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- A nascent movement dubbed the “Marshall Plan for Middle America” is developing in the upper Appalachian region and the Ohio River Valley.
- The vital role public libraries are playing during the pandemic
- It’s budget time in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the health of the public school system is at stake.
1) National: Federal, state and local officials have stood up across the country to defend and safeguard American democracy, demonstrating once again the crucial role of government at its best in enforcing legitimate rules and observing democratic norms.
In his opinion rejecting Trump’s effort to nullify millions of Pennsylvania votes for President-elect Joe Biden, U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann wrote, “One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption, such that this Court would have no option but to regrettably grant the proposed injunctive relief despite the impact it would have on such a large group of citizens. That has not happened. Instead, this Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state. Our people, laws, and institutions demand more.”
2) National: Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest explains the vital role public libraries are playing during the pandemic. “No wonder libraries nationwide have played a crucial role in their communities during the crisis. They’re essential public goods, like clean water and public education. Everyone benefits from public libraries, one way or another. [For example,] in March, the American Library Association snapped into action by recommending libraries leave WiFi available during closures.”
3) National/Georgia: Fair Fight, founded by Stacey Abrams, announces it will provide financial support to 13 groups to “build the infrastructure to ensure voters are empowered and informed.” The groups are:
- Asian American Advocacy Fund
- Black Voters Matter Fund
- Coalition for the People’s Agenda
- Fair Count
- Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO)
- Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR)
- New Georgia Project
- Georgia STAND-UP
- Georgia NAACP
- Southerners on New Ground
- Women on the Rise
The Washington Post reports that the “New Georgia Project, which was founded by Abrams in 2013, has focused on registering young voters of color across the state. Nse Ufot, the organization’s chief executive, said her staff has identified 100,000 people they’ll try to register before the Dec. 7 deadline and expects to sign up as many as 20,000 of them.”
4) National: Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and policy director of Project South, thanks members of Congress who sent a letter to ICE demanding that they stop deporting survivors of medical abuse. The letter, which can be found here, says “our committees previously asked ICE, LaSalle Corrections, and ICDC to produce documents relating to the whistleblower allegations. That request followed an earlier request to the DHS Inspector General to investigate these reports of ‘medical atrocities.’ Not only has ICE refused to comply with these requests or provide a briefing to our Committees, it has reportedly pressed LaSalle Corrections and ICDC to ignore the request in an extraordinary attempt to stonewall Congress.” This is LaSalle’s corporate management.
5) National: In a scorching letter to Stephen Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Ralph Nader denounces the FAA’s ignoring of a devastating Congressional report on the failures of the agency in the Boeing 737 MAX air crash disaster. “Reliable sources report that you are ready to unground the 737 MAX,” Nader writes, “ while ignoring the basic aerodynamic problem of the plane’s ‘quick and dirty’ engine position/fuselage mismatch, the cable/rudder vulnerability, and other non-flight control issues. Both Captain Sullenberger and the Allied Pilots Association (APA) have said ‘not so fast.’ The union for FAA’s safety engineers who work on certifying new aircraft has called for substantial upgrades, including the rescinding of several exceptions granted to Boeing by the FAA. Additionally, more than 340 overwhelmingly negative comments have been filed on the FAA/Boeing proposed MAX, from dozens of top aviation safety experts.”
Nader concludes, “Finally, Mr. Dickson should, heaven forbid, there be another 737 MAX crash or crashes due to causes about which you know and were repeatedly given specific notice of and which you and secretary Elaine Chao should have foreseen and prevented, do not think that responsibility – moral, political and legal (civil and criminal) will not apply. If you are sitting on any undisclosed Boeing, et al. violations of Title 18, Sec.1001, and other incriminating materials, do not think that there will be no ethical whistleblowers coming forward or that pending civil action will not reach any horrifying cover-ups presently contained in trade secrecy envelopes. It will only be a matter of time and place.”
6) National: The Washington Post reports that incoming President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats “are laying the groundwork to seek a massive increase in federal broadband spending next year, hoping they can secure billions of dollars in new government aid to improve Internet access and affordability—and help people stay online during the pandemic.”
