Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back.
- Crypto bros aren’t your friends. Some want to replace the government.
- There’s a “quiet revolution” going on in the San Francisco Public Library.
- In a major victory over prison privatization after years of struggle, Pennsylvania’s Delaware County has retaken control of operations at George W. Hill Correctional Facility.
First, the good news…
1) National: America’s public school students need your help. Are you part of an organization or know one that might be able to help? The Department of Education is proposing new positive regulations for how the federal government spends nearly $500 million yearly on charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. Comments must be submitted on or before this Wednesday, April 13. Submit yours here. Carol Burris has an explanation of the new regulations, why they are needed, and their political significance. “The proposed regulations would put in some solid rules of the road to better protect the tax dollars that are spent. What follows is an explanation of what the proposed regulations say and do not say.”
2) National: Long time immigration and criminal justice advocate Bob Libal sees good news in Biden’s budget. “Biden has been bad on ICE detention centers—going so far as to re-open shuttered DOJ private prisons as ICE prisons. But there are signs for hope in the recent presidential budget. This would be very bad for private prison corporations like CoreCivic.” Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, says “Wow another major win for the movement to end immigration detention in the US. Biden is reducing the number of beds in his FY23 budget request to Congress by 26%. Calling to defund and abolish appears to be good strategy after all #DefundHate #AbolishICE.”
The “good strategy” that Shah mentions is being pursued doggedly right now in Tacoma, Washington, where a campaign (spearheaded by La Resistencia, a grassroots group) to close the Northwest Detention Center is in its third year. “There have been a lot of new developments in the past year for the group. Last year, Governor Jay Inslee signed Bill 1090 which bans for profit prison systems in Washington state. Volunteers at La Resistencia were directly involved in fighting for this bill, but GEO’s contract does not end until 2025 in Washington, which means that people are still being detained and deported in the meantime. ‘Right now, we want to shut down the Northwest Detention Center before 2025 and while we’re at it, we will continue to do the work to end detention and deportation everywhere,’ Villar said.”
3) National: Mark Levinson, the chief economist at the Service Employees International Union, has reviewed Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian’s The Privatization of Everything in the American Prospect. “One of the strengths of The Privatization of Everything is its insistence that privatization must be understood as a political strategy to shift power toward unaccountable business interests and away from governments, communities, workers, and citizens. So while privatization often reduces wages of public-sector workers, it is even more a matter of busting the political power that unionization gives public workers. The public sector is the last stronghold of a trade union movement that delivered a fair share of America’s bounty to its middle class until it was pulverized into submission by anti-union companies and a labor law that prevents workers from forming unions. Privatization is an attack on that social equity. Cohen and Mikaelian conclude that it was politics that gave private interests the power that they now have, and politics can reclaim that power for the public.”
4) California: There’s a “quiet revolution” going on in the San Francisco Public Library, says Jonah Raskin. “Granted, while libraries aren’t at the forefront of revolutionary movements and institutions today, they can play important roles in what I think of as a quiet revolution that’s often waged book-by-book and event-by-event. I’m told that first responders are the true heroes of today, and, while they certainly have helped all of us immensely in California during fires and floods, they’re not the only heroes. Behind the scenes, forward-looking librarians wage peaceful cultural warfare.”
5) Idaho: Should librarians be fined and jailed for checking out books to minors that state prosecutors consider inappropriate? A majority of the Idaho House thinks they should, and passed a bill to mandate that. Though the bill died in the state Senate, “Republican Rep. Brent Crane held out hope. He’s the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee where that bill and several others he supports originated…”
6) Pennsylvania: In a major victory over prison privatization after years of struggle, Delaware County has retaken control of operations at George W. Hill Correctional Facility. “‘Today is a really big deal,’ Delaware County Councilman and Jail Oversight Board Chairman Kevin Madden said. ‘No longer will we have a multinational corporation with a profit motive to keep our jail as full as possible managing our jail. In their place, we now have a leadership team and a workforce that is laser-focused on reducing recidivism (and) a leadership that believes that once a person pays their debt to society, it is in all of our best interests that they get their feet under them and succeed on the outside.’ Starting in 2016, Madden and former councilman Brian Zidek, both Democrats, began attending the former county Board of Prison Inspectors meetings, which was then under Republican control. They, along with prison reform advocates such as the Delco Coalition for Prison Reform, lobbied for changes including more transparency.”
