More about privatization gone amok

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While there are certainly times that non-profit entities can and should be given responsibility for providing public services, the overwhelming evidence is that broad-based privatization does not save money not does it ensure that services will be provided in a more efficient and effective manner.

In fact, the mounting evidence is that broad privatization, without adequate on-going competition, has and continues to cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

As the inappropriate and wasteful impact of privatization has become evident, People for the American Way observed;

Privatization, whether promoted as a short-term way to fill a budget gap or as part of a long-term campaign against the government and unionized workers, can bring disastrous long-term consequences for American families and taxpayers as well as for the democratic process.

Numerous academic studies have revealed that privatizing of public assets, programs and services is not the panacea proponents of privatization promised.

Professor Ellen Dannin is a distinguished faculty scholar and professor of law at Penn State Dickinson School of Law.  She is also the author of “Crumbling Infrastructure, Crumbling Democracy: Infrastructure Privatization Contracts and Their Effects on State and Local Governance.”

In a guest post for the American Constitution Society entitled, The Toll Road to Serfdom, Professor Dannin takes on those who simplistically claim the privatization of infrastructure has been a successful mechanism to save taxpayers money.  Dannin writes;

They claim that privatization transfers risk to the private contractor, while providing high quality infrastructure that a cash-strapped public cannot otherwise afford. They say that the public will have easy drives with new roads and new lanes, all assisted by the installation of the latest tolling and messaging technology.

But when you look into the history and details of infrastructure privatization, reality differs.

For example, in many cases, restrictive contracts create new barriers to energy efficiency and sound public policies.  Dannin adds;

Commonly found “noncompete” terms forbid building or improving “competing” road or mass transit systems. They may also require what is called “traffic calming” but which means by narrowing lanes or making other changes to make alternative routes unpleasant or less useful.

Other contract terms require that the government “partner” compensate private contractors for “adverse actions,” such as promoting carpooling to lower air pollution and urban congestion that could affect revenues.

Dannin also notes,

For the next 40 years, the HOT lanes contract with Transurban of Australia and Fluor Corporation of Texas requires Virginia to reimburse the private companies whenever Capital Beltway carpools exceed 24 percent of the traffic on the carpool lanes – or until the builders make $100 million in profits.

The Virginia privatization gone amok  story is hardly unique.  People for the American Way investigated the use of privatization of public highways and found;

Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, ‘signed one of the first of the big deals in privatization of highways in 2006. The state got $3.8 billion for turning over the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years to Spanish and Australian firms. In addition to the power to boost tolls, the firms got hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and immunity from most state and local taxes.’

In addition, the Washington Post added,

“Residents are still discovering surprises in the 600-page agreement – as when Indiana had to reimburse the operators for lost revenue after waiving tolls for safety reasons during a 2008 flood.”

Furthermore, while Indiana residents have lost control of their highways, the private companies are making a windfall. Business Week found that,

The aggressive toll hikes embedded in deals all but guarantee pain for lower-income citizens – and enormous profits for the buyers. For example, the investors in the $3.8 billion deal for the Indiana Toll Road … could break even in year 15 of the 75-year lease, on the way to reaping as much as $21 billion in profits.”

Equally appalling, the whole reason Indiana sold their toll road was to raise funds so that state government could fix other roads in the state, but as the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette explained in 2012,

By the time the next governor takes office, little to no money will remain for new state road projects. The state essentially burned through 75 years’ worth of highway project money in less than 10.”

Indiana politicians, like those in other parts of the country, were enthralled by a system that allowed them to avoid increasing taxes and grabbing quick cash, all at the expense of future generations.

Summing up the negative outcomes due to excessive privatization, the Penn State School of Law professor concludes;

The ultimate argument made by infrastructure privatization proponents is that cash-strapped states have no other choice. But that is also untrue. Alternatives exist or can be made to exist by governments letting bonds to investors and through taxes. State and federal fuel taxes have not been raised in many years. And, particularly those who benefit from improved infrastructure should pay their fair share. Rather than imposing taxes – and tolls are essentially a tax – just on those who actually drive on the toll road, taxing those who benefit from transportation more broadly would spread and share the burden in a fairer way.

If we continue down the infrastructure privatization road, we will learn that the real price is lost democracy and true freedom of choice. The real cost – and it is a heavy one – is the creation of 21st century serfdom and the loss of democratic control that lets us chart our future as a people.

