Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Here’s a direct link to this blog post. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- In the Public Interest’s executive director Donald Cohen’s new book, co-authored with Allen Mikaelian, The Privatization of Everything, hits stores tomorrow.
- Ann Arbor, MI, becomes the first U.S. city to require menstrual products in all public bathrooms.
- What is the basis for real estate’s iron grip on metro politics, planning and policy priorities?
First, the good news…
1) National: The biggest good news for the public interest community this week is that our Executive Director Donald Cohen’s new book, co-authored with Allen Mikaelian, The Privatization of Everything, hits stores tomorrow. The book makes its appearance as the battle over the role of government in securing the public interest, investing in and controlling public physical infrastructure and strengthening our country’s social infrastructure has reached a crucial point.
Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s the debate was dominated by pro-privatization “think tanks” peddling fallacious, ideologically-driven and Koch-fueled fantasies about the miracles that would flow from destroying the public sector and democratic public interest regulation.
No more. Now the idea of public interest governance has reemerged, with vigorous and rigorous arguments often carrying the day in public education, public services, infrastructure policy, criminal justice and immigration. The public interest is back.
Some of the points Cohen and Allen Mikaelian detail in the book are laid out in a new piece in Jacobin, Destroying Democracy is Central to the Privatization of Public Goods. “The obsession with privatization isn’t just about turning public goods into profit generators for a small handful of wealthy people. It’s also about trampling on democracy.”
In addition to buying the book and reading it, you can listen to Donald Cohen discuss it here in an interview with EveryLibrary, the national political action committee for libraries (audio, about half an hour); and read an interview with him in Capital & Main here. There’s also an online book talk next week on Wednesday December 1 at 7:30pm ET (register here).
2) National/Idaho: “I really love being alive.” In a post on NextDoor, a Boise mother tells the story of how Medicaid Expansion saved her life. See Luke Mayville of Reclaim Idaho’s piece, Do Something Big: How Progressives Can Win in Rural America, on how it worked in Missouri.
3) National: NPE Action has launched a new website, Public Voices for Public Schools. “Here we give voice to former voucher and charter parents, educators, parents and community members who work tirelessly in their communities every day to improve our public schools, even as they fight well-funded efforts to privatize their schools. Together, we enter the dialogue about the importance of public education and our personal struggles to help schools improve.”
“Every Monday, we highlight a new story from the trenches, to share the strong voices committed to protecting our public schools.” To get these stories sent to your inbox, subscribe here.
4) National: The House on Friday passed the sweeping Build Back Better bill, which includes subsidies for early childhood education, tax credits for families with children, an expansion of public healthcare for senior citizens and some $550 billion in programs to combat climate change.
5) National: Robert Henderson and Rebecca Marchiel, writing in the Washington Post, spell out the keys to ensuring a new anti-redlining initiative succeeds. “Listening to redlined communities probably will help accomplish the second key to greater success, as well—ensuring that new loans resulting from anti-redlining efforts are good loans. For newly extended credit to ameliorate the damage from redlining, it needs fair interest rates, payback periods, appraisals and down payments, not a new iteration of predatory inclusion.”
6) Michigan: Ann Arbor becomes the first U.S. city to require menstrual products in all public bathrooms. “‘Access to menstrual products is a fundamental human necessity,’ said Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor. ‘It’s a matter of public health and personal dignity. And it’s something that should be provided to everyone.’ The ordinance, which passed through Ann Arbor City Council unanimously on Monday, also ensures that other sanitary products, including toilet paper, soap, paper towels and water, are also provided.” [Text of the law]
7) International: In a major victory for India’s poor and struggling farmers, Prime Minister Modi capitulates after a year of demonstrations and occupations, which had trade union support, and announces he will scrap three laws that would have thrown open the agriculture section to privatized pricing and distribution. “They said the reforms put their livelihoods at risk and gave private corporations control over the pricing of their crops.”
The victors: “A doctor, a retired teacher, an ex-army man, a former Delhi police constable… these are among the people who guided and shaped the nationwide movement against the three new agri laws which the government agreed to repeal.” Catch up on the farmers’ victory with @vijayprashad, @Prasanth_r and @ZoPepperC on Give the People What They Want! [Video, about 10 minutes]
8) National: “Education support professionals are the bedrock of our schools,” writes Katie Wiese. “Let’s recognize their contributions.” Last Wednesday was National Educational Support Professionals Day. “Our schools cannot run without our secretaries, paraprofessionals, custodians, cooks, bus drivers and many other job categories. These are among our most dedicated educators, but their pay is so low that many qualify for public assistance, and most are working two or three jobs to keep their families afloat. With housing costs at an all-time high and the price of food rising, there seems to be no relief in sight.”
