- School privatization schemes defeated (see items 5 & 6)
- Big change for Chicago parking meters
- Uneven playing field for youth sports
First, the Good News…
1) National: The movement to elevate public interest government can look forward to advancing its agenda in Wisconsin and Chicago after two significant victories at the polls—the election of Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin Supreme Court; and the election of Brandon Johnson to be mayor of Chicago. Both states have experienced vicious attacks by Republicans on public benefits, public services, and public education for years. When it comes to privatization and securing a positive role for government, elections matter. They’ve lost the kids, and the kids are voting.
2) National: The Center for American Progress has released a new report on How States and Unions Can Partner To Build the Public Sector Workforce. “Governments should undertake labor-management training partnerships, which can help them attract and retain well-qualified workers. These independent organizations, jointly controlled by unions and employers, allow partners to collaboratively design and manage workforce training, professional learning, and registered apprenticeship opportunities. In order to educate policymakers on the potential recruitment and retention benefits of public sector training partnerships and thereby spur higher rates of adoption, this report profiles four innovative initiatives,” Washington state’s Imagine Institute; Uplift Oregon; Grow-your-own partnerships between school districts, local unions, and colleges and universities; and The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and District Council 37’s Green Jobs Training Initiative.
3) National: Federal Trade Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya says “AI is being used right now to decide who to hire, who to fire, who gets a loan, who stays in the hospital and who gets sent home. I am much more worried about those current, real-life uses of AI than potential downstream existential threats.”
4) National: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed by Congress and signed by President Biden offers an opportunity to finally get good broadband to the almost one million people in public housing. “This gap could change with the bipartisan infrastructure act’s $42.45 billion in broadband funding set to be sent to the states in the coming months. The funding is a ‘unique opportunity’ to finally address the disparity for people living in public housing, which has its roots in the racist practice of redlining, according to Kathryn de Wit, director of Pew’s broadband access initiative and the report’s author. States are still in the ‘early days’ of figuring out what to do with the historic investment in broadband, said Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, in an interview. ‘The states right now are supposed to be doing their planning process, their stakeholder engagement.’ BroadbandOhio, a division of the Ohio Department of Development, for instance, asked the state’s residents and businesses on Tuesday to take an online survey on the quality of their broadband connection to identify gaps in coverage in the state and come up with a plan for the money.” [Read the Pew report]
5) Kansas: A school privatization measure has been soundly beaten back in the state legislature and the privatizers are nursing their political wounds. “Republican lawmakers saw a negotiated school choice proposal fail early Friday morning in the Kansas Senate amid stiff opposition from public education advocates, while the fate of an education budget that districts say will cost them hundreds of millions of dollars remains in question. School districts had excoriated the choice proposal, Senate Bill 83, which also would have included the first year of a plan from Gov. Laura Kelly to increase special education funding, as tantamount to school vouchers. Proponents argued it is a way of helping low-income students and giving parents greater educational freedom. (…) ‘Voucher bills are irresponsible fiscal policy that allocate tax dollars to private entities that, as we have seen, are unregulated,’ said Mari-Lynn Poskin, D-Leawood. ‘… Is there accountability for the tax dollars? That’s our No. 1 job here, is to be good fiscal stewards of taxpayer dollars.’”
6) Texas: In yet another defeat for school privatization forces in a Red State, the Texas House of Representatives has voted to prohibit state money from funding private school vouchers or education savings accounts. “The move is a setback to one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priorities to provide ‘school choice’ with state-funded private school tuition subsidies. The House approved State Rep. Abel Herrero’s amendment to the state budget on a bipartisan 86-52 vote. The amendment prohibits the budget from funding ‘a school voucher, including an education savings account, tax credit scholarship program, or a grant or other similar program through which a child may use state money for non-public primary or secondary education.’ ‘These are public funds for public schools as is outlined and stated specifically in the Texas Constitution,’ Herrero said. ‘And for that, members, please stick with our public school teachers, our neighborhood schools, and our public charter schools and vote for this amendment.’”