7) Think Tanks: In a new report, Heartland Forward catalogs “The Most Dynamic Metros, 2021.” But it says a lot about the corporate-backed ‘new metros’ policy infrastructure (Heartland Forward’s advisory council includes Tyson Foods, Mastercard, SONIC foods, and Southern Bancorp) that metrics on poverty, social justice, racial and gender justice, public safety and police reform, affordable housing and many other issues are absent. Instead, there is a heavy focus on things like “tech hubs with attractive outdoor recreational amenities.” The words “poverty,” “police” and “discrimination” do not appear in the report at all. “Race” does appear once—in the form of “a Formula One race car.” Contesting such blinkered methodologies is the role progressive, pro-public think tanks must play, filling in the advocacy and policy gaps that are lost in ‘gentrification is the goal’ approaches.
8) National: Wall Street is eyeing new federal money for public school facilities, In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler reports. “The White House announced a new plan to modernize public school buildings and reduce their climate footprint, including $500 million in grants for upgrades to heating, ventilation, and other systems. This, combined with $1.2 trillion in new federal infrastructure money trickling down to state and local governments, will help fill the estimated $38 billion annual funding gap for the nation’s school buildings. And it will make kids, teachers, and staff safer. Now, here’s the bad news—unfortunately, there always seems to be bad news these days. Multinational construction firms, private equity investors, and hedge funds are also eyeing this new money.”
In the Public Interest has just published a Guide to Public-Private Partnerships for K-12 Public School Facilities. “Some local governments and school districts are considering P3s that use private capital to finance public projects. In the U.S., using P3s to construct public buildings, such as courthouses and higher education facilities, is relatively new. When it comes to public school facilities, very few P3 contracts have been signed. However, the experiences of governmental entities using P3s for other types of projects—such as transportation and water infrastructure—and other countries using P3s for public school facility projects, particularly Canada, are instructive. Numerous case studies show that inserting private interests into the development and maintenance of public school facilities has proven to be difficult and even counterproductive when equity considerations and standards aren’t included, and adequate care isn’t taken to protect the public interest. This guide aims to help advocates, policymakers, and other stakeholders better understand and analyze public school facility P3 proposals, contracts, and related legislation.”
9) National: The New York Times has a lengthy analysis of Hillsdale College, the right wing Christian school that is positioning itself as a major hub for charter schools, in part by partnering with states such as Tennessee. “Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee recently invited the college to start 50 schools using public funds, including $32 million set aside for charter facilities. Hillsdale’s network currently includes 24 schools in 13 states. (…) Mr. Lee’s plan envisions an expansion into suburban and rural areas where, like many Hillsdale charter schools, they would most likely enroll children who are whiter and more affluent than the average charter school pupil.
In that way, the Hillsdale schools could be something of a publicly funded off-ramp for conservative parents who think their local schools misinterpret history and push a socially progressive agenda on issues from race and diversity to sexuality and gender. (…) By offering these services, Hillsdale seems to be trying to thread a needle—creating a vast K-12 network that embraces its pedagogy and conservative philosophy, in many cases taught by its graduates, while tapping into government money to run the schools.”
10) Georgia: State lawmakers have approved legislation that proponents say ensures locally-approved charter schoolswill receive a share of tax revenue from local school districts. “In addition, HB 1215 amends what qualifies as a charter school under state law and eliminates additional audit requirements for virtual charter schools. It also allows students to transfer to a charter school during the school year rather than waiting for the year to end. Lawmakers also signed off on an additional $3 million in the fiscal 2023 budget for charter school facilities” and a “Parents Bill of Rights.”
