- New ITPI report exposes real estate grift in charter schools
- Network for Public Education call to action on House legislation
- Study: Turns out the public likes public education.
First, the Good News
1) National: In the Public Interest has released a pathbreaking new report that exposes a key aspect of the charter school profiteering industry—the nexus of real estate capital and charter school management companies. This significant web of complex financial and board-level relationships is often overlooked in the wider debate over the assault on public education and the political action entities and right wing think tanks that are driving it.
“One of the largest opportunities for profit is in real estate. The purchase, development, and financing of facilities for charter schools has become a lucrative industry, buoyed by public financing and the preferential credit lines and interest rates that come from the semi-public status of charter schools. Today, while public messaging may tout the alleged popularity of charter schools and supposedly long waiting lists for charter seats, many believe that the profitability of the market—not parent demand—is driving charter school growth. This brief introduces the basics of how real estate development has become a major force behind the expansion of charter schooling. After a short overview, we focus on the proliferation of ‘related entities’ transactions, which make up some of the most egregious examples of real estate profiteering. We close with a few recommendations for reining in some of the worst practices in charter school real estate.” Read the full brief, “Real Estate and Charter Schools: A Growing Industrial Complex.”
In a related development, Indiana journalist Steve Hinnefeld reports that A Charter School ‘Dollar Law’ May Have New Life in the Hoosier state. Picking up real estate assets on the cheap gives a huge financial boost to the charter school industry.
2) National: How is the infrastructure act playing out at the local level? So far so good, says the EPA. “Since the passage of the IRA, DOE has built out its capacity to implement the funding in the law by creating a new undersecretary for infrastructure along with new offices to implement and deliver funds,” said [Kelly Crawford, a senior advisor for energy, equity and environmental justice at the Department of Energy] “However, added capacity is also needed on the side of communities that will be hosting projects—these communities often need support to communicate productively with project developers and enter into community benefits agreements, Crawford said. ‘When I first heard Congress was thinking about $5 billion for EJ, which I knew I’d be in charge of at EPA, I didn’t celebrate,’ said Matthew Tejada, deputy assistant administrator for environmental justice at EPA. “My first thought was, oh s—. Who’s ready to spend $5 billion on environmental justice? There are maybe a dozen organizations out there that authentically do EJ work that could handle an eight figure grant, much less than a nine figure grant.” Initially, Tejada said that EPA was afraid the competitions they were launching for funding would fail to secure applications, but the agency has been ‘really happy’ about the response so far.”
3) National: What is the best state for green, equitable transportation? “The Natural Resources Defense Council ranked California first for ensuring that the money it has received under the 2021 law would advance those goals in the transportation sector. Kentucky came in 50th. The NRDC’s researchers based their rankings on 19 separate factors, including the greenhouse gas impact of road projects, the deployment of electric vehicle chargers, efforts to encourage residents to avoid car trips, and procurement policies that promote women- and minority-owned businesses.” [NRDC report]
4) California: Montebello School District has ordered 25 Mega BEAST green buses. “GreenPower received the orders from Model 1 (formerly Creative Bus Sales), the manufacturer’s exclusive California dealer. The school district in Garden Grove asked for 25 Mega BEAST and 10 BEAST school buses, with funding assistance from the California HVIP program and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program.”
5) Kentucky/National: Good journalism, even about bad news, is good news. Tarance Ray of the Trillbilly podcast hits it out of the park with a deep dive, must-read piece in The Baffler on the aftermath of Eastern Kentucky’s disastrous July 2022 flood. Nobody comes off looking good, not Wall Street private equity, the real estate industry, the NGOs, local and state governments, and many, many entrepreneurial charlatans looking to do well by pretending to do good. “But by October the cracks began to show. They were basically on their own. “The first hiccup came over the issue of private bridge repair. In the wake of the flood, Letcher County had received well over one hundred applications for bridge repair, and estimated the cost of the project at around $1 million. The county, however, “[couldn’t] afford to do a million-dollar project,” according to Adams, the Letcher County executive official. In theory, FEMA and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet would reimburse the county for the costs of such a project, but the problem lay in the chasm between estimates and reality: if the county’s repairs exceeded FEMA’s estimates, then the county would be unable to claim full reimbursement. The same issue came up over road repairs.”
6) Maryland: Food & Water Watch says a new regional authority “could have led to water privatization in Baltimore – but the vote was tabled! Our Maryland team has been tirelessly organizing, and the fight is NOT over yet. We’ll keep working to ensure everyone has the clean water they need!”
