- Detroit school bus drivers put privatization plans in reverse
- Charter school debacle I: Ohio
- Charter school debacle II: California
First, the Good News
1) International/National: As the COP28 Summit wraps up in Dubai amid much criticism of its usefulness and role, an excellent report on public-private issues in addressing the climate crisis has been produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners.
“The State of Finance for Nature (SFN) annual report series tracks finance flows to nature-based solutions (NbS) and compares them to the finance needed to maximize the potential of NbS to help tackle climate, biodiversity and degradation challenges. For the first time, this edition estimates the scale of nature-negative finance flows from both public and private sector sources globally. The figure is daunting—almost US$7 trillion per year—and is likely to be an underestimate given it includes only direct impacts. Private finance flows that have a direct negative impact on nature are US$5 trillion, which is 140 times larger than private investments into NbS.
“On the public side, environmentally harmful subsidies have increased 55 per cent to US$1.7 trillion since the last report, despite government commitments and driven by fiscal support for fossil fuel consumption. The combined impact of public and private nature negative finance flows is enormously destructive and undermines potential increases in finance for NbS. However, this misalignment represents a massive opportunity to turnaround private and public finance flows to align them with Rio Convention targets.”
2) National: By fostering community-worker coalitions, Jobs to Move America is fighting across the country for good jobs and equitable opportunities in the clean tech movement. Watch the video and subscribe! “Jobs to Move America hosted a Learning Trip to Alabama for our supporters to gain an understanding of the labor and civil rights movement in Birmingham and Anniston, and what is being done to create good jobs in the area. Here’s a visual recap from that trip.”
3) National/Think Tanks: Aurelia Glass, a research associate at the Center for American Progress, explains how unions help reduce the pay gap for disabled workers. “Union membership offers workers, including those with disabilities, a route to the middle class. The challenges that people with disabilities face in the workforce, including lower wages for similar work and difficulty obtaining and maintaining stable jobs, are the sorts of challenges collective bargaining empowers workers to overcome through negotiation for better wages and working conditions. But the obstacles that prevent millions of workers nationwide from exercising their right to join a union mean fewer workers can experience these benefits. Measures that make joining a union easier—such as the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—which would stiffen penalties for union busting and enhance protections for workers trying to organize their colleagues—and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act that proposes strengthening organizing rights in the public sector would help millions of disabled Americans achieve economic justice on the job.”
4) National: A new bipartisan bill from the leaders of the House Veterans Affairs Committee “would grant Veterans Affairs Department medical professionals the right to pursue the correction of payroll and other compensation errors through the union grievance process. Medical professionals like doctors and nurses at the VA are hired under Title 38 of the U.S. Code. Unlike most federal workers, who are hired under Title 5, Title 38 employees have abridged collective bargaining rights, including prohibitions on the ability to negotiate over issues of patient care and clinical competency. It also bars them from engaging in collective bargaining over compensation adjustments.”
5) Iowa: In a letter to the editor of The Courier, Gil Schultz says Cedar Falls is fortunate to have good government. “The city of Cedar Falls has been fortunate over many years to have citizens step forward into mayoral and council positions with the best interests of the citizens in mind. Outgoing Mayor Rob Green, council representatives Dave Sires, Simon Harting and Susan DeBurr performed in a committed manner. Each will leave an enduring mark on our city. A mighty thank you to these dedicated citizens is in order. (…) Great accomplishments have happened associated with the collaborative efforts of our mayors/councils and staff. I look forward to more success to come. All the efforts would be for naught without the support of the citizens including boards, commissions, volunteers, and engaged taxpayers. Cedar Falls is a proud community.”
6) Michigan: In a victory for unions and community activists, the Wayne-Westland school board in Detroit has walked back its plans to privatize busing services. The union may sue. “Jeff Marti, president of the Michigan Education Association Local 4, which represents part-time employees in the district, believes that exploring privatization while under contract is an unfair labor practice. The union may contest the decision in court, asserting that the move violates their current contract, which remains in effect until June 2025.
