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- Former North Carolina principal says charter school fired him for hiring racially diverse staff.
- There is outrage in British Columbia after a private, for-profit company running the province’s 911 call operations, E-Comm, has allowed dispatchers to disconnect people waiting for an ambulance.
- In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen’s pathbreaking new book, The Privatization of Everything, co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Allen Mikaelian, has been launched by The New Press.
First, the good news…
1) National: In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen’s pathbreaking new book, The Privatization of Everything, co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Allen Mikaelian, has been launched by The New Press. Last Wednesday, Donald joined labor historian Joe McCartin for a discussion of the book’s case for reclaiming real freedom, redefining our public values, and putting them to work for our common good. [Video; about an hour]
Donald also joined public banking advocates Ellen Brown and Walt McCree for an in-depth discussion of the new book on privatization and on “how they have done it and how that process can be reversed.” [Audio; about 40 minutes]
The American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner calls The Privatization of Everything a comprehensive and depressing guide. “Here again, it’s important to appreciate that this tendency is not just ‘privatization,’ a neutral-sounding term that suggests well-intentioned policy strategies that sometimes went awry. What’s at work here is yet another realm of the relentless encroachment of capitalism as a system. (…) A weakness of the American liberal tradition, even at its apex under FDR, was that it was disconnected from a comprehensive critique of capitalism as a system. As Albert Hirschman pointed out, FDR sold his reforms as merely pragmatic. Writing in the 1980s, as Reagan was reversing the New Deal, Hirschman observed, ‘Today, of course, we can appreciate the high cost of Roosevelt’s maneuver. The New Deal reforms … were never truly consolidated as an integral part of a new economic order or ideology.’”
“Should the government really be run like a business, or just be run really well?” asks William Kristol’s The Bulwark podcast. A debate between author Donald Cohen and Charlie Sykes. [Audio; about 48 minutes].
“A more democratic government is the only way I can imagine doing the big, coordinated things needed to fight the virus, save the planet, solve the housing crisis, make us all feel safe, and more,” says Jeremy Mohler. “It’s also the only way I can see our communities coming together, seeing our shared interests, and healing our divides.”
2) International: From award-winning infectious disease journalist Laurie Garrett: “THIS: ‘As of 30Nov2021 – 15 countries shared 187 #Omicron genome seqs w/unprecedented median speed of 3 days from sample collection to public access on @GISAID EpiCoV. We applaud the GISAID Community for their steadfast response and for rapidly sharing.’”
3) National: Anti-privatization activist Diane Ravitch says “consider giving yourself a holiday present by purchasing this important new book written by good friends of NPE.”
4) National: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg intends to drop “a cool $750 million to solidify and expand the charter-school sector across 20 metro areas—including New York City.” The Murdoch press, which gave Bloomberg space on its op-ed page to make his announcement, is ecstatic. “To begin meeting the demand for charters, Bloomberg Philanthropies is launching a five-year, $750 million effort to create seats for 150,000 more children in 20 metro areas across the country,” he wrote. “We will provide seed capital to open new, high-quality charter schools with leadership and staff members that reflect students’ diversity. This investment will also help existing charter schools grow.”
Diane Ravitch is having none of it. “Bloomberg apparently decided that he couldn’t achieve sweeping change in the public schools, so he became a champion for outsourcing students to privately managed charter schools. As his press release shows, he continues to believe his own puffery. The NYC public schools continue to be plagued with crowded classrooms, while charter schools enjoy privileged status, such as co-locations inside public schools, depriving them of facilities, and rent in private spaces paid by the city. Although the press release claims that Bloomberg’s decision is based on “evidence,” it completely ignores the large number of charter schools that close every year, the high attrition rates of charter students and teachers, and the multiple studies showing that charter schools are outperformed by public schools, except when the charters curate their enrollment to exclude students who are unlikely to succeed or conform.”
