Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Subscribe here for free.
- A federal appeals court ruled Friday that migrants can sue CoreCivic for making them work for little or no pay to clean restrooms and kitchens and take out the trash.
- The owner of deadly Hollywood nursing home is opening a Miami charter school.
- How different is Biden’s infrastructure policy under Mitch Landrieu than Trump’s under D.J. Gribbin? The American Prospect’s Dorothy Slater has taken a good stab at it.
First, the good news…
1) National: A federal appeals court ruled Friday that migrants can sue CoreCivic for making them work for little or no pay to clean restrooms and kitchens and take out the trash. “Upholding a federal judge’s decision in 2020 that allowed the case to proceed as a class action, the appeals court said in a 3-0 ruling Friday that two former detainees had offered evidence that CoreCivic required all inmates to work under rules that appeared to conflict with the personal-housekeeping limits announced by ICE. The court said, however, that CoreCivic could attempt in future proceedings to limit the class action to inmates who were in custody in 2010 or later.”
2) National: In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler takes a look at the public schools actually addressing violence on campus. “When it comes to addressing violence, a number of community schools are working with students and families to co-develop less violent, effective, and racially-just relationships. As community leaders Tere Flores and Carl Pinkston describe in a recent opinion piece for EdSource, ‘Through shared power and decision-making, students, families, community, and educators can co-create relationship-centered schools and lay the foundation for an education system built by and for us all.’”
Thomas Harvey of the Children’s Defense Fund joined Eoin Higgins’ The Flashpoint podcast to talk about “how cops in schools make things worse for students—despite that being the solution to school shootings promoted by some lawmakers.” [Audio, about an hour]
3) National: The Biden administration says it will forgive all of the loans outstanding held by students who attended Corinthian Colleges, which at $5.8 billion amounts to the largest single action of debt cancellation ever by the federal government, The Wall Street Journal reports. “As of today, every student deceived, defrauded and driven into debt by Corinthian Colleges can rest assured that the Biden-Harris administration has their back and will discharge their federal student loans,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
The Wall Street Journal is particularly annoyed because Vice President Kamala Harris has played a leading role in going after Corinthian on behalf of its victims. In 2016 as the state attorney general in California Harris obtained a $1.1 billion judgment against the company, one of the flagship private, for profit education firms that have been promoted by the Wall Street Journal and its well heeled constituency and owners over the years. [Sub required]
4) National: EDF reports that “the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed to reconsider the safety of using bisphenol A (BPA) in polycarbonate plastics, metal can coatings, and other materials that contact food, potentially setting the stage for strict new limits on the harmful chemical.” EDF says “since we submitted the petition in January, a groundbreaking new study has added to the already compelling new evidence that BPA triggers children’s immune systems. The study of more than 3,000 mothers and their children linked BPA exposure in the womb to higher rates of asthma and wheezing in school-age girls. The research reinforces last year’s unanimous findings by a panel of experts convened by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). (…) ‘Most Americans get 5,000 times more BPA in their daily diet than the EFSA expert panel says is safe,’ said Tom Neltner, Environmental Defense Fund’s Senior Director, Safer Chemicals.”
5) National: President Biden wants to give the nation’s 100 most underserved areas nearly $2 million apiece in extra Community Development Block Grant funding, “which can be used for purposes ranging from increasing affordable housing to renovating local parks.” But “‘The idea of getting cities to look at structural barriers is a good idea,’ said Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress and former director of housing and economic development for Trenton, New Jersey. ‘The problem is it’s not a lot of money. When you’re talking about dividing it among the 100 neighborhoods … , it’s a drop in the bucket,’ he said. ‘It’s not going to get you there.’”
6) California: More than $37 million in fines has been paid to San Diego County as part of a court judgment stemming from a charter school fraud scheme that took millions in public school funds and led to criminal charges against 11 people, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has announced. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, “the A3 case is one of California’s largest cases of alleged charter school fraud and has highlighted how weaknesses in charter school oversight can allow such fraudulent schemes to occur.”
