How Placer County Privatized Inmate Food Services

Introducing competition to the public sector is an essential part of delivering cost-effective services to taxpayers. What happened earlier this year in Placer County is just one example of how millions of savings can be realized by privatizing a public service. By replacing county employees with a private firm to provide inmate food services to county inmates and juvenile offenders, starting in 2018 Placer County will save over $600,000 per year. Here is how these savings can be realized:

1 – Give Agency Authority to Outsource: Ensure that your agency has the authority to contract for government services. The Placer County Charter has a provision under “general powers” that states as follows: “The Board may contract with an independent contractor to provide any services required of, or performed by, the county if it is more economical to do so.”

2 – Conduct Cost Analysis: Placer County engaged in a comprehensive analysis of the cost and benefit of continuing to use county employees to provide inmate food services vs. using outside private contractors. This process was conducted concurrently with taking bids from qualified contractors.

3 – Enact Resolution and Award Contract: On March 7, 2017 the Placer County Board of Supervisors awarded a five-year, $13.2 million contract with Aramark Correctional Services.

Making changes like this impact existing county employees, but to mitigate this, Placer County obtained an assurance from Aramark that all county employees interested in working with the contractor will be interviewed. In addition, arrangements were made for staff who do not transition to Aramark to receive assistance from the county’s Human Resources department and Business Advantage Network, to provide job training and assist county employees in identifying other job opportunities.

What Placer County has done with inmate food service they can do elsewhere. In early 2016, the county issued a request for proposals to evaluate other service delivery options. By making judicious use of the option to outsource public services to private contractors, public agencies can realize significant direct savings. But merely the deterrence value of the outsourcing option can be valuable for a public agency. When public employee unions know that their employers have the option of turning to a private contractor, they will be more reasonable in their negotiations.


Charter of the County of Placer
Article III General Powers, Sec. 302 Duties, Part (h) Contracting for Services:
“The Board may contract with an independent contractor to provide any services required of, or performed by, the county if it is more economical to do so.”

Press Release – Placer County
“Placer opts to shift inmate food service to private contractor”

Meeting Agenda – Placer County Board of Supervisors
Agenda for March 7th, 2017 Board Meeting including resolution to privatize correctional food services

Memorandum – Placer County Board of Supervisors
Cost analysis of privatizing correctional food services – March 7th

Teacher Union Monopolist’s Monkey Business

NEA president praises Finland, Singapore and Canada, conveniently omitting facts about school choice and competition.

The “global education reform movement has failed” … or at least that’s what National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García told a group of businessmen in Detroit last month. Spouting the usual edubabble, the union president told the Detroit Economic Club that the system should serve the “whole child” and that education should be “humanized.”

García went on to explain,

The business community relies on evidence and reliable data. Bad data should be avoided at all costs because it can destroy a business. But communities across the country have been force-fed privatization plans and ‘test and punish’ regimes that have not produced the desired results and have decimated many schools. … ideologues are committed to doubling down on bad ideas, regardless of the evidence.

What García means by “bad data” in conjunction with “test and punish” is a reference to the fact that some reformers actually want to use student performance on standardized tests as a part of a teacher’s evaluation. But what really catches the eye in the quote is “force-fed privatization plans.”

Huh? Just where is this “force-feeding” going on and who are the force-feeders? García didn’t elaborate, of course, because it’s a lie. A lie of whopper magnitude. Surely Ms. García knows that just about every (non-push) poll taken recently shows that the public strongly favors vouchers and other types of school choice. (I wonder if she gave any thought to spilling her anti-privatization/competition bilge to a group of businessmen who are undoubtedly well-aware of public education’s failures.)

Parents, especially those in need, embrace vouchers because with them, their kids are given an opportunity to get out of a failing public school and attend a superior private school without having to foot the entire bill. In fact, according to a 17-year study in New York City, “Minority students who received a school voucher to attend private elementary schools in 1997 were, as of 2013, 10 percent more likely to enroll in college and 35 percent more likely than their peers in public school to obtain a bachelor’s degree.” (Emphasis added.) Sadly 20,000 applications for vouchers were received, but the program could only accommodate 1,300. I wonder how many of the 20,000 families felt as if they had been “force-fed.”

García also engaged in other dubious affirmations. She extolled the virtues of Finland, Canada and Singapore, informing us that the evidence and data tell us that their school systems are superior. But she picks and chooses her spots, and anywhere competition and choice of any sort are in play, she is MIA.