7) National: A nascent movement dubbed the “Marshall Plan for Middle America” is developing in the upper Appalachian region and the Ohio River Valley. “Independent, nonpartisan and data-driven research predicts massive job losses in the coming years from the decline of the fossil-fuel industry. It’s critical to build a barricade before the coming economic tsunami. A team of mayors from cities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky (including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto) are pushing this neo-Marshall Plan as an initiative that would seed the growth of climate-friendly industry. The effort is supported by policy and academic research from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Sustainable Business, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Steel Valley Authority, the Heartland Capital Strategies Network and the Enel Foundation.”
8) National: Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, co-authors of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, were interviewed in depth by Chuck Mertz on the popular This is Hell! Podcast (begins at 15:00). Jennifer was also interviewed by Doug Henwood on his Behind the News program. Assessing the current situation, Berkshire says that while the ouster of Betsy DeVos was a major victory, the real damage may be coming at the state level. She also dissects the confusion over charter school and public education policy in the Democratic Party.
9) National: The National Education Association has released its 2020 Policy Playbook for Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration. “With a Biden-Harris administration, we have new opportunities to implement policies at the federal level that will benefit the lives of our students and educators locally. New relief funding will help our schools overcome the immense hurdles created by COVID-19. Fixing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program will get educators the debt relief they were promised and ease the teacher shortage. Racial inequities caused by decades of unjust funding, white supremacy, and anti-immigration policies, will begin to be corrected. And that’s just the start.” NEA’s Policy Playbook provides specific solutions in 27 different issue a reas, including charter schools, for the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress to address.
10) National: The Network for Public Education has set out its priorities for the new administration, including efforts to privatize public schools. “Neighborhood public schools governed by their communities are essential to the health of our democracy and the well-being of children. We need a public education champion in the Department of Education who rejects efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via private school vouchers or charter schools. Re-treads like Arne Duncan and John King are not acceptable.
“With so much to be done to rebuild our public schools when COVID subsides, our country cannot afford to subsidize private school tuition. The Biden Administration must oppose any Congressional attempts to institute tax credit programs designed to subsidize private and religious school tuition.
“The Administration must keep its promise to make charter schools subject to the same transparency, accountability, and equity policies as public schools. It must fulfill its campaign promise of no federal assistance to charters that operate for profit or are managed by for-profit entities. The new Secretary, we hope, will institute a moratorium on new grants from the federal Charter Schools Program at least until those promised reforms are enacted.”
11) Arkansas: The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that “open-enrollment and conversion charter schools that have a history of repeatedly earning F and D letter grades from the state,” and have drawn the attention of the state’s Charter Authorizing Panel. “The panel asked the state Division of Elementary and Secondary Education staff to assemble more information—including written explanations and improvement plans—from the struggling charter systems and achievement data from nearby schools and districts. The panel will use that information to decide in December what school leaders should be called in for further investigation of their problems. Schools of particular concern at the Tuesday meeting were Blytheville area public schools and the five-campus KIPP Delta charter system that is headquartered in Helena-West Helena. The KIPP system has been held in the past as a model charter school system but, in recent years and with one campus exception, has consistently earned Ds.”
12) Colorado: A charter school in Parker has removed its distance learning, forcing parents to scramble. “We were notified, ‘You come back in January, 5 days a week, in-person, or you’ll have to find and alternative school,’ said one mother who asked to remain anonymous for this story. ‘They just kind of said, “Here’s a letter and see you later,”’ said another mother of a Leman student who also wishes to remain anonymous. Both parents are upset after the private school sent out a letter on Nov. 13 telling parents remote learning will no longer be an option in the third quarter. ‘All the neighborhood schools, state-wide, or in the metro area are going remote, this school is choosing to do the complete opposite,’ said one of the parents.”
13) Connecticut: A former Connecticut charter school company executive has been charged in connection with four armed sexual assaults 36 years ago. “In 2014, Sharpe resigned as executive director of the Family Urban Schools of Excellence, which ran a group of public Hartford charter schools, amid allegations that he concealed a decades-old forgery conviction and misrepresented his academic credentials, the Courant reported.”
