- Donald Cohen takes on Corporate Bullsh*t
- Freedom to Teach conference takes place in Florida (yes, Florida)
- LA school district reins in charter campus access
First the good news…
1) National: A new book on corporate BS is on the way. Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, has co-authored Corporate Bullsh*t: Exposing the Lies and Half-Truths That Protect Profit, Power, and Wealth in Americawith Nick Hanauer and Joan Walsh. Cohen says “maybe the title seems a little out of character for In the Public Interest. We’re a think tank, after all! What, you might think, does this have to do with privatization? A lot, it turns out. It’s about how private interests have kept control over our most basic public goods, such as health, safe workplaces, economic security, clean air, safe food, and other things we all need to survive and thrive. Let me tell you how it came to be.”
Donald sat down with Bill Gallagher of the Politics Considered podcast to discuss his other book, The Privatization of Everything. Check it out; audio, about an hour.
2) National/Think Tanks: Check out the fantastic videos of this weekend’s Freedom to Teach conference in St. Augustine. On YouTube. Here’s the link for the welcome and keynote addresses by J. Michael Butler, Kenan Distinguished Professor of History, Flagler College; David W. Blight, Director, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, and Sterling Professor of History, Yale University; and Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains. More videos are being uploaded by the hour.
3) National: Flush with cash from the $1 trillion infrastructure law, Amtrak is embarking on a massive program to upgrade its busiest stations, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Amtrak is trying to take advantage of potential profit centers that were historically an asset to railroads. Around the world, real-estate clusters around centrally located train stations have enjoyed high values and reliable tenants including apartment dwellers, restaurants and hotels. In places such as Baltimore, the prospect that the railroad could finally redevelop some of its properties has local officials hopeful it will help reinvigorate urban centers. ‘It’s a tremendous opportunity to lure new residents from D.C. and other locations to live in a neighborhood where they are steps from hopping a train to virtually anywhere,’ said Baltimore community leader David Lapides.” [Sub required]. For more on the new wave of federal railroad investment see this report from the Eno Center.
4) National: “There are specific steps that can be taken to reverse the outsourcing of mental health care to the public,” says David Rettew M.D., writing in Psychology Today. “In summary, the ability of big private healthcare organizations to simply ‘opt out’ of providing critically needed mental healthcare cannot continue and needs to be actively confronted. It is not the responsibility of the public taxpayer to balance the budgets of big corporations through the outsourcing of mental healthcare to publicly run clinics and hospitals. We can do better using existing tools that don’t require a complete overhaul of the system…. yet.”
5) National/Think Tanks: Lauren Jacobs, executive director of PowerSwitch Action and founding member of the Athena Coalition, is stressing the importance of the FTC’s landmark antitrust lawsuit against Amazon. “We applaud the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general for taking this step to stop Amazon’s dangerous consolidation of power. For far too long, Amazon has abused working people, harmed Black and brown communities, and undermined our democracy. The human impact of Amazon’s outsized power cannot be ignored: Amazon forces warehouse workers and drivers to work at dangerous speeds in deadly conditions; it uses its market dominance to squeeze small businesses; it has partnered with the police and military to build and expand a surveillance empire; it pollutes the air in communities of color; and when small businesses, workers, and communities have spoken out, Amazon has tried to bully and punish them. Today we’re seeing our public agencies serving the public good by listening to workers, organizers, and communities of color. This lawsuit is a step toward reining in Amazon’s power to make sure we have good jobs, thriving communities, and a healthy planet.”
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) has a must-read new report on Amazon by Irene Tung and Yannet Lathrop, A Good Living: Amazon Can and Must Make a Middle-Income Livelihood Possible for the People Who Work in Its Warehouses.
