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.
- Emily Woods, head of education for the Richard K. Lubin Family Foundation, says community schools promote equity and we need more of them.
- There’s a great panel at Netroots Nation this weekend on the role of state legislatures in the fight for democracy.
- Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad discuss the origins and impact of neoliberal privatization.
First, the good news…
1) National: The Department of Education, which Donald Trump would like to abolish, has ousted the college accrediting organization that served as a gatekeeper between colleges and billions of dollars in federal financial aid. “This is the second time the council has lost the recognition needed to operate. The Obama administration cut ties with the ACICS in 2016 after the collapse of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, which had remained accredited by the council despite widespread findings of fraud and dismal graduation rates. The council was once one of the nation’s largest college accreditors, with nearly 300 schools under its watch. Many of those colleges switched accreditors when the council lost its recognition in 2016, but some of the most troubled institutions remained.”
In addition, the Education Department said “students who used federal loans to attend ITT Technical Institute as far back as 2005 will automatically get that debt canceled after authorities found ‘widespread and pervasive misrepresentations’ at the defunct for-profit college chain. (…) The action will cancel $3.9 billion in federal student debt for 208,000 borrowers.
2) National/California: PowerSwitch Action reports that “with support from our affiliate the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, hundreds of workers at [Amazon’s] San Bernardino Air Hub (KSBD) are organizing for better wages and conditions—and winning. They have already secured a small pay increase for night shift workers and made managers turn on the A/C in the blazing heat (temperatures regularly soar above 95 degrees). Now, more than 800 workers have signed a petition calling for higher wages, additional protections against the blazing heat (especially for people who work outside), and an end to retaliation. Amazon refused to meet these demands, so the workers walked out. Now they’re launching a new group, Inland Empire Amazon Workers United.”
3) National: Washington’s top labor prosecutor, the NLRB’s Jennifer Abruzzo, is taking on Whole Foods—which is owned by Amazon—over Black Lives Matter masks. “In December 2021, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint that alleged Whole Foods broke federal law when it prohibited its employees from wearing BLM messaging. The NLRB also alleged that Whole Foods illegally retaliated against some workers, sending them home without pay and firing some.” The NLRB’s federal trial with Whole Foods is ongoing and is expected to close in the upcoming weeks.
But despite all its excellent work, or perhaps because of that, the NLRB is seriously underfunded, veteran labor reporter Steven Greenhouse says. “‘We’ve been blocked for nine straight years in seeking to increase the NLRB’s funding, and inflation has left its budget 25% behind where it should be,’ said Bill Samuel, legislative director of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s main labor federation. ‘When you take into account the explosion in the NLRB’s workload because of increased organizing, renewed enforcement and the increase in labor law violations, they’ve reached a crisis stage.’ Largely due to Republican opposition, the NLRB’s budget has been frozen at $274m since fiscal year 2014, with Biden proposing an increase to $319m for fiscal 2023. As a result of budgetary strains, the NLRB’s field staff has been cut by 37% since 2014 and 50% since 2002.”
4) National: Great panel at Netroots Nation this weekend on the role of state legislatures in the fight for democracy. “In key states, Republicans are building toward a future where they can engineer election outcomes by modifying the laws and rules governing election administration and limiting the ability of state courts to curb partisan redistricting and subversion.” [Watch the video, about an hour].
5) National: NLRB Region 15 attorneys have won an injunction requiring Starbucks to rehire seven unlawfully fired workers, post the court’s order, and cease and desist from unlawful activities. “The petition explained that, after learning about the organizing effort, Starbucks directed a wide variety of coercive measures at its employees, including: disciplining the employee responsible for starting the campaign; more closely supervising its employees; closing the area of the store on days organizers had previously invited the public and customers to come to show support for the campaign; and removing all pro-union materials from the community bulletin board inside the store, including notes authored by customers expressing support for the employees and their campaign. Then, following increased media coverage and public support for the campaign, Starbucks terminated seven Union activists all on the same day, including five of the six members of the union organizing committee.”
