Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods. Not a subscriber? Subscribe here for free.
- A big day is coming for public education on the ballot. Education Week has an overview.
- Privatization helped make Jackson, Mississippi’s water undrinkable.
- “Disillusion with voting is exactly what the far right wants.”
First, the good news…
1) International: Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has defeated right wing President Bolsonaro, a frenzied privatizer of public infrastructure, services, land and energy, thereby delivering a blow to the corporate privatization crusade across Latin America. Among the top items on Lula’s agenda: undo the disastrous privatization of the country’s electricity utility, Eletrobras. Bloomberg is nervous.
2) International: All over the world anti-privatization work is being codified into law and policy through the effort and cooperation of unions, public interest organizations and many other institutions and individuals. A key statement of the principles underlying state responsibilities in the context of private provision of social services in Africa is covered by the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights. In the Public Interest has endorsed these principles.
Among these principles are (pp. 24-28):
- The obligation to establish regulatory standards
- Monitoring and evaluation
- Enforcement and accountability
- Public participation in the regulatory process
- Safeguards against regulatory capture
3) National: Lauren Jacobs, executive director of PowerSwitch Action, is co-hosting a new four-part mini-series on power building with Steven Pitts on his podcast ‘Black Work Talk.’ “There’s a lot of work to do between building people’s power in the here and now, and achieving our vision of freedom for our communities. It involves strengthening the institutions, organizations, and structures that support people as they contend for power. Here at PowerSwitch, part of that means growing our team and building our capacity to get involved with local fights and campaigns happening across the country (you can meet our newest team members here).”
4) California: Popular campaigning, strategic litigation and government action have saved Lake Mono. “Under the restoration plan, the city has cut diversions from the basin by 80 percent, leaving enough water for the streams and lake to start healing. Yellow warblers flit through new riverside forests of cottonwoods and willows, some of which can grow eight feet a year, given enough moisture. There’s a new understory of grass and brush filling spaces between the vanilla-scented Jeffrey pines that survived the man-made drought. Enough water has reached the lake to keep its ecosystem of birds and bugs alive, though still far less than mandated by the restoration plan. (…) ‘It’s so easy to just throw up your hands and say, “What can I do? I’m only one person. I guess I might as well have a good time and watch it all unravel and hopefully I’ll be dead before it gets too bad,”’ she said. ‘I just feel like my way to cope is to do what I can in my own little town.’”
5) Colorado: Denver is asking residents to vote on which infrastructure projects to fund. “Earlier this week, voting opened for Denver’s first “participatory budgeting” initiative, which allows residents to cast ballots for the projects they’d most like to see the city fund. All residents are eligible to vote, regardless of age or immigration status, according to Denver’s finance department. Denver is one of the latest local governments to experiment with participatory budgeting for a sliver of its budget. Others, including Philadelphia and New York, have run similar programs in the past, often with goals of improving equity and civic engagement. The amounts of money in play are typically modest compared to overall spending. For instance, Denver’s general fund for fiscal 2023 is expected to be about $1.6 billion. Even so, participatory budgeting can provide a gateway for residents to get involved in the budgeting processes. The infrastructure-specific initiative in Denver got underway in early summer, when more than 1,000 residents submitted ideas for how the funds should be spent. Over the last two months, a group of community members sifted through those submissions to identify priorities and flesh out proposals with location specifics, descriptions and cost estimates.”
6) Idaho: A generational decision on properly funding Idaho’s schools is on the ballot next Tuesday—and it’s looking good for public schools. The initiative is the result of years of hard statewide grassroots organizing by Reclaim Idaho, and shows how effective grassroots organizing can be in a rural traditionally conservative state. “A question on the Idaho ballot will ask voters to approve House Bill 1, which would generate $410 million in sales tax revenue for the state’s public school income and in-demand careers funds by changing income and corporate tax rates to a flat 5.8 percent. The ballot measure replaced an earlier measure, which would have increased the income tax rate for individuals who make above $250,000 a year to fund K-12 schools.” The campaign shows how important ballot initiatives can be as a public interest tool. If they are backed by massive public support and dedicated organizing, initiatives can overcome the inevitable wall of corporate and antigovernment opposition.
