Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the privatization of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- Alabama is considering using federal COVID-19 relief funds to build two new prisons.
- New York residents are demanding legislative action on public water for Long Island.
- In the Public Interest Communications Director Jeremy Mohler stresses the urgent need for public investment in “community schools.”
1) National: President Biden spoke with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee, on Friday after he unveiled a $547 billion surface transportation bill that includes many of the priorities laid out in Biden’s $2.25 trillion jobs plan. The President expressed support for DeFazio’s plans to mark up the bill this Wednesday.
On Twitter, DeFazio wrote, “after years of work with my colleagues in Congress, and discussions over the past few months with the President, I am proud to introduce the surface transportation reauthorization bill today. It is transformational. It will create millions of jobs. It will build back better.” He said the bill “would include language prioritizing a fix-it-first approach that would invest in current roads and bridges before building new ones. In a release, he said the bill will seize ‘this once-in-a-generation opportunity to move our transportation planning out of the 1950s and toward our clean energy future.’”
Check out the details of the Invest in America Act.
2) National: Help is on the way for our national parks and public lands. “Today we are making critical investments that will create tens of thousands of jobs, safeguard the environment, and help ensure that national parks and public lands are ready to meet the challenges of climate change and increased visitation,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “Deferred maintenance means a backlog of much-needed repairs and improvements throughout our managed lands. In particular, I am encouraged that funding for Bureau of Indian Education schools will help ensure that we are providing a safe and reliable space where students and educators alike can focus on learning.”
3) Missouri: The Missouri Supreme Court has voided a “paycheck protection” law. “A coalition of seven labor unions—Missouri National Education Association; Ferguson-Florissant National Education Association; Hazelwood Association of Support Personnel; Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local Union No. 42; Miscellaneous Drivers, Helpers, Healthcare and Public Employees Local No. 610; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 148; and Service Employees International Union Local 1—sued to prevent the bill’s implementation. A circuit court eventually granted summary judgment in favor of the unions—all of which would have been subject to the bill—and enjoined the state from its implementation. The state appealed, but the Missouri Supreme Court sided with the unions in a 5-2 decision Tuesday authored by Judge Mary R. Russell.”
4) New York: New Jersey lawmakers have approved a landmark bill that bars landlords from asking about criminal convictions on housing applications, “marking a major step in a years long effort to create a system where people’s past mistakes do not perpetually derail them. (…) The effort to level the field for people with criminal records who are trying to find housing is particularly noteworthy in a state that operates the most racially unbalanced prison system in the nation. A 2016 study found that New Jersey imprisoned 12 Black inmates for each white inmate. Offenders who are able to secure stable housing upon release are considered less likely to commit new crimes.” Gov. Murphy (D) is expected to sign the bill.
5) Texas: An effort to block cities from regulating working conditions and benefits has failed in the state legislature. “It remains to be seen whether Gov. Greg Abbott will include SB 14 in a special session for later this year. He has indicated he wants to see changes to voting laws and a bail bond bill taken up by lawmakers, the Texas Tribune reported. (…) Opponents argued it would have rolled back worker protections in communities that have made such protections a priority. ‘It’s so shameful that after essential workers have put so much on the line during this pandemic, the legislature would consider taking basic worker rights away,’ Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, former policy director of the Workers Defense Project, said April 21, before SB 14 died at the State Capitol. ‘Workers need more protections after this year, not fewer.’”
6) International: The G7 group of advanced economies has struck an agreement on taxing multinational corporations. [Sub required]. But aid charities said the agreed rate is too low and would not stop tax havens from operating. “‘It’s absurd for the G7 to claim it is “overhauling” a broken global tax system by setting up a global minimum corporate tax rate that is similar to the soft rates charged by tax havens like Ireland, Switzerland and Singapore,’ said Oxfam’s executive director Gabriela Bucher. ‘They are setting the bar so low that companies can just step over it.’ She said the deal was unfair as it would benefit G7 states, where many of the big companies are headquartered, at the expense of poorer nations. Alex Cobham, chief executive of the Tax Justice Network, called the deal a ‘turning point’ but said it remained ‘extremely unfair.’”
