Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the privatization of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- Allied Universal, an American company, is set to win the bidding war for U.K. rival G4S PLC in a deal that would create a private security-services giant with global reach.
- In the Public Interest’s Shar Habibi: “The recent energy and water problems across Texas—including where I live in Austin—are just the latest sign that America’s infrastructure is at its breaking point.”
- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has unveiled an charter school accountability plan.
1) National: Shar Habibi, In the Public Interest’s research and policy director, says “all the recent energy and water problems across Texas—including where I live in Austin—are just the latest sign that America’s infrastructure is at its breaking point. That’s why this week’s reintroduction of federal legislation to invest in clean, safe, and affordable drinking water is such great news. The WATER Act would dedicate $35 billion a year to water infrastructure improvements nationwide. From Austin to Los Angeles, to Pittsburgh and Flint, Michigan. It’s great news because it’s not more privatization and deregulation. Which is how Texas got itself in so much trouble.”
Food & Water Watch’s Wenona Hauter says the need for swift action is clear. “The time for Congress and the Biden administration to make this critical legislation a priority has very clearly come. Our country can’t wait any longer for a functional, safe, and affordable water system for every community.”
2) National/Texas: Texas electric bills were $28 billion higher under deregulation, The Wall Street Journal reports. For two decades, the state’s customers have paid more for electricity than state residents who are served by traditional utilities. “None of this was supposed to happen under deregulation. Backers of competition in the electricity-supply business promised it would lower prices for consumers who could shop around for the best deals, just as they do for cellphone service. The system would be an improvement over monopoly utilities, which have little incentive to innovate and provide better service to customers, supporters of deregulation said.” Then-state Sen. David Sibley, a key author of the bill to deregulate the market, said when the switch was first unveiled in 1999, “If all consumers don’t benefit from this, we will have wasted our time and failed our constituency.” [Sub required]
But even before deregulation “the utilities and private companies were not subject to oversight on weatherizing, and ‘suggestions’ made by legislators are mere public relations, and by no means an attempt to solve the underlying issues. As in 1989 and 2011, the state legislature today is made up of politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, who are tied by a thousand strings to their corporate donors.”
3) National: Women have gained record power in state legislatures, Pew reports. “At present, 87 women serve in leadership roles nationwide—speaker of the House, president of the Senate, speaker pro tempore, Senate president pro tempore or majority or minority leader, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. ‘It’s important to get more women in legislatures overall, but also into positions of power where they also get to set the agenda,’ said Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. ‘We spend a lot of time talking about what they add to the conversation; these women in leadership get to determine what conversations are had.’”
4) California: The state Senate budget committee approved disbursement of $144 million in federal funds to give child care providers some financial relief. “This agreement is an important step in ongoing negotiations for a master contract between the state and the newly formed Child Care Providers United union. It’s been 17 years since child care providers began organizing and trying to be recognized by the state as a labor force, said the union’s vice chair, Johanna Hester. ‘This is a huge relief for family child care providers,’ she said.”
5) New York: New York City is to test no-police mental health crisis response in Harlem. Social workers will respond instead. “The details [were] fleshed out a plan the city outlined broadly in November, aiming to keep psychiatric crises from escalating into confrontations and to provide people with more health-focused help.” But there are concerns about how it is being implemented. “‘Trying to move away from the police being the first responders in a mental health crisis is a step in the right direction,’ said Cal Hedigan, CEO of a mental health organization called Community Access. But she wishes the response teams would include people who have had mental illness and are trained to help others. Otherwise, ‘you run the risk of replacing one flawed system with another that doesn’t have an important element,’ Hedigan said.”
