Saturday, December 31, 2016

Who Really Wins in Privatization?

Who was the biggest lottery winner in NJ in 2016? Not Joe Schmoe. Not the people in that office pool. Not even that kid in Newark trying to get into that charter school. Nope, it was the lottery company itself. Today's Star Ledger ran this story about Northstar New Jersey, the private company that Gov. Christie handed the once state-run lottery operation over to in 2012:

The private gaming joint venture that operates New Jersey's lottery received a more than $30 million bonus despite having originally over-promised a billion dollars in revenue at the start of its contract, its latest annual report shows. 
Northstar New Jersey, which oversees Powerball, MegaMillions as well as various scratch off games, was paid a $30.6 million incentive for reaching contractual obligations that were renegotiated downward in February to more easily attainable goals. 
At the urging of Gov. Chris Christie in 2012, the state entered into a 15-year contract with Northstar under which the gaming venture committed to sending "at least" $1.42 billion in additional income back to New Jersey in exchange for its making an upfront payment of $120 million in 2013. Northstar was the only bidder on the contract. 
That agreement was short-lived, however. 
After Northstar fell short of its promised income targets two years in a row, it renegotiated its contract with the state. In Feb. 2016, the company's financial targets were lowered by $1 billion through 2029, about $76 million less a year.
In 2013, Northstar had been forced to tap into a $20 million reserve established at the outset of its contract with New Jersey to pay for its shortage penalties. 
But because 2016 produced an unexpected surge in ticket sales -- more than $3.29 billion through June -- the conglomerate was able to finally reach its renegotiated contractual obligations, according to its 2016 annual report, which runs through New Jersey's fiscal year ending June 30, 2016. 
New Jersey lottery officials faced questions from state lawmakers Tuesday on a private lottery contractor's failure to live up to its promises to increase sales and payments into the state treasury. 
Northstar, a joint venture made up of lottery operators GTECH and Scientific Games along with the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, was also paid $104 million for "management and system fees" as well as advertising and marketing costs, the report said. 
The state gets back $987 million, or 30 percent of the $3.29 billion in 2016 ticket sales, the absolute minimum required by law.  
"Record-breaking sales enabled the Lottery to make a record-breaking contribution to its beneficiaries," Carole Hedinger, the lottery's executive director, said in a statement released to media. 
"The Lottery could not have achieved those goals without investments made by Northstar New Jersey in technology, marketing, personnel, retailer expansion and capital equipment," said Will Rijksen, director of communications with the state's Treasury. 
Rijksen also noted that after Northstar's contract was renegotiated, its bonus shrank to 3 percent of net income, down from 5 percent. Doing so, Rijksen said, ensured "that Northstar would not receive a windfall if (ticket) sales turned up dramatically." 
Much of the 2016 windfall was the result of greater public interest in Powerball, which had its first billion-dollar jackpot this year, resulting in $93 million more in tickets sold that had been budgeted, according to the annual report. 
But William Weld, the two-time governor of Massachusetts who's previously served as national co-chairman of the U.S. Privatization Council wrote a recent op-ed in Forbes that "even as a long-time proponent of private management, I am constrained to say that the results obtained by private managers in Illinois and New Jersey have been a disappointment." 
An email to Northstar officials requesting comment was not immediately returned, and there was no answer at the telephone number for its Princeton headquarters. (emphasis mine)

Whether it's privately run prisons, lotteries or charter schoolsthe number one goal, like any private industry, is to make a profit, not service the people. So, it's no surprise that today, Carol Burris posted this:

Read the article here. When there's no fiscal oversight, no public input, no local control, but many lobbyists and political influences, charters are free to do whatever they want with taxpayer money.

And, if Betsy DeVos is appointed the next Secretary of State, we will see privatization of public education in this country explode, and benefit mainly Christian religious schools

What to do? Call your US Senator and tell him or her to vote No on DeVos on January 11.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

An Open Letter to @GovChristie

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" ~ The Beatles

Dear Gov. Christie,

I hear
 you're very upset about your book deal failing. You said the legislation wasn't just about you profiting from writing a book while still in office; it was also about political payback to newspapers giving some high-ranking public employees a well-deserved raise. As you said: 
"Judges today make less than they did in 2003. You don't want judges who think getting $140,000 a year is a raise... You want to appear before stupid judges? Then don't raise their pay any more."
I get that we don't want incompetent public employees in any position: 
Christie complained that paltry public sector salary caps had cost him qualified staffers, noting that legislative staffers had not received a pay raise in 15 years.  
Christie said that top candidates had turned him down because they "can't afford to live in New Jersey." 
I'm sure those judges and staffers do an admirable job. They put in an honest day's work, and most likely their workday consists of many more hours than those they are contracted for. You want to attract and retain the best people for those positions. Taxpayers deserve no less.