The uncertainty surrounding the layoffs and potential privatization has left employees with more questions than answers. Many of them have dedicated their careers to Wayne-Westland Community Schools and take great pride in being part of the community. The district, which has faced administrative challenges in the past, is now grappling with the task of balancing financial constraints with the delivery of quality education to its students.”
7) Tennessee: Johnson County government and Johnson County Schools have agreed to collaborate on the joint purchase of a building to improve community digital access, the Tomahawk reports. “An item added to the agenda to approve entering into a cooperative with Johnson County Tennessee government,” said Russell Robinson during the meeting, “to apply for funds to the Connected Community Facilities Grant for the CCF program in the amount of up to two million dollars and matching funds of up to half a million dollars for the purchase and renovation/alterations of the former National Guard Armory Building.”
8) Texas: Tennessee Holler’s got a great short video up on how a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans beat Gov. Greg Abbott on his signature issue—school vouchers. TX Rep. James Talarico gives the low down.
9) National/Ohio: Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and indefatigable warrior against right wing efforts to destroy public education, has a terrific article in the Washington Post (courtesy of Valerie Strauss) exposing a Hillsdale-related school for, shall we say, allegedly stretching its federal funding application. “This issue didn’t go away. The All Football Club of Lancaster, Pa., an unauthorized charter school with no community support, submitted an often-incoherent application and yet won $1.2 million in 2020. A school run by a for-profit operator immersed in self-dealings and a segregation academy turned charter school cashed in on a North Carolina grant. But the prize for the most inventive story to secure a CSP grant may belong to the Cincinnati Classical Academy (CCA), a Hillsdale College member school, for securing a nearly $2 million grant. CCA, which prides itself on teaching virtue, asked for the grant on the basis of its claim that it was closing the achievement gap and serving disadvantaged students, never reporting that only 16 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged and that 2 percent are Black — a starkly different student body from the overwhelmingly disadvantaged and majority-Black Cincinnati Public School students, who, CCA says, it wants to save from poverty.”
10) Arizona: Paola Rodriguez and Zac Ziegler give us a heads up on upcoming education policy issues in Arizona, one of the key battlegrounds in the public vs. privatized education conflict. “KJZZ politics reporter Wayne Schutsky forecasts that it can be a toss-up on whether or not Democrats want to tackle ESAs during an election year. ‘It depends on how much of a fight Democrats want to put up this year. I say that because with such tight margins, there’s a very realistic chance they could take one or both chambers next year. And if that happened, then they would control the legislature and the governor’s office and they could do whatever they wanted with the ESAs.’”
11) Arkansas: The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that “the Arkansas Board of Education will consider at its meeting Friday requests for waivers of some state laws and rules from the Marvell-Elaine School District, the state’s first traditional district to be operated by a charter management organization.” What duties does the charter organization want to be relieved of?
- Require state-licensed educators;
- Set parameters for teacher planning time in increments of at least 40 minutes;
- Mandate a school library;
- Require one or more counselors;
- Require a gifted and talented education program separate from regular instruction;
- Set personnel policies.
12) California: The long-awaited official report on major misdoings by Inspire, a home school charter network that once served tens of thousands of students in California, is out and it’s not pretty reading. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the audit found that the charter organization “for years lacked records to justify its claims for state funding and tens of millions of dollars in transactions among its schools and related organizations. (…) The audit’s findings suggest that Inspire’s lapses resulted in part from some of the same financial practices and weaknesses in oversight that have allowed other California charter school operators to get more taxpayer money than they were entitled to — including the A3 charter school leaders who were indicted four years ago after fraudulently obtaining $400 million from the state. At the heart of many of Inspire’s issues, according to the audit and past reporting by The San Diego Union-Tribune, was a charter management organization that operated outside of the public eye and wielded control over virtually all aspects of the schools’ operations and finances.”