How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers by Ann Policelli Cronin 

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Educator, public education advocate and fellow education blogger takes on the notion that the Common Core is good for children in her blog entitled, P.S. How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers.  She writes;

The New York Times, whose writers have seemed to lack knowledge about the Common Core, has been a PR firm for those misbegotten and ill-conceived educational standards. But finally on Sunday, July 24th, the newspaper published, ”The Common Core Costs Billions and Hurts Students” by Diane Ravitch that is critical of the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush and the author of The Life and Death of the Great American School System and Reign of Error, pointed out that the Common Core has accomplished nothing that it promised and does not meet the educational needs of children. Ravitch explained that, as a country, we have spent billions to implement the Common Core, to prepare students to take the Common Core aligned tests, and to buy the technology to administer those tests online. The results are that math scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress  declined for the first time since 1990 and reading scores are flat or decreased, the achievement gaps based on race and income persist, teachers are demoralized, causing teacher shortages, and, most tragically of all, children are receiving an education which harms them.

I would like to add a P.S.

Diane Ravitch writes about the damage that the Common Core does to children with disabilities, English language learners, and children in the early grades. I know that to be true. My Post Script focuses on the damage that Common Core is doing to all students because, with Common Core, they are not taught to be thoughtful readers and effective writers and to develop as creative and critical thinkers and increasingly independent learners.

There has been false advertising about the Common Core, calling those standards “rigorous”. They are not at all rigorous. If they were, the National Council of Teachers of English would have endorsed them. After careful review, NCTE did not endorse the Common Core due to the content of the standards and the way they require reading and writing to be taught. It is preposterous to think that English language arts standards have been mandated for all k-12 students without the endorsement of the professional organization representing all elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers of reading and writing in the country.

And what is the objectionable Common Core content?

First of all, the amount of literature is restricted. We are the only country on the planet that specifies limits on reading literature. That means we not only limit the range of ideas with which students become familiar but we also reduce their opportunities to think divergently and create individual meaning in ways that only reading literature provides. Secondly, the kind of writing taught with Common Core severely limits the thinking students do because Common Core prescribes formulaic, impersonal writing. All Common Core writing assignments, according to David Coleman, the chief writer of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards, must let students know  that ” no one gives a **** what they think and feel”. And thirdly, the volume of the grammar to be taught at each grade level requires that grammar be taught separately, not as part of the writing process, even though all research for the past 30 years says that is a waste of time. Worst of all, none of the standards are about teaching students to be engaged, active, thoughtful readers or effective writers for a wide range of purposes and audiences.

And how must teachers teach the Common Core?

Common Core teachers are purveyors of information. They teach as if the meaning of any piece of literature is “within the four corners of the page”. That outdated and discredited approach to teaching literature is called New Criticism- but “new” was the 1930’s. With it, Common Core teachers do not teach students to make personal connections, create their own interpretations, evaluate the ideas, or consider the cultural assumptions in what they are reading. The Common Core teacher requires students to dig out the one meaning from what they are reading, a meaning the teacher already knows. Since there is only one answer, there is no point in teaching students how to discuss their initial thinking with others, question the perspectives of others, and reconsider their original thinking, maybe even changing their minds because of questions or ideas offered by their classmates.

Also, writing is not used as part of the learning process to foster individual thinking because that thinking is not sought. And revision is, as the standards state, only “as needed”, not as a mandatory part of the writing process although revision always strengthens a writer’s thinking and makes the writer more effective.

And why is all this so bad?

Well, first of all, kids are not receiving an education that sparks their minds and touches their souls. Secondly, students are not learning the skills they need for their future. Tony Wagner, lead scholar at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, has written two books (The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators), which discuss the skills students will need in the workplace. Wagner says that our future as a nation depends on our capacity to teach students to have the curiosity and imagination to be innovators. He says the competencies that students must learn in school are:

  • To approach problems as learners as opposed to knowers
  • To ask provocative questions
  • To engage in dialogue which explores questions with diverse people
  • To deal with ambiguity instead of right answers
  • To trust oneself to be creative and take initiative
  • To communicate orally and in writing by expressing ideas with clarity and personal passion
  • To analyze information and identify a path forward
  • To be curious, to be engaged with and interested in the world

You can’t get there from here when “here” is the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch is right.  We must stop hurting students. The Common Core must go.

You can read and comment on her commentary piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/07/29/p-s-how-the-common-core-hurts-kids-as-readers-and-writers/

Ann Policelli Cronin is a Connecticut educator. She currently is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education.

