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.
- Biden’s infrastructure plan revives a New Deal-era success with its proposed Civilian Climate Corps.
- In a jolt to its investors, the private prison corporation GEO Group suspended its dividend payment, sending its stock price spiraling downward.
- A professor at the University of Arizona has published “The Price of Disaster”: The Charter School Authorization Process in Post-Katrina New Orleans, finding that, “The charter school authorization process is embedded within and constitutive of on-going processes of racial formation and racialized power solidification.”
1) National: President Biden has released a preliminary 2022 budget plan that “would substantially boost funding for a range of programs that state and local governments depend on in areas such as education, housing and transportation. The request includes $769 billion in what’s known as ‘non-defense discretionary funding,’ a broad category that covers many of the grants that flow to the state and local level. That amount of spending would mark a 16% increase over fiscal 2021. Biden’s proposal also includes $753 billion for national defense programs, a 1.7% increase in that part of the budget, bringing the total plan to around $1.5 trillion.” The budget proposal is “seeking to invest heavily in a number of government agencies to boost education, expand affordable housing, bolster public health and confront climate change.”
2) National: How many jobs would the Biden infrastructure proposal create? The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler has some numbers under various scenarios. “Zandi provided an Excel spreadsheet that showed the infrastructure plan would especially spur job growth in 2024 and 2025, giving the economy a big boost—an extra 1.5 million jobs in 2024 and an extra million jobs in 2025 – in those years, above and beyond the rescue plan. All told, as a result of the infrastructure plan, almost 2.7 million additional jobs would be created over 10 years.”
3) National: Michael Regan, the new EPA administrator, has instructed the agency’s staff to prioritize environmental justice. “Too many communities whose residents are predominantly of color, Indigenous, or low-income continue to suffer from disproportionately high pollution levels and the resulting adverse health and environmental impacts,” said Regan in a message to agency staff, shared in a press release. “We must do better. This will be one of my top priorities as administrator, and I expect it to be one of yours as well.”
4) National: President Biden has revoked Medicaid work requirements in a number of states. “In its letters to Michigan and Wisconsin this week, CMS said work requirements were not consistent with the objectives of Medicaid to provide medical care to the nation’s vulnerable and low-income populations, particularly during a pandemic when job losses have been high. CMS noted that all but a small minority of Medicaid beneficiaries already work or are ill or disabled and therefore would be eligible for exemptions from the requirement.”
5) National: Many states are making voting easier. “The national conversation around voting rights this year has focused on new ballot restrictions in states such as Arizona and Georgia. Less noticed have been efforts by states such as Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont and Virginia to expand voting by mail, early voting and voter registration. Lawmakers, mostly in heavily Democratic states, aim to loosen restrictions on the voting process, hoping to continue the trend of record turnout that most states saw last year. Lawmakers in 47 states have introduced nearly 850 bills to expand early voting, restore voting rights for people with felony convictions and set up automatic voter registration, among other measures, according to a late March count by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. This is more than twice the number of restrictive voting bills introduced this session.”
6) National: The American Rescue Plan can help strengthen local governments, writes Zachary Markovits. “Local government leaders are the nation’s most trusted political officials. In this pandemic, when providing residents with reliable, evidence-based information and services can save lives, it is incumbent on them to continue to build on that trust. The American Rescue Plan gives local leaders a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make collective, data-driven decisions and innovation the modus operandi in government.”
7) Arkansas: “It’s a conservative position to say that’s not the role of government,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) told CNN’s State of the Union regarding his veto a state law banning gender-confirming treatments—a veto the state legislature immediately overturned. “It is compassionate to say we care for all our young people, whether they’re trans youth or otherwise, we care for them and that’s the message of compassion and conservatism that we need to have as a party.”
8) California/Georgia: There have been some interesting developments on the reparations issue lately. Los Angeles County, after years of pressure, has come behind the effort to restore a stretch of property in Manhattan Beach to the family of its original owners, who were stripped of their property in 1929 through a racist eminent domain process after years of Ku Klux Klan harassment of the family and Black community surrounding the beach. But the council voted against issuing an apology. “Officials Friday announced a new state senate bill that would make it easier for the county to transfer the land back to the Bruce family. If passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, SB 796 would take effect immediately. If the land went back to the Bruce family would also have the option to lease the land back to L.A. County, who would then pay rent.”