9) National: A Public Funds Public Schools webinar looked at how resistance to COVID-19 safety measures for public schools has been leveraged to undermine public education. “The discussion is moderated by pro-public education consultant Charles Siler and features advocates from states that have grappled with policies banning mask mandates in public schools: Adora Obi Nweze, President of the NAACP Florida State Conference; Beth Lewis, Executive Director of Save Our Schools Arizona; and Bacardi Jackson, Interim Deputy Legal Director for Children’s Rights at the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
10) California: A proposed 600-student charter school centered on equity and inclusion was rejected after Petaluma City Schools leaders “concluded school organizers didn’t understand the charter process, couldn’t resolve key questions about the proposal and were ‘demonstrably unlikely’ to be successful. (…) School leaders’ inability to overcome concerns about admissions criteria and a lack of specificity on everything from budgeting to the core vision of the school, cost them support from key progressive groups.”
11) Hawaii: An Oahu charter school has been financially hammered for improperly stating the number of online students it had. The school “more than doubled its student enrollment between the start of the school year and October by offering an unauthorized distance learning option to students that would have meant an extra $1.4 million in funding this year. On Monday, the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission unanimously voted to strike 183 kids participating in Kamalani Academy’s virtual program from the official rolls, saying the school did not get clearance to amend its charter to offer a new online program this year.”
12) Indiana: The Indianapolis Public Schools Board of School Commissioners has voted to approve sharing district operating referendum funds with innovation charter schools. “Despite the approval, there has been some pushback to sharing money from the referendum with charter schools. State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said it’s actually a legal issue. ‘They’re not obeying the law,’ he said. ‘They’ve gone around that. They have set the referendum proposal. They didn’t tell the public they were going to give it to the charter school. They’ve had this money available for three years. They haven’t given them any money and the reason is they can’t, under the law. Some taxpayers could file a lawsuit saying you’re spending money in an unauthorized fashion. Pretty simple. It sounds like there could be a pretty good basis for it.’”
13) Massachusetts: The controversy over a public school superintendent jumping away to head a charter school is still rocking New Bedford. In a letter to the editor of the Cape Cod Times, Emma Hein and Marstons Mills write, “Pivoting her career to the privately run, publicly funded charter school industry is her prerogative. However, when the story transitions from Mayo-Brown’s dubious departure from the district to her new venture, it becomes a booster piece for the charter school she is trying to open in New Bedford.”
14) New York: Charter schools are eating into Rochester’s student enrollment numbers. “UPrep is now considering adding grades kindergarten through sixth. Meanwhile, four charter schools are working to get approvals to open in September.”
15) North Dakota/National: In South Dakota, site of “one of the most saddest Native American massacre sites in history,” the study of racial history has been banned in the schools. “Kasper and the seven co-sponsors of the legislation banning CRT have received PAC contributions from major national corporations. Top contributors to the group since 2018 include Marathon Petroleum ($4,800), REALTOR® PAC of North Dakota ($2,500), BNSF ($2,250), Caterpillar ($2,000) and Bayer ($1,000).” Angela Davis says “forces of white supremacy” are behind the attacks on teaching Critical Race Theory. [Video, about 5 minutes]
16) Oklahoma: An Oklahoma charter school, Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy, has been audited for apparent mismanagement of funds. “Some of the findings showed that after the school shut down, the superintendent kept a school vehicle that took legal action to retrieve, and she also used a school debit card to make cash withdrawals that the state auditor can’t trace.”
There’s more. “State auditor Cindy Byrd’s office says former Seeworth superintendent Janet Grigg gave herself and upper level staff more than $210,000 in unapproved bonuses. She also spent more than $40,000 on personal expenses. ‘The result is an incredible disservice to our taxpayers and the students,’ Byrd said in a written statement. ‘School choice is important for students in Oklahoma and should be protected. However, the criminality of this cannot be ignored.’”
The audit also “raised further questions about why board members, including Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals Judge Barbara Swinton and Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, ‘failed to recognize and/or act on instances of suggested financial improprieties brought to their attention during the past decade.’”
