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.
- Huntsville, Texas, public library privatization spurs recall of officials who support the effort.
- Puerto Rico’s electricity system threated with privatization scheme.
- Missouri picks troubled Aramark for prison food contract.
First, the Good News…
1) National: Martin Luther King delivered his “Dignity of Labor” speech 54 years ago at an AFSCME rally at a church in Memphis, Tennessee. “The church was overflowing with sanitation workers on strike and their supporters. In his speech, Dr. King connected their strike to the plight of all workers, especially those in the service economy.”
Today the struggle for the dignity of labor in the public sector continues, as does the struggle for the right of public service workers to organize in unions—which is now under vicious attack by the extreme right. Today, Prince William County (Virginia) workers begin voting on the right to collectively bargain. “Prince William County teachers and staff will begin voting on whether to join the growing number of public-sector workers who have maneuvered through Virginia’s maze of collective bargaining ordinances.” Check out UIC United Faculty Local 6456’s Instagram page. Voting closes February 10.
But as AFSCME President Lee Saunders says, although the battle is tough, victories keep coming. “The fact is that the values Dr. King lived and died for remain under attack, and it is up to us–the labor movement–to fight back. It’s up to us to be agitators for change. It’s up to us to answer Dr. King’s call to action. It’s up to us to expand the rights and freedoms of all working people. It’s up to us to ensure that workers can come together and build power, to improve their workplaces and their communities, to get the dignity and respect they deserve.” Across the board, the fight back for dignity continues, and it still has a direct lineage to King and his colleagues.
2) National: Despite defunding and privatization attacks, public libraries thrive, April Short reports in LA Progressive. “’Libraries are the last place in every town and city that people can simply exist,’ Linda Stack-Nelson writes. ‘Every building one enters today comes with some expectation of spending money.’ (…) ‘‘Public libraries serve everyone in the community, and library collections, by necessity, must reflect the diversity of thought and values that exist in every community,’ said [American Library Association (ALA) President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada]. ‘Public libraries are the bastions of democracy, access, and critical thinking and are at the forefront of protecting our freedom to read and our freedom to information.’ She said efforts by governments and cities across the nation to defund the public library indicate ‘a threat and a misunderstanding of the essential role that libraries play in our society and our democracy.
3) National: The Network for Public Education has released a follow-up to their “2021 report, [again focusing] on the world of charter schools run for profit, a world both hidden and misunderstood. We focus on how for-profit operators expanded their reach and enrollment during the Pandemic years so that one in every five charter school students attends a school controlled by a for-profit corporation. We pull back the veil on tactics and practices designed to reap as many public dollars as possible from charter schools while hiding behind laws designed to keep profit-making hidden from the public’s eyes. We also explain in detail how both large and small for-profit companies evade state laws by using related entities and a nonprofit facade to reap maximum financial advantage.”
From Chartered for Profit II: Pandemic Profiteering: “In order to help readers understand how private individuals can legally run charter schools for private gain, we do in-depth analyses of the operations of four of the largest brick and mortar charter chains. We then highlight how the very same business practices are used in even the smallest of charter management companies—those that run only one or two schools.”
4) National: Prison phone call rates are expected to be lowered following President Biden’s signing of new legislation. “Phone companies serving jails and prisons challenged the Obama era rates, and the newly-elected Trump administration decided not to defend the rules in court. A federal appeals court ruled that while the FCC could cap rates for calls across states, they did not have the authority to limit charges for calls within states. The new law signed by Biden clarifies that the FCC does have that power.”
5) California: Is anyone doing anything to capture all that water flowing into the ocean from the latest mega storms? Well, yes. Los Angeles County, thanks to voters who approved a ballot initiative.
6) California: One of the best kept secrets is how important municipal grants are for making life better, safer, and more affordable. If you’d like to take a tour, have a look at this useful list.
7) Colorado: The Denver Public Schools Board of Education has voted to close STRIVE PREP- Kepner, a charter school in southwest Denver, at the end of the academic year. “Superintendent Alex Marrero recommended closing the middle school because of low test scores, with a memo noting that STRIVE PREP- Kepner also has a ‘high financial risk.’”
