A weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Here’s a direct link to this blog post. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- Literary Hub’s Senior Editor Jessie Gaynor just loves In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen’s new book, The Privatization of Everything.
- The bipartisan infrastructure bill could turbocharge the auction of America’s public assets.
- One company could run half of West Virginia’s first charter schools.
First, the good news…
1) National: Literary Hub’s Senior Editor Jessie Gaynor just loves In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen’s new book, The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back, co-authored with Allen Mikaelian.
“Sometimes you just need to read a book that absolutely enrages you. Or, even better, a book that validates and contextualizes your rage, and outlines steps toward a less enraging system,” Gaynor writes. “In The Privatization of Everything, Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian dig into the distinctly American practice of privatizing necessary public services, from the water supply to the library. They look at the origins of the practice (Milton Friedman, white supremacy), its myriad and disastrous current manifestations and consequences (the shredding of a social safety net, out-of-control healthcare costs, skyrocketing income inequality, etc., etc., etc.), and—crucially—what is to be done. As the authors note in their introduction, the pandemic has underscored the necessity of public control over public goods, yet the myth of the superiority of privatization is remarkably persistent (which, as someone who has spent hours and hours on the phone with my health insurance company, I find utterly baffling). At the end of the book, Cohen and Mikaelian lay out six steps toward a society rooted in public values, which I hope everyone with a vested interest in forestalling the apocalypse reads. This is a far-reaching, comprehensible, and necessary book.”
To hear Donald talk about his new book and the challenges of privatization check out his interview on Council 4 AFSCME Unplugged. [Audio, about a half hour]
2) National: The good news is that there are a lot of good and vitally necessary things in the public works bill that Congress just sent to President Biden for his signature.
What’s in it? The infrastructure bill will cost $1.2 trillion over eight years, and offers more than $550 billion in new spending, including:
- $110 billion toward roads, bridges and other much-needed infrastructure fix-ups across the country; $40 billion is new funding for bridge repair, replacement and rehabilitation and $17.5 billion is for major projects;
- $73 billion for the country’s electric grid and power structures;
- $66 billion for rail services;
- $65 billion for broadband;
- $55 billion for water infrastructure;
- $21 billion in environmental remediation;
- $47 billion for flooding and coastal resiliency as well as “climate resiliency,” including protections against fires, etc.;
- $39 billion to modernize transit, which is the largest federal investment in public transit in history, according to the White House;
- $25 billion for airports;
- $17 billion in port infrastructure;
- $11 billion in transportation safety programs;
- $7.5 billion for electric vehicles and EV charging; $2.5 billion in zero-emission buses, $2.5 billion in low-emission buses, and $2.5 billion for ferries.
For a deep dive on what’s in the bill listen to the episode of Jennifer Briney’s always excellent Congressional Dish podcast on the bill. [Audio, about an hour]
The bad news is that the legislation could also turbocharge the auction of America’s public assets. But In the Public Interest Communications Director Jeremy Mohler has a roadmap for fighting the risks of privatization:
Concerned about your state, town, or school district falling for the public-private partnership trap? Here, get up to speed and be on the lookout:
- 10 questions to ask before any privatization deal
- Why you should be wary of privatization
- Understanding and evaluating public-private partnerships
- How to evaluate the math underlying public-private partnerships
Other caveats about privatization include a long track record of corporate interests bigfooting public democratic and accountable bodies, from bond boards to school boards to legislatures to county executives, and fostering bad planning, bad deals, environmental damage, clumsy exploitative contracts, and a critical loss of public control over our services and infrastructure.
Apart from public works legislation, a failure by the Democrats to pass the major social benefits bill would be an historic defeat. Paul Krugman says he is “not ready to celebrate until or unless we also get BBB. The case for investment in people—and climate!—is even stronger than the case for steel and concrete. But amazing how much can happen once you can push the ideologies and crony capitalists to one side.” The “Trump team was addicted to crony capitalism. They couldn’t do a clean bill; it had to offer privatized stuff that would mean big bucks for their friends.”
Even the Financial Times agrees, saying passage of the infrastructure bill is a beginning for “Joe Biden’s fightback,” but that the “larger spending package still needs to pass to revive his presidency.” [Sub required]
3) National: Legislation introduced House and Senate Democrats would direct OSHA to publicize major workplace safety violations by widely distributing the news to local media outlets and other groups. “In addition, the legislation would require OSHA press releases announcing alleged employer safety violations to be distributed to relevant regional and local newspapers, associated trade or industry organizations, relevant labor organizations, and state and local government entities in the offending employer’s region.”