7) Washington: To the chagrin of right wing think tanks in the Kochtopus world, gig workers are going to get sick and safe paid leave in Seattle. Mayor Bruce Harrell said, “A healthy workforce leads to a healthy community, and no one should have to choose between taking a sick day to care for themselves—or their families—and making rent. Gig workers stepped up to serve our city during the pandemic and are an essential part of our workforce and economy, and this important legislation ensures the rights of our app-based workers remain protected. I want to thank the City staff, labor advocates, and app-based workers for their collaboration and partnership to make this crucial policy that supports the health and safety of our entire community permanent.”
8) Connecticut: Greenwich Time’s editorial board says Connecticut needs an intelligent and sober discussion about charter schools. “The question has been dormant for years in Connecticut as no new charter schools have been approved. But that is due to change this year as a bill has been introduced that could lead to faster approval of charters, alongside a separate bill that would tie their funding into the regular Education Cost Sharing system that the state uses to supplement public school funding beyond property taxes. Legislators need to slow down and carefully consider the ramifications. As typically happens, charter proponents have raised the issue of race. Since charters are nearly always in cities, opponents are cast as trying to deny funding for poor Black and brown children. This is wildly misleading, since opponents of charters are the ones calling out the loudest for legitimately equal funding across urban and suburban school districts.”
9) Illinois: Education Week says Brandon Johnson’s mayoral victory “in many ways represents a rejection of the common reforms that have characterized public education in Chicago and much of the rest of the nation over the past two decades-plus. He’ll take office as Chicago sunsets mayoral control of its schools, ending a reform that took root in the 1990s. And he firmly opposed the pro-charter school and school choice policies that his opponent pushed as the first CEO of Chicago schools under mayoral control and the head of three other urban school districts.” [Sub required]
10) North Carolina: The defection of a state House member, Tricia Cotham, to the Republican Party, giving that chamber a veto-proof majority against Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, has opened the door to an extremist GOP policy agenda on education. “Republicans are acting on voting restrictions, expanded use of school vouchers, restrictions on how public school teachers talk about racism, and requirements for teachers to post online their lesson plans and course materials.” Cotham now says “on issues, like school choice, like charters, we have to evolve. One-size-fits-all is wrong for children.”
11) Tennessee: The Knox County Board of Education has failed to approve a new charter school, deadlocking 4-4. “Per state law, board members needed to pass a resolution that listed reasons for the application failing to pass. Proposals to list those reasons also failed Thursday night. KCS now has until May 1, to pass a resolution showing why the original application failed. According to Kristi Kristy, the board chair, if nothing is passed by May 1, Knoxville Preparatory School will become a charter school by default due to ‘inaction.’”
Jennifer Owen, a board member, said “It lists KGIS as the source of information regarding the location of the school, and sort of implies that region five is a geographic location as well as synonymous with the commission and board of education voting districts too. We know that that’s not accurate. The claim that this is a response to community and demand-need, with no data to support that claim, no meetings of any local neighborhood associations and no survey data also pull that into question.”
Board member Katherine Bike “said she had a list of reasons why she wanted to deny the application. Some of those reasons included ‘false information,’ a ‘lack of transparency,’ a ‘lack of a SPED plan’ and a lack of a commitment to accept transgender students.”
12) Tennessee: Talk about high stakes testing. Thousands of third graders face being left back if they don’t pass an upcoming state reading test. “Third graders must now pass the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP, at the end of the year to avoid repeating third grade. The test has four grading levels: below expectations, approaching expectations, met expectations, or exceeded expectations. Students can be retained if they score in the lowest two categories — below, or approaching, expectations. But some educators say the expectations Tennessee has set for its students are too high. Students could potentially score better on the TCAP than most of their state peers and still be placed in the “approaching expectations” category. If the current law had been in place last year, about 65 percent of third grade students in the state would have been at-risk of being held back a grade because they scored in two lowest categories.”
