First, the Good News

1) National: Ready for the solar eclipse today? In the Public Interest’s Shahrzad Habibi reports that “for those looking for a place to view the eclipse, there are literally thousands of public spaces available, many with special programs surrounding the event. That includes the many National Parks and Forests in the path, such as the Solar Eclipse Festival on the National Mall, presented in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in collaboration with the Smithsonian, NASA, NOAA, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The NSF is also sponsoring “Sun, Moon, and You Solar Eclipse Viewing Event” in downtown Dallas (free, but you’ve got to register). The Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri offers a handy list of best viewing spots within the forest. Additional locations include state parks along that path with viewing opportunities and programs.”

2) National: There was a terrific interview by Chris Hedges of Labor Institute Executive Director Les Leopold on the ruthless attempt to take down the federal government’s labor rights infrastructure. “The resurgence of the labor movement in 2023 galvanized and emboldened unions around the country—and sent capitalists scrambling to squash the nascent militancy of their workers. Among “the attempts of the billionaire class to retaliate is a major legal challenge to the National Labor Relations Board, the government body that has protected the right of workers to collective bargaining for 89 years.” Leopold is the author of Wall Street’s War on Workers. Fun fact from the show: “Stock buybacks used to be illegal.”

3) National: The Office of Personnel Management has issued the final version of its regulation “meant to safeguard the civil service from the return of a Trump-era policy that sought to convert most federal employees to at-will workers. The new regulation—which [was published in the Federal Register for public inspection on Thursday]—seeks to provide 2.2 million federal employees with defined protections that would make it difficult for a future administration to re-apply the Trump policy, known as Schedule F.”

Labor applauded the move. But some lawmakers say more needs to be done. “Many advocates say the new regulations securing job protections for career feds are a step in the right direction. But some are concerned it will not be enough to stop Schedule F’s resurrection in a future administration. Democratic lawmakers are urging the passage of the Saving the Civil Service Act. The bill aims to prevent career civil servants from being made at-will and easier to fire. The legislation has not seen much action, but the new final rule spurred lawmakers, like Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), to press harder and call for its passage.”

4) National: $14 billion in earmarks are headed to states and cities. “However, the revival of earmarks meant that local governments received $2.7 billion for 1,874 projects in 2022, according to the Government Accountability Office. That’s on top of billions that states and localities are getting from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Reflecting the broad support in Congress for earmarks, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski defended allowing lawmakers to pick certain projects to fund in their communities. Speaking on the Senate floor, Murkowski said she considers securing the earmarks part of her responsibility in Congress.” Colleges will get $1.3 billion in earmarks.

5) National: Legislation has been introduced to simplify technology procurement. “‘My legislation will guarantee that the best and most innovative businesses, including new and small businesses, can compete for federal contracts so that the federal government can keep pace and stay on the cutting edge as it serves the American people,’ [Gary Peters, D-MI] said in a statement.” On state and local government procurement best practices, see “Harnessing the Power of Procurement” by In the Public Interest and the Local Progress Impact Lab.

6) National: The Biden administration has announced it is creating the nation’s first “green bank” network, a $20 billion investment “aimed at making clean energy affordable to low-income and rural residents. The banks will provide low- or zero-interest loans ‘to fund tens of thousands of climate and clean energy projects across America, especially in communities historically left behind and overburdened by pollution,’ the White House said. It’s President Joe Biden’s latest effort to uphold two of his key campaign promises ahead of the November election: slowing climate change and advancing environmental justice.”

7) National: Bloomberg’s Big Take podcast says “Filing Your Taxes Could Get Easier (If This Program Works). After years of letting the private tax e-filing industry run the show, the IRS is finally piloting an online tool that’s supposed to make tax season easier – and free – for thousands of taxpayers in a dozen states. On this episode of The Big Take podcast, we explore how the idea got off the ground, who can use it, and whether the program could ever compete with the powerful private tax-filing industry.” [Video, about 16 minutes]

8) New York: JDSupra says “New York Employers Beware: State’s Social Media Privacy Law Became Effective March 12, 2024. The bills amend the New York Labor Law in several ways:

  1. They prohibit employers from soliciting or requiring employees or job applicants to divulge their username, password or any other access credentials for their personal social media accounts.
  2. They prohibit employers from requiring employees and job applicants to access their personal social media accounts in the presence of the employer.
  3. They prohibit employers from mandating or requesting employees or job applicants to provide copies of photographs, videos or any other content from their personal social media accounts.”

