defendant shall pay none of the costs associated with monitoring.”) The defendant was also ordered to pay restitution to the Veteran’s Affairs, Homeless Providers Grant Per Diem Program.

McCluster was back in federal court five years later to deal with the payment issues and a related garnishment of his wages from his employer, Shiloh Baptist Church.

The issue of convicted felons being associated with Charter Schools is unfortunately not new to Connecticut.

Just last year Connecticut witnessed the collapse of the FUSE/Jumoke Academy charter school chain as a result of revelations that the company’s CEO “Dr.” Michael Sharpe didn’t actually have the academic credentials he claimed and, to boot, had been convicted of embezzling public funds when he was working in California.

The State Department of Education claimed they had no knowledge that the CEO of Fuse/Jumoke Charter School company wasn’t exactly who he claimed to be.

So action was needed and with the Jumoke debacle fresh in their minds, the leadership of Connecticut’s Education Committee introduced Senate Bill 1096 – AN ACT CONCERNING CHARTER SCHOOLS.

The legislation has passed the Connecticut State Senate and it presently sits on the House calendar waiting for its potential passage prior to legislature’s midnight deadline tomorrow, Wednesday, June 2, 2015.

The bill requires greater transparency for Connecticut’s charter schools, something that Dacia Toll, the CEO of Achievement First, Inc., a large charter school chain with schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island opposed, having told the Education Committee that it would be a “burden” for charter schools to have to be more transparent.  Achievement First Inc. is the charter school chain co-founded by Malloy’s first term commissioner of education, Stefan Pryor.

While much of the charter school accountability bill is waiting for action by the House deals with fiscal transparency, there is also a critically important section on criminal background checks.

As the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Research explains in the bill summary,

“Beginning July 1, 2015, the bill requires various individuals who manage and work in charter schools to submit to several types of background checks. Specifically, SBE must require governing council and CMO members to submit to Department of Children and Families child abuse and neglect registry checks and state and national criminal history records checks (1) prior to SBE granting an initial certificate to the charter school or (2) before the governing council or CMO may hire new members.”

Wait? What?

Submit background checks before a charter school can be granted approval to open?

But what about schools that already have the approval of the Connecticut State Department of Education to open, but haven’t actually received the funding they would need to start operating?

The bill’s language is clear – Beginning July 1, 2015 – Charter school applicants must do complete background checks and provide that information to the State Board of Education in their application material.

The two charter schools that Governor Dannel Malloy is demanding funding for were already approved in 2014, they have an approved application in place….just not funding (yet.)

So if you were listening closely, that sound you just heard was probably the wannabee charter school chain operator Steve Perry dancing a jig based on the fact that he won’t have to go through the trouble and burden of providing the state with information about the criminal backgrounds of members of his charter school’s governing council.

Because if he did, that would be a problem!

A big problem…

The charter school application submitted by Steve Perry and approved by Governor Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education included the names of the members of the Governing Council of Steve Perry’s new charter school…

And leading the list of governing board members is Carl McCluster, who also happens to be one of Perry’s biggest cheerleaders in Bridgeport.

Having testified for Steve Perry’s charter school and spoken at rally’s in support of Perry’s plan,  Carl McCluster and Steve Perry certainly don’t want to face what would be an awkward situation if Perry was required to reveal whether any of his governing board members are convicted felons.

The charter school industry is certainly hoping, and undoubtedly working, to make sure that Senate Bill 1096 is not taken up in the House of Representatives today or tomorrow.  Failure to pass the bill in the next 30 hours will kill the legislation.

However, even if the bill passes and is signed into by Governor Malloy, McCluster and Perry can rest easy because as it is presently written the law only applies to charter school applications that are submitted on or after July 1, 2015.

Phew, that is good to know

They have your child’s data and they aren’t afraid to use it.

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The first in series about the lack of adequate protections related to student data and privacy

Over recent weeks the focus of this blog has been on parental right and the importance of opting out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, but that issue is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the unprecedented activities of the Corporate Education Reform Industry and their supporters like Governor Dannel Malloy.

While the vast majority of parents are blind to the issue, one of the most serious problems associated with the transformation of the nation’s education system is the creation of massive databases that track a broad array of data about children and how a variety of public and private entities mine that data for various uses including marketing to children and parents.

Just as troubling is the fact that few school administrators seem to understand the extent of these recent developments.

State and local school officials continue to tell parents that their child’s data is safe as a result of the federal government’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which was originally designed to protect students and ensure that parents knew what data was being collected on their children and how that data was being used.

But even a basic review of the communications being sent out by Connecticut’s Department of Education and local superintendents reveal that these officials either don’t know about the massive changes that have been made to the FERPA law or are intentionally misleading and lying to parents.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was designed to control the use of “educational records” and any agency or institution that violates the FERPA law and its regulations can be denied funding. As the law is written, school officials cannot share student data with outside entities without parental consent.