14) Louisiana/National: Connie L. Schaffer, Martha Graham Viator, and Meg White offer a compelling story of how a public school that once lead the way in racial desegregation has now disappeared behind the charter school system. “If that building’s walls could talk, they certainly would tell the well-known story of its desegregation. But those same walls could tell another story, too. That story is about continued racism as well as efforts to dismantle and privatize public education in America over the past six decades. As scholars of education, we combed through multiple archives to uncover this story.”
15) Massachusetts: Staff members of the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School (PVPA) have reached their first labor contract with the school. “Under the three-year contract, staff members at the charter school have access to a formal grievance procedure, protections for performance evaluations and disciplines, and correction of ‘a longstanding inequity in the pay scale,’ according to United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) Local 2322 Servicing Representative Karen Rosenberg. Staff members formally unionized under the UAW in February 2018. Karin Kayser, a teacher at PVPA and a member of the bargaining committee, said staff members ‘feel like we have achieved most of the protections that traditional public school teachers and staff have,’ and that the union was able to negotiate victories on key issues. The contract is ‘a huge relief’ after ‘a long, difficult, challenging process,’ she said.”
16) Missouri: The possibility of building a charter school in north St. Louis County is triggering opposition. “Several mayors of the small towns that make up the Normandy Schools Collaborative held a press conference Thursday afternoon to voice their opposition to the new school, sayin g elected representation should be involved in improving the district. ‘We say to anyone who wants to come into our community to help in that fight, we welcome you,’ said Brian Jackson, the mayor of Beverly Hills. ‘But we have to say to you, not without us.’ The officials argued Normandy is turning its school system around despite inadequate resources. A charter school opening nearby will further starve the district of funding, they said.”
17) Pennsylvania: It’s budget time in Harrisburg, and the health of the public school system is at stake, reports the Bedford Gazette. “The state Legislature, which earlier had passed a budget to get the state government through Nov. 30, reconvened this week to craft a budget through the fiscal year, which ends June 30. The overall deficit is between $2.5 billion and $3 billion. As part of the budget, it should help local school districts by reforming charter school funding. Tuition paid by school districts to charters is based on the school district’s cost per student, rather than the charter school’s actual cost per student. Lawmakers should change the formula so that tuition paid by districts reflects the charter’s actual cost, which almost always is far lower than the school district’s cost per student. Lawmakers have dithered on this issue for years, and now it’s an emergency. They should resolve it now in favor of taxpayers rather than charter school operators.”
18) Pennsylvania: Almost half a billion dollars is expected to flow out of traditional public schools into cybercharters. “According to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), $475 million dollars allocated to public schools are expected to fund education for students attending independent online options this year. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are leaving Valley public schools each year because of a broken funding formula, school officials say. Some Valley schools are paying more than $1 million a year—Midd-West, Mount Carmel, Selinsgrove, Shamokin and Shikellamy—to pay for students to attend external cyber schools. That isn’t sitting well with Valley school superintendents worried about the future of their districts. During an online town hall hosted by The Daily Item on Wednesday, Valley school leaders stressed one thing: Things have to change or schools will begin to lose programs and teachers.”
19) Pennsylvania: Lawrence A. Feinberg, a school director in Haverford Township, weighs in against allowing any more cyber charter students. “Cyber-charters may be a great fit for some highly motivated, self-disciplined students or those with very involved parents or guardians. But generally speaking, cyber students are not learning, and taxpayers are paying twice what they reasonably should, with the excess funds being taken away from all the other students remaining in a school district when a parent chooses to send their child to a cyber charter. With the COVID pandemic, the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) recently estimated that cyber charter enrollment has increased by 24,000 students over last year, with taxpayers on the hook for an additional $350 million in tuition.”
20) Pennsylvania: A former Philadelphia charter school officer has been charged with embezzling more than $350,000. “On Smith’s watch, more than $200,000 was withheld from Khepera teachers’ paychecks for retirement funds, the attorney general said. But the money was never deposited into the Public School Employee Retirement System. An additional $370,000 in employer contributions was also never contributed to the system, Shapiro said. Smith, who is also known as Darnell Sulaiman, embezzled a further $350,000 on top of the pension payments, Shapiro said.”
