An email newsletter for organizers, journalists, and others concerned about the privatization of education, water, and other public goods. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- A soccer-focused charter school proposal is being slammed by a Pennsylvania school board.
- Maryland has “become ground zero for the P3 industry in the United States.”
- The Sunlight Foundation, which led public interest government transparency efforts for many years, has been phased out.
1) National: That debate was, as CNN’s Jake Tapper put it, a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” But there’s hope for a progressive Election Day. A number of state and local ballot referendums aim to raise taxes on the wealthy few to pay teachers, build affordable housing, and more. Others would raise money for new schools, libraries, and other public infrastructure. It’s so easy to forget that people have needs requiring public solutions, after decades of attacks on government by corporate leaders and right-wing politicians. This lines up with recent polling showing that the vast majority of Americans believe that the government is responsible for making life better for everyone. It also lines up with a number of referendums on the ballot this year.
2) National/Think Tanks: The National Conference of State Legislatures has published a guide to state-by-state laws on poll watchers, also known as partisan citizen observers. For expert views on how the 2020 elections will play out in the states, see their excellent website, The Canvass. See also Ballotpedia’s overview page and its pages on state and local 2020 ballot measures. For journalists, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has a useful election guide that help journalists understand their rights at polling locations and while covering elections by summarizing the legal landscape.
3) National/Think Tanks: NCSL has also published a useful paper on evidence-informed policy making. “Always important, the role of data- and research-driven decision-making is particularly crucial in times of lower revenues and budget deficits, such as those states are facing as the result of the global coronavirus pandemic. These circumstances make it even more critical for policymakers to use reliable information and target limited resources to the most effective programs and policies.”
4) Songs for the Common Good: The Next Concert for Justice is November 14. The next “Songs for the Common Good” Zoom Concert on November 14 (after the election when we’ll all need music to celebrate or…??) lifts up the Nueva Cancion tradition with a double bill: Sol Y Canto and Alisa Amador. Sol Y Canto is the duo of Brian and Rosi Amador who were founders of the band Flor de Cana in the 1980’s. Alisa is their daughter and a remarkable solo artist also. I’ve seen them both – together and separately. Here’s the ticket form if you’re ready to buy now. (It helps if you know you’re coming.)
5) National: The National Association of Bond Lawyers has released a new paper on bond financing laws for charter schools that highlights how the enabling laws vary sometimes significantly by state. “Unlike school districts, most charter schools cannot issue tax-exempt debt on their own behalf, and must use a conduit issuer to issue the tax-exempt bonds benefiting the charter school,’’ the NABL paper said. “Not all conduit issuers have the legislative authority to issue tax-exempt bonds benefiting charter schools, but many states have enacted legislation to establish new entities with the authority to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance charter school facilities or authorize existing entities to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance charter school facilities.”
The report says “several investment firms have emerged in recent years that either specialize in purchasing charter school bonds or have high yield bond departments that do. Among them: Tortoise Capital Advisors, Greenwich Investment Management, Hamlin Capital Management, ESJ Capital Partners and Equitable Facilities Fund.” The Bond Buyer also notes research citing “examples of charter schools using financing packages that include Tax Increment Financing (TIF), Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), the federal New Markets Tax Credit, the federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program and even the EB-5 investment program granting a conditional green card to wealthy immigrant investors.”
6) National: Friday’s jobs report contained some grim numbers on public sector employment, especially in education. “Government employment fell by 231,000, driven by declines in local and state education, a decline economists have been warning about for months. The decline in the September unemployment rate was also driven in part by a drop in the labor force participation rate, meaning that because many unemployed people gave up looking for work, the labor force shrank and the remaining unemployed were a smaller share of the workforce.” Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, says “this is just proof positive that this is no V-shaped recovery. It’s going to be a slog. The economy risks stalling out with out any additional fiscal support.” But “Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are still haggling over state and local funding and enhanced unemployment insurance—the same issues they’ve been haggling over for months. Pelosi wants a $2 trillion package, and the White House has indicated it’s much more comfortable in the $1 trillion range.”
7) National: Route Fifty reports that “schools are juggling all kinds of learning models this year. but that doesn’t always mean they are hiring more teachers.”