However massive changes to the FERPA privacy law in 2008 and 2011 undermined the most important elements of the nation’s student privacy law.  The United States Department of Education now defines “school officials” to include “contractors, consultants, volunteers, and other parties to whom an educational agency or institution has outsourced institutional services or functions it would otherwise use employees to perform.”

This means the nation’s federal student privacy law allows schools to provide the data it collects on students to private companies, without parental consent, if the contract is related, in some way, to educational activities.

In addition, revisions to the FERPA privacy regulations, “removed limitations prohibiting educational institutions and agencies from disclosing student personally identifiable information, without first obtaining student or parental consent,” a change that now gives private companies access to data that specifically identifies each student.

The changes in the nation’s student privacy laws were pushed by the Corporate Education Reform Industry and companies that are financially benefiting from getting access to student data.

As Politco.com observed at the time, the private sector was overjoyed.

“This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.

Politico went on to report,

CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week’s SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products – educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.

And we’re not talking about just a few companies using a few limited databases.

Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service),  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and dozens of other companies have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying to weaken privacy laws or stop the federal and state governments from reducing their access to student data.

Just this week, The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado released a major report entitled, ON THE BLOCK: STUDENT DATA AND PRIVACY IN THE DIGITAL AGE.  The report references a 2013 study conducted by the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School which looked into how California school districts were handling student data.  The report found that;

“[In California] 95% of school districts now rely on cloud-services providers for a wide variety of services, such as data mining for student performance, support for classroom activities, student guidance, and data hosting.

However, fewer than 25% of the agreements specify the permitted purposes for disclosures of student information, fewer than 7% of the contracts restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and many agreements allow vendors to unilaterally change the terms. Many also allow vendors to retain student data into perpetuity.”

After reviewing federal and state laws, the new NEPC report makes it extremely clear that while more than 20 states have passed their own student privacy laws to fill in gaps in the federal laws, Connecticut is one of the states that has completely failed to develop appropriate student privacy laws designed to protect the state’s children.

In Connecticut, for example, there is no requirement that contracts with vendors:

Restrict the use of data collection for advertising and marketing purposes

Require that parents are notified and have an unlimited right to review data that is being handed over to third parties

Require that third parties have and maintain appropriate data security procedures.

Require that data must be destroyed following intended use.

Require parents be notified about breaches or that third parties be held accountable for breaches. (In fact, when it comes to protecting student data, Connecticut actually has a statute that provides for immunity of liability for data breach and NO notice to parents that a breach has occurred.) 

This year a group of Republican legislators in the Connecticut General Assembly introduced H.B. No. 7017, an Act Concerning Student Data Privacy, but following a public hearing, the Education Committee passed an extremely weak version of what might be called an attempt at beginning to address the student privacy problem.

As the proposed legislation now stands, Connecticut parents would continue to have virtually no meaningful protections when it comes to the use of data collected about their children.

Check back for much more on the key issues surrounding student data and privacy, the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s efforts and the failure of public officials to address this growing problem.

Governor Malloy Administration’s Gag Order is nothing short of Putinesque

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For even to the most cynical, the recent CT Mirror’s story entitled, “Is it a gag order or the Malloy administration speaking with one voice?” is utterly shocking and should make Connecticut residents extremely uncomfortable and very queasy.

The CTMirror article reiterates the reality that Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy is not the Dan Malloy who asked voters to make him Connecticut’s governor in the 2010 election.

Dan Malloy, the candidate, ran on a platform that he would be the “most transparent governor in history.”  He claimed that he supported Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance reform law, that he wanted stronger, not weaker, state ethics laws and that he believed that an honest, just and open government required strong Freedom of Information laws.

But since being sworn in as governor in January 2011, Dannel Malloy has become the least transparent governor in modern history, has consistently undermined and destroyed Connecticut’s campaign finance laws, made a mockery of the state’s ethics laws and has engaged in an unprecedented assault on the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

But his most anti-open government maneuver may very well be the news that Governor Malloy has allowed a directive to go out that prohibits his commissioners and other public employees from talking to legislators (or anyone else) about Malloy’s fraudulent state budget proposal.

As the CT Mirror reports;

Key legislators say a directive restricting what agency heads can tell legislators about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal is hindering lawmakers in doing their jobs and will push more of the budget-writing process behind closed doors.

“Our job is to negotiate and evaluate and build the best budget possible for the 3.5 million people of Connecticut,” said Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, House chair of the Appropriations Committee. “Denying us the ability to do that is denying us our responsibility and our authority as the legislature.”

“I think this is a politically correct gag order,” said Rep. Melissa Ziobron of East Haddam, ranking House Republican on the committee. “If we can’t get full answers to our questions, we can’t serve our residents and the state of Connecticut well.”

At issue is a memo Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget chief, sent last month to Executive Branch agency heads.”

In a stunningly inappropriate, unethical, immoral and arrogant demand, Malloy’s budget director writes, “Requests for new ideas, alternative reduction proposals, or for the agency’s priorities in restoring or cutting funds should be referred to OPM…Agencies are expected to support the Governor’s budget rather than providing alternatives to that budget.”

