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.
- Americans are more pro-union – and anti-big business – than at any time in decades. “Perhaps Trump’s faux-populism had an unintended effect,” write Emily DiVito and Aaron Sojourner in the Guardian.
- President Biden has set a deadline of tomorrow for Republicans to bring him a workable infrastructure proposal.
- In a major victory for citizens concerned about proper planning and the environment, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) multibillion dollar toll lane so-called “public-private partnership” is being radically scaled back.
1) National: States, territories, tribal governments, counties and cities can now request their share of the $350 billion in COVID-19 aid allocated to them by the massive federal relief law President Joe Biden signed in March. “We’re talking about 1.3 million state and local employees out-of-work,” President Biden said. “The money we’re going to be distributing now is going to make it possible for an awful lot of educators, first responders, sanitation workers to go back to work.”
In addition, billions of federal dollars to close broadband gaps are about to start flowing. “Taken together, the more than $10 billion in federal investments are meant to help the approximately 17 million students across the United States who do not have high speed internet connections in the home that were necessary to participate in remote learning. The FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which offers $50 a month to help eligible households pay their internet or mobile phone bills, opened for enrollment Wednesday. The program can also provide $100 toward buying a laptop or tablet. More than 825 internet service providers, including Comcast and AT&T, have signed up to participate in the initiative.”
2) National: The Biden administration is about to use the resources of the federal government to “mount a more robust defense of organized labor in the face of well-funded conservative groups that seek to undermine unionization efforts,” Bloomberg Law reports. “Jeffrey Freund, the new director of the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, told Bloomberg Law he’ll push back more aggressively against business-funded campaigns that use the department’s data to portray unions as bastions of corruption. Freund, a veteran union-side attorney, said he’s planning a public outreach campaign to ensure workers are aware that the vast majority of unions are in compliance with rules on financial disclosure and officer elections. He said he aims to promote unions’ low rate of overall violations through a side-by-side comparison to data collected by other DOL agencies that investigate businesses, such as the prevalence of “wage theft,” workplace safety fines, and other employer-specific offenses.”
3) National: The White House is making the case for increased public investment. “President Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers issued a policy brief Friday that lays out its argument for the multi-trillion dollar investments the administration has proposed to make in everything from green energy infrastructure to childhood education. ‘For the past four decades, the view that lower taxes, less spending, and fewer regulations would generate stronger economic growth has exerted substantial influence on U.S. public policy,’ the paper says. ‘Over this period, the United States has underinvested in public goods such as infrastructure and innovation, and gains from growth have accrued disproportionately to the top of the income and wealth distribution.’”
Read the brief here and Jared Bernstein’s comments here.
4) California: Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed to expand the availability of transitional kindergarten, currently available only to about one-third of California’s 4-year-olds. “Funded by unprecedented growth in state tax revenues, the effort is one of a series of far-reaching education proposals Newsom will send to the Legislature at the end of the week in his revised state budget. Those plans include additional after-school and summer programs in low-income communities, $4 billion for youth mental health support, more than $3.3 billion for teacher and school employee training and $3 billion to encourage the development of ‘community schools,’ where education is integrated with healthcare and mental health services in communities with high poverty rates.”
5) California: Can a community benefits agreement help control gentrification? The Sacramento Bee looks at one experience. “Oak Park, a historically Black neighborhood of Sacramento that’s experienced poverty and disinvestment for decades, is in dizzying transformation. Rents and real estate prices, on the rise for a decade, have now skyrocketed. Stylish condos and chic businesses are popping up. Young professionals are moving in, some from the Bay Area. (…) But something unprecedented is also happening in Oak Park this spring. An old narrative may be changing. Fueled by the national debate over social and racial justice, and pushed by a savvy generation of community activists and organizers, the city and university signed a sweeping Community Benefits Partnership Agreement to spur several hundred million dollars in investment in Oak Park and Tahoe Park, focused on new affordable housing, local hiring requirements, job training and eviction protections. The deal, signed last month, has turned the old streetcar neighborhood into the biggest social and economic engineering experiment in Sacramento since downtown redevelopment a half-century ago. ”
6) Florida: Miami-Dade County has secur ed a nearly $1.9 million EPA grant for new waste vehicles that reduce diesel emissions. “‘I’m committed to making Miami-Dade County a cleaner, greener community, and that includes looking for opportunities to become more energy efficient across county buildings and operations,’ Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says. ‘This grant from the EPA is an important step forward to build a more sustainable Department of Solid Waste Management, reducing emissions and protecting our environment as we serve our neighborhoods.’”
