The Weekly Update for the news you might have missed

“We spend lifetimes developing community assets, then give them away to a corporation for lifetimes to come.”

The same folks who brought economic disaster to the world as we knew it are now going after our public entities including public education.

We’ll start with this article by Paul Buchheit posted at AlterNet:

5 Ways Privatization Is Ruining America

A grand delusion has been planted in the minds of Americans, that privately run systems are more efficient and less costly than those in the public sector. Most of the  evidence points the other way. Private initiatives generally produce mediocre or substandard results while experiencing the usual travails of unregulated capitalism — higher prices, limited services, and lower wages for all but a few ‘entrepreneurs.’

With perverse irony, the corruption and incompetence of private industry has actually furthered the cause of privatization, as the collapse of the financial markets has deprived state and local governments of necessary public funding, leading to an even greater call for private development.

As aptly expressed by a  finance company chairman  in 2008, “Desperate government is our best customer.”

The following are a few consequences of this pro-privatization desperation:

1. We spend lifetimes developing community assets, then give them away to a corporation for lifetimes to come.

The infrastructure in our cities has been built up over many years with the sweat and planning of farsighted citizens. Yet the dropoff in tax revenues has prompted careless decisions to balance budgets with big giveaways of public assets that should belong to our children and grandchildren.

In Chicago, the  Skyway tollroad  was leased to a private company for 99 years, and, in a deal growing in infamy, the management of parking meters was sold to a Morgan Stanley group for 75 years. The proceeds have largely been spent.

The parking meter selloff led to a massive rate increase, while hurting small businesses whose potential customers are unwilling to pay the parking fees. Meanwhile, it has been estimated that the business partnership will make a profit of 80 cents per dollar of revenue, a  profit margin  larger than that of any of the top 100 companies in the nation.

Indiana has also succumbed to the shiny lure of money up front, selling control of a  toll road for 75 years. Tolls have doubled over the first five years of the contract.  Indianapolis sold off its parking meters for 50 years, for the bargain up-front price of $32 million.

Atlanta’s 20-year contract with United Water Resources Inc. was canceled because of tainted water and poor service.

2. Insanity is repeating the same mistake over and over and expecting different results.

Numerous examples of failed or ineffective privatization schemes show us that hasty, unregulated initiatives simply don’t work.

Stanford University study  “reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their traditional public school counterparts.” A  Department of Education study  found that “On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress.”

Our private health care system has failed us. We have by far the most expensive system in the developed world. The  cost of common surgeries  is anywhere from three to ten times higher in the U.S. than in Great Britain, Canada, France, or Germany.

Studies show that private prisons  perform poorly  in numerous ways: prevention of intra-prison violence, jail conditions, rehabilitation efforts. The  U.S. Department of Justice  offered this appraisal: “There is no evidence showing that private prisons will have a dramatic impact on how prisons operate. The promises of 20-percent savings in operational costs have simply not materialized.”

A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch  found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. Various privatization  abuses or failures  occurred in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

To read this article in full, go to AlterNet.

And exactly how do these charter schools fair? All you have to do is scroll down the right hand column on this page to the category of charter schools and find example after example of how the privatization of our public schools has not worked and in fact drains much-needed funds away from our public schools.

Some people, like Ramona Hattendorf with the Washington State PTSA, will argue differently but overall, charter schools enroll less English language learner (ELL) students and students with disabilities than public schools. When that happens, there is less funding in the general pool for students who need more in terms of resources.

Bruce Baker with School Finance 101 clearly describes this in his post:

Parsing Charter School Disability Enrollments in PA and NJ

Here are a few quick figures that parse the disability classifications of children with disabilities served by charter schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Two previous posts set the stage for this comparison. In one, I explained how charter schools in the city of Newark, NJ, by taking on fewer low income students, far fewer LEP/ELL students and very few children with disabilities other than those with the mildest/lowest cost disabilities (specific learning disability and speech/language impairment) are leaving behind a much higher need, higher cost population for the district schools to serve.