6) National: A federal judge has upheld the Biden administration’s rule allowing retirement plan managers to consider environmental, social, and governance factors (ESG) in their investment decisions. “The ruling marks another salvo in the ongoing culture war over the role that ESG plays in investing,” says The Bond Buyer. “Most of the battles have taken place on the state level, though federal lawmakers are wading deeper into the debate. In March, Congress passed a resolution that blocked the new rule, sparking Biden’s first veto. In his opinion, Kacsmaryk said that because Congress has not directly addressed whether ESG factors can be used to determine investment decisions, the court is only allowed to ‘disturb an agency rule’ if it’s considered ‘arbitrary or capricious in substance, or manifestly contrary to the statute.’” [Sub required]
While we’re on the subject of big money and public policy, the Network for Public Education has a great new report out, “Billionaires Exposed: The Impact of the ‘Portfolio Model’ on Denver Public Schools.” In the report, “Denver’s Mike DeGuire, a retired public school principal, tells the story of how monied interests achieved their goal, turning the Denver School District into a ‘portfolio’ of schools.”
7) National: The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board “will begin FY 2024 focused on market regulation with a new request for comment, improving data for the municipal securities market as it plans to move to a one-minute trade reporting window, and working to update its technology platforms. The MSRB’s FY 2023 concludes at the end of September, and will look to continue its implementation of the multi-year strategic plan, introduced in 2022 that will continue into 2025.
(…) ‘We are continuing to modernize our rulebook and one of the things that we continue to focus on is making sure that we are harmonizing our rules to the extent that it makes sense with other regulators, so looking at what the SEC is doing, looking at what FINRA is doing’” MSRB chair Meredith Hathorn said. [Sub required]
8) New York: The NYC Citizens Budget Commission is conducting a survey of residents to find out what they think “about their quality of life today as well as how they perceive the city is meeting its goals of providing essential services, such as public safety and education. (…) ‘Following several unprecedented years, there has never been a more critical time to assess the state of our city,’ said Andrew Rein, CBC’s president. ‘CBC’s “NYC Resident Survey” gives New Yorkers the chance to highlight the critical issues facing their communities and tell the city’s leaders about their quality of life and the quality of core city services affecting health, public safety, education, sanitation and more.’” [Sub required]
9) Pennsylvania: Philadelphia’s school cafeteria workers and climate staff have won a tentative contract, with raises. “The four-year deal, reached late Thursday night, came two days before the workers’ contract expired, and averts a strike. Members of Unite Here Local 634 had voted to authorize a work stoppage if union leadership called for it. Many 634 workers are now paid $15.50 an hour; the contract gives them a $500 signing bonus, plus raises of $1.50, $1.10, $1.00, and $1.00 over the life of the contract. It also guarantees climate workers walkie-talkies — an early sticking point, with some schools refusing to provide that equipment to workers and instead asking them to rely on their personal cell phones. The union also won three personal days for climate staff, across the board. Some employees with limited hours had only gotten one personal day under the last contract.
10) Arizona: “The board that oversees charter schools in Arizona isn’t doing enough to ensure schools’ financial viability, according to the state auditor general,” the Tucson Sentinel’s Caitlin Sievers reports. “In a report released Tuesday, the Arizona Auditor General found that the methods used by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools to evaluate school finances are not always adequate to pinpoint financial struggles that could cause schools to close midyear, leaving students and families scrambling. (…) Auditors also found that the board’s formula to calculate average daily student attendance obscured substantial changes in enrollment for those five schools that closed midyear. The board’s method of calculating the percentage changes in year-to-year enrollment and then averaging those percentages over a three year period resulted in an official enrollment decrease of 5.7% from 2014 to 2017, even though the actual decrease was 86%.”
11) California: The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has restricted charter school access to some campuses. “In a statement announcing the vote, the LAUSD Board said the requirement that public schools offer space to charter schools ‘has caused a myriad of educational, operational, safety, financial and legal challenges.’ ‘Parents, educators and students have described how co-locations have siphoned away needed resources from neighborhood schools, such as parent centers, computer labs and even space for electives,’ the board detailed. The board’s new policy, which the [L.A.] Times notes will return for a final vote ‘in 45 days with policy language vetted by district lawyers,’ has faced opposition from supporters of charter schools.”
The Los Angeles Times reports, “The action marks one of the most significant changes to local charter school policy since the state first required school systems to offer space to charters more than 20 years ago. On Tuesday, in the run-up to the vote, a senior attorney for the California Charter Schools Assn. threatened litigation to protect access to campuses. Backers defended the legality of the resolution, noting that it instructs L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho to come back in 45 days with policy language vetted by district lawyers. Charters enroll about one in five public school students within the L.A. school system.”
