Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen reports on some good news coming out of the privatized, divided, unequal and lonely place that America has become since the pandemic.
- An infectious disease specialist reports that a Florida private school that costs $25,000 to attend is spreading vaccine misinformation.
- Transurban, one of the companies participating in Maryland’s I-270 “public-private partnership” toll lanes deal, has been hit with a negative vote criticizing its executive compensation and bonus practices.
First, the good news…
1) National: In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen reports on some good news coming out of the privatized, divided, unequal and lonely place that America has become since the pandemic. “This is why a new experiment from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to offer postal banking is so remarkable. In September, the country’s most popular federal agency began offering paycheck-cashing services at several East Coast post offices—in collaboration with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and after being pushed by numerous community groups. Now, anyone can redeem paychecks in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Md., Falls Church, Va., and the Bronx in New York City in return for Visa gift cards up to $500. The postal agency expects to expand the program to bill-paying services and ATMs in the future. The APWU’s role cannot be overstated. Alongside financial reform, faith and community groups, the union launched the Campaign for Postal Banking in 2015 and organized years of rallies and days of action to make the program a reality. APWU also delicately negotiated with Postal Service management to enact the pilot, as reported by the American Prospect.”
2) National: Democratic pollster Brad Bannon says Americans hate “big government” until they experience the benefits. “The battle between the two parties is a fight between basic instinct and real life. The public fears the worst about big government but wants the best it can get from it. This accounts for the hostility to big government that travels side by side with the strong attachment to socialism for seniors, also known as Medicare. Americans get queasy when they think about big government. But once they get to see, touch and feel specific programs, their stomachs settle—and they develop a voracious appetite for programs. The 2010 Affordable Care Act dubbed “Obamacare” became law after a long and vicious struggle. But the Affordable Care Act has become popular despite relentless and fruitless GOP attempts to kill the lifesaving law.”
3) National: Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh have announced new guidelines to encourage more union membership among federal workers and promote collective bargaining within federal government offices. “Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, called the Biden administration ‘pro-worker’ in a statement on Wednesday. ‘By making it an official policy of the federal government to ensure its workers are aware of their rights, the Biden-Harris administration is setting an important example for other employers in both the public and private sector,’ Saunders said.” [Sub required]
4) National: A massive program that puts people with disabilities to work through federal government contracts across the country plans to no longer allow workers to be paid less than minimum wage, Disability Scoop reports. “The U.S. AbilityOne Commission issued a proposed rule this month barring any new contracts under the AbilityOne Program that pay people with disabilities what’s known as subminimum wage. The program, which dates back 83 years, directs federal contracts to a network of nearly 500 nonprofits that provide products and services for the government. Over 42,000 people who are blind or have significant disabilities are employed through AbilityOne at over 1,000 locations nationwide including dozens of government agencies and military facilities. In fiscal year 2020 alone, AbilityOne provided nearly $4 billion in goods and services to the government.”
5) California: Alexandria Herr at Capital & Main reports that “after years of advocacy by frontline communities, California may finally be on the way to implementing a key health and safety regulation to protect communities living near oil and gas extraction facilities. Gov. (…) The new ruling will ban the permitting of oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of community sites, including homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and daycare centers.”
6) California/Maryland: California is going to have a ‘historic budget surplus’ in 2022, says Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). “Newsom said he’ll propose using next year’s surplus to pay down $11.3 billion in pension obligations, but didn’t give further details. In addition to a surplus for next year’s budget, Newsom said California has already collected $14 billion more in tax revenue than expected for the current budget year. The state had such a massive surplus this year in large part because the state slashed money during the first year of the pandemic, anticipating a much deeper recession than materialized.”
In Maryland, public service workers are demanding that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan supports them getting a fair share of the $2.5 billion surplus. “The time is now for the state to fund our front line heroes,” said AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran at a rally held Wednesday at State Center, a complex of state government offices in midtown Baltimore. “And we’re here to make it very clear to Governor Hogan and the [University System of Maryland] that they need to fund the front lines and essential services now.”