6) National: Fitch Ratings has updated its “U.S. Public Finance Charter School Rating Criteria” (15 pages). It’s worth reading the whole thing. The criteria are:
- Revenue Defensibility
- Operating Risk
- Financial Profile
- Charter Renewal and Revocation Risk
- Other Asymmetric Additive Risk Factors (e.g., lack of adequate liquidity, management and governance and legal and regulatory environment)
7) National: Teachers unions aren’t the obstacle to reopening schools, writes Sarah Jones in New York magazine. “Schools need to reopen, but the process is complicated by problems created by years of underfunding, not by teachers unions. The CDC guidelines say it’s “critical” for schools to open, and stay open, as soon as possible. But they have to do so safely, the guidelines add — a caveat that Abramsky and Trump Jr., have both ignored. The virus-mitigation strategies the CDC recommends aren’t possible in all school buildings: Social distancing can be impossible in some, and adequate ventilation remains a serious concern. A full year into the pandemic, teachers say they’re still waiting for school districts to make in-person instruction safe.”
8) California: The LA Times reports that “at least three private schools in Los Angeles County offered their teachers and other staff a way to get COVID-19 vaccinations during a time of limited supplies—one school urging them to use restricted access codes and two others certifying that their staff were responsible for healthcare-related duties. (…) Meanwhile, public school districts, accountable to employee unions and elected school boards—and under greater public scrutiny—have mobilized for vaccines with state and local public health authorities with limited success. L.A. County health officials have said school employees are not generally eligible for vaccines until March 1, when supplies will initially fall far short of demand.”
9) California: Two corrupt officials of the charter school management company A3 have pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. “‘The general activity is you and your friend got these millions of dollars from the state and you funneled them into your pocket, correct?’ asked San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederick Link, while taking the pleas. Both answered yes. Online charter schools are allowed to collect just as much money per student as brick-and-mortar schools. But the case has pushed legislators in Sacramento to re-examine the rules surrounding online charters. Lawmakers passed a two-year moratorium on the creation of new online charters and are considering changes to the state’s enrollment and funding practices.”
10) Missouri: State lawmakers debated charter school expansion far into the night on Wednesday. “A major criticism of charter schools is their potential to pull money away from public schools if enough students were pulled out and sent to the charters. A portion of school funding is appropriated based on the number of students enrolled. The fiscal note for the bill states that public schools will report a negative impact if this legislation were passed…
“Both sides debating agreed that COVID-19 and the myriad of obstacles schools have faced has illuminated issues within Missouri’s public school system, but some—including some Republicans—raised concerns about the lack of accountability standards and draining resources from public schools. Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, opposed the bill, referring to it as ‘trash’ and asserted that she could benefit if she wanted to. She said the Legislature should focus on housing discrimination instead.
11) New York: The United Federation of Teachers has spelled out its state legislative priorities. “We must level the playing field with charter schools New York charter schools demand an ever-larger share of public school dollars, resources and facilities, yet they support fewer high-need students than our public schools and they do not meet the same standards of transparency and accountability. We must hold charter schools to a basic level of accountability for how they use tax-payer dollars, and we must keep the charter school cap in place and avoid bringing back ‘zombie charters’ that could cost NYC $160 million.
- S.4200/A.5135(Hoylman/Benedetto) to require transparency and accountability of charter schools
- S.676 & A.5117 (Mayer & Benedetto) to limit charter grade level expansions
- S.1098/A.5191 (Liu/Benedetto) to repeal charter school facilities aid”
12) North Carolina: Dozens of charter schools have scooped up Paycheck Protection Program loans approved last spring. “Tom Kelley, who specializes in nonprofit organizations at the UNC School of Law, said he doesn’t like charter schools cashing in on two pots of money. ‘In my opinion, I don’t think there’s any doubt that double-dipping is going on,’ Kelley said, questioning how the schools showed the loans were necessary to save jobs when they already received taxpayer money for salaries. ‘It’s not clear to me how schools, charter schools, receiving that CARES Act money would be threatened by shedding, by losing, jobs. I don’t see how that would happen,’ he said. ‘So, my assumption is at least much of this PPP funding is going to arrive as a windfall.’”