7) National: Writing in New Castle News, In the Public Interest Communications Director Jeremy Mohler stresses the urgent need for public investment in community schools. “Community schools are public schools that bring together community partners to offer a range of support and opportunities to students, families, and nearby residents. They are designed to support the entirety of a student’s well-being to ensure they are healthy, well-fed, safe and in a better position to learn. These benefits then extend to the surrounding community. Schools following a community schools strategy have been some of the real success stories both before and during the pandemic. (…) With unprecedented federal funding headed their way, state and local school leaders should take a hard look at the community school strategy, especially given the widespread trauma and instability experienced by students over the past year. The pandemic, while an extraordinary tragedy, has gifted us the chance to reimagine public education and aim our efforts towards what is working for students elsewhere.”
8) National: Forbes reports that college faculty who work on fostering diversity within their institutions “are getting rewarded at an increasing number of colleges and universities. The reward comes in the form of favorable consideration in the tenure process. This change is particularly important to women of color, who do a disproportionate amount of diversity-focused work.”
9) Florida: Stoking the culture wars, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) used a charter school legislation signing photo op to tout his banning of transgender sports. “The bill started out as a charter school measure. Its final form included rules relating to charter school authorization, elementary school retention and more. It was the section on transgender student athlete participation in school sports that got all the governor’s attention. Critics noted he signed it on the first day of Pride Month, which the governor said was not a specific message, and expected lawsuits to follow, Florida Politics reports.”
10) Georgia: Wadley parents say no to a proposed charter school. During the meeting, “[Jefferson County School Board Superintendent Dr. Molly Howard] pointed out that during the recession, Jefferson County lost 1,000 citizens and the birth rate has decreased. These factors have lowered the enrollment rate in Jefferson County public schools. ‘Jefferson County is 42 miles long and 16 miles wide,’ she said, adding the county provides transportation for the students who attend public schools in the county. ‘Do you provide transportation?’ Howard asked Buchwitz, who replied no. ‘Carver is small,’ Howard said about the public elementary school in Wadley. She said if the school lost students to the proposed charter school, the Carver would lose state funds. Howard said if Carver Elementary School (CES) lost funding, the options for the county would be to keep CES open and pay for it locally (by raising local property taxes) or to close the school and build an addition to Louisville Academy or somewhere else. ‘We have great teacher retention at Carver,’ Howard said.”
11) Illinois: Chicago Teachers Union educators are considering striking Epic charter in wake of retaliatory firings of union leaders. “Management suddenly fired four educators in the middle of a ratification vote on the school’s first contract. (…) Educators had landed a tentative agreement on a first contract in late May. During the union’s ratification process, Epic’s Executive Director LeeAndra Khan terminated four workers—including three on the negotiating committee. Epic’s executive director most recently worked as CEO of Chicago’s Civitas schools, a charter operator with a history of anti-union, anti-educator policies that provoked the longest charter strike in US history in February 2019.”
12) Illinois: For the second time in a week, “educators at a Chicago charter school have voted to join the CTU. Rank and file educators at Christopher House Charter School, in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood, voted three to one to be represented by the Union, joining dozens of other charter schools across the city.”
13) Nevada: Interest in starting charter schools appears to be spiking, especially in Las Vegas. Charter school executive “Sudweeks said he’s not sure why the charter school authority is getting a lot of interest this year, but ‘downtown (Las Vegas) might be more of an open market for these charter operators.’ He noted that many Las Vegas Valley charter schools are in suburbs that already have access to high-quality Clark County School District campuses. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to get approval to open. Sudweeks said he has noticed both in Utah and Nevada that ‘the process for opening a charter school has become much more difficult.’”
14) New York: Three of the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination to run for mayor are charter school supporters, raising questions about how public education in the city would be affected if one was elected. “Deep-pocketed charter school supporters have also taken notice,” Politico reports. “Yang has the support of donor Jeff Yass, co-founder of investment firm Susquehanna International Group, who said Yang would be the best candidate for school choice. Jenny Sedlis, executive director of pro-charter group StudentsFirstNY, is leading a political action committee on Adams’ behalf.” On Saturday Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) announced her backing for Maya Wiley’s candidacy, pointing to “the ‘dark money’ shaping the race.” Both Yang and Dams “have attracted controversy over donors to their super PACs — and she implicitly warned against candidates who support what she cast as overpolicing.”