13) National/Maryland: Public Works Financing, the house organ of the road privatization industry, is going through four of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, and depression) over the collapse of the Beltway P3 project, but they seem to be having a slight bit of difficulty with the acceptance part. Why? Well because they seem to have found two culprits, one of whom will go away (Larry Hogan); and one which will not—the voting public. The two active ingredients here are what they call “electoral risk,” and we might call political fixers.
“Elections are always a milestone of uncertainty for a large infrastructure project in predevelopment. However, the OP Lanes initiative was an extreme example of electoral risk combined with contentious environmental permitting, because 1) the governor campaigned on the project and won; 2) planning started during his first term; 3) the governor actively championed the project and battled opponents throughout his second term; and 4) they still couldn’t reach commercial close in time.” But they’re not giving up yet: “Now that the OP Lanes predevelopment partnership is over, the big question on everyone’s mind is whether the project will be outright cancelled.” And neither will we. [Public Works Financing, March 2023; sub required]
14) National/International: Writing in TruthOut, Cherise Morris asks, “Water is essential for all life on Earth. So what does it mean when our governments willingly sacrifice and endanger the well-being of the water we depend on? When they knowingly allow people to consume poisoned water, when they allow corporations to contaminate precious water sources with carcinogenic toxins and disrupt ecosystems, when they allow private companies to purchase and claim ‘ownership’ over water sources so they can sell water back to us at inflated prices, when they allow utility entities to raise the price of water each year—what does it mean when governments do all this without even so little as an apology and without the promise to never let it happen again?”
15) Illinois/National: Well we’ve got a number: parking meter charges in Chicago are now 28 times what they were when the privatization deal went through. But don’t worry, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Amy Coney Barrett’s old haunt) says there’s nothing to see here and thus has ruled against a legal challenge to the disastrous Chicago parking meters deal. “While the deal has been incredibly lucrative for investors, that profitability is borne off the wallets of Chicagoans themselves. Prior to the sale, street parking in most areas of the city cost only 25 cents an hour. Those rates quadrupled to $1 per hour in 2009, and have only increased since then. Free parking hours in the city also shrank after the deal was struck, and meters began appearing on what had previously been free parking streets. Today the rates run as high as $7 per hour in the downtown Loop area, making Chicago street parking among the most expensive in the country. It’s such a one-sided arrangement that the Better Government Association has called the deal ‘a lesson in worst practices.’ The now-failed antitrust suit, filed in June 2021 by Jacobin editor Micah Uetricht and two other Chicago drivers affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America, was only the latest of several legal attempts to overthrow the deal with CPM. The trio’s initial complaint argued the deal violated the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, claiming that CPM’s extensive control of the parking meter system had stifled competition and stymied developments in public transit.”
16) International: The Financial Post reports that CUPE, Canada’s largest union, says “a mandatory review of the Canada Infrastructure Bank must scrap the bank’s privatization mandate so it can meet community needs and tackle the climate crisis. Dominic LeBlanc, the minister responsible for the CIB, is legally required to review the bank every five years. CUPE has called out the secrecy surrounding the review, which is now underway – although members of the public would be hard-pressed to know it’s taking place. CUPE’s submission shows how to transform the CIB into a public bank that works for us all. (…) In addition to scrapping the bank’s legal requirement to focus on privatization, CUPE is calling for the bank to refocus on projects that address the climate crisis. A transformed bank must only provide low-cost public loans to municipalities and Indigenous communities. And finally, the ban on board representation from people working at any level of government, and the secrecy surrounding the CIB, must end.”