13) Ohio: Three years after shutting down, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow charter cyberchain continues to battle the state’s efforts to claw back $60 million of alleged overpayments. “The school was held up as a poster child for claims of generally lax state oversight of charter schools and, in particular, the political clout of major players in the industry. While they are public schools, charter schools are freed of some of the regulations governing their more traditional brethren. (…) The state counters that the decision of the partly elected, partly appointed State Board of Education to uphold the Department of Education’s $60 million claw-back decision is not appealable under state law. It argues that ECOT has had multiple bites at this apple with several courts, including the Supreme Court, which previously ruled against the school. ‘ECOT has lost these challenges at every turn, because every court and administrative officer that has ruled on ECOT’s claims has rejected its invitation to ignore statutes and settled precedent,’ its brief states.”
14) Oklahoma: Contract termination proceedings against the scandal-plagued Epic Charter Schools have been delayed once again. Ice and snow were cited as a reason. “The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s Oct. 1 report found oversight to be lacking on the part of Epic’s ‘handpicked’ governing board members, selected by school co-founders David Chaney and Ben Harris, ‘whose for-profit school management company contract and performance should be overseen by an independent board,’ the report states. The Oklahoma State Board of Education, which accredits all public schools in Oklahoma, has already demanded back $11.2 million in taxpayer funds based on the state’s investigative audit.” A date has been scheduled yet.
15) Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf (D) unveiled his charter school accountability plan on Friday. “The state’s flawed and outdated charter school law is regarded as one of the worst in the nation. The uncontrolled cost of charter schools is draining funding from traditional neighborhood public schools, forcing school districts to cut educational programs and hike local property taxes. Last year, taxpayers spent $2.1 billion on charter schools, including more than $600 million on cyber schools. This year, the burden on taxpayers will increase by more than $400 million. Between 2013 and 2019, 44 cents of every $1 of new property taxes went to charter schools, according to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.”
Wolf’s plan “limits cyber school enrollment until their educational quality improves. All 14 cyber schools in Pennsylvania are designated for federal school improvement, with the vast majority among the lowest 5 percent of public schools. A Stanford University report released in 2019 found overwhelming negative results from Pennsylvania’s cyber schools and urged reform by the state.”
Watch the news conference. [Video, about 40 minutes].
16) Pennsylvania: The Chartiers Valley School Board unanimously rejected an application from Dogwood Charter School to locate its school in the district. “‘Dr. Vanatta and her team have spent countless hours reviewing the Dogwood Charter School’s application to determine if it met the standards in the charter school law,’ [Board President Darren Mariano] said. ‘While we thank them, their application falls short of meeting standards for a charter school in the Chartiers Valley School District.’ At a Feb. 9 meeting, Ms. Vanatta said the district determined the application did not meet the four-pronged criteria set forth by the state’s charter school law. State charter school applications are evaluated by school boards based on criteria including: demonstrated support for the charter school plan by teachers, parents and other community members and students; capability of the charter school applicant to provide comprehensive learning experiences to students pursuant to the adopted charter; information regarding finance, facilities and food services; and the extent to which the charter school may serve as a model for other public schools.”
17) South Carolina: Richland Two school district decided to close their Charter High School in Columbia, stating financial reasons. “The district released the following in a statement to WLTX: ‘School revenues are determined by the State Department of Education, county governments, and local school districts. The final funding amount is dependent upon the number of students enrolled in the school. Due to declining enrollment, our school no longer had enough revenue to sustain the learning environment appropriate for our students.’ The school will remain open through the end of the school year, but students who aren’t graduating will attend their zoned schools next school year.”
18) West Virginia: The State Senate Education Committee has approved a public charter school expansion bill from the House of Delegates. “HB 2012 changes the maximum number of public charter schools in a three-year period from three to 10. The bill also allows for a statewide virtual charter school and allows counties to approve smaller virtual charter schools. The committee approved in a 7-6 vote an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison. The Romano amendment would keep the cap on the number of charter schools for the first three-year period ending July 1, 2023, to three public charter schools. For the next two three-year periods, the cap would go up to 10 public charter schools. The Romano amendment also capped the number of students who could participate in the statewide virtual public charter school to 1,500 for the first three years of the program.”