Effects of Charter Enrollment on District Enrollment in Newark:

In another post, I walked through the financial implications of Pennsylvania’s special education funding formula and specifically the charter school special education funding formula on districts where large shares of low need disability students are siphoned off by charters and where high need disability students are left behind to be served by districts with depleted resources.

The Commonwealth Triple-screw:

In short, under the Pennsylvania charter school funding formula, for each child classified as having a disability and choosing to attend a charter school, the sending district must pay the “average special education expenditure” of the district – regardless of the actual IEP needs of that student. So, there’s a strong financial incentive to serve large numbers of low need special education students in PA charters. But this, of course, leaves a mess behind for local districts, who then have a far higher need special education population and have lost substantial shares of their available funding (due to a completely arbitrary and wrongheaded calculation of the sending tuition rate).

This post merely provides a few more comprehensive follow up figures on the issue of higher versus lower need disability students and charter school enrollments.

First, in New Jersey, here’s the statewide breakout of charter special education enrollments and market shares based on data from 2010 (same as used in Newark post)

  • In short, charter schools in NJ serve about 1.7% of the population.
  • They serve about 1.05% of the population of children with disabilities.
  • AND… they serve only  about .23% of the population of children with disabilities other than Specific Learning Disability or Speech/Language Impairment!

That’s a big deal! It’s a big deal because this leaves behind significant numbers of high need disability children to be served by districts. And, to the extent that charter expansion follows the same trend, this will lead to even greater concentration of children with disabilities in general in district schools and children with more severe disabilities in particular.

To read this post in full and see all of the graphs and bar charts, go to School Finance 101.

Diane Ravitch in a recent blog post points out similar information in terms of a study that was done regarding charter schools in Texas.

Why Charters and Public Schools Are “Apples and Oranges”

The Texas Business and Education Council commissioned a major review of high-performing charter schools by Dr. Ed Fuller.

The question addressed by Fuller is whether the charters are enrolling the same kinds of students who enroll in nearby public schools.

The final conclusions included this summary:

 This study is a preliminary examination of high-profile/high-performing charter management organizations in Texas. Specifically, the study examined the characteristics of students entering the schools, retention/attrition rates; and,the impact of attrition/retention rates on the distribution of students.

Contrary to the profile often portrayed in the media, by some policymakers, and by some charter school proponents (including some charter CEOs), the high-profile/high-enrollment CMOs in Texas enrolled groups of students that would arguably be easier to teach and would be more likely to exhibit high levels of achievement and greater growth on state achievement tests. Indeed, the above analyses showed that, relative to comparison schools, CMOs had:

  • Entering students with greater prior TAKS scores in both mathematics and reading;
  • Entering economically disadvantaged students with substantially greater prior TAKS scores in both mathematics and reading;
  • Lower percentages of incoming students designated as ELL;
  • Lower percentages of incoming students identified as special needs; and,
  • Only slightly greater percentages of incoming students identified as economically disadvantaged.

In other words, rather than serving more disadvantaged students, the findings of this study suggest that the high-profile/high-enrollment CMOs actually served a more advantaged clientele relative to comparison schools—especially as compared to schools in the same zip code as the CMO schools. This is often referred to as the “skimming” of more advantaged students from other schools.

To read this post in full, go to Diane Ravitch’s Blog.

Wholesale privatization of our public school system occurred in New Orleans after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina which Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said was the best thing to happen to New Orleans public schools.

To follow is an excerpt from the introduction of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine, Blank is Beautiful” which chronicles the thinking behind privatization of public entities.

Shock and Awe are actions that create fears, dangers, and destruction that are incomprehensible to the people at large, specific elements/sectors of the threat society, or the leadership.

Nature in the form of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, uncontrolled fires, famine, and disease can engender Shock and Awe.

—Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, the military doctrine for the U.S. war on Iraq.

