- TOMORROW! Anti-choice, anti-democratic ballot measure in Ohio
- Pennsylvania state court rejects water privatization
- Cinci should save its RR
First, the Good News
1) National/Ohio: Tomorrow Ohio voters have an opportunity to decide whether they will permit the Republican right wing to weaken their democratic power to amend the state constitution, a transparent move to block reproductive rights from being protected in the basic law. “Other states are watching,” as Stateline says. “Opponents of Issue 1—a coalition of over 200 groups—call it a brazen power grab by the legislature that threatens Ohio’s democracy. With state lawmakers entrenched in power in Columbus thanks to gerrymandered maps, opponents argue, the ballot initiative process is the last meaningful avenue left for ordinary Ohioans to effect change. Issue 1 would raise the costs both of the signature-gathering process, by making organizers hire canvassers in all 88 counties rather than just half, and of the campaign itself, by requiring that 60% of voters approve. The result would be to make ballot initiatives usable only by deep-pocketed special interests, opponents say. And, they add, it would threaten the principle of one person, one vote by allowing just 40% of voters plus one to override the clear will of the people.”
2) National/Oklahoma: Nine Oklahoma residents and one organization have filed suit against the state charter school board’s approval of a religious school to receive taxpayer dollars to proselytize its students. “The lawsuit in OKPLAC Inc. v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, backed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the Education Law Center, argues that the school cannot be reconciled with those state law provisions.”
3) Kansas/Think Tanks: Good news and a caveat. Writing in the JC Post (Junction City), Wichita State Professor Alexandra Middlewood says private organizations are no replacement for government public goods. “On August 14th, Dolly Parton is coming to Kansas to celebrate the statewide success of her Imagination Library program. Dolly’s Imagination Library is an example of how music, art, and culture can intersect with social change. Through her deep commitment to education and literacy, Dolly has shown that celebrities can be powerful catalysts for positive transformation. Founded in 1995 by Dolly Parton herself, the Imagination Library is a unique book-gifting program that provides free books to children from birth to five years old with the mission of fostering a lifelong passion for reading.”
But “while Dolly’s Imagination Library provides an incredibly important service for children, and certainly earns the praise it receives, it is also indicative of a concerning societal shift towards the outsourcing of public services. Rather than coming together in collective action and making demands on government — like increasing funding to local libraries — citizens are relying on private entities to provide public goods — like sending free books through the mail. When public services are outsourced to private entities, citizens may feel less connected to the provision of those services. They might also perceive their role in contributing to the common good as diminished. Research on civic engagement suggests that this leads to a reduced sense of civic duty, which results in a less engaged, informed, and active citizenry.”
4) Massachusetts: The relationship between the MBTA and its largest union appears to be undergoing a dramatic change under Gov. Maura Healey (D), Commonwealth reports. “Contract negotiations shifted dramatically this year with Healey in office. Privatization has gone missing from the T’s vocabulary. Instead of contract negotiations taking a year or longer, the T and the Carmen’s Union wrapped up talks in less than seven months. The MBTA board on Thursday unanimously approved a new four-year contract with the Carmen’s Union that offers raises of 7 percent in the first year, 4 percent in the second, 3.5 percent in the third, and 3.5 percent in the fourth. Hourly wages for entry level bus operators jumped from $22.21 to $30.35”
But Massachusetts’ venture into privatization has left a mark. “The MBTA paid a customer service contractor more than budgeted over the course of five years, costing taxpayers millions for unknown benefit because the T didn’t keep decent records, according to a contract review by the state’s inspector general. From July 2017 to September 2022, the MBTA contracted out customer support services to Block by Block, a Tennessee-based company, in an effort to save money and provide improved service. (…) But a review issued Wednesday by the Office of the Inspector General’s Internal Special Audit Unit found that while the T successfully increased coverage across its stations, it failed to keep sufficient records, reliably track performance, or issue penalties for shortcomings, making it ‘nearly impossible to determine if customer service was improved.’”