The public spectacle of privatization

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The private ownership and control of public entities, programs and services is costing American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars a year as a result of waste, corruption and the insertion of the “profit” motive into the provision of public responsibilities.

Privatization, its advocates claimed, would save scarce public money since it promoted more efficient and effective delivery of programs, services and goods.  The claim, proven wrong over and over again, was that through privatization of public activities, taxpayers would be able to get more and pay less.

The clarion call from conservatives and neo-liberals alike was that by allowing private entities to own and operate public activities, government would finally be able to run like a business and the once bloated bureaucracies would be transformed into streamlined business units that would ensure faster, better and cheaper delivery of services.

The fruits of greater productively, they pontificated, would be so significant that the business taking over the once public activity would even be able to make a healthy profit.

While the concept worked great in theory, the reality has been quite different.

The track record of modern privatization is littered with numerous examples where taxpayers didn’t get more for less, but ended up with a system in which they paid more and got less.

Today, more than $1.5 trillion a year of public activity has been privatized and a prime example of the pitfalls of privatization can be found in Chicago;

For example, writing for Talking Points Memo (TMP), Erika Eichelberger reports;

Over the past decade, the city of Chicago has sold off more of its public infrastructure and services than any other city in the U.S. It is the poster child for privatization—for privatization gone wrong.

In 2006, the city leased four major parking garages to a Morgan Stanley-led firm for $563 million. In 2009, Morgan Stanley sued the city for threatening its profits by allowing a nearby building to open a public garage. Chicago had to pay $62 million to settle.

[…]

In 2008, Mayor Daley sold off 36,000 city parking meters to another Morgan Stanley-backed company, with little public input. It was later revealed that the deal was undervalued by $1 billion. Meter rates skyrocketed from $3 an hour to $6.50 an hour. And the firm charged the city millions for violating the contract by putting certain meters out of use for street repairs, parades, and festivals, and for giving free parking permits to people with disabilities.

The situation in Chicago is not uncommon.

Like many politicians over the past twenty years, Richard Daley was an ardent supporter of privatization.  While privatization had traditionally being backed by Republicans, Daley, like President Bill Clinton, used his tenure in office to push a bi-partisan agenda for privatizing public program and assets.

However, while the privatization of public activities has earned government at the federal, state and local level some fast cash, the long term costs to taxpayers has be astronomical.

Writing in the New York Times, Donald Cohen, the executive director of In the Public Interest, set the record straight on the Chicago parking meter case study;

An after-the-fact investigation by the city’s inspector general concluded that the decision to enter the lease contract lacked “meaningful public review” and neglected the city’s long-term interests to solve a short-term budget crisis.  Specifically, it found that, ‘the city was paid, conservatively, $974 million less for the 75-year lease than the city would have received from 75 years of parking-meter revenue.’

Furthermore, the new contract included provisions that guaranteed the private company, whose primary financial partner is based in Qatar, revenue regardless of what developed during those seven and a half decades.

And what actually occurred after Chicago’s parking meters were privatized?  Cohen explains;

Parking rates increased as much as $8 for two hours.  The initial contract required seven-day-a-week paid parking.  The city was able to negotiate out of that requirement but in exchange had to extend paid parking until 10 p.m. Downtown business owners have blamed the increase in rates for a decrease in economic activity.

Taxpayers are further harmed by the contracts fine print, which says the must reimburse Morgan Stanly and its Qatar-based business partner for any time that spaces used for anything other than parking – including parades and festivals.

[…]

Perhaps most egregious, Chicago cannot build parking lots for the entire duration of the contract because they might complete with the outsourced parking meters.

With just one contract, Chicago taxpayers lost $1 billion in future revenue and managed to dramatically constrain their ability to manage development in their city for next seventy-five years.

As the Executive Director of In the Public Interest puts it,

“The false promises of privatization are triggering a race to the bottom.”

The promise of efficiency leading to getting more for less evaporates as private companies guarantee their profit margin by paying workers less and cutting back on the availability and quality of the services that people need and taxpayers had been funding.

In the end, as the extent or quality of services goes down, demand for other services go up or, at the very least, taxpayers are left subsidizing private businesses while needs go unmet.

Private Prisons on Steroids …The for-profit detention centers

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While many are aware of the rise of private prisons in the United States and the lucrative contracts that are given to for-profit companies to run those correctional facilities, far less attention has been given to the for-profit largess associated with massive contracts to run the federal government’s immigration detention centers and other related programs around the country.