Randi Weingarten of AFT is “incredibly disappointed” at the support for charters among frontrunners. For more on charter schools and the mayoral race check out the Bad Faith podcast with Briahna Joy Gray and Virgil Texas. [Audio, at 34:00]
15) North Carolina: Despite concerns about whether it will comply with desegregation orders, officials have given a Franklin County charter school permission to open. “Wake Prep plans to open a K-12 school serving more than 1,600 students, which would make it one of the larger charter schools in North Carolina. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow. Wake Prep would be managed by Charter One, a company formed by Arizona businessman Glenn Way. It would also get land for the school from another company formed by Way. The Arizona Republic reported how businesses owned or tied to Way made millions in profits from charter schools in Arizona. Charter One has been expanding operations into North Carolina.”
16) North Carolina: Bridges Academy, a charter school in State Road, is closing amid “financial irregularities that threaten the financial well-being of the school. (…) Meanwhile, State Bureau of Investigation spokesman Angie Grube said Friday that the agency is investigating allegations that Bridges fraudulently obtained excess funding from the state.”
17) Pennsylvania: The move for charter school accountability reform is gaining steam in Pennsylvania. “Erie County school districts would save $6.4 million under the proposal including $371,500 for Millcreek Township School District and $5 million for Erie City School District. A complete list of savings by school district is available here. ‘Erie’s public schools charter tuition costs rose from 11 million in 2008-2009 to a projected $31 million this year, a 182 percent increase. That is simply unsustainable,’ said Erie’s Public Schools Superintendent Brian Polito. ‘The kind of common-sense reform proposed by Governor Wolf is essential for our fiscal health as a district and our ability to invest in our students, both of which directly affect the health and prosperity of our entire region.’”
But the drive for legislative action faces obstacles from the charter school industry. “Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, said enough votes exist in the House to pass reforms to the charter school law, untouched since it was enacted in 1997. ‘I don’t think cyber education was even a twinkle in anybody’s eye at that point,’ he said Monday. ‘What we see today is that people have figured out a way to make money, and they are less concerned about what the outcome is here.’ He blamed ‘certain leaders’ for preventing charter reform bills from ‘ever seeing the light of day,’ and claimed that Education Committee Chairman Curt Sonney, R-Erie, has been pressured to ignore the issue.”
18) Tennessee: Tennessee Lookout takes us inside a bruising battle over a new charter school on Nashville’s west side. “A proposed new charter school in affluent West Nashville has stirred up the echoes of the city’s most brutal public education battle in recent history and provided yet another test of a new state law that watered down local control. Nashville is just under nine years removed from Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy’s failed bid to build a charter school that would have appealed to the families who enroll their children in private schools. The Great Hearts fight created a dividing line between left-leaning politicians protective of traditional public schools and education reformers, who are politically backed mostly by Republicans.”
But this time may be different. “The starting point for the local debate over Nashville Classical’s application is a new state law that says the Nashville school board’s decision is functionally irrelevant. If the appeal is rejected, as expected, the school can simply appeal to the new Republican-backed state charter school commission, which would likely grant its approval. Unless a political meteor strikes and creates some unforeseen circumstance, Nashville Classical will be open to enrolling kindergarten beginning next year.”
19) Texas: The San Antonio Report’s Robert Rivard asks why IDEA Public Schools’ top leaders were fired by the charter school system’s board. “Such developments in one of Bexar County’s public school districts would have led to elected board trustees disclosing the cause of termination and any severance or contract buyouts. Charter schools, governed by unelected boards but subject to the same state disclosure laws, operate with far less transparency. If Torkelson’s forced departure in 2020 serves as precedent, the San Antonio Report and other local media will have to file open records requests with the Texas attorney general’s office to win the release of the audit and any severance payments.”