6) National: Tribal nations can now apply for the 2022 National Tribal Broadband Grant Program to help them develop or extend broadband services within their communities, Arizona Mirror reports. “The National Tribal Broadband Grant program is designated to support feasibility studies for the installation or expansion of high-speed internet within tribal communities, according to the federal register document. The feasibility studies funded through the program will help tribes make informed decisions about the development of broadband within their communities. ‘The purpose of the National Tribal Broadband Grant Program is to improve the quality of life, spur economic development and commercial activity, create opportunities for self-employment, enhance educational resources and remote learning opportunities, and meet emergency and law enforcement needs by bringing broadband services to Native American communities that lack them,’ the Department of Interior stated in a press release.”
7) National: The new semiconductor law aims to create 20 “silicon valleys” all across the United States. “The law has bolstered the hopes of cities around the country—like Lafayette, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio—because it will create jobs in their communities. But also significant, said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings Metro, is that the law provides $10 billion over five years to create 20 regional technology and innovation hubs. And, it says they cannot be in places “that are now leading technology centers.” Instead, the law requires the Commerce Department to ‘ensure geographic and demographic diversity’ by creating at least three hubs in each of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s six regional offices.”
8) Georgia: The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a Georgia election law in a case involving racial discrimination in elections to the Public Service Commission. “‘The case concerned elections for the Georgia Public Service Commission, which sets utility rates and has five members,’ Liptak reports. ‘A 1998 law divided the state into five districts, with one commissioner representing each. But the commissioners continued to be elected in statewide elections. About a third of Georgians are Black, but Black voters are in a majority in District 3, which is made up of counties in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Four Black voters from that district sued to challenge statewide elections for commissioners, saying the practice violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting their power to elect candidates of their choice.’”
9) Georgia: Forsythe County Schools has announced that high schools will have the choice to bring back seven of the eight books the district removed from libraries in January. All this “thanks to the work of @sh1vis, @AD_739 and some community allies.”
10) Pennsylvania: Route Fifty reports that Pittsburgh is coming up with ways to adapt to wet weather and mudslides. “A recent pilot program in Pittsburgh shows promise as a model for how the city and surrounding region can develop solutions to climate hazards. This is the second in a series of articles from ReImagine Appalachia, a coalition working to transform and strengthen the economy across parts of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. At Route Fifty, we’ve reported previously on this project in our news coverage. Here, we’re giving the advocates behind the effort an opportunity to describe their approach, for themselves, in greater detail.”
11) National: Emily Woods, head of education for the Richard K. Lubin Family Foundation, says community schools promote equity and we need more of them. “For those of us in the trenches of the community school movement, an increased federal focus on community schools couldn’t come at a better time. City leaders and others are increasingly aware of the power of community schools as an equity strategy. And equity is needed now more than ever as schools face hardships exacerbated by the pandemic. No wonder local calls for community schools are growing louder and more frequent. Community schools become hubs for students and communities. Often open evenings and over weekends and summers, they bring together families, students, teachers and local organizations to identify and provide health, social and out-of-school-time support.”
12) National: School lunch programs across the country are bracing for higher costs, supply issues, less funding, and staff shortages. “‘We know that families are struggling right now,’ said Willow Kriegel, director of nutrition services for the West Des Moines Community Schools in Iowa. ‘Gas prices are high and food costs. We know that things are more expensive.’ Kriegel said that her school district had to raise prices by 25 cents per meal. While raising the costs helps somewhat, Kriegel said it’s still not enough to break even. In Kriegel’s district alone, she said cafeterias are $109,000 in school meal debt. To help counteract the growing debt, Kriegel said she applied for nine out of her 13 schools to get free and reduced lunches. Those requests were granted, but Kriegel said she knows many other schools aren’t as lucky.”
13) National/Florida: Moms for Liberty, which “would require that parents be notified when their children check out school library books and require teachers to submit the year’s reading list for parental approval,” has ties to national right wing groups. “Maurice Cunningham, a retired associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and author of “Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization,” called Moms for Liberty ‘a prefabricated front’ representing GOP interests, especially those of DeSantis. He noted that multiple individuals and organizations featured at the group’s Tampa summit are aligned with the rightwing Council for National Policy, including DeVos, Heritage Foundation, Leadership Institute and Turning Point USA.”