8) Kentucky: Louisville has adopted an ordinance requiring lobbyist registrations and reporting requirements this year. “The newly passed ordinance specifically exempts from the definition of lobbying persons appearing before the council or executive agency during public meetings or submitting public comments, a private citizen who does not receive compensation for lobbying and expresses a personal opinion, and federal, state, or local employees seeking to influence an officer of the city in their capacity as a representative of their agency.”
9) Michigan: For the first time in Michigan history, former teachers hold all four gavels in committees on education policy and funding. “To me, it sends a message about the priorities of the majority party,” said Bob Kefgen, lobbyist for the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. “It means the voices of educators will be driving the conversation in both education policy and budgeting.”
10) Ohio: Libraries in Ohio are to receive $5 million through the Ohio Department of Education for expanded learning and literacy efforts, the Ohio Capital Journal reports. “‘Libraries can play a critical role in accelerating learning, including helping students read, providing hands-on learning opportunities and encouraging students to explore careers,’ said Stephanie Siddens, interim superintendent of public instruction for the ODE, in a statement The Ohio Library Council said the funds ‘will help Ohio’s public libraries continue and expand the work they are already doing to help students overcome the learning loss.’”
11) Texas: Proving once again that local media outlets are indispensable for protecting the public interest in the transactional world of privatization, The Huntsville Item has published a scorching editorial denouncing the privatization of the public library to Library Systems & Services (LSSI). “The citizens of Huntsville have been voicing their concerns about the Huntsville Public Library for months and a decision to bring in an outside management company for weeks. One thing is clear—the public has not been heard regarding its concerns. Whether it’s Pride displays involving LGBTQ issues or the management and direction of the library, city officials aren’t listening. More than that, they’re not even asking for input.” As for the stitched-up deal itself and the company concerned, “it claims that outsourcing or managed services is not the same as privatization. But the fact remains that LS&S is a private company chosen to manage our local assets and employees. In 2010, the then-chief executive of LS&S admitted to the New York Times that the company saves money by cutting overhead and replacing employees.”
But the paper, and Huntsville residents, are not content with just showing up at supposedly public meetings where the rooms are so small they are shut out, or with publishing angry editorials that entrenched politicos ignore. They intend to throw the rascals out. “A group of voters has now begun circulating a recall petition of the Council members who voted in favor of the LS&S contract with a 6-3 vote—because they have failed to heed the voices of the citizens. We support that movement. This is not the way we expect the council to conduct the people’s business.”
12) Think Tanks: Brookings has released a “Stages of Development Tool” to assist in the creation and development of community schools. “A working group of the Community Schools Forward task force—a project led by the Center for Universal Education at Brookings Institution, the Children’s Aid National Center for Community Schools, the Coalition for Community Schools at the Institute for Educational Leaderships, and the Learning Policy Institute—revisited the National Center’s 2017 stages of community schools’ development tool to reflect on the realities across implementation periods. The result is an updated tool that is aligned with the task force’s Essentials for Community School Transformation.”
13) International: Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Madrid to “stop the right-wing regional government’s ongoing attack on the public healthcare system. ‘Cutting public health is criminal!’ demonstrators chanted as they held placards against the push for privatization and cuts.”
14) National: Donald Cohen of In the Public Interest points out that corporate non-compete clauses, which the FTC is now trying to rein in, also damage educational innovation. “Instead of sharing successes and failures, a surprising number of charter schools tend to lock down the laboratory—partly by locking down their employees. I wrote about this in my book, The Privatization of Everything. (…) Last year, AFT’s Randi Weingarten called for the end of noncompete and non-disclosure agreements for charter school teachers, stating the clauses are ‘obvious barriers to the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed priority of fostering district-charter collaboration.’ Here’s a link to submit your own comments to support a strong new FTC regulation that outlaws non-compete agreements for charter school teachers and millions of other workers.”
15) National: Hardline Republican Representative Virginia Foxx has returned to the House Education Committee, which she will chair. “Foxx has promised to oppose many of the Biden administration’s education policies, including student loan debt relief policy changes. She and other Republican lawmakers have criticized the state of free speech on college campuses.” Back in 2013-2014, Foxx fought doggedly to block the Obama administration from providing relief to students victimized by the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, a private, for-profit network of colleges. Corinthian outspent Harvard and the University of California in lobbying as it hurtled toward collapse. “Their firm—Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP—reported that it was specifically lobbying for a bill introduced by Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, that bars the Education Department from crafting rules governing ‘gainful employment’ and ‘credit hours.’”
