First, the Good News

1) National: Help us help you in 2024, says In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen. “With 2023 receding in the rear-view mirror, we’re getting ready for what might be a wild ride in 2024. We haven’t finished our plans for 2024 so I’m writing to ask for your help. ITPI is what I call a “back bench” organization. Our most important work is helping organizations, leaders, unions, and others fight efforts to privatize public services and infrastructure and expand access to publicly controlled public goods. So let us know what you see on the horizon in your state and what kind of help you might need. This will help us finalize our plans.”

This year ITPI will be focused on the dismantling of public education, improving public education, and pro-public governing. “And, as always, ITPI will continue to present a steady stream of briefs (like this one on the charter school real estate industrial complex), tools (like these 10 questions to ask before considering privatization), blogposts, op-eds (like this one asking laid-off tech workers to consider public service work, or this one about big tax prep giants blocking access to free filing opportunities), and even some interesting analysis about alternatives to neoliberalism (and why there needs to be alternatives).”

2) National: Keep your eyes out for a forthcoming book by the heroic defenders of public education, Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, The Education Wars: A Citizen’s Guide and Defense Manual (Spring, 2024).

Surviving the Education Wars explains the sudden obsession with race and gender in schools, as well as the ascendancy of book banning efforts. It offers a clear analysis of school vouchers and the impact they’ll have on school finances. It deciphers the movement for ‘parents’ rights,’ explaining the rights that students and taxpayers also have. And it reveals how the ostensible pursuit of ‘religious freedom’ opens the door to discrimination against vulnerable children. Berkshire and Schneider outline the core issues driving the education wars, offering essential information about issues, actors, and potential outcomes. In so doing, they lay out what is at stake for parents, teachers, and students and provide a roadmap for ensuring that public education survives this present assault. A book that will enrage and enlighten the millions of citizens who believe in their public schools, here is a long-overdue handbook and guide to action.”

3) Massachusetts: Boston schools superintendent Mary Skipper has assured principals “that the most extreme scenario of a new district facilities plan that could close up to half of Boston Public Schools buildings would not come to pass. ‘We as a system will not be closing half of our schools nor does the long-term facilities plan imply we should or would,’ Skipper wrote to campus leaders in response to a Boston Globe story detailing the plan. ‘This interpretation is based neither in the reality of the plan itself nor the process with which we will make decisions about facilities in the years to come.’ The communication was sent after the Globe reported ‘as many as half of Boston’s public schools could close in coming years’ based on the ‘possible future range of BPS school buildings’ sketched out in the district’s new comprehensive facilities plan. Other media outlets also reported the district plan outlines BPS could close up to half of its schools.”

The Boston Globe reports that “the proposal to consolidate into fewer, larger schools is driven by multiple considerations, including dwindling enrollment due to falling birth rates, rising charter school enrollment, the cost of raising a family in Boston, and migration to the suburbs. The district’s buildings are also overdue for major investment, with more than half built before World War II and most lacking comprehensive HVAC systems.” [Sub required]

4) Massachusetts: The City of Boston has issued a request for grant applications for Green New Deal Labor Analysis. “This funding opportunity will provide up to $50,000 to an organization with significant research expertise and a deep understanding of the role of organized labor in Boston’s job training ecosystem, to conduct a Green New Deal Labor Analysis. This analysis will help us better understand what strategies should be used to ensure that Boston’s Green New Deal drives investment in high-quality, family-supporting jobs, and the role unions will play in expanding access to these jobs for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) Boston residents. The research should produce specific, actionable recommendations for how the City can support these efforts.”

5) Pennsylvania: Once known for its pollution, Pittsburgh has become a poster child for climate consciousness, Inside Climate News reports. “The City of Pittsburgh’s incorporation of climate-change projections into its stormwater-control regulations have been highlighted by the latest National Climate Assessment as an example of how a city can prepare itself for the bigger, more frequent rain storms produced by the changing climate. The federal document cited the former steel capital, Pennsylvania’s second-largest city, population 300,000, for its work requiring developers of new properties covering about a quarter of an acre of land, or with impervious surfaces of about an eighth of an acre, to install various kinds of green infrastructure so that their projects don’t worsen runoff.”