14) National/Missouri: Jennifer Berkshire says it’s “amazing how many heartland states have a conservative billionaire setting the policy agenda—which is to privatize public education and eliminate the income tax.” Missouri Independentreports on how that state’s governor, Mike Parson, is pushing hard to sell lawmakers on a $700 million tax cut plan. “The governor has also solicited help from one of the state’s most vocal champions of tax cuts, Rex Sinquefield. Parson’s office asked Sinquefield—by far the state’s most prolific donor, having doled out $40 million to Missouri candidates and causes since 2012 — to meet with legislators to discuss tax cut policy. In meetings with the governor and legislative leaders, Sinquefield brought along conservative economist Art Laffer, who is credited as the architect of the controversial tax cut package in Kansas that was ultimately repealed after years of budget shortfalls.”
15) Louisiana: Jennifer Berkshire’s Have You Heard podcast travelled to New Orleans, the first all-charter-school system in the country. “In a provocative new book, Tulane University political scientist Celeste Lay argues that New Orleans’ charter school experiment has undermined democracy, disenfranchising the very parents it was meant to empower. With school privatization on the march across the country, Lay’s account offers an urgent and timely warning.”
16) Maryland: In the midst of a nationwide teacher shortage, “Anne Arundel County Public Schools and its teachers’ union are at odds on how to fill mandated special education roles and how contractors should be paid,” WTOP reports. ‘On Friday, Nicole Disney-Bates, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, released a statement accusing Anne Arundel County Public Schools of violating its collective bargaining agreement with the union by hiring third-party contractors outside of the union to fill special education and ESOL positions in the system. In addition, Disney-Bates stated many third-party contractors were receiving higher salaries than instructors within the union. ‘We do not have an educator shortage; we have a shortage of people willing to be disrespected by their own school system,’ Disney-Bates said. ‘AACPS is spending huge sums of money to pay contractors more than their own dedicated employees who are invested in our communities, and dedicated to the students and families that they serve.’”
17) North Carolina: Writing in The Progressive, Carol Burris takes on “The Great Charter School Scam: Three charters abruptly closed in North Carolina this year due to fraud, disrupting the lives of hundreds of families and highlighting a national crisis.” She reports that “in May, a study by the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH) at Tulane University found that charter schools close at much higher rates than public schools, even when controlling for factors such as enrollment and test scores. Each year, roughly 5 percent of charters close, compared with 1 percent of public schools. But REACH’s data likely underestimates the problem. Because so many new charter schools open each year, the closure rate is offset by the overall growth of the industry. And a new charter opening in Columbus, Ohio, is of little help to a student whose charter just closed in Memphis, Tennessee. To more accurately capture the big picture, we at the Network for Public Education published a report on the long-term viability of charter schools.”
18) Tennessee: Amy Frogge of the Tennessee Public Education Coalition writes that a fake crisis was created to make privatization of the public schools easier. “So why do Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn want parents, taxpayers and legislators to think that two-thirds of Tennessee public school students can’t read? Why do they want you to think that your kids’ and grandkids’ teachers are not doing a good job teaching them to read when, in fact, almost 90% of Tennessee students are reading on grade level by the time they graduate? It’s because they want to create a fake crisis to make it easier to continue the privatization of public schools through private school vouchers and privately-run, publicly-funded charter schools. Just recently, it was revealed that Governor Lee is still working with controversial Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn to bring 100 of Hillsdale’s radical charter schools to replace Tennessee’s traditional public schools, despite Arnn’s demeaning comments about Tennessee’s teachers. We assume that the Governor will soon use his misleading claims that two-thirds of Tennessee students can’t read as the as an excuse to propose expanding his Education Savings Account/voucher program statewide.”
19) Texas: Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for governor, has been taking on Gov. Greg Abbott on school privatization. But Jennifer Berkshire is not the only one wondering why this didn’t make it into a major story on O’Rourke’s challenge in the New York Times.
20) International: Marshal Wang, a Canadian-born high school student currently attending Upper Canada College, takes on the subject of the privatization of universities across Canada. “The idea of a privately owned university has its appeals and will always exist as an option. As such an ingrained part of the Canadian education system, it is difficult to accept change, but in this case, it feels justified to say this trend of privatization has no stay in the Canadian educational system. The government should reinvest more money and better allocate funds toward post-secondary education to continue to provide a high-quality, affordable option for university students in Canada.”