While cooing that Finland “threw practically every standardized test away to focus on time to teach, classroom assessments, and professional collaboration,” she failed to acknowledge that Finland has a highly competitive system for students who want to become educators. In fact, those who become teachers are selected from the top 10 percent of college graduates, unlike in the United States, where, sadly, education majors are at the bottom of the academic barrel after four years of college. (She also didn’t mention that kids in Finland don’t start school until age 7, starting teachers make 20 percent less than ours and the country spends 30 percent less on education than we do.)

She touts Singapore, telling the businessmen that teachers there “analyze data to develop personalized instruction, tutoring, class projects.” She stresses that Singaporeans never set “arbitrary targets for prizes and punishments.” But she didn’t tell the businessmen that parents must pay fees even if their child goes to a public school and that the island nation has vigorous private school options. (She also neglected to acknowledge that the average class size in Singapore is about 40, almost twice that of the U.S.)

The union leader points out that in Canada, officials see to it that teachers are given the necessary training and support to reach every student. But she omits the inconvenient truth that Canada has publicly funded school choice throughout much the country. The province of Alberta has the most interesting set-up, whereby property taxpayers have a choice which type of school system to earmark their education tax dollars – public or private (including religious schools).

García’s omissions are necessary, of course. Had she told the whole truth, she would have had to admit that competition, whether between teachers or schools – or businesses – makes us all better. As a monopolist, of course, that would be the last thing she would ever do.

A dialogue between businessmen and teacher union leaders is a good idea, but it should be the businessmen doing the talking. A union boss’ tired, biased and noxious agenda is not worth listening to.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Teachers Unions’ Private Practices

The unions like choice and privatization except when they don’t.

A recent story out of Michigan illustrates the two-faced nature of teachers unions on the subject of privatization. Seems that the Michigan Education Association (MEA), state affiliate of the National Education Association, paid private, non-unionized companies between $5,500 and $86,112 – totaling over $155,000 – for janitorial services in 2012-2013.

The union had no comment on its cost-saving measures, as reported by Michigan Confidential, a news service for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank in the Wolverine State. In fact, according to the MEA website, the union remains unequivocally against privatization when it comes to the hiring of private contractors by school districts.

The appeal of privatization is based on the flawed economic assumption that private companies can provide the same services as public school employers at lower costs. Theoretically, a good contract with a private firm could provide the same services with the same quality, responsiveness and accountability as an in-house operation. The problem is that to achieve this, a private contractor is very likely to charge more than it costs to provide the service in-house. Private contractors need to earn profits, finance corporate overhead and pay taxes. These factors drive the cost of the contract up and/or the quality and quantity of the service down. Time after time, districts that try to save money by hiring private contractors end up with inferior service, higher costs or both. 

Their hypocrisy blazing, the MEA went so far as to sponsor a Statewide Anti-Privatization Committee. And at its most recent annual conference, the union held several sessions on fighting privatization. Participants learned how to “recognize the threat of privatization,  fight privatization battles, defend members’ careers, and  take steps to protect your own local.”

One thing that was most definitely not included in the anti-privatization sessions was a report issued by Mackinac in January which found that when districts privatize they save money, improve services and pay their teachers more.

… 43 school districts reported that they have privatized food, custodial and transportation services. Far more districts (186) reported they do not privatize any of these services. And 65.5 percent of districts reported that they outsourced at least one service.

An examination of salary levels in these districts reveals that in the districts that privatize all three services the average teacher salary was approximately $60,000, while the average teacher salary in the 186 that don’t privatize those services was approximately $56,000. (Emphasis added.)

The most damaging area of privatization for organized labor is education, because the unions lose serious money when teachers take jobs in non-unionized, non-public schools. And no union “privatization committee” is going to broadcast the financial facts here either. While Michigan spends over $10,600 per year on each public school student, it costs the state’s private schools only $6,468 on average to educate the same child.

Nationally, the numbers are just as striking. Across the country the average annual cost per public school pupil is $15,171. But private schools only spend $9,242 per student.

What about quality? Where parents have a choice and send their children to a private school, the results are unambiguous and just as striking. In A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at 12 empirical studies that “examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the ‘gold standard’ of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.” And of course, at the same time, the taxpayers are shelling out fewer education dollars.

