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- Charter school teachers move to unionize
- Will AI push school privatization?
- Emergency! EMS privatization grows
First, the Good News…
1) National/Tennessee: In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen, recently back from a visit to Tennessee, is encouraged by a groundswell of resistance to extremist politics. “These are seemingly different issues and policy areas, but they are all interconnected assaults on democracy and essential public goods–such as public education, equal voice and rights, and safety from violence. And while all eyes might be on Tennessee at the moment, many states (yes, mostly Red) are confronting similar challenges, including the dangerous erosion of the respect for democracy and those leaders who have been elected to represent their constituencies. But as we watch the young people lead who are organizing large protests and actions, Tennessee is also showing us that there’s hope. These activists know what they’re up against, but they are showing us a path forward and we should go with them.”
2) National: School districts, faced with a crisis in transportation and other necessities, are banding together to do cooperative buying of goods and services. “‘Anecdotally, I’m seeing it as a trend. It makes sense to come together to negotiate,’ said Elleka Yost, director of advocacy for the Association of School Business Officials International, based in Ashburn, Virginia. ‘Cooperative purchasing creates economies of scale for a whole range of services—food services, payroll, IT—each district has its own situation.’ Districts are also joining forces with each other and with some of their states to negotiate for better rates as the cost of health and other insurances climb steadily”
3) National: The federal government is pressuring cities to install signals to help blind pedestrians cross streets. Chicago and New York have had rulings go against them. “Jelena Kolic, a senior staff attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, said the ruling could send a signal to city officials across the nation. With two of the biggest cities in the country under court order to install APS devices and the Justice Department siding with disability advocates, Kolic said she wouldn’t be surprised if cities take stock of how many of their own intersections are accessible.”
4) Arizona: A charter school in Tucson has become the first to unionize in the state. “It’s the first time a charter school in Arizona has voted to form a union to negotiate with the owners of the school. ‘We are managed by a private company with opaque finances,’ teacher and union organizer Trudi Connolly said. ‘We completely believe that they have the ability to make more money available to the individual schools that they, in theory, manage.’ BASIS is a multistate charter school company that began in Arizona. It’s privately owned and for-profit. Connolly said she believes the company could do better by its teachers. As for whether other Arizona charter schools could follow their lead, Connolly said she believes others, including other BASIS schools, might organize. ‘We feel that if we can do this, others will see that they can too,’ Connolly added.” The teachers will be represented by AFT. [Watch the video news report, about two minutes]
5) California: A bill that would help immigrants released from prison from being turned over to ICE has received its first hearing in the state assembly. “Rather than block all transfers from prison to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the HOME Act would protect noncitizens from being turned over to federal authorities if the governor has granted them clemency, or they’ve been released from prison due to any of several criminal justice reform laws recently enacted in California. The bill’s author, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Echo Park), says that when the legislature passed those reforms—aimed at reducing over-incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and offering second chances—she doesn’t believe lawmakers meant to exclude immigrants.” [Audio, about 10 minutes]
6) Montana: A state Senate committee has voted to defund plans to send 120 incarcerated Montanans to a private prison operated by CoreCivic in Arizona. “Boldman and supporters of her amendment on the Senate Finance and Claims Committee said the state can alleviate crowding in the prison system without having to contract with CoreCivic, pointing to a series of measures lawmakers are considering this session to increase bed space both in community corrections—programs like pre-release centers that house people on probation or parole—and at the state prison in Deer Lodge. ‘We know we’re freeing up a significant amount of beds—easily 100-plus—and I don’t think we need these beds in Arizona,’Sen. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, told the committee Tuesday.”
7) Texas: Clean energy is thriving in Texas. That’s good news. The bad news is state Republicans are trying to stifle it, reports Inside Climate News. “For several years in a row, the Lone Star State has generated the most electricity, by far, from wind and solar, producing nearly three times as much power from renewable sources last year as California. Texas is also playing an outsized role in manufacturing the nation’s electric vehicles. Tesla moved its headquarters to Texas in 2021 and announced plans to spend $770 million to expand its factories in the state earlier this year. The global manufacturing giant Siemens also announced late last year that it plans to significantly expand its production of EV charging stations in the state.”
