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.
- An abusive deal over water pumping between Saudi Arabia and the Arizona state government.
- At least one prison privatization advocate is expressing his regrets.
- Neoliberal education reform is killing public schools—and it’s on the ballot nationwide.
First, the good news…
1) National/Mississippi: Writing in the Sunday print edition of the Clarion-Ledger, In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen takes on the issue of whether Jackson should privatize its water system, as the state Republican establishment wants to do, and explains why the idea is harmful to the public interest.
“First, privatization is about control,” Cohen writes. “No one is seriously discussing an outright sale to a private company. So, the options are either a ‘public-private partnership’ or a management and operations contract—both mean the privatization of Jackson’s water even though the city will still own the system. In both cases, a contract will give the private contractor legally binding control—actual decision-making authority—over decisions that should be firmly in public hands. Second, privatization doesn’t change the fact that, to fix the system, Jackson needs to get money from someone else. The city could either get it from the federal or state government or borrow from municipal bond buyers, banks or investors. With privatization, residents will likely end up paying more. Private water companies have expenses that public agencies don’t, like large executive salaries, shareholder dividends, debt servicing, and lobbying expenses. Each one of those dollars is one less dollar spent on investing in the water systems they’re in charge of.”
Cohen’s conclusion: “The bottom line: Make sure the public is fully in control. Otherwise, it’s privatization of a vital public asset, and that won’t be good for the residents of Jackson.”
2) National/Idaho: Vote like your community depends on it, says Richard Kohles of Hayden, Idaho. About 10 years ago, the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee was taken over by a band of extremists. Since then, the Republican party locally has made every election in Kootenai County partisan. All local boards, water, school, roads and hospital, have become partisan, with Republican extremists creating their own slate of candidates. There is no attempt to find competent people, only people who agree with the central committee. Assessor candidate Bela Kovacs is a clear example of how sad and costly that has been. You can see their work in the planned takeover and privatization of North Idaho College. The next step will be the privatization of all the public schools, colleges and universities, first locally and then in the state. Rule by one extreme group of one party is the absolute enemy of democracy, especially a group with a destructive agenda.”
3) National: The Washington Post’s labor reporter, Lauren Kaori Gurley, reports that the top lawyer at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is requesting that Chipotle:
1) reopen its shuttered Augusta, Maine store
2) reinstate terminated workers & provide backpay since July
3) *importantly* recognize workers’ union & bargain (workers never had a chance to vote).
Despite being underfunded and short-staffed, the Biden NLRB is punching way above its weight. But Neil Davey says It’s Time for Congress to Increase the NLRB’s Funding. “Additional funding would be pivotal in addressing these concerns and providing the Board with the resources it needs to properly go about its work. In particular, greater funding would not only mean more robust enforcement of workers’ rights but increases in workforce could significantly reduce delays caused by employer-initiated spurious litigation. In turn, the fruits of labor organizers’ efforts to unionize can more quickly be realized.”
4) National: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) is confident that a bill blocking Trump’s draconian effort to fire and hire civil servants on political grounds will get a floor vote in the Senate by the end of the year. “‘We saw Trump really try to reward loyalty to him as a person over expertise, qualifications and loyalty to the Constitution,’ he said. ‘There were many political appointees during the last administration who were fine public servants, but there were also many who were political hacks who had no business getting into public service, and they didn’t approach the job with an appreciation for public service . . . As someone in a state with a high number of federal employees and who serves on multiple national security committees, I can easily see how debilitating it would be, especially to the safety of our country, if a president comes in and re-implements it.’”
5) Indiana: Clarksville Community Schools (CCS) have been awarded a $69,000 grant as the state pushes to improve early learning opportunities. “The 15 recipients of the grants are predicted to create 563 new child care seats for 233 infants and toddlers and 330 preschool and pre-K children, according to a press release from ELI and CCS. CCS in particular says it will spend the $69,000 it received on expanding and improving preschool classrooms to provide more children the opportunity to learn in a higher quality environment.”