13) Indiana: Is 15 years too long an approval term for a public regulatory body to grant to a charter school? Apparently not, if you’re the Indianapolis school board’s “Office of Education Innovation” acting under new legislation passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and executive. All you have to do is designate the schools “excellent.” They say they can always revoke the charters so no worries. Let’s hope they could do that before the criminal phase kicks in this time.
14) Oklahoma/National: As the country gears up for what may become a U.S. Supreme Court case on whether public funds can be used to support religious education, at least one legal expert thinks the case might turn on whether a charter school is public or private. “The key question now is whether charter schools are private or public. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools believes it knows the answer. It’s in their name. Many legal scholars, Ira Lupu included, agree. Most state laws do declare charters to be public schools. And that consensus has, as noted, always been central to the coalition’s strength. But Nicole Garnett at Notre Dame Law School begs to differ. In 2020, Garnett argued that ‘in most states, charter schools ought not to be considered, for federal constitutional purposes, ‘state actors’ (which is to say that their actions are not reasonably attributable to the government).’ This is all understandably confusing. The key is to realize that the state can fund an entity without making it a public entity. Public defenders are private actors. The question is whether charter schools are.” Check out Garnett’s article on why such public funding should be blocked on religious liberty grounds. Here’s the state attorney general’s case.
15) Tennessee: Local leaders are worried about the impact of school vouchers on their schools. “Tullahoma City Schools is one of three school districts in Coffee County. It gets nearly 50% of its budget from state tax dollars. In the 2022-2023 school year, the district received more than $19 million from the state’s Basic Education Program, the previous state funding model for public school districts that was replaced by the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) model in the 2023-2024 school year. Director of Schools Dr. Catherine Stephens told News 2 while she is a firm advocate of public school and parental choice in education, the current proposal from Gov. Bill Lee “essentially takes dollars that could go to funding public schools and directs that money toward private schooling with little to no oversight.””
16) Tennessee: Virginia M. Jones of Oak Ridge, in a letter to the editor of the Oak Ridger on school vouchers, provides a short history lesson on why people fought for church-state separation in America. “There is much more to the history of those in many countries who fought and died to be able to be educated and to think for themselves in reading the scriptures. An important question to ask is about the wisdom of public funds being used, indirectly or directly, to support schools with a particular religious orientation. There is a reason this country was founded on the separation of church and state. The state abrogates its responsibility in using money raised from taxes to pay for private education. People who want vouchers need to think carefully about whether they really want church-controlled education.” For a deep dive on this important and not widely known history, see Fred Clarkson’s Eternal Hostility.
17) Texas: In a letter to the editor of the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, Star Carey of Canyon Lake says, “Smart Texans do not: 1. Say ‘Gig ’em’ to Longhorns. 2. Say ‘Hook ’em’ to Aggies. 3. Want to waste our public school property tax vouchers by sending them away to those fancy private ‘charter’ schools.”
18) National/California/Maryland: California has now joined Maryland in facing a crisis over its transportation infrastructure development plans due to a dramatic revenue shortfall. Marylanders are fighting back against the $3.3 billion in transportation cuts announced by Gov. Wes Moore (D) and Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld, a veteran of construction companies HDR and Parsons Brinckerhoff. Wiedefeld’s hiring was controversial since he left his perch at the Washington Metro Area Transportation Agency after a bumpy tenure involving a pitched battle with unions over privatization.
The Golden State, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, faces a $68 billion overall shortfall, which is bound to affect infrastructure. The governor and lawmakers “will be grappling with closing the gap as they craft the fiscal 2024 budget in the six months leading up to budget passage in July 2024. ‘The LAO’s Fiscal Outlook includes challenging news—we can withstand this, but we will need to be cautious and mindful as we approach our budgeting and legislation next year and in the years to come,’ Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego said in a statement.” [Sub required]
19) California: Which model will be used to expand the Los Angeles Convention Center? The construction industry and LA Chamber of Commerce are weighing in for a “public-private partnership” with AEG, the Anschutz Entertainment Group, owned by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz. The Boulder Weekly reports that, “an heir to a western oil-drilling fortune, Anschutz diversified into railroads, ranches and media markets. In 2002, Fortune said he was America’s ‘greediest executive’ when he topped a list of corporate bigshots who sold off shares as their firms collapsed, while other shareholders suffered huge losses. He likes to avoid paying taxes and has sued the IRS many times.”