7) Montana: Victory in Big Sky Country. After years of resistance by concerned residents, Yellowstone County has finally retreated and terminated all bids to privatize Billings’ MetraPark management. But stay tuned. “Jarussi doesn’t believe the issue is moot. His concern is that the county’s move to simply walk away from the process will do nothing to ensure the process is handled properly the next time. ‘This is something that’s capable of repetition,’ he said. ‘My claim is it’s wrong this time, it’s going to be wrong every time. It’s not appropriate to do it again the same way.’ Jarussi is also concerned that the motion to dismiss does nothing to address his issue with OVG. Jarussi believes the company should still be disqualified in the future from bidding to take over management at Metra.”
8) Mississippi: Good news from Jackson, Mississippi? You bet. In a speech, Mayor Lumumba laid it out. “Progress he sees in the police department was just one of the positives the mayor chose to highlight, in contrast with the many negative stories people hear about Jackson. Lumumba said firefighter pay and staffing has also increased under his watch. He also pointed to economic development, which includes the ongoing work on Farish Street and also developments like the Capri Theater in Fondren. He gave specific mentions to businesses in the Belhaven Town Center development as well, including Fertile Ground brewery and Elvie’s, which was recently on a New York Times list of the 50 best restaurants in America. ‘The continued expansion of the Belhaven Town Center is the perfect example of how we can transform blight parcels in our neighborhoods to areas of economic viability on a block-by-block basis,’ Lumumba said.”
9) International: Some good news from down under. The tide is turning on private ownership of electricity grids. “The promise by the Andrews government to reintroduce public enterprise to Victoria’s electricity industry, through a revived State Electricity Commission, is something of a shock. (…) The change is part of a broader shift in Labor’s position throughout Australia. Arguably this shift began in Queensland after the trouncing of Anna Bligh’s Labor government in 2012, winning just seven of 89 seats. The Bligh government had sold a range of public assets (though retaining distribution and transmission networks, and coal-fired power generators). The remnants of the Labor party concluded privatisation was electoral and economic poison.”
10) National: Next Tuesday, November 8 is election day and crucial education issues and candidate choices are on the ballot. Education Week has an overview:
- Six states have ballot initiatives related to education issues this November, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
- Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming all have races for their state’s top education job—state superintendent—on the ballot.
- Nineteen gubernatorial nominees, all Republicans, have expressed plans on their websites to expand school choice. They specifically mention implementing a voucher program that would redirect public funds into scholarships for private schools. A handful of Democrats in both governor and state superintendent races explicitly mention preventing school choice measures like vouchers. Georgia governor nominee Stacey Abrams stated on her campaign website that she opposes private school vouchers, arguing that “public dollars should go to public schools.” And Idaho state superintendent nominee Terry Gilbert promised on his website that he will “never give into the Voucher Vultures and their for-profit school scheme.”
11) National: Looks like the yield hogs are willing to take a chance on charter school bonds. Bloomberg and the School Improvement Partnership have announced a new app for high-yield charter school debt. “The addition of the SIP Database to the Bloomberg App Portal enables School Improvement Partnership to provide financial, academic and operating data about the charter school bond market to Bloomberg’s global community of institutional investors. The new data provides Bloomberg Terminal subscribers with a valuable data set through a subscriber’s desktop so that they can centralize and streamline workflow with up-to-the-minute charter school data metrics.” Note to readers: This is not a Mom and Pop muni bond space: A Bloomberg Terminal costs about $24,000 a year.
12) California: An electoral showdown in part over charter schools is coming next week on the District 2 seat of LAUSD. “The runoff between Rocio Rivas, a senior aide to school board member Jackie Goldberg, and Maria Brenes, the longtime director of the local group InnerCity Struggle, has drawn in two unions and a pair of businessmen who have hurled about $7.8 million into the race to represent a district that includes downtown and Boyle Height,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
“Like the teachers union that backs her, Rivas sees charters as part of an organized effort to weaken and diminish the value of traditional public education and push education into the private and for-profit domain. ‘Seeing the charter-school industry and privatization and how they’re really going after our public schools and changing what public education is … that is what’s really driving me,’ said Rivas. ‘Because I was seeing the greed in privatization. I see what these billionaires want to do to our schools, and I’m standing firmly against that.’ (…) Independent spending on behalf of Brenes has surpassed $4.5 million. It comes primarily from two sources: Local 99 and a political action committee funded by Netflix founder Reed Hastings, who is a charter school supporter, and retired businessman Bill Bloomfield. The teachers union has spent more than $2.4 million on behalf of Rivas.”