12) California: San Francisco public school teachers are considering a strike, along with janitors, nurses and other school staff members represented by SEIU 1021. Votes on a strike will take place on September 30 and October 3. Here is an account of their demands that have hit a standstill in negotiations, and here is SEIU 1021’s report.
13) Florida: The school voucher rollout has been a disaster. “After families and schools aired public complaints about not getting their state voucher money on time, scholarship funding organization Step Up For Students began distributing some of the awards. Parents and school leaders who got a share said the influx would stave off the financial struggles they had been facing. But not everyone received deposits into their education savings accounts. Step Up officials said they were working as fast as they can to review the requisitions, but some required additional attention. They expected a majority of the funds to be distributed by next week. Then they’ll take a look at waiting lists that are keeping some families from getting any money at all.”
In other education news:
Bid rigging: Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged to look into allegations of bid rigging within the Florida Department of Education. It didn’t happen. The federal government is now investigating.
Book bans: Charlotte County school district leaders told educators to remove all books that include LGBTQ+ characters and themes, Popular Information reports. “These characters and themes cannot exist,” the district told librarians in a memo.
Free lunch: A Pasco County community group is working to pay off students’ old cafeteria debts, WFTS reports.
Testing: Florida’s acceptance of the Classic Learning Test as a college admission exam continues to stir controversy, The Guardian reports.
Transportation: The City of Newberry is exploring safe options for children to get to school after the Alachua County school district ends courtesy bus rides in January, Main Street Daily News reports.
Meanwhile, “some critics of the state’s move to suspend four private schools from the voucher program over alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party are calling the decision a political stunt, the Sun-Sentinel reports.”
14) Maryland: The controversial plan by Prince George’s County to privatize the construction of new schools has received a second stage approval by the county school board. The vote Thursday night to move ahead comes a week after a similar vote failed. The second phase of the project includes eight new buildings, according to the Washington Post. “Some board members wanted the school system to sign a contract that would have required a project labor agreement with the Baltimore-DC Metro Building and Construction Trades Council. The issue threatened to hold up approval of the project’s second phase.” In the end, the second phase “requires that a minimum of 40 percent of the labor is locally hired. It also includes something new in the ownership structure: County residents and businesses who want to invest in to the project receive a 10 percent share of ownership in total, said Jason Washington, the district’s director of alternative infrastructure planning and development.”
15) Missouri: A charter school group has received a $35.6 million federal grant to expand and open new charter schools across Missouri over the next five years. “Enrollment in charters has stalled at around 11,500 students for the last few years, as schools open and close. More than 50 St. Louis Public School buildings have been shuttered since 2000. Yet the district has among the lowest capacity rates in the country, with 16,600 students across 62 buildings last year. Academic results have also been mixed. In 2022, St. Louis charter schools scored an average of 69% on the state’s annual performance report, which includes test scores and attendance rates. SLPS schools scored 64%.”
16) Ohio: Writing in Ohio Capital Journal, retired school administrator Denis Smith paints a devastating comparison of Ohio and Texas when it comes to education vouchers and religious indoctrination in public schools. “If there is one person in the Buckeye State who almost singlehandedly pushed through the voucher bill despite spirited opposition, it would be Senate President Matt Huffman, whom Statehouse watchers have described as the bully- in-chief of Ohio politics and an aggressive champion of conveying public funds to religious schools. By contrast, if there is one person in Texas who has been a principled leader in championing public schools and opposing vouchers for religious schools, the Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, leader of Pastors for Texas Children, would be that positive force. What a contrast. In Ohio, we have a schoolyard bully in the person of Matt Huffman. In Texas, we have a principled pastor using a bully pulpit, a la Theodore Roosevelt, who popularized that term. But let’s not conflate the two terms, as Pastor Johnson respects constitutional limits, unlike the Ohio Senate President.”
