1) NationalCapital and Main has launched a new investigative project examining detention deaths, “just as ICE signals a move toward even less openness than it has previously displayed.” A recent piece tells the story of “The Lonely Death of Moises Tino Lopez,” reporting that “in recent years ICE has come under fire for alleged substandard medical care in detention centers and in county jails.” The Houston Chronicle reported on Friday that immigration detention deaths have reached the highest total since 2009. “Since ICE was created in 2003, 85 detention centers nationwide have reported a total of 176 deaths. Seventeen facilities have had three or more deaths, including eight at the CoreCivic detention center in Houston and 15 at the CoreCivic-owned Eloy Correctional Center in Arizona.”

2) National: President Trump holds a “listening session” on “prison reform” with right wing politicians, think tanks, and Koch Industries. The discussion excluded sentencing reform, which could impact the bottom lines of private, for-profit prison companies. Newsweek reported that “excluding organizations that are seen as liberal, like the ACLU or the NAACP, and leaving out sentencing reform was necessary to gain the support of ‘old guard conservatives’ like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who will also attend the meeting, the conservative leader said. ‘Reading the tea leaves, I think what they’ve done is sat down with Mr. Sessions and got him to agree to part of the reforms,’ said the conservative leader, who requested anonymity in order to freely discuss the issue.” The Koch initiative on criminal justice has been called a “Trojan Horse.” Whatever PR value White House officials thought the short event would have was obliterated by breaking news that Trump made racist comments in a meeting on immigration.

3) National: The GEO Group has settled the sexual harassment claims of 16 female former corrections officers who said they faced a range of verbal and physical abuse at the company. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Arizona Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General’s Office (ACRD) charged GEO with many “forms of sexual harassment and retaliation occurring in the years between 2006 and 2012.” The EEOC and ACRD “also charged that GEO retaliated against female employees when they complained of the harassment. The EEOC and ACRD charged that when women complained or sought help from GEO, the company would discipline the women, force them to quit, fire them, or place them in unsafe conditions in the prison.” Geo must also send “letters of regret to the women and provide employment references for them, according to the EEOC.” On its website, GEO says “GEO doesn’t just provide a job, GEO provides employees with a career they can feel good about.”

4) National: Spencer Woodman reports in The Intercept that CoreCivic, the private, for-profit prison company, “continues to send ICE detainees to solitary confinement for refusing voluntary labor.” Woodman’s account is disturbing. “‘Sometimes I think I will be mentally sick,’ Ahmed said of his time in isolation. ‘I feel pain in my head.’ In addition to severe isolation, Ahmed spoke of being subjected to restrictive treatment in segregation that might be more expected for a violent and volatile criminal than for an immigration detainee under punishment for encouraging a work stoppage.”

5) National/KentuckyWired’s Susan Crawford reports that the Koch brothers have launched a drive to block public broadband. “Bad news for internet access—the Koch brothers are fighting low-cost open fiber nets. Look what happened in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a city of about 750,000, the largest in the state. Earlier this year, the city noticed that the state of Kentucky was funding a ‘middle mile’ fiber network designed to connect the state’s 120 counties and provide cheaper connectivity for municipal buildings—KentuckyWired. As part of the project, Louisville—also known as Jefferson County—would be able to run 100 miles of fiber alongside the state network for just the cost of materials. That seemed like a great deal to Louisville.”

6) National/International: In an in-depth report, Julia Kassem of Truthout how private water companies are cashing in on water crises through ‘public private partnerships’ here and abroad. “Across the US, cost-cutting municipalities are looking to private companies and contractors to fix aging infrastructure. However, these privatization practices contribute to increased water bills and jeopardize water quality, endangering one of residents’ most basic needs. We can gain some perspective on the consequences of water privatization by looking to a glaring overseas example: In Lebanon, mismanagement of infrastructure has provided ample opportunity for privatization to proliferate. In both cases, the pursuit of privatization comes from cash-strapped places prioritizing cost-cutting over resource conservation and quality.”