7) Missouri: The Webster County Citizen reports that faith-based youth homes in Missouri “will now be subject to regulations and transparency requirements, requiring them to notify the state of their location and provide officials with background checks for all of their employees. Facilities would be subject to fines and misdemeanor charges for noncompliance. The legislation also creates a process through which the state can promptly remove and interview a child from a faith-based home where there is “reasonable cause” to believe abuse or neglect is taking place. An emergency clause was attached to the bill, and the governor already said he would immediately sign it into law. The urgency came from multiple reports of abuse and neglect in the homes.”
8) Upcoming Conference: The American Prospect is sponsoring a half-day Zoom conference on Wednesday, May 26, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. E.T., “on challenges and strategies, featuring national and local progressive organizers and students of organizers.” Panelists include Lauren Jacobs, executive director, Partnership for Working Families; Heather Booth, organizer, strategist and founder, Midwest Academy; and Charese Rasberry, organizer, Local 226 UNITE-HERE, Las Vegas; and Nse Ufot, chief executive, New Georgia Project.
9) National: The right wing, Murdoch-owned New York Post is complaining that Biden is not celebrating Charter School Week.
10) Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has expanded school vouchers by signing a bill (HB 7045) to overhaul the state’s school voucher system dramatically. “Under the proposal, a family of four earning less than $100,000 a year would be eligible for enrollment, allowing them to send their children to any school of their choice. ‘This is public money, scholarship money, not going to any particular institution,’ DeSantis said. And to assuage Democrats’ concerns that school vouchers are state funding for private schools: ‘It’s going to the parents, and the parents are now in power.’ The bill also merges some scholarship programs to make way for the new framework.” But some parents oppose the bill because taxpayer dollars are funding schools that have discriminated against children with special needs or different sexual orientations.“”
11) Florida: In a letter to the editor of the Ocala StarBanner, Leonard Kleps takes strong exception to a Catholic school’s banning of mask-wearing on religious grounds. “When any parent sends their children to be abused by the outlandish thinking of a school’s leaders, it becomes a danger to all of us. Please vote against school voucher schemes that divert millions of your tax dollars from accountable public schools. Republicans are to blame for these schemes that violate the separation of church and state.”
12) Minnesota: One of the oldest charter schools in Minnesota and the nation has lost a final appeal to keep its doors open beyond the end of this school year. “In a letter to the school, [Samantha Diaz, the director of the office of public charter schools for Pillsbury United Communities] wrote that ‘PUC based its decision on CRCS’s failure to demonstrate satisfactory academic achievement for all students’ and noted ‘significant board turnover, inadequate community representation on the board’ and ‘a lack of board transparency.’”
13) Missouri: Seven Kansas City charter schools are losing their sponsorship by the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. “Only three other sponsorship options are available right now: the University of Missouri in Columbia, Kansas City Public Schools, and the Missouri Public Charter School Commission.”
14) Nevada: A charter school teacher license bill advances, “but nobody seems happy with it,” the Nevada Current reports. Two Democrats on the Senate Education Committee expressed their dissatisfaction with the amendment. “I want this on the record: that we have licenses for a reason,” said state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop. “We don’t hire firemen who aren’t certified. We don’t hire electricians and plumbers without a license. I think it’s important to keep that in mind.”