So, I don’t understand why you demand pay increases for them, yet you make completely false statements like this: 
Teachers are paid too much, that’s what’s bankrupting the system. Some teachers make six-figure salaries and that’s not including retirement benefits.
How can you, the governor of New Jersey, have absolutely no idea what teachers earn? I mean, you built your reputation on cracking down on "greedy" and "selfish" teachers. Surely you would want to make sure your numbers are correct. But, just in case you forgot, click on this link. You'll be reminded that the majority of us make nowhere near that amount.

And what about superintendents? I don't understand you not wanting to hire and retain the very best to run our, as you call them, "failure factories". Once you put the cap on their salaries, quality school leaders fled the state in droves to NY and PA for higher salaries—and respect. 

Judges and staffers aren’t the only ones who struggle to live in New Jersey. Everyone in this state who didn’t directly benefit from your draconian cuts over the past seven years (aka the 99%) knows that story all too well. Did you forget that property taxes rose on average 20% in 2011 after you slashed billions from public education funding as part of your war on education? Are you aware that, after you signed Chapter 78 into law, tens of thousands of public employees saw our net take home pay slashed because we now must work longer, pay more for our pensions and health insurance premiums and get less in return, with no guarantee our pensions will even be there when we retire? Hell, we can't even move to PA or NY to make ends meet because you made us indentured servants

Don’t believe me? We have the pay stubs—and the second and third jobs—to prove it.

If you want quality public employees, you have to pay them all a living wage and treat them all with respect. Anything otherwise is, quite frankly, terrible leadership.

For so many years, you've expressed so much vitriol toward so many people in this state. Why are you surprised that many feel that way about you now? Actually, I don’t think it’s hatred on the part of our elected officials. I believe it’s simply a case of what goes around, comes around.

You see, for the past seven years you have disrespected, demoralized and demonized tens of thousands of public employees who are simply putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. You've trashed and bashed and lied about elected officials, and those of us who are not as fortunate as you or those judges; who don't earn anywhere near $140,000 a year, let alone your salary of $175,000 a year with a $95,000 a year 'entertainment' stipend.

Since you took office, you have sown the seeds of hatred from High Point to Cape May and now it's time to reap what you have sown. So, no, this isn't a case of "'the haters'" [who] allowed personal animus to deny [you] the ability" to profit from a writing book while in office. No, this is karma, plain and simple.

“I am tired of you people.”
When you break promises, when you go back on your word, when you don't play fair, when you pit people against each other in some sick game of chess, when you call people names, when you act like a school yard bully, people remember. And they are not too enthusiastic about supporting legislation that would directly line your pockets and put hundreds of people out of work, even if it means denying some fellow public employees a raise.

Remember this? This is where it all started. These are your words, Governor, uttered before you even won the election. Although they are aimed specifically at educators, they are symbolic of your sleight-of-hand treatment of everyone in this state who is not like you. And now you must accept the consequences. And it’s pretty sad that judges and legislative staffers have to suffer. 

Welcome home, Governor. New Jersey is a different place since you left two years ago to pursue your presidential dreams. You can rant and rave all you want about the loss of your book deal, but remember what Lennon and McCartney said. Then look in the mirror ask yourself what you’ve done in the past seven years to deserve it, and what you're going to do during the next year for the people you were elected to serve. 

There is still time for redemption.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

School 'Choice' in Trumplandia

What will public education look like in the Trump/DeVos universe? More of the same.


Like so many other 'reformers', DeVos will dangle the carrots of 'choice' and vouchers in front of urban parents, and public education as we know it will end—at least in the inner cities where parents have little say. She's already wreaked havoc in Detroit, a city that doesn't need one more ounce of despair. Valerie Strauss writes,

In Detroit, parents of school-age children have plenty of choices, thanks to the nation’s largest urban network of charter schools.
What remains in short supply is quality.
This deeply dysfunctional educational landscape — where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and “choice” means the opposite for tens of thousands of children — is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.  
And at the center of that lobby is Betsy DeVos, the west Michigan advocate whose family has contributed millions of dollars to the cause of school choice and unregulated charter expansion throughout Michigan.

'Choice' connotes available options, but for many trapped in 'reform land', there really are none. 

When state governments deliberately underfund urban public schools to make them 'fail', how is that choice?

When charter schools cherry pick their students, how is that 'choice'?

When parents choose their public school, but it's forced to close because a charter has drained money away, how is that choice?

When the community has no say in how their school district is run, how is that choice?

"But, Marie," you say, "what about those vouchers?" 

Well, what about them? DeVos's master plan is to hand families a voucher of up to $12 thousand to send their children to their school of ‘choice’—including religious schools. If only my grandmother, who wrote my Catholic school tuition checks for 12 years, was alive to see this.