9) Oklahoma: A big victory for the good folks in the Oklahoma education wars. John Croisant won re-election, “defeating challenger Teresa Peña by a 55% margin, nearly 2,400 votes. In the races for two other seats, left-leaning candidates Sarah Smith, who defeated Maria Seidler, and Calvin Moniz, who defeated Kandee Washington, won by wide margins as well. ‘What I heard from voters, and this was across party lines, was that they felt like when Walters was attacking (Tulsa Public Schools,) he was attacking them. He was attacking their city and the schools they graduated from,’ Croisant said. ‘They took it personally.’”

Croisant has fought a pitched battle against Ryan Walters. “Walters, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, has been called Oklahoma’s ‘culture-warrior-in-chief’ as he flirted with groups like Moms for Liberty and Libs of TikTok founder Chaya Raichik. And in Tulsa, he’d found his biggest battleground. Croisant said he’d tell people, no, he didn’t support Walters. In fact, he’d push back against Walters’ interference in local education. ‘And as soon as I said that, they’d say “You’ve got my vote,” and shut the door,’ Croisant told The Frontier.


10) National: What Would Happen to K-12 in a 2nd Trump Term? Education Week has a summary. [Sub required] “He and his campaign haven’t outlined many specifics, but a recently published document that details conservative plans to completely remake the executive branch offers some possibilities. Among them:

  • Title I, the $18 billion federal fund that supports low-income students, would disappear in a decade.
  • Federal special education funds would flow to school districts as block grants with no strings attached, or even to savings accounts for parents to use on private school or other education expenses.
  • The U.S. Department of Education would be eliminated.
  • The federal government’s ability to enforce civil rights laws in schools would be scaled back.

The proposals are contained in comprehensive policy agenda that’s part of a Heritage Foundation-led initiative called Project 2025: Presidential Transition .”

Writing in the Bucks County Beacon last November, education expert Peter Greene said Project 2025 wants to end public education as we know it. One proposal is to stage a Congressional witch hunt against teachers’ unions. “Heritage is eternally angry at the teachers unions, and would like to blame them for school buildings closing during COVID, though non-union charter schools were as, or more likely to close during the pandemic. But Heritage has a new level of revenge in mind—rescind the NEA’s congressional charter, because the NEA is ‘a demonstrably radical special interest group that overwhelmingly supports left-of-center policies and policymakers.’ Also, hold some hearings to find out ‘how much federal taxpayer money the NEA has used for radical causes favoring a single political party.’ No sign that Heritage supports an inquiry into how much federal taxpayer money has been used to hold hearings for radical causes favoring a single political party.”

11) California: The charter school industry is suing the Los Angeles Unified School District over the latter’s new policy of addressing charter school-induced overcrowding of public schools by co-locating in their facilities by banning them from some of them. The lawsuit filing can be found here. They are represented by Latham & Watkins, which also represented charter school interests in a similar case in Sam Diego. One of Latham’s attorney is  Christopher M. Cronin, who combines an interest in private equity and charter schools: “Mr. Cronin maintains an active pro bono practice, having advised and served on the Board of Trustees of a Washington, D.C., charter school through Charter Board Partners.”

12) Florida: A Lake Worth-area private school—which is eligible to receive taxpayer dollars—canceled Autism Awareness Week after its pastor called it “demonic.” Parents are heartbroken. “An email from the lead pastor at Trinity Christian Academy on Military Trail near Lake Worth described recognizing Autism Awareness Week as ‘demonic.’ Several parents sent copies of the email to WPTV this week, outraged at the way lead Pastor Matt Baker described the decision not to honor autism awareness.” Parent Andrea Gallik “added that the staff at the school has been wonderful during the five years their family has been attending there. WPTV has also confirmed a teacher’s aide was fired this week after she said she posted the pastor’s email on social media. She said the reason she was given was a ‘hostile work history.’” For more see John Pitney, “Demonic,” at the Autism Policy and Politics blog.

13) Indiana: Cashing in on vouchers? An Indianapolis charter school with a checkered track record wants to become a completely private school that accepts students who use state vouchers. “The move is the latest attempt by the school to stay open despite its rocky history. It would allow the school to operate without the oversight of a separate entity—its charter authorizer—tasked with holding the school accountable. The Genius School’s decision also comes as the number of students eligible for and using private school vouchers has grown dramatically in the state.

Originally known as Ignite Achievement Academy, the charter school joined the IPS Innovation Network of autonomous schools in 2017. It was tasked with turning around the underperforming Elder Diggs School 42.

But the district removed Ignite from the network after the 2021-22 school year, citing poor academic performance and high staff turnover.”