Maybe Henry Mabry, president of the Alabama Education Association, has been reading the Friedman Foundation report. His two children attend the (private) Holy Cross Episcopal School in Montgomery. But at the very same time, Mabry’s AEA filed a politically-driven lawsuit, alleging that Alabama’s new educational choice program – which especially benefits low-income kids stuck in failing schools – is unconstitutional. Sadly, Montgomery County circuit court Judge Eugene Reese decided in favor of the union. An appeal is imminent, however.

Mabry, like his union brothers in Michigan, has decided what’s good for the goose is bad for the gander. Shame on the whole gaggle of hypocrites.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

(A slightly different version of this post appeared in Saturday’s CA Political Review.)

School Choice Wars

Though National School Choice Week ended a couple of weeks ago, reactionary rhetoric and political clashes are just heating up.

With National School Choice Week behind us, the battle – and it is a battle – to free our children from a monopoly by zip-code public education system is being fought on fronts all over the country, and in red and blue states alike, more and more Democrats are breaking ranks and joining Republicans in the fight.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz, runs the wildly popular and thriving Success Academy Charter Schools – ten of the 22 schools are in Harlem – which cater to 6,700 students from overwhelmingly poor and minority families. They scored in the top 1 percent in math and top 7 percent in English on the most recent state test. You might think that this would make her a welcome figure in the Big Apple. But turns out that new mayor Bill de Blasio (and fellow Democrat) along with his teacher union friends, have it in for the charter operator.

The Wall Street Journal asks and then answers a question,

How did Ms. Moskowitz, a hero to thousands of New Yorkers of modest means whose children have been able to get a better education than their local public schools offered, end up becoming public enemy No. 1?

She is the city’s most prominent, and vocal, advocate for charter schools, and therefore a threat to the powerful teachers union that had been counting the days until the de Blasio administration took over last month from the charter-friendly Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Assailed by Mayor de Blasio and union leaders, Ms. Moskowitz is fighting back with typically sharp elbows.

“A progressive Democrat should be embracing charters, not rejecting them,” she says. “It’s just wacky.”

Perhaps they “should be embracing charters” and quite a few do. However, many more who claim to be “progressive” are anything but. In fact, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers who slavishly fight against any meaningful education reform are really reactionaries. And it’s no secret that Moskowitz has had a teacher union problem for years now.

in 1999, Ms. Moskowitz won a council seat representing Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Three years later, she took the helm of the council’s education committee. A competitor for that chairmanship was a Democratic councilman from Brooklyn, Bill de Blasio.

Ms. Moskowitz says the union had previously controlled the committee and set its agenda, even providing cue cards to members. At a delicate moment for the UFT’s talks with City Hall on a new contract, Ms. Moskowitz held hearings on the teachers union’s work rules and other restrictions in the contract. That move secured the enmity of Randi Weingarten, who ran the local union then and is now president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“The unions decided to get political retribution and they succeeded,” Ms. Moskowitz says. The UFT led the opposition to her failed 2005 bid for Manhattan borough president. Ms. Moskowitz soon after decided to try to reform in New York another way, starting the inaugural Harlem Success Academy. It was quickly bounced from its shared home at a public school.

“Randi Weingarten came in and said, ‘Over my dead body,’ ” according to Ms. Moskowitz. But a former political sparring partner, then-Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, became an ally. The Bloomberg administration wanted to “flood the zone” in Harlem with alternatives to failing district schools. Half the kids in Harlem today attend charters, among them KIPP, Democracy Prep and Harlem Children’s Zone. Across New York, 70,000 students go to a charter.

The next time a teachers union leader insists that they are really “for the children,” please refer the true believer to Eva Moskowitz.

Then we have President Obama, who favors charter schools but draws the line at privatization. He well knows that if he came out in favor of vouchers, the unions would throw him under the school bus. But as a lame duck, one has to wonder why he is still holding that position. The president was forced recently to address the voucher issue head on when Fox’s Bill O’Reilly confronted him on Super Bowl Sunday.

Mr. Obama said that the means-tested voucher programs in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C, “didn’t actually make that much of a difference,” and added, “As a general proposition, vouchers have not significantly improved the performance of kids that are in these poorest communities.”

In fact, the president is dead wrong.  Study after study has shown that vouchers  improve student outcomes and have the biggest impact on low-income minorities. Additionally, private schools are taxpayer-friendly – doing a better job for less money. As writer Jason Riley points out,

Mr. Obama’s problem with vouchers is not that they don’t work. Rather, it’s that they work all too well and thus present a threat to the education status quo and the teachers unions who control it. Democrats like Mr. Obama are deeply dependent on union support–so dependent that they will sometimes tell bald-faced lies about school-choice research on national television and hope that no one notices.

