• 70 years after Brown v. Board, how do things stand?
  • Inside the explosion of private toll roads
  • Take Action: “Stop Water Privatization in Your Town!”


First, the Good News

1) National: Seventy years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision—intended to desegregate American schools—how do things stand? Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, has an assessment in a new white paper saying we have much more to do. “Seventy years of history since Brown encompass many political changes, with 18 presidential terms and historic changes in the nation’s population: A society with more than 80% White students at the time of Brown has become a society with a majority of non-White students. Desegregation produced major lasting gains in the short period of time it was seriously implemented and many experiences were positive. What were the politics and policies that reversed this momentum? Understanding how to further school integration requires understanding the history and politics that drove changes.”

For more on privatization and resistance to desegregation, see this interview by NEA’s Mary Ellen Flannery of In the Public Interest’s Executive Director, Donald Cohen. In his book, The Privatization of Everything, Cohen places the right wing intellectual backlash to Brown in the wider social context of “school choice” as “a raw expression of white supremacy.” (p. 22).

“Friedman’s vision for market-managed public services was remarkably clear-eyed; he was under no illusion that any profit-generating enterprise would act for the common good,” Cohen writes. “He lambasted the very idea that a business could have social responsibilities, and insisted that executives have responsibilities only to the business owners. To even suggest a responsibility to something larger was to invite ‘the iron fist of Government bureaucrats.’ So Friedman’s voucher-supported private schools, despite taking public money, would have zero responsibility to the public. The implications were clear by the time Friedman’s essay was published. Brown v. Board of Education had already spurred a ‘school choice’ movement in segregated states. Private schools, bereft of social responsibility, offered something their white customers wanted—segregation—and politicians hoped to support this deplorable choice with public money in the form of vouchers. The racial implications of privatization should have been perfectly obvious to a man of Friedman’s intelligence, but they apparently did not enter his thinking until someone pointed them out to him, after his landmark essay was largely complete. The issue of how the free market encourages racial segregation gets no more than an awkward footnote.”

2) National: The Washington Post reports that “the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau plans to restart its aggressive crackdown against payday lenders and other companies that offer high-cost, short-term loans to poor borrowers, after a Supreme Court ruling this week resolved a challenge to the federal agency’s authority to act.” In response, Devon Ombres, senior director for courts and legal policy at the Center for American Progress, said, “this ruling upholds the independent funding structure that has made the CFPB a successful advocate for protecting consumers and holding big banks, payday lenders, and other financial institutions accountable. The justices reversed yet another extreme opinion from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that could have placed the entire financial regulatory system at risk and roiled financial markets. The CFPB stands to continue fighting to protect the American people from corporate bad actors, fraudsters, and scammers.”

3) National: Congress is pumping the brakes on military housing privatization. “‘Members aren’t completely bought into privatizing all housing,’ a senior Republican committee staffer told reporters at a briefing this week on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the committee. ‘There are problems with privatized housing, just like there are with service housing. So to turn it all over is something I don’t think the members are ready to do.’ News stories and government watchdog reports over the last couple of years have detailed deplorable living conditions for the military’s most junior service members, who are typically required to live in barracks.”

4) National: Let’s hear it for the folks at the Heartland Labor Forum, who have produced an excellent episode covering two key public interest issues. “Across the country proponents of school vouchers promise choice, freedom and upward mobility. Nicole Abshire of Mothers for Democracy Institute says vouchers are a scam on students, teachers, unions and communities. She’ll be on the Heartland Labor Forum this week. Then, a new study by UMKC economist Michael Kelsay says increasing numbers of construction employers who commit wage theft and misclassify workers as independent contractors are tax cheats costing Kansas and Missouri millions.  They swindle workers out of wages, worker compensation coverage and their legal rights.” [Audio, about an hour]

5) National: A new book says the opposite of privatization is publicization. Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider say “market-based education reform may be on the wane, but what’s the alternative? Our guest, Jonathan Gyurko, author of the provocative new book Publicization, argues that public education advocates need to rally around a goal of making public schools as public as possible. That means changing the way we think about funding, governance, accountability—indeed, the very purpose of school. If we want to move beyond decades of privatization, says Gyurko, we need a hopeful vision of what schools could be.” [Audio, about 40 minutes].