17) International: Linda McQuaig, one of Canada’s leading public interest journalists, poses some key questions about Premier Doug Ford’s scheme to privatize Ontario’s health service. “there’s a nagging question. If the purpose of opening a slew of new private clinics is to reduce Ontario’s surgical backlog, why does the enabling legislation do so many other things—things that will dramatically reduce public accountability and leave our precious public health care system vulnerable to corruption? It’s a question that urgently needs to be answered as Ford plows ahead with privatization plans that are huge in scope and ominous in design. Of course, what makes his whole privatization project so dubious is that, as a number of doctors have noted, we could deal with the surgical backlog simply through better use of existing hospital operating rooms. (…) Instead of working on this simple, low-cost solution, the premier plans to invite in private companies—potentially including large multinationals notorious for driving up U.S. health care costs—to set up clinics where they will perform up to 50 per cent of all surgeries in Ontario (that is, the uncomplicated ones where profits will be easy and large).”
18) National/Tennessee: Justin Jones, one of two Black lawmakers expelled from the state legislature for protesting against its inaction on gun violence after the murder of students and staff at a private Nashville religious school, is a prominent champion for ending private prisons. In 2018 he was a leader in efforts to get the city to divest from for-profit lockups. “‘We imagine a Nashville where we tell the truth and part of telling the truth about a company headquartered in town that profits off the incarceration and detention of innocent families,’ said Justin Jones, a member of Moral Movement TN. ‘That profits off the suffering and pain of immigrant families. That profits the longer these immigrant families stay in detention.’” CoreCivic, a large private, for-profit prison corporation, is headquartered in Brentwood, just outside Nashville.
In 2019 and 2023, Rep. Jones was the primary sponsor of legislation to end private prison contracting by the state, Tennessee HB1239. “Prisons and Reformatory Institutions – As introduced, prohibits the commissioner of the department of correction and a local governmental entity from entering into, renewing, or extending a contract for correctional services with a private prison contractor; deletes the Private Prison Contracting Act of 1986 upon the expiration of all such contracts. – Amends TCA Title 8; Title 9; Title 12 and Title 41.”
“If we were not powerful, they would not try so hard to stop us,” Jones said in a message to young people after his expulsion.” [Video, about 90 seconds]. Jones is expected to be reinstated to his post in the state legislature soon.
19) National: In the Public Interest’s Executive Director Donald Cohen warns about the increasing privatization of youth sports and the damaging effects it is having. “Sure, there’s been commercialization of youth sports for some time, with everything from fundraising drives to sponsorships to add to the athletics budget. But what’s taking place now is a troubling privatization creeping in, and this has an impact even on the schools–and their students–that have not been sports powerhouses whose competitions appear on television. A recent article by Matt Richtel in the New York Times points to a distressing fact: ‘Across the country, poor children and adolescents are participating far less in sports and fitness activities than more affluent youngsters are.” Richtel calls it the physical divide, a reference to the once-widening ‘digital divide’ that has fortunately narrowed significantly.’”
20) National: A new study out of Cornell University says the privatization of mental health services hurts marginalized communities the most. “The privatization of the mental health workforce in New York helped lead to a sharp decline in the state’s mental health workforce in the public sector and corresponding capacity of care between 1990 and 2021, per the analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Samples by Cornell ILR Worker Institute researchers. ‘The ongoing privatization of mental health work in New York is … likely to place downward pressure on wages in mental health–related industries,’ according to the report. The decline has had disproportionate impacts on women, people of color and working-class New Yorkers — including mental health workers, their families and communities. The jobs lost were primarily held by women and people of color.”
21) National: On the occasion of Public Health Day last Friday, writing in PLOS Global Public Health, several leading public health specialists are calling attention to a campaign to support and expand public health services and infrastructure. “As the world looks toward the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a clear opportunity to re-examine the systemic issues that underlie—or undermine—global health, including health equity, social justice and decolonization of health systems. A key driver for the sustained gaps in health equity and social justice is the privatization and commercialization of health, both in its financing and delivery of services. The right to health has been deliberately side-lined, even when those rights are codified in national constitutions.