21) Rhode Island: University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer weighs in against a possible plan to expand the number of charter schools in Rhode Island. “The Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education may soon vote for a dramatic expansion of charter schools,” he writes. “This would be a serious mistake. As charter schools expand, they impose dramatic net costs on school districts. The council should carefully consider those costs, particularly for a resource-strapped urban district such as Providence, before approving an ill-advised charter school expansion.”
22) National: Can Congress finally overcome partisan divisions and pass infrastructure legislation? The Wall Street Journal sees “a possible area of bipartisan compromise under the Biden administration,” but it will be an uphill battle. “Only three House Republicans supported the House’s $1.5 trillion bill, though, with most Republicans opposing it. GOP lawmakers said the bill was too expensive and overburdened with measures aimed at combating climate change, such as building charging stations for electric vehicles. The bill went nowhere in the Senate. ‘The House basically took the Green New Deal and changed the title to House infrastructure bill, so we didn’t have any luck working with them, ‘ said Mr. Barrasso. But for Democrats who have sought legislative action on climate change for years, an infrastructure bill may be one of the few opportunities to tackle the topic in Congress.” [Sub required]
23) National: The Trump administration’s demand to repossess funds it sent to the Federal Reserve to backstop municipal bonds could weaken the muni market just as the coronavirus crisis reaches its peak, further stressing state and local government finances. “‘As a country and a financial market, we’re not out of this yet,’ said Matt Fabian, partner at Municipal Market Analytics. ‘So theoretically we should be layering on more tools, not removing them.’ Fabian called the MLF an insurance policy for both borrowers and investors. ‘Now, without the MLF, the market becomes m ore fragile and more susceptible to setbacks, illiquidity and maybe selling if things turn negative,’ Fabian said. ‘If credit trends turn even more negative, if fears of a major issuer defaulting or having trouble paying begin to grow,’ those trends could weigh on the industry.” [Sub required]
24) National/New York: The Financial Times has a deep dive on the crisis faced by the New York transit system and its implications for the survival of metro transit systems around the world. The system faces a short term financing crisis. “Yet an even more ominous prospect looms in the longer term: after Covid-19, what happens if some passengers never come back? It’s a question echoing across cities around the world, from New York to London—where leaders just agreed a £1.8bn short-term transport rescue deal—to Singapore. The pandemic is setting in motion structural changes in how employees do their jobs with profound implications for urban settlement, transport networks and energy use. Journeying to work five days a week now seems excessive in an age of video conferencing and cloud data. In future, 85 per cent of employees would prefer to work remotely at least two to three days a week, according to a survey by CBRE, the commercial real estate services company.” [Sub required]
25) Hawaii: Plans to use a P3 to built the final leg of the Honolulu rail system have ended. “‘We’ve agreed to work together starting this weekend and coming back together on Monday and putting forward a proposal to the FTA that ensures as much as possible that the $250 million that could lapse at the end of the year does not lapse,’ Mayor Caldwell said. ‘And I believe the good news is working with Andy Robbins and the rest of the HART team, we can refine that proposal and be stronger together.’”
26) Maryland/National: The Purple Line P3 project disaster is reaching decision time. Should the state double down on yet another expensive P3 private financing scheme or should the project be terminated because, as one citizen puts it, the “the state simply does not have the money”? The ugly truth is that because of the appalling and incompetent manner in which the original P3 was planned and managed, taxpayers are now trapped in a billion dollar bind. The state seems inclined to dive into another P3. Are state lawmakers going to have a say in any of this? Do they want to have a say, or is a 30-year financing commitment going to be undertaken as an off-the-books capital operation? Annapolis? Hello?