The bill was seen as too weak on oversight even by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which said “the bill includes a cap for virtual schools of approximately 28,000 students/year, a number far too high to manage or ensure quality. The West Virginia Senate should incorporate caps allowing a virtual school to grow only after it has demonstrated agreed-upon levels of student performance.”
Susan M. Johnson, a contributing columnist for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, says “while you are napping, West Virginia is decimating public schools. So the damage started with consolidation is now going to be finished with virtual charter school. I weep for our small communities.”
19) Think Tanks: The Black Male Institute at UCLA has issued a research brief showing that homeless students attending charter schools in Los Angeles County have significantly lower attendance and graduation rates than their peers at traditional public schools. “‘The outcomes are really low. It’s shocking,’ said Earl Edwards, an author of the study and a UCLA doctoral candidate studying urban education. ‘It’s an important issue because if we’re not doing a good job providing services to these students, then we leave them to experience more adverse impacts later in life.’ Under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, all public schools are required to identify homeless students and provide them services such as transportation and school supplies. ‘Homeless’ can be a fluid term, but under the McKinney-Vento Act is defined as living in shelters, cars, motels, outside or ‘doubled up’ with other families.” In addition, the report found that “charter schools are potentially undercounting the number of students experiencing homelessness in their schools.”
20) Think Tanks: The National Bureau of Economic Research has released some noteworthy privatization-related papers over the past few weeks, including Charter Schools’ Effectiveness, Mechanisms, and Competitive Influence by Sarah R. Cohodes & Katharine S. Parham; Does Private Equity Investment in Healthcare Benefit Patients? Evidence from Nursing Homes by Atul Gupta, Sabrina T. Howell, Constantine Yannelis & Abhinav Gupta; and How the New Fed Municipal Bond Facility Capped Muni-Treasury Yield Spreads in the Covid-19 Recession Michael D. Bordo & John V. Duca.
21) Texas/National: Johanna Bozuwa of the Climate and Energy Program at the Democracy Collaborative, and Jean Su of the Energy Justice Program and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, explain how Texas’s energy crisis shows why we need to reform our privatized energy system.
“Questioning and reforming privatized electricity delivery opens opportunities to combat the energy system’s racism and the climate emergency. The original regulatory compact set in place over a hundred years ago, that provided a company with a guaranteed monopoly in exchange for providing fair electricity service, intended to stop private companies’ price gouging and serve the public’s best interest. But the regulatory structures have not held up to the power of the utilities, now stifling the urgently needed clean energy transition and failing to maintain their grids to maximize shareholder returns. That is why we need to rethink patterns of ownership and utilities’ legal structures to build an accountable public alternative.”
22) Texas/National: What actually happened specifically to the grid in Texas, and what can it teach us about how to do better? Geoff Beckman has a clear and understandable rundown in Counterpunch.
Criminal Justice and Immigration
23) National: In a sharp blow to its anticipated revenue, CoreCivic has announced it does not believe the U.S. Marshals Service will renew its contract at the company’s 2,016-bed Northeast Ohio Correctional Center after a 90-day extension. “While the Company is not currently aware of alternative locations where the USMS can house the approximately 800 federal detainees currently located at the Northeast Ohio facility, President Biden recently issued an executive order directing the Department of Justice not to renew contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities.”
24) National: The Biden administration has reopened a temporary facility for unaccompanied migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas. President Biden said it “was a temporary measure taken by the administration to handle the increased numbers of unaccompanied children that are crossing the US-Mexico border. The Biden administration has received blowback for the decision from progressive Democratic lawmakers and some on the right. (…) Progressive lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, blasted the administration’s move to reopen the facility. ‘This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay—no matter the administration or party,’ Ocasio-Cortez tweeted earlier this week. ‘Our immigration system is built on a carceral framework. It’s no accident that challenging how we approach both these issues are considered ‘controversial’ stances.’”