11) Minnesota: The University of Minnesota, the state’s flagship public school, is reportedly considering issuing a 100-year bond for its capital program, The Bond Buyer reports. “‘We have the option to do all with a 100-year maturity, a mixture of shorter-term bullets and a 100-year bullet, or all shorter-term bullets,’ Carole Fleck, the university’s director of debt management, said in an email. ‘The decision will be made prior to pricing.’ That pricing is expected early [this] week and depends on rates and investor interest.” The municipal bond market is currently experiencing a brutal downturn. [Sub required]
12) New York: New York State United Teachers (NSUT) issued a statement on the new New York State budget. “This budget delivers historic resources for education and continues the promise to fully fund Foundation Aid, a critical step years in the making. It provides funding to hire mental health staff to support students at every level and to bolster professional learning for educators through teacher centers and implicit bias training. But redefining public education as a system that truly supports every child is unceasing work, which is why we’ll continue fighting for dedicated funding for community schools that would deliver transformative supports for families in every community.”
13) North Carolina: A state appeals court has blocked the NAACP from challenging as unconstitutional a state law amendment that allows four Mecklenburg County towns to operate municipal charter schools. The Charlotte Observer reports that “two years ago, the North Carolina and Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP chapters and two parents challenged the law approved by the General Assembly in 2018, saying it violated the state constitution in part by encouraging racial segregation and financial inequity in public schools.”
14) Oklahoma: In a letter to the editor of Tulsa World, Robert Reck refutes the argument that “that parents should be allowed to take ‘their’ tax dollars to a private school if they so desire. The numbers do not support this idea. According to the conservative website taxfoundation.org, Oklahomans pay $764 per capita in state and local taxes each year. Even if it was 10 times that – $7,640—it would be obvious that not all of a person’s taxes go to education. (…) People who believe that vouchers give them back their money to spend how they want are not doing the math. It would not be just their money, but my money, your money, and everyone else’s money. Vouchers are a government giveaway program wrapped up in fancy language. Like many voucher arguments, the ‘my tax dollars’ argument does not fly. Neither does ‘parent accountability.’”
15) West Virginia: Republican Governor Jim Justice has signed legislation allowing “microschools” and “learning pods” of unlimited size to operate in West Virginia. “The new law, Senate Bill 268, says these would be sparsely regulated schools or groups of students that could combine concepts from homeschooling, private schooling and online schooling. A learning pod is defined in the law as “a voluntary association of parents choosing to group their children together” for a prekindergarten-12th grade school as an alternative to other schooling. A microschool is defined as “a school initiated by one or more teachers or an entity created to operate a school that charges tuition.” Public dollars will be able to go toward these pods and microschools if the 2021 non-public school vouchers law survives a current legal challenge.
“Senate Democrats expressed concern about traditional private schools converting to microschools to lessen the already meager regulation that traditional private schools face. They, alongside House Democrats and some House Republicans, expressed worries about the lack of safety regulations, including facility regulations,” Coal Valley News reports.
16) Texas: The Texas Association of School Boards has produced a list of the top issues facing Texas public schools right now—teacher recruitment and retention; mental health; vouchers; and charters. Dax González, division director of TASB Governmental Relations, “said the Grassroots Meetings discussions around charters was typically localized to urban and suburban areas. The main concern of school leaders when it comes to charters is the lack of transparency around charter school operations and governance. For example, there’s been a lot of talk about making school board meetings more accessible to parents. Yet charter school boards are not locally elected and the appointed members may not even live anywhere near the school.”
17) National/Think Tanks: Writing in Route Fifty, Shar Habibi, research and policy director of In the Public Interest, provides a roadmap for responding to unsolicited infrastructure bids. “With $1.2 trillion in infrastructure money starting to trickle out from Washington, state and local governments would be wise to evaluate their processes for selecting and approving new projects to repair roads, upgrade water systems, expand broadband access and more. As procurement for these projects gets underway, one aspect of procurement that rarely gets attention—but can cause public officials headaches—are unsolicited proposals from the private sector. It is likely that states and localities will receive an increasing number of such bids, as private investors and infrastructure development firms look to capture the incoming federal funds.”