In Georgia, a long running battle over the razing of a Black community to make room for a federal “urban renewal” program has resulted in an Athens-Clarke County commissioners’ resolution apologizing specifically for the county’s role in destroying Linnentown. “The resolution acknowledges the seizure of residents’ homes and the perpetration of ‘an act of institutionalized white racism and terrorism resulting in intergenerational Black poverty, dissolution of family units, and trauma.’ It pledges, among other things, to erect an on-site memorial honoring the legacy of Linnentown and create a new center on slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the future of Athens’s Black communities. Perhaps most importantly, it promises to calculate the total amount of intergenerational wealth lost through urban renewal and use that number to inform annual participatory budgeting on projects for redress—in other words, public funding for reparations.”
9) National: Network for Public Education Action has issued a call for public pressure on Congress to stop funding Betsy DeVos’ new charter schools program. “Congress is preparing the 2022 budget. It is time to defund a program that has lost its mission and is rife with waste and abuse. It funds for-profit chain expansion and charter school advocacy organizations that have lobbied for more funding for the program for years.”
10) National: Doug Henwood hosted Jennifer Berkshire, co-author with Jack Schneider of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, on his Behind the News program to discuss teachers’ unions and school reopenings. [Audio, about 25 minutes]. See also the excerpt from the book on “What is ‘Public’ about Public Education?” on Diane Ravitch’s website.
11) National: Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest spoke with Christine Wen, the planning/fiscal policy coordinator of Good Jobs First and one of the authors of Good Job First’s new study, Abating Our Future: How Students Pay for Corporate Tax Breaks. “The topline fact in ‘Abating Our Future’ is mind-melting. School districts nationwide lost nearly $2.4 billion to corporate subsidies in fiscal year 2019. That’s money meant for students that ended up in the pockets of Amazon, Tesla, and other corporations. And that’s based on data from only 27 states. In the other 23 states plus Washington, D.C., (which should be a state), school districts fail to disclose any meaningful information about how much money they’re losing to corporations.”
12) California: A group of charter schools suing the State of California over its school funding formula has received class certification from the court. “According to Classical Academies and its legal representatives, the state breached its constitutional, statutory and contractual obligations to fund each student’s education at the public school they choose. Then last month, a state court ordered class certification of the lawsuit, making it the first class-action lawsuit involving charter schools in California. The court’s order granting class certification is significant because a victory will apply to the state’s 308 non-classroom-based charter schools that serve nearly 200,000 students and ensure their right to be funded.”
13) Florida: Susan Aertker, Education Committee chair for the League of Women Voters Jacksonville First Coast chapter, says charter schools need a clawback provision. “Our sales surtax money cannot be used by charter schools for loan repayments according to Florida statute 1013.62(4). This is a good rule since charter schools can be closed at any time so banks shouldn’t be led to believe that the lease payments funded by our sales surtax dollars are guaranteed. Some charter schools are setting up related party entities which will be using our sales surtax dollars to repay loans. I asked the Florida Department of Education if that was legal, but they have not yet replied. Please write your state legislators and ask them to make clear that the rules apply to charter schools AND related entities. We should be concerned that charter school buildings funded by our sales surtax dollars can be sold to a private school without refunding any of our sales surtax dollars. Write your state legislators and ask them to increase the clawback provisions.”
14) Louisiana/National/Think Tanks: Kevin Lawrence Henry, Jr. of the University of Arizona, a New Orleans native, has published “The Price of Disaster”: The Charter School Authorization Process in Post-Katrina New Orleans. “Utilizing the case of post-Katrina New Orleans, I examine the charter authorization process, an understudied aspect of charter school policy. Understood as an objective , colorblind process in mainstream policy articulations, the authorization process regulates entry into educational markets. This paper applies a Critical Race Theory analysis to the authorization process. I argue the charter school authorization process is a foundational gatekeeping mechanism that structures charter markets. In so doing, the charter school authorization process is embedded within and constitutive of on-going processes of racial formation and racialized power solidification.”
15) New Hampshire: This week a charter school will consider whether to close its Manchester campus at the end of the school year. “Because charter schools do not get funding from cities and towns, they rely on aid from the state, meted out based on how many students enroll. The state law governing charter schools suggests charters privately raise money to match the state funding they receive. But fundraising varies from school to school, so some rely more heavily on state aid than others. According to documents filed with the state office of the Legislative Budget Assistant, Making Community Connections raised just under $8,000—many New Hampshire charter schools were able to raise $70,000, and the most successful raised $185,000 in 2019.”
16) Oklahoma: Public school districts are banding together to fight charter school funding equalization. “Backlash is mounting toward a resolution passed by Oklahoma’s State Board of Education to equalize funding for charter and traditional public schools. “More than 100 superintendents and school boards around the state are concerned about a recent move by Oklahoma’s State Board of Education to equalize funding of charter and traditional public schools. Additionally, state lawmakers are exploring a measure to nullify the state board’s decision that would also provide some other funding for brick and mortar charter schools.