17) Oklahoma: An exodus of students from Epic Charter Schools back to their home public schools after the pandemic eased has led Epic to make serious cutbacks. “Three out of five students that enrolled in Epic Charter Schools during the height of the pandemic last year returned to their home districts for the 2021-2022 school year. The shift marks an enrollment decline that is expected to cause a $60 million drop in state-allocated funding as well as staff cuts for the charter schools.”
18) West Virginia: The first two virtual charter schools have been approved in the state. But “state public education officials cited the use of virtual and distance learning as one of the key factors in the drop in student learning during the last school year. According to West Virginia’s 2021 state summative assessment results for grades 3-8 and 11th grade, math scores dropped 11 points between the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 school years, while English/language arts and science scores dropped by six points during the same time period.”
19) National: Is a “golden age of public finance” at hand? What’s the bond market thinking about the newly-enacted infrastructure law? The Bond Buyer is rolling out an extensive four-part series called Build What Better? delving into the issues from a public finance perspective. (The second part will appear on November 30). [Sub required]
“Infrastructure—finally—is having a once-in-a-generation moment” they say. “Capital spending in the United States will soon rise dramatically. The mix of funded projects will shift considerably. State and local governments, which build three-fourths of the nation’s infrastructure, may rev up municipal debt issuance, the key engine for leveraging federal money and accelerating long-term investment. Hilltop Securities, leading municipal advisory and broker-dealer firm, has even suggested a ‘golden age of public finance’ is at hand. (…)
“This is money state and local governments could use or borrow against to augment their capital investment. But if history is any guide, they will probably do so fairly conservatively. For one thing, when federal dollars arrive, municipalities gain flexibility and tend to shift priorities. CBO research indicates that for every extra $100 of federal spending on infrastructure, total spending rises by just $85; state and local governments use the rest to plug other needs.”
This will certainly be interesting to follow, although the first installment of the series doesn’t discuss controversies over infrastructure privatization and so-called public-private partnerships. (For that see Shar Habibi’s piece here). Perhaps they will get to that. Bond Buyer does mention the politics of user fees, which the privatization industry generally tiptoes around, at least in public. So are we going to also get a golden age of debate on user fees, the politics of planning, Value for Money, environmental policy and state and local debt politics? Let’s hope so, or else those issues will sink below a tsunami of consultant propaganda and “shovel ready” local boosterism.
20) National: Ailing nuclear power plants have been propped up by the new infrastructure law. The industry “is getting a second look—and fresh funding,” the Financial Times reports. “The federal funding follows bailouts in several US states for nuclear generators on the brink of closure. ‘The bottom line is that you’ve got a lot of safe and reliable plants out there that are providing zero-carbon electricity exactly when our nation and the world need it most,’ said Jeremiah Baumann, deputy chief of staff at the Department of Energy. ‘We can’t afford to have the setback of losing a lot of carbon-free electricity.’” [Sub required]
But WBUR reports that “not everyone is so sure about the promise of nuclear power. ‘I don’t think they can know right now how much these new plants will cost, whether they will have a reliable fuel supply,’ Allison Macfarlane, former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said.” Read the transcript of a discussion on On Point.
21) National: The New York Times reports that racial equity is left up to the states in the new infrastructure package. “the decision about how to spend the money falls largely to the states, not all of which are likely to put as high a priority on that promise as Mr. Biden does, raising questions about whether the legislation will deliver on his goal.”
22) National: The Biden administration “is taking a step towards reversing Trump-era rollbacks to water regulations, proposing a rule to restore the pre-Obama definition that outlines which waters it will seek to protect from pollution.” EPA administrator Michael Regan “has said he doesn’t plan to restore the Obama-era regulations ‘verbatim,’ and will look for a rule that addresses concerns from both environmentalists and the agricultural industry.”
23) Florida: Just two years after a privatization scandal rocked Jacksonville city government and its power and water utility JEA—the proposed deal went down in flames—a new private utility is setting up shop right in JEA’s territory. “A 7,000-acre tract of forestland on the far western border of Duval County has become ground zero in whether private companies can start investor-owned water utilities in areas that JEA says it has the sole right to serve. The tussle has brought back some ‘JEA is ours’ cries from the attempt two years ago to sell the utility, but unlike that failed effort, the issue at hand for Jacksonville City Council this time isn’t a sale of JEA.”
JEA is asking the City Council to defer a vote tomorrow on the legislation “while it continues to seek an agreement over the next four weeks with the developer that would involve JEA contributing several million dollars.