20) Revolving Door News/District of Columbia: The DC Charter School Alliance has named Tami Lewis as its chief lobbyist. “Lewis joins the DC Charter School Alliance with more than 20 years of experience advocating on behalf of students and families in the District of Columbia. She has held numerous leadership positions in the DC government and the charter school sector focused on improving educational opportunities and services for at-risk children and students with disabilities.”
21) National: Negotiations over President Biden’s infrastructure package have reached a crisis point. It’s unclear how much longer Biden will continue talks with Capito or other Republicans given the lack of progress. Some Democratic sources believe he will look to make a decision on whether to cut a deal or abandon them by mid-June, i.e., the week after this. Biden has already slashed the size of the initiative, stirring “a potential progressive revolt.”
Senate Democrats “are already laying the groundwork to pass the larger infrastructure package through Congress using budget reconciliation, a process that would allow the measure to pass without any Republican votes. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated last week that the Senate would move forward with infrastructure legislation in July, regardless of whether Republicans and Democrats are able to come to an agreement.”
22) National: Wendell R. Stemley, Emeritus Director of National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC), writing in Daily Kos, explains how infrastructure and racial equity are intertwined. “If the federal government is going to make massive investments in infrastructure, it should begin by taking a number of steps that will help ensure these long-neglected communities receive overdue attention. (…) First, federal funding guarantees should include designations and safeguards on money intended for use in minority communities. (…) Second, the federal government must ensure greater inclusion of minority-owned businesses in infrastructure projects. (…) Finally, the Biden Administration should ensure that new methods of procurement – such as public-private partnerships – include the same protections for minority and women-owned subcontractors as traditional methods of procurement.”
23) Connecticut: A tough legislative battle is shaping up over proposed so-called public-private partnership legislation, SB 920, which just passed the state Senate and will now be taken up by the House. On Friday two House members wrote an op-ed on Patch touting P3s as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Critics have warned that passage of the bill would open Connecticut up for a replay of the Rowland corruption scandals.
Critics “say those safeguards have been wasting away over the years because of the inattention of legislators and executive branch officials who don’t care enough about standards such as competitive bidding on state contracts or ethical conduct by public officeholders. And it has focused renewed attention on a watchdog panel that was created as a safeguard against corruption after the Rowland scandal — the State Contracting Standards Board. The DOT’s proposed bill would remove several restrictions on public-private project proposals, and includes a provision cutting the contracting board out of reviewing them. ‘SB 920 is an alarming attempt to return us to the shadowy Rowland years in which the governor engaged in pay-to-play contracting and procurement, awarding lucrative state contracts to those who compensated him with expensive gifts, trips and home improvements,’ Sal Luciano, president of the statewide Connecticut AFL-CIO union federation, told the legislative transportation committee at a March 3 public hearing.”
24) Maryland: The radical scaling back of the I-270/I-495 managed toll lanes project is still reverberating through the corporate world. The infrastructure privatization industry seems to be taking some solace from the fact that a so-called public-private partnership element will be retained for the portion of the project that survived the cutback. But the time frame that will result from this recalculation is a serious setback. “The new preferred alternative will require the state to publish a Supplemental Draft EIS, which the state anticipates completing in Summer 2021. The state will then need to respond to comments received on both the original Draft EIS (published in July 2020) and the forthcoming Supplemental Draft EIS in the study’s Final EIS. Governor Larry Hogan, who continues to champion the project was hoping to complete the NEPA process before leaving office in early 2023. It is unclear if that timing will be possible now. (…) While the sections removed were those considered “most controversial,” the project NEPA permit still could eventually be the subject of environmental litigation despite the smaller footprint.” [Public Works Financing, May 2021; sub required]
25) New York: New York residents are demanding legislative action on public water for Long Island. With just a few days remaining in the legislative session the situation is urgent.
- “’It’s time to return Long Island’s water system to the people,’ said Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Eric Weltman. “Water is a human right, not a commodity to be traded for private profit. With one week left in the New York state legislative session, residents are clear that the Long Island legislative delegation must get serious about creating a public water utility for Nassau County.”