4) National: The Project on Government Oversight announces the recipients of the Eighteenth Annual Ridenhour Prizes for courageous whistleblowing. This Wednesday, November 10th, POGO will be hosting our annual Ridenhour Prizes virtually. Danielle Brian will be Master of Ceremonies. Register.
5) Maryland: Looks like Baltimore’s going to get a new news outlet next year. Maryland hotel magnate Stewart Bainum “has hired Kimi Yoshino, a top editor from the Los Angeles Times, to help him launch the Baltimore Banner, a nonprofit digital upstart dedicated to local coverage of the city, and committed $50 million of his own fortune to get it started. The plan, Bainum said, is not to compete with the Sun but to cover the news in a city that he said has more than enough for one outlet.” The Baltimore Banner was a 1965 newspaper, set up as a “strike paper,” whose resumption strikers considered during a 1984 strike.
6) Maryland: Charles County public school employees will receive an extra bonus in pay due to their work during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Maryland News reports. “The Charles board of education authorized $1,000 bonus payments to employees covered by the Education Association of Charles County and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.”
7) National: Last Wednesday the African American Policy Forum hosted a compelling discussion of what it’s like to be in the public classroom supporting students of color and teaching American history and coming under vicious assault by the very people who hired you to do that, alongside baying mobs of hostile parents whipped up by the right wing’s national racist dog whistle campaign against what they call “Critical Race Theory.” Educators Ungagged: Teaching Truth in the Era of Racial Backlash.
“This episode of AAPF’s Under the Blacklight shines a spotlight on the experiences of educators who have been victimized by the draconian legislative campaigns against teaching K-12 students about the realities of race- and gender-based oppression in the United States, past and present. Hosted by AAPF Director of Strategic Initiatives Sumi Cho.” [Video; about an hour and a half]
8) National: Friday’s jobs report said there were losses in government, education and health care. “The biggest drag on employment in September was in the public sector. Government payrolls shrank by 123,000 jobs, with most of the losses in education. But economists said that decline probably reflected the way the Labor Department accounts for seasonal patterns, which the pandemic disrupted. On an unadjusted basis, federal, state and local government employment actually grew by close to 900,000 workers in September. Because that’s fewer than in a typical September, the seasonal adjustment formula interprets it as a loss in jobs.”
9) National/New Book: Listen to “School Choice’s” Roots in Segregation Battles from KPFA’s Against the Grain. “Few things sound as American as choice. And in the United States, the freedom to send one’s child outside of the traditional public school system is a choice that has been promoted aggressively since the legal end to segregation in schools. Scholar Jon Hale traces how the notion of school choice was used to fight against school desegregation, by the likes of free market champion Milton Friedman and others.” [Audio, about 50 minutes]. Read Jon Hale’s book, The Choice We Face: How Segregation, Race, and Power Have Shaped America’s Most Controversial Education Reform Movement (Beacon, 2021).
10) National: Earlier this year, as noted at the time by the Privatization Report, people designing the I-270/I-495 so-called public-private partnership were toying with the idea of embedding “smart cities” technology in the design, despite concerns raised by privacy advocates and hack risks. [See Bill Lucia of Route Fifty’s interesting piece on the subject] Google, which was under consideration for the project, has since left the “smart cities” space.
We haven’t heard much since then about this technology and Maryland infrastructure, but now comes an industry think piece that sees our schools as a possible entry point and hub for this technology. “Some schools are even upgrading their existing legacy cameras throughout the yard, halls, etc., with newer IoT systems, so they can centralize video management and provide more value.” This needs to be on the radar. See also the Financial Times’ recent in-depth article on “the security risks of ‘smart cities.’” [Sub required]
11) Arkansas: 4State News reports that “The LISA Academy Public Charter Schools system, the largest charter system in the state in terms of campus numbers, is again looking to expand—this time into Fayetteville.” According to the news site, “the state’s Charter Authorizing Panel reviewed the amendment proposal last month and approved it, with no member of the public or representatives of the surrounding or nearby school districts speaking in opposition to it.”
12) Florida: The Lee County School Board has “decided against sharing any revenue from the half-cent school sales tax with the city of Cape Coral for its charter schools. Though not a formal vote, the school board in a 5-2 decision directed its attorney to write an official letter notifying the city of its decision.”