Shawnee Public Schools passed a motion to explore joining litigation efforts against the State Board of Education Monday night. ‘Our board has interest in and moving forward in whatever manner to try to protect the taxpayer dollars that are paid into property taxes and the ad valorem building fund for our students,’ Shawnee superintendent April Grace said.”
17) Pennsylvania: Hundreds of Pittsburgh-Area charter school educators are voting on unionization. Alex Press interviewed English teachers Sarah Boyle and Conor McAteer on the details for Jacobin. “Facing down anti-union threats from an increasingly brazen management, educators at more than a dozen Pittsburgh-area charter schools are voting on unionization. For teachers already burdened by impossible workloads, the charters’ handling of the COVID-19 crisis prompted them to act.”
18) Pennsylvania: Citizens’ Voice reports that “Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools will receive an additional $141 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds. The funding, through the American Rescue Plan, will bring the total COVID relief allocation to $201 million for the 12 schools. The money comes amid growing enrollment and increasing frustration from leaders of traditional public schools, who have questioned why the cyber charter schools receive the money, even though they already had the technology infrastructure and don’t have traditional buildings. ‘It’s curious to me why they’re getting any money,’ said Lawrence A. Feinberg, director of the Keystone Center for Charter Change of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.”
19) Rhode Island: Lawmakers are standing firm on their consideration of a three-year moratorium on new charter schools. “‘The bill is really about trying to figure out a financial structure to fund charter schools and to put a pause on these approvals until we have a mechanism that fairly funds both the charters and the district schools,’ State Representative Gregg Amore told The Herald. Amore introduced the bill with fellow Representatives Julie Casimiro, Susan Donovan, Joseph McNamara and William O’Brien. The recent preliminary approval of 5,835 new charter school seats would drain over $92 million in funding from traditional public schools in the state, according to State Senator Maryellen Goodwin, a proponent of the bill. The districts sending students to these schools would be charged $25.4 million and lose approximately $66.9 million in state aid. ‘We need to pause,’ Goodwin wrote in an email to The Herald. ‘We need to reexamine our funding formula to ensure that students in traditional public schools aren’t left behind.’”
20) International: John R. Wiens, dean emeritus at the faculty of education, University of Manitoba, sounds a warning on proposed legislation that would strip public accountability from the education system. “Bill 64 is Americanization, not modernization. It deliberately fails to acknowledge and mention public education’s role in democracy—its inclusive power and potential for equality—dismissing the civic-ethical dispositions and the intellectual-emotional means for citizenship. Following the U.S. in education reform is educational and democratic folly.”
21) National: President Biden said “the American Jobs Plan will lead to a transformational progress in our effort to tackle climate change with American jobs and American ingenuity.” The American Prospect reports that “it built on a prior executive order by devoting $10 billion to establish a new Civilian Climate Corps, again putting people to work on needed conservation and environmental-justice projects. (…) The new CCC will have temporary, part-time, and full-time posi tions, and they can also transition to permanent positions in the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other federal agencies. The new corps will likely build on existing infrastructure across the country, such as the Colorado Youth Corps Association (CYCA), which especially focuses on hiring in forestry. The organization, established in 1997, is modeled after New Deal programs.”
22) National: “If it survives the ‘drama’, Biden’s infra plan might be what the private sector needs,” says Bruno Alves of Infrastructure Investor. And what does the private sector need, according to Alves? The same as usual: private financing and a private foothold in infrastructure. “While it doesn’t exactly embrace private capital, the president’s plan doesn’t push it away either, allowing for plenty of opportunities to co-operate. It was hard not to think of recent comments by Bruce Flatt, Brookfield Asset Management’s chief executive, when US President Joe Biden announced his much-vaunted $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan last week. When it comes to private sector infrastructure investment, Flatt said, the ‘less drama’ the better. ‘Because when there are big plans, often nothing happens. And therefore just the slow and steady monetization of infrastructure is the best way countries can get it done,’ he argued.” [Sub required]
23) National: Marianne Lavelle of Inside Climate News spells out nine ways Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan will tackle climate change. “Biden’s proposal includes at least $650 billion in spending over 10 years on a U.S. clean energy transition; that would be about seven times the largest previous injection of federal money into clean energy, the $90 billion included in the economic stimulus package approved in the first year of President Barack Obama’s administration.”