“In response to the continued threat of degradation of health systems due to privatization and commercialization of health services, health activists around the world have united on World Health Day (April 7) to amplify the call for strengthened public health systems that are patient- and worker-centered, reflect a fair distribution of resources, and challenge colonial narratives of decision making and power. ”
22) National: Remember Louis DeJoy, the corporate bigwig appointed by Donald Trump to privatize the US Postal Service? Well, he’s still in his post, and Demand Progress is running a petition campaign to get him out. “Now, with MAGA Republicans controlling the U.S. House, the postal service is at a greater threat than ever. It’s up to a strong USPS Postal Board to stand up to DeJoy and stop the 10-year plan before it’s too late.”
23) National: PBS Newshour had a good report on the continuing problem of exorbitant charges for incarcerated people’s access to phone and communications devices. “While prices for phone calls have come down in recent years due to new regulations, advocates warn prison telecom companies are creating and emphasizing other services, like video calling and electronic messaging, at unreasonable prices that evade existing regulations. (…) Some families in the U.S. are paying $400 to $500 a month to connect with their incarcerated family members, said Wanda Bertram, spokesperson for the Prison Policy Initiative. Bertram said that for those leaving prison, that money can equal the cost of a security deposit on a new apartment or the price of a repair to a car needed for transportation.
More than one-third of families with incarcerated relatives go into debt to cover the cost of staying in touch, according to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. These costs add to the financial instability formerly incarcerated people experience since many leave prison saddled with debt. The center’s 2015 survey, conducted by researchers across 14 states, found that formerly incarcerated people have an average debt of more than $13,000 in fines and fees.”
24) Massachusetts: U.S. Congress member Jim McGovern, State Senator Jo Comerford, and State Representative Mindy Domb have released a joint statement urging UMass Amherst to drop plans to privatize about 100 public, unionized jobsto the non-unionized private nonprofit UMass Amherst Foundation. “As legislators who represent UMass Amherst and its people, we are gravely concerned about the 100 employees at UMass Amherst—many of whom are our constituents—whose positions focus on building support for the university,” they wrote. “Their state jobs, careers, and retirements are on the line as the flagship campus endeavors to move their positions to a private entity.”
25) Mississippi: As if Jackson’s residents didn’t have enough trouble already over their water utility, the city’s trash collection system is at a standstill over a contract dispute. “The contract dispute, which has been brewing for two years, came to a head recently when Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and some City Council members could not come to an agreement over which company should be allowed to pick up the city’s trash. As a result, in a split 3-3 vote, with one member abstaining, the council failed to ratify a proposal last weekend to award Richard’s Disposal, a New Orleans-based company that has been collecting trash for the past year, a new, six-year $54 million contract. ‘This is about the ability to execute in a professional manner,” said City Council President Ashby Foote, who voted against the contract Saturday, saying that although Richard’s Disposal submitted the lowest bid, its ratings on an evaluation conducted by the city were not up to par.” What’s next? A hearing date is scheduled for April 17 on the lawsuit brought by the council.
26) Idaho: Despite the horrific stories coming out of the Gem State regarding the GOP’s war on abortion rights (which is driving doctors out of the state and terrifying people who can’t leave), there was one little bright spot a few days ago. The legislature failed by one vote to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would have allowed minors and their parent to collect a $2,500 fine from a public library if they found a book they deemed “harmful to minors” in its collection.
House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, told reporters “This was a terrible session in terms of other assaults on civil liberties —attacks on freedom of speech, freedom of expression and parental rights. There was a never ending onslaught of bills placing bounties on librarians, schools, museums, the performing arts that would have effectively prevented high school students from being able to put on dance performances or read Judy Blume books. There are many, it seems like, across the aisle who want the state to form a kind of morality police reminiscent of Iran, enforcing certain legislators’ notions of what ideas, what books, what clothing, what health care and what forms of entertainment are acceptable.”