8) National: Writing in USA Today, AFT President Randi Weingarten says Republicans are destroying our public schools, and teachers and parents must fight back. “Instead of coming together around solutions we know will help our students, some are unfortunately hellbent on destroying public education to advance both a political and school privatization agenda. Overwhelmingly, parents, educators, and supporters of public schools are against this ongoing divisive rhetoric and against the systematic defunding of schools. But we must do more. We must advance commonsense solutions focused on what kids and communities need, including strategies that will meet the challenges our students face such as learning loss, anxiety and depression.”
9) National: How does the development of for-profit private artificial intelligence (AI) technologies drive the privatization of public education? The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Kenneth J. Saltman offers some explanations in his paper, “Artificial Intelligence and the Technological Turn of Public Education Privatization: In Defence of Democratic Education” [London Review of Education, 18 (2): 2020].
From the abstract: “The article considers how changes in the ownership and control over different aspects of public education relate to the cultural politics of knowledge and learning. It also examines how, under the guise of disinterested objectivity and neutrality, particular class and cultural ideologies and interests are promoted through new technologies, with significant pedagogical, cultural, economic and political implications. The article concludes by arguing that AI education is a site of cultural and political contestation and must be comprehended as a form of representational politics. By showing a critical pedagogical AI project, the article suggests that the anti-democratic tendencies of most AI education is hardly inevitable or determined, but rather represents a replication of long-standing ideologies.”
10) National: “States were adding lessons about Native American history. Then came the anti-CRT movement.” Stephanie Hawk, tribal state policy liaison, NIEA, has the details in The Hechinger Report. “In South Dakota, critics say the governor’s executive order threatens to undo years-long attempts to enrich lessons about the history of Native Americans, whose culture is at risk of vanishing from the curriculum.” Megan Lambert, ACLU legal director in Oklahoma, says “we knew that this was an attempt to whitewash Oklahoma curricula and to ensure that the perspectives of marginalized communities that had only just started getting more of an emphasis in Oklahoma classrooms was erased from those very critical spaces.”
11) National: Some rural Republicans are revolting against school voucher plans, Ed Kilgore reports in New Yorkmagazine. “But now, rural Republican opposition to vouchers has stopped voucher proposals being backed vocally by two of the country’s most powerful GOP governors. In Georgia, a major expansion of vouchers that Governor Brian Kemp put his considerable political heft behind unexpectedly lost when 16 mostly rural House Republicans voted against it; the bill lost by four votes and died for this session of the legislature. For one thing, many rural communities without private schools would be on the losing end of the funding shift. For another, past efforts by voucher fans to threaten Republican lawmakers with primary opposition appear to have backfired. And now in Texas, another private-school subsidy initiative that Governor Greg Abbott has made his signature proposal for 2023 has encountered similar Republican opposition.”
On the Texas story, see Texas AFT’s comprehensive rundown of what was going on in the Lone Star State’s legislature last week on education issues.
12) Florida: Think voucher programs don’t damage public school capital and operating budgets and planning? Think again. They already are. “It may be a lean year for the Palm Beach County School District. School leaders learned Wednesday that the legislature’s universal voucher program, proposed cost-sharing with charter schools and enrollment rates are going to force them to pause some renovation projects at historic Roosevelt and Carter high schools and table discussions on building a new high school in Riviera Beach. With more than 22,000 employees and 180 campuses, the district has a budget that nears $5 billion and goes into effect Oct. 1 each year. By April, school board members typically have an idea of how much money will come from property and sales taxes and can compare different budget proposals. Not this year.”
13) Illinois: In the wake of their victory by playing a supporting role in the election of Chicago’s new mayor, Brandon Johnson, a former public school teacher and union organizer, the Chicago Teachers Union is on the move. It has supported rallies and protests at two charter schools and gained a new charter school union vote (47-0). But the fight is on: “Shortly after educators announced their organizing campaign, the employer informed parents and staff that it would close the school. Hope educators are known for their success with special needs students and management claims the closing is because the school’s students, who are 95 percent Black and 97 percent low income, are ‘failing to turn a profit.’”
14) Indiana: Economist Morton Marcus says it’s time for Indiana to get serious about teacher salaries. “(O)ur special education teachers from kindergarten through Grade 12 rank 44th or 45th in annual median earnings. Thus, compared to other states, our teachers are not well paid unless they are teaching for the gullet of the business whale. We’ve heard it for decades and our political leaders always say they are addressing the problem. But they are focused on job training and not education for citizenship.”
