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.
- It’s banned books week.
- Issues at Kanye West’s private school highlight threat of looming public school privatization.
- The Jackson water crisis is not over, Food & Water Watch warns.
First, the good news…
1) National: It’s banned books week. People are fighting back against efforts by the right wing to suppress books in public libraries and schools through demagogy and intimidation of education and library professionals. Public libraries are an essential part of our culture of fostering the common good. In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen gives examples how public libraries across the country are stepping up to the challenge. “These libraries highlight a fundamental principle that undergirds In the Public Interest’s work: The solutions to today’s multiple crises—from Covid to climate change to skyrocketing economic inequality to rising white nationalism—must be public solutions. That’s the only way to make sure that America works for everyone—all of us, no matter where we come from, what our color, or how much money we have in our pockets.” Banned books week goes from today until September 24.
2) National: The New York Times reports that child poverty has been reduced through determined and consistent programming by the government. “With little public notice and accelerating speed, child poverty fell by 59 percent from 1993 to 2019, according to a comprehensive new analysis that shows the critical role of increased government aid. (…) Child poverty has fallen in every state, and it has fallen by about the same degree among children who are white, Black, Hispanic and Asian, living with one parent or two, and in native or immigrant households. Deep poverty, a form of especially severe deprivation, has fallen nearly as much. (…) The analysis found that multiple forces reduced child poverty, including lower unemployment, increased labor force participation among single mothers and the growth of state-level minimum wages. But a dominant factor was the expansion of government aid.”
3) National: New York City could use municipal bonds as a way to finance better outcomes for migrants coming to New York from Ukraine and the southern border, city Comptroller Brad Lander says. “Asylum seekers coming to the Big Apple could benefit from a new economic initiative tied into an inclusive strategy, Lander said during a webinar hosted by the Association for a Better New York. While the recent actions by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to send undocumented migrants to New York City were ‘horrid,’ Lander said, it provided an opportunity for the city. ‘Growth in immigration is what saved the city coming out of the fiscal crisis,’ Lander said. ‘We’re lucky to have these folks coming. They want to work so let’s push the federal government, as the mayor is doing, to get them work authorization—let’s think about how to help those folks get into good jobs as quickly as they can—whether they’re coming from Venezuela or coming from Ukraine.’” [Sub required]
4) National: The U.S. Supreme Court has handed private religious schools a rare legal defeat by ruling that an Orthodox Jewish university in New York is required for now to officially recognize an LGBTQ student group. “Kotler’s ruling “does not touch the university’s well-established right to express to all students its sincerely held beliefs,” lawyers said in court papers. They noted that an LGBTQ club has existed within the university’s law school for decades and that the university’s student bill of rights says the New York Human Rights Law applies to students. Members of Pride Alliance have said they are planning events backing LGBTQ rights for the coming weeks, some of them timed around Jewish holidays.”
5) National: Minor league baseball players have finally achieved union representation after years of organizing. “This overwhelming union vote—which will not be challenged by the Major League Baseball owners nor brought to the NLRB—comes after several other victories in the past year that have increased the confidence of minor league players to push for representation,” writes The Nation’s Dave Zirin. “The unionization of minor leaguers hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Labor in this country is, to recall the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, sick and tired of being sick and tired. As economic and social inequality have worsened during the Biden administration, these players are a part of a broader restiveness.” For more see Morethanbaseball.org.
6) Colorado: Four Colorado public elementary schools have been named 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. Two of the schools are small and rural. “On state math and literacy tests last year, Sanford Elementary scored at or above state averages. In literacy, 43% of Sanford students scored at grade level or above, which was the same as the state average. But in math, a whopping 74% of Sanford students scored at grade level or above, far surpassing the state average of 32%.”