That’s not the only facility Biden is looking at. The Miami Herald says that if Biden reopens Homestead detention facility, vulnerable migrant children must be safe, not sorry. [Sub required]. The Homestead facility gained notoriety in 2019 for appalling conditions and treatment of children. Vox reports that “the Homestead facility’s history of sexual abuse, neglect, and dangerous living conditions has also made it a target of immigrant advocates. Following public pressure, the Trump administration closed the facility in October 2019 and did not renew a contract with the facility’s private operator, a Caliburn International subsidiary known as Comprehensive Health Services. It’s unclear whether the Biden administration will contract with a different operator or conduct additional oversight of the facility, which became a symbol of the Trump administration’s cruel policies concerning migrant children.”
25) National: In a New York Times op-ed, Alison Siegler and Kate M. Harris of the University of Chicago Law School say it’s time to reform the federal bail system. “Few see Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s pick for attorney general, as a progressive who will reform the criminal legal system. But the Biden administration recently acknowledged that mass incarceration does not make us safer. And as the nation’s chief federal prosecutor, if confirmed, Judge Garland will have the power to prioritize federal bail reform and reduce sky-high rates of pretrial jailing. Doing so will decrease mass incarceration, advance racial justice and enable Judge Garland to stake his claim as a progressive prosecutor. In fact, federal bail reform is an area where he may have already shown an appetite for change.”
26) National: Following the release of a GAO report on care for pregnant women in DOJ custody—requested by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D) in 2017—Rep. Grijalva says “part of the problem is the lack of transparency and sparse data concerning the treatment of pregnant women in our prison systems. Even with this detailed report, it is hard to know the full extent of what these women go through. There is likely a reluctance of some women to come forward about their mistreatment, especially those seeking asylum who experience language barriers, and it is clear that grave gaps in data collection currently exist and this must be corrected immediately. Stories of women being relegated to solitary confinement or shackled during pregnancy or not having access to postpartum time with their babies are barbaric, and we must be absolutely certain this is not occurring anywhere throughout our system. We must ensure facilities are actually complying with what is on paper.”
27) National: In case you were wondering, there are still investors “reasonably believed to be ‘qualified institutional buyers’” out there buying up GEO Group debt. They were not named.
28) National: Allied Universal, an American company, is set to win the bidding war for U.K. rival G4S PLC in a deal that would create a private security-services giant with global reach. It’s reportedly offered £3.8 billion in cash ($5.19 billion). “Private-equity firms like the ones bidding for G4S are sitting on mountains of cash, bidding up the value of companies hard hit by the pandemic and operational woes.” [Sub required].
Ruth Hopkins of We Own It, the British anti-privatization group, says “it remains to be seen if Allied will be in charge of Mangaung Correctional Centre, a G4S-run detention facility in Bloemfontein, the Free State’s capital [in South Africa]. Allied announced it would sell G4S’ prison business because the company lacks the experience and desire to work with the government, an article in The Times in the UK recently pointed out. The future of G4S’ rather troubled prisons remains unclear. The equally troubled private prison contractor Serco, which was criminally fined for fraudulently tagging inmates, has shown an interest.” [For more on Serco and its efforts to break into the multibillion dollar U.S. Pentagon budget, see #32 below.]
Hopkins, the author of Misery Merchants, “has been investigating prisons for a decade. In 2013, she uncovered the widespread use of electroshocking, forced medication with antipsychotic drugs, lengthy isolation and suspicious deaths of inmates at Mangaung prison. She founded the Private Security Network, a transnational network of journalists investigating the private security sector.”
29) Connecticut: A bill has been introduced in the state legislature to provide certain cost-free telecommunication services for incarcerated persons. Rachel M. Cohen of The Intercept provides a rundown, reporting that “Advocates are feeling optimistic they have a better shot this time around and can make Connecticut the first state in the nation to eliminate the charges. ‘There are very specific things that held up this bill in the past,” said Elliott, pointing to Securus’s lobbying in 2019, which required advocates to scramble at the end of the session. “That meant that we were chasing our tail a bit until Securus formally and publicly backed out of lobbying against our bill, recognizing what it looks like to be a contractor with the state while lobbying for their interests,’ he said. (…) While it’s not yet clear where the money would come from to make up for the millions that Connecticut currently relies on in call commissions, Kevin Coughlin, a spokesperson for [the bill’s state senate sponsor, President Pro Tempore Martin Looney], told The Intercept that those budgetary considerations will be hashed out over the next two months or so in the legislative session.” It is now in committee.