While there has always long been an unwritten guideline that political appointees try to defend their boss’ proposals, the notion that Malloy, through  his budget director, would direct public servants, who are paid with public dollars, whose statutory duty is to run a state agency and provide public services,  not to speak with legislators or others about, “new ideas, alternative reduction proposals, or for the agency’s priorities in restoring or cutting funds” is nothing short of Putinesque.

As for reaction from legislators, the CT Mirror adds,

“Referring to Barnes’ memo, Bye told The Mirror this week that she’s not surprised, “in tough fiscal times, that a chief executive wants to keep as much control as he can.”

But Bye added that the administration must appreciate that the legislature has its own constitutional charge to adopt a budget, and it must have more than just facts and data.

For example, if the Appropriations Committee is considering restoring two programs cut in the governor’s plan, but ultimately decides Connecticut only can afford one, members normally would ask officials in the affected agency which program might provide the most public benefit.

“If we are trying to choose between funding programs, it would be better if commissioners could offer us their thoughts on those alternatives,” Bye said. “I think it would make for a better process.”

While State Senator Beth Bye’s conclusion that it would “be better if commissioners could offer us their thoughts on those alternatives” is absolutely true, her comment that is a forgone conclusion that “a chief executive wants to keep as much control,” provides cover for Malloy’s reprehensible action.

Wanting to “control the dialogue” is a long way from interfering with the Constitutionally mandated role of the Connecticut General Assembly.

The CTMirror article concludes;

“Barnes wrote Tuesday in a statement to The Mirror that, “We work together, as one administration, with all our commissioners and agency heads. This is a budget filled with tough choices, but they are the best ones to keep Connecticut on a path towards a brighter future. The Governor, through his office and through OPM, remains willing to discuss his budget proposals, or any other specific proposals legislators make, at any time. Executive branch employees are professionals who can’t be expected to publicly advocate for positions at odds with the Governor as a part of their job.”

Barnes statement is a bizarre and weak excuse for a policy approach that promotes secrecy and violates the most basic tenets of an open and transparent government.

The Democratic majority in the Connecticut House of Representatives should put down their budget pens, set aside their budget calculators and tell a governor and an administration that has gone amok that no further action will be taken on Malloy’s proposed budget until this outrageous memo is rescinded and Connecticut’s state commissioners and agency heads are instructed to be open and honest with all of the members of the legislative branch of government whose obligation is to review, revise a governor’s proposed budget and eventually adopt a budget that carries the weight of law.

Buying Public Policy in CT – Corporate Education Reform Industry spends $6.8+ million and counting

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The uncomfortable truth is that Governor Dannel Malloy and key members of the Connecticut General Assembly continue to side with the Corporate Education Reform Industry rather than with Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, public schools and taxpayers.

The most recent indicator of the warped approach being taken by Connecticut’s “political leaders” was the outrageously inappropriate and misleading memo that was sent out this week by Governor Malloy’s Interim Commissioner of Education.

The Education Commissioner’s directive sought to further harass and scare Connecticut parents into falsely believing that they do not have the right to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Testing Program.

See: Malloy’s Education Commissioner seeks to stamp out parental rights on Common Core SBAC Testing opt out

The question that arises over and over again is why Connecticut’s elected and appointed public officials are engaged in their ongoing effort to undermine and privatize public education in Connecticut, denigrate teachers and turn our public schools into little more than taxpayer funded testing factories.

The answer, sadly, is rather simple…

The Corporate Education Reform Industry has spent a record-breaking $6,767,957 plus in support of Governor Malloy’s “education reform” agenda – – – An Agenda that includes forcing the Common Core and the Common Core testing scheme on Connecticut’s public schools while cutting taxpayer support for public education and increasing public funding for privately owned and operated charter schools.

Since Malloy introduced his “Education Reform” agenda, the charter school industry and the corporate funded “education reform” advocacy groups have hired dozens of lobbyists and spent nearly $7 million, or more, to “persuade” Connecticut officials to adopt policies that are diametrically opposed to what is in the best interests of Connecticut students, parents, teachers and public school system.

Corporate funded and affiliated groups like Achievement First, Inc.; A Better Connecticut; Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc.  (ConnCAN); Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy; StudentsFirst/GENEPSA (Michelle Rhee); Families for Excellent Schools Inc.; Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy Inc.; Connecticut Council for Education Reform Inc. (CCER); North East Charter Schools Network ; Bronx Charter School of Excellence; Students for Education Reform; Educators 4 Excellence; Excel Bridgeport, Inc.; Achieve Hartford, Inc. and  their newest front group, the Coalition for Every Child, are pumping more and more money into lobbying and advertising programs.

This year, more than two dozen paid lobbyists are running around the State Capitol and Legislative Office Building working to divert more money to charter schools, while supporting the Common Core SBAC testing scam and other “education reform” agenda items.

