Gary Cohn is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Wall Street Journal. He is also a contributor to The Frying Pan.
The nomination of Californian Ted Mitchell to the number two position at the U.S. Department of Education is the latest indication that proponents of school privatization are continuing to gain influence over the Obama administration’s education policy.
“He represents the quintessence of the privatization movement,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, tells Capital & Main. “This is a signal the Obama administration is committed to moving forward aggressively with transferring public funds to private hands.”
To appreciate the value of a community college education, consider the transformation of Shanell Williams. By the time she was a teenager, Williams was constantly getting into trouble on the streets of San Francisco’s Fillmore District. Her abuse of drugs and alcohol, along with a difficult family life, would lead her into the juvenile justice system, drug treatment centers and foster homes.
“I was a juvenile delinquent,” she admits.
Today Williams, now 29, hardly resembles that troubled youth. She is a hard-working student at City College of San Francisco, taking urban studies courses and hoping to transfer to Stanford University or the University of California at Berkeley. She has served as president of the student council at CCSF’s Ocean campus and was elected to be the student representative on CCSF’s Board of Trustees.
delivered his usual speech about the benefits of slashing the retirement benefits of his city’s public employees – and why he is now pushing for a statewide ballot measure that could dramatically change the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians. Reed’s initiative – which he characterizes as a bipartisan effort and which hasn’t yet qualified for the 2014 ballot — would allow the state and local governments to reduce retirement benefits for current employees for the years of work they perform after the measure’s changes go into effect. What was not usual about Reed’s speech was its setting: The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, 3,000 miles from California.
Sandy Hellebrand was concerned. She needed to find a school that could educate her son Gabriel, who has autism and was about to enter high school.
Hellebrand thought she had found the perfect solution: She would enroll Gabriel and her two younger children in Sky Mountain Charter School, one of a rapidly-growing number of virtual schools in California and across the country.
After all, she reasoned, the school would provide excellent online instructional materials and instructors to guide Gabriel’s individual needs. Since Sky Mountain is a publicly funded school – although not a traditional brick-and-mortar one – the state of California would pay for her children’s education.
In a move to slash the retirement benefits of public employees in California, a group of mostly conservative policy advocates has been working behind the scenes on a possible 2014 ballot initiative. A copy of the still-secret draft initiative, which could dramatically impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians and send a signal nationwide, has been obtained by Frying Pan News. (See the document’s text following this article or click here.)
If enacted, the proposed law would allow the state and local governments to cut back retirement benefits for current employees for the years of work they perform after the changes go into effect. Previous efforts to curb retirement benefits for public employees have largely focused on newly hired workers, but the initiative would shrink pensions for workers who are currently on the job.
When Kentucky’s legislature adopted a bill intended to transform the Bluegrass State’s troubled pension system last spring, state officials were ecstatic. Signing the bill into law on April 4, Democratic governor Steve Beshear hailed it as groundbreaking legislation that would “solve the most pressing financial problem facing our state – our monstrous unfunded pension liability and the financial instability of our pension fund.”
Not everyone was convinced.
Critics, who include pension-fund experts, lawmakers and AARP Kentucky, claim the new law will hurt workers, taxpayers and retirees. What’s more, they say the law was largely crafted behind the scenes by an unusual alliance between two out-of-state organizations: the Pew Center on the States and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
Benjamin Gamboa doesn’t know John Arnold, but they are linked by a shared concern over the fate of public-employee pensions in California.
“I’m proud to have a pension,” the 30-year-old Gamboa says. “I believe every American should have a pension.”
The two men live in very different worlds. Gamboa is a research analyst at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, California. Arnold is a hedge-fund billionaire from Houston, Texas.
There’s another difference between them: Arnold recently had a representative present at a secret “pension summit” held at a Sacramento hotel, where strategies to limit public employee retirement benefits were discussed; Gamboa, a union member, did not – representatives of labor were specifically not invited.
Maria Guevara had been trying to get pregnant for three years when she saw a doctor at Los Angeles County General hospital in 2008. She was understandably thrilled, then, to learn she was indeed three months pregnant at the time of her visit. As Guevara later recalled, when the doctor asked her in English if she wanted to keep the baby, “without hesitation I replied ‘yes’ to his question. Before leaving the hospital, the doctor prescribed me medication that I thought was prenatal care. That lack of communication between the doctor and me has changed my life forever.”
Guevara took the prescribed medication, and experienced violent pain and bleeding. She returned to the hospital, where another doctor told her the bleeding was the result of a miscarriage.
, a ballot measure that would have crippled labor’s political influence in California, partly by barring public-employee unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. The initiative, which enjoyed a huge lead in early opinion polls, was heavily funded by wealthy conservatives and far-right groups.
Union leaders were overjoyed by its defeat. But the celebration hasn’t been long lived. In a little-noticed move in April, a conservative legal organization that has pushed to overturn the 1964 Voting Rights Act filed a lawsuit in federal court in Santa Ana that could accomplish in the courts what Prop. 32 couldn’t at the ballot box
For five years a chorus of voices has been predicting bankruptcy for Los Angeles, while often calling for deeper cuts to city employee pensions. Today, however, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposed a budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 that includes a one-time surplus of $119 million. While some of that surplus would rely on additional pay and benefit reductions for city workers, even without such cuts the city would have a projected surplus of close to $100 million.
“It’s better than seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – we’re almost out of the tunnel!” Matt Szabo, Mayor Villaraigosa’s deputy chief of staff, told Frying Pan News in an interview last week.
At first glance, it is one of the nation’s hottest new education-reform movements, a seemingly populist crusade to empower poor parents and fix failing public schools. But a closer examination reveals that the “parent-trigger” movement is being heavily financed by the conservative Walton Family Foundation, one of the nation’s largest and most strident anti-union organizations, a Frying Pan News investigation has shown.
Since 2009, the foundation has poured more than $6.3 million into Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles advocacy group that is in the forefront of the parent-trigger campaign in California and the nation. Its heavy reliance on Walton money, critics say, raises questions about the independence of Parent Revolution and the intentions of the Walton Family Foundation.