30) Illinois: Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed legislation making Illinois the first state to eliminate cash bail, capping a five year effort by activists. “This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice,” Mr. Pritzker said in a statement. “The tragedies of this last year could have just left us beaten down and defeated. But we did not let it,” Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D) said. “We leveraged it to create real change, to create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”
31) National: Rand Wilson and Peter Olney, writing in Jacobin, remind us that with scores of union contracts expiring, 2021 can be a year of mass solidarity. “This year, 450 collective bargaining agreements covering more than 200 union members apiece will expire, according to Bloomberg, which maintains the most comprehensive database of expiring agreements outside of the AFL-CIO. Of these, 160 agreements cover more than 1,000 workers.
“These 450 contracts, involving more than a million and a half workers, are an ideal opportunity for the labor movement to showcase our power and the advantages of collective bargaining. Agreements covering 200,000 health care workers will expire. In the public sector 161,000 municipal workers, 112,000 state workers, and 100,000 school employees have contracts expiring. Most of these workers have been on the front lines providing essential services during the pandemic. But with the economy sinking, employers will be preaching austerity and looking for concessions. There are likely to be many contentious negotiations, some leading to vigorous contract campaigns or strikes.”
As APWU faces a September contract deadline, it is mobilizing its members and the public. “Negotiations require massive amounts of data collection, data analyzation, and input from outside economists, labor relations experts, and our attorneys. The data and information to support our demands is being gathered, experts are being consulted, and our strategy is being fully developed and finalized. As we go into negotiations, it cannot be understated how important every member is to the process.” As all this is happening, the battle to resist Postmaster Louis DeJoy’s efforts to sabotage the postal service will be continuing.
32) National/International: Nick Corbishley has a terrific article on Serco’s efforts to break into the $700 billion U.S. military money trough. He provides background on the government contracting behemoth’s many scandals in the United Kingdom, and suggests Serco may also be trying to get into the U.S. healthcare market. “The test-and-trace program was a disaster from day one. In May, Serco accidentally shared the personal email addresses of nearly 300 trainee COVID-19 contact tracers. Both Serco and Sitel, the two main contractors tasked with running the scheme, then came under fire over allegations that call handlers were reaching less than half of the contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19. By the summer, things were so bad that the government began delegating more and more of the heavy-duty work to under-funded local authorities while continuing to funnel huge sums of money to private contractors like Serco and Sitel.”
33) National: Speaking on the new health policy podcast The Dose, Ashish Jha, M.D., dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, explains how vaccine distribution could be sped up and carried out in a manner that addresses racial and economic disparities. [Audio, about a half hour]
34) Maryland: Staff shortages at state hospitals continue to put a strain on the system. “Carrie Elliott, representative of MDH Local 1081 and a geriatric nurse, testified in the Health and Human Services Subcommittee Monday that her hospital still needs more resources to take care of their patients. ‘In the decade that I have worked there I have seen staffing levels go down in my department from eight to five.’ Senate Bill 693, which took effect Jan. 1, 2020, requires a three-patients-to-one-employee ratio. Atif Chaudry, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, said the department is meeting that threshold, but it is looking at the entire hospital system which allows the shifting of employees from one unit to another as needed.
That strategy isn’t helping the geriatric patients in Elliott’s unit, however. Her unit includes those who have Alzheimer’s Disease or traumatic brain injuries. ‘I feel bad for our residents. We would like to spend more time with them. They are lonely and they are getting depressed. During COVID, we have been their lifesavers.’ Mealtime is especially challenging. ‘There are seven [that] need assistance for feeding. We only had two [Geriatric Nursing Assistants.] They open up to us during [meals].’”
On May 13, the 2021 Maryland State of Reform Health Policy Conference will be taking place virtually.