7) National: Criminalization of the opioid crisis is driving private prison profits at the state level, says Jason Rhode in Salon. “While most of the coverage on private prisons has focused on the federal contracts, the administration’s rhetoric on reviving the war on drugs is starting to have a domino effect at the state level. Most recently, in Kentucky, the state signed a contract with CoreCivic to reopen a shuttered prison—the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville—and move about 800 inmates there. The opioid crisis in Kentucky pushed state policymakers to draft more draconian drug penalties that played a role in increasing its prison population to a record high of more than 24,000 inmates. With full prisons and jails, Kentucky felt it had no choice but to contract with CoreCivic to house almost 1,000 men it doesn’t have room to keep behind bars.”

8) National: The Campaign Legal Center has filed suit against the FCC for failing to act on what it claims were illegal campaign contributions to the Trump campaign by the GEO Group. “Mark Gaber, one of the CLC attorneys that filed the lawsuit, told IBT that GEO Group’s donations were a ‘brazen’ violation of campaign finance law. ‘It appears that a large contribution directly led to a policy change,’ Gaber told IBT. ‘These laws are intended to stop the public’s money from being spent on something that isn’t smart simply because of large campaign contributions.’” GEO Group denies it did anything illegal.

9) Arizona: A horrible story out of the state prison system involving for-profit Corizon Correctional Healthcare: “A major problem with private companies providing health care in prisons is that the company has an incentive to provide as little expensive care as possible in order to boost their profits, prisoner advocates say.” ACLU Action reports that “Corizon has been sued 660 times for malpractice over the last half-decade.”

10) California: Donald Cohen of In the Public Interest raises a critical question about a criminal case now unfolding in Los Angeles involving a senior executive, Ref Rodriguez, at a charter school organization. “If the charter school group that Rodriguez cofounded, Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC), hadn’t held itself accountable, would we have ever found out about his potential conflict of interest?,” he asks. And Cohen also says “there’s another pot of money we should be looking at while we’re at it. Last spring, In the Public Interest found that of the hundreds of millions of public dollars going to California charter school groups annually to lease, build, and buy school buildings, much is spent with little oversight or accountability due to inadequate state policy.” [Report: The Failure of Policy Planning in California’s Charter School Facility Funding]

11) California: In a packed Fairfield meeting room, Solano County Office of Education trustees (SCOE) voted 4-3 last Wednesday to deny the petition submitted by ELITE Public Schools Countywide Charter School. “During the meeting that lasted more than four hours, which included more than 60 speakers, a small group of educators cheered after the result.”

12) Florida: Florida prisoners launched a month-long strike yesterday to protest against unpaid labor, which they say is tantamount to slavery. “News of the action spread after a statement was posted on SPARC (Supporting Prisoners and Real Change), a Facebook page used by Florida prisoners and their families. The statement was compiled from a series of messages sent by prisoners to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee’s Gainesville chapter and the national Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons.” [Prisoners’ statement]. In These Times reports “African-Americans make up about a third of Florida’s prison population, despite accounting for only about 17 percent of the state’s overall population. Calling their movement Operation Push, after Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1970s campaign to improve the economic status of African-Americans, the state’s inmates are fighting against the Department of Corrections’ price-gouging practices and Florida’s elimination of parole as well as its use of unpaid labor by prisoners.”

13) Florida: A judge has denied the West Palm Beach school board’s request to temporarily halt a $7 million payment to local charter schools. The payment must be made but the case will continue. “In a statement, School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw said that this ‘is just the beginning. We will continue to fight to protect local school board constitutional rights to control and operate our schools, and that includes making sure that every penny is properly spent with our oversightand not put into the hands of private property owners and managers.’”

14) Indiana: Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) pushed for a major effort to streamline water infrastructure planning and development in his state of the state address last week. “Holcomb also outlined plans to complete section 5 of Interstate 69 inTuesday’s speech. The 21-mile project, beset with construction delays and funding woes tied to the developers, is expected to be completed before August. In August, the state completed a settlement agreement to take over a road project that’s been cited as an example of the pitfalls of public-private partnerships. The state used proceeds from a $180 million in highway revenue bonds it issued last summer to retire the developer’s private-activity bonds.” It will be interesting to see if, in light of Indiana’s having been burned in the I-69 ‘public private partnership’ road deal, lawmakers will push for water infrastructure privatization or PPPs.