5) Idaho: The former board chair of a public charter school broke state law by benefiting financially from an arrangement between a company he co-owns and the school, says Idaho’s charter commission director. “The violation involving the school’s former board chair, Kevin McLaren, is one of several reasons why Another Choice Virtual Charter School should cease operations, Idaho Public Charter School Commission Director Jenn Thompson recommended in a November 15 report obtained by Idaho EdNews through a public records request.”
6) Louisiana: As enrollment declines, New Orleans charter school closures and consolidations are on the horizon. “Litouri Smith, the district’s interim chief school accountability officer, presented the ‘District Optimization’ plan to the School Board Thursday. It will take citywide school enrollment and the use of the district’s facilities into account and ultimately produce recommendations that could include changes in the number of seats in each classroom or grades, consolidations of charter schools or even closing some.” (…)
“‘We’re not looking for [charter school] applicants that are expecting to open in the normal timeline,’ Lewis said. That’s a major shift from prior years when the district encouraged applications to start new charter schools in anticipation of enrollment growth. Now, Lewis said, they will welcome applications, but specifically encourage applicants who want to take over an existing charter school.”
7) New Jersey: The Red Bank borough council has unanimously supported a resolution in strong opposition to the state’s five-year renewal of the Red Bank Charter School. “The random lottery system is partially why council president Hazim Yassin is advocating for the closure of the charter school. At the Nov. 23 meeting, he said a system that determines children’s educational paths at random ‘doesn’t seem right.’ ‘The idea of choice implies two separate education paths that are not similar,’ he said. ‘I feel like a unified school district is the best opportunity for growth, education, learning, understanding other cultures, things like that.’”
8) North Carolina: A Charter Schools USA school in Cary is facing a federal lawsuit over racial discrimination. “The former principal of a charter school in North Carolina is accusing the school of firing him after just two months because he hired staff who weren’t white and enforced a COVID mask mandate. Brian Bauer alleges in a lawsuit filed in federal court that he got the axe ‘for his hiring of racially diverse staff and/or his insistence on enforcement of the school’s Reopening Plan.’ He also alleges that he needed to discipline staff for not complying with the school’s mask mandate, which required all students and staff to cover their faces, regardless of vaccination status, a policy that elicited parent complaints.” For more see last year’s working paper on Charter Schools and Segregation in North Carolina. [Full report]
9) Oklahoma: In yet another chapter in the scandal plaguing Oklahoma’s Epic charter school chain, “the board’s vice chair, so alarmed by what she’s seen and heard behind the scenes, resigned suddenly on Wednesday, Oklahoma Watch has learned. She implored authorities to investigate the school for a number of issues. A three-page letter of resignation written by Kathren Stehno details her concerns, which include harassment and intimidation of female employees creating ‘an often-hostile work environment.’ She also cited what she called alarming data about students withdrawn for truancy and violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act. Several women, who are current and former employees, reported being harassed by board Chairman Paul Campbell, Stehno wrote. ‘They have been yelled at, berated, subject to profane comments and implied threats to their employment,’ according to the letter.” Oklahoma Watch “has a pending lawsuit against Epic Charter Schools seeking the release of emails to and from co-founder Harris from June 20, 2019 to Aug. 30, 2019 under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.” [Read the full letter]
10) Texas: The Republican-dominated state board of education has received a Texas Education Agency proposal “to delete rules that currently require charter schools to enroll only students in the approved geographic boundary authorized in the charter school’s charter agreement. Currently, geographic boundaries are approved by TEA and the State Board of Education (SBOE) as part of the charter approval process. The proposed change would allow charter schools to misrepresent who they serve without facing any consequences. Texas charter schools have a history of marketing to certain demographics of students that are less expensive to teach, often excluding special education and bilingual learners. This rule change means charters could exacerbate charter profiteering by marketing enrollment to kids who live nowhere near their schools.” Texas AFT “has joined with other education organizations—such as the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Texas Association of School Boards, and Raise Your Hand Texas—to oppose the rule changes.”