16) Alaska: Members of the Teamsters Local 959 representing Mat-Su school bus drivers, attendants and monitors have voted to authorize a strike if negotiations on a contract agreement fall through. Mat-su is a district the size of West Virginia. “The vote reflects a group of employees ‘very motivated’ to improve working conditions, said Derek Musto, an organizer and business agent with the Anchorage-based union who’s been involved in the negotiations. He said problems with Durham generally range from a lack of communication from managers and ‘substandard’ bus equipment to inadequate ice scrapers supplied at the bus yard. ‘Nobody wants to strike,’ Musto said Wednesday. ‘Our negotiating committee met with Durham yesterday. The next date is tomorrow. There is no additional negotiation scheduled at this time. So as of right now, the ball’s in Durham’s court.’ The vote marks the first time in Musto’s memory that Mat-Su drivers and other staff have voted to strike, he said.”
17) Indiana: Expanding school voucher programs would be bad for kids and bad for Indiana, writes Steve Hinnefeld in the Indiana Capital Chronicle. “The philosophy behind the push for universal vouchers is that education is a private possession, something we shop for as if it were a car. But education is better understood as a public good. We all benefit when children learn the skills to become productive, well-rounded adults. Strong public schools build strong communities and a strong state.”
18) Iowa: Democrats, outnumbered 34-16 in the Iowa Senate, are gamely fighting back against Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plans to loot public school systems in order to channel money to private schools. “Wahls added Iowa falls nearly $1,300 behind the national average in per pupil funding to public schools. The Coralville Democrat expects senate Democrats to introduce an amendment to extend the low-income priority that would only last three years under Reynold’s voucher proposal and to bring similar accountability measures to private schools.”
19) Ohio: The Columbus Dispatch reports that “the assistant director of communications for Olentangy Local School District abruptly stopped the reading of the Dr. Seuss book The Sneetches to a third-grade classroom during an NPR podcast after students asked about race. (…) The Sneetches, published in 1961, is a book about two kinds of Sneetches: those with stars on their bellies and those without stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches are judged negatively by their appearance, so capitalist Sylvester McMonkey McBean makes money selling them stars for their bellies. Meanwhile, the Star-Bellied Sneetches don’t like associating with the Plain-Belly Sneetches, so they start paying to have a machine take their stars off. The Seuss family has said the book was intended to teach children not to judge or discriminate against others because of their appearance and to treat people equitably. ‘It’s almost like what happened back then, how people were treated … Like, disrespected … Like, white people disrespected Black people…,’ a third grade student is heard saying on the podcast.”
20) Washington: University of Washington students are fighting back against plans to privatize off-campus housing. “Anne Duncan and Levin Kim, third and fourth year PhD students, are leading the charge against this housing change. “I actually heard about this through my union that I was going to be directly impacted by this decision,” Duncan said. Duncan says rent will more than likely increase, something UW has confirmed will happen. Currently, she pays $1,600 for rent which is about the 60% of the median price she’d pay for a similar apartment in Seattle. She’d have a hard time paying market rate. ‘If rent goes up to market rate, I know I’m going to be severely rent burdened or have to move an hour from the university,’ Duncan said. ‘It would make my job and role as a student here a lot harder.’” [Watch the video, about two minutes]
21) International: Tens of thousands of Portuguese teachers and school staff took to the streets to demands higher pay. “Teachers on the lowest pay scale make around 1,100 euros ($1,191.08) per month and even teachers in the top band typically earn less than 2,000 euros monthly. Protesters say current wages are too low, particularly given the cost of living crisis.”
22) International: A wave of public service strikes has hit England and Wales as health workers, teachers, and rail workers fight back against the right wing government’s effort to cut wage rises to below the level of inflation. “Action by members of the National Education Union will begin with a mass strike on 1 February, to coincide with the Trades Union Congress’s national ‘protect the right to strike’ day of action, followed by six days of regional stoppages. Nurses in England and Wales will strike for the fifth and sixth time on 6 and 7 February in an escalation of their pay dispute with ministers. The NEU, which is the biggest education union, is striking in pursuit of its claim for a fully funded, above-inflation pay rise, after the government announced last summer that most teachers would receive a pay rise of about 5%, while starting salaries would go up by 8.9%. Overall, nine out of 10 teacher members in the NEU voted in favor of strike action, with a turnout of 53% in England, exceeding the legal threshold for industrial action. In Wales the result was stronger, with a 92% majority in favor of action and a 58% turnout.”