An exchange between Jennifer and Jack:

Jennifer: “And Jack, I recently saw something on the site formerly known as Twitter that I think perfectly sums up what this episode is about. Somebody was saying, you know, I’m not sure how you can really call them public schools when you have to pay $400,000 for a house to live in a school district. And you know, and my response was, I don’t really have an answer for that.”

Jack: “It’s a question, Jennifer, that I think a lot of supporters of public education would prefer to sidestep because it’s a difficult one, right?”

6) National: Check out this new video from More Perfect Union about research by PowerSwitch Action on why the cost of an Uber ride has gone up, and where that money is really going. “Earlier this year we released a report debunking Uber’s claim that raising driver pay would increase passengers fares. They’ve been trotting out this claim over and over, so we decided to test it by analyzing over a billion rideshare trips.” [About 7 minutes]

7) Illinois: “The City of Chicago voted to develop the Green Social Housing Revolving Fund with an investment of $115 – $135M,” the IL GND Coalition reports. “This brings us closer to our vision of housing of green, affordable, accessible, tenant governed housing for everyone!”

8) New York: Bad privatization deals often operate in the dark after they are implemented. Thus the New York City Council has approved a bill seeking better data on privately run public housing. “The bill introduced by Councilmember Alexa Avilés of Brooklyn will require the city to compile a raft of data on New York City Housing Authority complexes converted to private management under the program known as Rental Assistance Demonstration-Permanent Affordability Commitment Together, or RAD-PACT. The program switches the source of federal funding for tenant units and turns operations over to private companies that aren’t subject to the same extensive oversight as NYCHA.”

9) New Mexico: Irrigation workers have voted to form a union with AFSCME Council 18. “Their work includes maintaining ditches, operating water systems and working with the public. Workers cited compensation, fairness and respect on the job as major reasons for unionizing. ‘This is a way to make sure we get compensated properly for all the work we do,’ said a senior irrigation systems operator, who didn’t want to be named for fear of workplace retaliation. ‘We make sure that farms get water so that they can grow all the crops we all eat. And we want to level the playing field and be treated fairly.’”

10) Oregon: “Nearly 2,000 eligible biomedical research workers at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) are looking to form a union through Oregon AFSCME,” AFSCME reports. “‘In choosing to focus on academic research instead of going to the private sector where we could make several times our wages, we’re helping drive revolutionary advances in medicine that will have a lasting effect on the health and well-being of people in need,” said Madeline Hedberg, a pancreatic cancer researcher in the Department of Surgery. “We organized our union in order to raise standards in our industry so that our jobs can be seen as stable careers and not just ‘stepping stones.’ Up until now, we haven’t been listened to, but now with our union, we’re stronger together.”

11) Texas: Well-resourced investigative journalism is not dead. After a yearlong investigation, the Dallas Morning News takes us inside the explosion of private toll roads. “State lawmakers gave up most of their control of toll roads to the private and public entities that own and operate them. That lax oversight has led to at least one major publicly exposed safety risk with fatal consequences. A crash during the February 2021 ice storm where six Texans died on a toll road near downtown Fort Worth was caused by the operator’s failure to monitor and treat the elevated section during freezing rain, as well as a lack of safety coordination between the Texas Department of Transportation and the private tollway operator that owns the North Tarrant Express, according to the final investigative report by the National Transportation Safety Board. State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, a member of the House Transportation Committee, explains why he is opposed to private toll roads in North Texas. ‘We were sold a bill of goods,’ said state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, a member of the House Transportation Committee who represents the community that experienced the tragic car pileup, the deadliest in Texas history. ‘We were just looking for how to find money. We now know that this was the wrong way to do it.’” [Sub required].