What an opportunity for students who live in high poverty/high needs neighborhoods—especially here in New Jersey! Right...? I mean, in addition to many of the finest public schools in the country, we also have some mighty fine and mighty pricey private schools. But hold on... don't go out and buy that blue blazer and khaki pants just yet. See, the funny thing about 'choice' is that it doesn't equal 'access', and that's where Betsy & Co. have those urban parents by the you-know-whats. 

Here's a list of New Jersey's top private schools and their tuition (added by me). Twelve thousand dollars won’t even cover half the tuition at most of these schools, let alone provide any guarantee of admittance—or transportation:
  • The Lawrenceville School, Lawrence $47,800 - $57,800
  • The Pingry School, Warren $29,000 - $35,000
  • Newark Academy, Livingston $37,900
  • Delbarton School, Morris $35,500
  • Kent Place School, Summit $15,800 - $39,000 
  • Collegiate School, Passaic $5,000 - $7,500
  • Peddie School, Hightstown $43,500 - $52,600
  • Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood $30,600
All of these schools provide a terrific education, and I don't begrudge for one minute parents who choose to send their children to them. But, none of them is anywhere near Camden or Asbury Park or Trenton or Long Branch or Gloucester or most of the rest of New Jersey's 31 former 'Abbott' districts that Gov. Christie has forced 'choice' on. And these schools really do have something those voucher-holding parents don't have: choice—which students to accept and which to reject. 

No, low income, urban students will have to apply (not 'choose') to attend a local charter or religious school that 
lacks public fiscal oversight, that may or may not accept them, and that may or may not be any better than the local public school. Suburban students also have to apply and be accepted to their private school of 'choice', but unlike urban students, the socioeconomic status of those suburban kids provides them with far more connections to 'access' like carpool pickups from the local Starbucks... or Wegmans... or Whole Foods... or... 

So much for ‘choice’.

"But parents need choice! The free market will drive competition and make education great again!", DeVos proclaims. Oy! Let's ask parents in Washington, DCMilwaukeeLouisiana and Indiana how those vouchers have worked out. 

Competition may be good for selling cars, but not for educating children. But Betsy DeVos doesn't care about that. She isn't interested in whether all students actually get into their school of 'choice' because those with means and/or the proper skin color will always have 'access' to the best educations, and that's all that really matters in Billionaire Land anyway. 

In the meantime, those without will continue to suffer, and the profiteers will profit. But as long as the appearance of 'choice' is out there, and she can get away with forcing her religious beliefs onto one of the last bastions of a free and democratic society, all will be well. 

This is not how to ‘make America great again’.

As charter cheerleaders cheer their cure-all cheers, I repeat my mantra: 

'Choice' does not equal 'Access' 

Your tax dollars at work...

Credit: Wikipedia

How's that workin' for ya?

For more information on Betsy DeVos, follow the bloggers on the right hand side of this page. 

And please call your US Senators and urge them to vote No on her confirmation. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Tale of Two Education Systems: A New Jersey Story

In the name of school 'choice', education 'reformers' have stripped away choice for people of color

We see it time and again in our low-income/high minority, inner cities all across the country: public schools, the glue that holds neighborhoods together, are shuttered or flipped to charters in the name of 'reform', and parents and community members have absolutely no say.

But not so in mostly wealthy, mostly White, suburban America. I live in one such place: Hunterdon County, NJ, one of America's wealthiest counties. About 15 minutes down the road from me is the tiny, gorgeously bucolic, rural, Delaware River town of Stockton. With a population of only 516, the median household income is $93,049, it's 96.5% White, and the median house value is $384,200. 

With only 50 students, Stockton Borough School is New Jersey's oldest and smallest school, and the community doesn't want it to close. But because of declining enrollment, it's not exactly cost-effective to keep it open. But, after a packed community forum, former Stockton Borough Board of Education member, David L. Pasicznyk, wrote a letter to the school district:
"As you have undoubtedly noticed at the recent meeting at the Stockton Firehouse, where approximately 100 supporters turned out, the school is the glue that holds our community together. To have that many supporters (over 20-percent of the borough's population) show up at a mid-week evening meeting should be an indicator of the value that we, young and old, place on the school." 
Board President Dan Seiter told the audience Monday night that the board had heard the community's wish that the school remain open...
Superintendent Lou Muenker will work to create a committee made up of parents, residents of the entire district, teachers, staff and board members to look at ways to increase enrollment at the school, as well as make recommendations on the best use of the facility in the future. (emphasis mine) 
Don't get me wrong; I'm happy that the school will remain open at least another year. Hunterdon County has excellent schools, and I'm sure Stockton Borough School is one of them. I'm happy the school board is fulfilling the will of the people who want the very best for their children—and who are paying the bills. But, Stockton Borough would never dream of closing its school with that many people standing in opposition. However, in this era of education 'reform', school closings are business as usual in urban centers like Newark, Camden or Philadelphia—where parents' voices are simply ignored—or Chicago, where parents and community members went on a hunger strike to try to get the board of education to listen:
The larger issue, the protesters say, is how the district and city government ignore the input of local parents and students, especially when that input comes from racial minorities. In 2013, the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, closed 49 schools — a move that was met with widespread resistance and disproportionately impacted minority communities. 
“What school district in their right mind would demonize and run away from parents that are activated to improve their schools?” protester Jitu Brown previously told The Huffington Post. 
“They just ignore us because they were hell-bent on closing this school and several other schools in this neighborhood, as if there’s no hope for black kids in neighborhood schools, and that’s just not true,” he said. (emphasis mine)
School closings—no matter where they are—are disruptive. But, if you live in wealthy, White America, the odds of that happening against your will are slim to none.