5) Massachusetts: A small AFSCME local has stood up against privatization and won. “The light department’s Board of Commissioners put a proposal to privatize the utility on the agenda for an April public hearing. Local 939’s seven members, led by Chair Matt Shwom, swung into action. With the assistance of Council 93 staff, they drafted a campaign plan, developed flyers, ordered lawn signs, knocked on doors, created a Facebook page, enlisted the support of the Merrimack Valley Central Labor Council, mobilized union members and residents, and educated them on ways to voice their concerns at the meeting. ‘This plan was on a fast track and we had very little time to plan and react,’ said Council 93 Executive Director Mark Bernard, who’s also an AFSCME vice president. ‘Although there are just seven Local 939 members working at the light plant and the Board of Selectmen was stacked against us, we always operate on the principle of ‘no problem too big and no local too small.’””
6) Pennsylvania: A state court has reversed a Public Utilities Commission decision to approve the sale of East Whiteland Township’s public sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Patrick Cicero argued in his petition that the PUC failed to prove that Aqua’s acquisition would provide any public benefit. If anything, the sale would increase wastewater costs for the township’s 3,900 residents. ‘The standard in Pennsylvania for decades has been that in order for a public utility regulated by the Public Utility Commission to acquire another system, they have to prove that there is an affirmative public benefit associated with that acquisition,’ Cicero told WHYY News.” The court ruled that “the Commission erred and/or abused its discretion in concluding that Aqua established substantial affirmative public benefits that outweighed the acknowledged harms of Aqua’s acquisition of the System.”
7) Wisconsin: The annual Wisconsin Public Education Network Summer Summit is this Thursday. “This one-of-a-kind event brings everyone together, from administrators and board members to parents, caregivers, educators, community volunteers, and more, for a full-day deep dive into this year’s theme: Accountability in Action: how we can hold ourselves, our schools, and our leaders accountable for making sure every child in every public school has what they need to thrive. Highlights of the day include:
- Welcome remarks from Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jill Underly
- Featured panels on Accountability in Action, in a three-part series with experts and advocates from around the state and the country
- Premiere of a new Public Schools Unite Us video by Emmy Award-winning creators Micah Davis and Steve Betchkal of Soul Shine Creative Studio”
8) International: David Climenhaga of Alberta Politics reports that “With its latest medical lab privatization scheme in a shambles, Premier Danielle Smith’s market-fundamentalist government has turned to the public sector in a desperate bid to keep the system from collapsing in Calgary, Alberta’s largest city. Or, to put it more colorfully, as did a former NDP-era deputy minister on social media Thursday, ‘Alberta government opts for socialist medicine model to bail out lab privatization fiasco as enraged UCP supporters inundate Premier Bozo with year-long lab waits!’”
9) National: Yet again showing that it is ahead of the curve, the Network for Public Education has boiled down charter school honcho Nina Rees’ agenda to its essence: “If Ms. Rees and her charter trade organization have their way:
- Children would enter a lottery to attend their neighborhood school.
- There would be an appointed private board, not an elected school board.
- Teacher tenure and bargaining rights in most states would disappear.
- The school could shut down based on test scores, enrollment, or even the private board’s whim. 25% of all charters shut down in their first 5 years.
- In most states, the school could be managed by a for-profit corporation.
All of the above are the characteristics of charter schools. Every district in the nation would be a New Orleans–where schools open and close, and citizens have no voice in school governance. That is why NPE fights so hard each year to ensure that the National Alliance does not get the funding increases it lobbies for from the federal Charter School Programs (CSP). We are so pleased to share the good news below.”
Don’t forget to register for discounted rooms at NPE’s national conference in DC from October 27-29. Only 81 days away.
10) National: Teach for America, long denounced as a vehicle for school privatization, has hit hard times. TFA’s incoming class this year is just over 2,000. It was almost 6,000 in 2013, according to Education Week.