Listen to a Texas Standard interview with one of the researchers of the report. [Audio, about 8 minutes]

12) International/Canada: On May 30, CUPE and the Ontario Health Coalition will be marching in Toronto to tell the Ford government to stop the privatization of health care. For those who cannot make it to the Ontario Legislature, there will also be regional events.


13) National/Arkansas: The Arkansas Times’ Griffin Coop and Benjamin Hardy report that Jim Walton, a Walmart heir and Arvest Bank CEO, “donated $500,000 last month to a group working to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment on K-12 education, according to documents filed this week with the Arkansas Ethics Commission. The Arkansas Educational Rights Amendment would require private schools that accept public funding in the form of school vouchers to meet the same academic standards as public schools. It would also guarantee pre-K, afterschool care and other services. Organizers must gather over 90,000 signatures statewide before a July deadline in order to get the proposal before Arkansas voters in the November election.”

14) National: NPE Action urges public education supporters to tell Congress not to increase charter school program federal funding “Despite mounting charter school scandals, the charter lobby is aggressively pushing the Senate to increase federal Charter School Programs (CSP) funding. Unhappy that the Administration’s budget calls for a decrease in CSP funding, the lobby is pushing back once again, asking for more federal tax dollars to expand charter schools. That potentially means less funding for other important programs, such as community schools.”

15) National: Can giving away books save children from the GOP? “As the GOP bans more and more books, the American Federation of Teachers is fighting back. They’re giving away more than 10 million books to combat book bans. President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten joins Thom Hartmann and attorney Jefferson Smith with the story.” [Audio; begins at 32:30 into the show].

16) National: Hechinger Report looks at the story of how a private college abruptly closed—and kept everyone in the dark. “What concerns me here is that there’s no accountability,” said Anna Anderson, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center and a Wells alum. “The students were given just days to pack up and leave … if an institution that’s this respected can do something that’s so horrible, what’s to stop others from doing the same thing?”

17) Minnesota: Becky Z. Dernbach, writing in Sahan Journal, reports on how a loophole “allows Minnesota charter schools to award $132 million in contracts without following state anti-corruption rules.” The Minnesota Department of Education “looked into the matter after a former Noble Academy staff member filed a complaint in August 2021, citing multiple concerns about contracting practices and other issues. ‘This “company” never came to work on the grounds (which was just pulling weeds) but was paid the exact amount for her college tuition,’ the complainant wrote about the Angel’s Lawn Care contract. Sahan Journal obtained the complaint through a public records request.” But there’s more. “The story might have ended there: questionable contract, bureaucratic response. A plan to do better next time. But in the same complaint, a different contracting issue caught the eye of MDE officials. And this issue was bigger—much bigger. In 2021, Noble Academy awarded Superintendent Thao—and his brand new management company—a no-bid contract for 10% of the school’s annual funds. In the contract’s first year, that amounted to nearly $1.4 million.”

18) International/Think Tanks: Education International, the global labor federation, has produced a blockbuster 102-page, deeply researched report on the effects of privatization on school support staff and the educational system. Authored by Lucas Cone and Anja Giudici, the report “shows that the contributions that [Education Support Personnel (ESP)] can make to schooling are inextricably linked to the structures, policies, and financial decisions that shape what is included and valued in public education—and what is made invisible. In particular, the report illustrates the negative effects of current tendencies to narrow the focus of public education to individual learning outcomes and classroom instruction, rather than protecting more comprehensive visions of public schooling.”


19) National/Think Tanks: How the piranha pipeline works. A former young student at the Koch-funded Mercatus Institute, who worked at the George Mason University admissions office, as an intern at Heritage Action, and as a policy intern at ALEC—goes on to write propaganda favoring the privatization of America’s public airports for the right wing flagship National Review.