24) National: Bond Dealers of America lobbyists are launching an initiative to burnish the reputation and prospects of their sector of the finance industry as the infrastructure battles begin on Capitol Hill and in the media. “Municipal bond-financed projects across the country will be highlighted on the MBFA website with photos and a written case study showing taxpayer savings, Nicholas said. MBFA is a group of buy and sell-side stakeholders lobbying for specific municipal bond initiatives on Capitol Hill. ‘When we’ve met with Congress people in the past, they’ve said you should really highlight projects in members of Congress’ districts that are financed with bonds,’ Nicholas said. Nicholas is optimistic that 2021 will bring infrastructure legislation that will include municipal bonds. ‘But it’s hard to predict what it will look like at the end of the day,’ Nicholas said. ‘You’ve got lots of different demographics pushing back, not on the need for infrastructure, but how to pay for it.’” [Sub required]
25) Missouri: “It’s not just Tishaura Jones’ election as mayor,” says the St. Louis Business Journal. “Progressive members of the city of St. Louis’ Board of Aldermen say they should have a new majority after Tuesday’s voting—one that will allow them to remake the legislative body. ‘The future of the city is progressive. It’s the way we’re trending,’ said Alderwoman Megan Green, an incumbent who easily won re-election. ‘The place that we need folks to go, incumbents, is in the direction of being progressive. And if you want the safe bet in retaining your seat in the future, it’s in upholding progressive values.’” Among the gains: putting the brakes on privatization. “It’s safe to say that airport privatization is dead on arrival, if that attempts to come back up again,’ Green said.
26) New York: Legislation to municipalize New York American Water and bring rate relief to customers has stalled in the Assembly after being approved by the Senate. “The Senate has pushed for the creation of a Nassau County Water Authority to oversee a potential public takeover of the utility. But the Assembly didn’t want to rush a non-budget item into the spending plan, and there are issues to settle over who would bear the cost of a public takeover of the company.”
27) Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania American Water, a subsidiary of American Water Works Company, “has signed an agreement with the York City Sewer Authority to purchase wastewater system assets of the City of York in York County for $235 million. This acquisition is expected to close by 2021-end or the beginning of 2022, subject to necessary regulatory approvals.”
28) Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Office of Public-Private Partnerships (P3) has announced that it is accepting unsolicited proposals for transportation projects from the private sector through April 30. “The submission period applies to PennDOT-owned projects and infrastructure. During this period, the private sector can submit proposals offering innovative ways to deliver transportation projects across a variety of modes including roads, bridges, rail, aviation, and ports. Proposals can also include more efficient models to manage existing transportation-related services and programs.”
29) International: It appears that Canada’s infrastructure bank is just sucking up scarce public resources and money while not attracting any private capital at all.
30) Think Tanks: Noah Smith, a Bloomberg opinion writer, says the meaning of infrastructure is a pointless debate. “it’s possible that the chattering classes will get distracted by a meaningless debate over whether the legislation ought to limit itself to a narrow definition of infrastructure. In fact, there’s no good reason to waste time thinking about this question. The government should simply spend money on things that are good to spend money on. And one of those things is providing public goods. Public goods are things that the private sector usually can’t do on its own because it can’t capture all the value it creates. A network of roads, for example, creates lots of economic activity in the towns near the roads. That value can’t all be recouped by tolls. That’s why every country that builds a good road network does it with extensive government involvement; the private sector simply doesn’t build enough roads when left to its own devices.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
31) National: In a jolt to its investors, GEO Group suspended its dividend payment last Wednesday, sending its stock price spiraling downward. “While currently it plans to maintain its corporate tax structure as a REIT, it seeks to undertake an evaluation of the same,” Seeking Alpha reported. “The board expects to conclude its evaluation in 4Q21 and if it determines to not change its current intent to maintain GEO’s REIT status, an additional dividend payment may be required before year-end in order to meet the minimum REIT distribution requirements.” Already at rock bottom, by the end of Friday its share price had declined 26.27% to close at 5.67. In April 2017 its stock price was above $33 a share.
On Friday an analyst on Seeking Alpha said, “We believe GEO needs to immediately pivot its strategy to deal with the realities of the current political climate to protect shareholder value. We urge GEO to begin negotiations with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and United States Marshals Service (USMS) to sell or lease Company-owned facilities to these government entities. We have identified 30 facilities that GEO should immediately seek to sell. These facilities encompass 24k beds and we believe GEO could monetize these assets for $1.9 – 2 billion.”
32) National: GEO Group’s chief competitor, CoreCivic, was also hammered last week, indicating that the private prison industry is now in a deep crisis. “Shares of private prison operator CoreCivic lost 17 percent of their value Wednesday after the company said it was raising debt and the leaders of its largest peer said they are suspending their dividend payments.