11) Texas: The founder of a charter school in Missouri City has been sentenced to 36 months in prison and ordered him to repay more than $335,400 in restitution for “illegally using the school’s money to pay for personal expenses.” Richard Rose “founded and served as superintendent, CEO and CFO for the now-shuttered Zoe Learning Academy in Houston during its operation from 2001 until it closed in September 2019, according to the release.”
12) Utah: A Bluffdale charter high school director has apologized for a racist post on the school’s Instagram page. “Darlene McDonald with Utah Black Roundtable said she wasn’t shocked when she first learned about the post. “‘This is why it is so important that we continue to have, and we keep coming back to this, conversations about race, conversations about diversity training, conversations about equity training,’ said McDonald.” But of course the state of Utah has rules instructing teachers what they cannot teach about diversity, equity and inclusion.
13) West Virginia: State officials, responding to a lawsuit claiming a new path to approving charter schools is unconstitutional, are defending the constitutionality of allowing a new Professional Charter Schools Board to approve new schools. “Those lawyers say that clause goes way back to an era when the Legislature was dividing the geography of school districts without the consent of communities. And they contend the Constitution needs to be interpreted within the scope of what the framers intended. The legal challenge is based on a portion of the state Constitution that says “no independent free school district, or organization shall hereafter be created, except with the consent of the school district or districts out of which the same is to be created, expressed by a majority of the voters voting on the question.” The lawsuit contends the current path for charter school approval steers around that requirement.”
WV News reports that charter schools have been approved for West Virginia despite dropping enrollment statewide, creating “questions for residents on the future of the public school system.”
14) National: The Hill reports that an army of lobbyists is swarming all over the new $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, for example from the fast growing cryptocurrency industry. “Meanwhile, internet service providers (ISPs) are expected to aggressively lobby the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as it crafts new internet rules under the infrastructure bill’s $65 billion broadband expansion plan. The relatively tiny agency has six months to develop a proposal that will require recipients of federal broadband funding to provide a low-cost broadband option and encourage states to explore alternatives to dominant ISPs such as coops, nonprofits and municipalities. The NTIA will have the final say as to what kinds of speeds and prices providers must offer. An aggressive broadband plan could hurt the bottom line of ISPs that have long operated in underserved communities without any competition.” The cement industry’s boosters are weighing in too, unsurprisingly.
15) National: Donald Cohen, In the Public Interest’s executive director, says we should keep infrastructure in the public’s hands. “Much of the new federal spending will go to fill potholes, repair bridges, lower the cost of high-speed internet, and build other things our communities need. But for large, federally supported transportation projects, state and local governments will be required to consider additional funding from private investors. The danger is that this additional funding comes with strings attached. The private investors negotiate contracts—called ‘public-private partnerships’— that allow them to profit from raising water rates or hiking tolls on highways, or from charging the government expensive lease payments. These contracts are not only more expensive than if the state or locality used traditional public financing, but they also often empower private investors to shape public policy.”
Thales Schmidt, citing Cohen and Mikaelian, draws the connection between privatization in the U.S. and Brazil. “The current Bolsonaro government, for example, started the year with a mission to privatize 9 public companies, including Eletrobras, which played a key role in the electricity crisis in Amapá, in November 2020. The state saw more than half of its municipalities stay in the dark for long periods, which resulted in the death of at least 8 people. The company responsible for energy in Amapá is a private company that did not invest in a backup transformer, and needed a rescue from Eletrobras to restore normality in the area.”
16) National: Former LA Times correspondent Ralph Vartabedian has penned a useful and sobering article for The New York Times magazine on the obstacles facing successful implementation of the infrastructure plan. “Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor at the University of Oxford who has studied scores of projects around the world, found that 92 percent of them overran their original cost and schedule estimates, often by large margins—in part, he said, because cost estimates are ‘systematically and significantly deceptive.’ ‘A lot of projects are not delivering what they promised to deliver,’ he said.” (…)
“Mr. Flyvbjerg, the Oxford professor, said infrastructure keeps getting more expensive at a time when many products, such as televisions, refrigerators and computers, get cheaper or better each year. ‘Big infrastructure is becoming cost prohibitive,’ he said, a problem he blames on institutional sclerosis at government agencies that keep repeating mistakes and choose infrastructure projects that are unlikely to succeed. The mistakes, he said, include a lack of transparency to the public, flawed contracts that put government agencies at the mercy of contractors and a failure to attract enough private investment to bear some of the project’s risk. The new infrastructure law, he said, does little to change the outlook.”