7) Louisiana: Public spirited activism is alive and well, and getting results. The Advocate asks, “How Come a Professor Is Better At Rooting Out Corruption In N.O. than city hall?” Its editorial says “The New Orleans Police Department’s internal affairs division, the office of police secondary employment, the independent police monitor, the inspector general, the U.S. Justice Department. All of these agencies could or should play a role in ensuring that New Orleans police officersare being truthful in filling out timesheets.
But they all have egg on their faces after a UNO chemistry instructor, with no law enforcement training, no formal role with city government and no money, has uncovered the biggest payroll scandal in years. Skip Gallagher, 59, did it with publicly available records, spreadsheets and a passion for the truth that is apparently missing at City Hall and police headquarters.”
8) National: In a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune, Gloria Gralewski lays out Charles Koch’s plan for public education. “Their Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners and dark money PACs all try to shape policy toward their agenda of minimal taxes for the wealthy, minimal regulations for business and privatization of everything. They are for unfettered, law of the jungle free markets, while seemingly forgetting the many times in the last 30 years that the American taxpayer has had to rescue bad-acting, too-big-to-fail companies. They want to privatize our public schools. Make no mistake, their funding of school board candidates in Pennsylvania, accompanied by their cry of freedom and liberty from vaccination and mask mandates is just a cover, a smokescreen. They are weaponizing book-banning and critical race theory to hype participation by the GOP base. Few people realize their ultimate aim is to privatize schools for profit.”
9) California: Writing in Capital & Main, Laura Impellizzeri has high praise for community schools. “Community schools, which started proliferating a decade ago with new private and union funding, stand on the shoulders of education theories and reform movements dating back more than a century. But they do not follow a prescription. The four pillars, Maier said, are simply the shared characteristics that describe successful community schools. In fact, NEA is now advancing a set of six pillars that are more aspirational:
- Culturally relevant and varied curriculum
- High-quality teaching
- Inclusive leadership
- Restorative justice and other positive behavior practices
- Family and community partnerships
- Integrated wrap-around supports”
10) California: Orange County voters have the power tomorrow to shape a new majority on the county Board of Education, in one of the only races that will be decided without moving to a runoff election. The Orange County Register asked all nine of the candidates running for the county board of education what their approach is on public education looking forward. Seven responded. “One of the biggest questions is what the board of education’s role in Orange County is: Will they continue their role that focuses on approving charter schools and school district transfers? Or take greater control of the Orange County Department of Education’s budget and other policy? Seven of the nine candidates responded. Each was allowed up to 50 words per answer, to keep the total length reasonable. Here are their answers, separated by voting area.”
11) California: In These Times’ Maximillian Alvarez conducted a very interesting interview with Tyler Powles, who was a 4th-grade teacher at Caliber: Beta Academy for five years, and Erinn Murphy, an education specialist (and school parent) at Caliber: ChangeMakers Academy. The subject: One Big Union for Charter Schools? “Years of going through basically everything everyone could think of to try to get voices heard and to try to advocate for what people wanted and needed for themselves, for their co-workers, for their students, and for those families, it seemed like the next and possibly only avenue that we had was to formally unionize,” said Powles. “Ultimately, I was actually the one who reached out to IWW after talking with a group of staff members who were all very much in support of going down this path.”
12) Colorado: Kristin Smith, the Durango school board president, advises community members that charter school approval is a local control issue. “To protect its constitutional right to local control and its lawful interest in an equitable and workable charter review process that is applied consistently to all potential charter schools, the District has asked the District Court for La Plata County to declare that the District is not required to review Ascent Classical’s charter application until August 1, 2022.”
13) Florida: The owner of deadly Hollywood nursing home is opening a Miami charter school, Miami New Times reports. “But since the deadly incident, which inspired new statewide regulations, sparked a criminal probe, and got the Rehabilitation Center’s license suspended, Michel hasn’t stopped pitching new business ideas. His latest move? Opening a charter school. Michel reportedly owns the historic Admiral Vee Motel building at 8000 Biscayne Blvd., a striking MiMo-style structure that film producers used as the Sun Gym in the 2013 Mark Wahlberg and the Rock movie Pain & Gain. The building has been in a state of disrepair for years, with busted windows, water damage and homeless people sleeping under the breezeways. Last March, the Biscayne Times chronicled how Michel had let the once-gleaming property decay. But recently, someone has slapped spiffy new signs on the side of the building advertising the ‘Larkin School for the Health Sciences,’ a charter school serving kids from grades 6 through 8. The signs say the school will open in next month.”