20) Iowa: Private, for-profit water companies continue to gobble up local utilities. “American Water Works Company, Inc.’s AWK subsidiary, Iowa American Water, announced that it acquired Donahue’s Water and Sewer System for $1.75 million. This acquisition will add 140 water and 118 wastewater customers to the company’s Quad Cities service area.”
21) Ohio: For the first time, Ohio has scored a trifecta of triple-A ratings after S&P Global Ratings on Friday gave top marks to the state’s issuer. Is this a reward for cutting pensions, privatizing state agencies, austerity policies and issuing new bonds this week for the market to make money from? Bond Buyer reports that “the stable outlook reflects our expectation that Ohio will continue its commitment to active budget management and reducing its pension and OPEB liabilities over time while also adhering to its longstanding 5% constitutional debt service limit, which both support a predictable fixed-cost profile and our view of the state’s long-term credit stability,’ S&P said.” [Sub required]
22) Wisconsin: A battle pitting infrastructure money against racial and gender justice has come to a head. “A narrowly divided UW Board of Regents on Saturday rejected an agreement between Universities of Wisconsin system President Jay Rothman and legislative Republican leaders authorizing UW system funding and pay raises in exchange for changes to universities’ diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. (…) The vote to reject the deal came after impassioned pleas to not harm students by caving in to Republican demands on diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. Other regents expressed concerns that approving the deal would set a precedent: that the UW system would need to fight for the release of funding already promised in state budgets or trade its core values for the approval of building projects.”
23) Virginia: Transurban, the Australia-based global road privatization company, has opened new access points to its I-95 tolled Express Lanes. Earlier this year Marylanders celebrated the company’s pullout from a road congestion P3. In a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, Robert McGary of Glen Allen wrote “Kudos to the people of Maryland for getting Transurban to walk away. Its expensive, lopsided project would ultimately yield little to no benefit to Marylanders. (…) A thoughtful, multifaceted plan that could include toll roads would prove far superior to the Transurban profit-oriented model, and it would be much less expensive to complete through traditional governmental project financing. (…) Virginia is locked into decades of such restrictions with Transurban, such as not being allowed to expand Metro’s Orange Line for 10 years, little say over toll prices, and not being able to improve secondary roads to ease traffic without Transurban approval, plus state revenue subsidies if HOV riders are too numerous. This interferes with local governmental autonomy to provide for citizens and is contrary to the goals of an effective transportation program.”
24) International/Brazil: An intense battle over the privatization of Latin America’s largest water utility, in Sao Paulo, is taking place between the right wing government of the metropolitan region and progressive forces. It will probably stretch through 2024. Bloomberg reports that “the proposal needed at least 48 votes to win approval in the 94 seat state legislature; 62 lawmakers voted in favor, one voted against and 31 were absent amid confusion between police and protesters. São Paulo’s government is now discussing new concession agreements with municipalities served by Sabesp, [with] talks expected to be finalized in January. Public hearings and consultations on the privatization should take place the next month, followed by preparations for the share offering.” [Sub required]
Peoples Dispatch quotes a union leader as follows: “We’re going to denounce those deputies who vote in favor of privatization to the detriment of the people of São Paulo. We’re going to keep fighting and denouncing them, because where privatization has taken place, tariffs have increased, like in Rio de Janeiro. If we compare the tariffs in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, at Sabesp, it’s an absurd disparity,” said Renê Vicente, a Sabesp worker and director of the São Paulo Water, Sewage and Environment Workers’ Union (Sintaema). “In addition to the employees of the sanitation company, this Tuesday’s strike brought together workers from the São Paulo Metro and Companhia Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos (CPTM), companies also threatened with privatization; as well as public education professionals, amid the threat of billionaire cuts to the sector’s budget.”