- “Failure to act to provide public water for all Nassau residents is legislative malpractice,” said Dave Denenberg, Co-Director of Long Island Clean Air Water & Soil. “Water is our most precious resource that should be a clean, affordable, tax free public service for all.”
- “This private water mess has gone on for way too long! The proposed sale to Liberty must be stopped,” said Agatha Nadel, Director of North Shore Concerned Citizens. “We must be on a path to affordable public water this Legislative session. Doing nothing is not an option.”
26) Puerto Rico: “Women in Puerto Rico blocked a main highway into the metropolitan area early this morning in protest against the forced privatization of our public electricity grid by the United States govt. They were immediately met by riot police. More displays of resistance to come.” H/T @deviIette. #FueraLUMA.
Criminal Justice and Immigration
27) National/Alabama/Florida: Is CoreCivic’s controversial imprisonment-for-profit business model finally catching up with its balance sheet? The Tallahassee Tribune reports “the state’s plan to construct three mega-prisons has hit a roadblock. One of the proposed mega-prisons was slated for construction just outside of the Tallassee city limits on Riffle Range Road. However, CoreCivic, the company that was slated to build two of the prisons and lease the facilities to the State of Alabama, was unable to secure funding for the project.”
But will COVID-19 federal dollars be used to build prisons? Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) says she is looking at other options after CoreCivic’s financing fell through. “Clouse said the administration has asked for a meeting to talk about options and a possible special session. Clouse said options being discussed include a bond issue to finance the construction and using a portion of the state’s COVID-19 relief dollars. The governor said she remains committed to finding a way to build new prisons.”
28) National: Is the Biden administration going to keep to its word on closing private prisons and adequately caring for immigrant detainees? “‘They don’t have the political will,’ said Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, an advocacy group, expressing skepticism about the Biden administration’s sluggishness to act on the pledges to close Irwin and roll back private detention. ‘Immigrants may still be detained [at Irwin Detention Center]. They just want to perform. ICE is saying they want to back out, but what does that actually look like? It’s sort of a flimsy thing.’ (…) An arrangement continuing federal detention at Irwin would seem to run afoul of an executive order signed by President Joe Biden on January 26. (Biden’s order did not address private immigration detention companies.) In Youngstown, Ohio, the Marshals recently renegotiated a contract with for-profit prison company CoreCivic to hold federal detainees, seemingly in direct contravention to Biden’s order. ‘This calls into question what the EO’ — executive order — ‘actually stands for,’ said Shah, the Detention Watch Network official. ‘This flies in the face of what Biden has claimed.’”
29) National: The GEO Group will get a new CEO as its long time chief executive George Zoley, 71, moves aside to become executive board chair. “Jose Gordo will be appointed Chief Executive Officer effective July 1, 2021, reporting to Mr. Zoley.”
30) National/Pennsylvania: NorthcentralPA.com reports that “U.S. Rep. Fred Keller (R-PA 12) and the Bureau of Prisons Reform Caucus met with the U.S. Government Accountability Office to receive updates from the agency’s 2021 report entitled, “Opportunities Exist to Better Analyze Staffing Data and Improve Employee Wellness Programs.” The report [read here] “outlined flaws with BOP’s staffing methodology, its plan for identifying staffing shortages, and agency retention issues. ‘Throughout the pandemic, we saw BOP leadership make questionable decisions when mitigating the risk of spreading COVID -19, addressing staffing shortages, and taking care of their inmates and correctional officers,’ Keller said during the meeting. ‘BOP’s leadership needs to understand the decisions they make in Washington affect the daily lives of families and communities.’”
31) Florida: Plans to digitize mail sent to state prisons by photocopying every card, letter or picture and providing it instead electronically to incarcerated people are causing outrage. “The plan, which was announced this week in detail, would not only eliminate incarcerated people’s access to physical mail but also greatly limit the number of pages someone could mail inside at one time and extend the time in which officials have to provide someone’s mail. ‘To institute a policy that hurts those individuals and further alienates them from the people in the free world, … it’s something we just can’t understand and get behind,’ said Seth Miller, the executive director of Innocence Project of Florida. ‘We should be trying to build up [an incarcerated person’s] humanity and dignity, and not tear it apart.’”