According to the latest filings with State Ethics Commission, Corporate Education Reform Industry front groups will spend more than a quarter of a million dollars on lobbying during this legislative session.  These groups are dropping millions more on advertising.

Connecticut’s Parents, teachers, public education supporters and taxpayers deserve better from their elected officials but Governor Malloy has made his position clear.

Malloy has said he is “staying the course” on his “education reform” agenda even if his education policies “aren’t popular.”

But what about state legislators?

Will the members of the State Senate and House of Representatives continue to turn their backs on the people who elected them?

The answer will come in the coming weeks, along with even more spending on lobbying and public relations by the charter school and corporate education reform industries.

The following chart reveals just how much money has been spent to push through Governor Malloy’s anti-public school, anti-teacher and anti-parent agenda.

Corporate Education Reform Organization Amount Spent on Lobbying
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) $1,731,504
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD) $1,113,587
   
A Better Connecticut $2,326,391
   
Students First/GNEPSA (Michelle Rhee) $911,950
   
Achievement First, Inc. (Dacia Toll/Stefan Pryor) $292,684
   
Connecticut Council for Education Reform  (CCER) $277,987
   
Students for Education Reform (Michelle Rhee) $15,954
   
Connecticut Charter School Association/N.E. Charter School Network $62,900
   
Families for Excellent Schools Inc. and Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy Inc.Note:  Does not count the recent multi-million dollar television advertising campaign that Families for Excellent Schools failed to report, despite state laws requiring full disclosure $35,000
EDUCATION REFORM LOBBYING EXPENDITURES as of 2/1/2015 $6,767,957

Legislative Champions starting to step forward in Connecticut

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In response to the growing public concern about the Common Core, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme, and the inappropriate and unfair use of standardized test scores when evaluating Connecticut’s public school teachers, a growing number of state representatives and state senators are stepping forward and introducing legislation that would stop, or at least slow down, the damaging Corporate Education Reform Industry’s agenda that is undermining public education in Connecticut.

Congratulations are in order for every one of these elected officials since, in virtually every situation, their legislative proposals are challenging the policies that have been promoted by Governor Dannel Malloy and his pro-education reform administration.

It is interesting to note that most of these important bills have been proposed by Republican members of the Connecticut General Assembly, but an increasing number of Democratic legislators are standing up and speaking out in favor of Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools.

Special credit goes out to State Representative Melissa Ziobron, who represents the 34th House District which includes East Hampton, East Haddam, and a part of Colchester.

Representative Ziobron, who is in her second term, has become one of the most outspoken proponents of public education.

As a former member of a Board of Education she witnessed the growing negative consequences of the “No Child Left Behind Act” and the “Race to the Top Initiative,” especially in the standardized testing nightmare that is now driving public education in the country.

As a parent and legislator, she used her first term to study the real issues associated with the Common Core, its testing system and the impact of unfunded mandates on public education.

While recognizing that public education continues to face major challenges and problems that must be addressed, Representative Ziobron has become an advocate for parents who wish to opt their children out of the Common Core tests and for policies that support, not undermine, the role of parents, teachers, and local citizens in how their local schools should be run.

As for legislation now before the General Assembly, the following is an initial list of pro-public education bills that have been introduced so far this session.

A review of the list of sponsors highlights the fact that more and more legislators are responding to the demand that legislative action is needed to protect and support our public schools.

This list of bills will be updated as additional pieces of legislation are identified.  Readers can learn more about these bills and identify when action on them is taking place by going to the Connecticut General Assembly’s bill-tracking website:  http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/cgasearches.asp

 

Proposed legislation on the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) System;

HB 5398 – AN ACT CONCERNING PARENTAL OPT OUT OF STATE-WIDE EXAMINATIONS FOR STUDENTS; Purpose: To allow the parent or guardian of a student to opt their child out of taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Sponsor: Rep. Ziobron,

HB 6422 – AN ACT REPEALING THE REQUIREMENT THAT STUDENTS IN GRADE ELEVEN TAKE THE SMARTER BALANCED ASSESSMENTS; Purpose: To repeal the requirement that students in grade eleven take the Smarter Balanced Assessments. Sponsors: Rep. Ziobron, Rep. Kokoruda,

 

Proposed legislation to slow down or push back against the Common Core;

HB 5137 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE CREATION OF A DATABASE TO COLLECT INFORMATION RELATING TO COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS IMPLEMENTATION; Purpose: To create a database to track funds being used to implement the common core state standards. Sponsor: Rep. Ziobron

HB 5680 – AN ACT CONCERNING A STUDY EVALUATING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS.  Purpose: To conduct a study of the effectiveness of the Common Core State Standards to help policymakers evaluate whether and to what extent the Common Core State Standards are working or should be modified.   Sponsors: Rep. MacLachlan, Rep. Carney

SB 785 – AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS CURRICULUM. Purpose: To allow for necessary changes to the Common Core State Standards.  Sponsors: Sen. Markley