15) Pennsylvania: In the face of community pushback, the Daniel Boone School Board in Berks County has delayed a move to outsource district aides. “The board voted 8-0 to remove a motion to outsource aides from the agenda of a special voting meeting on Monday, Olafson said. Member Beverly Albright was absent. The board also did not act upon a motion to contract with CCRES, a Chester County-based provider of educational services, to supply aides to the district. Olafson said the board intends to resume negotiations with the Daniel Boone Federation of Support Staff, the aides’ union, but that no date to meet has been set. The board’s dramat ic turnaround came after an estimated 80 people, most opposing outsourcing, attended the meeting.”
16) Utah: The Standard-Examiner reports that a group trying to set up a charter school in Ogden are throwing in the towel. “Innovation is inherently risky, and the UMS experience highlights insurmountable hurdles ingrained in the public charter school system,” read the press release. It continued, “Our board fears that new innovative schools do not have the support, resources, or statewide investment in education needed to succeed within the existing state charter framework.”
17) National: President Biden has set a deadline of tomorrow for Republicans to bring him a workable infrastructure proposal. “Republicans have been less optimistic. While Capito expressed the desire to work with Democrats, some of Biden’s proposals, like tax hikes to fund the plan, are completely out of the question. ‘We’re not interesting in reopening the 2017 tax bill. We made that clear to the president,’ McConnell said at a news conference. ‘That is our red line.’” Negotiations over financing could scupper a bipartisan deal.
18) National: Writing in the Newark Star-Ledger, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, says to get lead out of our water we need more federal money. “While we should have a better inventory by 2024, the American Water Works Association estimated in 2016 that there were 6.1 million lead services lines, serving 15 to 22 million people. Their estimate for full lead service line replacement was $30 billion, so the Biden administration proposal is in the right neighborhood. But those figures do not include schools, which is largely left up to states (and also largely unregulated). A 2018 GAO survey found that only 43% of school districts across the country test for lead; and of those, 37% found elevated lead levels.
It’s no stretch, then, to assume that these costs will exceed the White House’s lead replacement budget, especially if the goal is a full replacement of lead lines and not just the portion owned by a water utility.”
19) National: Cities say they badly need critical infrastructure funding. “‘Our transportation network is a knot of congestion and disrepair, our broadband and connectivity lags behind the rest of the world, families drink from bottled water in the absence of safe tap water, and all the while, federal partnership for infrastructure has faltered, allowing America to fall behind an ever-increasing demand,’ the [National League of Cities] posted on its website.”
20) National: Sam Seder and Emma Vigeland interviewed James R. Skillen, professor at Calvin University on The Majority Report to discuss his new book, This Land is My Land: Rebellion in the West, on the history of how conservatives have used public lands as a pitch to stoke resentment of federal law and play out their libertarian fantasies.
21) Maryland: In a major victory for citizens concerned about proper planning and the environment, Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) multibillion dollar toll lane so-called public-private partnership is being radically scaled back, eliminating 30 miles of proposed toll roads. The state “is shifting gears with its plan to add high occupancy toll (HOT) managed toll lanes to key Washington, DC-area highways, announcing on May 11 it would shed most of that planned expansion on the controversial I-495/Capital Beltway segment. The state Dept. of Transportation will now focus its public-private partnership arrangement on a new Potomac River crossing for the Beltway and HOT lanes added just to a 9.3-mile segment of I-270. The agency still plans to deliver the project as a P3, although finalizing a contract for the initial development phase remains stalled by a bid protest that has not completed its process.”
Critics said the widening of the Beltway along this stretch would have promoted more auto-centric sprawl, which runs against goals in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties of more environmentally friendly mass transit.
22) Missouri: Kansas City has released a “Request for Proposals (RFP) to redevelop the Paige Home, associated with a legendary Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball pitcher.
The historic home, located at 2626 E. 28th St. in the Santa Fe Neighborhood, suffered fire damage in 2018. In 2019, the Kansas City Homesteading Authority purchased the home to protect and preserve the home. A $150,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation funded repair and stabilization of the structure.” One of the requirements of the RFP is a proposal for community use of the site on an ongoing basis through a community benefit agreement with the Santa Fe Area Council.