15) Ohio: Momentum is building against a drive by Republican lawmakers and the governor to expand school vouchers in the state. “The resolution drafted by the Lucas County Commissioners Tuesday said its members ‘fervently’ oppose that legislation, saying metrics show that voucher programs don’t improve educational outcomes—arguing it can do the opposite through racial, religious and socioeconomic segregation. The language of the commissioners’ resolution says the expansion of the program could “defund public education, diminish local autonomy from boards of education, harmfully target members of our community, and/or interfere with Lucas County students’ right to receive a quality education.”
Also, the Toledo school board has adopted 15 resolutions opposing the effort to expand funding private schools using public money. “In July, board members joined a lawsuit filed against the state earlier that year by the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding and Vouchers Hurt Ohio, arguing the program unconstitutionally takes taxpayer dollars from public institutions and doles them out to private and religious ones.”
16) Virginia: Isaiah Moore, a former K-12 teacher and current educational leadership, policy and justice doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University, says Gov. Youngkin’s (R) “lab schools” (K-12 schools sponsored by institutions of higher learning) may be a slippery slope toward privatization. “Without limiting lab school autonomy and monitoring spending, enrollment and achievement, the governor’s lab school initiative is nothing more than a soft opening for the privatization of public schools. A change of this magnitude does not provide a favorable outlook for all students, particularly racial minorities. Achievement gaps have persisted far too long. Experimental education initiatives such as lab schools will potentially widen the disparity, which correlates with lower earnings, poor health and higher rates of incarceration.”
17) National: A lack of access to infrastructure hurts voter participation in rural America, Sarah Melotte reports in The Daily Yonder. Researchers from the Population Health Institute say. “Rural places have lower access to broadband internet, access to libraries, parks and recreation facilities, and slightly lower access to adequately funded schools,” said PHI researcher Keith Gennuso. These resources are what public health professionals call civic infrastructure, or the amenities that help a community provide services to its residents.”
18) National: The Federal News Network reports that tenants in military housing need more information about the dispute process. “Military housing residents still need a formal dispute resolution process, housing inspectors need better training, and the department needs to improve its oversight for privatized housing providers, GAO found in a report this month. Although the report points out legislation enacted since 2019 directs DoD to improve oversight, the department still has work to do. It cited unresolved concerns about assistance available to residents, poor housing conditions, and private company performance.”
19) Alaska/National: One of the most important challenges confronting local communities is what should be done about waste management beyond the band-aid measures now being pursued? For a sense of how complicated the choices are, see this report in the Juneau Empire. “Bryson said he thinks it’s important for a material study to be done so that the city and residents have a clear understanding of what types of materials are driving up the waste in the landfill, and if there are solutions to divert those materials. ‘We need the community to engage on this and ask ourselves, ‘What does the Juneau community want to see done?”’ he said. ‘Because then we know what direction we should go in.’”
20) Georgia/National: Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) visited Fort Gordon “to oversee home-by-home inspections of privatized housing units on post. Sen. Ossoff oversaw inspections of multiple privatized homes on post and met with the families who live in them. Sen. Ossoff later held a roundtable with junior enlisted personnel and their families to hear about the current state of housing on post and other quality-of-life concerns they had.” GAO has released a new report on the subject with some recommendations. “Military Housing: DOD Can Further Strengthen Oversight of Its Privatized Housing Program.”
21) Louisiana: Pop quiz on ‘public-private partnerships’: A contractor bought steel for the new Zachary City Hall, but the project was rejected. Who pays? “An out-of-state company claims it had the green light from former Zachary Mayor David Amrhein and the City Council to buy steel to build a new City Hall through a public-private partnership — even though council members had yet to take a vote on the deal, which they ended up rejecting months later, according to documents obtained by The Advocate. A general contractor working for the Downtown Strategies company had to sell the steel at a loss after the council voted down the project in 2021 and sought more than $160,000 in reimbursement from the city—a request that has gone unfulfilled, the documents show. The City Hall project and an associated downtown revitalization program have recently come back into the spotlight as city leaders ponder whether to renew a contract with Alabama retail recruitment firm Retail Strategies—the parent company of Downtown Strategies. Both entities’ dealings with the city were the subject of a tense and confusing workshop held Tuesday evening.”