SB 344 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE PHASE IN OF THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS AND SMARTER BALANCED ASSESSMENT; Purpose: To phase in the common core state standards and Smarter Balanced assessments in the public schools.  Sponsors: Sen. Boucher

HB 5544 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE PROVISION OF CURRICULUM MATERIALS RELATING TO THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS TO SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND TEACHERS. HB 5544 Purpose: To support school districts and teachers by supplying them with materials necessary to teach the Common Core State Standards. Sponsors: Rep. Yaccarino

 

Proposed legislation to protect student data from the Common Core Testing Companies

SB 786 – AN ACT PROHIBITING THE DISCLOSURE OF PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE STUDENT INFORMATION. Purpose: To prevent the disclosure of student information. Sponsor: Sen. Markley

Proposed legislation requiring an appropriate teacher evaluation program THAT DOES NOT INAPPROPRIATELY utilize standardized test scores.

HB 5400 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE PROHIBITION OF THE USE OF STUDENT MASTERY TEST RESULTS IN TEACHER PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS. Purpose: To prohibit the use of students’ mastery test results in an individual teacher’s performance evaluation.     Sponsor: Rep. Ziobron

HB 5138 – AN ACT PROHIBITING THE USE OF STUDENT MASTERY TEST RESULTS IN TEACHER PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS. Purpose: To prohibit the use of students’ mastery test results in an individual teacher’s performance evaluation.      Sponsors: Rep. Srinivasan, Sen. Witkos

HB 5681 -AN ACT REPEALING THE REQUIREMENT THAT TEACHER PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS INCLUDE STUDENT MASTERY TEST RESULTS; Purpose: To uncouple students’ test results on the Smarter Balanced Assessment from a teacher’s performance evaluation. Sponsors: Rep. Candelora, Rep. Fritz

HB 5987 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE EXCLUSION OF CERTAIN ELL STUDENT TEST SCORES AS PART OF TEACHER PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS AND SCHOOL DISTRICT PERFORMANCE MEASURES. Purpose: To limit the use of certain ELL student performance data in teacher performance evaluations and school district performance measures.    Sponsors: Rep. Candelaria, Sen. Boucher, Rep. Johnson, S. 049

Proposed legislation holding Charter Schools accountable:

HB 6003 – AN ACT CONCERNING A MORATORIUM ON NEW CHARTER SCHOOLS AND A REVIEW OF EXISTING CHARTER SCHOOLS.  Purpose: To place a moratorium on the approval of new charter schools by the Commissioner of Education require the Department of Education to conduct a review of existing charter schools. Sponsors Rep. Vargas, Rep. Gonzalez, Rep. Johnson, et. al.

HB 6532 – AN ACT CONCERNING CHARTER SCHOOL TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND PERFORMANCE. Purpose:  To improve charter school transparency, accountability and performance. Sponsor: Rep Rojas

Insurance Executives Win; Citizens and Mental Health Advocates Lose

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At the end of May, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy stunned healthcare advocates when he vetoed an important bill that would have required insurance companies to provide data about how much substance abuse coverage and related mental health care they are actually providing Connecticut residents.

The legislation was a product of a major study conducted the Connecticut General Assembly’s bi-partisan Program Review and Investigation Committee.  While insurance companies already report some utilization data, the Committee’s investigation determined that companies were not providing the information necessary for policymakers to determine whether patients were getting the substance abuse treatment and mental health services that they need and deserve.

Considering that the cost of appropriate substance abuse treatment and mental health services is far cheaper and more effective than dealing with the resulting emergency room visits, potential suicide attempts, violence and incarceration that can result from inadequate treatment, the bill was extremely appropriate.

With strong support from Democrats and Republicans, the legislation passed the Program Review and Investigation Committee 11 – 0, the Insurance Committee 15 – 2, the Connecticut State Senate 35 – 0 and the Connecticut House of Representatives by a vote of 143 – 0.

But then, in an apparent gift to insurance executives, who have been extremely generous to Malloy’s political fundraising efforts, the Governor reversed course and vetoed the bill.

Now, according to House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, the Democratic-controlled legislature will not override any of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s vetoes, including the important substance abuse and mental health bill.

The General Assembly’s decision to simply give in and give up the fight to ensure a better and fairer health insurance system for Connecticut is a sad one.

As the CT Mirror reported at the time Malloy vetoed the bill,

“Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has vetoed a bill opposed by the insurance industry that would have required carriers to report information about the substance abuse treatment they have covered and their networks of mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.

Malloy said he supported the objective of the measure, which was intended to increase the amount of information available about substance abuse treatment and coverage, but was concerned that it could lead to inaccurate information being gathered.

Malloy took issue with that last requirement, saying in his veto message that it’s unusual for state law to require private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives,” and that he worried about the precedent it could set.

In defense of his veto, Governor Malloy actually said that he is opposed to requiring private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives.”