6) Pennsylvania: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is making a big impact in Pittsburgh. “Reading Ready Pittsburgh has a pretty simple goal, according to executive director Mary Denison. “We’re just trying to get as many books to as many kids as we can,” she said. So it made perfect sense for the regional nonprofit to partner with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which mails free books to children from birth through age 5. Started by the legendary country singer in 1995, the program quickly expanded to an international level by the mid-2000s, and has received the Library of Congress’ Literacy Award. As of 2022, the Imagination Library sends more than 2 million books per month to child readers across the globe, according to its website. In Western Pennsylvania, Denison said the program operates primarily in the Mon Valley. More than 6,000 children in the region are enrolled.”

7) Think Tanks: The Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University has launched a Labor Spring 2024 project. Sign up to host an event. “We invite you and your allies to join this movement, link up to the national effort, and form a local group to plan an event of your own, such as teach-ins, speakers, conferences, social events, demonstrations, and rallies. All types of organizations can serve as hosts for Labor Spring events. The events could be in-person, virtual or hybrid.  Labor Spring 2024 is anything that brings people together and helps to build solidarity and momentum to the fight for labor justice at this vital moment. Our next Labor Spring committee zoom meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 11 at 4 pm ET.  If you’d like to join the committee meeting, or for more general information about Labor Spring, contact Alexis Harper at kilwp@georgetown.edu. To begin planning a Labor Spring event please fill out this form.

8) Think Tanks: The Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) has changed its name to the High Road Strategy Center. “When we first launched this organization in 1990, “COWS” was an acronym for Center on Wisconsin Strategy. Several years later, we changed our name to “COWS”—not as an acronym but as a full name because so much of our work was outside Wisconsin. While COWS is a fond holdover of history, it says nothing about what we do. High Road Strategy is what we do and have always done. We are a think-and-do tank, applied research center, provider of technical assistance and advisory services – all aimed at moving more cities and regions and their residents and governments toward high-road development. High Road Strategy Center captures that aspiration and work so, while our name is changing, our mission, purpose, and services remain the same.”


9) National/Colorado: Teachers can’t afford housing, so school districts are building homes, Molly Bolen reports in Route Fifty. “Housing costs have risen dramatically over the last several years as people move to the area or purchase second homes there, said Eagle County School District Superintendent Philip Qualman. In 2022, the average townhome or condo in Eagle County was listed at $1.2 million while many educators made about $50,000 annually, a salary that makes even renting difficult. Qualman has held leadership positions in the district for 15 years, and in that time has interviewed many potential employees. In every single interview, he said, the candidate asks what the area has for affordable housing. “If I don’t have an answer for that, I lose that applicant,” Qualman said. Eagle County is far from alone. A report from the National Education Association suggests that housing assistance, including down payment assistance programs or reduced rent, is a powerful tool for attracting and retaining employees as housing costs continue to outpace salaries.”

10) National: The New York Times Magazine has a long, interesting story about how Hillsdale College, a small religious institution that has been heavily involved in promoting charter schools in Tennessee, was knee-deep in the 2020 election plot. “Before Norton came to Hillsdale, he was a vice president of the Bradley Foundation, a Milwaukee-based conservative philanthropy that has funded groups advancing voter-fraud conspiracy theories. And most prominent was Hillsdale’s president, Larry P. Arnn. Over two decades, Arnn had fashioned the college as an avatar of resistance to progressivism, all the while amassing relationships with many of the influencers and financiers who were transforming conservative politics in America. By the time Trump swept into the White House in 2017, Arnn had made Hillsdale an academic darling and supplier of philosophical gravitas to the new right. So prominent was Arnn that he was mentioned as a possible education secretary before losing out to Betsy DeVos…”