21) National: Writing in The Progressive, In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen says we aren’t prepared for monkeypox. “Now, more than two years after COVID-19 first appeared on American shores—and during a surge in cases caused by the Omicron BA.5 subvariant—public testing sites are disappearing. From Illinois to Alaska, Texas to New York, cities and states are shuttering sites and many have stopped collecting and releasing daily case data. This is a mistake. Less public testing will likely lead to more cases and lives lost, leaving us less prepared for future variants. What we need is lasting, permanent public infrastructure to manage the emergence and spread of diseases. Instead of closing sites, we should be making them permanent and expanding their capabilities to test for other emerging diseases, like monkeypox.”
Reinforcing Cohen’s point, both policy initiatives and media coverage of the national monkeypox effort in recent days have dwelled exclusively on how much vaccine is being delivered, rather than on how the lack of infrastructure is contributing to the problem and stifling future preparedness. And universities also lack the planning and infrastructure to respond.
22) National: Several important recent pieces set out the major crises that could dominate the future of America’s infrastructure, covering the floods in eastern Kentucky, the massive crisis faced by the West as the Colorado River basin recedes, and Laredo’s dire drought and water shortage crisis. Also, check out the fascinating interview the Chapo Trap House folks did with Tarence Ray of the Trillbillies, author of the piece on Kentucky in The Baffler, on what’s been going on policy-wise and down in the hollers as the cameras and reporters go away. Then check out the Trillbillies’ three programs on the floods this month. This is an infrastructure story too.
23) National: Longtime privatization critic Elliott Sclar of Columbia University had a perceptive letter in the Financial Times on the controversial issue of how the public should approach the issue of autonomous vehicles. “John Thornhill is spot on about the regulatory challenge of introducing autonomous vehicles into the existing traffic patterns of contemporary cities (‘Intelligent cars need intelligent regulation,’ Opinion, August 12). However, addressing the challenge will take far more effort than merely getting ‘quick-witted entrepreneurs’ and ‘slow-moving bureaucrats’ on to the same rules-based page. The larger problem is how to find the money to fund the massive infrastructure this burgeoning transformation will require. Public investment is needed to ensure that the new internet-based transport guidance systems are in continuous high-quality contact with changing conditions on the complex weave of streets that comprise modern cities. An assumption implicit in too much of the current conversation is that future autonomous driving will resemble the present but the cars will drive themselves.” [Sub required].
24) National: Passenger rail projects in 8 states will receive $233 million in federal grants. “The money comes from the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair program. The infrastructure law President Biden signed last year made changes to the program and renamed it the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail program. DOT in its announcement said it will release a notice of funding opportunity this fall for $7.2 billion available under it. That amount will be available annually for the next five years, for a total of $36 billion. A Congressional Research Service brief from earlier this year points out that the grants makes up the bulk of federal funding available for expanding passenger rail routes.”
25) California/National: Private water police? California American Water has announced it will be stepping enforcement of its water shortage rules by implementing water waste patrols. “First time violators will receive a warning and will be prescribed corrective measures. California American Water will work with these customers to educate them about the drought and the associated water use restrictions. Continued violations may result in fines. California American Water is calling on all consumers to immediately reduce their water use and follow their District’s watering schedule as outlined below.”
26) Pennsylvania: A Philadelphia suburb is shocked by a bid put in by a Florida company for its sewer system. “The NextEra offer of $115.3 million was “totally out of line with what we thought we would receive,” H. Charles Wilson III, the chairman of the township’s board of supervisors, said at the meeting. NextEra’s offer for the sewer system amounts to nearly eight times the township’s entire annual operating budget of $15 million.
The supervisors said the sale of the sewer system and its 7,500 accounts to NextEra would allow Towamencin to retire its debt, forestall property tax increases, finance some projects immediately, and stash $87 million in the bank. Future township improvements would be funded just from the interest earned on the $87 million reserve. Marino called the sale “a generational opportunity to reboot and reset our finances for the foreseeable future.””
Opponents of privatization are resisting. NOPE. “Towamencin Neighbors Opposing Privatization Efforts: Local Ownership, Local Control, Lower Rates. Our sewer system is currently on the sales floor, join us to put pressure on our board of supervisors to stop the sale!”