Jacobin has a terrific interview with Rivas, In LA’s School Board Race, It’s Rocío Rivas Versus Privatizers. “When you start to individualize and bring competition into education, you really begin to pull people apart,” says Rivas. “And then the social contract that public education is supposed to uphold is gone. Charters and vouchers encourage parents to siphon funds away from the district, and the students who are left are the most marginalized, the ones who are the poorest. (…) The real answers are community schools, better wages for our teachers, mental health supports, and social safety nets to provide for the good of all. In order for our communities to thrive, we need to work together. We need to understand and help one another.”
13) Indiana: A virtual charter school has withdrawn its application to a charter authorizer. “Colearn Academy, a virtual school based in Arizona, applied earlier this year to open a school in Indiana, offering three learning pathways and the option for parents to purchase their own curriculum and activities with $600 yearly stipends. But as reported by Chalkbeat, offering families such an incentive to enroll is illegal in Indiana. This year, lawmakers expanded a ban on the practice to include “any item that has monetary value, including cash or a gift card.” The school withdrew its application this month following a September hearing that garnered 177 responses from the public about whether it should open. Around 88% of those responses were negative.”
This is what privatization looks like: Another Indiana charter school is circling a public school building hoping to buy it. “Victory College Prep, a K-12 school just half a mile from School 114, hopes to use the property to accommodate its growing enrollment. ‘The Paul Miller property is just two city blocks from the VCP campus—and annually, in recent years, we’ve welcomed a growing number of Paul Miller transfer students into our VCP classrooms,’ Ryan Gall, the school’s executive director, told the board on Thursday.”
14) Indiana: Elkhart Community Schools are giving their teachers a raise. “Raises are included as a part of the new contracts and range from $1,000 to $22,000 per year depending on their years of service and education level. Elkhart teachers can now make a minimum of $41,500 per year. Teachers who received a raise will get back-pay starting at the beginning of the current school year.”
15) Wisconsin/Think Tanks: Writing in the Wisconsin Examiner, Ruth Conniff blows the whistle on the Republican blueprint for privatizing schools in the state. “The Badger Institute, a conservative Wisconsin think tank, touts its ‘instrumental’ role in ‘successes ranging from implementation of school choice to the passage of right-to-work legislation to the repeal of prevailing wage and overly onerous occupational licensure laws.’ Last week it came out with a new report, ‘Mandate for Madison: Policy Recommendations for a More Prosperous Wisconsin’ that could serve as a blueprint for Republican initiatives in the 2022-23 legislative session. Along with cutting taxes and rejecting federal help to expand health care, the report calls for expanding the privatization of Wisconsin’s education system. In the section on education goals, the report states: ‘All families should be given the ability to direct the education dollars the state has designated for their children to the school that works best for them.’”
16) Wisconsin: Drivers and monitors for First Student, the private school bus provider for Kenosha Unified School District, spoke to the board last week about their need for a pay increase. Watch the video, about 3 minutes.
17) Florida: A so-called public-private partnership for Fort Lauderdale’s water treatment plant? The Sun-Sentinel reports: “Fort Lauderdale’s Charles Fiveash water treatment plant, built in 1954, has expanded over the years to meet growing demand but may be replaced through a public-private partnership if city leaders get their way. It’s one of three plants in a city experiencing explosive growth. Cost estimates, recently reported, have jumped by $100 million, plus another $150 million for new pipes, adding up to $250 million over the original estimate to a whopping $635 million. Privatization of water utilities has had mixed reviews with notable failures (such as Berlin). The regulatory aspects deserve scrutiny, and many believe water is a basic function of a governmental, nonprofit-oriented enterprise.” Watch your wallet. Private money is more expensive than tax exempt public financing. Hope they figure that out before it’s too late.
18) Mississippi: Privatization helped make Jackson, Mississippi’s water undrinkable, Naomi LaChance reports in Jacobin. “Privatization of utilities can have ruinous effects, because the process removes public accountability: citizens cannot vote a corporation out of office. Citizens can also no longer meet with those in charge of infrastructure. Companies are no longer transparent to the public about their plans and operations. It also means that profits will become a main priority, making privatization expensive for taxpayers. As the effects of climate change increase, more cities are likely to see infrastructure crises, particularly Black cities.”