20) National/Oklahoma: A new group has been formed to push back against right wing efforts to undermine corporate responsibility, though it also takes aim at laws that “require pension funds to invest in certain industries or to use specific criteria for investments.” The Alliance for Prosperity and a Secure Retirement, one of whose founding members is investment giant BlackRock, “which has been a prime target of conservative government officials that have been waging a [war] against ESG investing. The alliance membership also includes a number of labor unions, particularly those representing fire fighters and police.” Glen Middleton, former executive director of AFSCME MD Council 67, is on its board.

Two weeks ago, “an Oklahoma judge issued a temporary injunction preventing enforcement of a state law that led to four investment banks being banned from underwriting municipal bonds and the targeting of other financial firms for divestment purposes.” [Sub required].

Ropes & Gray, a prominent law firm, gets to the heart of the matter. “The Oklahoma statute, like those in several other states, is based on a fundamentally false premise: that asset managers who incorporate climate-related risks into their investment process are somehow punishing energy companies in pursuit of a political or social agenda, rather than seeking to maximize investment returns for retirees. The court’s decision reflects the fact that just the opposite is true. In reality, the legislature is furthering its own political agenda at the expense of retiree benefits.  Through this law, legislators want to paint themselves as defenders of the fossil fuel industry, but are improperly using public pension funds as their weapon.”

21) National: More Perfect Union says “Take Action: Stop Water Privatization in your town!” Watch the video. [About 12 minutes]. “In states where water privatization is already possible, those bills need to be repealed. And in states where it isn’t yet possible, our governors must hear that we do NOT want water privatization. Find out if your state allows for-profit utilities to privatize your water and sewer systems, then take action today!”

22) National/International/Think Tanks: How is the global private finance sector thinking about renewable energy projects and sustainable infrastructure development? The Global Infrastructure Investor Association (GIIA)’s “Talking Global Infrastructure” podcast recently focused in on these issues. “In the transition towards a greener future, substantial investments are imperative for renewable energy projects and sustainable infrastructure developments. But where does the funding come from, and how is it being deployed to tackle the immense challenges posed by climate change?” Worth a listen. [Audio, about 28 minutes].

AECOM, the global infrastructure consulting colossus, also has a podcast, called “Talking Infrastructure.” If you’re interested in infrastructure privatization and (or versus) public works, check the episodes out.

23) International/Canada: Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, is warning that the federal government’s proposed budget is a threat to public airports. “‘Like our passenger rail system, Canada’s airports must remain public and not-for-profit,’ said Unifor National President Lana Payne. ‘Privatization doesn’t improve working conditions or travel conditions. By failing to focus on ways to actually improve the system, airlines, airports, and the government are guaranteeing that the industry cannot meet the needs of passengers.’ In the budget, the government announced it will release a policy statement this summer that will investigate ‘existing flexibilities’ under the current governance model for Canada’s National Airport System airports to attract capital, including from private pension funds.”

24) International/United Kingdom: Thames Water, the private company at the heart of Britain’s water privatization train wreck, has suffered yet another blow. “Thames Water’s biggest shareholder has written off its investment in the utility in a sign of the escalating financial crisis at the UK’s largest water company. A Singapore-registered subsidiary of Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, which holds a 31 per cent stake in Thames Water, said in accounts filed on Friday it would make ‘a full write-down of [its] investment and loan receivable with accrued interest.’ Thames Water has been struggling with rising interest rates on its £18bn of debt and needs a £750mn cash injection from its owners by the end of this year to keep running and deliver infrastructure improvements.” [Sub required].

So there you have it in a nutshell. Poorly conceived, predatory, finance-driven privatization is not only bad for the private sector, it’s bad for the public too: the shareholder concerned (OMERS) is a public pension fund that has been hunting P3’s for years.