“The action from teachers adds to pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak whose administration is already grappling with unrest from nurses, ambulance drivers, rail workers, and others over pay while trying to keep a grip on inflation,” Bloomberg reports. “A strike by teachers could have particularly severe repercussions in the wider workforce, with parents forced to stay at home.” [Sub required]
23) National/Puerto Rico: The island’s “public-private partnership” office, which originally marketed itself as seeking a careful balance between the public and private interest (before going on to privatize the national airport and a major highway to private “asset managers”), has gone all-in and announced it intends to privatize the island’s electricity system. A fight is surely ahead, because the failures of private contracting after Hurricane Maria has generated intense hostility to privatization among the public. Press reports “establish that the chosen company is the Genera PR consortium, made up of the companies NFR Energía, LLC, affiliated with New Fortress Energy, Peak Energy and Black & Veach.”
24) California: Bloomberg reports that recent storms show California’s outdated plumbing is putting the economy at risk. “The atmospheric rivers that have swept over the state—claiming at least 17 lives and dumping 24 trillion gallons of rain since December—would seemingly help that supply. Yet they’ve also shown one of California’s key infrastructure shortcomings as climate change intensifies weather extremes. The state’s outdated water system, designed and built between the 1930s and 1970s, makes it difficult in the current era to capture, store, and convey water California needs to remain the dominant US agricultural and economic power.”
25) California: The Public Utilities Commission has approved a plan to privatize EV charging. The $1 billion Transportation Electrification Program will begin in 2025. “The program will eventually include a Marketing, Education, and Outreach (ME&O) plan, including a customer engagement strategy, after program goals, objectives, and defined priority communities have been established, according to the program document CPUC approved. Targeted outreach will include underserved communities, rural communities, small businesses, and tribal communities, as well as workforce development, job training and placement, and certification organizations. The focus will be on Funding Cycle 1 customers, including education on charging from the grid and load management options.”
26) New York: The New York Times asks “will New York City’s soccer stadium cost taxpayers $0 or $516 million?” The city’s first professional soccer stadium “supposedly carries no financial burden to New York City taxpayers—an assertion Mayor Eric Adams made repeatedly during a de facto victory tour this fall, after he announced the deal. As it turns out, the truth is more complicated and far more costly to New Yorkers. In a new analysis, the city’s Independent Budget Office has concluded that the actual cost to taxpayers for the new soccer stadium in Queens will be at least $516 million, spread over the course of the 49-year term of the New York City Football Club’s lease.” Why? There was a caveat. Because the city chose to lease the land in the Willets Point neighborhood to the developers rather than sell it, no property taxes will be generated.
27) New York/New Jersey: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has released a Request for Information from potential bidders for communications infrastructure and associated initiatives at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Read the RFI. “What types of partnerships or contracting arrangements, if any, might a Communications Backbone Provider contemplate for the funding or financing of this project? What types of financing instruments would Communications Backbone Provider anticipate utilizing for this project?” Responses are due January 26, 2023.
28) Pennsylvania: As private, for profit water companies circle public water infrastructure, Gov. Wolf (D) announces $236 million of investment in water infrastructure projects in 17 counties. “The funding for these projects originates from a combination of state funds approved by voters, Growing Greener, Marcellus Legacy funds, the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, federal grants to PENNVEST from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and recycled loan repayments from previous PENNVEST funding awards. Funds for these projects are disbursed after expenses for work are paid and receipts are submitted to PENNVEST for review.”
29) National/District of Columbia: The zero-fare public transit movement is picking up momentum, CNBC reports. “The ‘zero-fare’ movement has garnered support among business groups, environmental advocates, Democratic leaders, and others who say that public transit boosts local economies, mitigates climate change, and is a basic necessity for many individuals. The idea gained traction during the pandemic, which underscored the critical role public transit plays for essential workers who don’t have the luxury of working from home. But despite the zero-fare movement’s growing popularity, it has drawn political pushback in some areas where the policy doesn’t easily fit in with budgets or local laws.”