11) Arizona: The current issue of the Harvard Political Review has an overview of Arizona’s Experiment with Charter Schools by Avi Agarwal. “Arizona is the state with the largest share of students who attend charter schools in the U.S. Of the 3.1 million students who attend charter schools in the U.S., 200,000 of them are in Arizona. This surge in charter school enrollment appears to align almost directly with the diminishing quality of the education system in the state. This poses a question: could charter schools primarily contribute to this decline? (…) In an interview with the HPR, Heidi Vega, the director of communications for the Arizona School Boards Association, spoke about a different hypothesis for the decline in the state’s education quality. Director Vega said that much of the decline can be attributed to low governmental spending on public district schools compared to other states. Arizona holds the lowest rank in the nation for per-pupil spending, with an average funding of $10,244, trailing behind the national average of $15,446 by a considerable margin of $5,202. The insufficient resources provided to students have drastic consequences for the quality of Arizona’s education. Additionally, Arizona has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the country, as teachers are under-compensated compared to other jobs and states.”

How do other states do? “New York has the highest per-pupil spending of all of the 50 states. New York currently spends $24,040 per pupil, approximately 90% above the national average. Utah has the lowest per-pupil spending of $7,628 per student. The ten states with the highest per pupil spending are: New York ($24,040), District of Columbia ($22,759), Connecticut ($20,635), New Jersey ($20,021), Vermont ($19,400), Alaska ($17,726), Massachusetts ($17,058), New Hampshire ($16,893), Pennsylvania ($16,395), and Wyoming ($16,224).”

12) California: Redlands is fighting back against efforts to broadcast queerphobic messages across the region. “The banner battle is just one front in an ongoing conflict surrounding the region’s Redlands schools. A network of LGBTQ parents and allies, including several from the group Safe Redlands Schools (SRS), have a text line to receive alerts from community members warning when a new banner drops—to make sure it’s taken down.

Shortly after forming, SRS opposed the school board campaign of Erin Stepien, whose platform opposed critical race theory, ​‘gender ideology curriculum’ and vaccine mandates. SRS continues to advocate against book bans and to support LGBTQ students at contentious school board meetings, drawing the ire of far-right groups.”​

13) Minnesota/New Jersey: If you think live cases promoting court-ordered racial integration are a thing of the past, think again. The Wall Street Journal reports that “lawsuits in Minnesota and New Jersey are seeking to compel the states to ensure more racially balanced public schools, while a new organization called Brown’s Promise says it plans to back similar integration suits in other states. The advocates hope courts will require policies that facilitate more-diverse schools, such as magnet schools or voluntary transfer programs. (…) Alejandro Cruz-Guzman, the lead plaintiff and a parent in St. Paul, said he joined the case after initially sending his children to a predominantly Hispanic charter school. ‘All the kids were just like my kids,’ said Cruz-Guzman, who is Mexican American. ‘What’s going to happen when they get older, they grow up, and they haven’t been exposed to other kids from other communities and different backgrounds?’” [Sub required]

14) Missouri: Cash for charter school expansion legislation? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that “a first-term Republican legislator from Lake Saint Louis wants to allow charter schools to operate in St. Charles County, and he has a major supporter on his side. Justin Hicks pre-filed a bill last month that would allow charter schools to open in school districts located ‘within a county with more than four hundred thousand but fewer than five hundred thousand inhabitants,’ a population that only applies to St. Charles County. One week later, Hicks’ political action committee, Americans First, received a $10,000 donation from retired St. Louis financier Rex Sinquefield, according to filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Sinquefield is a strong proponent of school choice. Hicks did not respond to questions about the donation or the bill.” [Sub required]

15) Ohio: Education policy will be a hot topic of debate in the Ohio legislature this year, Susan Tebben reports in Ohio Capital Journal. “With the most recent state budget, passed this summer, a GOP-led effort to expand eligibility for private school vouchers led to a ballooning of the poverty level allowed for the voucher program to 450% of the poverty line, or a household income of $135,000 or less for a family of four. (…) Public school advocates took issue with the expansion, saying the Fair School Funding Plan, seeking to support public school districts based on their individual needs, should be the focus, considering the vast majority of students in Ohio attend traditional public schools. Since the most recent voucher participation numbers were released, [Stephen Dyer, former state representative and former chair of the Ohio House Primary and Secondary Education subcommittee] did his own analysis of the voucher program, finding a very different goal compared to when it began. It’s now going to wealthier, white families to subsidize the decisions they’d already made to send their kids to private schools, Dyer told the OCJ.”

