Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods. Not a subscriber? Subscribe here for free.
- In Maryland, library workers are on the move.
- In a major victory for working families, a New York appellate court has tossed out Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to privatize Medicare services.
- Why is the AARP welcoming the privatization of Medicare?
First, the good news…
1) National/Florida: Gulf Coast rail is to resume as a 17-year dispute is resolved, Route Fifty reports. “Amtrak and two freight railroads reached a last-minute agreement to restart passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast Tuesday, ending for now a years-long standoff that could have affected the Biden administration’s plans to expand passenger service throughout the country. ‘The parties filed a motion today informing the Surface Transportation Board that a settlement agreement has been reached and asking that the case be held in abeyance while the parties execute the various conditions of that settlement agreement,’ wrote Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern and the Alabama State Port Authority in a joint statement. They said they could not provide any details of the agreement at this time.”
“The freight railroads, which own the track that the new trains would use, wanted Amtrak to foot the bill for major track renovations along the 120-mile route. At one point, CSX estimated that the cost of those improvements would be $440 million.” But will these be good jobs based on local hire?
2) National: National charter school enrollment has gone flat after gains during the pandemic, Chalkbeat reports. “Some of the gains in charter school enrollment have been attributed to explosive growth among virtual charter schools, which have drawn some criticism and questions about their quality. [Debbie Veney of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, a lobbying group] pointed to Oklahoma as one state with a large virtual charter school enrollment, adding it was a place where the spiking pandemic gains “did some right sizing.” The NAPCS report did not compare enrollment changes between virtual and brick-and-mortar charter schools because not all states made distinctions in their data, she added. In ten other states, virtual school enrollment continued to climb in the most recent school year, The 74 reported. (The report did not break out enrollment in virtual charter schools.) Veney said the large number of students leaving public education altogether was alarming.”
3) California: A new state law which will take effect in July provides workers at private employers and their family members with continued access to health coverage during a strike. “The new law comes after Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital notified union leaders in April that nurses who went on strike risked losing pay and health benefits. Additionally, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 829, who went on strike this year at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, Calif., received a similar notification. Under the new law, workers at private employers may maximize state subsidies for coverage purchased through California’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California, if they lose coverage during a labor dispute, according to Kaiser Health News.”
4) Georgia: Thanks to a ruling by the state Supreme Court, voters began voting on Saturday in the Senate contest between Sen. Raphael Warnock (GA) and Trump-backed candidate Herschel Walker. “When the secretary of state’s office declined to appeal to the state’s top court, Republican organizations filed the emergency petition. The lawsuit was initially filed last week by Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign, the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who argued that the secretary of state’s office was misapplying a law and that having more voting opportunities is a benefit for busy people who work weekdays.”
5) Maryland: Environmental advocates are calling on Governor-Elect Wes Moore (D) to roll back state funding for the fossil fuel industry. “Contrary to Maryland’s climate and clean energy goals, the Maryland Energy Administration has announced $9.25 million in grants for expanding natural gas infrastructure in the state, angering environmentalists who have called the move a handout to the fossil fuel industry at ratepayer’s expense. The MEA grant announcement came the day after Maryland became one of four states in the midterm elections that chose Democratic governors and Democrats to run both houses of their state legislatures, enhancing what climate activists saw as the potential to make rapid progress on global warming.”
6) Maryland: Library workers are on the move. “In the latest in a wave of successful organization efforts, workers at the Enoch Pratt Free Library have voted to unionize, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. By a 218-12 vote on Friday, workers at the Baltimore library organized as Pratt Workers United, which will bargain on behalf of about 330 employees at the system’s 22 branches. The vote comes about ten months after their counterparts in Baltimore County unionized, joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Similarly, in July, workers at the Baltimore Museum of Art opted to join AFSCME.”
7) New York: In a major victory for working families, an appellate court has tossed out Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to privatize Medicare services. ““Nothing in the statutory text or history supports (the administration’s) interpretation,” the two-page ruling stated. The decision marks a victory for the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees, a grassroots group of retired EMTs, firefighters, cops and other city workers who have argued an Advantage plan would water down their health coverage. They’ve pointed to federal studies that show Advantage plans can block beneficiaries from ‘medically necessary care’ while pressing the case that traditional Medicare is more reliable. The retiree organization filed the lawsuit that prompted Frank’s initial March decision, and Marianne Pizzitola, an ex-FDNY EMT who serves as the group’s president, praised the appellate court for ensuring ‘justice prevailed in a true David vs. Goliath story.’”