25) National/Alabama: Bloomberg reports that a new lawsuit alleges that the state of Alabama limits prisoner parole to profit off forced labor. “There are 800,000 incarcerated workers in the U.S., and they do roughly $10 billion worth of work a year, more than $2 billion of it for clients outside the prison system, according to a 2022 study by the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Chicago. (The lawsuit estimates that the state of Alabama makes over $450 million off of prisoners’ labor.) “We wanted to bring an indictment against the entire system,” says one of the plaintiffs, Robert Earl Council, who goes by the moniker Kinetik Justice. That includes the companies they say profit from making inmates build auto parts, haul beer and ring up Big Macs, thanks to a system that ensures people deemed safe enough to work remain incarcerated and working on the cheap.”

26) National: Anne Kim is a contributing editor at Washington Monthly magazine and the author of  Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection (The New Press, 2020), winner of the 2020 Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice. Her new book, Poverty for Profit: How Corporations Get Rich Off America’s Poor (The New Press), comes out May 28, 2024. It turns out The Privatization of Everything, the book co-authored by In the Public Interest’s executive director Donald Cohen, was an influence on Kim’s work. We asked her a few questions about the new book. Read the interview here.

27) National: Suzanne Gordon and Steve Early want to know if VA Secretary Denis McDonough is a slow reader. “The VA secretary’s professed ignorance about a report he commissioned describing an ‘existential threat’ to his agency is alarming. (…) Later in the hearing, Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-PA), a military veteran and VHA patient himself, pointed out that the impact of privatization was neither ‘fiscally responsible’ nor ‘good for veterans.’ He asked why the Biden administration’s proposed VHA budget for 2025-2026 was still ‘encouraging these trends.’ A Republican booster of privatization, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) sought McDonough’s reaction to the report’s findings. In the first of his head-scratching responses, the VA secretary claimed that he was not ‘intimately familiar with the group or the contents of the report.’ But, he assured Miller-Meeks, ‘I will get there.’”

28) California: The Golden State’s projected $44.9 billion revenue shortfall has intensified budget politics, with Gov. Newsom set to make sweeping cuts to housing, homelessness and welfare programs. “At the same time, he is holding fast to his plan to expand Medi-Cal coverage to more Californians, a major goal for his administration,” Capital & Main reports. Suggestions for steps Newsom could take to ease the situation are coming in. “Kayla Kitson, senior policy analyst at the California Budget & Policy Center, would like to see the state eliminate or reduce tax breaks for corporations. They ‘make the state’s tax system less equitable and deprive the state of revenues that could be used to support vital public services,’ Kitson said.”

Others want Newsom to close more prisons, reports the Sacramento Bee. “Advocates for more safety net funding said one approach to get more money would be to close five more prisons, as the Legislative Analyst’s Office suggested in February. The LAO reported California prisons would operate with 15,000 empty beds during the 2024-2025 fiscal year, which would reach 19,000 by 2028. The five prison closures could save the state $1 billion annually, according to the LAO. Newsom’s revised budget proposes deactivating 46 prison housing units with 4,600 beds, which would result in $80.6 million in savings. [Assemblyman Isaac Bryan, D-Los Angeles] said that’s not enough. ‘The state is literally running a 15,000-person empty hotel through the state prisons,’ Bryan said.”

29) California: Meanwhile, advocates say criminal justice reform measures are saving money, according to KQED’s The California Report. “Chances are, if you’ve heard about Proposition 47 lately, it’s likely because someone was attacking the landmark criminal justice reform. Critics blame Prop 47 for shoplifting, drug use, and homelessness in the state, and they’re trying to roll it back with a new initiative this fall. But Prop 47 has also resulted in some $800 million in state savings, because fewer people are being sent to prison and jail for drug and low-level property crimes under the law. KQED politics correspondent Marisa Lagos takes us to Los Angeles to show us how that money is being spent. The Center for Employment Opportunity in Los Angeles is located not far from Skid Row, but it feels like another world. The modern light-filled space looks like a tech office. It’s located in a commercial district known as Row DTL, LA.”

