Editor’s note: Spring 2015

EB-5, state takeovers of schools, probation

I’M IN FAVOR of jobs and investments as much as the next guy, but something doesn’t smell right about the so-called EB-5 immigration program, the subject of our cover story, “Selling citizenship.”

The program essentially lets foreign investors acquire a green card for themselves and their immediate family members if they invest $500,000 in a US business that generates 10 direct or indirect jobs. I had naively assumed that the program targeted foreign entrepreneurs who have a hot idea, some capital, and a desire to see where the mixture will lead in the United States. But it appears the program caters primarily to passive foreign investors who want to buy their way into the country.

The federal government, which oversees the program, releases next to no information on the investors, their investments, or the jobs they are generating. In fact, no one from the federal government would talk on the record about the program to reporter Jack Sullivan. To fill in some of the blanks, Jack spent a lot of time talking to folks at the companies that act as matchmakers between foreign investors and business projects here. Many of them disclose some of their projects on their websites but, again, details are scarce. It’s as if no one wants the American public to know the way US citizenship is being sold.

Mohl_Bruce_headshot.ashx____imgx.jpg

Michael Jonas, in “Fixing schools,” delves deeply into what might be called the next phase of education reform. The first phase, which began in 1993, pumped a lot of money into schools and created a system for measuring improvement. The approach elevated standards and moved Massachusetts into the forefront of student achievement nationally. Yet parts of Massachusetts, particularly high-poverty urban areas, were left behind, and there is growing consensus that a phase two in education reform is needed.

Phase two is still taking shape, but Michael describes what’s happening on the ground in places such as Lawrence, Holyoke, and Springfield. The state is either taking over entire school systems or using the threat of a takeover to centralize control. Yet instead of imposing a top-down management structure on the school systems, state officials are turning more power over to local administrators. The state on one hand is usurping local control of schools but on the other hand is giving more power to individual schools.

“People say that local control was lost,” says Jeff Riley, the state-appointed receiver in Lawrence. “We actually made it more local because decisions are happening at the school level with parents, the teachers, and the community. So in an ironic way, in our model, it’s actually more local control than anywhere else.”

This issue also scratches an itch of mine. I sat through most of the Probation corruption trial last summer and came away with a fairly solid understanding of how former commissioner John O’Brien rigged hiring at the agency for most jobs. But I never gained a clear picture of what happened at the state’s Electronic Monitoring Office, where jobs were essentially filled by politicians. My story, relying heavily on court transcripts, exhibits, and interviews with some of the participants, fills in some of the gaps and adds a few interesting twists.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

One last note. We here at CommonWealth applaud efforts to update and improve the state’s Public Records Law, whose deficiencies we’ve spent a lot of time documenting. Let me add one more gripe. In reporting my story on Probation, I asked the agency for its payroll from 2008. The agency, which is not subject to the Public Records Law because it is part of the exempt judicial branch of government, says it views payroll information as personnel data and therefore confidential. Yet payroll information for Probation from 2010 to the present is already available on the state’s open checkbook website. For the 2008 payroll, I had to go to the comptroller’s office, which charged me $100 for the information.