1) National: A bipartisan majority of lawmakers have handed Trump a defeat on his privatization agenda for schools and prisons by passing an omnibus funding bill “rejecting [Betsy DeVos’] attempt to spend more than $1 billion promoting choice-friendly policies and private school vouchers.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a statement “in sharp contrast to the devastating cuts called for in the Trump budget, the omnibus contains robust funding to combat homelessness, create new affordable housing and promote community development. (…) Democrats ensured no increase in detention beds, no new ICE deportation agents and no defunding sanctuary cities. Instead of the $25 billion the President wanted for his immoral and ineffective border wall, he’s getting only $641 million for new pedestrian fencing and levees.” Adding teeth to their rejection of DeVos’ agenda, the lawmakers “inserted language forbidding her from making fundamental changes in her own department’s budget office.”

But Education historian Diane Ravitch says “Too bad that the federal government will put more money into charters. Democrats still fail to realize the dangers of privatization posed by privately managed charters, which take public money but fight accountability and oversight. Nor do they seem alarmed that public schools are being eliminated in cities like Indianapolis and Washington, D.C.

2) National: Also under the Omnibus budget bill, Trump was forced to sign on to a $10 billion increase in infrastructure spending his administration opposed. “Many of the infrastructure programs that Congress added money for were targeted by the administration to be zeroed out, including the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program, which gets $2.6 billion. Highway Trust Fund spending will increase by $1 billion to $45 billion and discretionary highway funding will increase another $2.5 billion above the 2017 spending levels. In addition, Community Development Block Grants will increase by $300 million compared to 2017 to $3.3 billion.” [Sub required]

3) National: Also under the Omnibus budget bill, The HOME Investment Partnerships Program will increase by $412 million to $1.4 billion for local governments to create affordable housing in partnership with private investors. That is the program’s highest funding in seven years. Los Angeles is considering an ambitious proposal to deal with an urgent and growing homelessness crisis.

4) National/Florida: As hundreds of thousands gather in multiple cities across the country and the world to demand an assault weapons ban, ban on high capacity magazines, and closing the loophole in background check laws, a question has arisen on who pays for school safety officers? The Leon County board of education and Charter Schools USA, which operates Governors Charter Academy in Tallahassee, are now locked in a dispute “over who should fund a school resource officer at the charter school in the wake of the Parkland massacre.”

5) National: Using a Georgia Open Records Act request, The Intercept obtains photos that it says contradict CoreCivic’s claim that it doesn’t use solitary confinement for ICE detainees. “‘Whatever they call it, this cell can only be used for solitary confinement,’ said Juan Méndez, a professor of human rights law in residence at American University, who previously served as the United Nations special rapporteur on torture. ‘It is clearly unsuitable for more than a few hours,’ Méndez said of the cell.”

6) National/Montana: After buying back its water system from Carlyle, Karen Knudsen, the director of the Clark Coalition, spells out the benefits of public ownership of infrastructure. “In Missoula, we are reaping the benefits from public ownership of our priceless water assets. Decisions about our water are made right here in town, not in a distant boardroom. Instead of short-term profits, our priority is long-term water security, a critical concern in the era of climate change. We don’t have to worry about rates going up to fatten investors’ wallets, and there are less tangible benefits, including a more intimate connection to the resource on which all life depends. So here’s our advice: If your community hopes Trump’s infrastructure bill will fix your water system, be sure to read the fine print. And if you’re lucky enough to control your own water, never give it up without a fight.”

7) National/Washington State: The GEO Group is suing the City of Tacoma over zoning changes to keep its immigration center open. “Last year, the City of Tacoma adopted an Interim Emergency Ordinance, placing restrictions on zoning that would hinge on the difference between a correctional facility and a detention facility, rendering the use of NWDC for immigration-related holdings a violation of City regulations.”

8) National: Doug Henwood interviews Jennifer Berkshire on the West Virginia teachers strike and more. Berkshire is writing a book on education and politics in the Trump era. [Audio]

9) National/California: The EEOC is suing a Palmdale charter school for paying a female math tutor less than her male counterpart. “‘Ensuring that women receive equal pay for equal work is one of the EEOC’s strategic enforcement priorities,’ said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District. ‘There is no excuse for employers underpaying someone simply because of her gender.’”

