Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Subscribe here for free.
- Virginia’s Richmond Community Schools are bringing custodial services back into the public sector.
- Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss has written a powerful piece explaining how Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is “trying to destroy public education.”
- East Bay Indy reports that “Oakland Education Association members went on strike against the closures of 11 schools in the Black and Brown community.”
First, the good news…
1) National: There are laws and policies in many cities and states that make sure that public contracting decisions both protect and empower our communities, rather than only enrich the already wealthy. In the Public Interest has just compiled a list of such laws and policies. Did you know that Massachusetts has had a law on the books since the early 1990s requiring that before, say, a public bus service can be outsourced to a corporation, it must be proven that the move will actually save money? Or that Texas—Texas!—cracks down on the “revolving door” phenomenon by making state employees wait two years before working for a company that had a contract they oversaw? Check out the list, which includes our ideas for strong contracting policies to protect and empower our communities. If you want to strategize about passing these sorts of policies in your city or state, email us: email@example.com.
2) National: Private lands are the next battleground in state conservation policy, says Pew Charitable Trusts. “Since last year, staff members at the Land Trust of Virginia have fielded phone call after phone call from landowners seeking to set aside their property for conservation. ‘We’re getting calls like crazy,’ said Sally Price, executive director of the nonprofit, which works with private landowners to preserve farms and natural landscapes. ‘We’re doubling our staff for easement intake because we’re getting so many calls.’ (…) The Virginia group is one of many conservation land trusts that have seen a spike in interest over the past few years. More than 1,000 such groups operate across the country, seeking to save land from development by acquiring it or negotiating conservation easements with property owners to limit the use of the land. Environmental groups and lawmakers are placing an increased focus on private lands in national conservation strategies.”
3) National: Last week the House passed the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, sending the bill to the president’s desk for signature. The Project on Government Oversight sees this as a step in the right direction. “The legislation will bring greater transparency into federal judges’ potential conflicts of interest and make it easier for watchdogs like POGO to hold judges accountable for failing to recuse when appropriate,” they say. “Yet as we wrote in testimony submitted to a House committee this week, Congress must also create stronger ethics rules for the Supreme Court. The highest court in the country wields significant influence, and yet Supreme Court justices are not bound by the official code of conduct that governs judges on lower federal courts.”
4) Illinois: Local governments are lining up to challenge Illinois American Water’s request for a rate increase. The Urbana City Council is poised to take action today on a resolution that “would authorize Mayor Diane Marlin to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Champaign, Philo, St. Joseph, Savoy and South Beloit for the purpose of intervening in the rate-increase case. Savoy Village President John Brown has already signed on behalf of the village, saying Savoy has participated in past efforts to fight rate increases, and money spent on legal fees is far outweighed by savings for customers. The agreement calls for each participating government to share the legal bills up to $32,000 for intervening in the case based on their population.”
5) Virginia: Richmond Community Schools are bringing custodial services back into the public sector. “General maintenance custodians and custodians are listed in board packet information as being nonunion/individual contract employees. The general maintenance custodian pay rate is listed in the board packet at $19.50 an hour, and the custodians pay rate is listed at $16 an hour. Walmsley also detailed the benefits packages and uniforms for these full-time positions. ‘The custodians are $16 an hour, that is more than what we are currently paying them, currently through ABM. The other benefits that they are receiving are different than what they currently have if we are comparing it to our existing with the third-party,’ Walmsley said.”
6) International: Education International, the global federation of education unions, reports that it has received letters from member organisations in Haiti “informing it that the repression against union leaders has been lifted, following a strong show of solidarity from education unions around the world.”
7) Upcoming Event/DC: ITPI’s Donald Cohen will be giving a talk about his new book The Privatization of Everything (New Press) on May 18, 2022 at 6pm ET at Busboys & Poets (2021 14th St. NW Washington, D.C.). Donald will be joined by Community Change president Dorian Warren to discuss trends in privatization and how workers and communities can fight back.
8) National/Florida: Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss has written a powerful piece explaining how Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is “trying to destroy public education.” Straus writes, “In what his critics say is a revealing move about their educational intentions, DeSantis and Florida legislators routinely exempt charter and private/religious schools from many of the restrictions and actions they take against public school districts. For example, the law that restricts classroom discussions on gender and sex education—known as the Parental Rights in Education law—applies to a state statute dealing with school board powers, according to the Tampa Bay Times.” DeSantis’ “wrath at local school boards that don’t do his bidding has blown apart the Republican Party’s traditional stance that local education is the business of local issues. In March, one of the bills he signed into law included a provision that limits local school board terms to 12 years — without asking local voters if that’s what they wanted.”