14) North Carolina: The state auditor has found numerous issues in a now-closed charter school. “Key findings of the audit include Bridges Academy falsifying student enrollment records to obtain $404,971 in state funding for which it was not entitled and misuse of $78,576 of charter school funding to support a preschool. ‘The charter school funding provided by DPI was intended for the education of kindergarten through eighth grade students,’ according to the audit report. ‘However, at least $78,576 of the funding was used for the operation of the preschool to close the gap between the revenues and expenses.’”
15) Texas: The Dallas Morning News reports that Harmony Public Schools will be offering an online learning option in fall. “In North Texas, Harmony has campuses in cities including Plano, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Dallas, Euless, Carrollton and Garland. The online academy’s teachers will be based in a site housing the Harmony School of Science Houston. Harmony is a public charter school that has 58 locations across the state, according to its website.” For over a decade Harmony has been accused of being a tool of Turkish opposition leader Fethullah Gülen. For the Texas side of the story, see also In East Texas, Cleveland ISD Needed Money. The State Sent Charter Schools Instead.
16) Upcoming Event: “Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization” with author Maurice T. Cunningham and the Brennan Center’s Chisun Lee. June 16 at 2 pm ET. Register.
17) National: Route Fifty reports that two states have cancelled major road projects after lengthy review processes “as political leaders have re-examined long-held assumptions about the financial price and societal costs of bigger roads through urban areas. (…) Los Angeles County officials scrapped plans to widen an 18-mile stretch of highway that connects the busiest port complex in the country to east Los Angeles and several other freeways in the area. It’s a major victory for local activists, who argued that the increased traffic would add air pollution and other problems to nearby residents, who are predominantly Black and Hispanic. Federal environmental regulators were already scrutinizing the expansion plans for potential violations of the Clean Air Act. ‘We are no longer going to widen the freeway,’ said Janice Hahn, the county supervisor who sponsored the motion, said at a meeting. ‘We are no longer going to wipe out homes and neighborhoods for a freeway project.’ (…) The Los Angeles project cancellation came after Colorado officials put on holdtheir plan to widen Interstate 25 through central Denver, saying they could no longer afford the project.”
18) National: How different is Biden’s infrastructure policy under Mitch Landrieu than Trump’s under D.J. Gribbin? Well Gribbin, the former Koch industries operative and road privatization industry activist who cultivated Mayors around the country looking for cash, foregrounded infrastructure public-private partnerships. And Landrieu even attracted gushing praise from Bloomberg for his promotion of P3s, and has been gladhanding the Mayors too. So what is he doing with all that BIPA money and promises? It’s hard to find out, but The American Prospect’s Dorothy Slater has taken a good stab at it, and even reported speculation that Landrieu may run against Biden. (See also this piece by Daniel Strauss in The New Republic).
“It doesn’t help South Louisianans’ sense of impending doom that the city government of New Orleans cheerfully reminded its constituents on Monday that ‘the first line of defense against a disaster is personal preparedness!’ In other words, you’re on your own when it comes to surviving hurricanes worsened by the burning of fossil fuels, which the politicians of South Louisiana have wholeheartedly endorsed. Meanwhile, 1,085 miles away in Washington, D.C., Landrieu is now poised to funnel billions of dollars in infrastructure spending into other hands like his. We need more scrutiny into how that is playing out. Because if the past is precedent, then his preference will be to use the infrastructure money to privatize public goods, enable fossil fuel expansion, and turn a blind eye to the people who are steeling themselves for the next school shooting, the next deadly hurricane, and the next pandemic.”