11) Arkansas: Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva, who was K-12 chancellor in Florida before becoming Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ education secretary, is reportedly being investigated over his role in “a messy insider bid-rigging debacle that’s now being taken up by a federal grand jury. (…) The Miami Herald reported yesterday, however, that a federal subpoena issued in June seeks more information on the bid-rigging allegations, and that subpoena names Oliva. Oliva’s role in efforts by a Florida Department of Education employee and state school board member to win millions in public contract money for themselves seems tangential, although Oliva has been criticized for not putting a stop to what looks a lot like self-dealing among his staff and colleagues during his tenure as Florida’s chancellor of K-12 education.”
The Miami Herald reports that “school district officials were against the plan, arguing that its annual budget was only $8.5 million, so it couldn’t afford to spend $4 million on consultants. When the state Department of Education solicited offers to help the district, bidding was open for only a week. Only one qualified company responded: MGT Consulting, led by Trey Traviesa, a former GOP state representative from Tampa with ties to [DeSantis education commissioner Richard] Corcoran.”
12) Florida: A new state education office is trying to push conservatives onto school boards, the Orlando Sentinel’s Leslie Postal reports. “The director’s first months of work show interest in meeting mostly with conservative school board members, records show, including Moms for Liberty members and those endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. (…) In another email, he shared his views of the previous night’s Orange County School Board meeting with Alicia Farrant, a Moms for Liberty member elected to the board in November. ‘I watched some of the very misguided public comment at last night’s school board meeting. I just wanted to pass along a note to thank you for serving on the board and standing up for families,’ Stoops wrote her on May 10.”
13) Florida: Michael Moline of the Florida Phoenix reports that “a union representing public university professors, its chapter at New College of Florida, and a professor denied tenure at the Sarasota campus have filed a constitutional challenge to a new state law denying the right to arbitrate employment disputes.
A 35-page complaint filed Thursday in state circuit court in Leon County by the United Faculty of Florida cites the harm to the union, the local, and their members but specifically to Hugo Viera-Vargas. He was one of five New College faculty denied tenure in April by a new board of trustees hand-picked by Gov. Ron DeSantis to convert the traditionally progressive campus to a conservative bastion.”
14) Illinois: Niles trustees have outsourced school crossing guards, but a local citizens group is objecting. “Local activist group the Niles Coalition has organized a letter-writing campaign in opposition to the change. ‘Shifting the burden to school taxing districts could lead to increased expenses for residents without clear benefits,’ the group said on its website, asking residents to write to the village. According to the webpage associated with the group’s campaign, residents had sent 216 letters opposing the change to the village as of July 31. ‘It’s unclear how improving services and ensuring the safety of local students is burdensome,’ Zakula said. ‘Additionally, by invoicing the schools (and school) districts, the cost of the program will be spread among all the communities that feed into the schools/districts, not just Niles residents.’” [Sub required]
15) Iowa: Kombiz Lavasany quips, “In Iowa, we are banning ‘Ulysses,’ ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ and ‘The Color Purple.’ Honestly, if you are a kid and turning to Ulysses for titillation when the internet is everywhere, we should be giving you a medal and a full-ride scholarship to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.” Fox News reports that “PEN America recorded more book bans during the fall 2022 semester than in each of the prior two semesters. PEN America also reports that 30% of the ‘unique titles’ banned are books about race, racism, or feature characters of color. They also note that 26% of unique titles banned have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.”
16) Massachusetts: State Attorney General Andrea Campbell is suing a Malden charter school “over its refusal to comply with numerous public records requests carries a similar political undercurrent,” Commonwealth Magazine reports. “In announcing her filing against Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, Campbell said the school received at least 10 different public records requests between January and November, 2022, from three different entities, refusing to provide records in all of the cases. The school, she wrote, has claimed ‘as a Commonwealth Charter School, it does not fall under the category of entities handling public documents.’ Campbell’s office is seeking a court order enforcing multiple rulings issued by the state supervisor of records, who works under Secretary of State William Galvin, that the school is, indeed, a public entity subject to the public records law.”