As the Center for American Progress explains;

Surprisingly, the largest detention and supervised release program is not operated program in the country is not operated by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), but by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the nation’s immigration detention centers.  According to the Department of Justice, its Federal Bureau of Prisons has nearly 200,000 individuals in custody as of December 2014.  On the other hand, the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration detention program detains around 400,000 each year.

The nation’s paranoia about immigrants has dramatically enhanced the revenues for two massive for-profit prison companies that are now raking in over $1 billion a year in taxpayer funds running much of the federal government’s prison and detention programs.

As a result of legislation approved by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Obama, the Department of Homeland Security MUST maintain no less than 33,400 detention beds a day — regardless of whether those beds are needed.  It is the only mandated bed quota of any federal agency.

To acquire that many beds, the government turned to for-profit companies to build and run many of the facilities.  Today, more than 60% of the immigrant detention beds are operated by two for-profit prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CAA) and Geo Group Inc.  Both companies have seen their revenue more than double over the past ten years, thanks to the “round ‘um up, lock them in” mentality.

Today, taxpayers are shelling out in excess of $2 billion a year to lock up and supervise immigrants despite the fact that the vast, overwhelming majority of detainees are deemed low priority and are not security risks due to the fact that they have no criminal record and no pose danger to society.

And since the detention centers are primarily along the Mexican border, undocumented immigrant picked up elsewhere in the country are generally transported to those southern facilities, usually by separate for-profit sub-companies owned and operated by the same for-profit entities.

If the mandatory minimum number of beds wasn’t bad enough, the for-profit companies enjoy unique and extraordinary contracts that add to their bottom line.

As the Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights reported;

 In addition to the congressional daily quota, contracts between ICE [Immigration and Custom Enforcement] and for-profit facilities included a guaranteed minimum number of beds that must be paid for each day.  In addition, guaranteed minimums, the contracts stipulated a tiered pricing structure, meaning ICE actually receives a discounted per-diem rate for each person detained in excess of the guaranteed minimum.  The pricing incentivizes detaining more people.”

And that,

“The pressure to fulfill both congressional and contractual quotas has resulted in decisions to detain rather than release otherwise eligible immigrants, including vulnerable population.”

These policies mean that the over the past decade, the federal government’s detention programs has skyrocketed in cost from 700 million a year in 2005 to more than $2 billion a year today.

And to ensure that the money spigot isn’t turned off or limited in any way, these two companies have spent in excess of $10 million lobbying Congress to pass the Department of Homeland Security’s detention and supervision budget and to maintain the bed quota at its astronomically high level.

Think about it, a mandatory minimum number of beds and guaranteed payments for these two for-profit companies, regardless of if those beds or those services are even needed.

Excessive guaranteed profits at taxpayer expense.  It is advanced capitalism and privatization at its worst!

Thanks to this approach, taxpayers are left with the option of locking up low risk individuals who are not security risks or paying for empty beds.

Sadly, Congress and the Obama administration have relied on the former option, unnecessarily imprisoning thousands of people all in a never ending effort to ensure that the for-profit companies continue to exceed their profit goals.

And as if to prove that point, the privatization craze goes far beyond the detention centers.

The Center for American Progress explains;

In 2010, Geo Group Inc. acquired BL Inc., a company with an exclusive ICE contract to provide supervised release which sometimes employees the use of electronic ankle bracelets.  This acquisition made the Geo Group the largest provider of electronic monitoring services in the U.S. corrections industry.

The company told investors, that they were now able to serve clients, “throughout the entire corrections lifecycle.”

And the Obama Administration?

This year they proposed expanding that particular program to 53,000 individuals, at a cost of another $30 million a year.

There is something very wrong in Washington, D.C.

Of course, the wasted money is minuscule compared to what Donald Trump plans to spend on his Wall and on rounding up, detaining and shipping more than 12 million immigrants back to their homelands.

Koch Brother’s American Legislative Exchange Council pushing for more charter schools

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Thanks in no small part to Donald Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the right-wing, corporate-funded, pro-privatization, anti-public education, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is meeting this week in Indianapolis.

At the top of their privatization agenda — More unaccountable charter schools.

The Center for Media and Democracy reports that at the meeting, “where corporate lobbyists sit side-by-side with state legislators in luxury hotels to vote as equals on ‘model bills’ that then get pushed to become law in states across the country,” a key issue will be the continued expansion of charter schools.  CMD explains;

The for-profit education companies that help fund ALEC, like K12, Inc., have a track record of poor results that tends to result in a high rate of school closures. K12, which was founded in part by junk bond fraudster felon Michael Milken, has a seat and a vote on ALEC’s corporate board.