9) National: Kalena Thomhave, a Pittsburgh-based writer and researcher on social policy, reports on the school privatization movement’s latest scheme to undermine public education. “At least a dozen states, including Tennessee, have introduced legislation to create [Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)], heralded as “the next generation of school choice” by school privatization proponents. Instead of a traditional voucher program, which diverts public money to private schools, ESAs grant public money directly to parents. This maneuver could help avoid challenges due to state-level Blaine Amendments, which prohibit state money from funding religious schools. It also removes accountability; parents in Arizona, where ESAs were the first to pass in 2011, spent more than $700,000 in ESA funds on purchases unrelated to education between July 2017 and June 2018. But if the goal is to blow a hole in a state’s education budget, that misspending may not matter.”
10) Arkansas: School vouchers have become an issue in the May 24 Republican primary. “Tollett said teachers’ pay can be increased by cutting from other parts of the state’s education budget through a combination of untying school funding to enrollment and re-appropriating state money from wealthier school districts to poorer ones. Tollett is also an opponent of school vouchers, saying the state shouldn’t be funding voucher programs while public schools in Arkansas are in dire need of investment. ‘I cannot support vouchers until public schools are funded adequately—equitably and adequately.’ McElroy said he supports some voucher programs but believes there are issues with the programs, as some private schools don’t like accepting public dollars because it often comes with strings attached.”
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has reported that the people behind anti-Critical Race Theory bills “have admitted that they are part of a larger strategy to undermine our confidence in public education and advocate for privatizing education. For example, Christopher Rufo, the architect of the right-wing crusade against CRT, is ‘preparing a strategy of laying siege to the institutions’ that will lead to parents having ‘a fundamental right to exit’ public schools. In practice, this means using CRT to promote private school vouchers.”
11) California: Charter school enrolment has dropped in the state for the first time in 30 years. “This was to have been a year of school recovery, but instead has been turbulent, buffeted by waves of Covid infections. Charter school leaders say they have been consumed with keeping schools open, and have put off thinking about growing again. They and districts face the same headwinds: an immediate teacher and staff shortage, rising chronic absences, huge questions about enrollment next year and long-term projections of a double-digit decline statewide over the next decade. But charter schools say they also face potential legal roadblocks, anti-charter antagonism and financial burdens, including uncertainty over how much funding they’ll receive this year under a state budget that left them vulnerable to funding cuts. All of that gives them pause about expanding.”
12) California: East Bay Indy reports that “Oakland Education Association members went on strike against the closures of 11 schools in the Black and Brown community. Schools and Labor Against Privatization SLAP initiated a rally at Oscar Grant Plaza next to Oakland City Hall. Following the rally and a march Action Committee Against Privatization organized picketing of the port to protest the privatization of the port and schools.” CBS reported that the official Oakland Education Association Twitter account posted information about the strike Sunday afternoon. (…) ‘OEA is launching a new contract campaign for safe and racially just community schools for all Oakland students!’ the message read. The organization is pushing to garner support as they negotiate their next three-year contract with the district.”
KQED quoted Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association, as saying, “they told us that there isn’t any money to keep our community schools open and that we have no choice. But there is always a choice.” The California Senate and House have [passed legislation making billions of dollars available as unrestricted funding. “This includes $3 billion to create community schools and $4.5 billion for an extended day and longer year.”
13) Colorado: New America charter school teachers whose efforts to form a union were crushed by its unelected board are doubling down and continuing their fight for unionization. “‘In our schools, we don’t necessarily have a say in what is going on around us. We are typically one of the last to know what is going on in our schools,’ said Elaina King, a social studies teacher. Despite the obstacles they are currently facing, they plan to continue fighting for unionization.” The Colorado Education Association says “check out Collette S. and Elaina K. talking about why educators at the New America School want a true voice in their workplaces and union recognition!” Average teacher pay is now lower than it was ten years ago, the NEA reports.
14) Florida: Right-wing governor Ron DeSantis’ nominee for state education commissioner, Manny Diaz Jr., has been confirmed by the Senate. “Sen. Diaz is someone who has been a fervent leader in privatization of public education,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat. “I’m concerned it’s going to be more of the same partisan weaponization of education.” The charter school industry is salivating over the appointment. “Hailing from Hialeah Gardens, Diaz has backed several controversial initiatives spearheaded by DeSantis in recent months. These include the ‘Parents Rights Bill’ that prohibits instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for kids in kindergarten through the third grade. Critics called it the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and said it was hostile to the LGBTQ community.”