Malloy’s statement is absolutely absurd considering that private businesses that are engaged in public purposes MUST regularly “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives.”  Just ask the electric companies, the water companies and all the other private entities that serve the public good.

Insurance companies that provide health insurance to Connecticut residents must be held accountable for their actions and the bill Malloy vetoed would have done exactly that.

As Jeffrey Walter, the president of the Rushford Center and an expert on substance abuse treatment, explained in his testimony in favor of the legislation,

“The legislation might not be necessary were it not for the fact that behavioral health is treated differently by the insurance industry than virtually any other health care specialty….care for psychiatric and substance use disorders [are] denied at a rate that far surpasses my other part of the health care system.”

The Connecticut Psychological Association added,

“The provisions…increase transparency related to coverage decisions and complaints, which will facilitate evaluation of the review process, including compliance with federal parity law, which requires equal treatment of medical and behavioral health providers and conditions, as well as network adequacy.”

And Connecticut’s State Health Care Advocate, Victoria Veltri, explained,

“Expanding the data that insurers report to the Insurance Department concerning member utilization of services for the treatment of substance use, co-occurring and mental health disorders will provide additional needed clarity to the issues concerning consumer access to treatment for these conditions.”

Malloy was wrong to veto this bill and the Connecticut General Assembly is failing to do its job by refusing to even consider overriding Malloy’s veto.

You can read more about the bill in this CT Mirror story: http://ctmirror.org/malloy-vetos-substance-abuse-treatment-bill-opposed-by-insurance-industry/?hvid=4ILvLG

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Important Wait, What? weekend stories you might have missed

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Define fiscal irresponsibility….

While most Connecticut residents feel a growing unease about the Malloy administration’s irresponsible and underhanded approach to state budgeting, I’m often asked to give specific examples of how Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy has handled the Connecticut budget during his term in office.

Long-time readers may remember this one, but here is a prime example for readers who are newer to Wait, What?

In January 2010 there was a tragic school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a young Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools.

As politicians are wont to do, state legislators kicked into action, and on May 1, 2010 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 10-83.  The new law created a special protected trust account called the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account and required the Department of Motor Vehicles to administer a program to use the funds to help Connecticut school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.

To pay for the program, the legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175 and directed that $50 of each license restoration payment be deposited into the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account.  The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the higher fee would raise about $2.1 million a year.

Now fast forward two and a half years…

Governor Malloy had been in office for two years and none of the $4.7 million collected for school seat belts had been spent.

And then, rather than using the money for its intended purpose…

We witnessed the following;

As part of the December 2012 “deficit mitigation bill” Governor Malloy and the legislature included language that overrode the existing law and quietly transferred $4,700,000 from the School Bus Seat Belt Account into the General Fund to help eliminate the projected FY 2013 $415 million deficit.

Gone was the money for school seat belts.

For more go to:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/05/31/define-fiscal-irresponsibility/

 

Does it really only cost $30,000 to get Governor Malloy to veto a good bill?

Over the past few months Governor Malloy and his political operatives have raised more than $30,000 from major insurance companies and their corporate executives.  The funds were deposited into the special Democratic State Central Committee account that will be used to augment the $6.2 million that Malloy will be getting from the State’s public financing system.

Then late last week Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy stunned healthcare advocates when he vetoed an important bill that would have required insurance companies to provide data about how much substance abuse coverage and related mental health care they were actually providing Connecticut residents.

The legislation was a product of a major study conducted the Connecticut General Assembly’s bi-partisan Program Review and Investigation Committee, a committee I chaired in 1993 during the last year I served in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

The Program Review and Investigation is the only committee charged with fully investigating major public policy issues and developing comprehensive solutions.

In this case, the committee produced a comprehensive report entitled, “Access to Substance Use Treatment for Privately and Publicly Insured Youth.”  Phase I of the report, and its corresponding legislative initiatives, was adopted on December 18, 2012.  Phase II of the report was adopted on June 7, 2013.

This past legislative session, one of the legislative proposals arising out of the report, was introduced in the form of House Bill 5373, An Act Concerning the Reporting of Certain Data by Managed Care Organizations and Health Insurance Companies to the Insurance Department.

The bill was a common sense, first step toward ensuring insurance companies actually pay the bills they are supposed to be paying.

More at:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/06/01/really-cost-30000-get-governor-malloy-veto-good-bill/

 

And then this one…Will the Working Families Party stand up for working families in this year’s election

Does it really only cost $30,000 to get Governor Malloy to veto a good bill?

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(Correction:  Please note the $30,000 figure used in this article is donations form all insurance companies.  However, a re-review of the campaign finance data reveals the actual amount insurance companies gave the Connecticut Democrats’ federal account was in excess of $40,000)

Over the past few months Governor Malloy and his political operatives have raised more than $30,000 from major insurance companies and their corporate executives.  The funds were deposited into the special Democratic State Central Committee account that will be used to augment the $6.2 million that Malloy will be getting from the State’s public financing system.