32) Pennsylvania: The public defender says Philadelphia jails are “cruel and callous,” and violate clients’ rights. “The Philadelphia Department of Prisons has been locked in federal litigation for more than a year with civil rights lawyers who say conditions are unsanitary, cleaning supplies inadequate, the climate dangerous, and the time prisoners spend outside of cells inhumanely scarce. A judge found grounds to hold the city in contempt of an order to let people out of their cells at least three hours a day. And sanctions of $10,000 a day—payable to Philly’s two nonprofit bail funds—could be imposed as soon as June 10 if the city fails to comply. Now, the Defender Association of Philadelphia has begun filing petitions demanding action even sooner, arguing for the immediate release of some clients from jail conditions it says are ‘so cruel and callous’ as to be unconstitutional.”
33) Tennessee: Trousdale County has renewed its contract with CoreCivic to operate the company’s Trousdale Turner Correctional Center for five years. “The terms of the contract are mostly unchanged from the current one, which expires at the end of June. CoreCivic has agreed to pay a $300,000 administrative fee, with that amount due on July 1 each year. No plans for the additional funds have been made but County Mayor Stephen Chambers suggested setting it aside toward paying for a new jail, which is looming on the horizon.”
34) Oklahoma: Last week more than 50,000 people signed up for Medicaid since Oklahoma expanded the program. And Governor Stitt (R) is trying to privatize it. But the State Supreme Court has put a spanner in the works with a surprise ruling: “The decision essentially—at least for now—struck down Stitt’s plan to privatize much of the Medicaid system, saying he needed lawmakers’ approval, which he didn’t have. But there was a twist: the decision was 6-3, and the three dissenters pointed to Senate Bill 131. This bill, which was rushed through late in the session, put some guardrails on Stitt’s privatization plan since he was moving forward with it. ‘It’s an attempt to put brackets and at least some boundaries around executive fiat,’ Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, said during debate on the bill. ‘We need brackets because we need some legislative input and some legislative boundaries into a plan that we had no hand in making.’ But the three justices and the governor suggest SB 131 might be all the legislative approval needed to make the privatized plan constitutional.” Stay tuned.
35) Oregon: Workers at Hillsboro library have joined AFSCME. “By video chat, librarians Mary Davis and Elena Gleason told the Labor Press they and their co-workers love their jobs, and they want a union in order to make improvements. They say the library has been relying too heavily on part-time and on-call workers, who lack benefits. [There’s already progress to report: After the union campaign began, the city announced it will start offering benefits to those workers starting next January.] Employees are also concerned about being asked to work “out of classification”—doing higher-responsibility jobs for long periods at lower wages than what a worker would be paid to do that job permanently. Davis said several part-time workers spearheaded a previous attempt to unionize with Oregon’s other major public employee union, SEIU Local 503, but that effort failed to develop enough momentum.”
36) International: A report in the British Medical Journal suggests there was massive corruption in the government contracting system to deal with the COVID -19 pandemic. “As early as March 2020, Boris Johnson’s government had begun handing out billions of pounds in British taxpayers’ money to private companies, for everything from personal protective equipment to testing kits, without even the whisper of a formal bidding process. Emergency pandemic regulations allowed officials, such as the much-maligned Health Minister Matt Hancock, to “fast-track” public contracts as the rules requiring competitive tenders were waived. Although Johnson, Hancock, and others have argued that this expediency was necessary in the context of the pandemic, the examples of overt cronyism speak for themselves.”
37) Think Tanks: In his new book, noted author Michael Lewis says the pandemic has produced a sea change in attitudes toward government. “Lewis senses that the pandemic may finally provide a moment to transcend polarization: ‘This divide seems bigger than it is,’ he says. Underneath the endless culture wars there is a fundamental divergence of opinion on the role of government. Reagan famously said: ‘The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”’ It was a joke, but one that captured the growing conviction on the American right that the smaller the public sector, the better. The Covid response has shown up the weaknesses of that view.”
Photo by Outdoor Alabama.