How many parents, students and community members all across this country have packed urban board of ed meetings, fighting to keep their neighborhood schools open? Fighting to prevent the destruction of their communities? Fighting against privatization? Fighting for their democratic right to determine how their tax dollars are spent, while those in charge turn a deaf ear? How many parents, students and concerned citizens in cities all across this country have marched in the streets against the destruction of public education in their neighborhoods? How many of these concerned citizens have been ignored by school boards that are often appointed rather than elected?

Too many. 

Want to see what people of color have to go through to get their boards of education to listen to them? Check out NJ Communities United's Facebook page. These dedicated parents and community members are relentless in their efforts to make their voices heard in Newark, even going so far as to follow former NJ Education Commissioner turned Superintendent, 'Reformy' Chris Cerf, to a swanky charter school function after he abruptly left a board of ed meeting right before the public address portion. I'm sorry I wasn't able to embed this video, but scroll down their page until you see it:

This would never, ever happen in New Jersey's mostly wealthy, mostly White suburbs. Nor would it happen in almost any other upper middle class suburb in any state in this country. But for far too many people of color who live in our urban centers, this is a daily occurrence.

Money and skin color speak louder than words in America. Money and skin color open doors of opportunity in every area of life, and it starts with education. This is the great Civil Rights conundrum that education 'reformers'—many of whom are people of color, all of whom are 'choice' zealots—have wrought upon the very communities they are trying to 'help'. They say zip code shouldn't matter, but they are the very ones making it harder for students in certain zip codes to choose the education they want.

'Choice' does not equal 'access'.

75 Reasons Betsy DeVos is Wrong for Public Education

Still don't know who Betsy DeVos is or why she would be the worst Secretary of Education in this modern era? Look no further. Compiled by eduator/activist/blogger, Jonathan Pelto, the following is only a partial list of posts written by members of the Education Bloggers Network about her since Donald Trump announced her nomination.  

Granted, I'm sure you have better things to do on a Sunday afternoon than read through every single one of these, but even if you pick a few, you will find that she is about as swampy a swamp creature as an alligator—and just as dangerous. 

Unless the US Senate blocks her nomination, this pro-voucher, pro-charter, pro-religious-education-on-the-taxpayer-dime, billionaire, Washington insider who has no degree in education, no teaching experience, nor any experience working in a public K-12 environment, who never attended pubic school (nor have any of her children) will make Arne Duncan look like Fred Rogers.

I could go on, but far too many great minds have already written a boatload. So, sit back, grap a cup of coffee (or a bottle of Xanax), and browse. Then call your US Senators and demand they vote No on her nomination.

From Alan Singer

From A View From the Edge
Redefining Our Definitions

From A View From the Edge

From A View From the Edge

From Badass Teachers Association
The DeVostater: Public School Advocates Unite! by Dr. Michael Flanagan

From Badass Teachers Assocation

From Curmudgucation
How Bad Is DeVos? So Bad...

From Curmudgucation
Opposing DeVos

From Daniel Katz, Ph.D.
Secretary of Privatization

From deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's EduBlog
Why DFER’s Shavar Jeffries Must Support Ed Sec Betsy DeVos

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From educationdc

From Fred Klonsky

From Gary Rubinstein

From GFBrandenburg's Blog
Amway is an illegal pyramid scheme.

From Jan Resseger

From Jeff Bryant

From Live Long and Prosper
Betsy DeVos on Live Long and Prosper

From Live Long and Prosper
Amateur Hour in the Cabinet

From Mother Crusader

From Nakhil Goyal

From Russ on Reading
Heavens to Betsy (DeVos)!

From Russ on Reading
Heavens to Betsy (DeVos)!

Posts by Diane Ravitch of other blogger’s commentary pieces:

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch

From Diane Ravitch