In an extensive 5,000 word in-depth article, USA Today reports that Jackson’s water crisis flows from a century of poverty, neglect and racism. “Reporters combed through more than a century of newspaper archives, decades of the city’s annual financial statements, water quality reports and studies of the municipal system over the years, as well as recent lawsuits and orders against the city for violating drinking water standards. They also interviewed more than a dozen residents, city and state officials and former workers of the water system who shared firsthand knowledge of the problems. The reporting found a complex story of population decline, poverty, racism, politics, mismanagement and theft. But key details emerged that, when pieced together, paint a portrait of a water system that was flawed from the start and worsened exponentially over the years as those in power seemingly lost control.” [Sub required]
19) North Carolina: Another privatized toll lanes battle is shaping up in North Carolina. Suspicions abound that the state transportation department is trying to influence the outcome. “At least one member of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization said he felt NCDOT was steering voting members toward that outcome, rather than having the state maintain control of the project. ‘The presentation we got from NCDOT indicated a preference of theirs for the P3 solution,’ said Charlotte City Council member Ed Driggs, who is the city’s representative on CRTPO, the body that will help decide when and how the highway is expanded. ‘P3’ stands for ‘Public-Private-Partnership.’ That’s how the state built the express toll lanes on I-77 in north Mecklenburg, by partnering with Spanish infrastructure company Cintra. Driggs said it will likely be up to him and other members of CRTPO to press the DOT on other ways to build the toll lanes—such as having the state finance the project itself, as the state did with Monroe Expressway. The DOT said Friday that it’s not trying to influence voting members.”
20) International: Union workers are warning against the partial privatization of the operation of Germany’s historic port of Hamburg, pointing to the Chinese takeover of the Greek port of Piraeus as a cautionary tale. “Unions in Piraeus have repeatedly complained about working conditions there, and are pushing for better safety measures after a dock worker died in an accident on a container pier last year but DW said inspectors are essentially looking the other way because of its importance.” Top leaders of the German coalition government are also warning the government not to go ahead with the share sale of Hamburg infrastructure, The Financial Times reports. “A row has broken out in the German government over whether to let Cosco, the Chinese shipping conglomerate, take a stake in a Hamburg container terminal, with chancellor Olaf Scholz in favor and several ministries opposed on security grounds.” [Sub required]
21) National: “Our security here is a joke.” CNN reports that millions of federal dollars for election security have gone unspent. “Millions in federal dollars could have gone to protect election workers and improve the physical security of their offices, but in a classic tale of bureaucratic red tape, most of it remains untapped less than two weeks before the midterm elections. The botched funding opportunity comes as election officials across the country have faced an unprecedented wave of violent threats stemming from conspiracy theories about the voting process. Now, things like additional lighting or security guards for some election offices may not be in place for Election Day on November 8.” Did you know some election workers are contractors? “The FBI defines election workers broadly—including elected officials, appointed officials, staff, volunteers, contractors, vendors, and liaisons who have some responsibility for elections.”
22) National: The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and SSA staff are calling for a major expansion of staffing at the Social Security Administration (SSA). “‘SSA cannot serve the public without a quality workforce,’ AFGE National President Everett Kelley said at the rally. ‘It should be no surprise to any of us that despite all of the efforts of AFGE, there are growing backlogs in the field, more service delays on the 800 numbers and a long line at the field offices across the country. We’re here today to say, “enough is enough.”’ SSA is facing a 25-year low in agency staffing levels, currently operating with just below 60,000 total employees. Between March and August of this year, SSA lost 1,000 field office workers nationwide. And the problem is about to get worse—according to a recent AFGE-distributed survey, four in 10 SSA employees said they plan to leave the agency within the next year.”
23) National: How effective has the Federal Trade Commission been at policing hospital mergers? ProPublica takes a look. “What can be gleaned about hospital consolidation 15 months after Biden’s executive order? An examination of the cases the FTC has taken on — and those it hasn’t — suggests that so far the rhetoric has been more muscular than the reality. The agency initiated three challenges of hospital mergers during this period (the fourth example noted above was initiated during the Trump administration) and allowed 54 to proceed without taking public action. By contrast, the FTC challenged a total of three hospital mergers over the four years of the Trump administration, while permitting 375 to go through unchallenged.”