Two new bills being considered by what ALEC now dubs its “Education and Workforce Development Task Force” could help poorly performing charters stay open without having to improve.

Under the Assessment Choice Act, instead of using a uniform assessment for students statewide, charters’ authorizers would take their pick from a “menu” of tests, unlike traditional public schools.

If propping up test scores isn’t enough to save a charter from closure, the “Student and Family Fair Notice and Impact Statement Act” promises to add new hurdles. Before closing or restructuring a charter school, this act would not just require that families be notified. It would also create a public hearing process in which parents, teachers, and “experts” could give testimony about the school, and the charter board would be allowed to suggest a response plan.

So, the corporate education reformers who taught standardized testing as the mechanism to rank order children, teachers and schools is now proposing legislation that would allow charter schools to exempt themselves from the use of the Common Core testing scheme.

Meanwhile, Trump’s running mate, one of the most anti-public education, anti-teacher governors in the nation is ALEC’s keynote speaker and was also scheduled to speak at an evening reception on school “reform” hosted by some of the biggest names in the corporate education reform industry.

While Hillary Clinton has unfortunately been a major supporter of the charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies, Trump-Pence are proving, yet again, that they would be a hundred times worse for the students, parents, teachers and public school of the nation.

K12 Inc – The Pride of Wall Street

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Writing in their 2015 Annual Report, K12 Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Davis said;

Our strategy is simple: optimize student success, support market expansion in collaboration with current and future partners, and pursue targeted revenue growth.

Hyping their status as the leader in the for-profit corporate education reform industry, the company reported added;

The U.S. Market for K-12 education is large and online learning is gaining greater acceptance.

The notion that the country’s public school children are little more than lucrative profit centers for Wall Street investors has been growing since Rupert Murdoch famously called America’s public schools, a $500 billion untapped economic opportunity.

And by way of explaining the pro-charter environment and their ongoing success collecting public money, K12 Inc. explained;

Many parents and educators are seeking alternatives to traditional classroom-based education for a variety of reasons.  Demand for these alternatives is evident in the expanding number of choices available to parents and students.  For example, public charter schools emerged in 1988 to provide an alternative to traditional public schools and, have seen enrollments grow by 225% over the past 10 years….and there are approximately 6,400 public charter schools operating in 42 state and the District of Columbia with an estimated enrollment of over 2.5 million students.

While much of the attention related to education reform has focused on charter schools, the Common Core and the Common Core testing frenzy, Internet based, online virtual charter schools have become a significant part of the corporate education reform industry.

According to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), as of 2013, all 50 states “had established a significant form of online learning initiative, adding that, “1.82 million students participated in a formal online learning program.”

It was with this burgeoning sense of opportunity that a former Goldman Sacks executive and President Ronald Reagan’s former US Secretary of Education formed K12, Inc. in 2000.

With $40 million dollars from Wall Street investors, including $10 million from the infamous junk-bond dealer Michael Milken, Ronald Packard, a former Goldman Sacks executive and William Bennett, a former Secretary of Education, formed K12, Inc. so that they and their investors could profit off the children of the United States.

Other initial Wall Street investors included Andrew Tisch (Loews) and Larry Ellison (Oracle and Knowledge Universe), as well as Milken and his brother.

William Bennett, who by the 2000s had become a right-wing talk show host, served as the chairman of K12 Inc.’s board of directors until he resigned in 2005 following a series of racist comments that he made about African-Americans.

However, despite the controversy surrounding K12 and Bennett’s role in the company, the corporation’s profits have grown exponentially over the years, earning hundreds of millions of dollars for K12’s executives and shareholders.

K12 Inc. began by creating an online “education program” for children in Kindergarten through 2nd grade in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Today, a decade and a half later, K12 Inc. owns, operates or manages virtual schools in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the District of Columbia.  In addition, the company sells online products to schools in all 50 states and around the world.

The company has been so successful that in 2007 it owners decided to take the company public, raising millions in capital as it joined the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: LRN).

By 2015, the company’s revenue exceeded $948 million, a 5.1 percent increase over the preceding year.   Since its inception, K12 Inc.’s revenue has exceeded $5 billion dollars, almost all of it paid for by American taxpayers.

The policy landscape supporting virtual charter schools has grown substantially over the years K12 Inc. has been in existence.  In just the last eight years, more than 157 bills passed in 39 states and the District of Columbia, all expanding the online school juggernaut.