17) National: Preqin, the privately held London-based investment data company that follows the infrastructure and P3 spaces, is still Waiting for Godot on private infrastructure investment funds. In an email, they admit “it’s been a slow first half for infrastructure fundraising in 2023. In Q1, only $4.5bn in capital was secured by funds reaching their final close. That pace persisted in Q2, when again $4.5bn was secured. However, a market recovery may be on the horizon…”
18) Arizona: The CBS Evening News provided an update on the scandal of private Saudi interests pumping water out of drought-endangered Arizona, including from public land, so it can feed alfalfa to its cattle. “[Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes (D)] said Arizona’s cities, including Phoenix, will need that water as they face potentially drastic cuts from the drought-ravaged Colorado River. Fondomonte,” which is owned by one of the largest dairy companies in Saudi Arabia, “declined CBS News’ request for an interview, is not doing anything illegal. However, since CBS News first began covering its use of Arizona groundwater, the state has revoked approval for two additional wells and is considering canceling some of the company’s leases on state-owned land when they expire next year. ‘It is a scandal that the state of Arizona allowed this to happen, and it needs to come to an end,’ Mayes said.”
This is another story about lax and uneven regulation, at least if you follow the Arizona Republic’s news reporting. “In terms of water conservation, it means the metro areas, which understood long ago that we need to manage precious groundwater resources, have been willing to impose restrictions on their groundwater use. Most of rural Arizona has not.” But not according to the newspaper’s editorial columnist, Joanna Allhands, who drums up a column on why cutting off this waste of scarce water is “complicated” and folks should stop “beating up on” the Saudis. [Sub required]
19) National: The U.S. Department of Transportation has launched a center dedicated to improving infrastructure project delivery. “We are building out our resources and want to hear from you. How can we make this toolbox better? Do you have materials we should add? Join our email list for the latest news from the USDOT Project Delivery Center of Excellence. We want to hear from you.” Visit the Project Delivery Toolbox.
20) Ohio: Kevin DeGood of the Center for American Progress is blowing the whistle on a bad railroad privatization deal that some are pushing. “Cincinnati should not sell this asset. The $1.6B offer, however, shows that the current annual lease payment of $25 million is absurdly low. Also, since NS (Norfolk Southern) already controls the asset through a lease, voters/city officials should be asking *WHY* they want to purchase.” “This asset” is the only interstate railway owned by a city, and the potential buyer is Norfolk Southern. Read the whole thread, in which contributor Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth offers a cautionary tale from Virginia: “Virginia made a big mistake in the 1990s when it sold off the RF&P railroad between Richmond & DC to CSX (to close a state budget deficit). Then just a few years ago they spent billions of $ to buy back just 1/2 of the right of way from CSX.”
21) Pennsylvania/National: Is a proprietary algorithm or some private AI program eventually going to decide what road and bridge tolls you should pay? Pennsylvania officials are wrestling with the issue of knock-on problems that would be created by imposing tolls on some bridges. Would drivers divert to other roads, causing congestion elsewhere, for example? But an article in The Center Square flags a vacuum that private consulting companies may be quick to try and fill using large data models. “Sometimes they don’t even have the numbers to make a decision,” Qian said. “Quantitative data-driven models at a very large scale can help decision making.” See this DOT paper, for example.
22) Texas: KUT, Austin’s NPR station, reports that controversy is surrounding revisions to a plan for the est. $4.5 billion, 8-year expansion of I-35 through Austin after a July 19 letter was released “from Mayor Kirk Watson to advocates fighting to limit or halt the highway expansion. When Watson was a state senator, he played a big role in securing money for the I-35 project. (…) Rethink35, a group striving to remove the highway through Austin and replace it with an urban boulevard, was least impressed with the mitigation measures. ‘Some of the things there are very silly, like bat boxes under the bridge. Those were obviously not the kind of changes that people were looking to make,’ Miriam Schoenfield with Rethink35 said. She said other TxDOT changes were an improvement over the status quo but ‘nowhere close to sufficient.’”
