Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Here’s a direct link to this blog post. Not a subscriber? Sign up.


First, the good news…

1) National: In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen joined podcaster Rick Smith to discuss his new book on privatization and the attack on government—The Privatization of Everything. [Video, at 60:00].

2) National: Jeremy Mohler, In the Public Interest’s communications director, has some good news. “The most exciting progressive movement I’ve come across in the past few years has actually gotten bigger and stronger during the pandemic. Parents, students, educators, and others from places as diverse as the Tampa, Florida, suburbs and Los Angeles, California, are turning their neighborhood public schools into what are called ‘community schools.’ Community schools bring together local nonprofits, businesses, and public services to offer a range of support and opportunities to students, families, and nearby residents. The goal is to support the entirety of a student’s well-being to ensure they are healthy, safe, and in a better position to learn. These benefits then extend to the surrounding community. (…) What I love about the community school approach is that it looks at public education as what it truly is: a public good. Meaning, it benefits the common good if all of us have access to it.” 

3) NationalAmerican cities are beginning to roll out “mobility as a service” technology to make universal basic mobility accessible to low-income residents with a platform that offers access to public transit and shared mobility services. The New York Times reports “MaaS has had the most success in Europe, where mass transit is more central to everyday life than in the United States. But this summer, it made landfall in Pittsburgh. About a fifth of Pittsburgh residents do not have access to a car, according to census figures. In that case, said Karina Ricks, the former director of the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, “necessity is the mother of invention.” The result is Move PGH, a platform still in its early stages.”

“The platform, available through the Transit app, is still in its infancy. Users can plan routes that include multiple modes like Healthy Ride (bike-sharing), Scoobi (e-mopeds) and Spin itself. Public transit and e-scooters can be paid for through the app, but for the other modes, users are redirected to individual apps. (Ms. Ricks said payment for mopeds and bike sharing would soon be done through the platform. But car rentals and car-pooling? Hopefully one day.)” See also this and this. But there are privacy concerns.

4) NationalCounty officials are lining up for federal funds to deal with the impact of climate change. “Between the American Rescue Plan Act and the new IIJA, counties are set to receive billions in federal support that can be used for a variety of infrastructure and transportation projects. Counties own 44% of the nation’s road miles and nearly 40% of its bridges, according to the [National Association of Counties (NACo)]. They are responsible for much of the nation’s public transit systems, airports and operation of local water systems.” [Sub required

5) National/Missouri: One day after Missouri education leaders criticized religious influence in local charter schools, the U.S. Supreme Court appeared poised to weaken such church-state separation mandates. “Courts have long interpreted the Constitution to require governmental neutrality on religion. But a majority of Supreme Court justices now seem agreeable to tax-funded religious schools,” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. “Legal experts say that could open the door to church-sponsored charter schools. In their investigation of Eagle, state education officials found a religious poster hanging in a school cafeteria, a teacher wearing a religious shirt in a video on social media and job postings that mentioned a Christian after-school program, according to the investigation. Open Sky also sent ‘affirmation of faith’ contracts to job candidates for executive director at Eagle, the state found.”

6) National: After years of pressure by open government and legal reform groups, it looks as if the federal judiciary’s e-record system may be made free to access. “The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Open Courts Act of 2021 by voice vote, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. (…) The bill seeks to eliminate the paywall on PACER and make access to documents free. Users are currently required to pay $0.10 per page accessed with a $3 maximum on documents, with transcripts not included. Non-government agency users who spend $25,000 or more on PACER per year, however, would still be charged a fee for accessing documents. Federal agencies would still be subject to fees, according to Reuters.” A similar bill has been introduced in the House, but the lower chamber’s Judiciary Committee has not yet taken up the measure.

7) NationalA bill to protect the Grand Canyon area from mining and other threats has gained support. “Recently, momentum has been building to protect these critical lands and waters from future mining. Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly and Representative Raúl Grijalva, all Democrats, have introduced the Grand Canyon Protection Act (S.387/ H.R.1052), supported by other members of the Arizona delegation. The U.S. House passed this bill twice in 2021 as part of larger legislative packages.” 