6) Virginia: At least one prison privatization advocate is expressing his regrets. State Senator Joe Morrissey (D) “said it was counterproductive to the rehabilitation of the inmates to prevent them from getting exercise outside and taking classes, adding it may be time for the General Assembly to take action. “There is a growing feeling that we need to do something as a General Assembly to correct this problem,” Morrissey said. “Based on the continued condition of Lawrenceville, I’m thinking the General Assembly should review this to determine if we need, as a policy matter, to decide we’re no longer going to allow private management of prisons in Virginia.””
7) International: As COP-27 opens, Education International (EI), a global union coalition, has taken the lead to share experiences, build power, and strategize for climate justice. “A just transition in education must primarily address the adaptation needs of educators and it also necessarily means a rejection of privatization. It must also include strengthening social protection schemes for educators, who are ‘second responders’ to the climate crisis.”
8) International: U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected drop plans to privatize Channel 4, according to The Financial Times. “The proposed Channel 4 sale was already in doubt following Boris Johnson’s departure as prime minister as it faced a groundswell of opposition within industry and parts of the Conservative party. Industry executives and some MPs expect the privatisation will be among the many low-priority policies that will be scrapped by Sunak, as he focuses on stabilising the economy and unifying his own party. The proposal was not part of the 2019 Conservative manifesto.” [Sub required]
9) National/Wisconsin: Neoliberal education reform is killing public schools—and it’s on the ballot nationwide says Nora De La Cour, a high school social worker, former teacher, and member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “In many ways, Wisconsin blazed a trail for the rest of the country with market-style reforms that increase competition by weakening teachers’ unions and privatizing schools. Decades later, researchers have mapped the devastating impact of these reforms on Wisconsin students. So, as voters across the United States face grave education questions up and downthe ballot, it makes sense to look back at what’s happened in the Badger State.” This year, 166 ballot measures seek to raise the restrictive shared revenue caps to fund things like teacher pay and school infrastructure.
10) National: Jennifer Berkshire explains why the GOP’s emphasis on “school choice” and defunding of public education is angering many traditionally Republican voters. “Attacks on public education could swing elections in Democrats favor. After decades of conservatives defunding public education, there’s a backlash brewing. And it’s happening in Oklahoma and other conservative states across the country.” [H/t Jordan Zakarin]
11) National: How is white supremacy embedded in school systems today? Education Week interviews John Diamond. “The power to define the purposes of education, the power to define the curricular content and the discourse around education, all tend to be in control of, to a large extent, white racial actors, but probably as importantly, tend to be steeped in a history in which whiteness, as a sort of structural position and an identity, has been structured as and thought of as superior to all of the racialized groups. And so the ability to sort of control the decision-making, the power over curriculum and the day-to-day activities in these contexts, tends to lead to white supremacy being embedded in school contexts.” [Sub required]
12) National: “There are websites with detailed instructions to parents for presenting the case to a school library committee to ban a book, and there are thousands of pages like this,” reports Jason Stanley. “Kevin Staton showing the website that prepares parents to take on school librarians about books they want banned – here the page giving parents ammunition to argue that Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye should be removed from libraries. ‘We face an extremely well-funded movement.’”
13) National: Public school enrollment is down by more than a million. Why? Thomas S. Dee offers his perspective. “Taken together, these patterns imply state and local education leaders should plan immediately for the serious challenges (and potential opportunities) enduring enrollment losses imply for their COVID recovery efforts. The financial implications of enrollment loss have already begun to pressure districts to discuss school closures as well as teacher layoffs. Adapting to this new normal in a way that preserves community engagement and limits further learning disruptions to students will compound the already difficult task of addressing the pandemic’s direct impact on student learning and engagement.” [Sub required]
14) Connecticut: The state is experiencing the biggest charter scandal of all time. “The controversy over Sharpe was embarrassing to Democratic Governor Dannell Malloy, who was a cheerleader for charter schools. Malloy chose Stefan Pryor to be the State Commissioner of Education. Pryor had no experience in the classroom but was a co-founder of the no-excuses charter chain Achievement First. Charter schools in the state were allowed to have only 30% of their staff with state certification. The charter industry was strong in Connecticut due to the financial power of hedge funders and the Sackler Family (of opioid fame), which launched Conn-CAN, a charter advocacy group, which became the national 50CAN. But the biggest scandal of all came to light in the past week, when the same Michael Sharpe was convicted of breaking into the homes of four women in 1984, kidnapping them, threatening the women with a firearm, sexually assaulting them, then stealing money and valuables.”