10) Arizona: A charter school scandal is so bad that even the president of the state charter board denounced it. “This is probably one of the most egregious, most outrageous things I’ve ever read about a charter school,” said Kathy Senseman, President of the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools. “This case ‘is the poster child of basically what’s wrong with charter schools in Arizona,’ said Jim Hall, Founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability. Hall said 17 charter schools, including Starshine, spend more money per student on administration and facilities than in the classroom.”

11) FloridaThe Miami New Times reports, based on a report from UnKoch My Campus, that “as part of a program funded by the Charles Koch Instit
ute and the Boca-based private-prison giant the GEO Group,” a White Nationalist professor “gets paid to spout his ideas to inmates at GEO’s South Bay Correctional Facility.”

12) Florida: Flawed traffic estimates, which led to the bankruptcy of a Garcon Point toll bridge, continue to produce headaches as the state struggles to bring the bridge out of bankruptcy amid creditor disputes. “The debt has been in payment default since January 2012 because toll income doesn’t cover debt service on the revenue bonds. The toll bridge never met traffic projections.” [Sub required]

13) Florida: The Florida Constitutional Revision Commission is wading into education issues, and controversy is boiling up. The commission is considering allowing a state-level charter school authorizer, an idea that was previously struck down as unconstitutional by an appellate court. Commission member Patricia Levesque, who runs Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, is urging her colleagues to support the change. “Removing local control over the students, schools and tax dollars raised a concern for [Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart] and others, though. ‘We risk giving this broad authority to the legislature, not knowing what might happen,’ former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner said. ‘This proposal goes too far, and risks destroying our public school system.’ In the end, the commission agreed to send the item forward for revisions and final consideration.”

Also, a constitutional revision to enable high performing public schools to compete with charter schools by loosening the rules they have to follow is possible, and has educators apprehensive. The Florida Education Association “said they’ve become increasingly worried about the prospect that loosened hiring regulations could allow district schools to  hire less qualified teachers, or could mean the districts would have the power to circumvent previously negotiated contracts for teachers’ salaries and benefits. ‘We’re really concerned about mainly the quality of the educators they will hire,’ said Sharon Nesvig, spokesperson for the FEA. ‘It’s cheaper to hire someone that’s not a certified teacher and if they’re trying to save money like these for-profit schools, they’re looking at their bottom line and that’s no way to educate kids.’”

14) Idaho: A new charter school that is to open in Kuna in the fall “will affect the Kuna school district’s 2018-19 budget, and the district is already making staff cuts and other adjustments. (…) Until PiSA’s enrollment is finalized following its lottery (April 3), the Kuna School District will not know the financial impact to its budget. However, the district has cut 10 certified teaching staff (different from classroom teachers) and some staff such as para-professionals and office staff.”

15) Illinois: Elon Musk’s Boring Company and a group put together by Loop Capital Markets will compete for a contract to design, finance, build, and manage an express line from downtown Chicago to O’Hare airport, expected to cost from $1-3 billion. “Chicago’s service level goals are travel times of 20 minutes or less with service frequency of at least every 15 minutes for the majority of the day. Premium service fares must be ‘reasonable’ and less than the cost of current taxi and ride-share services. Any proposal must also address how potential impacts on existing transportation systems and the environment would be avoided or minimized. (…) The city has stressed that no taxpayer funds will go toward the project, so it must be funded solely by project-specific revenues such as fares or advertising and financed entirely by the developer.”

16) Indiana: A charter school in South Bend is unsure of its future after Ball State University cancels its charter for failing to meet financial and academic performance standards. The Xavier School of Excellence will seek a new authorizer. “‘The (state) legislature did not intend for this to be common is my reading of the intent when that statute was written,’ said [James Betley, executive director of the Indiana Charter School Board ], of the statute lawmakers wrote several years ago to prevent charter schools from ‘authorizer shopping.’”

17) Louisiana: A New Orleans charter school’s elementary school charters could be revoked for failing to provide free transportation to its students. “The school district and the charter organization have sparred over transportation requirements since last fall, when the district told Einstein it wasn’t following the rules on providing free transportation to elementary students. Einstein has argued it does provide free transportation because it gives students public-transit passes if they ask for them. The matter is now in court.” The decision to revoke the charters could be taken by May.