8) California: David Couch, writing in the Bakersfield Record reports on how Prop 68 funds are showing what good government can do. “There are times when people get discouraged about government because it takes too long to get things done, or costs too much, or doesn’t seem to work right. I know that feeling too. But sometimes something happens that just restores one’s faith that with time, government can bring tangible good to the communities and people we serve. This week was one of those times.” The prize? A complete renovation of Lamont Park into a state-of-the-art facility.

9) Kentucky: Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has recommitted to finding a way to fund the $2-billion Brent Spence Bridge project without using tolls, saying he wants the state to be “first in line” to apply for new federal infrastructure dollars. “‘I am committed to getting that done. I’m talking to everybody in D.C. who will listen to me. If there is an undersecretary for the boat in the harbor, I’m even talking to them. I believe we are going to get this done, that we are closer than we have ever been.’ (…) In 2016, the Kentucky General Assembly banned the use of tolls to pay for any new bridges across the Ohio River.”

10) Virginia: the Supreme Court of Virginia has issued a ruling that will allow the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) to proceed with the de-privatization of medical services in state correctional facilities. “The court rejected a last-ditch appeal by a contractor that currently provides medical services in Virginia prisons, which sought to block the cancellation of its contract by VADOC. The provider, Armor Correctional Health, was involved in a WRIC investigationof conditions at Deerfield Correctional Facility during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Today’s proceedings are a victory for the quality of healthcare in our facilities,’ said Harold Clarke, director of the VADOC.”

11) International: The government of Ghana has just introduced its first Public-Private-Partnership Complaints Panel. “The Complaints Panel was established in accordance with the PPP Act 2020 (Act 1038) to ensure that bidding processes for government projects are done in a fair and transparent manner. The panel which is made up of seven members is also to settle business disputes by ensuring that complaints of injustice, unfair treatment, corruption and abuse of offices in the bidding process for government projects are addressed.” 


12) National/New YorkDiane Ravitch and Carol Burris weigh in on former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $750 million commitment to charter schools. “If charter schools do no better on the whole than public schools; if many of them fail for financial or academic reasons only a few years after opening; if their lack of oversight and accountability makes them targets for grifters; perhaps it is the charter idea that is “broken,” not America’s public schools, which have been central instruments in advancing our nation’s unfulfilled dreams of equal opportunity and a well-informed citizenry.”

Writing in Forbes, Peter Green says “it is also possible that Bloomberg is also out of step with his fellow school choice supporters; most of the action in 2021 around school choice has involved the creation and expansion of voucher programs, and not in the charter sector. Charter school growth has been stalled for several years, and with too little regulation, the charter world has always been ripe for fraud and abuse, not to mention a great deal of instability. And as noted by Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat, many of the urban areas that Bloomberg would like to target have soured on charters. Bloomberg may be making a very large bet on the wrong horse.”

13) National/North CarolinaAre charter schools public or private? A federal judge has weighed in on the question and says they’re public. But the charter says it’s private. “Shivering during outdoor lunches. Barred from sitting cross-legged on the floor like the boys. Restricted from playing soccer or doing cartwheels during recess. This is how three girls described the daily discomforts they experienced as a result of their school’s dress code, in statements to a federal court. The judge ruled in their favor, in a court decision that was supposed to usher in a new day for girls attending Charter Day School in North Carolina.” (…)

“But the elementary and middle public charter school in Leland, N.C., fought back, defending its right to institute a school policy that, in its founder’s words, was meant to “preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men.” Charter Day School, part of a network known as Classical Charter Schools of America, filed an appeal in 2020, arguing that because it is run by a private nonprofit, it is exempt from the constitutional requirement, which applies to government-run entities.” (…)

“‘Hanging in the balance is more than a dress code,’ said Galen Sherwin, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who is the lead counsel for the girls. ‘The implications here are far broader,’ she said, ‘because it potentially would apply to any constitutional freedom that is being infringed in a charter school setting, from free speech, freedom of religion, the right to be from search and seizure, due process and beyond.’” 