17) Pennsylvania/National: Moody’s has downgraded the Pittsburgh school district’s issuer and general obligation limited tax bond ratings to A1 from Aa3 and revised its outlook to stable from negative. “The rating also reflects the district’s declining enrollment, driven by a declining population and significant competition from cyber and charter schools, along with manageable leverage that will grow as the district moves forward with its multiyear capital plan,’ Moody’s said.” [Sub required]
18) Texas: Robert Rivard looks at the upcoming high stakes battles over school vouchers that will be set off by the special legislative session starting October 9. “Such blatantly transactional government is not in the public interest. Texas citizens do not want public school funding, already inadequate, to be further undermined by this long-running scheme that predates Abbott. Yet there is a real fear that House Republicans who have opposed proposed voucher bills for two decades will now cave rather than risk losing their seats to a primary challenger backed by Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.”
19) International/U.K./Scotland: School cleaners, cafeteria staff and janitors are set to strike across Scotland. Yesterday hundreds of school support staff gathered outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. “Children across much of the country are facing disruption to their education with many schools closed after Unison members in 24 council areas walked out on Tuesday. Unison Scottish secretary Lilian Macer described the latest pay offer from employers as “too little, too late and too vague” and challenged First Minister Humza Yousaf to come outside and speak to workers at the rally. The demonstration comes after it emerged on Wednesday that money used to compensate the survivors of historic abuse and provide school-level funding will be “re-profiled” as part of the pay offer to non-teaching staff in Scotland, which is estimated to cost around £580 million.”
Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) general secretary Roz Foyer said “we know that you will send a very, very strong and loud message to the Scottish Government that enough is enough. Workers deserve better. You deserve a decent living wage for each and every worker. When workers come together, workers can make the difference. That is the power that you have so stand strong and stand together.”
One parent defended the requested pay rise. “You could spend more than that going to Burger King for lunch so I think asking for a pay rise makes a lot of sense to me. When you think about school workers, you think about teachers but you don’t necessarily think about the janitorial staff. You don’t think about the cafeteria workers and aides and so on, so I think it’s good that they’re going to get recognition.”
20) National: The U.S. needs $36 billion to address its offshore wind port infrastructure gap over the next decade, according to a new report. “According to the report, a lack of port infrastructure is one of the most significant bottlenecks impeding the US offshore wind industry. Port capacity will continue to be a major constraint across the country without additional government funding and policy supports that incentivize or derisk private investment in offshore wind, the report said.” [Read the report]
21) National: President Biden’s plan to remove lead pipes is running into delays, the New York Times reports. “The reasons are a mixture of financial, logistical and even semantic concerns, according to interviews with more than a dozen residents, environmental activists, and local and federal officials. (…) And while advocates commend Mr. Biden for confronting the crisis head-on, securing nearly $27 billion in federal funding for clean water and lead pipe removal, they fear that a string of unexpected impediments could hold up progress for years to come. Chicago, which has more than 400,000 lead pipes, the most in the country, offers a glimpse into how difficult it can be to implement such an ambitious, nationwide plan, advocates and city officials say.”
22) Georgia/National: The Biden administration and Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) are delivering sewer and water infrastructure upgrades in Effingham County. “Sen. Ossoff continues working to expand Georgia’s manufacturing industry and boost job creation in Georgia. Earlier this summer, Sens. Ossoff and Rev. Warnock delivered infrastructure upgrades for Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon to expand the college’s nursing workforce development program.”
23) Michigan: State funding is on the way to support water infrastructure, the Times Herald reports. “‘We’re hoping this project is underway and ready to go in ’24. So, you know, not wasting time and getting the project all put together, bid out, and moving forward because time is going to be a huge issue here,’ [said Scott Adkins, Marine City’s manager]. ‘And I think those that aren’t ready to go and have a lengthy delay are the ones that are likely to experience significant cost increases.’ According to an EGLE project priority list for next year, the village of Capac similarly scored high as an applicant for its $12.1 million project to address water mains, its treatment facility, meters, wells, and more.”