15) Texas: NBC News has a blockbuster report by Mike Hixenbaugh and Kate Martin on how “Texas Republicans bankrolled by Christian conservative donors are hoping to ride a wave of parental anger over the teaching of race and sexuality in schools to achieve what has long been an unattainable goal: state funding for private education.”
They report that “the push for private school vouchers has been funded in large part by Defend Texas Liberty, a Christian nationalist-aligned political action committee led by a former far-right Republican state lawmaker and bankrolled by a pair of West Texas billionaires. The PAC has spent nearly $10 million this year, largely backing candidates who support public funding for private education and attacking those who oppose it, according to an NBC News analysis of Texas Ethics Commission campaign finance reports and data compiled by the nonprofit OpenSecrets.”
Earlier this year, Defend Texas Liberty targeted the state Republican leadership for being insufficiently fanatical. The Texas Tribute covered the story well.
16) Washington: School bus drivers for the privatized yellow bus service for students in the Seattle School district have joined the Teamsters. “All Seattle school bus service was contracted out to First Student until this academic year, when the Seattle School District decided to split the contract between First Student and Zūm – a California-based company that is new to the area. Teamsters Local 174 immediately got involved in organizing the new group, meeting regularly with new hires and collecting signed Union Authorization cards. Now that the group has been certified, work can begin on negotiating a first contract to protect workers’ rights on the job.”
17) International: There’s a massive teacher and education support staff strike in Ontario. “On Friday, fifty-five thousand Ontario education workers with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) walked off the job in an ‘illegal’ strike. They were joined by Ontario Public Service Employee Union (OPSEU) education workers, who also ‘illegally’ walked off the job. Over 2.1 million students were out of school as school boards were forced to shut down schools. (…) Education workers have faced legislated wage suppression for more than a decade. This wage suppression was enabled by the passage of Bill 115 and Bill 124, issuing from a Liberal and Tory government respectively. During the height of the pandemic, education workers were told they were essential, but their pay checks didn’t reflect that fact. Between 2011 and 2021, education workers experienced an effective wage cut of over 11 percent.”
18) Think Tanks: How do charter schools affect the supply of teachers from university-based education programs?Douglas N. Harris and Mary Penn have produced a report and conclusions. “Debates about charter schools center on their immediate effects on students who attend them and how charter schools affect nearby traditional public schools. However, as the charter sector has continued to grow, a broader range of possibly unintended effects become relevant. This study is one of the first to examine the possibility that charter schools affect the teacher pipeline. We focus specifically on how charter schools affect the number of traditionally prepared teachers who receive a bachelor’s in education. Using data from 290 school districts with at least one commuter college nearby, we analyze the effect on the traditional teacher pipeline from schools of education.”
19) National: Tax the rich for climate action? Protect towns from floods? It’s on state ballots tomorrow, reports Route Fifty. “There are fewer climate measures on ballots this time around, but the ones that are up for a vote these midterms are big, mainly New York’s Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022 and California Proposition 30, which aims to fund zero-emissions vehicles and wildfire prevention. A smaller $50 million environment and recreation bond measure in Rhode Island would fund municipal climate resiliency.”
20) National: Just in time for the elections, Public Works Financing, the house organ of the road and infrastructure privatization industry, has produced another of its periodic partisan attacks on democratic participation in and public control of public infrastructure decisions, as usual along the line of inefficiency, delays and cost overruns—which of course the private sector never does. So we need more “balance”—i.e. private, for-profit control. [“Democracy, Democrats and Development,” Public Works Financing, October 2022; sub required].