The Baltimore Banner reports that “with unresolved questions surrounding debt refinancing, the fate of city-owned water infrastructure assets and workers’ pensions, and whether low-income Baltimore-area residents would be plunged into high-rising water bills, Reid said, ‘it gives me pause.’ Comments by [Task Force member Carla Reid, former general manager of Maryland’s largest water utility, WSSC] came shortly after task force member Patrick Moran, president of an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union council, said the governance model the task force was prepared to vote on—a politically appointed authority composed of directors and a rate-setting board—seemed to be the privatized system that Baltimore comptroller and task force Chairman Bill Henry, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said they didn’t want.”
7) Massachusetts: Worth Rises reports that “All communication across MA prisons and jails will be free starting Dec. 1 when this policy finally goes into effect. Congratulations again to all who fought so hard for this win.”
8) Minnesota/National: Workday magazine reports on another victory for union-worker center collaboration, this time in the Twin Cities. “In the late summer of 2021, a group of workers from First Avenue, the iconic Minneapolis music venue, were fed up with low pay, last-minute scheduling, lack of parking, and safety concerns, and wanted to implement some of their own ideas in their workplace. Unsure of how to get it done, the workers decided to first contact Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota (ROC-MN) to learn more about their workplace rights.
Fast forward to November 2: Over 200 bartenders, event staff, and other in-house workers across seven venues affiliated with First Avenue marched on the boss and delivered a petition that included the faces and names of over 70% of staff who want to unionize with UNITE HERE Local 17. About 24 hours later, First Avenue management voluntarily recognized the union. Workers say the unionization effort was successful, in part, due to the collaboration between the worker center and the union.”
9) National: The Network for Public Education Action has issued an urgent call to contact your House member and alert them to the danger of a companion piece of legislation to Senate legislation that would pump federal money into charter school “nonprofits.” Sen. Cornyn’s bill, S3072, in addition to its Republican backing, has also been backed by Democratic charter school industry supporters Sens. Margaret Hassan, Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, and Brian Schatz.
In an email alert, NPE Action says, “As we documented in our reports, CSP planning grants have led to enormous waste and fraud. NPE found that millions of CSP dollars have gone to school entrepreneurs who never opened a school—confirmed by the Department of Education and the GAO. That is why the 2022 reform regulations we supported put some modest guardrails on how and when planning grants could be spent. That did not sit well with the charter lobby, led by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which persuaded these eight Senators to make it even easier to get funding to pre-plan a school. But it gets worse. This bill would also increase the funding state entities can keep for themselves when they disperse grants. That cut is already at 10%. This bill would raise it to a whopping 15%.”
10) National: In case you thought that Milton Friedman’s plan to destroy America’s public education system is a relic of the past and that the school privatizers have moved beyond such simpleminded ideology, think again. Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Roland Fryer calling for a return to Friedman’s crusade to purify the education system by destroying it. Fryer, is a Manhattan Institute fellow and founding partner of Equal Opportunity Ventures. [Sub required]
11) National: Writing in The American Prospect, Jarod Facundo reports that right wing groups were beaten back in key recent school board elections, but the siltation remains complex. “Going forward, privatization advocates and their culture-war soldiers are navigating a landscape where, contrary to their aims, the average person wants to see their public schools succeed. For the integrity of public schools as a public institution, that’s a good thing. Staving off a movement dead set on diverting money away from public schools is a momentary victory, as there remains about $72 billion in pandemic-related assistance money still on the table for schools, which expires next September. The task ahead for liberals and moderates overseeing education policy is immense.”
12) National: But the assault on American education isn’t confined to the K-12 schools. Inside Higher Education has an article explaining how higher education is also in the crosshairs of far right activists and their well-heeled funders. “Today, conservative activists will launch a public campaign to enact new model legislation called the General Education Act. Behind this bland name is a proposal for the most radical assault on faculty and academic freedom in American history. If the model legislation were to be enacted, lawmakers would force public colleges to adopt a uniform general education curriculum devoted to conservative values, give a new dean near-total power to hire all faculty to teach these classes and then require the firing of many existing faculty members in the humanities and social sciences, including tenured professors. The GEA’s extreme ideas are not the babblings of some obscure blogger. They are a joint proposal from three leading conservative groups—the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, and the National Association of Scholars. One lead author, Stanley Kurtz, has an extensive track record of writing legislation aimed at suppressing liberal ideas in education. His 2021 Partisanship Out of Civics Act has been copied by state legislators seeking to ban critical race theory. A profile of Kurtz in The Guardian called him “the conservative scholar who lit a match to the U.S. right’s education wars.” The GEA represents a dire threat to academic values.”