17) National: Now for some bad news: Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), one of the most tenacious defenders of the public interest in the sphere of infrastructure, has announced he will not seek reelection next year. Earlier this year DeFazio fought a tenacious and bruising battle against both industry forces and politicians in both parties and in both branches of government to produce the best infrastructure bill he could, but was ultimately frozen out. He will be missed. Write a book about infrastructure, Peter.
18) National: June Sekera and Neva Goodwin dismantle the pretensions of the big oil companies to be doing something about climate change as they keep on drilling—and are poised to get public money. “Coming from backgrounds in economics, ecology and public policy, we have spent several years focusing on carbon drawdown. We have watched mechanical carbon capture methods struggle to demonstrate success, despite U.S. government investments of over US$7 billion in direct spending and at least a billion more in tax credits. Meanwhile, proven biological solutions with multiple benefits have received far less attention.”
19) National: Nonprofit organizations are about to get hit with a big bill to help pay for the nation’s infrastructure, says Michael Tomasky. “The bipartisan infrastructure bill was the culmination of months of negotiations, and relies on some controversial revenue raisers. Tucked away in the law is a retroactive repeal of a tax credit that was established to help businesses and nonprofit organizations who found themselves struggling economically due to the coronavirus pandemic. (…) But the IIJA retroactively eliminated the credit for the fourth quarter, ending it as of September 30, with the repeal expected to raise around $8 billion. This creates a dilemma for employers that had planned on claiming the credit in the fourth quarter, as well as some organizations that now may have to pay back any credit advances already taken.”
20) Maryland/National/Think Tanks: Maryland House of Delegates member Marc Korman (D) of Bethesda has written a blistering letter to the editor of the Washington Post challenging “blatant falsehoods” about Larry Hogan’s boondoggle “public-private partnership” I-270 toll road project peddled in a WaPo op-ed by pro-privatization ideologue Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation, which has been funded by the Kochs (the late David Koch was a Reason Trustee).
“Mr. Poole said ‘the regular lanes remain free,’” writes Korman. “The governor’s plan calls for taking a high-occupancy vehicle lane in each direction—lanes that are currently free and unrestricted outside of rush hour in each direction—and converting them to 24-hour-a-day toll lanes. That may or may not be a good use of these lanes from a traffic engineering standpoint, but it means what we currently have would not remain free. Mr. Poole also said the toll lanes will be financed based on tolls that commuters choose to pay and this is the same model used for 12 other express lane projects, including in Virginia. Mr. Poole’s own Annual Privatization Report for 2021 shows that most of these projects require some direct taxpayer contribution, including about 20 percent of the overall Interstate 495 project cost in Virginia. We need to be more accurate in how we present the project.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
21) National/Think Tanks: A new report details President Biden’s broken promises on ending the use of private prisons in federal incarceration and immigration detention. “The Biden administration has failed to deliver on the promise to end the use of private prisons in federal incarceration and immigration detention, according to ‘Broken Promises: Limits of Biden’s Executive Order on Private Prisons’ a new report released [Friday] by Detention Watch Network and Project South. The report provides an overview of progress towards that unfulfilled promise, explores a troubling trend of detention expansion, and outlines the steps the administration must take to end the federal use of private prisons and phase out the use of immigration detention entirely.”
22) National/Louisiana: The Department of Justice reports that former long-time St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Rodney J. Strain pleaded guilty today before United States District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo to Count 15 of the Indictment returned in August 2019, charging him with soliciting and receiving bribes for his role in the privatization and operation of a work release program that operated in Slidell, Louisiana between 2013 and 2016.