19) National: Well, it seems as if “revenue risk” P3s—in which taxpayers and motorists take on the risk of a project default—are coming back into fashion in the P3 world after some years of disrepute. Perhaps remembering the P3 saying that “desperate government is our best customer” and expecting an economic downturn amid the cost of money going up, the industry is gearing up for a new round of transferring major risk to the public. And could those high priced “Lexus lanes” now gradually gobble up the free lanes to their right and kick everyone who isn’t willing to pay up off the roads?
“What if there were a way to jump‐start states to embrace long‐term DBFOM revenue‐risk P3s for rebuilding and modernizing major highways?” the Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole wonders. [Public Works Financing, May 2022; sub required]. And he floats another even more sketchy idea—apparently converting the entire interstate highway system into income streams by the neat trick of rewriting a long unused pilot toll road law. Of course, voilà, this would realize Poole’s longstanding pipe dream of setting up a vehicle miles travelled car monitoring system that would channel people’s money and travel habits data directly or indirectly to Wall Street.
20) National: Mining companies are striking gold by destroying public lands, Stephanie Woodard reports. “In These Times lobbed Holley’s demand over to the Interior Department. Are the department and its agencies interested in supporting not just larger tribes but small, isolated ones? Richard Packer, of the Bureau of Land Management press office, says Haaland and Biden have ‘challenged’ the bureau to take its consideration for tribal authority ‘to another level.’ Packer says the bureau is ‘“contemplating’ ideas such as ‘co-management’ and ‘the significance of treaties.’ Holley is not surprised at the ambiguous response. For years, Holley says, the Bureau of Land Management refused to hear his tribe: ‘They never listened, they never took notes, they never took us seriously.’”
21) Pennsylvania/National: As expected, a judge’s decision to halt the state’s bridges project because its approval and implementation did not meet the legal requirements for project approval and financing, has caused great consternation in the ‘public-private partnership’ industry. The bottom line of the order: “Petitioners have credibly shown that the Major Bridge P3 Initiative lacks sufficient specificity, such that the Board cannot have performed, and indeed did not perform, all of its essential duties in approving the Initiative. Petitioners also raise a constitutional issue—that Act 88 violates the constitutional prohibition on delegation of legislative authority. If Petitioners do not prevail on their claims discussed earlier, the Court will address their nondelegation claim.” (p. 35).
Public Works Financing, a leading journal of the P3 industry, has reacted with front page alarm, putting its finger on what it sees as the risks to a model of P3s that it spins as “progressive P3s” which amount to bolting on a preapproval process for moving deals along, the state and companies’ adherence to which the judge saw as materially and possibly constitutionally flawed. If similar rulings tightening up project approval and fiduciary commitment processes begin to crop up across the country this could certainly damage the P3 pipeline and possibly lead to a preference for more conventional, and less profitable, procurement options.
“It [the court—ed.] reasoned in part that the approval of the project violated the state’s P3 enabling legislation (Act 88), which includes some procedural language on public consultation,” PWF’s Michael Bennon explains. [Public Works Financing, May 2022; sub required].
“Some procedural language” is, of course, a carefully chosen phrase, since one person’s “procedure” is another person’s fundamental legal and constitutional rights. The P3 industry, which has always been vulnerable to accusations by the media, public officials, and citizens that its business model involves ramming through poorly designed projects just to make money and in some cases gladhand approving politicians—and skipping necessary steps to grease the wheels—insists the Pennsylvania law is sound and that it observed its rules. We shall see if that is so whenever the full court rules on Judge Ellen Ceisler’s carefully prepared and cogent ruling. But one thing is for sure whatever the outcome, the battle in the courts over public control of public infrastructure and what constitutes due diligence will continue—and that ball is solidly in legislatures’ courts.
22) Puerto Rico: Puerto Ricans “are fighting to keep public beaches from going private, blaming wealthy developers for forcing locals out. NBC News’ Isa Gutiérrez is on the island speaking with residents about the wave of gentrification that is displacing many locals.” [Video report, about five minutes]
23) Texas: Electric rates in Texas’s privatized electrical grid have surged over 70% as summer kicks in.