8) National: Shawgi Tell has deconstructed a widespread myth about the origin and nature of charter schools. “Charter schools are not the product of grass-roots forces, as the public has often been led to believe. They never have been. Charter schools did not arise as a result of ordinary everyday people coming together and saying: “hey, we need charter schools, let’s make it happen.” Charter schools did not emerge from the ground-up. Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, which have a well-documented track record of failure and closure, have been a top-down capital-centered phenomenon from the very start. Their history shows that they have nothing to do with advancing the public interest, improving schools, or closing the ‘achievement gap.’ Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have mainly made certain people richer.”
9) National: Conservative media and think tankers are predictably upset that many states are defunding online charter schools during the pandemic.
10) Arizona/National: A Scottsdale financial firm— Funding the Gap LLC—has settled with the SEC in charter school bond case. “Combined, these charter schools borrowed $222 million through municipal bond offerings, primarily to fund school buildings and costs associated with campus development, according to the order. FTG was paid fees for the services it provided. However, FTG and Carroll weren’t registered as a municipal adviser with the SEC and the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, which is required by federal law. Without admitting or denying the findings in the SEC order, Funding the Gap and Carroll agreed to pay a $30,000 civil penalty and also agreed to cease-and-desist orders.” [Sub required]
11) New York: The Buffalo Board of Education says the district is saturated with charter schools. “In the Buffalo Public School District there are approximately 18-charter schools. About 9,000 city school students attend those charter schools. There are four new proposed charter schools that are seeking state approval.” One of them is a Learn4Life school. “A January 2020 Washington Post article outlines how the California-based chain is accused of allegedly scheming and hiding profits it made from the public. According to that article, judges in San Diego and California ordered five of the centers too close.”
12) North Carolina: The National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College has published a working paper by Helen F. Ladd and Mavzuna Turaeva of Duke University finding “that the movement of white, but not minority, switchers to charter schools increases racial segregation between schools.” They also find “that the value parents place on the racial composition of individual charter schools differs by the race and income of the switchers.”
13) Ohio: The Ohio Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit over the expansion of the state’s taxpayer-paid private school voucher program, saying a law that changed the program made the suit pointless. “A coronavirus relief bill passed by the Ohio legislature in March froze the current EdChoice school list at 517, so the court ruled the lawsuit is moot. Aaron Baer from the conservative group Citizens for Community Values sued on behalf of families he says were promised those expanded vouchers when the application window opened in February. However, the state legislature delayed that window until April.”
14) Pennsylvania: Republican state legislators have crafted a bill to get around a federal court ruling barring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from using CARES Act money to prop up private schools. “Hou se Bill 2696, the ‘Back on Track’ bill, proposes to give a $1,000 voucher to parents for every K-12 child. This particular voucher format is the education savings account, a chunk of money set aside by the state that parents can spend on any qualifying education expenses, using an electronic transfer— a sort of educational debit card.”
15) Pennsylvania: The Lancaster school district has castigated a proposal for a sports-infused charter school. They cited “its apparent lack of detail related to its programming and curriculum, deficient support for students learning English as a second language and students requiring special education services, conflicting and unclear information regarding staffing and budgeting, as well as its apparently nonexistent community support.” A vote is expected at its Oct. 20 meeting.
16) National: Public Works Financing, a key industry voice promoting private financing in public infrastructure projects, is out with its special election issue. Some highlights:
- “As polarized as the 2020 electorate has become, it is comforting that infrastructure (and a lot more of it) is one thing that the two parties agree on. Until you get into the details, of course.”
- “They clearly agree on two things: spending much more on infrastructure, and not identifying a way to pay for it.”
- “Federal infrastructure policy has become a non‐issue in the 2020 presidential election.”
- “In the meantime, infrastructure will continue to become more of a state and local issue, as noted by the many mayors and other officials who spoke during Infrastructure Week.”
- On Biden’s position: “Highlights of the Biden plan include significant investments in public transit and other rail infrastructure, mostly through enhancements to exiting federal grant and lending programs. It includes a goal of zero‐emissions public transit infrastructure for all US municipalities of more than 100,000 people by 2030. In announcing the plan, Biden called for a “second great railroad revolution” for the nation.” Other aspects of the infrastructure plan: Electric vehicle charging stations, investments in clean energy supply chains, weatherizing public buildings and housing, allocating 40% of clean energy benefits to communities of color and people who are most exposed to industrial pollution or resource extraction.