15) Maryland: After being blocked for 45 minutes from commenting, parents and other community members expressed outrage at a board meeting last week over freezing kids in Baltimore public schools, singling out Republic Governor Larry Hogan for chronic underfunding. “We are one of the poorest jurisdictions in the state of Maryland, and we depend on state funding. If the funding protocols don’t accommodate the fact that I don’t have a big bank account, right? That I can write advanced checks on, then the funding protocols need to change. Don’t be sending us a little stupid 2.3 million dollar check, when you rescinded over 65 million dollars in projects.”  [Video]

Amid the freezing temperatures, Baltimore teachers have been fighting to democratize the city’s schools. “Alongside CEDE is another grassroots teacher-run effort and BTU caucus, the Baltimore Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (BMORE). Inspired by the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike, BMORE describes part of its mission as ‘working to transform the BTU from a service union to a social justice union.’”

16) New Jersey: The N.J. State Employees Deferred Compensation Plan increased its investment in the imprisonment-for-profit GEO Group from 21,000 to 36,000 shares in Third Quarter 2017. The plan “is administered by Prudential Financial.”

17) New Jersey: Trenton’s newly renovated $17 million International Academy charter school faces a potential shutdown. “Charter schools must demonstrate strong academic performance and are held accountable for student outcomes,” the state DOE says on its website. “If a charter school violates any provision of its charter or fails to meet the standards set forth (in) its charter agreement or the Performance Framework, then the charter school may be closed.” 

18) New York: The State University of New York, trying to navigate underlying tensions in Buffalo between charters and traditional public schools, has granted a five-year charter renewal to the King Center Charter School despite requests from the city for a three-year moratorium on new charter schools. But the state “also recommended that another Buffalo school—Oracle Charter School on Delaware Avenue—not have its charter renewed and close at the end o
f the school year in June. The school’s appeal will be heard January 25.”

19) Ohio: The largest charter school failure in the state’s history is looming as “the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online school, notified parents they could suspend operations January 19 as they work out issues with their sponsor, Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West. The sponsor has said ECOT’s finances won’t keep it open through the school year considering a ruling that it repay the state $60 million for over-reporting student attendance. ECOT contests that ruling.”

20) Ohio: The Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio raised its investment in CoreCivic by 30.7% during the third quarter of 2017.

21) Pennsylvania: The elected leaders of Grant Township are standing up against the powerful energy industry to defend the public interest lawyers who are leading their tiny town’s effort to defend itself from toxic frack wastewater injection by private industry. The lawyers have been sanctioned by a federal judge for over $50,000. “Today, the Grant Township Supervisors issued a public statement, firing back at the federal court and [Pennsylvania General Energy], writing, ‘We changed our system of government to save ourselves because no one else would or could.’ Read their full statement below.” Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, says “the issue here is whether people should have the right to control what goes on in their communities, or whether corporations should have the right to ‘use your community as a toilet.’”

22) Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia School Partnership, PA Coalition of Public Charter Schools and Excellent Schools PA held a Philadelphia Charter Operations Conference last Thursday. Attendees learned of the top five mistakes and top five best practices of charter school administrators.

23) International: Shockwaves are going through the privatization industry from the news that the multibillion dollar U.K.-based public works and public services contractor Carillion has collapsed, forcing the British government to step in and leaving workers and the public anxious about the future. ‘Public private partnership’ industry advocates often assert that the possibility of company collapse is remote and/or that the public will not suffer the consequences if they go down, as they do. The collapse has led even former senior Conservative officials to call for a major inquiry into ‘public private partnership’ contracts, called the Private Finance Initiative in Britain. Carillion provided outsourced services for schools, hospitals, prisons and the army, and was wildly overleveraged.

The opposition Labour Party is accusing the government of failing to properly oversee the outsourcing giant. Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “Given £2bn worth of government contracts were awarded in the time three profit warnings were given by Carillion, a serious investigation needs to be launched into the government’s handling of this matter.” (The chairman of Carillion was a ‘Corporate Responsibility Advisor’ to Prime Minister Theresa May). The public services union Unite “also expressed concern about the impact on the wider supply chain, warning that many small firms were now at serious risk of collapse. ‘PwC must put workers and suppliers at the head of the queue for payment, not the banks and certainly not the Carillion boardroom,’ Unite said.” PwC is the receiver.