23) International: A major victory has been won by trade unions and organizations in Greece which fought for a decade to bring two of the major water utilities under state control. “In line with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s preelection promise, the government returned its majority stakes in the water and sewage firms in the two biggest cities to direct state control. (…) Among other efforts, activists managed to organize a nonbinding referendum in Thessaloniki in May 2014. The result was 98% of votes against the privatization of EYATH. ‘Water will not be privatized, it will remain public. After all, we never had a plan to privatize it,’ Superfund’s Managing Director Grigoris Dimitriadis said last month. As for the rest of Southeastern Europe, it should be mentioned that citizens of Slovenia decided in a referendum in July 2021 to annul the Water Act that the country’s parliament adopted four months earlier. The country incorporated the right to water into its constitution in 2016.”
24) National: Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest and co-author of The Privatization of Everything, says that we need to stop our public pools from being eaten up by privatization—and start building lots more of them. “For many people in U.S. cities and small towns, for nearly a century, there was a way to escape the heat: the public swimming pool. But public pools are harder to come by now. What happened to pools can be summed up in one word: privatization. Well, two—privatization and racism. They often go hand-in-hand. In fact, the trajectory of pools from public to private is a microcosm of what happens with racism-driven privatization—it’s a pattern that schools, parks, public transportations—even whole neighborhoods, have followed. ‘We tend to drain the pool of public goods when the public becomes more diverse,’ Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, said in an interview. (…) In this present moment that has seen an increased willingness to invest in goods in common and the common good–not to mention an increase in temperatures everywhere, now would be a great time to revisit the community public pool. As the heat index rises, we might not be able to afford not to.” [For a social history of swimming pools in America see Jeff Wiltse’s 2007 book.]
25) National: Guess who’s pushing artificial intelligence into public services? Why of course it’s the consulting giants: Accenture, McKinsey, and Deloitte. Some have been pushing it for over three years.
26) National: Public sector union leaders had a tough response to Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ threat to “start slitting throats” of the federal workforce if he takes office.
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National President Everett Kelley said “Governor DeSantis’ threat to ‘start slitting throats’ of federal employees is dangerous, disgusting, disgraceful, and disqualifying… No federal employee should face death threats from anyone, least of all from someone seeking to lead the U.S. government. Governor DeSantis must retract his irresponsible statement. ‘We’ve seen too often in recent years—from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 to the sacking of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 – that violent anti-government rhetoric from politicians has deadly consequences. Any candidate who positions themselves within that shameful tradition has no place in public office.’”
Tony Reardon, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, expressed his strong disapproval of DeSantis’s statement, calling it “repulsive and unworthy of the presidential campaign trail.” President Brian L. Renfroe of the National Association of Letter Carriers said “Gov. DeSantis’ violent threat against federal employees is appalling, shocking, disturbing and should alarm every single American. Our members, and all federal employees, have devoted their working lives to public service and do not deserve to be subject to violent threats and assaults, especially from politicians. Gov. DeSantis’ rhetoric would be extremely dangerous at any time, but is particularly disgraceful at a time when letter carriers are increasingly being targeted by violent criminals.”
27) National: The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has announced a final rule requiring federal contractors that use “persuaders”—“union avoidance” consultants or attorneys “to publicly identify themselves as doing so by checking a new box on the LM-10 form. Employers must file the form to disclose certain specified financial dealings, including the use of persuaders.”
Here’s the rule summary:
“The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) of the Department of Labor (Department) is revising the Form LM–10 Employer Report upon review of the comments received in response to its September 13, 2022 notice of proposed form revision. Under section 203 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA or the Act), employers must file a Form LM–10 Employer Report with the Department to disclose certain payments, expenditures, agreements, and arrangements. Under the revision, the Department adds a checkbox to the Form LM–10 report requiring certain reporting entities to indicate whether such entities were Federal contractors or subcontractors in their prior fiscal year, and two lines for entry of filers’ Unique Entity Identifier and Federal contracting agency or agencies, if applicable.”