14) Maine: Do you ever wonder what goes through the minds of charter school activists when they get official power? You can get a glimpse from this interview with Lana Ewing, executive director of the Maine Charter Commission, on the pro-charter school podcast Charter School Insider. “I just got back from a week in Long Beach, California for the California Charter Conference. And there are some challenging relationships that charter schools and networks are navigating there. So this is a timely conversation. As you think about the different buckets or the different roles that an authorizer plays, how would you describe those different buckets? And then how would you describe perspectives on the role of the authorizer? Just either based on your own experiences or kind of as you’ve stepped into this role and networked with other authorizers. Maybe just speak a little bit to where you feel like the various camps are when it comes to the role of the authorizer.” [Audio, about a half hour]

15) Missouri: The term-limited state Senate President, Caleb Rowden, wants to leave a legacy of charter schools in his local district, “even though nearly every school district in his county opposes the change. (…) Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican, prepared an amendment to the legislation that would have required a vote of Boone County residents to authorize charters. After a brief meeting in Rowden’s office, he ditched the idea.”

Rowden’s advocacy for charter schools and K-12 tax-credit scholarships “has earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from like-minded donors, most notably retired investor Rex Sinquefield. Since 2020, Sinquefield and his wife have donated $625,000 to Rowden’s political action committee, Missouri Forward PAC.”

16) Ohio: Writing in the Columbus Dispatch, William L. Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, gives us the low down on school privatization activist and State Senator Andrew Brenner. Brenner once called public schools socialism. “The school choice (privatization) crowd gives Brenner and his party associates boat loads of campaign funds. Remember Bill Lager, the ECOT Man, gave millions to Brenner and his party associates.”

17) Montana: The Corvallis School District was approved for two new charter schools starting next fall, and the district is looking to expose students to “public service through the Bitterroot Valley Military Program and local law enforcement agencies.

18) Texas: A new law allows schools to hire chaplains as counselors, but so far only one school has opted into the program. “The largest 25 school districts in the state already rejected the legislation, which encompasses almost two million students and about a third of Texas public school students, according to tracking done by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. While Arlington ISD is on the list of districts that rejected the measure, the city’s public charter network Newman International Academy was the lone school district to hire a chaplain during the 2023-24 school year.”

19) Texas: Columnist Lynn Ashby of The Leader says if you want to make “big bux,” consider school vouchers. “If you are wondering exactly what is proposed, in a nutshell, vouchers would take money from Texas’ public schools and give it to private schools. Parents would get $8,000 per child annually for 13 years. Vouchers would cost taxpayers $568.9 million in 2025, $791.1 million in 2026, and $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2028. But Texas also has 1,200 accredited private schools, with over 60 percent being religiously affiliated (mostly Catholic). Could the parents of these students qualify for a voucher? If Texas were to provide vouchers for 1 million children attending private schools or being homeschooled, it would cost approximately $8 billion annually.”

20) International/Africa: ActionAid International informs us that “a staggering 18.8m girls are out of primary school in Africa according to a new report by the Tax and Education (TaxEd) Alliance and its allies. Each year, Africa loses US$29 billion in education finance due to excessively low tax rates and aggressive tax avoidance by the wealthiest companies and individuals. This amount is enough to put all 18.8 million girls back in school.” [Read the TaxEd report, 25 pp.]


21) National/International: How are corporate leaders in the global infrastructure industry thinking about the future of infrastructure? What planning is going on and how are they deploying their assets into various infrastructure sectors? Watch this Bloomberg interview with Bruce Flatt, who has been in charge of Brookfield for more than two decades, overseeing over $900 billion of assets under management. Some important points are raised that will impact on public interest activism and policy in the years ahead. [Video, 24 minutes]

22) National: Public housing is social housing, says Amee Chew in Jacobin. “For over fifty years now, the federal government has grossly neglected and slashed the budget of our nation’s public housing stock. Government programs have actively privatized and demolished public housing. Policymakers, through the “war on drugs,” have subjected public housing residents to racist criminalization and overpolicing. Public housing remains a critical source of deeply affordable housing for the lowest-income families. Yet, in the midst of growing houselessness, we lose fifteen thousand of these precious homes every year to decay and lack of repair. Instead of allocating direct public funding for affordable housing, we rely on the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC), a scheme offering tax breaks to Wall Street investors, which diverts public money toward their profit-skimming. Meanwhile, policymakers’ decisions to gut our public housing directly fueled the explosion of mass homelessness we’ve seen across the United States since the 1980s.” Chew is a senior research analyst at the Center for Popular Democracy

23) National: Rural students’ access to Wi-Fi is in jeopardy as pandemic aid disappears, report Gabriel Hales and Keith Hampton of Michigan State. “Maps must be finalized and grants must be made to states before large-scale infrastructure improvements will commence. However, some other early initiatives are now coming online. For example, in 2022, the Quello Center at Michigan State University, in partnership with a regional education network nonprofit, started the Michigan MOON-Light project. Funded with a $10.5 million grant from the Broadband Infrastructure Program, this project increases the bandwidth on Michigan’s education network that is being made available to local service providers. These providers will deliver reliable high-speed internet to 17,000 previously unserved households by the end of 2024. Still, other major infrastructure improvements across the country will not be realized for several years.”