In September, it was reported that Carillion executives took steps to protect their million dollar bonuses in the event the company ran into difficulties. At the time they were reportedly dumping their company’s equity in ‘public private partnership’ projects and trading their contracts “at zero margin.” [Sub required] For the wider implications, see Paul Mason’s comment.

24) International: Reed Larson, a Canadian adviser to institutional investors, takes aim at Canada’s new infrastructure bank. “Canada can borrow long term money at 3% or so for infrastructure investment that afterwards [Canadians] own, Instead Trudeau Libs create a privatization bank so global 1%’ers can co-invest with the govt and earn 7 or 8%, with all of the losses assumed by the [Canadian] taxpayer, w no ownership.”

25) International: The “slave labor” scandal affecting the for-profit prison industry in the U.S. has spread abroad, as the GEO Group is being targeted for “paying asylum seekers in Scotland just £1 an hour in wages.” But “now lawyers acting for the detainees are preparing a legal challenge against the low-paid work scheme. Labour peer Lord Rosser, a shadow home affairs spokesperson, said: ‘These numbers are a shocking admission of the continued use of underpaid detainees instead of paid staff in Immigration Centers. Who pockets the millions from this use of under-paid labor? Is it the Government itself, or is it a year round gift to the companies who run these detention centers?’”

26) Think Tanks/North Carolina: A new report from Duke University’s Helen F. Ladd and University of Rochester’s John D. Singleton “uses North Carolina data to conclusively show the negative impact charter schools have on the finances of traditional, inclusive public schools. The report confirms what traditional, inclusive public school advocates have been saying for years: charter schools drain resources from our public school system.” [The Fiscal Externalities of Charter Schools: Evidence from North Carolina]

Legislative Issues

1) National: As many legislative sessions begin, state lawmakers are attempting to come to grips with the damaging effects of the new Trump/GOP tax law, which will affect public infrastructure and services. The tax changes could have an important impact on education. “Some state tax credits already are being used to undermine public education and the new federal cap on state and local tax deductions could exacerbate that problem, according to Matt Gardner, a senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Gardner pointed to South Carolina’s 100% tax credit for scholarships to private schools as an example. ‘The pretty clear implication is that allegedly charitable donations can be a profit center for Americans who are rich enough to make them,’ he said.” [Sub required]

2) National: IHS Global Insight, the prominent economic analysis firm, expects that an infrastructure plan will emerge soon in spite of difficulties, probably in February after Trump’s State of the Union address. Trump is reportedly opposed to ‘public private partnerships’ because he thinks they don’t work and because they don’t provide flexibility and publicity-value, while the PPP industry is lobbying hard for them. “Trump’s new aversion to private-public projects stems in part from the failure of similar projects at the state level. Administration officials have also recently mentioned that Trump favors more direct federal pending to take on larger-scale projects like ‘giant bridges and tunnels that people remember.’ The amount of federal spending could dictate which states and types of areas will benefit. With more direct federal spending, dollars could be distributed to many different areas (one bipartisan work group suggested a ‘rural liaison’ to help those areas seek funding). Conversely, if funds are contingent on states and localities creating new revenue streams to match funds, certain states and metropolitan areas may be better positioned to leverage funds.” [IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis January 12, 2018; sub required]

Democrats seem to be playing ball. “President Trump said public-private partnerships are not the answer to everything. He’s right about that,” Henry Cisneros, Clinton’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said last week.

3) Kentucky: Lucy Waterbury (@lucywaterbury), Vice President of Legislative Response for Save Our Schools and a stalwart supporter of public education and opponent of privatization, has been waging a determined battle to block tax credits for private schools [against HB 134/SB 36]. Kentucky PTA says the bills “represent the privatization of public schools in Kentucky and will be devastating to public education funding. These measures will further drain revenue from public schools”

4) Maryland: Reporting from Annapolis, The Real News looks at allegations of corruption involving the bail industry, and demands by citizen activists that Maryland legislators freeze out the industry from pushing anti-reform legislation in the upcoming session. “These accounts of bribery make my job as an advocate very, very hard because I work diligently to help restore folks’ confidence in government,” said Nicole Hansen. [Video]


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