Then late last week Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy stunned healthcare advocates when he vetoed an important bill that would have required insurance companies to provide data about how much substance abuse coverage and related mental health care they were actually providing Connecticut residents.

The legislation was a product of a major study conducted the Connecticut General Assembly’s bi-partisan Program Review and Investigation Committee, a committee I chaired in 1993 during the last year I served in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

The Program Review and Investigation is the only committee charged with fully investigating major public policy issues and developing comprehensive solutions.

In this case, the committee produced a comprehensive report entitled, “Access to Substance Use Treatment for Privately and Publicly Insured Youth.”  Phase I of the report, and its corresponding legislative initiatives, was adopted on December 18, 2012.  Phase II of the report was adopted on June 7, 2013.

This past legislative session, one of the legislative proposals arising out of the report, was introduced in the form of House Bill 5373, An Act Concerning the Reporting of Certain Data by Managed Care Organizations and Health Insurance Companies to the Insurance Department.

The bill was a common sense, first step toward ensuring insurance companies actually pay the bills they are supposed to be paying.

Jeffrey Walter is an expert on substance abuse issues and the president of the Rushford Center, one of the Connecticut’s leading private, non-profit behavior health providers.  In his testimony in favor of the legislation, Walter said,

“The legislation might not be necessary were it not for the fact that behavioral health is treated differently by the insurance industry than virtually any other health care specialty….care for psychiatric and substance use disorders [are] denied at a rate that far surpasses my other part of the health care system.”

The Connecticut Psychological Association testified,

“The provisions…increase transparency related to coverage decisions and complains, which will facilitate evaluation of the review process, including compliance with federal parity law, which requires equal treatment of medical and behavioral health providers and conditions, as well as network adequacy.”

Connecticut’s State Health Care Advocate, Victoria Veltri, concluded,

“Expanding the data that insurers report to the Insurance Department concerning member utilization of services for the treatment of substance use, co-occurring and mental health disorders will provide additional needed clarity to the issues concerning consumer access to treatment for these conditions.

And the Connecticut Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry explained,

“We believe that transparency will best serve the public and private sectors while, most importantly, serving our children and families with quality service options.”

Malloy’s Department of Insurance DID NOT take a position on the bill, although the lobbyists representing the insurance industry opposed the bill claiming that reporting the required data would be a burden.

Legislators across the political spectrum dismissed the insurance industry’s claim.

The Program Review and Investigation Committee approved the bill 11 – 0.

The legislature’s Insurance Committee, which generally supports the insurance industry, approved the bill 15 – 2.

The Connecticut State Senate approved the bill 35 – 0 and the Connecticut House of Representatives voted 143 – 0 in favor of the bill.

As the CT Mirror reported last week,

The bill would have required insurers to report information on substance abuse treatment coverage to the Connecticut Insurance Department, for inclusion in the department’s annual consumer report card on health insurance carriers. The insurers would have been required to report information including:

  • The estimated number and percentage of members who get treatment for a substance use disorder and the level of care provided
  • The median length of covered treatment
  • Claims expenses
  • The number of in-network providers who offer substance use disorder treatment and percentage accepting new patients
  • The number of providers and facilities that treat mental health and substance use disorders and sought to join the carrier’s network, were accepted or stopped participating in the network
  • Factors that might negatively impact members’ access to treatment for substance use disorders, including screening procedures, the supply of health care providers, limited capacity among treatment providers and reimbursement rates.

But the CT Mirror added,

“Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has vetoed a bill opposed by the insurance industry that would have required carriers to report information about the substance abuse treatment they have covered and their networks of mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.

Malloy said he supported the objective of the measure, which was intended to increase the amount of information available about substance abuse treatment and coverage, but was concerned that it could lead to inaccurate information being gathered.

Malloy took issue with that last requirement, saying in his veto message that it’s unusual for state law to require private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives,” and that he worried about the precedent it could set.

Wait, What? —- Governor Malloy said he is opposed to requiring private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives.”

But of course Malloy knows, as does every other public official, that the insurance industry and every other state regulated industry is required to report significant amounts of information that is designed to allow public officials and public agencies to “achieve public policy objectives.”

That is the very reason that certain industries are regulated.

But in this case, Malloy vetoed an important bill that was primarily designed to help improve access to substance use treatment for privately and publicly insured youth because he said it would require the insurance industry to require private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives.”

Come on…

One would think that along with the $30,000 in campaign contributions the insurance industry could have, at least, come up with a better sounding explanation rather than urging Governor Malloy to use what is nothing other than an absurd and outright lie.

You can read the CT Mirror story here: http://ctmirror.org/malloy-vetos-substance-abuse-treatment-bill-opposed-by-insurance-industry/?hvid=4ILvLG

Define fiscal irresponsibility….

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While most Connecticut residents feel a growing unease about the Malloy administration’s irresponsible and underhanded approach to state budgeting, I’m often asked to give specific examples of how Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy has handled the Connecticut budget during his term in office.