13) Illinois: Right wing school privatization publications and organizations are licking their wounds over the heavy defeat that was handed to them by a broad coalition of public education and citizen activist groups drawn together by Illinois Families for Public Schools, which blocked the state legislature from renewing a school voucher scheme. The battle may be rejoined in the New Year. “This is also a historic win for the fight against the privatization of public schools in our country more broadly. We are the first state in the US to roll back an existing voucher scheme,” ILFPS reports. “It was a mistake for the IL General Assembly to pass the Invest in Kids Act in 2017. We are thankful that they listened to a coalition of over 65 local, state and national organizations and let this voucher program sunset as planned. We hope it is paired with a renewed commitment by ILGA to fully resource a system of high-quality public schools for every child and community in our state, a commitment that is in our state constitution but one that we have not yet fulfilled.”
For more on this see Peter Greene’s recent report in Forbes. “Illinois’s program funded a considerable amount of discrimination with taxpayer money. Illinois Families for Public School found:
- At least 85 schools in the Invest in Kids program, nearly 1 in 5, have anti-LGBTQ+ policies.
- Only 13% of private schools in the Invest in Kids program last year reported to the Illinois State Board of Education that they served any special education students. The majority of schools in the program are Catholic schools, and four of six Catholic dioceses in Illinois have policies that say schools may refuse to accommodate students with disabilities.
- Policies that discriminate against pregnant and parenting students, students who have had an abortion, English-language learners, students with disabilities, undocumented students, and more are widespread in Illinois voucher schools as well.”
14) Texas: The Texas State Teachers Association is applauding elected officials who stood up for public schools. “TSTA applauds the House members, Democrats and Republicans, who stood up for their public schools today by voting to strip a costly voucher provision from House Bill 1. This should be a clear signal to Gov. Abbott to end his efforts to bully these legislators into doing something they clearly don’t want to do — spend tax dollars on unregulated private schools when their neighborhood public schools, the centers of their local communities — are underfunded.
But if Abbott continues to pander to wealthy school privatization campaign donors, we will continue to fight. Texas public schools and Texas taxpayers cannot afford voucher schemes that within a few years would divert billions of tax dollars to private schools and ultimately destroy public education.”
15) International/Sweden/Britain: A policy earthquake has hit Sweden over the disastrous record of privatized education. “Sweden has declared a “system failure” in the country’s free schools, pledging the biggest shake-up in 30 years and calling into question a model in which profit-making companies run state education. Sweden’s friskolor—privately run schools funded by public money—have attracted international acclaim, including from Britain, with the former education secretary Michael Gove using them as a model for hundreds of new British free schools opened under David Cameron’s government. But in recent years, a drop in Swedish educational standards, rising inequality and growing discontent among teachers and parents has helped fuel political momentum for change. A report by Sweden’s biggest teachers’ union, Sveriges Lärare, warned in June of the negative consequences of having become one of the world’s most marketized school systems, including the viewing of pupils and students as customers and a lack of resources resulting in increased dissatisfaction.”
16) Think Tanks: The Popular Comms Institute has released a report reclaiming the ground for majority support for public education, Public Education is Popular (and Our Opponents Know It): Framing a Big Us to Defeat Authoritarian Attacks on Our Schools. “In this report we lay out our findings. In a word, our study shows that public education is popular, and our opponents know it. But our messaging choices matter; they can make the difference in whether or not we compel “persuadable” audiences and thereby win majority support. With strategic messages that claim a majoritarian position, invoke shared values like freedom and responsibility, and articulate a believable vision of abundance and strong public schools, we can beat these new attacks and win well-resourced public schools where all children can thrive.”
17) National: The Biden administration is pushing for a network of 500,000 EV chargers. Two states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, are apparently in the lead for project rollout. “Spencer Burget, who tracks EV data for Atlas, said seven other states have finished the initial contracting process, setting them up to begin construction. Federal officials expect almost every state to have at least started the process by the end of the year. The national lab study estimated the cost of building the public portion of a national charging network would be between $31 billion and $55 billion. To date, it has counted almost $24 billion in planned investment, a figure the study’s authors concluded put the total within reach.”