- On Trump’s position: “Relatively, few details exist regarding Trump’s latest plans for US infrastructure. During the 2016 election, he campaigned on a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Earlier this summer, there were rumors that his campaign would propose another $1 trillion plan this year, but official details of that plan have yet to materialize. Trump’s FY21 budget request, published back in February, included $810 billion for highways and transit projects over 10 years plus $190 billion allocated to rural broadband, 5G, and other non‐transport infrastructure.” [Public Works Financing, September 2020; sub required]
17) Arkansas: Under a 2017 law, state colleges may begin looking for private financing to upgrade their utility infrastructures. “The private company gets the profits from the project, while taxpayers, at least in theory, save money because the private company brings experience and efficiency while covering most of the upfront costs.” But Fitch said that “at a time when the coronavirus has caused significant uncertainty for the higher education sector, universities may be reticent to enter into long-term contracts.”
18) Illinois: The Granite City wastewater collection system has been privatized. “American Water Works has plans to invest $8.8-$9.4 billion in the 2020-2024 time period and $20-$22 billion in the next decade.”
19) Maryland: Public Works Financing says Maryland has “become ground zero for the P3 industry in the United States.” The disastrous breakdown of the Purple Line P3, which has not been resolved, has become a key issue in the looming battle over whether Gov. Hogan’s multibillion dollar I-495/I-270 toll road expansion project should be abandoned. “A cursory review of the comments to date indicate that COVID‐19 impacts are a predominant concern, notably that commuter demand may be forever changed (the shortlisted bidders for the project should consider themselves “warned”). Other stakeholders have expressed general “Lexus lane” sentiment, or opposition to highway expansion generally, or a preference for public transit. Others still raised more specific environmental concerns with the project.” [Public Works Financing, September 2020; sub required]
Advocates for saving the Purple Line seem to agree on one thing: a public rescue of the project will require a lot more money to complete, and that only Gov. Hogan’s political skills and oomph can make that a reality.
20) South Carolina: Beaufort County and developers have signed a controversial deal for a development along the Okatie River, leaving “taxpayers on hook for around $2.45 million,” even though “it is still unclear exactly how that money will be collected. (…) Council member Alice Howard said although she thinks the property will have a ‘beautiful park,’ she voted against it because of the high cost to taxpayers. ‘I think we’re not doing the best we can for the taxpayers,’ she said.”
21) Tennessee: Do you think transparency is the best policy when it comes to water main breaks and the community damage that results from them? Well that may depend on whether your water infrastructure is publically controlled or privately owned. “Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said the community deserves transparency from Tennessee American Water. He said officials with the utility had assured him a report on the cause of the outage was coming August 18. Yet, still nothing. ‘Because we want to know who is responsible, what happened so it doesn’t happen again and we can hold the company or entity accountable,’ Mayor Berke said.”
22) Texas: Ten companies made a pitch to the Corpus Christi city council last week about a proposed desalination plant. “However, the city is still pursuing a $222.5 million loan from the Texas Water Development Board to build a seawater desalination plant within the Inner Harbor of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.” But “not everyone at City Hall on Tuesday were there to support desalination. Five City Council candidates held a news conference outside City Hall during the meeting to announce their ‘People’s Platform’ against desalination in Corpus Christi.” The project is wrapped up in the political season. “Candidates opposing the desal plants, which have become a central issue in the upcoming City Council and mayoral election, are Eli McKay of District 1, Sylvia Campos of District 2, Jim Klein of District 4, and at-large councilors Deanna King and Liz Perez.”
23) Virginia: After rejecting a bid for privatization about five years ago, The Port of Virginia’s performance is looking up. John Reinhart, who was hired in 2014 to turn around a financially troubled port system that had toyed with privatization “emphasized that container volume last month was the largest it’s ever been in a September in the port’s history, up by more than 5,000 containers or 4.4% over last year, despite challenges that included a trade war and a pandemic. ‘This is some really good traction we have,’ he said, as the port emerged like many others from steep drops that coincided with the pandemic’s start.”