18) Nevada: For the first time, officials are closing a charter school for poor performance. “Approximately 140 students will have to find new homerooms in the fall. (…) Argent was a hybrid charter school, where students could attend traditional classes but also work online through distance education.”

19) New Mexico/National: As private landowners are stringing barbed wire across rivers, a legal battle is looming over the issue of access to public waterways. “Prohibiting access from the public is privatizing what has been historically ours, and the way this happened is chilling,” says Robert Levin, New Mexico director of the American Canoe Association. “The process was hasty and moved through more quickly than it should have been. From a recreation standpoint on this, you start to worry about an erosion of inclusion.”

20) New YorkThe Wall Street Journal has run a two-part sympathetic series on the controversial Success Academy charter school operation headed by Eva Moskowitz. “The Success Academy network has grown to 46 schools in New York City serving 15,500 students, who are mostly poor and nearly all black or Hispanic. Its founder, Eva Moskowitz, has long championed her charters as orderly, rigorous escapes from failing district schools. But teachers union leaders and other critics charge that her charters impose excessive discipline and systematically nudge out struggling students, claims that Ms. Moskowitz disputes. Advocates for traditional public schools also say the expanding charter network drains resources from them, because charters get per-pupil funding from the city’s educa
tion budget, and, in some cases, facilities aid.”

21) North Carolina: McKenna Urbanski, a student at the University of North Carolina, which is a public institution, says that outsourcing food services to Aramark undermines what UNC stands for. “As a school that claims to hold diversity and inclusivity among students and staff, how can it confidently maintain a contract with Aramark? This company recently served students at NYU a special meal to celebrate Black History Month which boasted red Kool-Aid, watermelon infused water, collard greens and ribs. The perpetuation and normalization of racist stereotyping by Aramark corporation was uncalled for, inappropriate, but not entirely shocking, as they have a long list of missteps that persist today.” Urbanski writes, “In a list ranking of the top ten companies who pay workers the least, Aramark came in sixth place with a revenue of $14.7 billion, CEO compensation $32.4 million and the average cashier’s hourly wage reaching a mere $9 per hour.”

22) North Carolina: A new financial services company focused only on charter schools is already buying up property. Charter School Capital has announced “that its facilities arm, American Education Properties (AEP), has acquired the Sandhills Theatre Arts Renaissance School (STARS) facility, located at 140 Southern Dunes Drive, Vass, NC., for $2.2 million. The transaction was executed on March 14, 2018. As part of the acquisition, Charter School Capital has assumed the existing 20-year lease on the four buildings on the property, built in 2006, with three five-year renewal options. (…) Following AEP’s a­­­­cquisition of the existing school building and adjacent land, STARS began on March 18, 2018, a two-phase plan to expand the school and add additional capacity to increase its enrollment.”

23) Ohio/Think Tanks: Howard Fleeter, a veteran state school-funding analyst and chief consultant for the Ohio Education Policy Institute says that the state is nowhere near the second place national raking in equitable school funding that John King’s Education Trust said it is. “Fleeter said Education Trust unintentionally inflated Ohio’s per-pupil funding in high-poverty urban districts because of an error in accounting for charter school students. When adjusting for the error, Fleeter said, Ohio actually ranks 32nd nationally in funding for districts with high concentrations of students in poverty.”

24) Oregon/National: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) warns energy secretary Rick Perry about  plans to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration. “The Bonneville Power Administration has provided affordable, clean power to Oregon families and businesses and our neighbors throughout the Northwest for generations, Wyden said. I told the Bush administration, George W. Bush, that Bonneville wasn’t going to get sold on my watch. And it isn’t going to get sold now either. So I just want to put you on notice.”

25) Puerto Rico: IEEE Spectrum, the prominent electrical engineering professional journal, publishes “Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s Power Grid: The Inside Story.” Maria Gallucci, the 2017–2018 Energy Journalism Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, reports that “Efrain O’Neill-Carrillo, a power expert at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, says that while privatization seemed inevitable, he worries that selling off PREPA’s centralized fossil-fuel plants risks locking in the existing system and slowing momentum toward renewable and distributed energy projects. ‘Those new owners will want to maximize their investments. They would like to sell kilowatt-hours,’ he says. ‘I’m not sure you’ll get many investors willing to buy those assets just to play a supporting role [on the grid].’”