There is also a court battle looming. “The lawsuit was filed in Jan. 2022, accusing the state of Ohio of improperly and unequally funding private schools, specifically targeting the growth of the voucher program as a drain on public school resources. ‘The legislature has only moved to further expand private school vouchers in Ohio,’ the leading group in the lawsuit, Vouchers Hurt Ohio, wrote in a recent statement on the program. ‘We do not stand a chance of changing their minds or direction so we are forced to sue to get a fair hearing in a court of law where the Ohio Constitution is respected and means something.’”

16) Tennessee: Lower Tennessee report card grades are raising questions following a voucher proposal, according to the Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro). “Two Rutherford County school officials question if low state report card grades seek to justify expansion of private school vouchers. ‘I don’t think this is indicative of our students knowledge or education,’ said Tammy Sharp, an elected Republican member of the Rutherford County Board of Education who opposes vouchers. ‘I do think it is an effort to enforce the need for vouchers to make the schools look like their failing.’ Fellow Republican school board member Claire Maxwell has the same concerns about new report card measurements that gave four Rutherford County schools D grades. The low grades came out recently after Gov. Bill Lee proposed in November that the Tennessee General Assembly expand state-funded vouchers that provide $7,075 per child to help families pay for private school tuition and fees. ‘I do believe that this is tied to the vouchers,’ said Maxwell, who’s the vice chairwoman of the school board. ‘It’s not fair. By changing the parameters and not measuring academic growth as much and concentrating on proficiency, it has really hurt some of our schools that would have performed better under the older system.””


17) National: States are warning of “Band-Aids and duct tape” for road maintenance as gas tax revenues begin a predicted decline. “In Maryland, transportation officials putting together their six-year transportation plan warned recently that construction projects, commuter bus service and road maintenance face severe cuts. The state has a $3 billion shortfall for the plan, blamed on higher costs and reduced tax and fee collections. Beyond maintenance cuts, the state may consider pulling back on several planned highway expansion projects, officials said.” Republican Presidential candidate Nikki Haley has attracted widespread criticism for calling for a reduction in gas taxes. The question is whether or not such political attacks on gas taxes are another leverage point to advance proposals by the road privatization industry to shift to user fees that funnel funding to banks and construction companies. The alternative, of course, would be to adequately tax, on a progressive basis, the public to support vitally necessary infrastructure in a way that would be democratically accountable.

18) National/Connecticut: Are private telecommunications companies adhering to legal standards when they use public infrastructure? “Connecticut Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman is asking state utility regulators to launch an investigation into Frontier Communications [whose parent company is Verizon—ed.] for its alleged noncompliance with quality of service standards that telecommunications companies are required to meet. (…) ‘When a company that operates using the public right-of-way—that is the critical infrastructure along our streets and highways—fails to meet these standards, it is detrimental to the public’s safety, health, and welfare,’ Coleman said. ‘My office has a statutory responsibility to represent the interests of Connecticut’s telecommunications consumers, and after monitoring the company’s own compliance filings, we have taken a necessary step in filing a petition with PURA to investigate our findings, while giving the company the opportunity to take action to address these shortcomings, and to ensure that the Quality of Service standards are met by Frontier moving forward.’”

19) National: First Student, the private school bus behemoth, is scooping up funding from EPA’s Clean School Bus Program. In a press release, the company said “First Consulting, First Student’s team of internal expert consultants, is available to collaborate with school districts to streamline the process of implementing, managing and maintaining electrified fleets.” The company says it will “work with districts, utilities and municipalities to build the necessary charging and maintenance infrastructure for the future.”