7) Louisiana: A state judge has blocked “an enormous plastics plant in a corridor so dense with industrial refineries it is known as Cancer Alley.” In a sharply worded opinion, “Judge Trudy White of Louisiana’s 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge noted that the residents in the tiny town of Welcome, where the $9.4 billion petrochemical plant would have been built, are descendants of enslaved Africans. ‘The blood, sweat and tears of their ancestors is tied to the land,’ Judge White wrote. ‘Their ancestors worked the land with the hope and dream of passing down productive agricultural untainted land along the Mississippi to their families.’ She said that when Louisiana state regulators granted 14 permits to FG LA L.L.C., an affiliate of the Taiwan-based giant Formosa Plastics, they had used ‘selective’ and ‘inconsistent’ data and had failed to consider the pollution effects on the predominantly Black community.”
8) Maine: 75% of people in Maine support paid family leave, advocates report as the state heads toward a possible November referendum. “In order to provide an alternative pathway forward, groups including Maine People’s Alliance (of which Beacon is a project) and Maine Women’s Lobby launched a signature-gathering campaign in July to place a referendum on the ballot in 2023 that would create a paid leave system. Those interested in helping to gather signatures for that ballot campaign can sign up here.”
9) Mississippi/Maryland: 11 utility workers, including four Anne Arundel County employees, have headed to Mississippi to help restore Jackson’s water system. “Besides the four Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works employees, there are also seven workers from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. They include Class A surface water and membrane operators, instrument technicians, licensed electricians, mechanics, general maintenance workers, and an emergency management specialist. Anne Arundel DPW has been posting updates on Facebook about how their efforts are going.”
10) International: On the Rabble Radio podcast, JP Hornick, President of OPSEU/SEFPO and Dr. Naheed Dosani, Palliative Care Physician and Health Justice Activist, discussed the current crisis facing public healthcare in Ontario “and the alarming turn toward the privatization of our healthcare systems by those prioritizing profit over patients. (…) Often conversations like this can get tucked away in the category of health policy. This is about much more. This is about our way of life. This is about our way of being. This is really an attack on the common good that is so core and foundational to what it means to be Canadian…Public healthcare is a national treasure that makes us unique on the world stage. That really allows us to say to each other, I care about you.” [Audio, about 30 minutes].
11) Journalism Opportunities: As regular readers of our weekly privatization report know, we depend heavily on local reporting for news on what’s happening with the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and what’s being done to “keep it public.” This is a challenging time for local media, where some of the best reporting in the world can be found, so it’s great news that ProPublica is hiring for five spots in its Local Reporting Network. Apply here. Work begins on January 2, 2023.
12) National/New York: The scandal of under- or non-performing private religious schools is spreading. Jennifer Berkshire says “not only is the Yeshiva school scandal NOT just a New York story but the same states that are steering more and more public money to private religious schools are making it impossible to track how kids fare.” The New York Times has weighed in to argue for state action to secure the education of children in failing private religious schools that received millions in state support. “It is an essential obligation of state government and foundational to life and liberty: New York requires children to go to school and to receive instruction in English and math and other basic skills that are necessary for participation in our democratic society. But New York has failed to fully enforce those laws. An education system that contains some of the finest schools in the nation also contains some that are profoundly struggling, whether public or private, religious or secular. This past week, new attention has fallen on how state and city officials have allowed tens of thousands of Hasidic children to attend schools that openly flout the state’s requirements. Former students have testified that upon graduation, they were unable to read in English or even write their own names.”
The New York State Board of Regents unanimously approved a new set of regulations last Tuesday “that would allow the state to reject the secular curriculum of private schools—a change Orthodox Jewish schools have long rejected as a curtailing of their religious rights.” The Forward reports that “‘religious studies are still taught as the non-public school sees fit,’ said Jim Baldwin, senior deputy commissioner for education policy. Baldwin also said that religious classes could incorporate topics like math, science or social studies in order to help schools meet the ‘substantial equivalence’ requirement.”
13) National: Writing in The Progressive, Jacob Goodwin says union power is the best solution to the teacher shortage. “Democratic reforms hold the potential to energize members and positively influence the narrative on public education and unions. Scaling up participation can’t be done through technological solutions such as mass-texting or sharpened digital campaign marketing. Instead, we must grow with one another and insist on an expansive common purpose where every voice can add to the growing chorus for change.”