7) Idaho: Idaho Department of Lands budget presentations before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee highlighted the extraordinary work of the firefighters to serve the public. “‘They had our back this year,’ Troy said. ‘What a great team you have. While it was disconcerting to be on the receiving end of a forest fire and watch 200 acres of my own timber ground burn up, but it was a great opportunity to see your team in action, see how you care about the landowners, how you care about the land, how you care about the safety of everyone including one of my neighbors who wouldn’t get out of the canyon with his cat and how you tried to protect his life while he was down there.’ For the year ahead, Idaho Department of Lands officials are asking for a 28% increase in state general fund spending. The money would go toward paying for eight new engine bosses, three new fire management officers, opening a new Clearwater Fire District in eastern Idaho, buying fire and drone equipment and increasing seasonal firefighter pay to $15 per hour to match what the federal government pays.”
8) Pennsylvania/National: Do you know that community parking spaces are often cheaper—or even free—while private parking companies charge high rates, making downtowns more accessible for low-income people without ready access to public transit? Philadelphia is one example: “Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, there is an $8 flat fee at all PPA Center City garages on Saturdays and Sundays. Outside of Center City, check for community parking lots before you go. These lots, in neighborhoods like Brewerytown, Olney, Kensington, Fox Chase, Germantown, Chestnut Hill, Fishtown, and Manayunk, often have lower pricing than some of the other privately owned lots in the area like LAZ Parking, Patriot Parking, and InterPark.”
9) National: The strike wave sweeping the country is targeting the two-tier labor system which, as Richard Moser reminds us, has its origin in the education system. The two-tier system “has been one of the structural weapons used by bosses to break worker solidarity, weaken unions, and lower wages and benefits. Two-tier systems were innovated by the liberal management of higher education beginning in the mid-1970s when the corporatization of education and austerity kicked in. ”
Moser says “I worked with the contingent faculty movement in higher education for over 15 years where you can still find some of the clearest thinking about two-tiered systems. See Joe Berry and Helena Worthen’s, Power Despite Precarity and Keith Hoeller’s Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-tiered System.”
10) National: A new study released by the Education Law Center (ELC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports that Southern states’ failure to prioritize public education has an outsized impact on students of color and students living in or near poverty. “The impact of unfair school funding in the South is deeply rooted in the region’s history of racial segregation, which still influences education politics and policymaking and can be seen in the proliferation of private school vouchers and resistance to culturally responsive and inclusive teaching. This segregationist history means that Black and Latinx students and those living in or near poverty, groups that are overrepresented in public schools throughout the South, are more likely to bear the consequences of poorly resourced schools.”
11) National: Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider’s Have You Heard podcast reports on how a corporate agenda has taken over vocational education. “Vocational education has been rebranded and retooled as career and technical education. But beneath CTE’s 21st century veneer lurks an age-old problem: tailoring students’ education too closely to the demands of employers may end up limiting their future options, not expanding them.” [Audio; about 45 minutes]
12) National: This week, North Carolina prisons have stopped allowing incarcerated people to receive physical mail,@scalawagmag reports. Instead, they’re moving to a digital process, claiming it will reduce the volume of drugs inside prisons. @Lkaylie says “this is horrifying. If you want to understand the damage that privatizing public schools will do, see what is happening in our U.S. prison system. Dehumanizing, terrible recidivism rates, hugely expensive with private companies making huge profits off of tax payer $ and fees.”
13) National: The Proud Boys are coming for public schools, Jeff Bryant reports. “The easiest conclusion to draw from conservatives’ framing of assaults on public education as attempts to stifle parent’s voices is that they are laying down a rhetorical strategy for the 20 22 and 2024 elections. But the longer view would be that when rioters stormed the Capitol, their objective wasn’t just to overthrow a legitimate election—it was to overthrow the very idea of democracy and install minoritarian rule. Seen in that light, extremists who are storming public school boards aren’t just intent on overthrowing specific policies. Their goal is to undermine an institution that is fundamental to our democracy: public schools.”
14) National: The privatization of knowledge continues apace. “For-profit academic publishing is a $25bn industry with profit margins reaching between 35–40% … consequently, five major for-profit publishers (Elsevier, Springer, Wiley Blackwell, Taylor & Francis and Sage) own over half of the world’s academic material … with an estimated three publishers, Elsevier, Springer and Wiley Blackwell, controlling 42% of all published articles.”