On a national level, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tim Scott (R-SC) have introduced legislation that would help poor and disabled kids as well as military families.

Under Alexander’s legislation, states could opt to allocate the newly-consolidated funds to low-income parents, giving them much more say over how their child’s share of federal education dollars are spent. Parents could use the money to help pay for private school, supplement their public or public charter’s school’s budget, attend a public school outside their home district, or cover the cost of tutoring services or home schooling materials. Each child would get an average of $2,100 in annual federal aid, under the proposal.

Scott released the CHOICE Act, which stands for the Creating Hope and Opportunities for Individuals and Communities Through Education Act. The bill would allow special education dollars to follow children to the school of their choice.

… Scott’s bill would create a five-year, $10 million pilot program to offer military families scholarships of up to $12,000 for use at public or private schools. (The cost of the program would be offset by a decrease in the U.S. Department of Education’s salaries and expenses account.) Scott is also seeking to boost the number of students receiving aid under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, a federally-funded voucher program for low-income students in Washington.

Needless to say, the National Education Association is not in favor of this kind of help to those in need. On the union’s legislative page, it gives a “jeer” to both Alexander and Scott for introducing the voucher proposals.

On the state level, there is more bad news for the unions. They will need to extinguish fires in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alaska, Indiana, Wisconsin and elsewhere, as school choice and other education reforms have been embraced by many on both sides of the political aisle.

Of course there are still plenty of legislators who, having thrown in their lot with the union crowd, are vehemently anti-choice. On the NEA website, California Rep. George Miller (D-CA) gets a “thumbs-up” for demonizing National School Choice Week.

Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and their strategists, have embraced so-called ‘school choice’ as part of their rebranding efforts, to appear more caring … This new effort even has a warm and fuzzy name: the Growth and Opportunity Project. This is political posturing at its worst … If you ask most parents in America, they will tell you that their first ‘choice’ is for their neighborhood school to be a great school.

Yes, Mr. Miller, that would be nice, if all neighborhood schools were “great.”  But they’re not. And if your local school was not up to par, you wouldn’t want to send your kids there, now would you?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also gets a shout-out from NEA for her “reaction to so-called school choice.”

I have always had great anxiety with the thought that we’d take public money, state money, and send it to private schools.

Think Pell Grants, Ms. Murkowski. Think G.I. Bill. Just think.

The reactionaries among us – certain educrats and legislators and of course the teachers unions – won’t go away easily. But “Choice Spring” has arrived, and the pro-choice movement has taken root. As parents, children and taxpayers get a taste of freedom, there will be no turning back.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Anti-School Choice Goblins Haunt the Land

It’s October and the voucher-bashing ghouls are doing their best to fog the issues and trick us.

While there are some education traditionalists who may embrace charter schools, they frequently draw a strict line in the sand when it comes to vouchers. For the uninitiated, a voucher enables a parent to take education funding issued by the government and apply that money toward tuition at a private school.

Those who rail against any sort of privatizing have either an obsessive and romanticized notion of the “neighborhood public school,” or they belong to a group that benefits financially from the status quo. The undisputed ringleaders of the latter are the teachers unions. For them, privatization means fewer dues-paying public school teachers – and nothing drives Big Union crazier than losing market share. Last week, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote a piece in Huffington Post that typifies the union mentality, trashing school choice, before donning the good-witch mask to end with “We are at a pivotal moment – a moment when we must reclaim the promise of public education without further detours, distractions and delays.”

The promise of public education? I learned early in life that promises should not to be taken seriously after they are shown to be lies.

The AFT website moves into Bizarro territory when it concludes its mini anti-choice rant by informing us that public money used to subsidize private school tuition means “less accountability for taxpayers’ dollars, a false hope for a handful of kids, and fewer resources for school reforms that actually work.”

The “less accountability” crack is especially hypocritical given the fact that the unions are forever railing against teacher accountability, and do their level best to keep every teacher – no matter how incompetent or criminal – in the classroom.