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says, “the rule, which was published in the Federal Register on July 28, could lead to fewer contractors using persuaders if they believe doing so will impact their ability to get a government contract, said Jonathan Keselenko, an attorney with Foley Hoag in Boston. The revision takes effect Aug. 28.”
28) International: Nigerian health workers are resisting efforts to privatize public hospitals, and are urging President Tinubu to resist it. “As a matter of fact,” they said, “concessions, privatization, or mutilated PPP agenda at this point in the evolution of health endeavor in Nigeria is a direct invitation to morbidity and mortality. This is worsened by the fallout of the withdrawal of fuel and electricity subsidy. The only option that works in the maximum interest of Nigerians at this time is to allow healthcare to remain a social welfare service to consumers of health.”
29) International: In Canada, CUPE Prince Edward Island is warning that an increase in public long term care home rates is a leap towards privatization in healthcare. “‘The idea of increasing rates in the public system, as so to match the private sector is a step backward for families and a leap towards privatization in healthcare,’ said Ashley Clark, President of CUPE PEI. (…) ‘Rates were already unbearably high. Workers’ wages and retirees’ savings are not keeping up with inflation, so the government should be lowering rates, not increasing them,’ said Clark. ‘This is a time where governments should be making public services more accessible, because families need more help, not less,’ she added. (…) By making the public option less attractive, this Government is signaling its intention of stepping away from its responsibility of providing public care. That is unacceptable,’ said Clark. CUPE PEI calls on the King Government to bring all private long-term care and healthcare operations into the public sector. ‘The government should not sacrifice the well-being of Islanders by handing over their basic responsibilities to the private sector,’ concluded Clark.”
30) National: The Hill has published a list of the top-rated U.S. cities for public parks. Here they are:
- Washington D.C.
- Paul, Minn.
- Minneapolis, Minn.
- Irvine, Calif.
- Arlington, Va.
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- San Francisco, Calif.
- Seattle, Wash.
- Portland, Ore.
- New York, NY
31) Texas: Small government? Diane Ravitch reports that a new state law will drive small bookstores out of business. The law requires booksellers “to rate any books they sell to public schools for its sexual content. And to rate any book they have ever sold in the past to public schools or to teachers. The law threatens the survival of some 300 independent bookstores across the state. ‘And by April of next year, every bookseller in the state is tasked with submitting to the Texas Education Agency a list of every book they’ve ever sold to a teacher, librarian or school that qualifies for a sexual rating and is in active use. The stores also are required to issue recalls for any sexually explicit books.”
Blue Willow “has joined a lawsuit to block the bill. The lawsuit was filed by Austin’s BookPeople, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. ‘The lawsuit argues booksellers will suffer financial damage if they lose school-related business. Koehler estimates that a fifth of Blue Willow’s business is with schools.’”
The Houston Chronicle reports that “the measure was born out of conservative fears in the last few years of sexual content in public schools. Many of the books that were subsequently identified as inappropriate were written for LGBTQ children and teenagers.”
32) Utah: Voters may decide on liquor privatization next year. “But in the ensuing decades, the church and, not coincidentally, Utah’s liquor laws began to become more strict. Utah backed Prohibition and a few years later, church policy was changed to require members to abstain from alcohol. Brown-bagging and mini-bottles gave way to private club memberships, one-ounce pours and Zion Curtains (or the barriers meant to keep drinks from being poured where children might see). We’ve made progress over the last decade, but now a ballot initiative looks to dramatically reshape Utah’s liquor system. Jeff Carter is a former liquor broker who has seen up close how the system works—or doesn’t—and has filed the paperwork to put an initiative on the 2024 ballot to privatize large swaths of alcohol sales in Utah.”