24) Revolving Door News: The Bond Buyer reports that “international consulting firm Turner & Townsend has hired a pair of new executives, including former New York City Economic Development Corp. vice president Jennifer Rimmer, for its U.S. infrastructure group as it looks to take advantage of the rollout of the new infrastructure law. (…) Rimmer joins as senior U.S.A. vice president for government and public sector. In addition to the New York City EDC, Rimmer has also served as special advisor to the New York State Senate and was also Nassau County, New York’s director of economic development.” [Sub required]
Criminal Justice and Immigration
25) National/California: Tomorrow is a crucial day as voters will weigh in on the recall campaign against San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin that has been heavily funded by right wing opponents of criminal justice reform. “‘There’s no question that if the recall in San Francisco will be successful, it will be the playbook going forward nationally for those who want to roll back criminal justice reform,’ said Anne Irwin, whose California-based organization Smart Justice has spent money to defend Boudin and elect other progressive prosecutors.”
26) National: Immigrant rights advocates contend that expanding the alternatives to detention program is creating new problems and raising major privacy concerns. “Several organizations—Mijente, Just Futures Law and Community Justice Exchange—filed a lawsuit in April asking a judge to order ICE to release more information about how data obtained through SmartLINK is tracked, used and shared. The suit decries ‘constant, invasive surveillance’ and says the program takes a major toll on the immigrants enrolled in it. The organizations argue they first asked for the information via a Freedom of Information Act request in September, and that ICE and DHS did not respond.” ICE relies on BI Inc., a subsidiary of private prison company GEO Group, to run its SmartLINK app. “ICE recently renewed a contract with another private company to provide 10,000 cell phones outfitted with a facial recognition app for migrant check-ins.” That company is T Stamp Inc., which Bloomberg says “develops proprietary artificial intelligence powered solutions through biometric science, cryptography, and data mining.” On its earnings call on Friday, GEO Group’s Ann Schlarb reported that BI’s quarterly revenues increased by more than 45% year over year.
27) National/Washington: University of Washington researchers have found “more disturbing stories out of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, run by the private security company The GEO Group, about detainees’ complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Immigration detainees are supposed to be protected while in custody, but a new report suggests the system is not adequately keeping detainees safe, or capturing the true scope of alleged abuses. KUOW’s Kim Malcolm interviewed professor Angelina Godoy about the abuse findings. Godoy directs the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, which authored the study.”
28) National: The USC Annenberg Center for Journalism’s Center for Health Journalism reports that “the juvenile justice system is plagued by striking racial disparities—but health is a big one.” ChrisAnna Mink reports that “the reasons for the racial disparities in the juvenile justice system are complex, but one factor often overlooked is health. Before, during and after involvement in the system, the health of these youth is compromised. Many of the risk factors for criminality overlap with social conditions that also affect health, such as poverty, family disruption, living in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood, and less access to quality health care and legal representation. The role of systemic racism and intrinsic bias in both the health care and legal systems is not fully understood, but likely contribute to the disparities.”
29) National: The Marshall Project lists five things to know about one of the deadliest federal prisons. “For the people who survive such conditions, the impact lasts long after their release date. In 2019, we followed Chuck Coma when he came home from federal prison, after he nearly died from a prison assault at Lewisburg. He returned to his family with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder exacerbated by the violence he witnessed inside.”
30) Florida: The Florida Justice Institute says “Community & Dept. of Transportation work squads make up 3.5% of the prison population, but account for 20% of reported injuries on average since 2016. Those injuries are likely underreported due to prisoners’ fears of retaliation.” Such conditions have prevailed in Florida for decades if not centuries, as a terrific Florida Times-Union report by Ben Conarck spelled out in 2019. “In the spring of 1923, nearly a hundred witnesses testified to the horrific conditions at the state’s convict labor camps before a joint committee of the Florida Legislature. Some 57 years after slavery had been abolished, a loophole in the 13th Amendment allowed the state to profit off forcing prisoners, most of them black, to work. The men lived in filth and had little to eat. They were arrested on frivolous or petty charges and made to pay off their debts working long hours in the sun. Those who didn’t faced whippings, beatings and torture. Guards could be brutal and needlessly vindictive.” See also Jacqueline Stevens’ When Migrants Are Treated Like Slaves.