24) Pennsylvania: Kenny Cooper of WHYY has a detailed article in The Philadelphia Tribune on what’s at stake in the fight over the Chester Water Authority. “The number of water providers in Pennsylvania is dwindling. The water isn’t drying up—the public utilities are, as for-profit water companies take over. In the case of Philadelphia’s suburbs, Aqua Pennsylvania reigns supreme, providing water and wastewater services to more than 1.4 million people across the state.”
25) International: Good Jobs First’s new Violation Tracker UK database has revealed that privatized water companies in the United Kingdom are big environmental violators. “Using Good Jobs First’s ‘Violation Tracker‘, the data exposes the extent to which water companies have fallen foul of various laws designed to protect the environment, consumers and employees. The analysis comes after MPs faced criticism for voting down an amendment to the Environment Bill, which would have placed a legal duty on water companies in England and Wales ‘to make improvements to their sewerage systems and demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage.’”
26) Think Tanks: Susan K. Urahn, President and CEO of the Pew Charitable Trusts, sees cause for optimism in the passage of the infrastructure bill. “At Pew, data drives our recommendations, and we were pleased to see the final bill include provisions for flood-ready infrastructure and conservation initiatives, in addition to broadband. Data still matters in public debate and policymaking, especially when research and evidence can show the costs and benefits of different types of public investments.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
27) National: In an editorial, The New York Times says “Train the Police to Keep the Peace, Not Turn a Profit.” “Some police departments across the country have embraced the corrupting and unjust practice of raising revenue for their municipalities by pushing officers to write as many traffic tickets as possible. Policing for profit encourages unfair enforcement of the law. It also increases the likelihood that motorists stopped for infractions largely unrelated to public safety will be killed or injured during encounters with officers who are trained to view traffic stops as moments of mortal peril.”
28) National: For-profit prison and immigration detention companies are doing very well underthrew Biden administration. The GEO Group has just issued its FY2021 guidance. “The company issued revenue guidance of $2.26 billion, compared to the consensus revenue estimate of $2.24 billion. The GEO Group also updated its Q4 2021 guidance to $0.650-$0.670 EPS. Separately, Zacks Investment Research raised shares of The GEO Group from a hold rating to a buy rating and set a $11.00 price objective on the stock in a research note.”
29) California: The Daily Sundial has published a multimedia story by Ryanne Mena, Kaitlyn Lavo, and P.J. Shahamat on what it’s like at the privately-run Adelanto ICE detention center. “GEO Group is one the country’s largest profiteers in the privatized prison industry, bringing in about $112 per detainee a day, which is paid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). GEO Group runs the Adelanto detention facility which has an occupancy of 1,940 beds. The city acts as a go-between for the ICE federal agency and the for-profit private prison company, GEO Group, by way of contracting.”
30) California: The state is again trying to close down privately operated prisons and immigration detention facilities. “California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who authored the bill as an Assembly member, filed a petition Wednesday asking the Ninth Circuit to reconsider its 2-1 ruling. ‘The record is clear: For-profit, private prisons and detention facilities that treat people like commodities pose an unacceptable risk to the health and welfare of Californians,’ Bonta said in a statement.”
31) Florida: The Associated Press has a hard-hitting report on racism at Florida jails, organized white supremacist activity among guards and inmates, and a courageous and principled correctional officer who blew the whistle.
“Some Florida prison guards openly tout associations with white supremacist groups to intimidate inmates and Black colleagues, a persistent practice that often goes unpunished, according to allegations in public documents and interviews with a dozen inmates and current and former employees in the nation’s third-largest prison system. Corrections officials regularly receive reports about guards’ membership in the Ku Klux Klan and criminal gangs, according to former prison inspectors, and current and former officers.” Reports of corruption at the Florida Department of Corrections have been around for years.
32) National: In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen emails the Songs for the Common Good community about his new book, The Privatization of Everything, that “art and culture aren’t explicitly discussed in the book, but it’s very much part of its core message—there are public goods that we all need and that make us a better society when everyone has access to them. That includes art and culture. I wrote a piece during the pandemic that you may have seen, Musicians and Artists Are Essential Workers Too. In it I say ‘our health and hatred crises have exposed a fundamental truth: We need art and music, and we need to experience it together.’ That sure is true. Going to concerts again has been pure joy.”
Since music is such a vital public good, why does it function under such a rapacious privatized model? It doesn’t have to, as Charlie Bird laid out in an excellent recent article in Jacobin. Bird writes, “streaming services like Spotify shamelessly exploit musicians. But there is an alternative to corporate monopoly music: a music streaming platform built for the common good.”