23) New Jersey/National: In an op-ed, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka says some infrastructure challenges can be resolved by cities and counties. “With little federal, and often little state, funding to speak of, city and county governments need to get creative and collaborative in solving their infrastructure challenges for the next generation. The cities and counties able to do so will make a much-needed dent in infrastructure improvement, while also creating economic opportunity for all residents. Working with a county partner can allow cities to tackle bigger infrastructure projects than they otherwise could on their own. In Newark, our financial partnership with the County of Essex allowed us to eliminate our city’s primary source of tap water lead contamination—a problem that had been left unaddressed for more than half a century. Rather than relying on temporary solutions, Newark committed to removing every lead water service line in our city.”
24) Puerto Rico: Reps. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) say the impending privatization of Puerto Rico’s Energy Authority is a plan to shortchange workers. “A recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis shows that PREPA and other government agencies have entered into over $440 million in contracts for legal, financial and technical advisors — some charging more than $1,200 per hour — to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt and privatize the electrical system. This consulting bonanza has almost entirely benefited U.S. firms, with only 3 percent of total contracting going to Puerto Rico. It is unacceptable that the federal oversight board has pursued cuts to labor budgets, while failing to take any meaningful action to curb exorbitant fees for professional consultants.”
25) International: The de-privatization of water is tied to the upcoming vote on Chile’s new constitution. “Chile is one of the countries with the highest level of water privatization in the world: an estimated 80% of the country’s water resources belong to private owners, mostly agricultural, mining and energy companies. “Access to water is one of the great inequalities of this country. Ensuring it for human consumption is the biggest constituent challenge,” he told Efe Matías Asun, director of the NGO. [Sub required]
It was precisely the current Magna Carta, together with the Water Code, both inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) that granted individuals free and perpetual exploitation rights that are now bought and sold on the free market.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
26) National: In a major new report, the Associated Press says “the Biden administration is holding tens of thousands of asylum-seeking children in an opaque network of some 200 facilities that The Associated Press has learned spans two dozen states and includes five shelters with more than 1,000 children packed inside. Confidential data obtained by the AP shows the number of migrant children in government custody more than doubled in the past two months, and this week the federal government was housing around 21,000 kids, from toddlers to teens. A facility at Fort Bliss, a U.S. Army post in El Paso, Texas, had more than 4,500 children as of Monday. Attorneys, advocates and mental health experts say that while some shelters are safe and provide adequate care, others are endangering children’s health and safety. ‘It’s almost like “Groundhog Day,”’ said Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Luz Lopez.”
27) National: CoreCivic has been slapped with a lawsuit for its alleged abuse of more than 20 asylum seekers who were on a hunger strike protesting COVID-19 safety conditions at the Torrance County Detention Facility. “According to a new lawsuit from the ACLU of New Mexico and the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, they were all sprayed with pepper spray, held in an enclosed room for several minutes and given little time to clean the spray from their bodies. Jasmine McGee, Managing Attorney at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center said ‘Here they are in this detained setting away from their family in the midst of a Pandemic afraid they are going to contract COVID-19. And what happens is CoreCivic retaliates against them and intentionally inflicts harm.’”
28) National: Inmates freed for COVID safety are bracing for a possible return to federal Bureau of Prisons facilities. “But now, as the pandemic appears to be weakening, a kick in the gut for these newly reintegrated citizens. A Department of Justice memo issued during the last week of the Trump administration has come back to haunt them. It mandates t hat after the pandemic eases, ‘BOP must plan for an eventuality where it might need to return a significant number of prisoners to correctional facilities.’ Which ones will have to go back to prison? What’s the criteria? Does this seem fair to all those who were issued an ankle monitor and told they were free to rebuild their lives? President Joe Biden has habitually taken steps to undo Trump-era mandates but, inexplicably, not in this case. Not yet anyway.”