30) National/Think Tanks: As New York nurses and hospitals reach a tentative agreement to end a strike triggered in part by staggering nurse shortages, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that “nursing schools turned away 92,000 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2021 because of budget constraints as well as a lack of faculty, classroom space and clinical sites.”
31) National: Truthout’s John Geyman reports that a privatization scam threatens to replace traditional Medicare altogether by 2030. “The Big Five private health insurers (Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, Humana and United Health Group) already are being kept afloat at taxpayer expense. Overall, privatized Medicare and Medicaid account for more than one-half of the insurance giants’ annual revenue through overpayments. Beyond that, the private health insurance industry also receives about $685 billion a year in government subsidies, with that amount expected to double by the end of this decade.”
32) National: Randi Rhodes takes on Republican plans to privatize Social Security. “This is such a lie and they keep on telling it because they want to steal the trust fund.” [Video, about 7 minutes]
33) Alabama: Republican Gov Kay Ivey’s executive order supposedly addressing horrific conditions in the state’s prisonscontinues to fall short of constitutional standards. “Our investigation has demonstrated that constitutionally required standards have not been met in Alabama prisons and this must be corrected,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Richard W. Moore after the lawsuit was announced in December 2020.” The executive order standardizes how incentive time for good behavior can be taken away for inmates in Alabama state prisons. “Some are skeptical that the good time laws will actually do anything to benefit those trying to correct past mistakes while only punishing bad seeds, with one user on Twitter, @brockboonelaw proclaiming: ‘With Ivey’s new executive order if you protest (work stoppage) you lose at least 3 years of “good time.” So, 3 more years being caged WTF.’”
34) Missouri: The state is privatizing prison food services to Aramark despite the company’s troubling record. “Gov. Mike Parson’s administration has awarded a $45.7 million, five-year contract to outsource food service at Missouri’s 20 state-operated prisons. Now, instead of state employees serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the state’s 23,000 inmates, Philadelphia-based Aramark will be in charge of the prison kitchens after submitting a bid to spend about $1.77 for each meal. The deal, which is still being finalized, will result in higher overall costs for taxpayers, but the company said its offer took into account high inflation and low staffing levels that have plagued hiring across state government.”
35) Oklahoma: The state’s effort to further privatize management of its federal Medicaid program has run into more trouble. The system “faces a new legal challenge, this time by a local health care organization that claims out-of-state groups are being given an unfair advantage to win contracts, counter to the Legislature’s intent. Equity Group Advancing Access and Services, a newly created Oklahoma-based provider group that wants to bid for contracts to manage Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, which is called SoonerCare, filed a lawsuit against the Oklahoma Health Care Authority on Monday. The lawsuit asks the Oklahoma Supreme Court to halt the bid review process, which is taking place now.”
36) Pennsylvania: Prices will be going up at the state’s liquor stores, possibly aggravating the state’s perennial battles over privatization. The publicly operated system pumps millions of dollars into public coffers for things like first responders. “More than $839.3 million was distributed to the Pennsylvania General Fund and state and local government beneficiaries in fiscal year 2021-22.” Philly Voice reports that “the price increase could renew an ongoing effort by Republicans in the state legislature to privatize Pennsylvania’s alcohol sales. In early 2022, legislators introduced a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the PLCB from manufacturing and selling alcohol. The legislation has stalled since passing a House committee in July.” Meanwhile, chaos reigns in the legislature.
37) National: FAA’s efforts to get a handle on Boeing’s safety issues is getting criticism even after the company’s catastrophic record. Flyer D, commenting on the objections by other commenters on a story, writes, “So what’s the alternative, do nothing? Someone has to take a hard look at Boeing’s practices and corporate culture. The FAA is a convenient scapegoat taking flak from all sides. Half of our politicians think companies like Boeing should not be subject to government oversight. Many want to privatize some of the FAA’s functions and eliminate others. The problems at Boeing show why that would be a bad idea.”
38) National: Should funding prudential government regulation of debt markets depend on how those markets are doing and specifically how large underwriting fees are? Well in the case of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, it does. “The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s revenues took a hit in 2022, reflecting a tough year for the municipal bond business as underwriting fees fell sharply. That’s according to the MSRB’s 2022 Annual Report, which showed the board’s total assets in 2022 drop to $68 million, down from $78.5 million in 2021 and $83.1 million in 2020.” [Sub required]