22) Maryland: Food & Water Watch and other groups are expressing concern that the newly-created Baltimore Regional Water Governance Task Force could be a stalking horse for privatization, which has repeatedly been beaten back by Baltimore residents. “‘The public deserves a say in the future of our water and sewer system,’ said Mary Grant, the Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. ‘We appreciate Senator Mary Washington’s attempt to protect our vital system from a corporate takeover. The opposition to the anti-privatization amendment is alarming, despite officials’ nominal statements against private ownership of the system. We fear County officials want to leave the door open to private operation and management of our system, which would worsen our water crises. Because the legislation lacks guardrails to protect the public, it is more important than ever that the task force hears and incorporates the voices of low-income residents and workers.’”
23) New York: With each passing month, the Penn Station-area renewal project is devolving into an even more complicated web of private and public agendas, dubious or workable—depending on your viewpoint, commercial ties, local political commitment, apartment location—public finance ideas, and opaque planning processes. The New York Times tried to give us the big picture a few days ago.
“The office market is in danger of sliding further,” The Times begins. “Roughly two-thirds of the leases signed before the pandemic have yet to expire, with many tenants likely to downsize or renegotiate their terms. Nearly a fifth of Vornado’s offices leases in New York City are scheduled to expire before the end of next year, according to its latest quarterly filing. The project’s postponement has also bought time for some of the loudest critics of the rezoning: tenants of the buildings that would be likely to be demolished for redevelopment. Opponents of the project have complained that it gives the state broad authority to redevelop the neighborhood with little input from New York City officials, lets developers build bigger buildings than local zoning rules would allow and provides tax breaks, which could reach $1.2 billion, according to one analysis.”
24) National: The American Library Association reports that efforts to censor and ban books have nearly doubled. “According to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, ‘Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media.’” In an editorial, The Guardian says it’s time to fight back.
Check out the ALA’s database on book bans. “ALA will unveil its highly anticipated list of the top 10 most challenged books in the U.S. on Monday, April 24 during National Library Week, along with its full State of America’s Libraries Report. The theme of National Library Week 2023, There’s More to the Story, focuses on the essential services and programming that libraries offer through and beyond books.”
25) National/International: Public officials are beginning to move down the road toward formulating a regulatory framework for artificial intelligence, both in the United States and Europe. “Schumer’s framework will advance four guardrails to deliver transparent, responsible AI while not stifling critical and cutting-edge innovation,” Senate Democrats said. “It will require companies to allow independent experts to review and test AI technologies ahead of a public release or update, and give users access to those results. That disclosure is the foundation of the four guardrails: Who, Where, How, and Protect. The first three guardrails—Who, Where, and How—will inform users, give the government the data needed to properly regulate AI technology, and reduce potential harm. The final guardrail—Protect—will focus on aligning these systems with American values and ensuring that AI developers deliver on their promise to create a better world.” Meanwhile, Elon Musk is launching a major new AI initiative barely two weeks after signing a letter calling for a moratorium on its development.
A good resource to track concrete, practical everyday problems with AI that raise regulatory questions for the public is the AI Incident Database. Check it out.
Writing in the Financial Times on Thursday, Ian Hogarth, an AI investor and co-author of the annual “State of AI” report, said “any of these solutions are going to require an extraordinary amount of coordination between labs and nations. Pulling this off will require an unusual degree of political will, which we need to start building now. Many of the major labs are waiting for critical new hardware to be delivered this year so they can start to train GPT-5 scale models. With the new chips and more investor money to spend, models trained in 2024 will use as much as 100 times the compute of today’s largest models. We will see many new emergent capabilities. This means there is a window through 2023 for governments to take control by regulating access to frontier hardware.”
Ezra Klein is not this optimistic. Read his discussion of issues relating to AI regulation here.
26) National: Writing in Bloomberg Opinion, Max Stier of the Partnership for Public Service, says “the IRS is becoming a model of efficiency. Really. (…) Efforts in Congress are still afoot to claw back some of the increased IRS funding, which would be a huge mistake. While big versus small government is a legitimate matter for debate, effective or ineffective government is not.”
27) New Jersey: Despite widespread opposition, Bordentown City and Township officials are privatizing the EMS service to a massive private company. “The request for proposal was made last summer, almost immediately after EMS employees unionized.” The Courier Post reports that “last month, the township awarded a contract to the only bidder, RWJBarnabas Health EMS of Somerset in North Jersey, despite protests at meetings in both towns by EMT employees, other members of the public and union officials representing the 18 workers. RWJBarnabas is the largest emergency service provider in the state with contracts in nine of the 21 counties.” RWJBarnabas is the $6 billion product of a merger between Saint Barnabas Health Network, and the Robert Wood Johnson Health Network.