14) National/California: “What the Hell Is Going on at Kanye West’s Mysterious New Private School?” asks Cheyenne Roundtree in Rolling Stone. “Now, he’s moving into education with Donda Academy, his own private school named after his late mother, Professor Donda West. Headquartered in Simi Valley, California, the tuition-based Christian prep school’s mission, according to its website, is to ‘prepare students to become the next generation of leaders’ through ‘an ethic of integrity and care.’ (West previously teased the idea of a school back in October 2020 under the name Yeezy Christian Academy.) (…) What’s more, the school is not yet accredited and was still looking to hire instructors shortly before the school year began. Exactly who attends and works at the school has been tricky to pin down. Donda’s listed administrators and sporting program’s leadership did not respond to Rolling Stone’s multiple inquiries about the school. A representative for West also did not respond to requests for comment. Many of those associated with the school balked at interview requests, as did parents whose children attend the school. Even attempts by Simi Valley’s local newspaper noted in a June article that it could not reach anyone.”
15) National/North Carolina: A North Carolina charter school that “prohibits girls from wearing pants or shorts because they are ‘fragile vessels’ told the U.S. Supreme Court in a newly filed petition that the entire charter school movement is now endangered by an appellate ruling that found its dress code is unconstitutional. (…) The en banc 4th Circuit, as I told you in June, specifically rejected arguments that its ruling against Charter Day will squelch educational innovation, which Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson spelled out in a dissent joined by Judges Paul Niemeyer and Steven Agee. Judge James Wynn, in a concurrence joined by four other judges in the majority, said the very premise that parents have a right to send their children to state-funded public schools engaged in unconstitutional discrimination ‘is so plainly wrong [that] it borders on the offensive.’ Judge Barbara Keenan added tartly in the majority opinion, ‘Innovative programs in North Carolina’s public schools can and should continue to flourish — but not at the expense of constitutional protections for students.’”
16) California: Novato Unified School District’s board will be holding a hearing on October 11 to discuss “the level of support for the Petition submitted to the District for the establishment of the Healy School Charter School. No action will be taken by the Board regarding the Petition at this meeting. In accordance with Education Code section 47605, the Board ‘shall consider the level of support for the petition by teachers employed by the district, other employees of the district, and parents.’ Teachers and other employees of the District, parents/guardians, and any interested parties are invited to attend the public hearing and provide comment to the Board regarding the Petition.”
17) Michigan: The state school board wants to know how charter schools spend money, Chalkbeat Detroit reports. “Michigan charter schools received $1.4 billion in state funding last year. How they spent most of it is a mystery, even to state officials overseeing the education of children who attend them. The state Board of Education has been trying to find out, but its efforts have been stymied. Eighty-one percent of Michigan’s 295 charter schools have contracts with private education management companies that are not subject to public disclosure laws. That allows them to skirt disclosure laws by, for example, saying they don’t have payroll records because they don’t employ teachers directly, but rather through a contractor.”
18) Ohio/National: Jan Ressenger and Kathryn Joyce have been digging into the efforts of the Heritage Foundation to spread a form of school voucher system called education savings accounts, especially in Ohio. But “Ohio is not the only state where politicians are currently being pressed by far right advocates to adopt one of the model ESA bills that are available to anyone who wants one. States whose legislatures have enacted Education Savings Account vouchers to date include Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Missouri. ESA programs were passed but later found unconstitutional in Nevada and Kentucky under the provisions of their state constitutions.”
