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Here’s this post on the In the Public Interest website.
- States and localities are doing some pretty amazing things with the $350 million in budget relief from the American Rescue Plan Act.
- The story of how a small New Hampshire town came together to fight back against efforts to defund their schools and pump the money into private schools
- The Florida state Auditor General has released a damning blockbuster report about the lack of oversight of private correctional facilities.
First, the good news…
1) National: Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest weighs in to say that there is some good news in what is otherwise a dumpster fire. States and localities are doing some pretty amazing things with the $350 million in budget relief from the American Rescue Plan Act:
- Madison, Wisconsin, created an organization called Occupy Madison, which is building villages of tiny houses for the previously homeless. The houses even include solar panels, so residents don’t have to pay for power—which cost the city a mere $150,000.
- Minnesota gave public schools a total of $34.6 million to expand summer academic and mental health support for students.
- Chula Vista, California, is developing an intergenerational community center for the arts. “Family, grandparents, and grandchildren or parents and children will be working together on the artwork,” a research specialist at the National League of Cities told Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene for Route Fifty.
- Lexington County, South Carolina, paid “premium payments”—or bonuses—to essential public employees ranging from $2,015 to $4,900.
- Detroit instituted a right to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction, funding it for the first three years with the federal money.
- Wisconsin invested more into its Worker Advancement Initiative, offering subsidized employment and skills training opportunities with local employers to unemployed workers.
“To be sure—as the Economic Policy Institute has documented—many states and localities have spent relief money in ways that don’t actually improve the lives of working and poor people. At least 21 states, for example, used money to replenish unemployment insurance funding, which has little impact on economic growth and effectively amounts to a tax cut for businesses. But, what a novel idea! If we just adequately fund our public institutions, good things can happen. Now, we just have to make the rich and powerful pay their fair share in taxes so the government can do its thing.”
2) National: In her address to the NEA Representative Assembly, NEA Executive Director Kim Anderson said educators will continue to engage and confront unprecedented challenges to public education. “All around the country, educators—together with students and parents—have taken the lead to create meaningful change in their schools and communities. Anderson shared a wealth of examples:
“In Wisconsin, WEAC [the Wisconsin Education Association Council] and the Wisconsin Public Education Network asked voters to approve bond referendum funding for public education across the state with a simple but fundamental idea: Public schools unite us. And we won big time! (…) In New York … NYSUT beat extremist, anti-public education school board candidates all across the state. Eighty-six percent of the candidates NYSUT endorsed won! (…) In Indiana … ISTA [the Indiana State Teachers Association] helped build a broad-based coalition of over 200 organizations demanding that our students deserve to learn the truth [about our nation’s history]. ISTA’s fight shows us that no matter whether you live in a red state, a purple state, or a blue state, Americans across race, space, income, and background come together to open the doors of learning wider for all students. (…) In Delaware and California, members of the Delaware State Education Association and the California Teachers Association led the way to pass groundbreaking gun violence prevention laws that their governors signed just this week. (…) We beat back vouchers in Iowa, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.”
3) National: At a convening in DC this weekend, the People’s Parity Project, a “nationwide network of law students and attorneys organizing to unrig the legal system and build a justice system that values people over profits” met to discuss next steps. Among the things they’re fighting: efforts by corporate lawyers to ban Scabby the Rat.
4) National/New Hampshire: The great Dan Barry recounts the story of how a small New Hampshire town came together to fight back against efforts to defund their schools and pump the money into private schools. “And the group originally known as We Stand Up for Croydon Students is now called We Stand Up for Croydon. Its members met in a living room a couple of weeks ago to discuss future plans, including how to confront that central threat to democracy, complacency.”
5) National: A project to build new tunnels from New Jersey to Penn Station moved a step closer to construction with an agreement to share costs between New York and New Jersey. “The project’s planners are racing to lock up federal funding while they have support from the Biden administration and Democratic leaders in Washington. Before the federal government could agree to pay half or more of the cost, the two states had to come to an understanding about splitting the local share. The states did not specify how they planned to pay for their portions, but New Jersey has previously said that it would raise some of its share by issuing bonds.”