24) International: The Canadian Union of Public Employees says privatization won’t build sustainable infrastructure. “The Liberal government’s plans to funnel $10 billion in spending on sustainable projects through the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) ignores mounting evidence of the high costs of privatization. This decision will mean the public foots the bill for more expensive private lending and long-term debt repayments for risky public-private partnerships (P3s). The money will go to clean power, broadband, building retrofits, agricultural irrigation, and zero-emission buses and the infrastructure to charge them. This green investment is critical but should be made with public funding and financing.”
25) Think Tanks: The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) has released a new white paperto help states and utilities develop more useful inventories of lead service lines (LSLs).
Criminal Justice and Immigration
26) National: Immigrant detainees at a facility run for profit by Lasalle Corrections “said they had invasive gynecology procedures that they later learned might have been unnecessary,” the New York Times reports. Wendy Dowe said “it was only after she was deported to Jamaica and had her medical files reviewed by several other doctors that she knew she had been right to raise questions.” Dr. Amin’s billings “had previously come to the attention of federal authorities. In 2013, the Justice Department named him in a civil case alleging that he and several other doctors had overbilled Medicare and Medicaid by, among other things, performing unnecessary procedures on terminal patients and leaving the emergency room staffed by nurses while billing for diagnoses and treatments as if they had been performed by doctors. The case was settled for $520,000 with no admission of fault on the part of the defendants.”
Meanwhile, the Colorado Times Recorder’s Sean Price reports that “Democratic members of Colorado’s Senate and House are calling for a congressional investigation into a whistleblower complaint filed earlier this month stating that immigrants received forced hysterectomies without their consent while detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia.” The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) has released a statement condemning ICE and demanding it be defunded.
27) National/California: A federal judge has ordered the immediate reduction of the population of the Adelanto ICE Processing Center due to an outbreak of COVID-19 moving through the facility. “The decision was part of a months-long battle over the safety of immigrants detained at the facility owned and operated by The GEO Group, a private prison company.”
28) National: GEO Group, the private, for-profit prison and immigration detention company, has published its second annual Human Rights and Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) report. Pressure is mounting on UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to call for an immediate, independent, impartial investigation into reports of human rights abuses by the Department of Homeland Security, its component agencies, and private contractors. GEO Group is a contractor with ICE, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security.
29) California: Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed a bill backed by immigrant-rights advocates that mandates greater accountability by the companies that operate federal detention facilities in California. “Assembly Bill 3228 allows people to sue private detention facility operators for failing to comply with the standards of care outlined in the facility’s contract and to collect “reasonable” costs and attorney’s fees. The bill is the first of its kind in the nation, supporters say. The law takes effect Jan. 1. It’s the latest twist in an ongoing fight pitting California leaders against federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and the corporations that manage the four immigration detention facilities in the state.”
30) California: The state will require prisons to house transgender people by gender identity. “Correctional staff are barred from disciplining a person for their responses to the question and will now be required to use the preferred gender pronouns of incarcerated people in all interactions and on written forms.”
31) Massachusetts: Eleven employees with Wellpath, the company that handles inmate health care for the Department of Correction, have tested positive for COVID-19. Elsewhere, “the sheriff’s department said Saturday that no cases had been reported at the department’s Pre-Release Center in Lawrence or at the Women in Transition Program in Salisbury. The Middleton jail is closed to the general public and movement within the facility has been minimized to slow the spread, the sheriff’s department said.”
32) Montana: 26 inmates at the CoreCivic-operated Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby have tested positive for COVID-19. “The 700-bed Crossroads Correctional Center is the state’s only private prison. It employs nearly 180 people when fully staffed.”
33) Washington: Privatized prisons lead to more inmates and longer sentences according to a new University of Washington study by Gregmar I. Galinato and Ryne Rohla. “The study found that private prisons lead to an average increase of 178 new prisoners per million population per year. At an average cost of $60 per day per prisoner, that costs states between $1.9 to $10.6 million per year, if all those additional prisoners are in private prisons. The length of sentences also increases when private prisons come into a state, especially in nonviolent crimes that have more leeway in sentencing guidelines. ‘Not all crimes are created equally,’ said Gregmar Galinato, a co-author and professor in WSU’s School of Economic Sciences. ‘For crimes like property damage, fraud, or non-violent drug crimes—crimes where judges have more leeway in sentencing—states saw higher sentencing rates and significant increases in sentence lengths when private prisons were established.’”