Among Heritage’s trustees are Larry Arnn, former head of the Claremont Institute and now President of Hillsdale College, the right wing religious school trying to get its hooks into Tennessee’s public school system (see below); Barb Van Andel-Gaby, an Amway board member; Robert P. George, the conservative Catholic Princeton law professor (also on the boards of the Bradley Foundation and Becket Fund, which filed an amicus brief in the case that overturned Roe v. Wade); Edwin Meese, who has overseen the right wing takeover of the courts from his perch at Heritage for decades; billionaire right wing funder Rebekah Mercer, and others
19) Tennessee: The battle over charter schools vs. traditional public schools is continuing in Tennessee. On Friday the two sides clashed at a state hearing in Clarksville involving a proposed charter school with ties to the right wing Hillsdale religious college. “ACAM had applied to open a charter school here, and they were rejected by the Clarksville-Montgomery County School Board. The schools’ organizers appealed the decision to the state. Prior to Friday’s hearing, a group of community members and politicians held a news conference to raise objections to using public funds for private charter schools. ‘Montgomery County has great schools,’ said Stephanie Outlaw, a local teacher speaking on behalf of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Education Association. ‘We don’t need charter schools.’ Outlaw said one of the biggest issues she has is how charter schools will be funded. ‘We do not need to give the public funding for our schools at the local level to these private entities—the charter schools coming from somewhere else. We need to keep the funding here for our schools,’ she said.” NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams concludes “there’s a lot we don’t know about these proposed charter schools, including who would actually run them.”
20) National: Legislation that would bring some sunlight into the municipal bond market has some on Wall Street on edge. The legislation “would require governments to standardize their financial reports, with opponents warning it would be onerous and costly and ultimately could shrink tax-exempt supply.
Supporters counter that the move would benefit investors and regulators and the cost of compliance is exaggerated. Though introduced months ago, the Financial Data Transparency Act of 2022 has grabbed the market’s recent attention because it appears likely to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2023, which the Senate needs to vote on by the end of the year.” [Sub required]. Read the text of the proposed legislation and make up your own mind. It’s in the Senate Banking Committee.
21) Idaho: The real estate industry is at it again, this time using the argument that big tax revenues would be forthcoming if federal lands were privatized. “There are about 32 million acres of federal public land in Idaho, representing more than 60% of the state. That includes lands controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. National Park Service, U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Legislators commissioned the study—even though the Idaho Constitution prohibits collecting taxes on public lands owned by the U.S. government.” Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, said “I think all of this is a little exercise in futility to come up with a big, high number and wave it around in the air.”
22) Kansas/National: Expert witnesses told the House Agriculture Committee that topsoil protection should be stressed in the next farm bill. “About 95% of food is grown from topsoil, which is the most important component to food systems. If soil cannot filter water and adsorb carbon, it will hinder farmers’ ability to grow food to feed people, creating a food crisis. Around the world, soil is eroding 10 to 40 times faster than it can be replaced. Moyer said that a third of the world’s soil has already degraded, and if ‘the current rate of soil degradation continues, all of the world’s topsoil could be lost within 60 years.’”
23) Maryland: Costs on the long delayed Purple Line light rail so-called public-private partnership have soared, NBC Washington reports. Originally scheduled to open this year, the project is now aimed for completion by 2026. The estimated cost has jumped from around $5.5 billion to 9 billion dollars. [Video, about two minutes].
24) Mississippi: The Jackson water crisis is not over, Food & Water Watch warns. “Contrary to the assurances from Governor Reeves, much more is necessary to address the harms of decades of racist policies and intentional disinvestment and ensure safe, clean water for Jackson residents. Federal, state and local collaboration is helping to improve water service in Jackson, but declarations that the water is ‘clean’ or ‘safe’ are hasty and irresponsible. The city has an ongoing lead-in-water crisis, and the system remains one climate change-fueled storm away from breaking down again. Worse, this progress could be undone if the state forces Jackson to hand control of the system over to corporate interests. The city remains under threat of a state-imposed privatization. Privatization would exacerbate the city’s water affordability crisis, driving up the cost of necessary improvements to cover corporate taxes and profits. On average, private companies charge 59 percent more than local governments charge for water service.”
As In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen recently pointed out, corporations that run privatized municipal water systems are raising rates to enrich their shareholders and even buy up more public systems. “This is all to say, water is a public good, meaning it must be under our control. But we have to fight for it, because to corporations, it’s just another way to increase profits for their wealthy executives and shareholders.”