In many cases, the anti-public school, pro-cyber school legislation was a result of aggressive lobbying and political involvement by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the member of its Digital Learning Subcommittee, a group of education reform entrepreneurs that includes K12 Inc.

Explaining an important aspect of its success, K12 Inc., its board of directors and staff have been especially active when it comes to political donations and lobbing activities at the federal and state level.

Federal Election Commission reports reveal that since its inception, individuals directly connected with K12 Inc. have donated well in excess of $1.5 million dollars to federal candidates and political action committees, helping to ensure that the company and cyber schools, in general, received a place of honor in both the administrations of President George W. Bush and Barak Obama.

The virtual school industry has received consistent and bi-partisan legislative and administrative support.

In fact, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Race to the Top initiative and the recently adopted, Every Student Succeeds Act, all make room for the significant expansion of virtual schools.

In addition to the company’s work at the federal level, the Center for Media and Democracy reports;

Since 2004, K12 Inc. and its employees have pumped almost $1.3 million into state-level politics in 23 states (as of 2012), including contributions to candidates for office, party committees, and ballot initiatives.

On top of K12’s direct involvement in political campaigns, K12 Inc. has also focused on direct lobbying activities, spending more than $120,000 spent on federal lobbyists in the last two years, all while hiring more than 150 lobbyists in 28 states between 2003 and 2012, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

A prime example of K12’s involvement in state politics can be found in the role it played in Georgia’s referendum to amend its state constitution in order to make it easier to open charter schools in that state.  K12 was a major supporter of the effort, donating at least $300,000 in 2012 to “Families for Better Public Schools,” a Georgia political action committee behind a constitutional amendment that would further the charter school industry by bypassing the legislature and state board of education to create a new, politically appointed commission that would have the authority to independently override state and local control and approve new charter schools and online virtual schools.

With additional financial support from the Koch Brother’s  Americans for Prosperity StudentsFirst, the Walton Family Foundation and other major corporate education reform players, the amendment passed with proponents outspending the opposition by about ten-to-one.

In yet another example, the Center For Media and Democracy reports,

In Pennsylvania, where ten percent of its revenue is generated, K12 Inc. has spent $681,000 on lobbying since 2007, according to the New York Times.  It registered 11 lobbyists in the state from 2007 through 2012, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

K12 Inc. has also used ostensibly benign front groups to lobby and organize protests on its behalf. The K12 Inc. funded group Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber Schools spent $250,000 on lobbying in the last five years, according to the Times.

The paper also reports that K12 Inc. is connected to My School, My Choice, a group that organized protests in Ohio against reforming the state formula for financing charter and online schools. The protesters turned out to be paid temp agency workers. Tim Dirrim, the founder of the organization, is the board president of the K12 Inc. managed Ohio Virtual Academy.

In states across the country and at the national level, political donations, lobbying, public relations and advocacy and extensive marketing campaigns have served as the building blocks of K12’s lucrative online schools.

However, perhaps the most telling points about how K12 Inc. and other online charter school succeed in the present economic and political climate can be found in the narrative that the company lists as “Risk Factors” in their most recent quarterly report to the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), factors that make it clear that the for-profit education reform industry has become an active part of the advanced capitalist system.

Warning Wall Street and its investors, K12 Inc. outlined the potential barriers to its success, noting;

  • From time to time, proposals are introduced in state legislatures that single out virtual or blended public schools for disparate treatment.
  • We have been, and will likely continue to be, subject to public policy lawsuits filed against virtual and blended schools by those who do not share our belief in the value of this form of public education.
  • Opponents of virtual and blended public schools have sought to challenge the establishment and expansion of such schools through the judicial process. If these interests prevail, it could damage our ability to sustain or grow our current business or expand in certain jurisdictions.
  • Beyond academic performance issues, some virtual school operators have been subject to governmental investigations alleging the misuse of public funded or financial irregularities. These allegations have attracted significant adverse media coverage and have prompted legislative hearings and regulatory responses.
  • As a public company, we are required to file periodic financial and other disclosure reports with the SEC…The disclosure of this information by a for-profit education company, regardless of parent satisfaction and student performance, may nonetheless be used by opponents of virtual and blended public schools to propose funding reductions or restrictions.
  • As a non-traditional form of public education, online public school operators will be subject to scrutiny, perhaps even greater than that applied to traditional brick and mortar public schools or public charter schools.  (A claim that is blatantly false considering there is little to no federal or state oversight of virtual charter schools.)