6) National: Let’s hear it for the publicly-owned O’Hare Airport in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune has some kind words for the airport—“and its workers deserve our thanks.” The editors say “we’re always open to hearing arguments for privatization, if that brings efficiencies and better service. But airports are, effectively, monopolies. British Airways cannot pull out of the privately owned Heathrow overnight, however much the airport might raise landing fees or mandate cuts to previously announced schedules. There are too many sunk costs. In Europe, privately owned airports have been desperately trying to recoup investors’ pandemic losses by raising all manner of fees on users already struggling with vastly increased airfares. Egregious drop-off fees now are common. So are tumult and employee unrest.”
And more help for public airports is on the way. “The Federal Aviation Administration awarded nearly $1 billion to airports across the country for projects that will improve terminal capacity, efficiency and accessibility, according to a release from the administration. The money, which was made available in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will be distributed among 85 airports, the FAA said. This is the first round of grants; under the law, the FAA will annually administer $1 billion in airport terminal grants for five years. ‘Americans deserve modern airports that meet the needs of their families and growing passenger demand,’ said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in the release. The ‘grants will improve airport terminals while also creating good jobs in communities across the country.’”
7) Indiana: A state law that forces school districts to sell their unused property to charter schools for $1 instead of to higher bidders was complicating a deal between the City of South Bend and the South Bend Community School Corporation. But the state attorney general has backed off from forcing the sale to Career and Success Academy. The school district was able to show that the building was still in use in this case, but the public asset-stripping law is still on the books.
8) National/Tennessee: An east Tennessee charter school has cut ties with ultra-religious Hillsdale College after its longtime right wing extremist president, Larry Arnn, insulted teachers. Hillsdale is trying to set up charter schools around the country. “Arnn mocked public education and teachers in a video, with Gov. Lee nodding his head in agreement,” WBIR reports. “Arnn’s comments drew ire from teachers and lawmakers in the state, with some criticizing Gov. Lee for not immediately defending the state’s teachers, public school system and colleges. A long-time Knox County teacher said they found the comments ‘offensive on nearly every level.’ ‘To say that all teachers are stupid or that they’re the worst part of any college, or that teacher prep colleges are where the dumb ones go, it’s the oldest stereotype. It’s at least 50 or 60 years old as far as demeaning and demoralizing teachers,’ said Anne Thomas-Abbott, a teacher in Knox County Schools since 1993.”
The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) says “it is clear that the motive for Mr. Arnn’s criticism of public schools and public school teachers is driven by his desire to expand his charter school empire into Tennessee. And from all indications, he has the assistance he seeks in this endeavor.”
9) Arkansas: Seems as if K12 Inc., or at least one of its employees, is dabbling in the dark money political game in Arkansas, if in a rather small way, according to the Arkansas Times.
10) California: Can community schooling transform California’s public school system? As California’s community schools program is about to become the nation’s biggest, The LA Report’s education reporter Kyle Stokes has the story. [Audio, at 11:15].
11) Ohio: “ECOT owes Ohio $117 Million. What are we going to do about it?” asks the Ohio Capital Journal. “What does not make the ECOT saga unique is that it merely mirrors much of charterdom and affirms the industry’s image as a slow-motion train wreck. Sadly, a plethora of stories about issues surrounding The School for Scandal’s improprieties published years before its demise were not catalysts for action. But if misery loves company, ECOT, which operated at full blast draining the state’s treasury for 18 years, is but one of more than 300 failed charter schools now closed that performed with near impunity as the result of a charter-friendly design built into the Ohio Revised Code. That section of the code favors private operators for the schools and limits the amount of transparency and accountability for these constructs that are provided about 150 exemptions in law that public schools themselves are required to meet.”
12) Oklahoma: After a series of bruising audits of charters schools in Oklahoma revealed enormous amounts of financial and other chicanery, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) is going after the public schools. He has just ordered an audit of the Tulsa Public Schools. Perhaps he’s trying to find out if they used public money to teach about the Greenwood massacre?