Facing South’s Sue Sturgis asks whether Jackson will buck the trend away from privatized water. Check out these numbers. “According to Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba (D), cost to fix the water system, with the city’s ability to pay hindered by a shrinking tax base due to white flight following integration of the public schools, along with the Republican-led legislature’s reluctance to fund fixes: $2 billion… According to a 2011 meta-analysis of studies on water distribution, amount of empirical support that exists for cost savings from water system privatization: 0… In a reversal of earlier trends toward privatization, percentage point increase in the portion of U.S. residents getting drinking water from publicly owned systems from 2007 to 2014: 4… Over that same period, percent by which the number of private water systems in the U.S. dropped: 7… According to a review of 18 municipalities that ended contracts with private water companies, percent cheaper it is on average to operate water services publicly than privately: 21.”
Writing in HuffPost, Nathalie Baptiste says “Jackson is facing a clear-cut example of environmental racism. After its schools were forced to integrate in the 1970s, white people began leaving the city in droves—taking with them their tax revenue. Today, one in four people in Jackson lives in poverty. The city’s water system is also old and in need of expensive repairs, but the city simply doesn’t have the tax base to support it. Currently, the mayor estimates that the city would need at least $1 billion to permanently fix its water problems. And while privatization may be on the mind of Reeves and other state officials, there’s plenty of evidence to show that turning Jackson’s water system over to a private company could make the problem worse—which is what happened in Pittsburgh.”
24) Pennsylvania/National: Governor Tom Wolf (D) has “announced that the Biden Administration has awarded the Port of Philadelphia (PhilaPort) $20.3 million to construct a new 100,000 square-foot warehouse at Tioga Marine Terminal, as well as safety and efficiency upgrades with the modernization of the terminal’s main gate. (…) Additional benefits of this project include economic benefits from new cargo capture; improved truck circulation and terminal efficiencies as well as improved connections to the regional, multimodal network; safety and security improvements; and environmental benefits resulting from reduced truck queuing/idling and conversion of cargo from truck to rail.”
25) Puerto Rico: As Hurricane Fiona causes “catastrophic” flooding in Puerto Rico and massive damage to its infrastructure—already damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria—the finances of its electrical utility are already in a state of collapse, never having recovered from the last storms and beset by a series of contracting scandals. [Sub required]. Luma, the company that manages Puerto Rico’s power grid, says it may take several days to restore power across the island.
26) National/Florida/California: Thirteen national and local organizations have filed a federal complaint against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Baker County Sheriff’s Office for multiple cases of abuse and inhumane conditions at the Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, Florida.
On top of that, ICE’s privatized operations in California are facing legal action. “Labor strikers at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center and the Golden State Annex, owned and operated by The GEO Group, and Leaders detained at Imperial Regional Detention Facility, operated by Management and Training Corporation, released the following statement: ‘Today, a collective of leaders and individuals detained at multiple facilities in California, filed two simultaneous complaints to the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties outlining the continued retaliation we face at the hands of ICE officials and its private prison operators for exercising our constitutional rights. Those officials have taken aggressive steps to try to suppress our voice, including attempts to transfer us out of state and unlawful placement in solitary confinement.’”
27) Colorado: ProPublica reports that Colorado’s halfway houses are a revolving door to prison. “Over the past three years, Colorado averaged about 6,000 halfway house stays annually. A majority of Colorado’s halfway houses are owned by companies specializing in detention and community-based supervision. Three—CoreCivic, Advantage Treatment Center Inc. and Intervention Inc.—operate 15 of the 26 state-funded facilities. This fiscal year, community corrections will receive $87.7 million in state funding — or nearly 16% of the state’s public safety budget — to cover operational costs and treatment services. The facilities aren’t required to report in detail to the state oversight agency or lawmakers what they do with the funding.”
28) Georgia: Project South says “be sure to read the letter Project South & partners submitted to Georgia Congressional Delegates urging an investigation & closure of Stewart Detention Center.” Read it here. And listen to Human rights lawyer and Legal & Advocacy Director Azadeh Shahshahani on the issues.