15) National/North Carolina/Arkansas: A new study from researchers at the University of Arkansas and Western Carolina University claims that proposed federal legislation blocking for-profit charter schools from getting federal money would slash an average of $1,131 per student in resources for charter schools.
16) Colorado: School board races in Aurora and Cherry Creek are being hotly contested between pro- and anti-charter forces. “In Aurora Public Schools, the organization Students Deserve Better has spent over $16,000 on mailings supporting candidates Debbie Gerkin, Tramaine Duncan and Michael Carter, the three candidates endorsed by the Aurora Education Association. It spent an equal amount on mailings opposing Christy Cummings and Danielle Tomwing. Students Deserve Better is funded by teachers groups, and has received $20,000 from the Aurora Education Association, $7,000 from the Aurora Council for Teachers and Students and $257,000 from the Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education. Raising Colorado has spent over $25,000 each on mailings supporting Anne Keke and Tomwing. The conservative education reform group Ready Colorado has spent $900 supporting Cummings, Tomwing and Keke.”
17) Florida: A loud wakeup call has been sounded by The Palm Beach Post editorial board, warning voters that the continued tenure of Richard Corcoran as state education commissioner will be on the ballot next year. “The lowlights of Richard Corcoran’s tenure have centered around endangering students and their families with the coronavirus, bullying pubic school administrators and school board members, and eroding the state’s already mediocre stature in public education circles. In the real world, Corcoran would be shown the door. But this is not the real world. This is Florida, where our education commissioner is part of the ideological hackery that used to be state government leadership. Corcoran, like many of his counterparts in Tallahassee, is beholden to a governor whose political ambitions have encroached upon the needs of our state and, in particular, undermined public schools. (…) To restore the state’s public schools and ensure quality education, Florida needs a clean sweep. Voters had better be ready to make a change in state leadership at the polls in 2022.”
18) Florida: Judy Stone of Forbes, an infectious disease specialist, reports that a private school that costs $25,000 to attend is spreading vaccine misinformation. “There’s new anti-science nonsense coming from Florida. In the spring, Miami made news when its Centner Academy, a private school, told teachers they should wait until summer break to get vaccinated or remain distanced from students. They are otherwise refusing to employ vaccinated teachers. The school also falsely said, we have women teachers with ‘…menstrual cycles impacted after having spent time with a vaccinated person.’ This week, the Centner Academy, which calls itself the ‘Brain School,’ went a step further in promoting vaccine misinformation. Now that vaccines are available to children 12-years and older, the school has issued a statement saying, ‘Because of the potential impact on other students and our school community, vaccinated students will need to stay at home for 30 days post-vaccination for each dose and booster they receive.’ There is zero scientific basis for their decrees.”
19) Florida: In a brazen move to raise more public money to pump into local charter schools, “Cape Coral is removing a money-saving exemption to the city’s electricity tax and adding a 7% public service tax on metered natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas and manufactured gas, similar to propane. The city council voted unanimously to amend the Cape Coral code of ordinance taxation and public service tax.” This will result in residents of Cape Coral paying more for electricity and metered natural gases.
20) Florida: The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors opposes the idea of a charter school. “Supervisor Keith Jordano said he was not happy with the proximity of the school site to homes on the south side of Hamlin Blvd. ‘I do not like the idea that they will wake up in the morning and see buses and all of these cars in front if their house,’ Jordano said. ‘I think you need to put a buffer and distance off Hamlin.’ Nichols said they go by the state requirements for educational facilities.”
21) Georgia: “Quality, inclusive, and democratic public education is our path forward towards building that beautiful world where we can all survive and thrive,” says student organizer Alex Ames. How they won.
22) Guam: Some charter school heads are opposing a teacher certification bill. “‘Then we won’t be able to afford to pay them at the same level the teachers are being paid at the same level that the teachers are being paid at public schools. It’s going to be disastrous,’ he said. ‘The other thing is again it doesn’t guarantee that if teachers are certified, they’re gonna provide the most effective teaching and learning that our students need. And I think that should be the bottom line.’”
23) Minnesota: A new charter school with a focus on ‘public service’ will open in the east metro with support from the Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, who is one of its founders. “The school will be led by a nine-member board of directors and a five-member advisory board, with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Roy Magnuson another of its founders, while Undersheriff Bill Finney will serve on its board. While the school does not yet have a building, it expects to enroll around 150 students at a Roseville location during the first year, according to the Star Tribune.”