31) National: Former Congress member Ronnie Shows says Congress must address outdated wages for federal contract service workers. “It is time for lawmakers on Capitol Hill to consider common-sense legislation that will allow companies serving as federal service contractors the ability to pay their employees more—based on current circumstances that might not have been envisioned when contracts were originally signed. This does not concern federal contractors who sell parts for a fighter jet to the government. Rather, I am concerned about companies who are paid to service those airplanes and their employees who work as a ‘blended federal workforce’ performing services on behalf of the federal government. Under existing rules, their current contracts do not always allow these employers to pay their service employees fair market wages.”
32) National: Writing in David Sirota’s The Lever (formerly The Daily Poster), Matthew Cunningham-Cook says “last week, the Biden administration quietly reaffirmed its decision to enact the highest Medicare premium hikes in history right before this year’s midterm elections. At the same time, President Joe Biden is endorsing a plan to funnel significantly more Medicare money to insurance companies and further privatize the government insurance program for older Americans and those with disabilities. In effect, the higher premium increases will subsidize the larger payments to—and profits for—private insurance corporations. This comes after Biden raked in roughly $47 million from health care industry executives during his 2020 campaign.” (…) “[The] privatization effort is reaching a frantic state, and Medicare Advantage is going to fail,” said Bill Kadereit, president of the American Retirees Education Foundation, due to the fact that the plans must pay profits to investors, unlike traditional Medicare plans. ‘The industry is hoping to cover up that failure with taxpayer subsidies that none of the taxpayers understand.’”
33) National: Lawmakers are worrying that VA home loans aren’t keeping up with the hot housing market. “Witnesses said the department is looking for ways to streamline the process, but not at the risk of defaulting on more loans or putting veterans in substandard housing. The lawmakers who wrote to McDonough this week are asking VA officials to look at improvements to lessen the burden on buyers and sellers involved in the program, and also for ways to ‘improve the public perception of the VA mortgage loan program.’”
34) New York: State lawmakers are looking at a new funding plan to rescue public housing. “The agency estimates it needs a staggering $40 billion for repairs and renovations. As New York grows more expensive, and decent, affordable housing becomes harder to come by, NYCHA residents are often trapped in these conditions, said Susan Popkin, a fellow at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, who has studied public housing. ‘There really is nowhere else for low-income people to rent in this city at this point,’ she said.”
35) International: After years of austerity, many of Britain’s swimming pools face closure due to spiraling energy costs. The alternative is a properly-funded system that treats them as a public good, says Tom Ana in the Tribune.
36) National: Well guess who got COVID relief money? “Daniel Defense was one of nearly 500 gun and ammunition makers and retailers that collected a total of $125 million from the Paycheck Protection Program.”
37) National: The Heritage Foundation (assets over $300 million) is boasting it has given special $100,000 prizes (part of a $10 million grant program) to three of its favored right wing organization, including something called The State Financial Officers Foundation, which the Washington Examiner says is “fighting the Left’s push for so-called environmental, social, and governance standards. CEO Derek Kreifels said: ‘SFOF state treasurers, auditors, and other financial officers have been working tirelessly to educate the public and key stakeholders on the dangers of ESG investing, all while corporations are trying to circumvent the democratic process and drive their own political agenda.’” Will it soon be illegal for corporations to be socially responsible? The Federalist Society is mulling it over, so stay tuned. Will pubic pension funds be forced to avoid socially responsible investments?
38) New York: Matthew Cunningham-Cook and Andrew Perez, writing in The Lever, analyze New York Democrats’ giant gift to private equity. “New York’s Democratic-controlled legislature this week passed a bill to funnel as much as $54 billion more in retiree savings into high-risk Wall Street investments, amid a flood of campaign cash from the financial industry. New York’s largest teachers union backed the legislation, even though the move came after federal regulators—and the union’s own national leaders—issued loud warnings about the risk of such investments.”
Photo by Jonathan Cutrer.