25) International/United Kingdom: The water privatization crisis is deepening in Britain. “Losses at South East Water have ballooned as interest payments on its debts soar,” This is Money reports. “In the latest setback for the embattled industry, its loss before tax widened to £18.1 million from £12.7 million in the six months to the end of September. Higher interest payments on loans, some linked to inflation, pushed it further into the red. Britain’s water firms are struggling with huge debts and face public outrage over sewage dumping and leaks. Thames Water said on Tuesday that its debts have jumped by £1billion to nearly £15 billion.”
“Commenting on the move by South East Water to pay out £2.3m in dividends to investors despite huge losses, UNISON head of environment Donna Rowe-Merriman, said: “Failing and polluting water companies are jeopardising water quality, killing wildlife and causing untold damage to the environment. It beggars belief these firms are prioritising shareholder payouts over investment in services to their customers. The regulator must step in to force them to focus on providing safe water supplies and maintaining cleaner rivers, not generating vast profits.”
26) National: AFSCME President Lee Saunders released a statement expressing encouragement over Friday’s jobs numbers. “Today’s jobs report shows how far we’ve come in three years. In April 2020, during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. economy lost a record 20.5 million jobs—including more than 900,000 in the public sector. Now, we are on the way toward a full recovery as public sector jobs numbers nearly return to pre-pandemic levels. However, we know that with so many vacancies still existing, our communities need more public service workers. That’s why AFSCME launched its ‘Staff the Front Lines’ initiative this year to not only help restore public services back to pre-pandemic levels, but to where they should be if public service had kept pace with population growth.”
27) National: Writing in Jacobin, Suzanne Gordon and Steve Early say that although PTSD is a nightmare, a fully funded Veterans Administration can provide relief. The VA’s “medical research functions, major teaching hospital role, and provision of direct care have all been jeopardized by incremental privatization under Presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden. Since 2014, a bipartisan coalition in Congress has enacted legislation that opened the flood gates for costly and unnecessary VA outsourcing. Already, tens of billions of dollars are being diverted every year from the agency’s direct care budget to reimburse private sector providers. As a result, an exemplary system of integrated and coordinated care is in danger of being defunded and dismantled, with much ongoing loss of highly trained and dedicated staff like the suicide prevention specialists and group therapists we meet in Here. Is. Better. and Invisible Storm.”
Meanwhile, Government Executive reports that a major chronic staffing shortage at the VA is stifling the agency’s ability to screen new employees, “putting veterans at an increased risk of harm.”
28) National/Kansas/Florida: Corporate concentration in the trash industry continues. Waste Management, the Houston-based garbage removal behemoth, has purchased Kansas City’s Deffenbaugh. “Most of the other buyers needed a step up in the tax basis,” said Michael E. Hoffman of Stifel, Nicolaus & Co.” And the seller wasn’t really going to do that because they didn’t get a step up on a tax basis when they bought it six or seven years ago. So it was highly unlikely you’re going to get a step-up. Waste Connections or Progressive or even Macquarie or Advanced Disposal, all of them are going to need a step up on the tax basis to make it work for them. So they walked away. And I think the price ended up coming down some.” In other news, Waste Management is facing a criminal probe into alleged illegal dumping of raw sewage near a Key West Utilities lift station in Little Hamaca Park.
29) California: Park Rangers are under stress and underpaid and need help. “While not the only law enforcement in Kern County, the county’s park rangers are the understaffed and beleaguered last line of defense for more than 100 parks, campgrounds and public buildings across 8,100 square miles. Yet to the public, they’re largely forgotten. ‘Naw, never,’ Alvarez said when asked if he’s seen a Kern ranger at the park. The issue has come up periodically over the years, as Kern struggles to pay competitive wages for several public safety positions. Sometimes the discussion has been prompted by Kern rangers, who speak up at county Board of Supervisors meetings. ‘I am sure all of you have noticed a lack of presence of the Kern County rangers in the parks over the past few months,’ Kern Ranger Jake Sorenson said at a Nov. 15 county Parks and Recreation Commission meeting. ‘This is because many of us have left to agencies that pay significantly better.’”
30) Montana: A leading Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate says he wants to privatize the entire U.S. healthcare system. “Sheehy, an aerospace company CEO and Navy veteran, is the top pick of GOP leaders in Washington to take on Montana’s Democratic senator, Jon Tester, in one of the key races that could determine control of the upper chamber in 2024. He is expected to face a challenge in the GOP primary from Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., but recent polls have shown Sheehy leading in their matchup. Last week, Cook Political shifted its analysis of the general election from ‘lean Democrat’ to ‘toss up.’”
31) International/Canada: 420,000 Quebec public sector workers are on a 7-day strike, and say if there is no agreement, a general unlimited strike is on the horizon. “The common front workers, who work across the public sector, including in health care and education, joined teachers from the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) who have been on an unlimited strike since Nov. 23. (…) The common front unions have scheduled two days of meetings starting Dec. 18. That would be ‘the perfect time to present a tentative agreement,’ Robert Comeau the president of the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS), said. ‘If not, we’ll have no choice but to take stock of the situation with our members and we don’t see any other solution other than a general unlimited strike.’”
32) Think Tanks: Medicare Advantage plans are draining the Medicare trust fund without improving care, the Center for Economic and Policy Research reports. “The report, ‘Profiting at the Expense of Seniors: The Financialization of Home Health Care,’ was written by Eileen Appelbaum, Co-Director of the CEPR and a Fellow at Rutgers University; Rosemary Batt, Professor of Women and Work at Cornell University; and Emma Curchin, CEPR’s Domestic Outreach and Research Assistant. The September 2023 report said the current Medicare Advantage plan payment models ‘privilege the interests of large health insurance companies and other financial actors seeking to maximize profits over those of providers of traditional Medicare services.’”
33) National: Who are the top lobbyists in Washington? The top list is long (449 to be exact), but The Hill takes a stab at it, dividing them into four categories: Corporate, Associations, Hired Guns, and Grassroots. “The federal lobbying bench is deep, with more than 12,500 actively lobbying so far in 2023… As legislating ground to a halt amid debt ceiling battles and the historic Speaker ouster, K Street set their sights on behemoth must-pass packages including the farm bill, Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization and the National Defense Authorization Act as vehicles to advance their policy priorities. Top lobbyists have also helped their clients navigate the flood of regulatory activity from the Biden administration, which has started pushing billions of dollars in funding, grants and tax credits out the door as major legislative packages— namely the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and CHIPS and Science Act—come online.”
34) Illinois: The Better Government Association is warning Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson that “the administration’s efforts to restrict access to meetings of the City Council were ‘inequitable and likely illegal.’” WTTW reports that “‘The new rules violate the spirit and likely the letter” of state law and should be reversed, according to a statement from the BGA. ‘In a time where important matters are being discussed, the public is entitled to open access to our government,’ according to the statement. ‘Access rules that have been in effect for years comply with the Open Meetings Act and allow for public participation in the democratic process, in a safe and decorous environment if reasonably and professionally enforced.’”
35) International: Privatized seabed mining is ripping off Pacific Islanders and other developing countries. “Conversations with over a dozen experts, representatives of mining companies, environmental NGOs, and on-the-ground coverage at the latest International Seabed Authority meetings in Kingston, Jamaica prove that private companies have gained the upper hand in the international negotiations for mining contracts for the ocean floor. Our reporting shows how a single Western company through clever tactics gained deep-sea mining exploration contracts for big chunks of the international seabed reserved for developing countries.”