13) Pennsylvania: The Reading Eagle says charter school reform is long overdue. “‘Their students are not graduating at the same rate as brick and mortar schools, and why is that?’ asked state Rep. Tracy Pennycuick, R-147th Dist., speaking at the rally about cyber charter schools. ‘We don’t know what’s going on in their school board meetings. Those are not publicly elected school boards at cyber charter schools. Their meetings are held in private, and yet they’re spending taxpayer dollars.’ School boards ‘are not calling for the elimination of charter schools,’ said Lawrence Feinberg, director of the Keystone Center for Charter Change at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. ‘Rather, they are calling on the General Assembly to meaningfully revise the flawed charter school funding system.’”
14) Tennessee: One charter school has been approved and another turned down in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. “Vincent said American Classical Academy Montgomery’s application was one the committee would not be recommending for several reasons, including concerns about the scheduling and how the school would build in intervention time for students. Moreover, however, the school had not yet found a building. ‘The school could not provide a concrete contingency facilities plan,’ Vincent said, noting there was not much progress made since the initial application. Vincent said the only building the school had chosen, the committee did not approve in the initial application. ‘The committee felt that was not a suitable educational facility for them,’ she said. ‘Main contingency is to delay opening for a year, until they can find a facility.’”
15) New York: The Poughkeepsie Journal reports that “the Poughkeepsie Housing Authority is seeking a private developer to partner with on a project that could redesign and redevelop the city’s largest public housing development into a voucher-based, mixed-income housing development. A request for qualifications for a developer partner was sent out in May.” [Sub required]
16) Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission has overruled an administrative law judge who ruled that the privatization of a municipal sewer system would be harmful to the public. The sale to Aqua America will now proceed. “Opponents to the sale, including a residents group and the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate, can appeal a PUC decision to Commonwealth Court. The sale could become a test of the underlying rationale in the state’s decision in 2016 to encourage the consolidation of smaller public water and wastewater systems under private ownership. Some critics say the law was intended to encourage private water companies to take over financially troubled public systems. But Watson found that Willistown’s relatively new system is well-run and adequately financed, and the affluent township is ‘financially fit to complete any necessary improvements and upgrades.’ The 2016 law, called Act 12, made it easier for private utilities to offer premium ‘fair market’ prices to towns for their utility assets, where the buyers previously had been limited to recovering from customers no more than the book value of the assets. The law has sometimes led to increasingly lofty prices for public utilities, which critics say is pushing up utility rates.”
17) International: Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is fighting for public ownership of the electricity distribution system in Australia. In their most recent email bulletin, TUED quotes Colin Long, Just Transitions Organizer for Australia’s Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC), as follows: “Privatisation was supposed to lead to lower prices for consumers. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Reinstating public ownership would eliminate rentier behaviour by transmission and distribution companies and the need to concede to the profit demands of big overseas investors. It would enable us to plan the energy system transformation, with a clear schedule for closure of fossil fuel generators to give certainty to workers, their communities and electricity grid managers. It would enable us to schedule fossil fuel generation replacement by renewables in a way that guaranteed supply, efficiency and reduced cost – and ensures we meet decarbonisation targets. It would enable us to ensure that workers are guaranteed a just transition to new opportunities and new industries.” [Australia’s Recent Power Market Crisis and the Struggle for Public Ownership — TUED Bulletin 122].
18) International: France is preparing to nationalize its energy giant EDF. “Mr. [Elie] Cohen, who works at the CNRS, France’s national research organization, said that since its partial privatization in 2005, EDF had faced mounting industrial, financial and economic challenges. In keeping with French and European competition rules, the company has been forced to sell power to smaller, third-party sellers at a price below its actual production costs and market prices.”