I met Jamar Perry in September 2005, at the big Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dinner was being doled out by grinning young Scientologists, and he was standing in line. I had just been busted for talking to evacuees without a media escort and was now doing my best to blend in, a white Canadian in a sea of African-American Southerners. I dodged into the food line behind Perry and asked him to talk to me as if we were old friends, which he kindly did.

Born and raised in New Orleans, he’d been out of the flooded city for a week. He looked about seventeen but told me he was twenty-three. He and his family had waited forever for the evacuation buses; when they didn’t arrive, they had walked out in the baking sun. Finally they ended up here, a sprawling convention center, normally home to pharmaceutical trade shows and “Capital City Carnage: The Ultimate in Steel Cage Fighting,” now jammed with two thousand cots and a mess of angry, exhausted people being patrolled by edgy National Guard soldiers just back from Iraq.

The news racing around the shelter that day was that Richard Baker, a prominent Republican congressman from this city, had told a group of lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”  Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans’ wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: “I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities.”

All that week the Louisiana State Legislature in Baton Rouge had been crawling with corporate lobbyists helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and a “smaller, safer city”—which in practice meant plans to level the public housing projects and replace them with condos.

Hearing all the talk of “fresh starts” and “clean sheets,” you could almost forget the toxic stew of rubble, chemical outflows and human remains just a few miles down the highway.

Over at the shelter, Jamar could think of nothing else. “I really don’t see it as cleaning up the city. What I see is that a lot of people got killed uptown. People who shouldn’t have died.”

He was speaking quietly, but an older man in line in front of us overheard and whipped around. “What is wrong with these people in Baton Rouge? This isn’t an opportunity. It’s a goddamned tragedy. Are they blind?”

A mother with two kids chimed in. “No, they’re not blind, they’re evil. They see just fine.”

One of those who saw opportunity in the floodwaters of New Orleans was Milton Friedman, grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism and the man credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary, hypermobile global economy. Ninety-three years old and in failing health, “Uncle Miltie,” as he was known to his followers, nonetheless found the strength to write an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal three months after the levees broke. “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins,” Friedman observed, “as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.”

Friedman’s radical idea was that instead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans’ existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions, many run at a profit, that would be subsidized by the state. It was crucial, Friedman wrote, that this fundamental change not be a stopgap but rather “a permanent reform.”

A network of right-wing think tanks seized on Friedman’s proposal and descended on the city after the storm. The administration of George W. Bush backed up their plans with tens of millions of dollars to convert New Orleans schools into “charter schools,” publicly funded institutions run by private entities according to their own rules. Charter schools are deeply polarizing in the United States, and nowhere more than in New Orleans, where they are seen by many African-American parents as a way of reversing the gains of the civil rights movement, which guaranteed all children the same standard of education. For Milton Friedman, however, the entire concept of a state-run school system reeked of socialism. In his view, the state’s sole functions were “to protect our freedom both from the enemies outside our gates and from our fellow-citizens: to preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, to foster competitive markets.”6 In other words, to supply the police and the soldiers —anything else, including providing free education, was an unfair interference in the market.

In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it ran just 4. Before that storm, there had been 7 charter schools in the city; now there were 31.7 New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now the union’s contract had been shredded, and its forty-seven hundred members had all been fired. Some of the younger teachers were rehired by the charters, at reduced salaries; most were not.

New Orleans was now, according to The New York Times, “the nation’s preeminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools,” while the American Enterprise Institute, a Friedmanite think tank, enthused that “Katrina accomplished in a day . . . what Louisiana school reformers couldn’t do after years of trying.”

Public school teachers, meanwhile, watching money allocated for the victims of the flood being diverted to erase a public system and replace it with a private one, were calling Friedman’s plan “an educational land grab.”

I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.”

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his sidekick Broad-trained CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

The complete privatization of our schools is also happening in Philadelphia and in Chicago under the auspices of Obama’s man and now mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, and Broad trained Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

Let’s not allow this to happen in Seattle or any other town or city in our fair state.

We truly need to be charter free. Once these folks get their foot in the door, it’s all over.

This week I’ll leave you with the movie The Shock Doctrine.