24) Oklahoma: Popular Information’s Judd Legum has the low down on shenanigans in Oklahoma City over the payoff that Thunder co-owner Clayton Bennett is demanding from taxpayers. “Today, the Oklahoma City Thunder are worth an estimated $1.875 billion and generate income of about $130 million annually. Those figures are likely to increase after the NBA negotiates a massive new television contract next year, which is projected to be at least twice as lucrative as the current deal. For Bennett and the ownership group, however, this isn’t enough. He is demanding massive new subsidies from the taxpayers of Oklahoma City. If the city refuses to pony up, the implicit threat is that Bennett will move the team to a city that will meet his demands.”
Jim Hightower puts it all in historical context. “‘I’ve seen lots of funny men,’ Oklahoma troubadour Woody Guthrie once sang about outlaws. ‘Some’ll rob you with a six gun / Some with a fountain pen.’ That could apply today to Clayton Bennett, a multimillionaire Oklahoma City banker who’s regularly wielded his fountain pen to loot public funds for his private gain. Bennett is a Hall of Infamy player in the elite club of big league owners of pro-basketball teams, specializing in picking taxpayers’ pockets to finance his operations. In 2006, he and a few high-rolling partners bought the Seattle SuperSonics team, promptly demanding that locals pony up $500 million to build a new arena for them. No, said Seattle. So Bennett & Gang scampered off to Oklahoma City with the team, renamed it the Thunder, and used their fountain pens to filch a $100 million subsidy from taxpayers there. Soon, Bennett and the Gang struck again, demanding that local officials hand over another $115-million subsidy. Gratitude? Robbers don’t say thank you. They refill their fountain pens.”
25) South Carolina: The Spartanburg City Council has approved a $425 million ‘public-private partnership’ deal to build a new 3,500 seat minor league baseball stadium. It is the largest development project in Spartanburg’s history. “Public funds totaling $120 million will cover the stadium’s construction. That includes $54 million that will come from the state while Spartanburg will cover the rest through several sources, according to an outline of the plan, including a still-to-be-planned sale of $58.6 million in bonds backed by a downtown development fund, hospitality taxes, and future stadium revenues.” [Sub required].
26) Texas: Two members of Congress are urging the Federal Railroad Administration to reject joint grant applications to build high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston by Amtrak and the railroad company Texas Central. “Republicans Rep. Jake Ellzey and Rep. Michael McCaul sent a Sept. 28 letter to the FRA outlining their opposition to the controversial project. (…) If approved, the Amtrak-Texas Central grants would ‘result in taxpayer money being used by a private company to take private land from landowners through eminent domain,’ Ellzey and McCaul said, noting the ‘fierce pushback from rural landowners as well as county and local governments’ that own land along the proposed route. ‘At its core, this project is intended to take land from American citizens and put it under the control of a Japanese company, which is itself subsidized using money from U.S. taxpayers,’ they said.” [Sub required]
27) Vermont: VtDigger reports that “a federal requirement for handling grant money could actually make those grants unaffordable for the organizations building out Vermont’s broadband network, according to leaders of communications union districts and officials in the Vermont Community Broadband Board. (…) ‘Newer or smaller entities will struggle to have the amount of cash to put aside for a letter of credit, and so it’s a barrier to many of the entities even participating in the program,’ said Ellie de Villiers, chair of the Vermont Communications Union District Association. ‘Even if you do have the cash, it’s arguably not the best use of cash to be taking 25% of the grant amount and locking it away for the performance period rather than using it to build broadband.’ (…) De Villiers said the Vermont Communications Union Districts are working with the Vermont Community Broadband Board to persuade the federal agency responsible for making the grants, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to waive the requirement for letters of credit.”
28) West Virginia: The Montaine State has been approved to receive more than $7 million in federal funding for its infrastructure projects. “Individual awards include $3,126,336 for the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle to support an expansion of the Beech Bottom Industrial Complex in Weirton. Doddridge County Public Service District received $2,590,800 for water infrastructure improvements and to expand to local businesses in the county. The remaining $1.5 million will be used to upgrade Pineville’s water treatment and distribution systems with accommodation for future expansion and new business development.”