29) National: S&P Global reports that “private prisons operator GEO Group Inc. disclosed that the Federal Bureau of Prisons will not renew the contracts for the Great Plains Correctional Facility in Hinton, Okla., and for county-owned and managed Reeves County Detention Center I & II in Texas. GEO does not expect renewals for its remaining contracts with the bureau that expire between November and the end of September 2022.”
30) National: The family of a woman who died while in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has sued the federal government,” according to the New York Daily News. “Roxsana Hernández, a 33-year-old transgender woman from Honduras, died on May 25, 2018, nine days after she was admitted to the Cibola General Hospital in Milan, New Mexico. Last year, the Transgender Law Center (TLC) and two law firms filed a suit against five private companies responsible for Hernández’s care. “The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico and named five companies—Management & Training Corporation, LaSalle Corrections Transport, Global Precision Systems, TransCor America, and CoreCivic—as defendants. It alleged gross negligence leading to the death of Hernández, an asylum-seeker living with HIV, while she was being transported from San Diego, Calif. to Cibola, N.M.”
31) National: CoreCivic has released its annual Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Report.
32) Alabama: A Montgomery County circuit court judge heard arguments Friday “on whether to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to stop the progress on Alabama’s multi-billion dollar mega-prison construction plan. “The plaintiffs in the case, state auditor Jim Zeigler, state Rep. John Rogers, Elmore County property owner Leslie Ognburn and pastor Kenny Glasgow believe the lease agreements violate state law and ADOC regulations. Judge Greg Griffin ruled Friday to dismiss Jim Zeigler’s official capacity claims. The case can still proceed with Zeigler as a plaintiff as a taxpayer. An attorney for the plaintiffs argued Friday in court that Ivey’s plan will incur debt on behalf of the state. The plaintiffs unsuccessfully asked the judge to void the lease agreements with CoreCivic and to impose temporary and permanent injunctive relief to suspend the lease agreements. Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn were named as defendants in the case.”
33) Kansas/National: CoreCivic has asked Leavenworth County commissioners to reconsider a decision they made regarding the company’s Leavenworth Detention Center. “Officials with CoreCivic, which operates private detention facilities, have asked the county government to take over the operation of the Leavenworth Detention Center. The center houses pretrial detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service. The request from the Tennessee-based CoreCivic came after President Joe Biden issued an executive order that prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from renewing contracts with privately-run detention facilities. The Marshals Service is an agency of the Justice Department. (…) CoreCivic officials proposed the county could lease the facility from the company. And staff members at the Leavenworth Detention Center could become employees of the county.” But Mike Smith, chairman of the County Commission, said “I just don’t know the answer to that right now, but it would take a lot for me to want to bring that back.”
34) Pennsylvania: The Delco Times reports that the GEO Group is stalling on expanding its drug treatment program. “Members of Delaware County’s Jail Oversight Board want to expand the drug treatment program at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility to include Suboxone, but say they don’t understand why they’re getting resistance from the operator, who says they’ve gotten stonewalled from the county. (…) Regarding using Suboxone for the Medication-Assisted Program, Jail Oversight Board member Brian Corson said he talked to Crozer Health. ‘In talking to Crozer, they do have a call scheduled with GEO May 20,’ he said. ‘And the feedback I’ve gotten from the representatives of Crozer is just seems to be a lot of barriers that are being put in place when they’re having the discussions about expanding this.’ Corson added that the Crozer officials have said if a prison program was approved today, they’d be able to start it tomorrow.”
35) National: The National Labor Relations Board has set its first in-person union vote in months. “In a Thursday decision, NLRB Los Angeles regional director Mori Rubin said improving COVID-19 metrics in the areas surrounding the GI Industries Waste Management facility in Simi Valley, California, means workers can safely vote in-person on being represented by Teamsters Local 186 under NLRB precedent. It is the first in-person election to be ordered since the NLRB issued its November Aspirus Keweenaw decision giving guidance for regional directors to follow when deciding how to hold union elections, according to the NLRB and a Law360 review.”