24) National: Banks won’t save nuclear power, says Linda Pentz Gunter. “And finally, an executive from the industry that has consistently delivered its latest new reactors decades late and billions over the original budget—in one case $20 billion over—suggested they should all just slow down. Said Ian Edwards, chief executive of Canadian reactor producer, Atkins Realis, ‘we all become too optimistic. We have this optimism bias towards being able to deliver faster. Really we should probably slow things down a little bit.’ But nuclear power is the answer to our current climate crisis! Ya think?” Food for thought as huge nuclear power projects are marketed as “public-private partnerships.

25) Pennsylvania: Water privatization is coming under renewed scrutiny from Pennsylvania lawmakers and regulators as consumers sour on rate increases, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. “For-profit utilities in Pennsylvania have scooped up more than 20 water and sewer systems from municipal governments during the last eight years, spurred by a state law that changed how such assets are valued. Municipalities have used sale proceeds to pay off debt, invest in capital projects, and avoid tax increases. The acquisitions have at times prompted local political backlash as some customers have seen their monthly water bills double or even triple, in some cases exceeding their electric bills. At the same time, consumers are still grappling with elevated prices for key items such as groceries and housing.”

26) International/South Africa: The government’s effort to sell off the operations of one of the Port of Durban’s terminals has become a corporate legal free-for-all. “Maersk has confirmed that APM Terminals, an independent division within A.P. Møller-Maersk, applied for an interdict at the Durban High Court to prevent International Container Terminal Services, Incorporated (ICTSI) from assuming its new role as manager of Durban Container Terminal’s pier 2.”

27) International/United Kingdom: The parent of Thames Water, one of the enormous private, for-profit companies that the Conservative government sold off England and Wales’ water and sewer system to in one of the most disastrous infrastructure privatization schemes in history, has defaulted on its debt. The privatization took place under Conservative rule in 1989. Of course many of the Thatcherite pro-privatization ideologues that pushed such deals are by now pushing up daisies. “The bonds were sold by Kemble Water Finance, which is part of the labyrinthine corporate structure built at Thames by its former owner, Australian infrastructure investor Macquarie. The nearly £15bn of debt held by the Thames Water utility companies that sit below Kemble should be unaffected by the default. But it creates further uncertainty for a business that supplies a quarter of the UK’s population and has become a political flashpoint because of public anger over sewage discharges and its service record. It also threatens to wipe out the stakes of Thames Water’s nine shareholders, which include the Chinese and Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds as well as Canadian and UK pension funds.” Thames Water’s owners will start urgent restructuring talks. [Sub required] It will be interesting to see if this in any way slows down the eagerness of public pension managers to sink their funds into privatized infrastructure.

Public Services

28) National: Dana Floberg and Morgan Duckett of Worth Rises report that Securus, the nation’s largest prison and jail telecom corporations, is circling the drain. Last week, Securus “effectively defaulted on more than a billion dollars of debt. After decades of preying on incarcerated people and their loved ones with exploitative call rates and other predatory practices that have driven millions of families into debt, Securus is being crushed under the weight of its own. In March, the company’s creditors gave the corporation an eight-month extension to pay up, urging its sale to a new owner to stave off an otherwise imminent bankruptcy. Securus is one of two corporations that dominate roughly 80 percent of the U.S. prison telecom industry, forming an effective duopoly that thrives on the captive markets found inside the nation’s lockups. Both companies are owned by private-equity firms: Securus, by Platinum Equity, and ViaPath (previously Global Tel Link), by American Securities.”

29) National: How many dead firefighters does it take to ban asbestos? Jim Hightower asks. “If your home or business is suddenly being engulfed in flames, you count on a quick response from the fire department. But who rushes to aid firefighters when so many of the burning buildings they enter are contaminated with chrysotile asbestos—a cancer-causing product so deadly that it’s banned in over 50 countries? So far, no one.” To learn more about fighting toxic chemicals and to advocate for sound policy, check out the Environmental Working Group.