14) National/Maine: Last week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case involving religious freedom and what type of schools can qualify to receive public funding under Maine’s town tuitioning program. “Arguing on behalf of the Maine Department of Education, Maine Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher Taub stated that the plaintiffs lacked standing in the case because their school of choice would not accept their daughter if she were able to participate in the program. Malcolm L. Stewart, a deputy solicitor general for the U.S. Department of Justice, also argued on behalf of Maine. ‘Under well-established principles, the Petitioners do not have standing because, even if they were to prevail, they would receive no redress for their alleged injury.’”

15) Colorado: The Denver Post reports that a charter school parent of a child with disabilities is fighting back against the school’s ending of a mask mandate. “Gould said she felt ‘profound sadness, profound anger’ in the wake of the Douglas County school board’s decision to end a mask mandate that she insists is critical to protecting her son against catching coronavirus, which she said could trigger severe illness or be fatal given his compromised lung function as a child with cystic fibrosis.”

16) Delaware: The New Castle County school bus strike by the Teamsters has entered a 21-day cooling off period. The drivers walked off the job Thursday. “More than a dozen of the 62 members of Teamsters Local 326 stood outside the First Student bus yard wearing signs that read ‘unfair labor practice.’ ‘We want to be heard, and we’re just tired of not being heard,’ said Jonathan Allen of Middletown. He’s been driving for First Student for six years. ‘We just want better benefits, less years on the contract, maybe work out the 401(k), and a voice.’ Union  members have been working without a contract since the end of August. McCartney said the union has rejected four offers from First Student. ‘We don’t feel that the company is adequately addressing their concerns,’ he said. ‘We felt it was necessary today to take some action so that  they would take us seriously and sit down and negotiate.’”

17) Idaho: The Idaho Public Charter Commission has approved “an application for North Idaho-based Kootenai Classical Academy and denied an application for Virtual Preparatory Academy of Idaho, a would-be online charter hoping to target at-risk students across the state. (…) Still, one North Idaho educator’s concerns about approving the school surfaced Thursday. ‘In my opinion, this school targets the exact market segment that we serve, and has the potential to divide that market segment to the detriment of all,’ Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy Principal Dan Nicklay wrote in a May 6 letter to commissioners.”

18) MissouriThe state legislature could consider expanding education savings account options again next session, reports the Missouri Times. “Brattin likened his SB 841 to a ‘voucher system’ and said the previous ESA bill was a ‘great first step.’ ‘I believe the people are wanting something more robust, something that applies to everyone, not just depending on what zip code you live in,’ Brattin said. ‘When we’re passing state policy, in my opinion, it has to be across the board and for all to take advantage of.’ Brattin’s ESA program would allow for families to use the money on tuition and fees for a private school or non-public online learning program, payments for curriculum or tutoring services, or textbooks. Money could also be used for tuition and fees at eligible postsecondary institutions and required college textbooks.”

19) Oklahoma: Tulsa-area lawmakers fielded questions about their stance on spending public dollars on private school vouchers at a Friday forum. “Former public school teacher Sen. Jo Anna Dossett didn’t mince words in her response. ‘We shouldn’t be doing that,’ said Dossett, D-Tulsa. Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, said: ‘Constitutionally, we are not supposed to do that. As far as helping children getting out of impoverished schools to better themselves, until we have another plan to look at, then I would support that. ‘But I will not support vouchers, and that’s all there is to it.’”

20) South CarolinaThree charter schools intend to apply for approval to open in Myrtle Beach. The Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina “has been providing support to prospective schools by offering scholarships to its annual conference, which gives organizers the chance to network with existing charters. Enrollment in charter schools surged last year, and there doesn’t appear to be a mass exodus of students returning to traditional district schools. Aust is keeping an eye on the state’s 45-day, 90-day and 135-day headcounts to see if that trend continues.”

21) Think Tanks: The Penn Program on Regulation (not the Koch-backed outfit) has some ideas on regulating charter schools. “In this week’s Saturday Seminar, scholars highlight the impacts of different charter school regulations across several states.” 