26) Tennessee/National: Chris Brooks and Rebecca Kolins Givan report on how a scrappy campus union saved Tennessee from privatization. “Terry Cowles, director of the Office of Customer Focused Government—a department launched by [Gov.] Haslam as part of his plan to run the state like a business—has bragged on video that 15 other state governments ‘from all over the country’ were watching to see whether Tennessee’s experiment in wholesale privatization might be worth importing. What the privatizers didn’t plan for was the United Campus Workers (UCW), a scrappy higher education union affiliated with the Communication Workers of America (CWA).” The plan was based on a contract with Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). On last year’s proxy statement (p. 48; the new one should be out shortly), JLL Inc. reported 2014-2016 executive compensation totaling an eye-popping $98,297,797.

27) Utah: A network of charter schools, American Preparatory Academy, or APA, in West Valley City, “is facing backlash over its top administrator’s use of social media, including a February statement that criticized illegal immigration for fueling a drug ‘scourge.’ (…) Tayler Khater, a former APA teacher who now works at Skyline High School, said he was ‘disgusted’ by the immigration-related post. But he said it was indicative of longstanding attitudes by [Carolyn Sharette, executive director of APA] toward racial and cultural diversity. ‘In terms of top-down attitude, it was easily the most racist place I have ever worked,’ Khater said of APA.

28) International: European Union ‘public private partnerships’ are not economically viable, say auditors, and “only have limited benefits, resulting in billions of euros in inefficient spending.” PSI Deputy General Secretary, David Boys said “for decades trade unions, civil society groups and the wider public fought against the failed privatization agenda. Now that the EU’s very own financial watchdog is clearly saying PPPs are a bad idea, it’s surely time for leaders to take note.” Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, a group working to end poverty caused by unjust debt, said “this damning report should be the final nail in the coffin for public private partnerships, which have continually shown to be a hugely expensive, inefficient and high risk way to deliver public infrastructure and services. The EU, UK and World Bank must learn the lessons from their failure in Europe, including here in the UK, and stop promoting this false solution for financing public services around the world,’ she added.

29) International: The New Zealand governmen
t has announced the ending of charter schools, with Minister for Education Chris Hipkins calling them “a failed, expensive experiment.” The announcement was welcomed by the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) and the Post Primary Teachers’ Association, both affiliates of Education International (EI). NZEI National Secretary Paul Goulter said that charter schools were a “failed experiment—integrating them back into the state school system is good for kids and teachers because kids in mainstream state schools do better.”

30) International: Are we about to get a public-private financing meltdown lesson from Chinese corporate overexposure to dubious ‘public-private partnerships’? Are Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross still hoping to leverage $1.3 trillion of private financing for the Trump infrastructure plan? What could possibly go wrong?

31) Revolving Door News: Former GM and Microsoft executive Christopher Liddell is appointed White House deputy chief of staff for policy coordination. “Liddell, who also worked on the Trump transition effort, is also working on projects in the White House Office of American Innovation created in March 2017 to leverage business ideas and potentially privatize some government functions as the White House pushes to shrink government.”

Legislative Issues

1) Georgia: A charter school funding bill is advancing through the Senate, but gives less money than a previous version. “‘Unfortunately, this morning the Senate Education and Youth Committee passed a gutted bill that would actually furnish less equitable funding to our public charter schools and imposes unreasonable measures of accountability,’ said Tony Roberts, president and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Even Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle didn’t agree with his own committee’s amendments and said he was ‘optimistic’ the Senate would change the bill again ‘to restore equitable funding’ for state charter schools.”

2) Louisiana: Tensions flare between lawmakers during a debate about charter schools. “[Democratic New Orleans Rep. Joseph Bouie] complained that charter schools badly need scrutiny, and that African American students were suffering as a result of the charter school ‘experiment.’ ‘This is the big elephant in the room,’ Bouie said. ‘It appears the only place the benign neglect occurs is a majority African American district.’” [Video]

3) Michigan: The House has decided to let charter schools share in a district’s millage votes. “Legislators on Thursday voted 56-53 to pass an amendment to the General Property Tax Act allowing districts to describe charter schools as ‘public schools’ on ballots. The initiative now heads to the Senate and follows a January law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder to let charter schools receive revenue from certain voter-approved property tax hikes.”


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