29) Massachusetts: Privatization of public services has become an issue in the election for state auditor. “Under state law, the auditor is charged with evaluating privatization proposals and certifying the initiatives will not only save money but also maintain at least the same level of service already provided. Critics say the law’s provisions make privatization nearly impossible, while supporters say the requirements are merely common sense steps to assure quality service. (…) The two candidates for auditor—Democratic Sen. Diana DiZoglio of Methuen and Republican Anthony Amore, the director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—shared their views on the law in answering questionnaires submitted by union groups that are strongly in favor of the [anti-privatization] law. DiZoglio is closely aligned with the state’s unions. In response to a single question about the privatization law on an AFL-CIO questionnaire, she noted the author of the law, Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton, is supporting her candidacy. The law is called the Taxpayer Protection Act, but most people refer to it as the Pacheco law.”
30) Florida: Does Waste Management, the private, for-profit trash collection company, deserve a rate increase? Sebastian, Florida, residents disagree. “It’s a shame that we allow a price increase per City Council and less service,” says Sissy Irwin. “I regularly call them on my service of no pickup. And last week, they had so many calls that voice mail stayed full. It took 4 days to pick up the trash in our area. Sorry, this is one person who will not renew. This decision for more money made my decision.”
31) National: With the announcement of a tentative agreement in the rail workers threatened strike, which highlighted issues such as the fact that most public rail services (minus Amtrak) operate on private tracks, several veteran labor analysts and activists offered their views on what the strike and organizing wave across the U.S. means for the future of labor activism and public policy to promote it.
Jane McAlevey, the strike correspondent of The Nation, wrote a powerful piece in which she challenges the leadership of both organized labor and the Democratic Party to do better to support struggling workers.
“We do actually need to debate exactly how the hell we will successfully turn this country around in time to avert an even worse societal disaster,” McAlevey writes. “The answer to that can be seen in two unions that waged successful strikes in the past two weeks, having done the patient work of preparing their members to execute the kind of serious and durable strike action that delivers real, power-building gains in their contracts: the teachers in Seattle and the nursing home workers in Pennsylvania. There are great unions in America today that know how to fight to win. They are mostly at the local, not national, level, and they are unions that understand that a strike is a muscle built through its use, not a command turned on with the flick of a switch. Workers’ representatives can’t just snap their fingers and have workers go on strike any more than a person can walk into a gym with no previous experience lighting weights and bench press 400 pounds. Muscles atrophy, and so do unions.”
The American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson spoke to Ryan Cooper and Alexi the Greek of the Left Anchor podcast about lessons from American labor history, his assessment of President Biden’s record on labor, and the role of the activist NLRB under the current General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. [Audio, about 21 minutes].
Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has emphasized the need for paid sick and family leave. “It staggers the imagination that in September 2022 the workers who keep the trains running did not have even one sick day to care for themselves. Railroad management was intransigent on this point, a key union demand, until President Biden got involved in the negotiations. Top brass at the railroads were willing to have a strike and plunge the nation back into supply chain hell, rather than grant this reasonable request. The details have not been made public yet, but it appears that railroad workers will get one—let me repeat that—one paid sick day a year. This, as much as anything that has been written, emphasizes the need for the US to guarantee sick workers some form of paid sick days and paid medical and family leave legislation. (…) Not including a robust paid leave program as the nation continues to struggle with public health crises places unreasonable burdens on all workers and not just the millions of low-income workers unlikely to have access to benefits through their jobs.”
32) International: The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) and Public Services International (PSI) have issued a tendering opportunity for online training on in-sourcing public services. “The project runs from August 2022 to January 2024 and provides funds for EPSU and PSI to work with a training provider to develop an online training course for affiliates based on PSI’s guide Taking our public services back in house. The final version of the course will be translated into several EU languages and EPSU and PSI will consider funding for additional non-EU languages. We are starting out by looking for talented labour educators and online training web-designers. The tender specifications are set out below and in the attached pdf. The deadline for submissions is 14 October 2022.”
Photo by Betsy Wyatt.