30) National: KPFA’s “Against the Grain” program looks back at the Covid Carceral Calamity. “What happened to California’s prisons and jails when the Covid pandemic struck? Why did so many people die behind bars, and why were so many on the outside affected (and afflicted)? Hadar Aviram sheds light on multiple aspects of California’s Covid-19 correctional disaster, including activist efforts to prevent it.” See Hadar Aviram and Chad Goerzen, Fester: Carceral Permeability and California’s COVID-19 Correctional Disaster, University of California Press, 2024.

31) National: Military.com reports on the first 14 bases to experience new privatized household goods moves. “Tech challenges in the development of the two digital applications had delayed the rollout of the all-new process and private management, which the Pentagon hopes will improve the often-frustrating military relocation process.

Once the new process is working and ‘moves have been executed successfully according to contract requirements,” the DoD will then ‘gradually increase volume and add interstate moves for these initial locations over the coming months,’ according to the release.” Hope is high that this works out better than last time.

32) California: Carol Daus, a 28-year resident of Huntington Beach, who serves on the board of the Friends of the Huntington Beach Public Library, tells the behind the scenes story of efforts to privatize the library. “Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark has stated that the RFP is necessary for studying potential cost savings measures for the city.  If that’s the case, why did she and her conservative colleagues spend $480,000 to place the charter amendments on the March ballot instead of the November general when it would have only been $80,000? Most Huntington Beach residents are not fooled by the majority’s pretense that the privatization RFPs are simply related to cost cutting. We see this as another way for the authoritarian majority to seize control of the public library’s collection and programming, such as with the controversial volunteer book review committee, and generate funds that will help offset a small fraction of the costs associated with their ill-conceived and unwinnable city lawsuits.”

“Some cities end up cancelling their contracts with LS&S due to poor performance, a loss of community control, no transparency, and unanticipated costs. In 2018, the Santa Clarita City Council brought its library system back under public control after declining performance by LS&S. They were able to keep the same level of staffing and saved nearly $400,000 the first year after the switch.  In 2022, Fullerton’s Library Board of Trustees rejected a proposal from LS&S, recognizing the dangers of outsourcing to a private, for-profit corporation.”

33) Idaho: Emilia J Anders of Boise writes a letter to the editor of the Idaho Statesman urging Gov. Brad Little (R) to veto bad legislation that harms Idaho’s public libraries. “I am a senior at Boise High School, and I am extremely concerned about our public libraries here in Idaho after the legislature passed House Bill 710. Libraries have been a crucial part of my life, providing a safe space to dream and learn. My whole life I have been able to choose for myself what I can read, with the guidance of my parents and librarians. The practicality of carrying this bill out and the potential damages to libraries concerns me. The bill mandates adult-only sections, which is extremely impractical for smaller libraries, and is extremely costly needing renovations and extra staff. It is also redundant. (…) We are losing our nurses and teachers because of policies that are being passed in the legislature. We cannot afford to lose our librarians as well.”

All the Rest

34) Florida: Well it’s open season for the privatization of public goods and assets in the Sunshine State. No-bid deals to privatize public services and assets? No public ownership at the end of a project? State lawmakers have loosened the state’s “public-private partnership” law, which used to restrict privatization proposals that came from outside of public structures. Some excerpts:

“What Do the Amendments to the P3 Law Accomplish? Public entities will now be able to accept unsolicited P3 proposals without undertaking a public bidding or solicitation process. The related P3 agreement no longer must require that the public entity ultimately own the unsolicited proposal project.

When Can a Public Entity Accept an Unsolicited P3 Proposal Without a Bidding Process? Under the revised P3 Law, public entities must follow certain steps when accepting an unsolicited P3 proposal without undertaking the bidding process required in the current P3 Law, including the following:

  • holding an initial duly noticed public meeting at which the proposal is presented and affected public entities and members of the public are able to comment
  • holding a second duly noticed public meeting at which public comments can be submitted and at which the public entity must determine the proposal is in the public interest
  • publishing a report in the FAR for at least seven days that includes the public entity’s public interest determination and addresses the factors considered in making the determination with findings based on each considered factor

Among the factors to be considered in determining whether an unsolicited proposal is in the public interest include the 1) benefits to the public, 2) financial structure of and economic efficiencies achieved by the proposal, 3) proposer’s qualifications, experience and ability to perform, and 4) compatibility of the proposal project with regional infrastructure plans.  If the public entity will not own the unsolicited proposal project within 10 years after the initial public operation of the project, the public benefits apart from ownership must be stated in the public interest determination.”

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