But why is infrastructure development in the U.S. so expensive? As it happens, another report on this has just been released that says that far from being too politicized, decision-making on public infrastructure is not politicized enough: “Governing: Can politicians depoliticize things? Eric Goldwyn: Well, it’s not that exactly. You want it to be more politicized in some sense, because you want people to say this is important and we care about this. And you want them to say that continuously. You don’t want them to say it once and then give up on the project, because that’s often what happens. But you don’t want them meddling into the project. What you want is a governor who is like, ‘Yes, I approve the spending on this, it achieves the goals I want to achieve. You, the technical experts, are empowered to figure out how to get there.’ You want someone who will macromanage, not someone who will micromanage. It all comes down to having people at the top that are like, ‘it’s important that we build this thing in a cost-effective, speedy fashion.’ If you have a governor, mayor, head of agency who is laser-focused on that stuff, it solves all of these downstream problems.”
So it seems that the industry groups are wrestling over the question of costs by tending to aim for a private developer who makes the key decisions without annoying interference from politicians or the public, or by aiming for a strong public executive who will just politically sort out a project’s problems by rolling over public or utility objections and just ramming it through. How’s that going, Governor Hogan?
21) Arizona: Writing in Azcentral.com, Bruce Babbitt and Robert Lane blow the whistle on an abusive deal over water pumping between Saudi Arabia and the state government. “In June, The Arizona Republic uncovered the story of how the State Land Department had recently handed over thousands of acres to a Saudi corporation called Fondomonte, giving it permission to pump unlimited amounts of groundwater to grow alfalfa hay for export to Saudi Arabia. This tale of official misfeasance began in 2015 when the State Land Department began leasing land to Fondomonte at an annual rental of just $25 per acre.”
So how is that working out for the people of Arizona? Radley Balko says that “as the CO river dries up, AZ is leasing its largest underground aquifer to the Saudis, who are growing water-intensive alfalfa, which is then shipped back to S.A. to feed cattle. Market rate for the lease is $5 million/yr. Saudis pay $86K.”
22) Michigan: It looks like after experiencing a disastrous stretch during the pandemic, when a lot of privately financed dorms went empty and stressed out the colleges and universities in the “partnership,” the schools are dipping their toes in the P3 dorm pool again. “Eastern Michigan University’s efforts to bolster its student appeal with a housing makeover reach a financing milestone this week with the expected pricing of a $210 million insured issue. To limit financial risk and keep the borrowing off balance sheet, the university turned to a public-private partnership. The revenue bonds will sell through the Public Finance Authority, a Wisconsin-based national conduit agency, on behalf of Eastern Michigan University Campus Living LLC for the university’s Welcome Home 2025 Plan.” [Sub required]. Note that “off balance sheet” bit. Where have we heard that before?
23) Tennessee: Nashville turns its parking meters over to LAZ Parking Georgia. “While the bill passed by a comfortable margin, mayoral candidate and District 19 Councilmember Freddie O’Connell pushed back, citing concerns over the idea of privatizing parking. ‘The most successful thing the mayor accomplished [Tuesday] night was creating the illusion that this was in fact not parking privatization,’ O’Connell told Post sister publication Nashville Scene. While O’Connell supports the modernization of parking, he doesn’t think going private is the preferred option. ‘I think when you’re involved in an enforcement process of a public pricing mechanism, it really ought to be public employees that are accountable to them.’”