29) Maryland: Maryland is failing women released from prison, reports The Real News’ “Rattling the Bars” podcast. “Critics of the prison industrial complex have long noted the system’s failure to properly rehabilitate those who are locked away in its bowels. Christina Merryman and Ameena Deramous return to Rattling the Bars for the second part of a two-part interview on the reality facing prisoners in Maryland’s only women’s correctional facility.” Host Manson Moose spoke with Christina and Ameena. “We’re either going to be better or we’re going to be worse. And if we’re sitting down and that’s your opportunity to help us get better, help us to get better. Give us the classes, give us the counseling, give us what we need. (…) We don’t have any programs other than AA and NA. And I’m not saying that those are not good programs. I’m saying we don’t have a program for people who have those issues.” [Audio, 37 minutes]

30) International/Canada: Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne say the provincial government “is against the idea of paying nurse practitioners through the province’s Medical Care Program (MCP), saying it’s an example of health-care privatization. The health minister says the Progressive Conservatives are advocating for private health care, after health critic Barry Petten called for nurse practitioners to be paid through the province’s Medical Care Plan (MCP). Petten spoke on the topic in the House of Assembly on Monday, saying the move to pay nurse practitioners in the same way as family physicians would allow for more care options in communities that need a doctor. In response, Health Minister Tom Osborne told the House it sounded like Petten was calling for privatized health care.”

31) International/Italy: The trade unions have staged a sit in at Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, to protest the possible privatization of the Italian postal service. “The current government’s recent proposal for further privatization—write the trade unions—risks compromising not only the future of the company in terms of employment with a reduction in staff employed, but also the economic stability of Italy. In fact, thanks to the profits generated, the government has collected around 200 million euros in dividends this year, which it would lose every year if the sale of the entire shares held by the MEF were completed. This sale, against immediate proceeds of around 4 billion, would lead to a reduction in public debt of just 185 million euros, a drop in the sea.”

32) International/Nigeria: The Independent of Nigeria reports that “the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) have described the power sector privatisation of the Federal Government as a colossal failure, insisting it remains the worst policy mistake implemented by successive governments. Both unions, while mobilizing their members in their thousands to the streets of state capitals and Abuja on Monday, to picket the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), and Electricity Distribution Companies offices, lamented that the Tinubu-led administration was further compounding woes in the sector through what they described as arbitrary increment without due consultation with relevant stakeholders.”

33) International/United Kingdom: “How can a child in care cost £281,000 a year? Ask the wealth funds that have councils over a barrel,” says Guardian columnist George Monbiot. “Who are these lucky companies? An Observer investigation found many of them are private equity, venture capital and sovereign wealth funds. Among the owners are the state of Qatar and the emirate of Abu Dhabi, whose care company in the UK, mostly investing in special schools, made 26.5% profits in 2022. Our government believes it is unacceptable for the Telegraph newspaper to be bought by the United Arab Emirates but acceptable for essential public services to be owned for profit by this cluster of dictatorships. (…) How could we have reached this point, in which the exchange of children for profit has been normalized and generalized? Well, by following the dominant, poisonous ideology of our times—neoliberalism—to its logical conclusion: that everything, regardless of inherent value, can be bought and sold.”


34) National/Alabama: Reuters reports that the United Auto Workers’ unsuccessful effort to organize a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama “was a good result for a first effort in a historically anti-union state, labor professors and analysts said. (…) The defeat at Mercedes does not preclude the UAW from trying to organize other plants in the South, or eventually trying again at Mercedes, said Peter Bible, a former General Motors executive who was involved in labor talks with the UAW. ‘They’ll be back,’ he said, adding that the UAW actually attracted more votes than he expected given the plant’s location in the South. Worker uncertainty over the auto industry’s transition to electric vehicles will only provide more opportunities for the union, Bible added. The UAW earlier this year committed $40 million to organizing more than a dozen non-union automakers, including Toyota.”

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