20) National: The Bond Buyer sees a busy year ahead for infrastructure investment. “The coming year may bring robust, even record-setting, growth in the infrastructure market as cities and states enjoy strong federal support while challenges like high material costs may be fading, experts said. Next year marks the third year of implementation of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that launched what the Biden administration has dubbed the “infrastructure decade” and provided $1.2 trillion of advance appropriations through 2026. Coupled with the federal support, states are also expected to invest significant dollars into transportation projects next year, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association. On the legislative front, state transportation officials will continue to press for priorities like smoother allocation of highway funds, better administration of the IIJA’s discretionary grants, and relief from some of the strict “Buy America Build America” requirements that are part of the IIJA.” [Sub required]

21) Georgia: As government initiatives to promote and support green transportation ramp up, will safety infrastructure spending keep pace? “Atlanta will subsidize steep discounts on electric bicycles for city residents as part of a new program designed to cut down on traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. City Council voted on Monday to put $1 million into the program, which by this spring should allow Atlantans over 18 to walk into a partnering bike shop and get up to $2,000 off as an instant rebate. ‘Once this first wave of dollars goes and I think we see how many folks are interested … I’m looking forward to refilling this bucket with more money to make this opportunity available to more residents,’ said Council Member Matt Westmoreland, who helped spearhead the initiative over a year ago. He also said the city was making progress on its backlog of unbuilt bike lanes and other safety infrastructure.”

22) Michigan/National: ProPublica reports that inadequate school infrastructure has “led Detroit to cancel school for several days last year because of excessive heat. Schools had also closed in the face of forecasts of snow that brought no actual snow. Districts get penalized by the state’s funding formula if attendance drops below 75% on any day, and so they may close schools when they fear that too few kids will show up. ‘If you have that happen often enough, it does erode your feeling that the system is there for us, and not just when it’s convenient for them,’ [Sarah Lenhoff, a professor of education policy at Wayne State University] said. One day, shortly after noon, I encountered several 15- and 16-year-old boys who had recently arrived from Latin America and were walking a dog in the quiet streets of River Rouge. But they weren’t playing hooky. School had been closed that day, owing to plumbing problems.”

23) Virginia: The Washington Post reports on research saying that Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s budget plan would hurt school infrastructure. “One area of dispute is already taking shape: Some Democrats and education advocates criticized Youngkin’s proposed budget for using specialized funds for basic education costs, rather than pulling from the general fund. For example, the budget would take money from the Literary Fund, which funds school construction and infrastructure projects, to pay teacher retirement, according to an analysis by Laura Goren of the Commonwealth Institute. Youngkin’s proposal also uses expected increased revenue from the state lottery instead of general fund money for education funding. Goren said the proposal means the total state general fund support for public schools will be lower in the upcoming two years than the current funding levels by about $300 million.”

Public Services

24) National: Public Citizen has issued an urgent appeal for the public to contact President Biden and urge him to appoint two USPS governors who will oppose the privatization of the postal service. “Two positions have opened up on the USPS Board of Governors — the only people with the authority to fire Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Forces that stand to profit from further privatization, service cuts, and price hikes at the USPS are aggressively pressuring President Biden to fill those positions with more DeJoy lackeys. But President Biden can—and should—fill both positions with people who actually care about protecting the Post Office and getting rid of DeJoy. Public Citizen and allies are calling on President Biden to appoint Sarah Anderson (an expert on how the Post Office helps Americans) and former Rep. Brenda Lawrence (a 30-year postal worker) to the USPS Board of Governors. To President Joe Biden. Millions upon millions of Americans count on the United States Postal Service for everything from sending holiday cards to receiving life-saving medications. The Post Office must not continue being left in the hands of Louis DeJoy, a Trump sycophant who seems bent on running the agency into the ground. We urge you to appoint Sarah Anderson and former Rep. Brenda Lawrence to the USPS Board of Governors.”

25) National: A timely reminder from @DreamDefenders: “There’s big business in borders and lock-ups. Companies like the GEO Group make money when families are torn apart. We don’t belong in cages, #WeBelongTogether in FREEDOM. We demand our government choose people over profits.” What is the Biden administration’s position on using private, for-profit corporations to detain immigrants? Here’s the readout.