The Courier Post reports that “spokesmen for the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), which represents the township EMT employees, said the timing of the outsourcing seems suspicious because those workers joined the union only last year. ‘It’s either a way for the township to union bust or to save money by not having to pay for public pensions and have more part-timers than full-timers,” said Jim Lyons, a regional representative for IAFF headquarters in Trenton. The township declined comment on Lyons’ remarks. ‘It’s a shame it has come to this. Taxpayers will not be getting any better service,’ Lyons added.”
28) New Jersey: Is privatization on the way for Jersey City’s 911 service? The council has decided that a private company should “study” it—for $213,085.11. “The governing body voted down the agreement [by a vote of] 2-6 back in November…. The measure was reintroduced last month in light of renewed concerns about 911 calls not being answered, though it ended up being withdrawn by the administration after dozens of dispatchers spoke against it, citing concerns that this would be the first step towards privatization. ‘… I just want to let them know, over the last few years, no one has been hired in the radio room. They purposely let the radio room fall apart and it’s a shame,’ began Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, a retired police detective.” He said “spending money on IXP is absolutely a waste of money.””
29) Tennessee: Sanitation workers employed by the private, for profit trash contractor Republic Services have walked off their jobs “over unfair labor practices, safety concerns and the recent death of a co-worker.” ABC24 reports that “employees of trash contractor Republic Services said the last straw was the death of a co-worker at the Shelby County Landfill. ‘It was senseless,’ Clark said. ‘She didn’t have to lose her life because nobody follows the rules. The company doesn’t enforce the rules at the landfill.’ (…) Kevin Clark, a Republic Services driver and Local 667 member, said “we will show this company that we are worth more than the trash we pick up.”
The struggle for decent pay, respect, and safe working conditions for sanitation workers in Memphis has been going on for decades. “The night before his assassination in April 1968, Martin Luther King told a group of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee: “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through” (King, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” 217). King believed the struggle in Memphis exposed the need for economic equality and social justice that he hoped his Poor People’s Campaign would highlight nationally”
30) International: The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) is preparing to strike. “Wages are at the center of the labor dispute. The Treasury Board bargaining group, a subset of the workers in a strike position, want wages to keep up with inflation. The government had offered an average bump of 2.06 percent over four years while workers asked for 4.5 percent. Average consumer price index inflation was 6.8 percent in 2022, a huge jump over 2021 and the biggest in four decades. Inflation is beginning to cool now. On April 12, the Bank of Canada held its interest rate at 4.5 percent. But the affordability crisis continues, particularly for costs such as food and housing, and workers have been taking effective pay cuts while higher prices eat away at their purchasing power. Canadians ought to stand behind the public service and support their battle for higher wages that keep pace with rising costs.”
31) National: State preemption is a euphemism for creeping autocracy, says Jim Hightower. “This has let extremist Republican officials force some of their racist, homophobic and xenophobic nastiness on communities that vehemently oppose them. But most Republican preemptions are issued in service to corporate elites. For example, when local communities try to raise the minimum wage for working families, stop Big Oil fracking abuses, or prevent corporate money from corrupting local politics, corporate-serving governors rush to outlaw the people’s will and preserve the abusive power of rank profiteers. Texas lawmakers are even trying to supersize and privatize preemption with a blanket decree that all local ordinances restricting corporations are overruled by state law—even proposing that corporate executives themselves can overturn local actions.”
32) Think Tanks: Business Insider is one of the latest publications to report on a supposed move away from “free markets” by the Heritage Foundation, one of the original drivers of Reaganism. While this element has long been present in Heritage’s program and more widely on the Christian Right (many of whose leaders sit on Heritage’s board), it has been rejuvenated by the rise of the National Conservative Movement. For an introduction to the politics and key personalities of the latter, see Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell’s excellent 2021 piece “Know Your Enemy: Return of the National Conservatives,” and follow their KYE podcast while you’re at it. ” [In audio too, about an hour and a half]. Spoiler alert: Heritage and its younger loose allies are not turning into social justice warriors, and have not abandoned hardline capitalism and privatization.
33) Solar System: Is privatizing spaceflight working? Dan Burns has a comment. “Most progressive efforts are going to continue to be concentrated in fighting privatization, and before much longer reversing it, where it matters most. Education and health care are the most prominent examples of that. But it would be good to see it end in spaceflight as well. Just continuing to hand things over to narcissistic super-rich ****ers is as stupid as it gets.”