Long-time readers may remember this one, but here is a prime example for readers who are newer to Wait, What?

In January 2010 there was a tragic school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a young Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools.

As politicians are wont to do, state legislators kicked into action, and on May 1, 2010 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 10-83.  The new law created a special protected trust account called the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account and required the Department of Motor Vehicles to administer a program to use the funds to help Connecticut school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.

To pay for the program, the legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175 and directed that $50 of each license restoration payment be deposited into the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account.  The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the higher fee would raise about $2.1 million a year.

Now fast forward two and a half years…

Governor Malloy had been in office for two years and none of the $4.7 million collected for school seat belts had been spent.

And then, rather than using the money for its intended purpose…

We witnessed the following;

As part of the December 2012 “deficit mitigation bill” Governor Malloy and the legislature included language that overrode the existing law and quietly transferred $4,700,000 from the School Bus Seat Belt Account into the General Fund to help eliminate the projected FY 2013 $415 million deficit.

Gone was the money for school seat belts.

That tragedy was yesterday’s news and no one even spoke out against the inappropriate raid on the School Bus Seat Belt Account.

Just a year later, adding insult to injury, Governor Malloy and his administration were crowing about a projected FY 2014 budget surplus.

But instead of using a portion of that surplus to pay back the $4.7 million taken from the School Bus Seat Belt Account, Malloy used the surplus funds to pad this year’s budget and even promised a series of election-year tax rebates and tax cuts before the fiscal reality facing Connecticut set in and he had to “postpone” those tax cut promises.

The fact is that over and over again, Governor Malloy has claimed that the state and its state budget have benefited from his good management skills.

But if a governor was truly dedicated to good management he or she would never have raided the School Bus Seat Belt Account or, at the very least, would have returned the money when it was clear that the state had the resources to do so.

Oh, and as an aside, when you hear the Republicans claim that they are the party of “fiscal responsibility,” remember that Malloy’s Deficit Reduction Plan passed the State Senate 31-3 and passed the State House of Representatives 140-3.

It was Democrats and Republicans, working together, who stole the money from the School Bus Seat Belt Account and then refused to pay it back when they had the chance.

Out here in the real world, when we talk about the need for leaders who are truly committed to fiscal responsibility, it has become painfully clear that we will have go outside the “incumbency” party to find them.

One more gimmick laden State Budget before the 2014 election for governor

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When Dan Malloy was running for governor in 2010 he wrote,

We have to be committed to getting our fiscal house in order…the current budgeting is a perfect example of irresponsible budgeting…Why?  Because this administration, once again, took the easy way out…the current budget was balanced on phantom cuts and one-time revenues that will not be available for the next budget round…As a result, the people of Connecticut have been sold a lemon.”

Yesterday, May 3, 2014 the Governor, with support from of the Democrats in the General Assembly adopted in irresponsible budget that relies on “phantom cuts and one-time revenues that will not be around for the next budget round.”

Connecticut’s new budget leaves taxpayers with a $1.3 billion dollar deficit for the state budget following this fall’s gubernatorial election.

As the media wrote,

Legislature adopts new CT budget built on risky assumptions (CT Mirror)

Lawmakers Approve Budget That Increases Spending, Gambles On Future Revenue (CT New junkie)

CT Mirror wrote,

The General Assembly adopted a $19 billion budget early Sunday that relies on about $200 million in fund sweeps and risky savings and revenues assumptions to stay in balance – including the last-minute discovery of $75 million in “miscellaneous” tax receipts.

[…]

They noted that nonpartisan fiscal analysts are projecting a $1.33 billion deficit in the first state budget after the election, a gap of nearly 8 percent.

And as for the promised tax break for retired teachers, CT News junkie notes,

The budget scales back the tax relief Malloy planned to offer retired teachers by phasing it in over a period of three years. Under the budget adopted Saturday, 10 percent of the retirement income would be exempt. That exemption increases to 25 percent in 2016 and 50 percent in 2017.

And to balance the new budget, the Governor and General Assembly utilized two particularly extraordinary gimmicks.

  • A new $75 million in revenue that will appear from various miscellaneous taxes
  • And a decision not to pay $51 million into the state employee health care fund to cover the impending retirement of correctional officers.

Last fall and again this spring, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo informed Governor Malloy and his budget office that an additional $51 million would be needed to cover the health benefits of correctional officers that would soon be retiring.  Malloy failed to put the money in this proposed budget.  The General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee initially proposed using one-time revenues to cover the costs but those funds disappeared in the final version of the budget that was approved yesterday.  Instead of making the payment, legislative leadership is relying on what they claim is a, “level of comfort that the Office of Policy and Management will be able to meet their obligations to retiree health care.”

At this point, it is also unclear how or if the new budget actually solves the under-funding of Connecticut’s magnet schools.

The bottom line – One more fiscally irresponsible state budget for the Governor who ran on the platform of “responsible budgeting.”

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