23) National: The private, for-profit prison company the GEO Group will no longer be organized as a real estate investment trust (REIT), the company announced Thursday. “GEO shares tanked after the announcement, dropping more than 7 percent over the course of the day. REITs pay no corporate income tax, but they must pay out 90 percent of their profits as dividends. Boca Raton-based GEO said that, starting Jan. 1, 2022, it will be organized as a taxable C corporation and will stop paying dividends.”
24) Texas/National: The Big Spring Correctional Institution and Big Spring Flightline Correctional Institution which were operated by the Geo Group through a contract with the U.S. Department of Justice, have closed. “KBEST reports 350 inmates currently in the Big Spring and Flightline facilities will be moved to other federal facilities across the country.”
25) Wisconsin/National: A Waukesha murder suspect’s mother has blamed the tragedy on a lack of mental health services. “We are not making excuses but we believe what has happened is because he was not given the help and resources he needed. Institutions that are equipped and have trained staff is what was needed as well as resources in the communities where people who suffer with mental illness live.” Woods said that her son “suffered from mental health issues since he was very young,’ noting that he “received counseling and was on medication” at that time. However, as an adult, Brooks decided he “no longer suffered from a mental illness” and did not have the insurance or financial means to fund medication or counseling.”
26) National: Alex Yablon reminds us that “We’re still down like a million public sector jobs.”
27) National: Criminal justice reform needs to catch up with the meaning of “public,” says Thomas L. Knapp. “The Sixth Amendment specifies that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial. Traditionally, that’s been taken to mean that members of the public (and press) may plant their posteriors in seats in the courtroom and watch the proceedings. But don’t bet the ranch on even that seemingly reasonable concession to transparency. I’ve seen municipal courts get around it by filling the courtroom with a whole day’s worth of defendants, then having a bailiff stop would-be spectators outside the door, claiming there’s only room for those defendants and their attorneys. Additionally, many courts — including U.S. federal courts such as the one hearing the [Ghislaine] Maxwell case—either don’t allow, or only selectively allow, recording and/or broadcast of trials.”
28) National/International: Big pharma is making a killing from vaccine apartheid, writes Luke Savage in Jacobin. “As lucrative business models go, Big Pharma’s pandemic strategy is about as good as it gets. The mRNA-type vaccines produced by the likes of Pfizer and Moderna were only developed thanks to billions in publicly funded research, and both companies paid well under the statutory US tax rate in the first half of this year. With the encouragement, protection, and cooperation of some of the world’s richest and most powerful states, both have also overwhelmingly sold shots within wealthy countries — successfully charging as much as twenty-four times the actual production costs according to one analysis by mRNA scientists at Imperial College London, resulting in doses five times more expensive than they need to be.”
For an intriguing and data-filled behind-the-scenes blow by blow of how the pharma companies forced governments to knuckle under in the race to vaccinate people, see the Financial Times piece, The Inside Story of the Pfizer Vaccine: “A Once-In-An-Epoch Windfall.” “‘Countries reported to us that they had been trying to get hold of Pfizer and no one returned their calls,’ says a person familiar with the African Union’s vaccine-purchasing operation. Before deals could be agreed, Pfizer demanded countries change national laws to protect vaccine makers from lawsuits, which many western jurisdictions already had. From Lebanon to the Philippines, national governments changed laws to guarantee their supply of vaccines. Jarbas Barbosa, the assistant director of the Pan American Health Organization, says Pfizer’s conditions were ‘abusive, during a time when due to the emergency [governments] have no space to say no.’”
29) National: “Next year, millions more Americans will find themselves in privatized Medicare, and most will never know what happened.” Common Dreams’ Jake Johnson reports that Congress is “asleep at the switch” as President Biden continues a Trump-era ploy to privatize Medicare. “The doctors plan to present HHS with a petition signed by more than 1,500 physicians who believe the [Direct Care] pilot threatens ‘the future of Medicare as we know it.’ Advocates have been publicly sounding the alarm about the DC program for months, warning that it could fully hand traditional Medicare over to Wall Street investors and other profit-seekers, resulting in higher costs for patients and lower-quality care.”