8) International: “There a big pivot away from privatization in Australia these days,” Australia Institute Executive Director Richard Dennis explains. “Privatization has clearly failed. The Victorian government reviving the State Electricity Commission is a clear example of sensible direct government investment in services the community needs.” [Video, about two minutes].
9) National: Principals are expressing gratitude for the hard and essential work that school support staff do every day. “If Armstrong is effusive with praise for Ribera and Gil, it’s because he’d spent years trying to get custodians, who were provided by an outside company, to take their jobs seriously. It was an uphill battle that left Armstrong, staff, and students dissatisfied. There were constant emails from teachers complaining about unemptied trash cans, spilled soda that hadn’t been cleaned up, or floors that hadn’t been waxed in weeks. That all changed when Ribera and Gil arrived and gave a frank assessment, laced with assurance: Your school is dirty, but we’ll clean it up. ‘They just are very meticulous, and really take pride in their work,’ Armstrong said. ‘They just kept telling us that if we’re going to work here, then it’s going to be nice, we’re not going to work in a place that’s filthy.”’
But often such thanks are not backed up by action. In Britain, “cash-strapped school support staff are using their own money to help pupils and their families cope with the cost-of-living crisis, says UNISON today. A UK-wide union survey of more than 6,000 school workers reveals staff—including teaching assistants, catering and cleaning workers, librarians and sports coaches—are buying food for hungry pupils, and contributing towards the cost of uniforms, shoes and stationery. The findings have been released to mark Stars in our Schools, UNISON’s annual celebration of school support staff that is being marked in schools across the UK.”
10) National: The Gates Foundation just gave the right wing, pro-privatization Reason Foundation almost a million dollars for “education,” Forbes reports. The Gates Foundation has pooled its efforts with the Charles Koch Foundation and Charter School Growth Fund to promote charter schools. “While $900K is a drop in a multi-billion dollar bucket (though it’s a hefty amount for Reason, whose most recent 990 form shows total 2019 revenue of $16 million), this new grant does seem to represent a change from the usual Gates public school direction. The Reason Foundation has not expressed interest in improving public schools, but in moving students away from the public system through school vouchers and other choice mechanisms. Neither the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation nor the Reason Foundation responded to emails requesting further details about the grant. The grant is dated September, but neither organization has announced it publicly. Both folks on the right who disdain Gates meddling and folks on the left who fear Libertarian anti-government tinkering will have to wait to see where this new partnership is headed.”
11) Iowa: Rural Iowa should brace for school vouchers, writes Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. “It won’t be long before empty parking spaces near the Iowa Capitol will be as hard to find as a compromise between Democrats and Republicans. The Legislature returns to Des Moines on Jan. 9, more firmly in Republican control than it was on May 24, when this year’s session ended. With their strong showing in the election this month, Republicans can be expected to pick up where they left off six months ago. For people living in rural Iowa, one issue of deep concern on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ to-do list is creation of taxpayer-financed vouchers to help parents pay for tuition to private K-12 schools.”
12) New Hampshire: The state’s charter school enrollment increased 14% in the past year, The New Hampshire Bulletin’s Ethan Dewitt reports. “The swell in attendance comes as the “school choice” movement has grown in prominence in New Hampshire in recent years, boosted in part by remote learning during COVID-19 and conservative criticisms of public school curriculum. And it dovetails with a steady rise in the number of families using public funds for private schools under the Education Freedom Account program created in 2021.”
13) New York: The New York Times has an assessment of where the battle between pro- and anti-charter forces in New York State stands. They see a charter school boom, although the fight to maintain a cap on the number of charter schools was won by public education supporters.
14) Ohio: A newly elected member of the state board of education, former state Sen. Teresa Fedor, is warning that the state legislature is poised to embark on an extremist turn as “the last vestiges of democratic governance were flattened by a power-hungry party on steroids.” Fedor says “they’ve been beating that drum for over 30 years. ‘Public schools are failing. We need accountability.’ And where are we on public education? They (Ohio Republicans) have been in control the whole time, except for four years under Strickland. If there’s a failure, it’s a failure on their part. (…) This is the 25th year of an unconstitutional school funding formula in the state. Republicans failed to the provide equitable and adequate education for the common schools in Ohio for 25 years. They set up a failed charter school system (remember ECOT?) in which tax dollars go into a black hole never to be seen again. They expanded vouchers, the privatization of our public dollars, a bigger black hole. Legally taxpayers don’t have a right to see how that tax money is being spent.”
The Ohio Capital Journal reports that “Fedor is outraged that Huffman and Co. are subverting the voice of Ohio voters with Senate Bill 178. ‘This just shifts power from the people to an unaccountable cabinet member in the executive branch,’ she fumed. ‘Republicans are creating another level of bureaucracy away from the public’ to steamroll their goal of privatizing public institutions without transparency or accountability.”