24) National: The future of Social Security, Medicare and the VA are on the line in this election, as Republicans are gearing up for the greatest privatization of public programs in American history. In the meantime, a new report is out that details how the insurance industry’s Medicare Advantage policies are ripping off seniors and stealthily privatizing Medicare. “The new Senate report exposes tactics used by unscrupulous insurance companies, brokers, and other third parties to pressure seniors to purchase plans, ‘including deceptive mail advertisements, misleading claims about increasing Social Security benefits, aggressive in-person marketing tactics, and enrolling beneficiaries… without their consent.’ In August, the Senate Finance Committee collected Medicare Advantage marketing complaints from 14 states and found evidence that “beneficiaries are being inundated with aggressive marketing tactics as well as false and misleading information…’”
25) National: Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene look at the future of government jobs. “No field will be the same,” they say. For example, “New Roles in Finance, Technology and Administration. With advances in automation, jobs at the entry level and one step up in finance are already becoming less focused on data entry and transactional processing and more focused on analysis and compliance. At the upper echelon of finance shops, roles are changing as well. Local governments are increasingly looking to finance officials as organizational leaders, not as functionaries whose work lives are gritty with numbers. Recently, the Government Finance Officers Association asked its community of finance officers about the most important leadership skills for people who hold those positions. The answer: To work collaboratively, build teams, and communicate skillfully. ‘It was less about technical knowledge of accounting, or budgeting or treasury,’ says Mike Mucha, GFOA’s deputy executive director.”
This is not a new model. It used to be called “Government 2.0” or e-government by the privatizers at the conservative think tanks. But the motto is still the same, and is repeated in the Route Fifty piece. Their idea of the role of government? “Customer Service in a Remote World.” Does that sound like the common good?
26) National: Centene, the “managed care” octopus with over $100 billion in revenue, “showers politicians with millions as it courts contracts and settles overbilling allegations,” Kaiser Health Network reports in an extensive, must-read research note. Just a sample: “Centene had already sealed Medicaid deals in Nevada through its SilverSummit subsidiary—yet a potential new line of business was on the horizon. Sisolak, who is up for reelection Nov. 8, had just approved a new public health plan option that would later open up to bidding from contractors such as SilverSummit. And then, less than two months after Centene’s subsidiary contributions were made, Nevada settled with the company over allegations the insurer overbilled the state’s Medicaid pharmacy program. The state attorney general’s office did not publicly announce the $11.3 million settlement but disclosed it in response to a public records request from KHN.” One more thing: “The contract went before the Nevada Board of Examiners for final approval. Sisolak is one of three voting members.”
And it’s not just the Democrats. The governor of Mississippi, Tate Reeves (who wants to privatize Jackson’s water works), has also benefitted from its largess. “Some politicians are tired of that playbook. In Mississippi, the state House of Representatives voted in February to prohibit Republican Gov. Tate Reeves’ administration from awarding a contract to any company that the state had settled with for more than $50 million. Centene paid Mississippi $55.5 million the year before.”
27) National/Texas: The former director of a LaSalle detention center and his brother have reportedly been charged with murder after shooting some migrants at the border. “The shooting stunned residents of Sierra Blanca and focused renewed attention on the West Texas Detention Center, a county-owned facility run by a private company, LaSalle Corrections, where Michael Sheppard worked as the warden. A spokesman for the company, which operates more than a dozen detention facilities across Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, said Mr. Sheppard had been fired after his arrest.”
28) California: The Riverside County sheriff wants to prevent information about who holds concealed weapons permitsfrom being available through the California Public Information Act. “Freedom of information advocates have long fought to ensure the law stays intact. ‘The fundamental premise of the Public Records Act is that there has to be government transparency and that the public has to have the right to oversee that government and be able to access important information,’ according to Brittney Barsotti, General Counsel at the California News Publishers Association.”
29) Iowa/National: Healthcare is on the ballot in Iowa. Ryan Melton, a Democrat running in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, has zeroed in on the shortcomings of Iowa’s privatized state health insurance system and the need for a national program. “‘We’re facing a massive mental health care availability crisis,’ he said. “A lot of counties in our district don’t have a single OBGYN and a lot of rural hospitals are facing immense financial pressure. A big reason for that is because the private insurance system puts up so many obstacles between patient and provider and that leaves out health care providers in a tenuous position where they struggle to keep the doors open.’ Melton is a proponent of a universal e care plan and would want to work toward that if he’s elected. ‘I definitely am a believer in a Medicare for all, single payer universal health care option,’ he said. ‘… As far as with privatization in the state, I’m certainly not in favor of that and we’ve seen a big increase in the number of denied claims that really are impacting our most vulnerable Iowans.’ At the federal level, Melton said he wants to stop privatization since it leads to the same issues.”