Perhaps the most ridiculous attempt to bash privatization this month came from Jon Overton, writing for The Daily Iowan. He starts sensibly writing that, “People learn in different ways, speeds, and are from backgrounds that place varying levels of importance on academics.” One might think that this statement would lead him to be pro-choice. But, no, he maintains that choice hurts failing schools. So I guess his answer is to ignore successful private institutions and force kids to stay in failing public schools … because, well, they’re public. He attempts to bolster his argument using a report from the Economic Policy Institute which claims that the results of the Milwaukee voucher program have been unimpressive. (Yes, the same EPI where Weingarten is on the board and the chairman is none other than AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka. Only tricks, no treats from that crowd.)  But independent researcher Patrick Wolf finds that,

Students enrolled in the Milwaukee voucher program are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than their public school counterparts, boast significantly improved reading scores, represent a more diverse cross-section of the city, and are improving the results of traditional public school students….

Among the new findings are that students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)—the nation’s oldest private school choice program currently in operation—not only graduate from high school on time by seven percentage points more than students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), but they are also more likely to enroll in a four-year college and persist in college.

In a close second to Overton’s article, Politico’s Stephanie Simon writes“Vouchers don’t do much for students.” Her entire argument can essentially be summed up in one sentence: “Taxpayers across the U.S. will soon be spending $1 billion a year to help families pay private school tuition – and there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains.”

Adam Emerson of the Fordham Institute quickly lays the “little evidence” argument to waste.

Consider, for instance, the work of Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, who has examined the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship and found that it led to improved reading achievement among participants while also increasing a student’s chance of graduating high school by 21 percentage points. Consider, too, that random-assignment studies of privately funded voucher programs in New York, Dayton, and Charlotte found higher achievement levels on standardized tests or higher college-going rates, or both, particularly for black students. Other empirical studies led to findings that range from the positive competitive effects vouchers have on public schools to the heightened level of achievement that comes from greater accountability (this last comes from Milwaukee, where Simon noted that snapshot test scores of voucher students look poorly but where a longitudinal analysis of the voucher program reports more positive results). But a single literature review from Greg Forster at the Friedman Foundation is perhaps most revealing: eleven of twelve random-assignment studies have showed improved academic outcomes of students who participated in voucher programs. The one study that didn’t found no visible impact on students one way or the other. (Emphasis added.)

Then there is the sound-good-but-dead-wrong traditionalist argument used by Simon that vouchers “siphon money from public schools.” Citing Harvard econometrician Carolyn Hoxby, Arnold Ahlert addresses that issue:

The hand-wringers are further incensed that public funds are being “siphoned” from public schools to pay for vouchers, insisting–as they invariably do–that more money will lead to better public schools. This argument was completely debunked by Caroline M. Hoxby, an Associate Professor of Economics at Harvard, during an interview with PBS’s Frontline. At the time she noted that the average spending per pupil in the U.S. was $7500 per year, while voucher costs averaged $2000. “Even if the vouchers came completely out of the local public school district’s budget, every time they lost a student, they’d be losing $2000, but they’d lose a whole student and $5,500 remains behind,” she explained.

As biased and wrong-headed as the Overton and Simon pieces are, they can’t hold a candle to a piece written by Allison Benedikt for Slate a couple of months ago. In the second sentence of “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person,” the author writes, “You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.”

Yes, Ms. Benedikt, I should send my kid to a rotten pubic school just because you have some misguided notion that I if I don’t, it would ruin one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions.” Sacrificing your kid’s future to prop up a failing government-run operation is collectivism at its scariest.

There is another facet to the public-private discussion that the traditionalists and the teachers unions have never quite got around to addressing, which is that many rank-and-file teachers eschew their local public school and go the private route themselves. As Larry Elder writes,

About 11 percent of all parents — nationwide, rural and urban — send their children to private schools. The numbers are much higher in urban areas. One study found that in Philadelphia a staggering 44 percent of public school teachers send their own kids to private schools. In Cincinnati and Chicago, 41 and 39 percent of public school teachers, respectively, pay for a private school education for their children. In Rochester, New York, it’s 38 percent. In Baltimore it’s 35 percent, San Francisco is 34 percent and New York-Northeastern New Jersey is 33 percent. In Los Angeles nearly 25 percent of public school teachers send their kids to private school versus 16 percent of Angelenos who do so.

Seems as if these public school teachers might know something that their unions are loath to acknowledge: that many public schools just aren’t getting the job done, and that choosing the best education option for their children is not only their right – it’s their responsibility.

In fact, all parents should have a right to sidestep the tricks of the traditionalists and teachers unions, knock down doors and demand the best education treat possible – a choice of a public or private school for their children – and let the edu-dollars follow the student.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.