15) Indiana: City and school officials in Lafayette are critical of a plan to open a charter school in the former New Community School building. “‘Seems a little backwards to wait until things are done and then come in and introduce you,’ said Les Huddle, superintendent of Lafayette School Corp. ‘As the point-person for Lafayette School Corporation, we haven’t received any communications from Paramount. … I think we’re starting off with some disappointment there.’ The breakdown in communication comes amid statewide tensions between charter and public schools. ‘We haven’t heard anything from the public school corporations. … But we see ourselves, especially in a K-8 model, that can graduate high-quality eighth-graders into the Lafayette School Corporation,’ Reddicks said. ‘Well, I don’t think it’s needed. … We’re already producing quality students in our k-to-eight system,’ Huddle said.”
16) Iowa: A useful update from Blog for Iowa: “REYNOLDS vs. PUBLIC SCHOOLS: The Iowa Legislature is still at a standstill, and one big bill holding things up is Governor Reynolds’ plan to send public tax payer dollars to private schools. And there have even been reports that Reynolds may campaign against Republicans who won’t support her voucher bill in the primaries. We know this legislation will hurt public education in our state, especially in rural areas. It’s time Reynolds gave up on this terrible plan. You can use your voice to contact lawmakers with the Iowa State Education Association’s toolkit here.”
17) New York: The Murdoch press reports that former NY Mayor Bloomberg is pumping $200 million into two of New York City’s high-profile charter school networks, Harlem Children’s Zone and Success Academy.
18) New York: Madison Central School has joined the Connected Community Schools (CCS) program. District Superintendent Jason Mitchell “said the district already has seen real results from being a part of the CCS program. Recently, dental care services have been brought into the school thanks to the partnership. And the winter storm that closed school April 19 caused some district families to lose power, but working with CCS offered families the chance to get ice at the school to keep their food from spoiling. If their food did spoil, they were offered fresh food to replenish it plus a place to cook and do laundry, Mitchell said. ‘Those are things that Madison Central School faculty and staff alone would not have been able to do without our partnership with Connected Community Schools,’ he explained.”
19) Tennessee: Applications for four new Nashville charter schools and a request from Knowledge Academy Middle School have been denied by the Metro school board. There are currently 29 charter schools in the city. “The board previously voted in August 2019 to revoke Knowledge Academy’s ability to operate in the district, citing issues of fraud, misappropriation of funds and flagrant disregard for its charter agreement under former CEO Art Fuller, and to shutter the three schools. The closure was halted when the Tennessee State Board of Education overturned the board’s decision and the district’s Office of Charter Schools instead developed a support plan for the network, which began in January 2020. The district did not recommend the middle school’s renewal application this year after finding the school only meets one of four criteria areas of the application. The school appealed that decision to the state and later filed an emergency amendment request, which was denied by the board Tuesday.”
20) Washington: The Seattle school district has decided to keep the private, for profit, school bus company First Student despite hundreds of violations. “‘SPS is aware of the fines recently levied on First Student by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission for safety violations related to the company’s charter bus service,’ district spokesperson Tim Robinson wrote in an email. ‘First Student has entered into a settlement agreement … which reduced the majority of these fines and has resulted in the company’s safety rating being affirmed.’ Shortly after these violations came to light, the district abruptly shut down the bidding process, though both First Student and the district say there is no link.”
21) West Virginia: The state’s four new charter schools are on track to open next year. “The application deadline for new public charter schools for the 2023-24 school year is Wednesday, Aug. 31. The Professional Charter School Board has 90 days from the time it receives an application to either approve or reject it. If no action is taken, the public charter school is automatically approved. Applicants must satisfy 25 different requirements in the pilot program. If the school plans to use a third-party education service provider, the school must meet 12 additional metrics for approval.”
22) National: The Biden administration has finalized its rulemaking on infrastructure permitting, and the privatization industry is unhappy about it, especially about its environmental component. “Federal agencies are rolling out the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) in earnest, and there is plenty of activity for practitioners and public sponsors to follow,” says Public Works Financing. “There are new grant programs, new categories of formula funding, new legislative guidance, and new requests for industry input on future legislative guidance. For major public works, however, the most important administrative actions underway might not be coming out of the Department of Transportation, but rather from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The CEQ’s rulemaking this month will certainly impact some of the projects the BIL is intended to support. The rulemaking is the CEQ’s final ‘Phase 1’ guidance for federal agencies complying with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).” [Public Works Financing, April 2022; sub required]
23) Hawaii: Readers may recall the epic battle over which method to use to construct a proposed new Honolulu rail link that pitted the P3 industry against public interest advocates who worried that it would become a private corporate boondoggle. Well, it’s been some time since the P3 option was rejected in late 2020, and the subsequent all-public process, which involves some significant scaling back, has played out. The bottom line is that whether public or private, procurement methods need to be rigorous, accountable, inclusive and properly penciled out. The public sector will need to grapple with many of the same problems P3 bundlers do—minus of course the added profit margin and interest rate premium.