24) Louisiana/National: The New York Times has published an intensive investigation of abuse, chaos and cruelty in Louisiana juvenile detention. “Ware opened in 1993, at a time when Louisiana was earning a reputation for operating one of the country’s worst juvenile systems. A series of scandals led to the closing of all privately run juvenile facilities, and in 2000, the federal government assumed oversight of those run by the state. But Ware was neither private nor state-run. It was a “political subdivision” of the state, created by legislation and overseen by a board composed of many of the men who met at Catfish Bend. This structure offered them and their charismatic new director ready access to tax dollars and far more independence from regulators.”
25) Pennsylvania: Locking up kids for profit? “Allegheny County is looking for a company to operate a privately run juvenile detention center, just over a year after its own Shuman Juvenile Detention Center closed with no apparent plan to replace it,” PublicSource reports. “Though there is broad agreement among government officials and judges that the county needs such a facility, some experts and elected officials are questioning the decision to privatize what had been a county-run operation until the September 2021 closure. The county is moving to sell the former Shuman site to a developer, with a “strong preference” for a developer that would operate a juvenile detention facility, according to a request for proposals released Oct. 6. Some members of county council are skeptical of the move, though, and are concerned about the financial and quality-control implications of privatization.”
26) International: The Ontario Health Coalition joined Democracy Watch to challenge specific claims the Ford government made about their plans regarding hospital privatization. The coalition announced its plans for a major campaign to stop the privatization. [Video, about 30 minutes]
27) National: Here’s a nominee for the privatization boondoggle of the year. A private company is grabbing a $20 billion (ceiling) contract to manage the shipments of personal belongings during permanent change-of-duty station moves instead of the military. “The contract with HomeSafe [Alliance] gives the company responsibility for ‘complete door-to-door global household goods relocation transportation and warehouse services worldwide’ for the military community, the command said. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims denied protests of the contract award this week in the latest legal development, what appears to be the end of a series of legal gambits by companies that lost out on the deal to make the military reconsider its decision. With all potential contract extensions, the company could be handling troop moves for nine years.” Homesafe Alliance, a joint venture between KBR and Tier One Relocation, is headquartered in Houston and is privately held.
28) National/Pennsylvania: Preparing for another onslaught to privatize Social Security. “We’re the grandsons of Social Security’s founders. Here’s why it’s worth saving,” Henry Scott Wallace, James Roosevelt, Jr., and Tomlin Perkins Coggeshal write. ‘The head of the Republican National Committee has given Scott’s plan her official endorsement, praising it for being ‘full of actual solutions.’ None of Pennsylvania’s Republican members of Congress have condemned it. Even the most ‘moderate’ of them, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, has sponsored a constitutional amendment which would force cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and proudly touts an award he received from a phony Koch-funded ‘astroturf’ group devoted to privatizing Social Security. This is dangerous nonsense. Ever since Social Security’s birth, Republicans have decried it as ‘socialism.’ But it is the opposite; it is an earned, paid-into social insurance policy, which has become the most popular federal program ever, enjoying near-universal support among Americans of all ages and political parties.”
On Thursday The White House warned that Republicans have “a specific plan to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits, including through privatization and raising the eligibility age. Congressional Republicans will deny seniors’ benefits they have already paid into.”
29) National/California: “Disillusion with voting is exactly what the far right wants,” Ruth Silveira writes in a Letter to the Editor of the Los Angeles Times.
30) International: Union workers have rallied against plans to privatize Saskatchewan’s public liquor stores, “looking for answers about why the government would shut down what the union suggests are money-making retail stores. SFL President Lori Johb says the only ones who benefit from closing these stores are private, out-of-province liquor retailers who will take the profits out of Saskatchewan.”
31) Think Tanks: The National Employment Law Project (NELP) has a new paper on the experiences of Colorado, Missouri and Texas in fighting labor policy preemption—specifically, minimum wage and paid sick leave preemption. The main lessons learned:
- Local control is abstract and hard to organize around. Yet, organizing *is* key to mounting a strong response against preemption.
- Win or lose, fighting preemption has lasting impacts: it can help build progressive infrastructure (Texas), or raise interest and community support, leading to future policy wins (Colorado and Missouri).
- Showing the inequitable and racist effects of preemption can help make the case for local control.
Photo by Ken Jones.