24) North Carolina: Suburban Charlotte teachers have gone on strike at Union Day School to protest the unjust firing of a beloved principal at the charter school. “I’m devastated,” Liz Spinney, the curriculum coordinator for Union Day School, told WSOC. ‘This man has done nothing but lead this school through the hardest years in education.’ The board of Union Day School has so far declined to talk to the press. “One staff member shared with Channel 9 that Hamilton is the sixth principal Union Day School has had in five years.”
Myfox8.com reports “teachers began calling out of work Wednesday after they collectively sent an e-mail to the board, demanding answers—but didn’t get any. ‘I’m feeling really sad,’ said 5th Grader Liz Zacarias. ‘This school is what brings me up.’”
25) Pennsylvania: The State Senate Education Committee has begun vetting Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s plans for more accountability and transparency in Pennsylvania’s charter schools. “The panel held a hearing on the Wolf administration’s proposal Wednesday. Representatives from the state Department of Education explained during the hearing the proposed regulations were offered to provide more clarity to the state’s charter school law and provide consistency to ensure all of the independent public schools are on the same page. More than 175 charter schools are operating across the state.”
26) South Carolina: A teacher at Clear Dot Charter School in Columbia has been fired following accusations of writing the n-word on his class’ board. “‘I was shocked and appalled, I’ve been around [him] for over two and a half months, and I couldn’t believe that that is what he would say in a classroom,’ Melanie Swygert, a Clear Dot parent said. Swygert says her daughter was in class when the teacher wrote the slur on the board. Swygert’s daughter told her that in September the teacher reasoned that he wrote the slur on the board as a way of reminding himself to tell administrators one student said the phrase to another. Clear Dot is not releasing the teacher’s name at this time, but Swygert said he is white and the school is majority Black.”
27) National: Democrats are inching toward a much-reduced social benefits package that would clear the way for Congress to move forward on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. “There are many decisions that have to be made, but more than 90 percent of everything is agreed to and written,” Pelosi told reporters after the House’s final votes of the week Friday.
28) National/International: Transurban, one of the companies participating in the I-270 so-called public-private partnership toll lanes deal, has been hit with a negative vote criticizing its executive compensation and bonus practices. “Proxy firms recommending votes against the remuneration report included ACSI and ISS, which said bonuses and sign-on awards given to executives for the financial year ending in June were ‘excessive’ given the decline in income from toll fares on Transurban’s roads over the 12-month period.” But wait, there’s more. The compensation board used the Maryland project as an excuse to pay these executive bonuses. So Maryland communities are in effect paying bonuses to overseas corporate fatcats.
29) California: Ellen Taylor, writing in Counterpunch, looks at PG&E’s destructive tree-cutting practices that it is supposedly engaging in to make its power infrastructure safer. “This fall, PG&E has taken to Humboldt County’s roads and forests in a similar mood. KMUD news documented their demented rampage last week, when they visited a protest staged in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. As you listen to the KMUD interviews, you can hear trees crashing in the background. The protesters fume as they watch this slaughter of large, healthy beautiful carbon-sequestering, oxygen-manufacturing and water-retaining engines.”
30) Puerto Rico: The popular battle against electrical grid privatization has continued to explode across the islandunder the chant “Fuera Luma.” “Residents have been experiencing widespread power outages, utility price hikes, voltage fluctuations (power surges that damage appliances) and a plethora of ongoing issues since the start of the public-private partnership between Luma Energy—the U.S.-Canadian company that seized control of the island’s power transmission and distribution system—and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)—the island’s public energy corporation, which is in charge of power generation.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
31) National: The prison industry is neutralizing the Biden administration’s promise to do away with private, for-profit incarceration, the Intercept’s Max Rivlin-Nadler reports. “In fact, the federal detention population has grown under Biden, and illegal reentry, a nonviolent immigration charge, remains the No. 1 crime prosecuted by U.S. attorneys, filling jails like the GEO Group’s Western Region Detention Facility. Many detainees at federal jails are also being held simply because they cannot pay exorbitant bail amounts. ‘It’s no longer something that anyone can claim is being done secretly,’ said the ACLU of San Diego’s Vakili, whose organization sent a letter to the White House raising alarm about the effort to circumvent the executive order. ‘The administration has a choice: Enforce its order and stand by its commitments to reducing incarceration or admit that it’s going to let the private prison operators reduce that order to meaningless words on paper.’”