13) Georgia: Some fuzzy math is affecting how charter and non-charter students are being counted in the state. “The GHSA [Georgia High School Association—ed.] put its member schools into classifications this week by using a multiplier that counts out-of-zone students three times when determining a school’s class. For most public schools, their attendance zone is their school district. But private and charter schools don’t have school districts, so the GHSA assigns attendance zones (which the GHSA calls service areas) to those schools when reclassifying.” GHSA is an organization that governs athletics and activities for member high schools in Georgia.
14) Louisiana: The past is not even past. It seems some of Lusher Charter School’s supporters and administrators haven’t gotten the message. Earlier this year a process was begun to rename the upper New Orleans school under a new district-wide effort to rename school facilities found to be named for a slave owner, separatist or segregationist. “On Sept. 30, Lusher’s board voted to begin the renaming process, including forming a naming study group, accepting recommendations and presenting a slate of potential new names to the community for input. In presenting the options, the study group said that keeping the name ‘Lusher’ would address concerns over a loss of branding or funding. Both options would essentially keep the current school name: Lusher Charter School, though one would honor a different Lusher and another would include the word ‘diversity.’ Some think those choices undermine the renaming process. ‘I think it’s a big obfuscation of everything that’s been said,’ Lusher alumna Corinne Williams said.” The renaming may come this Thursday when the school’s board meets. Will they just disregard years of protest against the school’s racist name?
Who was Lusher? “The school is named for Robert Mills Lusher, the Louisiana State Superintendent of Education (1865-1868 and 1876-1879) who was dedicated to the Confederacy, segregation of public schools, and white supremacy. His full name is etched into the brick facade of the main building at the Willow Street campus.”
15) Massachusetts: Cynthia Roy and Ricardo Rosa, co-chairs of New Bedford Coalition to Save Our School, denounce a proposed charter school for New Bedford and Fall River as an elite, money-grubbing power play. “One of the most morally disturbing aspects of the Innovators Charter School proposal for New Bedford and Fall River is the joining of considerable political and economic power to withdraw resources from public education systems that have been historically underfunded. What is appalling is the deliberate indifference to the impact on our public school systems in New Bedford and Fall River which, together, serve 22,563 students. As students and families are seduced to exit their public schools, the operating costs in these schools remain the same. This proposal is just more of the same looting of the public school system that we have seen with charter schools. The Innovators Charter School is not an incubator of innovation for public education reform; rather, it is part of a movement to treat public education as a market opportunity for entrepreneurs and business that has proven to be catastrophic for communities across the state.”
16) Nevada: Nevada’s charter school authority voted unanimously Friday to reject the city of Las Vegas’ proposed new school, saying the application didn’t meet state requirements. “It’s ‘unclear that all elements of the proposed academic program can be executed,’ according to online meeting materials. The state also expressed concerns over recruiting and hiring staff for the school, and about ‘proposed vendors relationships that are underdeveloped.’”
17) New Jersey: Red Bank’s superintendent wants to shut down a charter school when it comes up for renewal. “In a direct challenge that echoed rhetoric from a bitter battle leading up to the school’s charter renewal in 2017, Rumage called for a ‘unified’ borough educational system and the elimination of an institution that he said has fostered segregation for its entire 23-year existence. ‘It’s a travesty that we have tolerated school segregation for so long in Red Bank,’ Rumage told the council via Zoom during its workshop session.”
18) Ohio: Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, says Ohio’s charter schools are failing families.
“The state puts report cards together for school buildings and districts, too. In spirit, at least, they have the same mission, quantitatively assessing where our publicly funded institutions across the state are succeeding and where there is room for growth. And not surprisingly, after a year and a half of serious challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest round of state report cards shows there’s some extra room for improvement, with about a 10% drop in Performance Index (PI) scores for Ohio’s traditional public schools from the 2018-2019 school year to the 2020-2021 one. Chronic absenteeism also climbed to 17%, up from 7.5%, during that time.
“But, over that same period, charter schools in the state saw a 25% drop in PI scores — a 2.5 times greater loss than traditional public schools. And chronic absenteeism in those institutions soared from 22% up to 45%, meaning nearly half of all charter school students in Ohio missed a big chunk of the last school year. While the Ohio Education Association applauds the change in state law that removed letter grades from the state report card system, it is clear Ohio’s charter schools are not making the grade. As a teacher, I’d give them a D-minus at best.”
19) South Carolina: Charleston County’s charter school parents are frustrated over the lack of mask mandates. “As the delta variant spread through South Carolina over the summer, Orange Grove parents grew increasingly concerned. Many knew that state politicians had passed a law saying school districts that instituted mask mandates risked losing their funding for the year. But charter schools operated in a murky area where they were not ruled by the same regulations as other public schools. Several charter schools announced that they were requiring masks in schools, but Orange Grove administrators remained quiet.”