15) Wisconsin: Writing in the Wisconsin Examiner, Editor-in-chief Ruth Conniff says the school privatization movement’s refrain of “disrupting” education is harming children. “At the center of the argument about school choice is a debate over whether stability or disruption is a better approach to meeting kids’ needs. Underfunding schools, even when times are good, and draining them of resources by siphoning public money into private outfits, is part of a long-term plan by Republicans and libertarians to crush ‘big government.’ That anti-government ideology has set Wisconsin on a path to a voucherized, privatized system of education in keeping with the libertarian, every-man-for-himself vision of society. It’s worth pausing to consider what we’re in for.”
16) National: The New York Times has a report on Mitch Landrieu, Biden’s infrastructure czar, who is at the center of the process for determining which projects, and whose projects, get federal approval and federal funding. “Traveling the country with the keys to a $1 trillion infrastructure package is also an effective way to build alliances for a future presidential run. Landrieu is often mentioned as a possible candidate—a path he dismisses when pressed. ‘I’m focused on getting this money to the ground,’ he said.” In addition to wrangling with Republican governors who say the administration has “excessive consideration of equity, union memberships or climate as lenses,” Landrieu “has also heard from skeptical residents who have gotten promises from public officials before, only to find that their children have suffered the consequences of contaminated water from lead pipes. But with persistent labor shortages and supply chain issues, it could take years before voters see the result of the infrastructure funding.”
17) National: As utility companies spend billions of dollars on building out electrical transmission and distribution lines around the country, some are calling for an independent monitor to protect the public. “Much of that spending is happening on local projects in states with widely differing regulatory regimes. And there’s been growing concern at the state and federal level that too much of it is occurring without enough transparency and oversight to ensure transmission owners are appropriately planning for new technology, considering more cost-effective regional approaches or alternate solutions and not ripping off their ratepayers.”
18) National: Some state and local agencies are pushing back against the Biden’s administration’s “Buy America” rules for infrastructure projects. “‘AASHTO is still concerned that the quick implementation of Buy America requirements for such a broad range of materials will cause delays in project delivery while states, contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers continue working to determine how best to track and verify these materials,’ wrote Roger Millar, Washington state’s secretary of transportation and the president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in a letter to federal officials.”
19) National: Bloomberg Opinion editorial board member Romesh Ratnesar launched a brief tirade against state and local government infrastructure regulations, saying this was holding up green infrastructure. Looks like a classic case of greenwashing opposition to environmental protection and project soundness. This is a good opportunity to review the solid evidence of why we need NEPA.
20) Florida: In the wake of the scandalous collapse of cryptocurrency platform FTX, “Miami-Dade County is asking a judge to allow it to break the FTX naming-rights agreement for the Miami Heat arena, warning of ‘significant hardship’ if forced to remain associated with the failed crypto company and its scandalous corporate behavior.” The Miami Herald reports that “under the terms of the sponsorship agreement, Miami-Dade is entitled to three years of payment if FTX defaults. That’s worth about $17 million according to the county filing in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware, home to the FTX proceedings. FTX has already paid Miami-Dade $20 million, money received before the collapse. County lawyers said FTX’s apparent violation of laws governing the cryptocurrency exchange constitute a default under the terms of the original deal.” [Sub required]
21) Maryland: The public and media have been shut out of a legal dispute over one of Maryland’s largest public works projects—the multibillion dollar so-called public private partnership to widen Interstate 270 and part of the Capital Beltway with toll lanes. Corporate “proprietary information” has trumped the public’s right to know. “A Washington Post reporter in the courtroom asked that the judge allow the news organization time to consult with a lawyer before he closed the hearing, but the judge said the case needed to proceed, noting the eight lawyers present and ‘ready to go.’ It is unclear when the judge will issue a decision, but either side is expected to appeal an unfavorable ruling. The state’s Court of Special Appeals is already considering whether the Cintra team filed its bid protest in time. The project also faces a federal environmental lawsuit filed by opponents.”