Public Works Financing has taken an in depth look at the process and where it’s at now. “If the FTA approves the shortened project, and releases the remaining $744 million in federal funding, then HART’s project will finally be back in black, at least for now. Even under the reduced scope, the proposed plan would not reach the civic center terminus until 2030. There is still plenty of project, and plenty of uncertainty, to go.” [Public Works Financing, April 2022; sub required]
24) Louisiana: New Orleans’ hi-tech smart city ‘public-private partnership’ project has collapsed amid a procurement investigation. “The city is now back to square one, and plans to re-run the RFP process. What went wrong? The multi-year proposal from the Smart+Connected NOLA consortium outlined a public-private partnership model at no up-front cost to the city on a ‘cost neutral’ basis, through savings and revenue. It included a ‘city-directed’ internet network, smart streetlights, smart traffic management and Wi-Fi kiosks. It also included scope for a revenue-sharing model via connectivity services, kiosk advertising revenues and monetizing data such as from traffic sensors. Late last year, questions were raised by the City Council about data privacy, costs and how the project would expand free and affordable internet access, as well as a potential conflict of interest relating to smart city consultancy Ignite Cities, which worked with the Cantrell administration on a pro bono basis and also has a partnership with Qualcomm and JLC Infrastructure from the winning consortium.”
For best practices on public contracting see In the Public Interest’s new policy brief, Responsible Contracting Policies and Practices: A Brief Describing a Number of Responsible Contracting Policies That Aim To Ensure That Government Procurement is Fair, Transparent, and Does Not Result in Risky Privatization Contracts.
25) Pennsylvania: Public hearings are to be held for Interstate 80 bridge projects in Clarion, Jefferson counties. Tolling is on the table. “The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), will host public hearings and receive public comment in-person, online and by mail on Environmental Assessments (EA) prepared for the I-80 Canoe Creek Bridges Project in Clarion County, as well as the I-80 North Fork Bridges Project in Jefferson County. Both projects are candidates for bridge tolling through the Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (MBP3) Initiative, part of the PennDOT Pathways Program. The Pathways program seeks to identify potential alternative funding solutions for transportation in the state. Under the initiative, tolls collected would be used for the replacement bridges’ construction, maintenance and operation.”
26) Pennsylvania: Late on Friday afternoon, Pennsylvania American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, announced it is seeking a rate hike. The company “is seeking an annual revenue increase of approximately $173.2 million. If the company’s proposed rates are approved as requested, the monthly water bill for the average residential customer using 3,212 gallons per month would increase from the current charge of $60.49 to $75.49, and the average monthly residential wastewater bill would increase from $76.64 to $95.69. Any new rates would not take effect until early 2023 except for certain recently acquired systems where the rate increases are proposed to take effect at later dates.” The state public utility commission will now consider the request.
27) Texas: The Austin Downtown Commission is seeking proposals from private developers to pay for a portion of the expansion and reconstruction of the Austin Convention Center. “The commission has a working group that has been studying the convention center expansion for months, taking special interest in the findings of professor of public administration at the University of Texas-San Antonio Heywood Sanders showing most projections of future convention industry business are overly aggressive and inflated. Commissioner Mike Lavigne said it’s possible private developers could shoulder a significant portion of the expansion cost in exchange for the opportunity to create attractive residential or commercial real estate in the heart of downtown.”
28) National: CoreCivic has announced it will release its 2022 first quarter financial results after the market closes on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. A live broadcast of CoreCivic’s conference call will begin at 10:00 a.m. central time (11:00 a.m. eastern time) on Thursday, May 5, 2022.” GEO Group will release its numbers tomorrow before market opening and will have a conference call and simultaneous webcast at 11 am that day.
29) Pennsylvania: The Perry County Prison Board is looking to possibly outsource kitchen services, according to discussions at its most recent meeting on April 20. “Some kitchen staff were in the meeting and expressed concern about outsourcing the prison food service to a private company. Some companies save money with reduced quality foods, reduced calorie counts, and by using lower-paid staff instead of local employees, they said. In a prison, all of those issues are health and safety issues, the staff members said. Inmates with full stomachs are good inmates.”