19) International: The trial has opened in Italy on the disastrous collapse of the privatized Morandi bridge in Genoa in August 2018. “After an hour of procedural motions, Judge Paolo Lepri adjourned the proceedings and set a new hearing for Sept. 12 in a trial that is expected to take more than a year to reach any verdicts, the LaPresse news agency reported.” In 2018 the Financial Times reported that the bridge collapse ignited a huge debate over privatization. “‘It’s a racket,’ wrote Beppe Grillo, the comedian and founder of Five Star on his blog. ‘The motorways must be free. We haven’t paid taxes for years to make Benetton and co rich.’ As well as attacking big business, Five Star has also used the bridge collapse to go after the traditional political establishment for its role promoting privatisation in the 1990s.” [Sub required]
20) National/California: ICE Detainees Protested $1-a-Day Wage. Now They’re in Solitary Confinement, reports KQED’s The California Report. “Two immigrant detainees have been held in solitary confinement for over a week for backing a labor strike seeking better wages and conditions at the privately run facility where they are held in Bakersfield, the men told KQED. The alleged retaliation fuels fear and intimidation, according to interviews with the men, their attorneys and advocates. Mohamed Mousa and Pedro Figueroa said they were moved to a restricted housing unit after signing a declaration on June 28 that they and 15 others were joining a months-long peaceful work stoppage by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees who are paid $1 a day to clean dormitories and bathrooms. Employees with The GEO Group, a large private prison company that operates the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, transferred the men separately to “administrative segregation” on June 29 and June 30, according to GEO forms viewed by KQED.”
21) National/Florida: The state Auditor General has released a damning blockbuster report about the lack of oversight of private correctional facilities in Florida. The Bureau contracted with three providers, CoreCivic of Tennessee, LLC (CoreCivic); GEO Group, Inc. (GEO); and Management and Training Corporation (MTC), to operate and manage the seven private correctional facilities located throughout the State. The audit disclosed the following:
Finding 1: The Bureau of Private Prison Monitoring (Bureau) did not always issue written notices of noncompliance or document the basis for not issuing notices of noncompliance to private prison providers when continued noncompliance was identified by Bureau monitoring activities.
Finding 2: The Bureau had not established policies and procedures for monitoring provider maintenance activities at the private correctional facilities and Bureau monitoring tools were not always completed, Bureau monitoring reports did not evidence supervisory review, written notice of noncompliance was not given to providers, and Bureau records did not evidence that provider deficiencies were timely followed up on or corrective actions were timely implemented.
Finding 3: Bureau policies and procedures for, and documentation of, review of the on-site nursing consultant’s activities need improvement to demonstrate that health care monitoring services at private correctional facilities are provided in accordance with contract terms.
Finding 4: Bureau monitoring of private correctional facility staffing needs enhancement to ensure that appropriate and qualified staff are assigned to provide for and maintain the security, control, custody, and supervision of inmates.
Finding 5: Bureau efforts to review and verify the accuracy and completeness of private correctional facility provider incident reporting need enhancement to ensure that incidents are correctly reported and appropriately handled in accordance with applicable contract provisions and Bureau policies and procedures.
Finding 6: The Bureau did not ensure that private correctional facility providers obtained and maintained required insurance coverages.
Finding 7: Bureau controls need improvement to ensure that audited provider Inmate Bank and Commissary financial statements are timely received and appropriately reviewed.
22) Alaska/ National: The State of Alaska Department of Revenue reduced its holdings in shares of GEO Group by 41.9% in the 1st quarter, according to its most recent filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission. “The institutional investor owned 85,238 shares of the real estate investment trust’s stock after selling 61,381 shares during the quarter. State of Alaska Department of Revenue’s holdings in The GEO Group were worth $563,000 at the end of the most recent reporting period.” The state also sold shares in CoreCivic. “The firm owned 83,672 shares of the real estate investment trust’s stock after selling 1,495 shares during the period. State of Alaska Department of Revenue’s holdings in CoreCivic were worth $934,000 as of its most recent SEC filing.”
23) Florida: ALM reports that “Counsel at Littler Mendelson on Friday removed a lawsuit against the GEO Group, a real estate investment trust that invests in private prisons and mental health facilities, to Florida Northern District Court. The suit, over alleged racial employment discrimination, was filed by attorney Marie A. Mattox on behalf of Isabella Odom-Ford. The case is 5:22-cv-00132, Odom-Ford v. The Geo Group, Inc.”
24) National: In Friday’s jobs report, government employment was way down, with a shortfall of 664,000. But the otherwise strong employment report had a negative impact on U.S. government debt, which “came under pressure after a stronger than expected jobs report fueled expectations of more aggressive interest rate rises by the Federal Reserve.” [Sub required] These future rises will also impact state and local government borrowing costs, and make private borrowing for public works more expensive than regular government debt.