18) National: Winter is coming, and the electrical and gas grids will be under stress. “Infrastructure in Pennsylvania and the other 12 states that are part of the PJM Interconnection grid is more weatherized than assets farther South. That’s why the shock of so many of those efforts failing during the Christmas storm last year raised significant alarms and renewed calls for reliability oversight for natural gas infrastructure. ‘We narrowly dodged a crisis last year,’ Jim Robb, president and CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corp., or NERC, said in written remarks accompanying the final report on the lessons learned from Winter Storm Elliott.”
19) Montana: In a letter to the editor of the Daily Interlake, Larry Robson of Huntley says 2024 Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy cannot be trusted to keep public lands in public hands. “Several short-sighted individuals have proposed the transfer of federally managed lands in the past. Fire suppression alone can total millions of dollars. It is unrealistic to believe that Montana could afford such costs without raising taxes. Because of those higher management costs, it is also realistic to believe that federal lands transferred to state ownership would raise the prospect of privatization. If Montana could not afford to maintain transferred federal lands properly, Montana counties could not either!”
20) Montana: Federal infrastructure funding is not only making new projects possible; it has beneficial side effects on service rates and state and local budgeting. “‘If we had to spread those projects out over a much larger period of time then that would have put our system reliability in a more compromised position,’ Murray said. ‘So this whole expedited time schedule is to everybody’s benefit. We probably couldn’t have taken all of this on because it’s really hard to get all these projects done. But it’s a great thing for our customers that we are getting this completed.’ (…) ‘The ARPA money changed everything,” she said. “It’s important – that’s why we’re here doing this because we care about the people we serve and we want to do the best for them.’”
21) Pennsylvania: Some local conservation groups are worried that their participation in a federal program could leave them open to litigation. “There’s no boogeyman here. There is no constituency for abandoned mine drainage,’ Chris Wood, CEO and president of Trout Unlimited, said. ‘Democrat, Republican … everybody cares about clean water. It’s the liability exposure that is the challenge.’”
22) Pennsylvania: The privatization of water and sewer systems is driving up rates. “The deals provide a short-term cash boost for local governments, which can struggle to cover the cost of aging infrastructure. But critics say the public services and tax savings that governments might provide residents with the quick money don’t make up for the rate hikes, a phenomenon known as ‘taxing through the tap.’ ‘Big Water tells municipal officials, “You’re going to get free money.” ‘That’s a lie. That money is going to be paid for by ratepayers,’ said Bill Ferguson, a cofounder of Keep Water Affordable. The community group protested the 2020 sale of the wastewater system in New Garden Township, a community of about 11,000 residents near the Delaware border, to Aqua Pennsylvania.”
23) International/China: Reuters reports that “China has ordered its local governments to halt public-private partnership projects identified as ‘problematic’ and replaced a 10% budget spending allowance for these ventures with a vetting mechanism by Beijing as it tries to curb municipal debt risks. (…) The 10% expenditure threshold will now be replaced with government authorities’ review of each PPP project, they said. The move comes after numerous local governments’ PPP expenditure hit the upper limit of the threshold in recent years. The State Council also asked the local governments to halt “problematic projects”, identified in inspections conducted by the National Audit Office (NAO) earlier this year, and address the identified issues, said the sources. Projects designated as “problematic” are those riddled with irregularities including in which local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) posed as the “private” partner, spurring excessive debt accumulation, one of the sources said.”
24) International/United Kingdom: The London Telegraph has a good report on the housing crisis and how private and public interests are like two freight trains speeding toward one another. “Private corporations bought up Berlin’s social housing—now the city is struggling to get it back. (…) In fact, Berliners rue the day their city decided to sell hundreds of thousands of homes to private equity-backed “corporate” landlords to make a quick buck. The city’s largest renter association has since said that while individual landlords typically raise rents by around 20pc, corporate ones will raise them by as much as 50pc all the while their residents, laden with maintenance issues, are left to feel like numbers on a spreadsheet. Now, Berlin state officials are struggling to return the properties back to social ownership.” [Sub required].
While we’re on the subject, have a look at the just-released U.K. government guidebook on risks in the housing sector. If you’re feeling that it’s impenetrable or part of a screenplay for the old British sitcom Yes Minister, bear in mind that it’s labelled the “accessible version.”