30) International: A CoreCivic correctional officer at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center who resigned to work for a military contracting company that sent him to Ukraine has been killed, the company says.
31) International: Denmark has signed a deal to send 300 prisoners to Kosovo. “It is not the first time that Denmark, which has one of Europe’s harshest stances on immigration, plans to outsource the management of foreigners beyond the European Union’s borders. In June, the country adopted a law allowing it to open reception centers for asylum seekers outside Europe where applicants would live while their case is processed.”
The Financial Times reports that Denmark “has also been in discussions with Rwanda about a scheme, similar to one recently unveiled by the UK, to process asylum seekers in the east African country. It is the first European nation to put pressure on Syrian refugees to go home, saying it is safe for them to return to the area around the capital, Damascus, although it has not forced any to leave.” [Sub required]
32) National: The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) “honors our fallen heroes this Workers’ Memorial Day and National Day of Mourning.”
33) National/Florida: The American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner says “a plague on both their houses” regarding Ron DeSantis’ attempt to punish the company by withdrawing its special tax district status for complaining about his “don’t say gay” policy which can damage the industry. “Deals like Disney’s privatize public functions. As Donald Cohen, co-author of the recent book The Privatization of Everything, tells me, ‘The Disney special taxing district is just one of hundreds of similar districts across Florida. The DeSantis culture war might actually help to expose the proliferation of privatized government in special districts that hand over the basic democratic functions of government to companies and private groups.’”
34) National: After forcing San Diego waste workers to accept a low wage contract after crushing their strike, Waste Management posts profits of more than half a billion dollars.
35) National/Revolving Door News: Stat reports that the revolving door between the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry has spun again when Lupin, one of India’s biggest drug companies, hired an agency official who oversaw manufacturing facilities, including a plant that has been cited for ongoing problems.
36) National: In the new issue of PowerSwitch Action’s email newsletter, Executive Director Lauren Jacobs points to her article in The Forge last month, warning that “we organize people solely around the issues of work at our own peril. Organizing Amazon or any other megacorporation should be one prong of a larger political project that competes for power in the economic, political, and social arenas.”
37) National: Fresh from arguing that private corporations should be free from government interference on almost anything, the right wing is passing measures mandating government intervention on environmental, social and corporate governance policies adopted by those very corporations. “If Republicans take back control of the House at the midterm elections, they will look to utilize appropriation riders to curb additional ESG regulations. This would be akin to the long-standing rider that prevents the Securities and Exchange Commission from pursuing rulemaking on corporate political spending disclosure,” Utah Republican governor Spencer J. Cox told Roll Call.
38) International: The privatization of the space industry is negatively affecting the environment, says Amber Kaur Toor. “The context of privatization in the space industry is connected and founded through NASA’s history. (…) Student voices demonstrate differing opinions on the climate change issue in correspondence with the privatization of the space industry. ‘I feel like it will get to a point where the ultra-rich have to give something to fix the planet, and they’ll feel a responsibility,’ said Prithvi Dixit, a sophomore at Carlmont. However, Kaitlin Chow, a freshman, and climate activist has a differing opinion. ‘If [Bezos] cares about his integrity and the planet, he should be making many efforts to pollute less, especially with him having such a large sum of wealth. As climate change becomes worse, the issue seems to be handed to each generation; I believe that the plans for space will make resolving climate change much more difficult and prolonged, as all of that money should go into fixing climate change instead of space,’ Chow said. ‘We should focus on helping our planet before exploring others.’”
39) Think Tanks: The Penn Program on Regulation focused one of its Saturday seminars on the impact of state preemption on cities. “As political divides between states and cities have widened, states have increasingly blocked cities from controlling their own affairs. These efforts threaten cities’ independence in areas such as zoning, taxes, and even the deployment of municipal broadband networks. In this week’s Saturday Seminar, scholars explore some of the areas in which state laws preempt local powers and the factors driving these decisions.”
40) Useful Resource on Upcoming Primaries: Daily Kos’ The Downballot podcast focused on this month’s primaries around the country. “The 2022 election cycle really gets going [this] month with primaries in more than a dozen states, so we invited Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer to join us on this week’s episode of The Downballot to run us through all the key contests. We analyze some sloppy GOP food fights in Senate races in Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; a pair of primaries in Oregon and Texas where progressive challengers are seeking to oust irritating Democratic moderates; and the first incumbent-vs.-incumbent matchup of the year, thanks to West Virginia losing a House seat.”
Photo by Gage Skidmore.