22) National: The federal government is seeking feedback on the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and one of the act’s most high-profile sections, the electric vehicle charging infrastructure program, The Bond Buyer reports. “For states and local governments, the guidance will be key as they attempt to snag competitive and discretionary grant funding or the formula-based funding included in the new law. Some issuers have hired lobbyists and are expected to expand their grant-writing teams.” [Sub required]. For more information see the USDOT’s webpage on the law.

23) NationalShould private, for-profit corporations be involved in early discussions among public officials about whether to move ahead with an infrastructure project? The Bond Buyer thinks so, spinning it as a tool to “reduce risks and costs and deliver a project faster.” They’ve even got a spin-doctored name for them: progressive development agreements. “A PDA can also help a private partner price the project more accurately, [a Moody’s Investors Service analyst] said.” [Sub required].

24) Florida: The privatization fiasco that keeps on giving. Jacksonville’s public utility company, JEA, went through a long scandal a couple of years ago over efforts to privatize it. Now, the Times-Union’s intrepid Nate Monroe (who blew a lot of whistles in that scandal) reports that he has “found records indicating that consultants working for Florida Power & Light planned in 2019 to offer a job to Jacksonville City Council member Garrett Dennis. The councilman was a vocal opponent of privatizing JEA, which NextEra, FPL’s parent company, tried to purchase that year with an $11 billion bid.The planned job offers, records showed, was intended to get Dennis off the council. FPL acknowledged their consultants had floated that idea but said they rejected it. But Nate reached out to Dennis this week, who said he did in fact remember receiving a mysterious offer for a job that bore striking similarities to the plan outlined in the records the Sentinel and Times-Union had.”

25) Michigan: A bill (HB 5369) would require the state to follow the design-build-operate-maintain model when contracting for new highway construction or major reconstruction projects. “Under the plan, local governments would be allowed, but not required, to sign similar contracts for construction and maintenance of local roads and bridges.”

26) Pennsylvania: Public Works Financing reports that “a legislative attempt to block PennDoT’s Major Bridges P3, or at least the tolls that would fund the program, advanced through the House last month and is likely to come down to the wire. The blocking legislation has already passed the state Senate, but faces a veto from Governor Tom Wolf. The legislation is  currently just one vote shy of a veto‐proof majority in the Senate. For now, it appears that the veto will hold.” 

Governor Wolf, a Democrat who has opposed school privatization, seems ready to go along with the P3 model, with his staff deploying the same language as the P3 boosters. “Opponents of the blocking legislation, including a spokesperson from Governor Wolf’s office, have argued that adding a legislative approval requirement for P3s would be a disincentive for innovation and add another layer of politics or administrative approvals to future P3 programs. Some state legislators further pointed out that such a requirement was considered, but rejected, when the state passed its current enabling legislation. In some states, P3 enabling legislation does require legislative approval of project when a new toll or other user fee is included in the project, which is what the Drive Smart Act would require if passed.” [Sub required]

27) International: Calls are mounting for the Ontario government to eliminate tolls on highways 412 and 418. “The tolls have long been a sore point for Durham residents who have watched as other 400-series roads have been promised and built in Ontario without tolls being affixed to them. ‘We have been advocating for no tolls to this highway since it was built,’ said Roy. ‘We called it, that this highway was unfairly tolled, right from the beginning, but this government has not acted on promises made during the 2018 election. It is high time they remove the tolls,’ she said.”

Criminal Justice and Immigration

28) National: The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is warning that a severe shortage of corrections officers could lead to more violence, and that a COVID-19 vaccination mandate could exacerbate the problem. “As of December 10, 2021, seventy (70) BOP institutions are under ‘intense’ operations modifications where the institution has a medical isolation rate greater than 7%, or Facility vaccination rate is less than 50% and Community transmission rate is greater than 100 per 100,000 over the last 7 days. An Office of Inspector General Report noted that less than half of those working inside of federal prisons have been vaccinated.” 