27) International: Tomorrow, junior doctors in the British Medical Association will begin a four day strike for a 35% pay raise. “The union has argued that since 2008-2009 junior doctors have experienced a real-terms pay cut of more than 25 per cent.” Dr Latifa Patel, BMA workforce lead officer, said: “No-one understands better than us, the doctors who care for them, that patients are getting a substandard experience 365 days a year from an overstretched and understaffed NHS. “In this brutal work environment, patient care is at risk every day due to chronic staff shortages and years of underinvestment in equipment and services. “We have a jointly agreed system with NHS England in place to ensure patient safety in the event of extreme and unforeseen circumstances. (…) Junior doctors have no desire to strike, they been pushed into this action by long-term government inaction and now want to bring this dispute to an end as quickly as possible.”
28) International: Protests are taking place across Greece against a new law “enacted by the conservative New Democracy (ND)-led government that includes water and waste management utilities under the regulatory authority for energy. Critics note that the move is in compliance with the EU directives to privatize water utilities in the country. (…) Critics of the bill claim that inclusion of water and waste management under the energy regulatory authority strengthens the institutional and legal framework of the existing water privatization, and is part of the “requirements” under the EU Recovery Fund that Greece started receiving from last year, which must be implemented within the next six months. They allege that the role of the new regulator will be to price water according to “predetermined private economic criteria.”
29) International: Canada’s RadioLabour podcast looks at the privatization of public services—and their reincorporation into the public sector—through an interview with Daria Cibrario of Public Services International. PSI’s Canadian affiliates include the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the National Union of Public and General Employees, NUPGE. [Audio, about 8 minutes]
30) National: As ProPublica’s report on Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas’ cozy and lucrative ties to Texas billionaire Harlan Crow hits the front pages, it’s useful to recall Thomas’ role in turbocharging private contractor immunity. Start here (p. 27): “It’s important to raise questions as soon as a privatization proposal emerges. It can be difficult to reverse even harmful privatization plans once legal contracts have been signed. And it is getting increasingly difficult to hold corporations accountable. Last May, in a 5-3 decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the U.S. Supreme Court ‘weakened the government’s ability to recoup money from contractors defrauding the government,’ according to the Project on Government Oversight. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, said the decision ‘severely limits whistleblowers’ ability to substantiate their allegations before commencing suit.’”
As for Crow, he’s been active for over a decade helping to fund the right wing crusade to undermine public education in Texas by creating charter schools that devour education budgets.
31) California/International: Mathilde Lind Gustavussen, a PhD candidate in sociology at the Free University of Berlin, has written an in-depth piece on the gentrifying and privatizing effects of the coming Los Angeles Olympics. “From Rio to Tokyo, Vancouver to Beijing, London to Atlanta, hosting the Olympics has come at a devastating cost for local residents who’ve experienced accelerated gentrification, displacement, privatization, municipal debt, environmental damage, and militarization of police alongside the implementation of permanently ramped-up surveillance regimes. (…) City governments utilize ‘geobribes’ like subsidies, opportunity zones, and public land privatization (as well as infrastructural upgrades such as installing fiber-optic cable or expanding public transit) to stimulate spatially targeted development, leveraging public financing in service of gentrification.”
32) New Book: In Injustice Inc., Daniel L. Hatcher “uncovers how courts, prosecutors, police, probation departments, and detention facilities are abandoning ethics to churn vulnerable children and adults into unconstitutional factory-like operations. Hatcher reveals stark details of revenue schemes and reflects on the systemic racialized harm of the injustice enterprise. He details how these corporatized institutions enter contracts to make money removing children from their homes, extort fines and fees, collaborate with debt collectors, seize property, incentivize arrests and evictions, enforce unpaid child labor, maximize occupancy in detention and “treatment” centers, and more. Injustice, Inc. underscores the need to unravel these predatory operations, which have escaped public scrutiny for too long.”