34) National: Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden addressed the Amalgamated Transit Union’s town hall on Saturday. “While praising $32 billion in emergency funding for struggling public transportation systems in the updated Heroes Act, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) calls for critical funding for the school bus and motor coach industries devastated since the pandemic began. ‘The ATU commends the House for including $32 billion in critical emergency funding for transit systems, but the absence of any funding for school bus and motor coach industries could be a death knell,’ says ATU International President John Costa. ‘We call on the Senate to take immediate action to provide critical relief for working families as the pandemic continues.’”
35) California: Capital & Main’s Danny Feingold takes us inside California’s troubled nursing home oversight division. “The division of the Los Angeles County Public Health Department charged with regulating nursing homes is wracked by incompetent leadership and hampered by inadequate training, endangering the lives of vulnerable residents and undermining staff morale. These allegations, made by half a dozen nurses and other employees at the Health Facilities Inspection Division (HFID) in interviews with Capital & Main, come at a pivotal moment for nursing home oversight in the nation’s most populous county. HFID’s performance is expected to figure prominently in a report from Max Huntsman, who has served since 2013 as L.A. County’s inspector general.”
36) New York/National: Nina Matteau of Westport reports on the deep decline of a senior living facility after it was privatized, and sees warning signs about Social Security and Medicare. “I visited the facility prior to its sale with my granddaughter’s preschool class for Halloween festivities with the residents. I found it to be a pleasant, clean and friendly facility. (…) A few years after the sale, my husband and I toured the facility looking for a nursing home for his mother. We were disturbed by the lack of social activities for residents as well as the smell of urine and feces. We noted a log documenting multiple code infractions. Clearly, we would never put our loved one in the Essex Center. The bottom line here is that for-profit businesses look at only one thing: the bottom line, not how people are impacted. Therefore, I am genuinely concerned about the coming election and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s position to privatize Medicare and Social Security.”
37) International: Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque is opposing the privatization of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), saying that it runs counter to the ‘very principle’ of the Universal Healthcare Law. Right wing President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier suggested it might be privatized. “Universal Healthcare is distinguished from private health insurance because it is number one, it is a discharge of state obligation to promote the right to health and it is a commitment that although members have to pay their dues, in reality, the dues will not be enough and the balance, of course, will be paid for by the government,” Roque added. “PhilHealth’s new chief Dante Gierran also opposed privatizing the agency, noting that it will only send a ‘wrong signal’ that people distrust government officials.”
38) National: A good job is a joy.
39) National/West Virginia: NPR’s David Folkenflik reports that “Ex coal mine CEO Bob Murray—who fought against regulations to protect miners from black lung disease—files for federal benefits for having black lung disease – @wvpublicnews. Hate to hear about anyone but – looking forward to next John Oliver segment.”
40) National: Is the bond market mispricing climate risk? “Time will tell how the Western wildfires and Southern hurricanes impact municipal bond pricing. Given the strong positive supply and demand dynamics of the muni market, it might take significant corporate and residential tax base erosion to cause meaningful spread widening. Then municipal bonds may adequately reflect outstanding climate risks.” [Sub required]
41) Pennsylvania: A group of Republican lawmakers has filed a lawsuit attempting to block three Pennsylvania counties from spending grant money on elections. “The grants came from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit that recently received a $250 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg Philly received $10 million that allowed for increased processing capacity from mail-in ballots and recruiting more poll workers.” The suit also “argues that local governments accepting nonprofit money that the state government declined would constitute an illegal public-private partnership.”
42) Think Tanks: The Sunlight Foundation, which led public interest government transparency efforts for many years, has been phased out. But “the organization helped create more than four dozen public records databases and other tools to shed light on political, policymaking and lobbying activity. Some of the more prominent projects are now under different management — including up-to-date and sortable reports of foreign spending to lobby Washington (now at the Center for Responsive Politics) and detailed records of how Congress spends money on itself (now at ProPublica).”
43) Think Tanks: A paper by longtime In the Public Interest friend and colleague Roland Zullo—Explaining Privatization Failure: The Vice of Sweet Carrots and Hard Sticks—has won a best paper award from the venerable Review of Radical Political Economics.