20) Virginia: Wasting no time, pro-charter elements in the Old Dominion have sprung into action demanding that newly-elected Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) get behind an overhaul of the state’s charter school laws—“in 2022.”
21) West Virginia: One company could run half of WV’s first charter schools, The West Virginia Gazette-Mail reports. Ohio doesn’t rank it highly. “In neighboring Ohio, 17 of 30 Accel schools were graded D’s and five others were graded F’s in 2018-19 by the state Department of Education. Accel says it serves more than 50 schools. Ron Packard, founder of K12 Inc., an online charter school business traded on the New York Stock Exchange, left that company in 2014 and started Pansophic Learning. Accel is part of that private, international firm.” There’s more. “A month after Gov. Jim Justice signed the law, Accel hired two lobbyists, according to the state Ethics Commission. One is Larry Puccio, who represents prominent businesses, including the governor’s Greenbrier resort.”
22) West Virginia: A Morgantown teacher is suing the state over its charter school laws, claiming they undermine local board control. “Brunett, in fact, is president of Mon’s AFT chapter while also serving as the union’s state treasurer. AFT, though, isn’t part of the suit.”
23) National: ZeroHedge reports (snarkily) that “to help pay for the roughly $550 billion in new spending (nearly half is previously approved funding), more than $200 billion in unused coronavirus relief funds will be repurposed, along with $50 billion from a Trump-era rule on Medicare rebates, and another $50 billion from various states’ unused unemployment insurance supplemental funds.”
24) National: As funding and policy choices emerge, what are the best incentive models that government can provide to promote decarbonization? Catherine Hausman of the University of Michigan says governments need “to figure out what works through trial and error and competition.” Inside Climate News’ Dan Gearino says “the government may be on the cusp of a substantial increase in incentives for [carbon capture and storage] and [direct air capture] systems. The $1 trillion-plus spending bill being considered in Congress includes an expansion of tax incentives under section 45q of the U.S. tax code, which gives a per-ton credit for stopping carbon from reaching the air or removing it from the air.
25) National: Provisions to increase the use of some municipal bond tools, which are important for financing infrastructure and smoothing out government finances, have hit a dead end in Congress. “We’re going to come up with other strategies,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat who co-chairs the municipal finance caucus said, referring to the muni bond provisions. “We’re still going to stay on top of it, because it’s needed and everybody in leadership understands that. But right now, we got to get out of this situation we’re in.”
26) Maryland: State officials and the operator of the proposed Purple Line light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton have selected a contractor to finish the troubled P3 project—Maryland Transit Solutions. Maryland Transit Solutions is made up of Dragados USA Inc. and OHL USA Inc., which Purple Line Transit Partners said offered “the best value,” according to Bethesda Magazine. “Del. Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) — who chairs a Transportation and the Environment Subcommittee within the House’s Appropriations Committee—said in an interview that Friday’s news was good, but questions remain. ‘I’ll say it is a positive step forward to get this back on track, but we still don’t know the true costs and the timetable, and those are pretty important issues,’ Korman said.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
27) National: Writing in Capital & Main, Angelika Albaladejo shines a light on the multiple dangers of privatized ICE flights. “As a private jet hired by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to transport immigrant detainees landed in Louisiana, heavy smoke filled the cabin. It became increasingly hard for the 168 passengers—guards, officers, crew and undocumented immigrants—to breathe. Some yelled for help as they choked on toxic fumes for eight minutes. But the pilot stuck to normal procedures, taxiing down the airport runway, and parking, as usual, in front of the Alexandria detention center. By the time they escaped the aircraft, many were dizzy; some were vomiting and required medical attention. Barely a year later, that same quarter-century-old jet caught fire during a crash landing, and sent shackled passengers struggling to escape as flight attendants discovered that one of the emergency slides didn’t work. These dangerous incidents on immigration flights—and nearly 100 more—during Barack Obama’s second term and Donald Trump’s early years in office are detailed in thousands of pages of government documents analyzed by Capital & Main.”
Despite this, “the Biden administration is asking Congress to budget nearly $114 million to keep the ICE flights going—less funding than under Trump, but still an increase from the Obama years.”