30) International: Britain’s public sector nurses are set to have their biggest strike ever. It is due to take place before Christmas. “One union source said this weekend: ‘This will see the majority of services taken out, and picket lines across the country.’ (…) Union officials say that since the Conservatives took power in 2010, the pay of some experienced nurses has fallen by 20% in real terms. They had called for a pay award of 5% plus inflation – a total of about 15%. (…) More than 300,000 members of the RCN, Britain’s largest nursing union, were balloted over strike action – the biggest in the union’s history.”
Closer to home, “more than 200 union nurses clad in red rallied in front of the U.S. Bank corporate offices in downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday, decrying the ‘failed leadership’ of three bank executives who sit on the boards of Minnesota hospitals. ‘They are responsible for what is going on at our hospitals. They are responsible for the failure of our CEOs,’ Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner told a crowd of cheering nurses.”
31) International/Think Tanks: University of Ottawa Research Chair in Health Law & Policy Colleen M. Flood says the false promises of privatization won’t solve Canada’s healthcare crisis. “Pro-privatization doctors and associated businesses are pushing hard to take advantage of Canadians’ fears and frustration that their loved ones will suffer with unmet health needs,” she writes. “The pandemic has seriously impacted the supply of nurses and doctors. If the rich or well-insured can pay more for care, then the current access problems will worsen for all those who have no choice but to rely on public Medicare. Privatization would also mean Canadians in remote and rural areas would face even greater hurdles to access care, as physicians migrate to more lucrative metropolitan areas. Higher prices paid to doctors and nurses in the private tier would also increase the prices that would have to be paid by public Medicare to keep them in the system. If privatization is a snake-oil solution, what is to be done? We need to apply pressure to both levels of government to attend to this crisis now.” Flood lays out some proposed solutions.
32) National: “The billionaires aren’t going to save us, only the government will,” writes In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler. “On top of all of that, Moderna’s vaccine was funded 100 percent through Operation Warp Speed, a federal government program. Pfizer-BioNTech’s relied on public money from the German government.
Sure, Musk can buy a social media company that hasn’t turned a profit for eight of the past 10 years. But could he singlehandedly save millions of lives, prevented tens of millions of hospitalizations, and save nearly $900 billion in health care costs? The answer is a flat-out “no.” Public health is public for a reason. We have to do it together, for the benefit of all of us—not so billionaires can buy more yachts and vacation homes. With experts warning of a looming ‘tripledemic’—Covid-19, the flu, and the lesser-known respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV—we should take a moment to appreciate just how far the government has been going to keep us safe.”
33) National: Though it has been overshadowed by the mid-term elections, a major case affecting how much power the public has, through its democratic administrative institutions, to regulate financial markets and other risks, is being heard in the U.S. Supreme Court today. Sarah Posner has the details over at Talking Points Memo. “While the system may be imperfect, said Eric Segall, a constitutional law scholar at Georgia State University College of Law, that doesn’t mean the whole thing should be tossed out. ‘In any organization that big there are going to be abuses. The answer is to stop the abuses and not to destroy the agency,’ said Segall. He noted that unregulated financial transactions led to the 2008 financial crisis, and the way for the federal government to avoid another one ‘is by delegating power to administrative agencies because Congress can’t do it. There’s no way Congress has the time, energy, or expertise, to stop another economic cataclysm like 2008,’ he said. ‘Any sane person knows that Congress can’t do it on its own.’ The question, said Segall, is not whether the system is constructed ideally from any particular person’s perspective. ‘The question is does it somehow violate the Constitution. And the answer’s clearly no.’”
34) International: This is not a dystopian sci fi movie. The privatizers are trying to gobble up whole cities in Honduras. And, of course, Wall Street is salivating at the prospect and publicizing the idea to spread it further afield [Sub required].
Photo by Kevin Spencer.