30) National: Writing in Government Executive, Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, Melissa Wasser and Andrew Lautz report on the paywall that continues to stand in the way of government transparency. “Civil society groups, including the Project On Government Oversight and National Taxpayers Union, have also called attention to this issue and urged Congress to abolish the PACER paywall. Americans from all points along the political and ideological spectrum have a vested interest in the government through their tax dollars; this, by definition, includes the federal courts. We therefore all have an interest in ensuring the most open and accessible government possible.” [H.R.5844]
31) New York: New York City and one of its major non-profit homeless shelter contractors are calling it quits. “The move came after a New York Times investigation published last month found that the chief executive of CORE, Jack A. Brown III, collected more than $1 million a year, hired his relatives and steered millions of dollars in business to for-profit companies he controlled. (…) As homelessness has soared in New York City in recent years, the city has outsourced the operations of its shelters to nonprofit organizations that run the buildings and provide services. This year alone, the city has directed $2.6 billion to these groups. But officials have struggled to eliminate conflicts of interest and self-dealing among some charitable organizations.”
32) Florida/National: Scandal continues to beset Florida’s foster care system. “According to our partners at the Tampa Bay Times, DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris decided not to renew the state’s $80 million contract with the [Eckerd Connects] Clearwater nonprofit due to frustration over the agency’s performance and a history of ‘jeopardizing the health safety and welfare of dependent children.’ Eckerd Connects is currently under investigation by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office over reports of children in Eckerd’s care sleeping in unlicensed offices in ‘disgusting and deplorable’ conditions.” If you’ve never seen the disturbing documentary “Foster Shock,” you can watch it here. [Video, about an hour]. See also ProPublica’s new report, “‘They Took Us Away From Each Other’: Lost Inside America’s Shadow Foster System.”
33) International: You can’t make this stuff up. There is outrage in British Columbia after a private, for-profit company running the province’s 911 call operations, E-Comm, has allowed dispatchers to disconnect people waiting for an ambulance. “Surrey’s Akash Gill, who took a job as a 911 operator to help people in 2019, said, ‘Now, we transfer your call and hop off the line while you’re waiting, listening to an automated message over and over again until ambulance picks up.’ ‘It is terrifying,’ said the 27-year-old who took to social media to express her anger. ‘What we are used to as operators is providing you reassurance and collecting any information in case of a worst-case scenario, like after sexual assault or domestic violence when a panicked caller might ask for an ambulance because of their injuries, but what they also need is the police.’”
34) International: The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a harsh light on privatization and outsourcing, Dave Holmesreports in Australia-based Green Left Weekly. “Even if something still remains in state hands, it will be subject to another modern plague—outsourcing. A Michael West Media article by Geordie Wilson exposed how deep the rot has gone: ‘Documents obtained by MichaelWest.com.au show that even senior roles [in the public sector] are being outsourced now. Senior public servants work in department buildings and take orders from the minister, but their real employer is actually a private business. We have identified that senior roles in policy, management, biosecurity and even ministerial advice are now filled by private business. Even assistant directors and executives at many departments are now privately run. ‘The headcount of non-IT public servant roles outsourced by the government is in the thousands.’”
35) National/Think Tanks: Philip Mattera of the Corporate Research Project reports that Biden’s Justice Department has announced it intends to crack down on corporate recidivists. “To assist DOJ in its efforts, Public Citizen has just published a report highlighting 20 large companies with deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements that have histories of wrongdoing documented in Violation Tracker. Some of these rap sheets have continued after the company entered into its leniency agreement. For example, after signing an agreement in 2020, Wells Fargo was fined $250 million by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for unsound banking practices. After signing an agreement in 2019, Merrill Lynch (owned by Bank of America) was fined several times by the Congressionally authorized industry regulator FINRA, including an $11.65 million penalty this year for overcharging customers. After signing an agreement in 2019, Walmart has been involved in numerous violations, including a case in which it paid $20 million to the EEOC to resolve allegations of gender discrimination.”
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages.