Here’s our weekly analysis of privatization in the news and in communities nationwide. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
1) National: The Network for Public Education is inviting educators who are going back to school to visit their website. They have reports to help fight privatization, information on the NPE Action national conference and information from across the nation in their NPE Grassroots Ed Network newsletter.
2) National: Amy Schneider, an organizer with the Debt Collective, writes, “I am drowning in more than $120,000 of student debt after being defrauded by a for-profit college, and I refuse to wait for relief from the Trump administration. That’s why I am going on the offense and suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.” In June, the student debt crisis reached $1,655,027,975,255.
3) Arizona: A multimillionaire charter school entrepreneur and supporter is retiring from the state legislature. State Sen. Eddie Farnsworth “also repeatedly blocked prison reform legislation.” The Arizona Republic, “as part of an extensive investigation into Arizona charter schools, found Farnsworth was among a handful of operators who had become millionaires, thanks to Arizona’s light regulation and minimal oversight. Farnsworth has voted at least a dozen times for state budgets that increased charter additional assistance funding, which provides more in per student dollars than traditional public schools. As of 2018, charter schools on average received $1,286 more in state per student funding than district schools.”
4) California: Prosecutors say a school district set up purposely segregated schools, one a charter school and another a traditional public school. “Students in the district, Sausalito Marin City, are divided into two starkly different schools, according to the state Justice Department, which conducted the investigation: a thriving, racially and economically integrated charter school in the heavily white enclave of Sausalito, near the Golden Gate Bridge, and an overwhelmingly black, Hispanic and poor traditional public school about a mile away, in the more diverse community of Marin City. The arrangement was no accident, Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, said on Friday, but a deliberate scheme by school district officials to set up a separate and unequal system that would keep low-income children of color out of a white enclave.”
5) Colorado: The Daily Sentinel reports that a charter school in Grand Junction “is plagued by a culture of fear, discrimination and retaliation that led to two federal discrimination investigations and staff turnover. (…) The reported problems at Independence Academy raise questions about the oversight of traditional public schools compared to public charter schools and whether some public schools play by different rules. ‘There’s so little check and balance in the charter school system that these people have gotten away with this for so long,’ said Jackman, the former music teacher. ‘If you’re on the good list, it’s fine. But, as soon as someone targets you, it’s just a matter of time until you’re gone.’”
6) Connecticut: In an important move that could lead to much greater transparency for ‘public-private partnerships,’ Attorney General William Tong has decided that the state’s $300 million partnership with hedge fund giant Ray Dalio’s philanthropic group to invest in Connecticut’s schools is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The judge was responding to a request for clarification from a Republican lawmaker, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby). “The House minority leader noted that while the venture is based — in part — on a generous contribution from Dalio Philanthropies, it also involves tens of millions of dollars in public funds. Klarides also warned that trying to exempt a venture with such strong ties to a core public function — local schools — would be problematic. ‘Everything is supposed to be done in the light of day,’ she told the CT Mirror last month. ‘I don’t know what happens if a publicly elected official has a fiduciary responsibility to this nonprofit corporation. What rules do I follow?’” Gov. Lamont says he’ll abide by the decision.
7) Florida: Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel reports that voucher schools can discriminate against kids with disabilities. “We already know that Florida’s $1 billion voucher-school system is a largely unregulated wild west. Florida’s ‘school choice’ politicians — Gov. Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and House speaker Jose Oliva — have consistently defended this hot mess. Forget accountability. They say unhappy parents or angry taxpayers should simply ‘choose’ to avoid shoddy or discriminatory schools. But I’ve now learned about another kind of discrimination allowed in Florida’s publicly funded voucher system — against special needs students. Some schools have written policies against accepting students with disabilities.”
8) Maryland: Writing in the Washington Post, In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler urges Prince George’s County to halt their rush to become the first county in the country to use ‘public-private partnerships’ to build and maintain school buildings. “Prince George’s residents and school staff deserve to know why the county is planning to sign a pricey contract that will stretch for decades. What risks are involved? How is it better than the alternatives? What strings will be attached? (…) Perhaps Prince George’s County’s experiment will end up being a bargain. Maybe the county will right the ship for public-private partnerships after decades of failure around the globe. But the public deserves to know the stakes of the deal before it signs on the dotted line.”
9) Maine: An online charter school struggling with high absentee rates, a low graduation rate and weak test scores is trying to renew its charter. “A state lawmaker said a recent third-party report that gave a negative review of the school’s performance has highlighted concerns and points to a need for more accountability, not just with Maine Virtual Academy but charter schools in general. ‘It’s a concern with any school — charter or not — if they’re really struggling, because that’s one year lost for these students,’ said Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cumberland, co-chair of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.”
10) Massachusetts: Diane Ravitch reports that the pro-charter organization “Stand for Children” has folded in Massachusetts. “What we learn from this tale,” she writes, “is that there is no ‘reform movement.’ It has no grassroots. It is a phenomenon of wealthy elites trying to buy public policy.”
11) Massachusetts: Four groups have submitted initial proposals to open charter schools, and three existing charter schools requested to expand their enrollment in the state. “Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley will decide next month which applicants will be invited to submit full proposals, and final applications will be due by Oct. 16. (…) There are 82 charter schools in Massachusetts serving more than 45,000 students, nearly 5% of the state’s public school students, according to the education department.”
12) North Carolina: North East Carolina Prep School, a charter school, has made a move that allowed it to buy the buildings and property it previously leased from Utah-based Highmark School Development, which has a large portfolio of charter school properties across the nation. Executive Director William Etheridge “said the school does not have to follow the state salary schedule and is open to recruit teachers and negotiate their respective salaries. ‘One of the things we are working on is to develop a salary schedule for employees,’ he said.”
13) Pennsylvania: With the clock ticking down toward a deadline, the Allentown school board has submitted a budget to the state that is dependent on charter schools receiving less money. The district faced a $21 million deficit for 2019–20, which it whittled down to $6 million through a number of ways, “including not filling vacant positions and increasing property taxes. For the final $6 million cut, it was calling on charter schools to help.”
14) Texas: A Houston charter school has been shaking the money tree among the well heeled in Aspen for its expansion program. “YES Prep CEO Mark DiBella and campaign chair Joe Greenberg led the discussion on Houston’s need for high-quality education for all students and how YES Prep is leading the charge with the launch of ‘Leading Houston Forward,’ an $80 million philanthropic initiative to build YES Prep’s elementary schools and add 10,000 openings in order to serve 23,000 students by 2024. Currently, YES Prep schools are available for grades six through 12.”
15) Utah: A charter school’s starting date has been delayed for more than a week because of “unforeseen circumstances with the delivery of our new building. The school is currently undergoing construction and is awaiting the arrival of a new classroom building that is being shipped to Moab. [Director Carrie Ann Marinelli] did not say what other events brought about the nearly two-week delay.”
16) Utah: Charter school students are five times more likely to catch chickenpox than students in traditional public schools. “The increased risk of chickenpox aligns with vaccination rates, which are far lower in charter schools than in public schools, according to research published this month by the Utah Department of Health. Nonmedical vaccine exemptions are more than twice as common at charter schools in Utah, one of 18 states that allow such exemptions.”
17) International: A Harrow councilor has launched a petition against the privatization of higher education following the collapse of a large for-profit London college. “Cllr Swersky called on the government to end what he sees as a ‘privatization agenda’ that he believes is letting down thousands of students and staff. He said: ‘Britain’s higher education sector is the envy of the world. But by giving thumbs up to private finance corporations to take over, the government is gambling with the sector’s reputation and students’ futures.’ He said the Government should take responsibility for GSM’s plight and that its ‘reckless deregulation’ of the industry could leave others facing uncertainties.”
18) California/National: Jobs to Move America has sued bus manufacturer New Flyer for submitting false claims about its wage practices under a $500 million contract with L.A. Metro. The company “did not pay the wages it said it would and misrepresented the value of the benefits it was providing, according to pay stubs and corporate reports recently unsealed in the fraud case,” the New York Times reports.
“‘It was a commitment — it matters,’ said Madeline Janis, the executive director of Jobs to Move America, the nonprofit group that filed the complaint against New Flyer in California state court. ‘This case is about holding a huge company’s feet to the fire.’ Jobs to Move America helped devise a model, applied by a number of agencies, in which manufacturers of public transportation equipment commit to creating American jobs as part of the contracting process. It helped persuade the Los Angeles agency, known as L.A. Metro, to link its purchasing to job commitments in a 2012 rail-car contract. The New Flyer contract took effect a short time later, in 2013.”
19) Florida/South Carolina/National: The Bond Buyer reports that the public power sector may lose two of its biggest utilities to privatization. Possibly up for grabs by private capital are Jacksonville-based JEA and South Carolina’s Santee Cooper, both of which are entangled in huge financial or power purchase obligations with the nuclear industry that are clouding their futures and putting ratepayers on the hook. “Sue Kelly, president of the American Public Power Association, said more communities are talking about municipalization as opposed to privatization. Kelly cited Boulder, Colorado, where city voters approved taking their grid from Minnesota-based Xcel Energy. Boulder’s effort to pursue acquisition began in 2011 and continues this year with negotiations ‘and potentially condemnation to determine the value,’ the city’s website says. Boulder’s municipalization effort is aimed at providing residents and businesses with ‘electricity that is increasingly clean, reliable and competitively priced while allowing for more local decision-making and control,’ according to the website.” [Sub required]
20) Maryland: The University of Baltimore, a public university, may be looking at a ‘public-private partnership’ with private developers once it completes “a land swap with the U.S. Postal Service that will add 2.5 acres in the heart of the university’s Midtown campus. (…) The Board of Public Works — consisting of Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp — is scheduled to vote on the [land swap] deal at its next meeting on Aug. 14.” [Sub required]
21) Missouri: Intrepid St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger connects the dots based on a new sentencing memorandum in the federal pay-to-play corruption case involving former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who was sentenced to 46 months in prison and a fine on Friday.
“Goldsmith’s 12-page memo is a warning to St. Louis: Buyer beware,” Messenger writes. “The buyer of Stenger was none other than billionaire Rex Sinquefield, the prolific campaign donor and philanthropist who purchases politicians like candy and has been the financial driver of the two most significant civic discussions in recent St. Louis history: the failed Better Together movement and the ongoing airport privatization effort.” The money involved “is a pittance to what we know Sinquefield is spending on his other pet project: the privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport, aided and abetted by St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and many of the same political consultants who advised Stenger.” Messenger says the memo should be “the final nail in the coffin of airport privatization.”
22) International: The British anti-privatization campaigning group We Own It has released a People’s Plan for Water, a crowdsourced manifesto for what publicly owned water could look like and what it could achieve.
Criminal justice and immigration
23) National: According to Freedom for Immigrants, as many as 115 immigrants who had been hunger-striking for more than five days at the GEO Group-run Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center “were subjected pepper-spraying and ‘shot at’ with either ‘rubber’ bullets or pellets shot by an air gun in an incident alleged to have unfolded on [August 3]. In addition to being subjected to ‘excessive use of force,’ the organization claimed that detainees were then ‘placed in solitary confinement and blocked from contacting their families or attorneys.’” Immigrants detained during the massive workplace raids in Mississippi last week could be held in this facility, Rebekah Entralgo of ThinkProgress reports. “Louisiana is becoming ground zero for the expansion of U.S. immigration detention,” she writes. “ICE is continuing to spend money that has not been allocated to them in order to open up more detention facilities there.”
24) National: Another bank, PNC, will stop future financing of the private, for-profit prison industry. “This decision was announced in the wake of national outrage over the role of banks in private prisons,” Forbes reports, “with over 500,000 petitions signed on the issue, and most recently, a petition directed at PNC circulating from the Families Belong Together coalition of over 250 activist groups, representing over 11 million people. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director of Families Belong Together member organization, MomsRising, said ‘We and our members across the country applaud PNC for joining its peers in ending financing of for-profit prisons and detention centers; and in making a strong statement that private prisons don’t deserve our dollars. Banks should never profit from the pain and suffering of families.’”
25) National: Phil Mattera of the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First puts the ICE raids in Mississippi in context: “Among the hundreds taken into custody by ICE at poultry processing plants in Mississippi there were apparently no managers. This was not a surprise, since employers are rarely prosecuted for immigration offenses. Among the more than 300,000 entries in Violation Tracker there are fewer than 50 cases of immigration-related employer penalties. This relative impunity increases the chances that ICE may have been tipped off by the companies themselves to discourage worker activism.”
26) National/Washington: In a court decision that could have wide-ranging implications, GEO Group has lost its argument over pay rates for immigrant detainees at Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center. “U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan issued an order in the case Tuesday. ‘The court rejected GEO’s argument that federal law preempts Washington state’s minimum wage law,’ [Washington State Attorney General] Ferguson said in a statement. ‘GEO cannot avoid accountability by hiding behind its contract with ICE. Today’s ruling means GEO can no longer argue that federal law prevents it from complying with Washington law.’”
27) National: The Appeal’s Vaidya Gullapalli reports on protests against the American Correctional Association, which Rachel Bishop of Deeper Than Water says “lends legitimacy to facilities that are guilty of widespread abuses of the people inside.” Bishops says “one short-term demand is that the ACA make the results of its audits public. ‘Were they forced to make the entire credentialing process public we would have much more insight into what’s actually going on in the facilities they’re rubber-stamping,’ Bishop said. Another is ‘that they stop credentialing facilities that have well-documented histories of abusing people inside.’”
For more on ACA see In the Public Interest’s report, Buying Access: How Corporations Influence Decision Makers at Corrections Conferences, Trainings, and Meetings.
28) National: Mike Murphy, a 20-year veteran of the private, for profit prison company Management & Training, has just joined Corizon, the for-profit prison healthcare company, as its senior vice president of state operations. Here’s a New York Times story from last year on MTC while Murphy was its VP for Marketing, titled “Casual Horrors At a Private Jail.”
29) National/North Carolina: The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal (in collaboration with WRAL News) reports that North Carolina shut down a group home last year that ICE is now planning to use to house migrant children. “As the Office of Refugee Resettlement rapidly expands its shelter network to accommodate the roughly 10,000 unaccompanied children in its care, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and WRAL News found that it’s adding new providers with little experience and troubling track records.”
30) National: However the case of Jeffrey Epstein turns out, prison suicideis a significant national crisis, including at private, for-profit immigrant detention centers. Associated Press reports that “it’s a problem commonly blamed on the mere fact that more mentally ill people are landing behind bars, a trend that started after state psychiatric hospitals began closing in the 1970s and promised alternatives failed to emerge. More recently, jails have been overwhelmed with those addicted to opioids or meth, many of whom wrestle with depression and withdrawal. Increasingly, troubling questions are being raised about the treatment of inmates in many jails, possible patterns of neglect — and whether better care could have stopped suicides.”
31) Colorado/National: In a stunning blow to for-profit prison and detention center operators, Denver has decided to end the firms’ contracts to run halfway houses on behalf of the city. The City Council action was led by newly elected city council member Candi CdeBaca, who won in June on a radical platform backed by the Democratic Socialists of America. “For now, the halfway houses are being kept open without a contract, and the firms are under no obligation to close them immediately, as corrections officials and city policymakers transition to a new system.” GEO Group, CoreCivic, and the city have reached a temporary agreement to keep six community corrections facilities open in the short term. CdeBaca “argued that community re-entry programs run by community-based organizations can do a better job than these two companies do at transitioning former inmates back into society. And, she said, they don’t bring the moral baggage of companies that run private prisons and immigrant detention centers all around the country, including at the border and in Aurora.”
32) Colorado/National: The Boulder police department has been told to stop providing off duty officers to BI Incorporated, the ankle monitoring subsidiary of the GEO Group, the Boulder Daily Camera reports. The decision “arose after some city council members and community members earlier this week raised concerns with whether Boulder has contracts with the business.”
Katie Farnan, a Boulder resident who helped organize a June protest outside the BI offices, “claims members of the immigrant community involved with BI’s monitoring program have reported feeling humiliated by wearing ankle bracelets. Farnan has advocated for ‘community-based monitoring’ to replace the remote surveillance method. ‘For-profit detention services are always going to be about profit, and no one, including city and county of Boulder, should contract with them,’ Farnan said.”
33) Kansas/Arizona:Kansas will be sending prisoners to CoreCivic’s Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona. “Kansas prisons hold 1,500 more people they did a decade ago — nearly 18 percent more. But the number of beds grew only 11 percent. Uncompetitive pay played a role in staff turnover, which doubled to 41 percent between 2010 and 2018, leaving hundreds of vacancies across the system. The union that represents corrections officers, the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said it will never be able to support the ‘full-scale embrace of for-profit corrections facilities’ but added ‘rampant mismanagement and utter incompetence’ created a prison system close to being destroyed.”
34) Texas: Adriana Maestas invites us to “Meet the Woman Taking on Her Former Boss, the Prison Industry, and Big Oil’s Fave Democrat.” Jessica Cisneros, 26, hopes to unseat Henry Cuellar (D-TX). “For years, Congressman Cuellar has been receiving and defending contributions from two private prison corporations, GEO Group and CoreCivic. GEO Group is ICE’s largest contractor, receiving more than $400 million in federal contracts to run private prisons and detention centers.” Maestas reports “last year, Cuellar raked in more campaign cash from GEO Group than any congressional lawmaker except Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas). Laredo has three detention centers, all run by private prison companies, and Cuellar’s district includes ‘detention alley’ along Interstate 35 in South Texas. The Trump administration’s expansion of the use of detention has been a boon to the private prison industry, which employs a lot of people in the region.”
35) National: Have you taken an ambulance in the last five years? The New York Times wants you to share your experience. “Here’s why: The ambulance industry is in the middle of rapid change, as cities and counties increasingly outsource their emergency response services to privately owned companies. Ambulances are becoming a significant source of surprise medical bills. They are more than twice as likely to be out of network with health insurers as emergency room doctors. As one health economist recently told me, ‘If you call 911 for an ambulance, it’s basically a coin flip whether or not that ambulance will be in or out of network.’”
36) National: Democratic primary candidate Elizabeth Warren says “let’s create a federal Office of Broadband Access, and invest $85 billion into making sure every home in America has a broadband connection. That means publicly-owned and operated networks — no giant telecom companies running away with taxpayer dollars.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) adds “for LOTS of communities, we’d take public internet over oligopoly internet any day of the week.”
37) National: How should the public sector respond to the changing economics of recycling? The revenues of the five largest private recycling companies, which many public structures have contracts with, are down nearly 9% this year. “Advanced Disposal Services experienced the largest change, with recycling revenue down by more than 42%.” Waste Management saw a $6 million improvement in EBITDA. “With commodity prices down by double digits, the public companies’ response has largely been to raise prices as much as possible, attempt to reopen contract language to reduce their share of risk and, in some cases, seek an exit strategy.”
38) Florida: A smelly trash mountain in Doral could grow even bigger if Waste Management gets its way. “Mount Trashmore” operates “under a permit issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. It has remained there even though [Mayor] Bermudez has evidence from the city’s putrid odors complaint program that it’s affecting quality of life. (…) Now, Doral residents are worried about a plan to bring more garbage to the landfill. In May, SCS Engineers Environmental Consultants and Contractors submitted an FDEP application on behalf of Waste Management asking state authorities to allow a vertical expansion.”
39) Kentucky: Does public service outsourcing always promote competition? Not according to officials negotiating an ambulance service contract in Owensboro. “In my opinion, it tied our hands in doing anything,” said Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly.
40) National: In bad news for elected officials, public spirited citizens and journalists covering state and local government across the nation, Governing magazine has announced it is closing down at the end of this month. “We know the great and important work of America’s state and local leaders will continue. The public arena has undergone tremendous financial, political and social change since we began publication 33 years ago. And states and local governments are again at an important time of upheaval. We have loved chronicling that incredible work for the past three decades, and we’re confident that the tremendous work of America’s state and local public servants will go on.”
The silver lining? Some experienced, talented, and knowledgeable reporters on state and local issues are looking for new challenges.
41) National: Presidential Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders says “my condolences go out to the members of @CWAUnion for the passing of their former President, Morty Bahr. He helped lead efforts against privatization, deregulation, and rising inequality. Today, we owe it to Morty to continue the fight to grow the trade union movement.”
42) Florida: Jacksonville.com columnist Nate Monroe denounces the fact that government transparency is shrinking even as money becomes tighter and critical decisions involving contracting and public services loom. “This is the mass privatization of Jacksonville’s civic life: Less transparent, less public, less service.”
Governing for the common good
43) National: Here’s to Medicare’s 54th birthday. “Fifty-four years ago, our government made a fundamental promise of dignity and security for seniors and working families when President Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law. Today, Medicare and Medicaid are pillars of fairness, justice and health security for millions of Americans.”
44) National/California: The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has begun a targeted autism/neurodiversity employment program. “In early 2018, Masood Ordikhani, the utility’s workforce director, approached Kelly with the idea of a workforce initiative to take advantage of the boom, targeting workers with autism and other neurodiverse conditions. After Kelly gave the green light, Ordikhani and his staff designed a neurodiversity hiring program in connection with the engineering and construction firms that have been involved in the PUC construction.”
45) Montana: On Saturday, the Gallatin Solid Waste Management District in Bozeman ran a free household hazardous waste collection drop off.