22) Mississippi: Why should people who don’t live in Jackson care about the city’s problems? The Clarion-Ledger posed this question to Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, state leaders and staff at the Mississippi Urban Research Center at Jackson State University. “Their answers painted a clear picture. Jackson’s successes are also successes for Madison, Ridgeland, Flowood and other suburban and exurban areas surrounding the city, they said, and if Jackson fails, those communities will be left far from untouched. (…) ‘There is no conceivable way that the surrounding communities of Jackson succeed without Jackson succeeding,’ Lumumba said. ‘No matter how much that temporary notion or that flawed notion exists, there is no way that the greater Jackson area succeeds without Jackson succeeding.’ [Mississippi Urban Research Center Director Sam Mozee] agreed with Lumumba and said the notion that Jackson’s problems are Jackson’s alone is ‘a fallacy.’ ‘I’m not going to say it’s wrong, but I’m definitely going to say it is very short sighted, very short sighted,’ Mozee said.” [Sub required]
23) New York: A business aviation group has dropped its federal lawsuit to block the privatization of East Hampton Airport, Law360.com reports. This came “after a state judge last month rejected the village’s plan to close and privatize its airport in an effort to restrict flights to the affluent beach town, a notice of dismissal filed Monday shows.”
24) National: AARP is welcoming the privatization of Medicare, says Matthew Cunningham-Cook in Jacobin. “Despite massive and systemic problems with for-profit Medicare plans denying care to seniors while costing the government more than $7 billion annually in excess fees, the leading advocacy group tasked with protecting older Americans is welcoming the privatization of the national health insurance program—while earning as much as $814 million annually from insurers advertising the plans. The state of affairs lays bare a conflict inside AARP, the major advocacy organization for Americans fifty and older, over how to approach the regulation of Medicare Advantage, the for-profit version of Medicare.”
25) National: The labor council of the Austin, Texas AFL-CIO “has passed a resolution urging the Biden administration to terminate a Medicare privatization scheme that is quietly moving ahead despite vocal opposition from doctors, seniors, and progressive lawmakers,” Common Dreams reports. “Now known as ACO REACH, the pilot involves shifting traditional Medicare recipients onto privately run insurance plans without their knowledge or consent in the name of cutting costs and improving quality. The resolution unanimously adopted by the Austin AFL-CIO Labor Council last week raises alarm over that aspect of the pilot, noting that ‘ACO-REACH allows doctors and their offices to convert a patients’ traditional Medicare choice into ACO-REACH coverage without first informing their patients about the change nor getting their patients’’ written permission.’”
26) National: Route Fifty Senior Reporter Daniel C. Vock looks at new research on how transportation agencies in cities “with a legacy of racial and income segregation” can work with the public to provide better and more equitable service. “The Urban Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., focused the report on how to get better transportation options to the residents of South Dallas, a predominantly Black neighborhood near downtown. Interstate highways isolate the area from job centers, and decades of segregationist policies have sapped its economic prospects.”
27) National: Thousands of experts hired to aid public health departments are losing their jobs. Voters in Inglewood were poised to approve a union-backed $25 minimum wage for workers at private hospitals and facilities, while nearby voters rejected it. “Inglewood residents were poised to approve a ballot measure that would boost the minimum wage to $25 at private hospitals, psychiatric facilities, and dialysis clinics. The latest vote count showed Measure HC leading 54% to 46%, according to Los Angeles County election officials. In Duarte, roughly 35 miles away, voters were on track to decisively reject a similar proposal, Measure J, 63% to 37%.”
28) Florida: Florida’s foster system provides dangerous sex traffickers with easy access to vulnerable children, reports the Sun Sentinel. “The state was in charge of Jayden through its privatized foster care system, and it made an inadequate, unstable parent. Jayden was shifted among 12 foster homes in a year and a half, and neighborhood sex traffickers caught up with her along the way. She died on Jan. 11, 2021, in the bathroom of a Jacksonville Studio 6 motel. A yearlong investigation by the South Florida Sun Sentinel exposed the complicity of Florida’s child welfare system in underage sex trafficking, through evidence found in government records, state and federal lawsuits, research studies, and interviews with victims and family members.”
29) Tennessee: A housing crisis for children in state custody is pitting Republican Governor Bill Lee against Democratic lawmakers. “Lee told reporters after budget hearings the state needs to raise the pay level of caseworkers and hire more personnel to reduce the workload within the Department of Children’s Services. ‘We’re also looking at short-term solutions with privatization of those providing services. We need to do better by those kids, and we’re going to,’ Lee said.” But “private facilities for children with mental or physician health needs are taking out-of-state kids instead because Tennessee pays less. [Children’s Services Commissioner Margie Quin] noted 75 children in Tennessee’s custody are staying out of state. The commission is requesting $6.9 million for temporary homes where children can be assessed for mental health needs and to keep them out of offices and hospitals.”