28) National: The GEO Group’s CEO Jose Gordo has reported its Third Quarter 2021 results. “We reported third quarter 2021 net income attributable to GEO of $34.7 million compared to $39.2 million for the third quarter 2020. We reported total revenues for the third quarter 2021 of $557.3 million compared to $579.1 million for the third quarter 2020. Third quarter 2021 results reflect a $1.1 million loss on real estate assets, pre-tax, $4.0 million in M&A related expenses, pre-tax, a one-time $5.0 million loss, pre-tax, on the previously announced divestiture of GEO’s Youth Services contracts, and a $0.8 million benefit in the tax effect of adjustments to net income attributable to GEO. Excluding these items, we reported third quarter 2021 Adjusted Net Income of $44.0 million compared to $44.4 million for the third quarter 2020.”
They expect to lose more government contracts: “Consistent with our previously disclosed expectations, our guidance reflects the non-renewal of our contracts with the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the Big Spring Correctional Facility and Flightline Correctional Facility in Texas, when the current contract option periods expire on November 30, 2021.”
Executive Chairman George Zoley reported that the corporation has “entered into a new five-year contract for our Moshannon Valley Facility with Clearfield County, Pennsylvania to provide support services under a five-year intergovernmental agreement between the county and the Department of Homeland Security.” He also reported that “we were notified by the BOP of the non-renewal of our contracts for the [Big Spring Flightline Unit] in Texas at the end of November 2021.”
Is the public going to be left holding the bag for GEO’s failure to obey the minimum wage law? Asked about the minimum wage litigation that the company is facing, this rather interesting exchange between Gordo and an analyst took place that the Feds are probably paying attention to:
“Kirk Ludtke: I have a just a couple topics I’d like to follow-up on and a couple of new ones. One is the minimum wage litigation. I’d like to revisit New Mexico for a second. And as well as BI. With respect to the minimum wage litigation. I’d like to understand the contracts a little bit better. And more specifically, who’s responsible, if this goes against you and you’re forced to pay back wages? Is that a cost that ICE assumes under the contract, or is that something that that you would have to pay for?
Jose Gordo: Well, in the highly improbable scenario you’ve just described, I imagine we would have to initially pay for the wages, but we would probably have a legal basis for a claim against ICE.”
29) National: CoreCivic is going to be holding its conference call to report on its results tomorrow at 11:00 AM EST. You can listen here.
30) National: Writing in The New York Times, Jay Caspian Kang, author of “The Loneliest Americans,” reports that Covid deaths are on the rise again in nursing homes. “New York may have been one of the nation’s leaders in nursing home deaths, but the elder-care crisis extends far beyond the decisions of one politician and his aides. I spent the first nine months of the pandemic reporting on nursing homes in the San Francisco Bay Area for The New Yorker and found that the industry, like much of America, had been suffering under increasing privatization and corporatization. As private equity firms and corporate chains bought up more and more nursing homes, quality of care had declined across the board, mostly because of the lack of adequate nurse staffing. Nurses were routinely working at several elder-care facilities at once.”
31) National: Maximus, a major government contractor, is facing renewed charges of poor treatment of employees. NBC reports that “a Maximus call center worker spoke out about the company’s sponsored health insurance. Trinity Davis explained struggling with high deductibles and called the health care cost an ‘insult’ to her intelligence.” [Video, about two minutes].
Eoin Higgins reports: “CWA compared Maximus’ health plans to comparable plans on the ACA marketplace in all 11 counties where CCO call centers are located and found that, on average, Maximus plans are a worse deal for workers than the ACA plans,” according to the report. “This means that, in many cases, workers at Maximus are being offered worse health plan options for themselves than the ACA plans that they are responsible for helping fellow citizens access.”
32) National: In his review of a new book on the history of public bathrooms, Matthew Wills looks at the class politics of access to public restrooms. In Chicago, these class politics are alive and well. “Elsewhere in the country, some cities have prioritized increasing access to public restrooms following complaints about open defecation and the spread of diseases. But in Chicago, previous attempts to expand access have met opposition—and Cesar Rodriguez, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s press secretary, said in a statement there are currently ‘no formal efforts underway to improve public restroom access.’”
33) Ohio: Ken Gordon and Mike Wagner of The Columbus Dispatch report on a disastrous failure by both public officials and the private operators of a mental health facility in the Columbus suburb of Gahanna. “In January, the Cummins family filed a civil lawsuit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, naming Parkside, its parent company, Oglethorpe, Inc., the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (which oversees the facilities) and a number of individuals as defendants. The ODMHAS later was dismissed as a defendant, and the Joint Commission, which is an Illinois-based organization that accredits hospitals and mental health facilities, was added as a defendant.”