26) National/Illinois: “Union leaders at a rural federal prison in Illinois this week blasted the leadership of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for terminating a program designed to retain employees by offering supplemental pay, despite lingering issues with staffing the facility,” Government Executive reports. “The Federal Correctional Institute Thomson is located in a remote area along the Illinois-Iowa border. For over a decade, government officials have struggled to adequately staff the facility, leading to its sale by the state to the Justice Department in 2012. (…) But Jon Zumkehr, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 4070, which represents employees at FCI Thomson, said that as of Jan. 1, when the retention pay program was terminated, the prison employed around 400 workers, still short of the 471 authorized for the facility. And over the past two years, turnover remains high, with more than 200 separations, while an additional 20 workers [are] scheduled to leave by the end of January. ‘The retention bonus is a Band-Aid; it doesn’t actually fix anything, but it keeps staff at Thomson,’ Zumkehr said.”

27) National: What implications does generative AI have for public service jobs? Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene of Route Fifty have some ideas. “A little more than a year ago, we wrote a series of articles for Route Fifty about the future of government jobs in an effort to help states and localities prepare. About a month later, the phrase ‘generative AI’ came into the public’s consciousness and that future has changed dramatically.

As governments increasingly learn how to take advantage of the information retrieval and communication dimensions of this new technology, the impact on customer service fields, call centers and service requests is likely to be especially profound.” To stay abreast of developments in AI, follow the Distributed AI Research Institute (DAIR), whose “role is to strengthen the public interest and community-rooted technology ecosystems, and the many organizations in them.”

28) National: The AFL-CIO has recommended changes to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s H1B visa program. “Indeed, H1B and F-1 abuses span the private sector, from tech to manufacturing to healthcare, where the ranks of doctors, nurses and other providers working under H-1B visas has swelled; they also spill into the public sector, affecting the lives and livelihoods of educators and too often enabling the privatization of vital public services. Recognition of these concerns brought the labor movement together around a shared set of principles that would create a different sort of immigration system—one that promotes shared prosperity and shared values of dignity, fairness, opportunity, voice and justice—rather than providing yet another nod to corporate interests. We pursue reform of work visa programs for the same reason we demand a pathway to citizenship: because it is unacceptable to create a subclass of workers with constrained rights and unequal treatment.”

29) International: Writing in Capital & Main, Kelly Candaele looks at the radical right wing privatization program Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, is trying to implement. He quotes Victoria García Martin, a graphic designer in Buenos Aires “Most people are fed up with the political and economic situation. Milei was a new face promising things that are impossible but people think he can save us. With his policies of privatization and cutting budgets, many people are going to be unemployed. Many industries are already firing people. I’m concerned about public services. When you slash subsidies for transportation, how do working people and poor people get to work? When you slash subsidies for health care, how can poor and working people pay for this? Argentina is a country that has public education and public health care. We have a lot of subsidies to help people who are vulnerable. There is going to be social conflict in the future because Milei says that nothing is free and that everyone should pay for everything. Unfortunately, Argentina is not a country where people have the economic means to pay for everything.”

Everything Else

30) National: Government Executive has a brief assessment of President Biden’s recently released President’s Management agenda. According to the latest PMA, “the White House is keeping pace with its stated goals of strengthening the federal workforce and modernizing customer experience. (…) According to the quarterly results, the Biden administration will continue to push into fiscal 2024 with operations milestones for its federal workforce, customer experience and streamlining acquisition goals.” Read the full PMA.

31) National: The American Worker Project of the Center for American Progress says the Biden administration has supported unions and working people in 8 ways:

  • Supporting workers on the picket line.
  • Investing in good union jobs.
  • Making lawbreaking corporations play by the rules.
  • Giving contract workers a raise and better jobs.
  • Taking an all-of-government approach to supporting worker organizing.
  • Increasing funds to uphold workers’ rights.
  • Giving fast-food and other workers a voice on the job.
  • Rebuilding federal employee unions.

32) National: What impact would the “Koch-backed plot to ‘eviscerate’ the regulatory state” have? Well, to take one recent example, see Ben Felder’s article in In These Times, “How Deregulation Is Helping Turn Eastern Oklahoma into a Factory Farm Sacrifice Zone. Fetid air, polluted water, heavy truck traffic: Since the state loosened regulations a decade ago, a rush of industrial chicken farms is transforming life for rural residents.”