And finally, in what may be the most telling and honest observation of all, K12 reports;

  • Parent and student satisfaction may decline as not all parents and students are able to devote the substantial time and effort necessary to complete our curriculum.

While these “risk factors” paint a picture of potential problems facing K12 Inc. and other virtual schools, the supposed legitimacy of the virtual school industry has allows them to expand operations and continue to rake in the cash, all at the expense of taxpayers and real public schools.

What is wrong with Washington? Well, U.S. Navy’s new $13B aircraft carrier can’t fight…

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Yes Virginia, things are that screwed up….

From CNN we learn;

The $13-billion USS Gerald R. Ford is already two years behind schedule, and the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier is facing more delays after the Pentagon’s top weapons tester concluded the ship is still not ready for combat despite expectations it would be delivered to the fleet this September.

According to a June 28 memo from the Department of Defense;

…the most expensive warship in history continues to struggle launching and recovering aircraft, moving onboard munitions, conducting air traffic control and with ship self-defense.

[…]

Commanders said delays to the USS Gerald R. Ford have resulted in extended deployments for the operational carriers in order for the Navy to meet its commitments around the world, placing additional stress on sailors and crew members.

[…]

The USS Gerald Ford is the first of three Ford-class carriers ordered by the Navy with combined cost expected close to $42 billion.

So how could such a situation have developed?

The Navy and Department of Defense said the issues keeping the 1,100- foot supercarrier from active duty are the result of decisions made when the Pentagon committed to building the advanced ship in 2008.

“The decision to proceed with these three systems was made many years ago, prior to their maturation, when transformational approaches to acquisition were a DOD policy,” said a Defense Department spokesman.

[…]

To date, construction on the Ford is 98 percent complete with 88 percent of the test program finished.

The next carrier in the Ford class, the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), is scheduled to launch in 2020. That ship was 18% percent complete as of March.

The third Ford-class carrier, the USS Enterprise (CVN 80), is set to begin construction in 2018.

There you go.  $13 Billion for an aircraft carrier that can’t fight, with two more of the useless behemoths in the works.

Heck, it is not like we needed the money to preserve vital services and properly fund our public schools.

Time to change course

Time for people to know the truth!

Reminder:

Checks for Pelto 2016 for Congress can be sent to PO Box 400, Storrs, CT. 06268

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Request for donations to Pelto 2016 for Congress

For-profit K12 Inc. virtual charter school giant claims Common Core testing could hurt its profitability???

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Education Reform Speak is hard enough to understand, but when K12 Inc., the large online virtual school vendor, sought to warn investors about the dangers of the Common Core — a concept proposed and driven by the corporate education reform industry —the resulting explanation was nothing short of bizarre.

Here, K12 Inc. uses it 2015 Annual Report to explain how the Common Core and Common Core testing scheme puts the company’s profits at risk.

A big kudos to any reader who can figure out what K12 means in the following paragraph, which is taken directly from the company’s most recent annual report. Note the wording that the problem apparently lies in that many states are implementing the common core but failing to use the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC and PARCC testing programs.

FROM K12 INC. 2015 ANNUAL SHARHOLDER REPORT;

The transition to Common Core State Standards and Common Core Assessments could result in a decline in state test scores that might adversely affect our enrollment and financial condition

“Many states have adopted the CCSS, also known as the College and Career Readiness Standards, but are not choosing to use the assessments developed by two national testing consortia that align with the CCSS Curriculum.  Instead, these states are electing to use existing or state-developed assessments to evaluate student performance.  As a result, it has been reported in many states that students learning under the CCSS but continuing to be tested under the existing state proficiency tests have experienced sharp declines in test results.  As managed public schools we serve [to] undertake this transition, and given the growing number of at-rick students enrolling in these schools, perceived academic performance could temporarily or permanently suffer such that these schools may become a less attractive alternative, enrollments could decline, and our financial condition and results of operations could be negatively impact.

K12, inc. 2015 Annual Report, Page 42

#Hashtag# – And education reformers want us to hand our children off to these people?

The on-line scam called K12 Inc.

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While children play in the summer heat, parents in Massachusetts and 31 other states across the country are being bombarded with advertisements for the online “learning” giant, K12 Inc., a for-profit virtual school system that is part of the ongoing movement to divert public funds away from traditional schools and give the taxpayer money to privately owned and operated charter and on-line entities that supporters claim are the future of public education in the United States.