29) National: Reuters reports that Biden administration officials “last year recommended closing or downsizing nine immigration detention centers because of high costs and staffing shortages, a move that could have saved $235 million, a draft U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memo reviewed by Reuters shows. But ICE ultimately only ended contracts with two of the detention centers flagged in the memo. (…) Six of the nine detention centers identified in the August 2022 memo were operated by private companies. Among the for-profit detention centers was the Torrance County Detention Facility in New Mexico, where a government watchdog earlier had called for the relocation of all detainees due to ‘critical staffing shortages that have led to safety risks and unsanitary living conditions.’”
30) National/Think Tanks: What do municipal bonds do, and what different kinds of munis are there? MunicipalBonds.com has a good basic rundown.
31) California: The Daily Post reports that Palo Alto “council members weighed the possibility of reducing city services to pay hefty pension costs, or contracting out more work, since the city doesn’t have to pay for contractors’ pensions.”
32) National/New Mexico: The ACLU is suing CoreCivic over the preventable death of an asylum seeker at the notorious Torrance County Detention Facility. “For most of the time Vial was detained, he was held in inhumane conditions at TCDF while awaiting his deportation. He was desperate to leave the detention facility—though it meant returning to Brazil—but the date of his scheduled deportation was repeatedly postponed, and his mental health began to severely deteriorate. On the day of his fatal suicide attempt, Vial was distraught. He expected to be imminently transferred out of TCDF to be deported but learned that morning that his deportation date had been postponed yet again. Despite his obvious signs of extreme distress, CoreCivic staff failed to take appropriate precautions. Instead, CoreCivic staff allowed him to take a bedsheet to an unoccupied cell he was not assigned to, locked him in that cell alone, and left him there unsupervised for almost 30 minutes during ‘count.’”
33) International/U.K.: There is an uproar in Britain over the potential turning over of private data collected by the National Health Service to Palantir, the company led by right wing billionaire Peter Thiel. “An outcry over Palantir’s rapid ascent within the N.H.S., the beleaguered but beloved public institution that provides free health care across the country, has been building for months among some lawmakers, doctors and privacy campaigners. It could come to a head in October, when the winning bid is expected to be announced. (…) The contract Palantir is competing for would create one of the largest repositories of health data in the world and make the company a key partner in modernizing the health system, which has an annual budget of £160 billion. Civil society groups have raised alarms about a single private company handling so much personal data, especially one dogged by concerns that its software can be used for mass surveillance. During the Trump administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency used Palantir software to help find undocumented immigrants.”
34) National: The U.S. Supreme Court begins its 2023 term tomorrow. What are the main upcoming regulatory cases? The threat to agency regulatory power, and the threat to agency enforcement power. (Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo; and SEC v. Jarkesy). Elie Mystal says we will not be seeing an engagement between conservative and liberal camps, but rather “a battle between shades of extremism.” Mystal points to a slew of cases coming up from the Fifth Circuit, which he calls “an open flame burning through constitutional democracy.”
35) National/Think Tanks: Bond Dealers of America’s podcast had a good discussion with Emily Brock of the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) on the 2023 Legislative Outlook for Municipal Bonds. [Audio, about 15 minutes]
36) International/China: The number of PPP projects in China has slowed down sharply. Why? “The reason is that the problems existing in the explosive development of PPP projects, such as imperfect theories and systems and insufficient practical experience, restrict the healthy and sustainable development of PPP projects in China. People began to focus on the development of PPP projects from rapid and vigorous development to the stage of healthy and sustainable development.”
37) Think Tanks: Is private funding of public election administration a good idea? The Congressional Research Service is just out with a new report on the subject. “Many—including some of those who have helped provide private funding—have expressed reservations, however, about reliance on private philanthropy. One concern some express is that the availability of private funding is contingent on the choices of private entities. Private individuals and organizations are not obligated to provide election administration funding, and, as illustrated by the post-2020 actions of that election cycle’s donors, they might choose to opt out of ongoing contributions. Another is that private involvement in funding election administration could translate to private influence over elections, including potential foreign influence. Some worry that donors, including foreign nationals, could use private funding for election administration to try to influence election outcomes, such as by targeting their assistance to jurisdictions with a particular partisan leaning. Nearly half the states have responded to such concerns by prohibiting election officials from accepting some or all private donations.”