36) Connecticut: State Senate Democrats have voted to strengthen the hands of public sector unions. “On a 22-13 vote, the Senate approved and sent to the House a measure sought by organized labor as a counterweight to the 5-4 opinion issued three years ago in Janus v. AFSCME. Janus reversed a 41-year-old precedent that empowered public-sector unions to assess agency fees on employees who benefit from union-negotiated wages and benefits, but are not union members. Public-sector unions are an important ally of Democrats in Connecticut. Echoing measures passed in other pro-labor states since Janus, Senate Bill 908 would bar public employers from discouraging or deterring new or existing employees from joining or remaining in a union. It also would require the employers to ease access to new employees by notifying unions of new hires, providing home contact information, access to orientation meetings, use of government email and additional time to meet.”
37) New Mexico: The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that “the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sent a letter to the state Occupational Health and Safety Bureau on Thursday alleging a series of ‘dangerous and life-threatening’ safety issues at the Santa Fe Wastewater Treatment Plant. ‘We are presently genuinely concerned with multiple safety issues located at the Santa Fe Wastewater Treatment Plant,’ the letter reads. ‘These issues have been addressed by our Union repeatedly but appear to fall on deaf ears.’”
38) South Carolina: Suspicions are rising about whether private contractors are ripping off residents of the lowcountry outside of Charleston by dumping recycling in with the regular garbage. “‘That’s always been a big thing for the owner,’ explained Anna Bainbridge, a manager at The Co-op. ‘Supporting any type of recycling just kind of doing good and helping out in the community.’ (…) Bainbridge tells News 2, they had to get recycling pick up bumped up to two times a week instead of just one. That was until an employee noticed Carolina Waste tossing their recycling efforts in the trash. ‘She saw them putting the same dumpster… both the recycling and the trash in the same truck and so we were like well, what’s the point in us doing it?’ Bainbridge asked.”
39) International: Writing in the Toronto Star, Rita Maio of Woodbridge, Ontario says privatization of public services has a poor track record. “People believe government is inherently wasteful… at least, until it adversely affects them. Elliott wrote that this proved really, really wrong’ with long-term care during this pandemic. The stats he quotes sadly back up the assertion. This has also proven very wrong with privatization of water inspections (among other services) and Highway 407. The privatization of LTCs and water inspections led to the tragic loss of lives, and of the 407 to the gouging of our wallets. I hope our masters have learned their lesson (albeit at our expense).”
40) International: Outsourced service workers in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are being hit hard by COVID-19 and government neglect. “About [two hundred thousand] employees working in different government departments on outsourcing basis are left to struggle as the government is not extending any financial assistance even to those tested positive for Covid-19 The government is granting them loss of pay leave when tested positive for Covid-19.”
41) National: Americans are more pro-union and anti-big business than at any time in decades, Emily DiVito and Aaron Sojourner of the Roosevelt Institute report in The Guardian. “Americans’ rising affinity for organized labor and antipathy toward big business opens up new possibilities for a more balanced economy and society—but not without reform to the labor laws that hold workers back. (…) The shift of public opinion in favor of organized labor comes against a backdrop of decades of declining union membership rates but rising union interest among workers. As such, the representation gap—the difference between the share of workers who’d like to be in a union and those who are—is wider than it’s been in decades.”
42) National/Think Tanks: Eileen Appelbaum is warning that private equity clubs are stalking pension funds. “Once a more common structure, club deals have declined from more than 40 percent of all leveraged buyouts (LBOs) (not including add-ons) in 2004 to just 20 percent in 2018. Burned by past agreements that promised high returns but ended in distress or bankruptcy, pension funds and other limited partners grew leery of these deals. But memories of these failures, some spectacular, have faded as a new generation of general partners takes the helm in PE investing.”
Photo by Fibonacci Blue.