But the truth surrounding these corporate education reform strategies fall far short of their advertising claims, a fact that is especially true when it comes to the growing online or virtual charter school industry.

As California’s Mercury News explained in a major investigative series this past spring,

The TV ads pitch a new kind of school where the power of the Internet allows gifted and struggling students alike to “work at the level that’s just right for them” and thrive with one-on-one attention from teachers connecting through cyberspace. Thousands of California families, supported with hundreds of millions in state education dollars, have bought in.

But the Silicon Valley-influenced endeavor behind the lofty claims is leading a dubious revolution. The growing network of online academies, operated by a Virginia company traded on Wall Street called K12 Inc., is failing key tests used to measure educational success.

Fewer than half of the students who enroll in the online high schools earn diplomas, and almost none of them are qualified to attend the state’s public universities.

In fact, a series of academic studies have revealed that despite collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, most virtual schools are utterly failing when it comes to actually educating children.

Reporting on a major study conducted in 2015 by Stanford University, the Washington Post wrote,

Students in the nation’s virtual K-12 charter schools — who take all of their classes via computer from home — learn significantly less on average than students at traditional public schools, a new study has found.

The online charter students lost an average of about 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math during the course of a 180-day school year, the study found. In other words, when it comes to math, it’s as if the students did not attend school at all.

In addition to outright corruption, the widespread academic failures plaguing virtual charter schools are leading to numerous state investigations into a significant number of the on-line schools, including some owned and operated by K12 Inc.

For example, earlier this month California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that the Bureau of Children’s Justice and False Claims Unit of the California Department of Justice had reached a settlement agreement with K12 Inc. and its 14 affiliated California Virtual Academies over the company’s “violations of California’s false claims, false advertising and unfair competition laws.“

Covering the settlement agreement, the Mercury News reported;

Facing a torrent of accusations, a for-profit company that operates taxpayer-funded online charter schools throughout California has reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state over claims it manipulated attendance records and overstated its students’ success.

The deal, announced Friday by Attorney General Kamala Harris, comes almost three months after the Bay Area News Group published an investigation of K12 Inc., a publicly traded Virginia company, which raked in more than $310 million in state funding over the past 12 years operating a profitable but low-performing network of “virtual” schools for about 15,000 students.

[…]

Harris’ office found that K12 and the 14 California Virtual Academies used deceptive advertising to mislead families about students’ academic progress, parents’ satisfaction with the program and their graduates’ eligibility for University of California and California State University admission — issues that were exposed in this news organization’s April report.

The settlement could help spur legislation that would prevent for-profit companies like K12 from operating public schools in California.

The Attorney General’s office also found that K12 and its affiliated schools collected more state funding from the California Department of Education than they were entitled to by submitting inflated student attendance data and that the company leaned on the nonprofit schools to sign unfavorable contracts that put them in a deep financial hole.

“K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction and loading nonprofit charities with debt,” Harris said in a statement. “This settlement ensures K12 and its schools are held accountable and make much-needed improvements.”

K12 Inc. and its 14 “non-profit” virtual charter schools enroll about 13,000 students in California.  According to the Attorney General’s investigation, only about one in three students in the K12 Inc. schools actually graduate. The statewide graduation rate for California’s public schools is close to 80 percent.

The California controversy is just one of many surrounding K12 Inc.

Overall, about 315,000 students in the United States attend “virtual” schools and like those in California, the vast majority aren’t getting the quality education that the taxpayers are paying for.

But that doesn’t even slow down the cash flow.

In 2015, K12’s revenue exceeded $948 million, a 5.1 percent increase over the preceding year. Since its inception, K12 has collected over $5 billion dollars for its investors and executives.

K12’s false claims may have cost it money in California, but it continues to make similar claims of success in advertising that is presently running in a number of states.

If there was real truth in advertising, the K12 and other virtual charter schools would be using the tag line,

“America’s Virtual Schools – Ripping off the taxpayers, not even coming close to providing children with an adequate education.”

Check back for more on K12 and the virtual charter school industry.

Request for donations to Pelto 2016 for Congress

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As a Green Party candidate for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District of Connecticut, I’m asking for your financial support so we can ramp up our efforts to educate, persuade and mobilize people to stand up and speak out about the challenges and problems that face our nation, state and communities, not to mention our world.

In these dark times, change will not come easily.

However, by rising up and combining our voices … We can not only be heard, but can have a real impact on the course of affairs.

Please give what you can to Pelto 2016.  Your financial support is needed and appreciated,

Jonathan Pelto

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