The argument makes sense: “Akin to the advent of public cultural resources—such as libraries, art galleries, and public archives—a streaming commons would be a public platform, where state funding replaces the investment of venture capital. It is important that with no algorithm and playlist gatekeeping, a streaming commons would reduce the inequality between independent and major labels, as well as prevent surveillance and data commodification. Through democratization and collective ownership, algorithms could be made transparent and accountable, thereby ensuring privacy and data protection in line with the wants and needs of the public.”
33) National: With a tsunami of federal money possibly about to transform child care across the U.S. if the Build Back Better act passes, will existing smaller childcare services, most led by women and many part of nonprofit organizations, be crushed by large private corporate service providers contracting with the government? For years, small scale community-based childcare providers have served families across the country on a shoestring. A debate is beginning about which model of public-private provision is best.
There was a lot of discussion last week about reported plans by KinderCare Education—one of the nation’s largest for-profit child-care providers—to launch an IPO to take advantage of the new environment, and this has many public interest advocates concerned. KinderCare has pulled the IPO, but stay tuned for more on this story about a possible major privatization of childcare.
34) National: Progressive political commentator Thom Hartmann is warning that Medicare Advantage plans are setting the stage for the privatization or bankruptcy of the larger Medicare system. “Two months ago I wrote about the Medicare Advantage Scam and how it can screw consumers. This price hike, though, raises the larger issue of what’s happening to Medicare itself and whether the entire system may be out of business in a few years, in part because our government is being robbed blind by all these so-called ‘Advantage’ plans.”
35) National: Ron Jacobs says the idea of public transit for profit is a dead end. “The fact that the recently passed infrastructure bill has as much funding for public transit as it does is something of a surprise. It will be interesting to see how much of it actually goes to improving the systems on the ground and how much ends up in the pockets of administrators and privatized entities that serve their stockholders and not the public for whom the dollars are supposedly earmarked.”
36) National: In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen reflects on the difference between Google, a private, for-profit corporate behemoth, and the public library. “The essential difference is that libraries are centers of learning, creation and, most importantly, community—where we come together, we interact with each other across many differences and where we see ourselves as part of a civic community. These are all essential public goods that we all benefit from whether we use the library or not.” Gemma Correll shares “9 Reasons I Love the Library.”
37) Connecticut: With the state facing an almost unprecedented wave of government employee retirements, officials are scrambling to come up with some solutions. They have just hired Boston Consulting Group to advise them, raising concerns that outsourcing may be the proposed model, with you know who first in line to get the contracts. Others have proposed technological “solutions”—trying to replace departing workers (described as “roles” in the article) with IT, AI and so forth.
But Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest says technological solutions may ultimately work against residents.“There’s cost savings, and then there’s having that human interaction. Some of those other benefits, like the labor piece of it, creating middle-class jobs or maintaining middle-class jobs. There’s a bunch of values that we believe public sector work achieves that private sector work doesn’t necessarily achieve.”
38) Puerto Rico: If you speak Spanish please check out Walter Soto León’s (@waltersotoleon) excellent reporting on this PROMESA-induced threat to public health in Puerto Rico. H/t @bgraulau. WSL: “Puerto Ricans who have a medical plan could find themselves without the drugs and treatments they need if a petition from the Fiscal Oversight Board, which seeks the repeal of Law 142 of 2020, is successful. Among other things, the aforementioned law protects patients from trying to change treatments without respecting medical criteria.” Bianca Graulau: “The board is ordering the PR govt to get rid of a law that protects patients against insurance companies refusing to cover medication.”
39) National: Mandy Smithberger and William Hartung critique The Pentagon’s Yearly Blank Check. “Even as Congress moves to increase the Pentagon budget well beyond the astronomical levels proposed by the Biden administration, a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has outlined three different ways to cut $1 trillion in Department of Defense spending over the next decade. A rational defense policy could yield far more in the way of reductions, but resistance from the Pentagon, weapons contractors, and their many allies in Congress would be fierce.”
40) National/International: What is the basis for real estate’s iron grip on metro politics, planning and policy priorities? “Real estate makes up two-thirds of global real assets or net worth.” Political economist and tax analyst Richard Murphy breaks it down. “Net worth has tripled since 2000, but the increase mainly reflects valuation gains in real assets, especially real estate, rather than investment in productive assets that drive our economies.”
Photo by Jodi Green.