29) National: The U.S. Marshals Service is going to transfer inmates from CoreCivic’s Leavenworth Detention Center to the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth. “‘The Department of Justice is committed to implementing the President’s Executive Order on privately-operated criminal detention facilities,’ U.S. Marshals spokeswoman Lynzey Donahue said in an email. ‘When appropriate, detainees will be transferred to the nearest Federal Bureau of Prisons facility.” Immigrant detainees continue to be incarcerated for profit by private companies by the Biden administration.

30) Florida: The Florida Alligator reports that activists have unveiled demands in the death of a former inmate’s baby following internal investigation. “Aside from demanding ACSO make a formal public apology from all parties to Thompson and her family, Dream Defenders is calling for ACSO to publicly release full, uncut jail and infirmary footage and end the Alachua County Jail’s contract with Corizon Health. Corizon Health, Inc. has been sued for medical misconduct at least 660 times from 2011 to 2016. In 2015, Corizon and Alameda County paid $8.3 million to the family of Martin Harrison, who died two days after being jailed on a warrant for failing to appear in court on charges of driving under the influence after being arrested for jaywalking.” 

31) Oklahoma: The Norman Transcript has an excellent story on how relocation and privatization compromised the Oklahoma public health lab’s mission. “More than a year after Oklahoma officials announced the privatization and relocation of the state’s public health lab from Oklahoma City to Stillwater, the transition has been anything but smooth. For this account, Oklahoma Watch interviewed former lab and health department employees and reviewed documents obtained under the Open Records Act. Medical groups and some lawmakers quickly questioned the move of the public health lab amid a pandemic. Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration and the Oklahoma State Department of Health said the old lab was outdated and couldn’t be accommodated when the health department moved to new headquarters in a former energy company building in downtown Oklahoma City. They also wanted to pair the lab with a new pandemic research center using federal COVID-19 relief funds. But a warning from the lab’s former administrative director, John Murray, was prescient. In an email from December 2020, Murray said the lab’s essential public health functions could be compromised during the move and if the lab had fewer employees.” 

32) Utah: The state’s prison healthcare system has “systemic deficiencies” according to an audit. “The review was requested by the Utah state Legislative Audit Subcommittee to evaluate the ‘quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of healthcare services administered in Utah’s prison system’ to determine if there has been neglect of prison patients. The findings were presented to the state government on Thursday, according to The Associated Press. The report found that the bureau had not appropriately overseen and monitored patients and followed up with appointments. It also found that medical staff failed to monitor those infected with COVID-19, and often failed to meet guidelines that require daily checkups.” [Read the 108-page audit

Public Services

33) National: On The Hill’s Rising program, Ryan Grim lays out how an “arguably illegal”  covert Trump-era policy could result in the privatization of Medicare. It’s a story of a private equity takeover, stealth strategy, denial of care and revolving doors. [Video, about 10 minutes]

34) National: Timothy M. Smith explains what public swimming pools teach us about racism’s costs. “The heart of the matter is the false notion that progress for one group necessarily comes at another’s expense, [Heather] McGhee told Dr. Resneck. Their conversation was part of AMA House of Delegates Health Equity Forum (AMA members only) at the November 2021 AMA Special Meeting. ‘As the pandemic revealed, we are only as safe and secure and healthy and thriving as are our neighbors,’ McGhee said. That reality puts the lie to the ‘belief in the hierarchy of human value’ that distorts policymaking and impedes the effort to achieve equity in health care and many other areas of American life, she added.”

As Donald Cohen writes in his just-released book The Privatization of Everything (pp. 198-199) “having a nation and living in a community is as much about thoughts and emotions as it is about structures. It involves sensing a common history, conjuring a set of connections and feeling empathy for strangers. Privatization has a way of undermining all of these by turning us into rival consumers of our public goods, leaving us with a society that is less like the local library and more like Black Friday.”