Route Fifty reports that, facing acute labor shortages, “some state and municipal parks and pools are significantly raising pay rates to attract summer workers, but officials aren’t sure that will be enough to fill enough jobs, which could force some facilities to close or not open at all. Sioux Falls, South Dakota hiked the hourly rate for lifeguards at city pools to $16 from $10.50 last year. Indianapolis is raising the starting wage for lifeguards to $15 an hour, a $2 increase over last summer.”
25) National/Michigan: Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) has received applause for his role in “leading historic, bipartisan reforms to set the United States Postal Service on a more sustainable financial footing and support the goal of providing long-term reliable service across the country. The Postal Service Reform Act, which was signed into law in April, made the first major reforms to the Postal Service in more than 15 years.” Paul V. Hogrogian, National President of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, said “for almost two decades, Mail Handlers have seen the Postal Service struggle financially, resulting in calls for privatization and reductions in service.”
26) National: President Biden has nominated a longtime advocate of Social Security privatization and benefit cuts to a key board overseeing the Social Security system. “The development suggests that there could soon be a coordinated push in Washington to cut the Social Security program, which provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to 66 million Americans. On May 13, Biden chose to nominate Andrew Biggs, a fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute think tank, for a Republican seat on the bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board, which was created in 1994 to consult the president and Congress about the Social Security system.” Biggs is a former Social Security analyst and Assistant Director of the Koch-funded Cato Institute’s Project on Social Security Choice.
27) National: Trap Free Montana, based in Hamilton, has issued a public comment to the U.S. Department of the Interior complaining about wolf hunting regulations. “They responded to our objection and this privatization of our public agency by writing that it is acceptable as part of the wolf trapping education class so those who trap wolves and learn how to get paid. Montana FWP and the majority of the Fish and Wildlife Commission show a bias against wolves. They did not show up as informational witnesses during the legislative session or were absent in providing the pertinent information, i.e. we will get back to you, we do not have that information. The 2022 wolf proposals by FWP just came out. They are not promoting reinserting the federal law prohibiting the use of aircraft to spot and shoot wolves by citizens. Trappers can prebait wolves, install their cameras, and party trap attaching numerous tags to a trap or snare. We do not know how many wolves are left or how many were killed. The numbers are not consistent for the kills reported. Individual wolf kill reports from our FOIAS are devoid of the kill methods on some and not on the others.”
28) International: Workers in France have gone on strike to save the country’s public broadcast media, Harrison Stetler reports in Jacobin. “Privatization is not yet on the table — though it is an old rallying cry of the French right. But critics of the proposed measure argue that it will leave the service handicapped. On the heels of the government’s announcement to eliminate the tax, a pair of center-right senators from Les Républicains released a report on public service broadcasting, which called for the “fusing” of TV and radio broadcasters under one umbrella network, mutualizing production work and studio use across formats. Delphine Ernotte, the president of France Télévisions, is said to support a move toward an integrated group, and perhaps the transition toward private ownership, arguing that it would be the only way to digest budget cuts and respond to competition.”
29) National: Bans on using public bond proceeds for religious purposes may now be unconstitutional, The Bond Buyer reports. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month “that if a state chooses to subsidize private education, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because of religious affiliation. The ruling could change the way some issuers go about certain financings, public finance lawyers said. ‘Some [issuer] statutes have restrictions in them against bond proceeds being used for religious purposes and some of those may now be unconstitutional given this case, which struck down Maine’s restrictions against using the aid program for sectarian institutions,’ said Jenna Magan, partner and co-head of Orrick’s public finance group. ‘If the state decides to provide a governmental aid program to schools, it can’t exclude sectarian schools,’ said Jenna Magan, partner and co-head of Orrick’s public finance group.” [Sub required]
30) International: Watch an hourlong activist discussion on how public ownership, stopping “the privatization scandal,” and establishing public control “are essential to tackling the crises facing Britain.” With Ian Lavery MP, Kate Osborne MP, Kevin Courtney, NEU General Secretary, Nadia Jama, Labour NEC, Johnbosco Nwogbo, Lead Campaigner, We Own It, Fraser McGuire, candidate on Socialist Future slate in Young Labour, and Dr. Sonia Adesara, Keep Our NHS Public.
Photo by Oregon Department of Transportation.