25) National: As recently noted in Privatization Report, the Kansas City Beacon has reported that people in Missouri prisons say food went from bad to worse when Aramark took over. Now that wouldn’t have had anything to do with the government contracting behemoth’s profits, would it? Last Tuesday Aramark reported that its Fourth Quarter 2023 revenue jumped 12% and operating income jumped 40%. Year over year revenue is up 15%. Operating income is up 37%. Fourth Quarter revenue jumped to $3.067 billion. For more see Leslie Soble’s “Eating Behind Bars: Ending the Hidden Punishment of Food in Prison” and all the work of Impact Justice.
26) National: Why is national bus ridership experiencing a crisis and what can be done about it? The Eno Center recently had a useful webinar on the issue. [Video, about a half hour]. See also Bond Buyer’s report on how this is affecting transit’s credit rating. But “The MTC and the Bay Area transit agencies are studying options for additional revenues, including a regional transportation measure. MTC plans to revisit the estimated needs for all operators each year to program the following year’s funding.” [Sub required]
27) Alaska: Ready for winter? Sidewalk snow removal was a focal point at Fairbanks’ winter maintenance forum. “Every participating agency except the City of North Pole Public Works reported staffing shortages—sometimes severe. ‘Our vacancy rates are crazy: 25 percent to 30 percent—running right now 35 precent in Fairbanks for our operators,’ said AKDOT Northern Region Maintenance and Operations Manager Dan Schacher. The October Issue of Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Economic Trends magazine shows that highway maintenance workers have a ‘higher than expected’ yearly turnover rate given the average wages. The turnover rate is 67 percent, while the average wage is $27.94 per hour.”
28) California: The state inspector general has issued a report on the adequacy of the medical inspections regime in California prisons. “We rated 23 of the 34 adult institutions adequate during this inspection cycle. We rated 11 institutions inadequate. Compared with Cycle 5, two additional institutions received adequate ratings. We found the majority of institutions in Cycle 6 obtained an adequate or proficient rating in the following medical indicators: Access to Care, Emergency Services, Health Information Management, Transfers, Prenatal and Postpartum Care, Nursing Performance, Provider Performance, Reception Center, Specialized Medical Housing, and Specialty Services. Conversely, we found the majority of institutions in Cycle 6 obtained inadequate ratings in the following medical indicators: Diagnostic Services, Health Care Environment, Medication Management, Preventive Services, and Administrative Operations. By Cycle 6, the department had completed the transition to an Electronic Health Record System (EHRS). This transition resulted in improved statewide performance in two indicators: Diagnostic Services and
Health Information Management. As a result, through this cycle, the OIG conducted all medical chart reviews through the EHRS, and is no longer reviewing paper health records”
29) Ohio: Dayton officials have pulled an outsourced municipal contract with a company with a criminal history. The proposed contract was with Evans Landscaping and was stopped “after city management learned that company officials years ago were convicted of defrauding another municipal government in southwest Ohio. The Dayton City Commission at its last weekly meeting was expected to vote on a nearly $1.5 million contract with Cincinnati-based Evans Landscaping for a stream restoration project for Wolf Creek.”
30) Oklahoma: Some public officials are getting dragged over how they treat public records requests. “Supervisors at government agencies are supposed to be trained in public records and open meetings law. Ignorance should not be an excuse for violating either. Attorney General Gentner Drummond has been touring the state holding programs on open meetings and open records. (…) You might be surprised how often, we as journalists, have to actually correct state, city or school employees on how public records are supposed to work. How if they want to deny a certain record, it has to be exempt by state or federal law. But, this is bigger than even journalism. Those public offices are keeping your records, not their records. Those are you records and you are entitled to them.”
31) National: MultiState Associates has a useful recap of the key issues state legislatures dealt with in this year’s sessions.
32) New York: New York City has rolled out a plan to use artificial intelligence in municipal government. This might be a good time to watch Timnit Gebru’s talk about whether AI is racist or undemocratic. [Video, about 25 minutes]
33) International/Argentina: In his last campaign ad before election day, newly elected right wing populist President Javier Milei “looks at the camera and assures voters he has no plans to privatize education or health care.” Time will tell.
34) International/European Union: In case you’ve been tempted by the privatizers to think that the free market frees corporations to be efficient, it turns out that Eurozone banks are losing millions of dollars to poor IT outsourcing, same as government departments have.