Brentwood-based CoreCivic said early in the day it planned to raise $400 million in debt. Around the same time, executives of rival GEO Group said they are halting quarterly dividend payments and evaluating the company’s status as a real estate investment trust. (CoreCivic moved on from its tax-friendly REIT structure several months ago.) Both companies are facing the loss of several federal contracts in coming years after the Biden administration’s Department of Justice said it would not renew deals.
“CoreCivic shares fell 5 percent out of the gate Wednesday after closing the previous afternoon at $9.05. But they slid steadily for another 90 minutes on heavy volume, and while investors bid them up slightly in the ensuing hours, they ended the day at $7.51, only slightly above session lows.”
33) National: Get ready for an interesting hearing on Thursday—if lawmakers are well prepared with good questions. The director of the Bureau of Prisons—Michael Carvajal, who was appointed to that post by former Attorney General William Barr, is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Two major issues,” says Politico, “will be top-of-mind for the questioners: how BOP has handled the coronavirus pandemic and how it’s implemented a new federal law designed to help prisoners successfully reenter society after finishing their sentences. On both counts, the bureau has drawn bipartisan criticism.” But considering the impact of the pandemic on the prisons, and last week’s news on the dire straits of the private prison companies, there’s a third and fourth question: what risks does the federal government run as the for-profit sector runs into difficulties?; and isn’t this a perfect time, perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity, to consider mass decarceration?
34) National: Law360 reports that “a California court ordered CoreCivic Inc. to reimburse a financial investment firm and its founder the costs of defending against claims that they defamed the private prison giant by implicating it in the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Candide Group LLC and Morgan Simon used a California anti-SLAPP law to win the permanent dismissal of CoreCivic’s defamation suit and argued the strike order entitled them to attorney fees.”
35) Tennessee: Democratic Underground cites a report from the Tennessean: “A Tennessee prison official steered a $123 million state contract to a health care firm before taking a job as a vice president at the same company, according to an antitrust lawsuit filed against the Department of Correction. The lawsuit centers on the 2020 contract to provide behavioral health care to Tennessee prison inmates. In the suit, Brentwood-based prison health care company Corizon accuses the state of skewing the public bidding process to benefit its competitor, Centurion.”
36) Texas: The public defender office is operating smoothly and making progress after a year, reports the Austin-American Statesman. “Travis County’s new grant-funded public defender office is up and running, taking on a small percentage of criminal cases since it was founded a year ago. The office is designed to take on a bigger caseload as it grows. However, even by the time its four-year grant runs out, Travis County’s current system—which uses a rotating slate of private attorneys to argue for clients who can’t afford representation—will still b e in place for the majority of cases. As of March 31, the new office was taking on about 5.5% of indigent defense cases. By 2024, officials expect it’ll be handling about 30% of such cases, with the Capital Area Private Defender Service—Travis County’s current system—handling the rest
37) Texas/National: A U.S. Justice Department press release reports that a former charter school official has been sent to prison for embezzling funds. “Houston Gateway Academy is a charter school located in the Gulfgate area of Houston. While superintendent, Garza awarded a contract to a company whose owner then sent funds back to Garza. As part of his plea, Garza admitted he awarded a $280,000 no-bid contract to Ahmed Bokaiyan. Bokaiyan was an IT employee at the school who also owned a business called Hot Rod Systems. Bokaiyan, through his company, was to provide IT equipment and services to a new school not yet constructed.”
38) National: States are growing fewer trees, and private forest owners say that’s a problem. “The declining state production has hurt small landowners, who own the largest share of the nation’s forests. Private sector nurseries often lack many of the tree species offered by states, and they rarely accept small orders. In many cases, nursery closures have led to cutbacks in state research and breeding programs that produce trees more capable of withstanding the effects of climate change. The foresters association survey found that seedling production at state-run nurseries fell by 28% between 2016 and 2018. In 2018, state nurseries produced 123 million seedlings, about a tenth of the nation’s total.”
39) National: How much money does an expert witness make to prepare for and participate in a public trial? Can low income defendants or cash-strapped prosecutors afford them? SEAK, Inc., an expert witness training company, has some numbers (more in the article):
- 74% of expert witnesses require an up-front retainer. The median initial retainer fee for an expert witness is $2000.
- The median hourly fee for file review/preparation for all non-medical expert witnesses is $245.
- The median hourly fee for file review/preparation for all medical expert witnesses is $350 (43% higher than for non-medical experts).
- The median testimony hourly fee for medical expert witnesses is $500/hour.
- The median testimony hourly fee for non-medical expert witnesses is $275/hour.