Here are five reasons state and local officials should use the unsolicited proposal process with caution, which are explored in further detail in a policy brief produced in February:
- Project selection might favor profitable projects
- The scope of critical projects might change
- The public-private partnership procurement process might be initiated
- Government capacity might decrease
- There might be a lack of community input
18) National: The Government Accountability Office says the U.S. Department of Transportation needs to clarify its guidelines for one of the DOT’s largest surface transportation discretionary grant programs. From the new 50-page GAO report:
“The Department of Transportation (DOT) has taken some steps to clarify how it would evaluate applications for Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants since the initial round of funding in 2016. In fiscal year 2019, DOT began providing applicants with information in the funding announcement on the specific scores DOT would assign when evaluating applications against merit criteria. In fiscal year 2020, DOT provided information to applicants to clarify how it would assess statutory requirements for large projects (those meeting a specified size threshold). For example, DOT clarified that it would determine a project to be cost-effective if its benefit-cost ratio was greater than or equal to one.
“DOT officials stated that these clarifications were intended to reduce the number of resource-intensive follow-up actions to obtain additional information from applicants. However, GAO found that DOT’s efforts did not reduce the number of follow-up activities (see figure). DOT has not systematically analyzed all available application and follow-up information to determine how to better clarify application requirements for large projects. Instead DOT has relied on staff discussions and other observations to guide funding announcement clarifications. Without such an analysis, DOT may be unable to achieve its intended goal of reducing follow-up activities.”
19) California: Lee Harris, writing in The American Prospect, says progressives want to ban the trading of California water futures. “‘My first reaction when I saw this was horror,’ Basav Sen, climate justice project director at the Institute for Policy Studies, told the news outlet Earther. ‘What this represents is a cynical attempt at setting up what’s almost like a betting casino so some people can make money from others suffering.’ In response to criticism, progressive lawmakers including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) last month introduced a bill that would ban water futures trading. ‘It’s a matter of first principles,’ Khanna told the Prospect in an interview, explaining his reasons for proposing the ban. ‘It makes no sense to open up speculation on an essential commodity that could lead to profiteering.’”
Corporate-influenced non-profit organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy (a 501c3 nonprofit), are promoting such privatization practices under the guise of “investing” in nature. “We’ve worked with communities to develop more than 40 water funds around the world,” they boast. Jeffrey St. Clair, writing in Counterpunch, provides a rundown of “Annual Compensation of the Top 30 Employees of The Nature Conservancy (based on tax filings for FY 2018): $912,000, $738,000, $710,000, $628,000, $592,000, $538,000, $473,000, $467,000, $430,000, $419,000, $416,000, $411,000, $409,000, $404,000, $401,000, $392,000, $390,000, $389,000, $385,000, $379,000, $375,000, $374,000, $370,000, $368,000, $363,000, $356,000, $349,000, $337,000, $335,000, $261,000.”
20) District of Columbia: The District of Columbia is coming to market tomorrow with “its first public-private partnership issue, a largely tax-exempt municipal green bond deal boosted by a provision in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” The deal is described as “the first street lighting/smart city P3 to use tax-exempt financing. The deal also includes a smaller taxable component. Julie Burger, managing director at Wells Fargo Securities, lead manager on the deal, said “the project received an allocation from the U.S. Department of Transportation and that allocation was important because the use of tax-exempt financing allows us to reduce the cost to the district. The infrastructure bill increased the allocation of private activity bonds and that really makes projects like this more possible, because there is now more available capacity to issue tax-exempt bonds for transportation and for infrastructure projects such as this.” [Sub required]
21) Maryland: A bill, SB 59, which would require the Maryland Transportation Authority “to issue an invitation for competitive sealed bids for a public-private partnership related to tolling services or a toll facility,” has been referred to committee. It was cross-filed with HB0582.
22) Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania is calling for private firms to submit unsolicited proposals for transportation projects across the state. “PennDOT’s Public-Private Transportation Partnerships Office calls twice a year for unsolicited proposals, which must be for projects on PennDOT-owned projects, infrastructure, and services, according to PennDOT spokesperson Alexis Campbell. The submissions are then reviewed by PennDOT’s P3 Office and presented to a seven-member P3 board for consideration. The request is part of a P3 program that the commonwealth describes as one of the most ambitious in the country.” [Sub required].
23) Puerto Rico: As Puerto Ricans try to claw their way out of another blackout in the island’s privatized electrical system, @deviIette, a longtime observer of privatization, says “So the USA government forcibly privatized Puerto Rico’s electricity grid, extorting PRicans $1B in advanced, then allowing this private firm LUMA to raise billing 6x since JUNE, just so they can continue to treat mass critical grid failures with a lack of urgency.”
Writing in The Nation, Ed Morales says “the privatization of the island’s electrical authority, airports, and toll roads and the breakup of its telephone company have allowed entities that were once administered in the public interest to be run in pursuit of private profit. (…) So how can Puerto Rico escape from the debt trap? [Rocío Zambrana’s] answer is simple: politics.”
24) Think Tanks: How is the privatization industry thinking about infrastructure P3s? If you’d like some insight watch this discussion by a panel including P3 consultant (and former Trump infrastructure czar) D.J. Gribbin and Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson. [Video, about 50 minutes]
25) National/Georgia: The electronic monitoring of immigrants, a cash cow for the private prison industry, is surging in Atlanta. “‘I felt like I was a prisoner in my own home,’ Sánchez said. It’s a feeling more and more people could become familiar with, as the number of immigrants under electronic surveillance has surged since President Joe Biden took office about 14 months ago, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a nonpartisan research organization at Syracuse University. As of March 26, there were 4,736 individuals electronically monitored within the Atlanta ICE office’s area of responsibility, which covers Georgia as well as North and South Carolina. On January 22, 2021, shortly after Biden’s inauguration, that figure was 2,776, meaning the program has grown by roughly 70 percent. (…) Operating the program on ICE’s behalf is BI Inc, a one-time cattle-monitoring business and current subsidiary of the private prison company the GEO Group. GEO runs an immigration jail in South Georgia that could soon become one of the country’s largest.”
26) Florida: Worth Rises is spreading the word about a major win in Florida last Tuesday: “The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed an ordinance introduced by Commissioner Kionne McGhee to make jail communication free in a 9-2 vote, after a unanimous vote by the Commission’s Community Safety and Security Committee on March 10, 2022. The vote comes after over a year of organizing, advocacy, and negotiations to eliminate communication costs to families, which already led Mayor Daniella Cava to forgo the 67 percent kickback the County had been receiving from its jail telecom provider for years. The ordinance reinforces the Mayor’s intent to release a Request For Proposal that requires the provision of free jail communication services in the immediate future.”
27) Think Tanks: The Prison Policy Initiative has compiled “virtually all of the research about the various economic factors of incarceration.” Three data points:
- Percent of formerly incarcerated people who are unemployed: 27% +
- Average daily wage of incarcerated workers: $0.86 +
- Average earnings someone loses over their lifetime by being incarcerated: $500,000 +
28) California/Mississippi: Waste Management is relentlessly attacking the city of Thousand Oaks’ choice, based on cost, to go with Athens waste disposal to serve the city’s needs. This is what public control and the opposition to it looks like. “The facility was green-lighted March 24 by administrative hearing officer Geoff Ware.” But Thousand Oaks is not the only town where Waste Management is being accused of trying to squash its competition and short circuit public control of a vital public service. Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is threatening to sue the company because of a contract dispute arising from the choice of an alternative company and Waste Management’s alleged obstruction of the new company’s operations. [See video report, about two minutes]
29) New York: It looks as if there will be no community benefits agreement as part of the deal to build a new NFL stadium for the Buffalo Bills. The deal will cost the public over $1 billion. “April Baskin, chairwoman of the Erie County Legislature, has proposed a CBA. But given that Poloncarz wants the county Legislature to vote on the stadium deal within 30 days, it seems unlikely a CBA will be negotiated by then. It’s questionable how much leverage Baskin would have if the stadium deal is approved before a CBA is negotiated.”