30) West Virginia: Can West Virginia stand up to its coal barons? The Public Service Commission is in the middle of a battle, but coal seems to be winning, for now, against economics and the environment. “‘It’s all about overwhelming economic forces,’ said James Van Nostrand, professor at the West Virginia University College of Law and director of its Center for Energy and Sustainable Development. ‘The rest of the country embraced natural gas, they embraced wind and solar, and we doubled down on coal. And the West Virginia ratepayers are paying for that.’ But West Virginia regulators and coal power’s supporters in the state’s business community maintain, despite evidence to the contrary, that coal power is the most affordable source of energy. And they are taking a stand over AEP’s latest request for rate hike in West Virginia to pay for the company’s skyrocketing costs. West Virginia officials and business advocates argue the true villain in the story of the state’s rising electricity prices isn’t coal, but the climate change agenda.”
31) International: In Canada, an investigative series by APTN and Global News reveals “a grim picture of conditions in group homes and foster homes operated by private for-profit companies in Ontario. What the articles showed was the damage that is done when companies operating privatized child welfare services scrimp on spending to increase profits.” But “at the same time vulnerable children and youth are living in inadequate facilities and not having basic needs met, the private companies that are supposed to be caring for them are doing very well. The investigation found companies and their owners had managed to acquire real estate holdings worth as much as $45 million. One company executive was able to expense a boat and 2 recreation trailers.”
32) National: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), writing in The Wall Street Journal, says we need to regulate crypto or it’ll take down the economy. “FTX’s implosion should be a wake-up call. Regulators must enforce the law before more people get cheated, and Congress must plug the remaining holes in our regulatory structure—before the next crypto catastrophe takes down our economy. Crypto executives who break the law are just like any other crooks, and the Justice Department should use its full range of tools, including criminal penalties, against them. If Mr. Bankman-Fried and FTX executives committed fraud, then federal prosecutors should send them to prison. But FTX’s fall, like the collapse of Lehman Brothers before it, isn’t limited to one out-of-control company.”
33) National: Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover has triggered a partisan clash on government’s role, The Wall Street Journal reports. “The clash could foreshadow greater polarization over the internet and the government’s role in regulating it. In recent years, calls have mounted for Congress to improve privacy protections, to blunt the market dominance of giant technology companies and to update the law that shields large internet companies from liability for third-party content. (…) The Democratic-led Federal Trade Commission said it is concerned over Twitter’s ability to live up to its obligations under a $150 million settlement it reached with the company after federal attorneys alleged that it had collected phone numbers and email addresses for account-security measures—and then fed the information into its advertising tools.” [Sub required]
34) National: The Defense Department has failed its fifth audit in a row. “The news came as no surprise to Pentagon watchers. After all, the U.S. military has the distinction of being the only U.S. government agency to have never passed a comprehensive audit. But what did raise some eyebrows was the fact that DoD made almost no progress in this year’s bookkeeping: Of the 27 areas investigated, only seven earned a clean bill of financial health, which McCord described as ‘basically the same picture as last year.’ Given this accounting disaster, it should come as no surprise that the Pentagon has a habit of bad financial math. This is especially true when it comes to estimating the cost of weapons programs.” At the beginning of this year, Truthout reported an estimate that Pentagon spending on contractors would reach $407 billion in 2022.
35) National/New York: “Can you believe it? These NY state farm workers were harvesting cabbages last week for 8 hours on a day that temps ranged between 28°-40°. They earn $10 a one ton bin. They say the rate hasn’t gone up for more than 5 years. #WeFeedYou.” Watch the video courtesy of United Farm Workers.
36) International: Martin Wolf, The Financial Times’ top columnist, says the Conservative U.K. government should “stop doing stupid stuff” like mindlessly eliminating or creating government regulations. “I have little hope that this government will do anything much positive before the next general election, particularly in the midst of an energy and inflation crisis. But it is not too much to ask it to stop doing stupid things. So, do not consider regulatory changes unless they will clearly be for the better. Do not promise control over migration you cannot deliver. Do not stick to the option of divergence on food standards, which makes resolving the issue of Northern Ireland so intractable. But do try hard to preserve the ability of our scientists to co-operate closely with their European peers. And, not least, do stop the endless barking by the British bulldog.” [Sub required]
37) International: CNBC, the cable business channel, has a newsletter, Investing in Space: A launch guide, which “offers a view into the business of space exploration and privatization, delivered straight to your inbox.” For regular updates on space policy and on the upcoming budget bills in Congress on the space program see Spacepolicyonline.com. “The Subcommittee on Space and Science of the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Landsat series of land remote sensing satellites and talk about the future. (…) The program had a rocky period in the 1980s and early 1990s when an attempt to privatize the system failed. There were a lot of reasons, but the final nail was loss of the satellite, Landsat 6, in a launch failure.”
Photo by bisongirl.