27) Pennsylvania: the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation wants to go to the next level and create a P3 project to replace and repair bridges on the interstates and expressways. “Ken McClain, director for PennDOT’s Alternative Funding Program, discusses the need for a public-private partnership to help fund the replacement of ‘major’ bridges throughout the state. There are plenty of candidates to spread out the work statewide, from the Birmingham and Fort Duquesne bridges in Pittsburgh to the bridges carrying Route 30 over Slate Creek in Hempfield and Loyalhanna Creek in Unity. McClain said PennDOT officials will look statewide to determine what bridges meet their specifications.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
28) National: The New York Times editorial board is demanding more action as coronavirus rages through prisons. “It is all too easy for many Americans to ignore the horrors of what is happening inside the nation’s prisons and jails. Inmates are isolated from the broader populace, their suffering kept out of sight. But their welfare in this pandemic remains inextricably linked to everyone else’s. The nation’s continued failure to bring the virus to heel among this vulnerable population is both a public health catastrophe and a moral one.”
29) Florida: The Florida lobbying firm Johnson & Blanton has racked up racked up $1.2M in fees according to newly filed compensation reports. Compensation for GEO Group state lobbying was reported as $20,000-$29,999. At the federal level, GEO Group’s third quarter lobbying spending totaled $450,000 according to the company’s Congressional filings. Firms included Avant Bishop Washington & Black, US Policy Strategies, Ballard Partners, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, Capitol Counsel, DLA Piper, Lionel “Leo” Aguirre, Navigators Global LLC (Formerly DC Navigators, LLC), State Federal Strategies and the Da Vinci Group.
30) California: The California Senate Committee on Public Safety held a hearing on Thursday on Covid-19 outbreaks in detention facilities in prisons. Watch the video here; about three and a half hours.
31) National: Writing in Labor Notes, Jane Slaughter explains how postal workers saved the election. “The story of mail ballots in 2020 is the story of a uni on postal workforce willing to go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that every vote got delivered,” she says. “How did postal workers pull off this gargantuan feat? ‘Most of our employees were very prideful,’ said Keith Combs, president of the APWU Detroit local. ‘They were really happy they were able to complete the mission with the ballots. They want the Post Office to be seen in a different light than the White House had been portraying it.’”
32) Louisiana: Are New Orleans developers about to loot the budget of the public libraries for 20 years to pour into their megaprojects? They will be able to if voters approve Proposition 2. “If they want to divert our taxes to fund programs that are already adequately funded relative to what our libraries would be, then they should cut our property taxes and raise the property taxes on corporate entities that pollute our environment, and deprive our communities of public goods. Vote no on proposition two. Our democracy commands it.” Election Day is December 5. Early voting is Nov. 20-28 from 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (excluding Sunday, Nov. 22, Thursday, Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving) and Friday, Nov. 27 (Acadian Day); early voting is advanced one day because of the holidays).
33) International: The New York Times tells the story of how profit collided with public health in Italy’s wealthiest region. “The catastrophe in Italy’s most affluent region was in part a consequence of having entrusted much of the public health care system to private, profit-making companies while failing to coordinate their services. Over the previous quarter-century, substantial investment has flowed into lucrative specialties like cardiac surgery and oncology. Areas on the front lines of the pandemic, like family medicine and public health, have been neglected, leaving people excessively reliant on hospitals for care.”
34) International: Beleaguered British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is fending off new questions about sleaze in the awarding of government COVID-19 contracts. “The NAO examined 20 contracts. It found departments failed to document some decisions, such as why a supplier was chosen or whether risks such as potential conflicts of interest were considered. It highlighted a 550,000-pound contract awarded to Public First, a company that delivers focus group and communication services, that had links to senior minister Michael Gove. But it said there was no evidence Gove had been involved in the awarding of the contract. In recent weeks, newspapers have accused the government of running a ‘chumocracy’ with contracts, including for the purchase of what turned out to be unusable PPE, and appointments made to those with family or business links to those in power.”
35) National: U.S. businesses are being accused of widespread pandemic profiteering, the Financial Times reports. “Authorities across the country have brought hundreds of actions over alleged breaches of “price gouging” rules on products including face masks, disinfectant and toilet paper. In New York City alone, the department of consumer and worker protection said that since March, it had put about 3,000 retail outlets on notice over gouging law violations. Lawyers are predicting more legal actions as winter approaches and a resurgence of infections prompts authorities to reimpose social restrictions, fueling demand for essential goods.” [Sub required]