32) National: CoreCivic has announced that its 2021 Third Quarter earnings release and conference call will take place two weeks from today, on November 8.
33) New Mexico: GEO Group has announced it has entered into a new lease agreement with the State of New Mexicofor the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility. It is a new two-year lease agreement, with successive two-year renewal option periods through October 31, 2041. “The average annual rent for the initial two-year lease term is $4 million, with escalators thereafter.”
34) National: John Parry, a former director of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disabilities says the privatization of child care is a national disgrace. “Paris Hilton has become a leading advocate for preventing the abuse and neglect of troubled children. She deserves praise for trying to focus attention on this badly overlooked issue [‘The ‘troubled teen industry’ needs reform so kids can avoid abuse,’ Washington Post, Oct. 20]. What is allowed to happen to these kids behind the closed doors of profit-making institutional facilities is a national disgrace. This privatization of child care has created the same type of inhumane institutional environments that once were used to care for people with mental, physical and sensory disabilities. How can a nation that is so concerned with a fetus inside another person’s body care so little about the lives of these inconvenient children? Such callous hypocrisy is difficult to understand.”
35) National: Poll worker shortages are worrying states ahead of upcoming elections. “Ohio recruited and trained a record number of poll workers ahead of last year’s presidential election, despite concern that the coronavirus pandemic had made it harder to find people for the job. But recruiting enough people to staff voting sites across the state has proven more difficult this year. Ohio is short about 17,000 workers from its 42,000-person goal, according to Secretary of State Frank LaRose. ‘As this year’s important November election approaches, we’re still a long way away from ensuring a full complement of poll workers to staff our thousands of polling locations across the state,’ LaRose said in apublic service announcement released this month to drum up support.”
36) Iowa: The state auditor has issued a report saying that “Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system has illegally denied services or care to program recipients, and both private insurance companies managing the system have violated terms of their contracts with the state.” Auditor Rob Sand said “what this means is that privatized Medicaid is less likely to treat Iowans in accordance with the law. It means that the Medicaid MCO’s that we have contracted with are not upholding their end of the bargain.”
Sand said after privatization, “there was an 891% increase in the number of cases in which a judge restored services to a Medicaid participant, concluding services were unlawfully denied by the private insurers managing the program. He promised after his election in 2018 that he would conduct a compliance report on Medicaid after service providers and recipients complained about the new system failing to provide comparable care and payment. ‘This has been a long time coming. It has taken a lot of work. We’ve reviewed tens of thousands of documents and at the end of the day what this is, is a statement of facts. It’s telling Iowans what’s going on in the state. We’re doing our job. It’s about the people.”
37) Nebraska: Pay raises for staff in Nebraska’s veteran homes are expected to relieve a severe shortage. “According to the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs, there are more than 350 staff vacancies system-wide. Ken Betzen is a resident of the Eastern Nebraska Veterans’ home in Bellevue. He said he has seen how hard employees have worked being so short-staffed. “A lot of overtime and they do pitch in like with dietary, they’ll come in and even our administrator got hooked into taking trays to tables,” Betzen said. The 72-year-old Navy veteran said the quality of his care has not diminished even though there are nearly 100 full-time and part-time staff vacancies at his facility.”
38) National: POGO’s Executive Director Danielle Brian explains why voting rights are crucial for an accountable government. “Our leaders need to start respecting the right of the American people to hold elected officials accountable—and understand that voting rights reform is a key step to achieving a more accountable government. The freedom to vote—or denial of that freedom—has long been wielded by the powerful to maintain their power by suppressing the will of those who may oppose them. That was the impetus behind the racist schemes to consolidate power that prompted the Voting Rights Act. The slate of voter suppression laws currently working their way through numerous state legislatures should be viewed as nothing short of a racist power grab akin to what we saw across the South in the 20th century. We cannot stand by and let this happen.”
Photo by Miki Jourdan.