35) CaliforniaA recycling company will return $6 million to overcharged Oakland apartment building owners and slash their rates for moving recycling carts to the curb for emptying, under terms of a legal settlement reached with the city, the Mercury News reports. “The company charged apartment building customers $152.68 per month — and in some cases up to $776.16 — to move their recycling carts to the curb for collection. In contrast, single-family homes were charged only $27.85 a month for the same service. According to the city, the contract required apartment building owners to pay the same amount. ‘Unjust and unfair dealing is unacceptable and will not stand,’ Parker said in a written statement. ‘I am proud of my office’s and the City Administration’s unflinching work, which culminated in securing refunds of overcharges totaling approximately $6 million for Oakland ratepayers and reducing the rates for these vital services to a fair and reasonable level.’”

36) California: About 400 Teamsters Local 396 sanitation workers for Republic Services have gone on strike against Republic Services, threatening trash service in Huntington Beach and Anaheim. The workers “accused management of making ‘unilateral changes without bargaining and threatening reprisals against employees who participate in union activity,’ according to a statement from the union.” 

Adan Alvarez of Teamsters Local 396 said “Republic Services can fix this today if they wanted to. (…) They are being forced to work long hours and are being threatened with repercussions if they do anything with the union.’ (…) Sanitation worker Omar Estupinian, who works in Chino Hills, said he is forced to work 14 hours a day and is exhausted on the job, creating a safety hazard when operating the large trucks. ‘We have no quality of life,’ he said. ‘We are being pushed to the limit and are at a breaking point.’ Those who speak out at company meetings are taken aside and reprimanded, he said.”

37) Massachusetts: The privatization gremlins are after the Boston T again. The corporate pressure group A Better City is using proposed cutbacks to the number of bus trips the T runs as leverage for privatization since, they argue, it would satisfy the Pacheco law, which requires that a proper case be made before any privatization is allowed.  “MBTA officials estimate they would need an additional 80 to 100 full-time drivers to fulfill the existing schedule without dropped trips.”The T “has stressed that its impending bus cuts, set to take effect Dec. 19 with the new winter schedule, are a response to a labor shortage and not a cost-control measure.”

38) Montana: The dismal record of state Republicans on governance has triggered a citizen backlash. “In a similar move, a number of wildlife, conservation, and hunting organizations and individuals have decided they, too, need to protest what’s going on with the privatization of the state’s public wildlife—namely, elk. In a well-penned column that hit print late last week they clearly state that Montana’s prized elk are ‘not to be owned and sold by private interests’ and denounce efforts to ‘make Montana more like Texas, where wildlife is a commodity.’ Citing both the Legislature’s efforts as well as Gov. Greg Gianforte’s appointees to the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission as problematic, they urge that ‘our elk management must return to being for all Montanans, not just the wealthy.’ To that end, they are forming a coalition to develop ‘a citizens elk management proposal’ and urge concerned citizens to join the effort at Again, there is no mention of political affiliation, it is the policies that are the problem.” 

39) International: Crikey, the always informative and entertaining Australian alternative news site, has a nice report on goings-on with McKinsey, the global consulting firm that has been involved in a number of scandalsmost notably in South Africa. “It’s been a big year for McKinsey & Company. The blue-chip management consulting firm, favoured by dictators and drug companies, saw an explosion in lucrative federal government contracts, entering into $46.6 million worth of deals in 2021, according to analysis of AusTender data. It’s a marginal increase on the $45.5 million McKinsey made in 2020, and together the past two years represent an expansion of The Firm’s (as its employees call it) work with the Morrison government. Since the start of 2020, McKinsey received nearly $100 million in government contracting. Between 2017 and 2019, it made a comparatively sober $23 million. It’s part of a consultant takeover of what was once core government work, buried under a blanket of secrecy that has critics concerned about the long-term health of the Australian Public Service.” 

Everything Else

40) National/International: Think Milton Friedman is dead? Well perhaps he is, but Olúfémi O. Táíwò has a great story in The Nation about how the spirit of privatization lives on in Friedman’s grandson Patri, “noble heir of the house of Friedman.” Hey kid, do you want to buy a city?

Photo by TEDx SF.

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