30) Pennsylvania: Towamencin residents are fighting back against sewer privatization. Another public town hall will be held in-person and streamed via Zoom at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20. “Many Towamencin residents have opposed the privatization of their sewer system since 2021, when local group Towamencin NOPE, ‘Towamencin Neighbors Opposing Privatization Efforts,’ was created. The Facebook group has over 400 members, and is disseminating a petition by Food and Water Watch.” The privatization proposal was developed with Public Financial Management, a private consulting agency. PFM will make a presentation at the meeting.
31) Texas: Public services insourcing, in Texas? You bet. Denison is in the process of bringing its ambulance service back into the public sector. “As Denison works to bring back EMS service to in-house control, city leaders have taken steps to acquire new ambulances for first responders. The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve $975,000 in loans for the acquisition of three ambulances for the service. The move by council comes as the city is working toward ending its agreement with private EMS provider LifeNet. In late 2021, the city announced it would end its contract with LifeNet less than six months after city officials announced plans to use the service as the city’s primary EMS provider.”
32) International: The Manitoba Health Coalition, Manitoba Nurses Union and CUPE 204 are calling for the removal of one of the members of the newly appointed Shared Health board of directors. “Brenda Martinussen works with Nurse Next Door, a private for-profit home health care provider. She was appointed to the board of directors by Health Minister Audrey Gordon, and will serve a three-year term. “It is just explicitly wrong for a private competitor to the public home care system to be sitting on a board that governs public home care, simple as that,” Thomas Linner, president of MHC told reporters on Monday. On her public LinkedIn profile, Martinussen is listed as the chief strategy and growth officer at DASCH (Direct Action in Support of community Homes Inc.), which is Nurse Next Door’s franchise partner in Manitoba…
“Linner, Jackson and Debbie Boissoneault of CUPE 204 all voiced concerns about the provincial government moving toward health-care privatization. Having an executive from a private health care agency on the Shared Health board ‘shows a clear indication towards privatization,’ Linner said. Boissoneault represents home care workers, and says that on top of years of underfunding home care services in the province, having a private company representative on the board is inappropriate.”
33) National: Will blockchain replace government? Some crypto hardliners are proposing just that.
34) International: Is government outsourcing even legal? This rarely litigated matter is the subject of a brief note by two lawyers with the British law firm Gowling WLG. “Where a public body is found to have acted outside of its powers in awarding a contract, that contract could potentially be declared by the courts to be void – meaning that its terms are no longer enforceable, whether past or present. For suppliers, this could mean that you have no contractual right to be paid for services provided to date, nor a right to supply the services going forward. For the contracting authority it can mean reputational damage and set-backs to projects or policy implementation.” Do American federal, state and local officials even have the authority to sign the contracts they are signing? Most would say they do, but are there dangerous critters in the weeds?
35) International: A privatized review of the Australian government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis? Dr Scott Prasser thinks not. “Despite many calls for an independent public inquiry, usually in the form of a royal commission, to review Australia’s responses to the pandemic, no government, federal or state, has obliged. The problem is any effective royal commission would have to be a joint federal-state effort given Australia’s responses were shared across governments so getting agreement on the terms of reference and membership might be hard to achieve. Moreover, all governments might be concerned what a royal commission might expose given their past record. However, the announcement this week that three philanthropic groups – Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation, the Paul Ramsay Foundation and the Myriam Wylie to drive a private inquiry into Australia’s handling of the pandemic is not the answer.”
Photo by Ivan Radic.