27) National: Why is government hiring falling so far behind private job creation? “Some of the jobs were eliminated by the public agencies, but much of the deficit reflects their difficulty filling open positions in a hot job market, economists and recruiters say. State and local governments have posted slower wage growth and often have less nimble hiring processes than private employers. “In a severe labor market crunch, the least flexible employer in the room is the one who gets screwed, and that’s the public-sector employer for a number of reasons,” said Marianne Wanamaker, an economist at the University of Tennessee. She added that pay increases for government employees often require legislation and need to be negotiated with labor unions. Wages and salaries for private-sector workers rose 9.4% since June 2020, according to the Labor Department. Pay for state and local government workers advanced 4.9% during the period.” [Listen to the Wall Street Journal podcast]
28) National/Illinois: Voters will decide this fall whether to add the right to unionize to Illinois’ constitution. “‘There are a lot of Republicans and independents who are members of labor unions throughout Illinois,’’ [Joe Bowen, communications director for Vote Yes for Workers Rights in Illinois] said. ‘Most folks, when they think of our state they think of Chicago but the vast majority of the state is still the heartland and there are folks who have been working as pipe fitters and operating engineers, folks who have been paving our roads [and] fixing electrical systems in schools who may not vote for Democrats but they certainly understand the value that collective bargaining has had for them…those are not Democratic or Republican values, those are American values.’”
29) National: State and local election officials can’t access federal funding for security as violent threats mount. “‘There is a clear threat to Colorado Department of State (CDOS) staff, including the Secretary of State,’ Beall wrote in a letter to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, which oversees the grant. ‘We are, simply stated, facing a threat environment that is unprecedented for election officials and staff.’ But in June, the office learned that the advisory board of mostly law enforcement leaders considered and denied the secretary of state’s application for funding for the coming fiscal year. According to the denial email, the board thought the proposal lacked sufficient content and details, and the project duplicated services or research that is already available or being done.”
“Amy Cohen, the executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors, which is made up of election officials across the country, said federal agencies need to do more to ensure that election officials can obtain the money. ‘They have made funds available, but they haven’t made them accessible, and I think that’s a pretty significant difference,’ she said.”
30) Georgia: According to a study by two Georgia State University criminologists, “mandating at least an associate’s degree for entry-level officers should equate to lower rates of Black people and unarmed persons killed by police actions and more balance in the racial distribution of [police-related fatalities]. Police leaders and local governments should consider these findings when crafting policies to protect against fatal police-citizen encounters.”
31) International: Resistance is growing against the Ontario government’s plan for healthcare privatization. “‘It is an asinine idea, it is reckless, it is dangerous and yes indeed, it does actually threaten the public health care system,’ [Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition], said at a press conference on Wednesday. ‘It’s not new, it’s not innovative, it’s not particularly bold, it is a terrible idea but it’s an old idea.’ ‘Our message to the Ford government is, they say everything is on the table in terms of privatization, we say we are calling emergency meetings of every organization in this province that will stand up to protect our public, not-for-profit health care, and our public health care system… Everything is on the table to defend our public not-for-profit health care system.’”
32) International: Sandra Mullen, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU), discusses the social implications of privatizing the Nova Scotia liquor sales system. The idea was proposed by the Fraser Institute. “It’s important that readers understand the Fraser Institute is a right-wing public policy organization that has published material skeptical of climate-change science and made claims that raising the minimum wage will not reduce poverty. I’d like to refer to a more reputable source on this topic: the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s 2019 Alcohol Policy Framework. The CAMH is Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital and one of the world’s leading research centers in its field. In regard to privatization of liquor sales, it states that this course of action tends to increase alcohol-related harms.”
33) Think Tanks: A study published in the Annual Review of Criminology calls for an end to probation and parole. “If probation and parole are not improving public safety, are associated with higher incarceration rates, and are accompanied by negative outcomes, it is logical to ask not only why so many people are under supervision, but also why it is used at all,” the study said.
34) Think Tanks: Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad discussed the origins and impact of neoliberal privatization with the Jacobin Show’s Ariella Thornhill. [Video, at 54:00]
Image by Jared Rodriguez / Truthout.org.