Here’s our weekly analysis of privatization in the news and in communities nationwide, in order by sector. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
This week’s highlights
- As the number of detained immigrants soars under Trump, Louisiana has become a detention hub.
- Jeff Bryant of the Campaign for America’s Future tells the story of how billionaire charter school funders corrupted the school leadership pipeline.
- The saga of the attempted privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport has just gotten even more complicated.
1) National: Jeff Bryant of the Campaign for America’s Future tells the story of how billionaire charter school funders corrupted the school leadership pipeline. “Charter school funders like Eli Broad turned school leadership into a cartel system focused on advancing careers and enriching businesses,” writes Bryant. “But Covington’s story is more than a single instance of a school leader doing a billionaire’s bidding. It sheds light on how decades of a school reform movement, financed by Broad and other philanthropists and embraced by politicians and policymakers of all political stripes, have shaped school leadership nationwide. Charter advocates and funders—such as Broad, Bill Gates, some members of the Walton Family Foundation, John Chubb, and others who fought strongly for schools to adopt the management practices of private businesses—helped put into place a school leadership network whose members are very accomplished in advancing their own careers and the interests of private businesses while they rankle school boards, parents, and teachers.”
2) National: As both traditional public and charter school supporters press claims that their favored models can address the racial income gap in society, Valerie Wilson offers a note of caution in the Economic Policy Institute’s new podcast, The State of Working America. “Wilson debunks the widely-held myth that education is an easy way to narrow the racial wage and wealth gap, explaining that structural racism runs much deeper, defining U.S. economic relations to their core.” See also EPI’s 2016 study by Rutgers University Professor Bruce Baker of eleven cities that found the growth of charter schools has increased inequality in education.
3) Arkansas: Mike Brantley of the Arkansas Times reports that “journalist Cathy Frye has posted a sixth installment in her series on three years of working for the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, a charter school lobby supported by the Walton Family Foundation(and even a little taxpayer help). Today’s installment on her Like a Renegade blog raises an interesting issue.” By Frye’s account, “APSRC does a lot of lobbying.”
4) California: The founder and chief executive of the Inspire charter school network has resigned. “Nichols was serving as the executive director of Inspire District Office, a nonprofit corporation that he helped to found that has been collecting 15% of Inspire schools’ revenue and was providing many services to Inspire schools. He was making a $380,000 annual salary, according to Inspire. Education officials have raised questions about Inspire District Office for its various financial transactions with Inspire schools and corporations affiliated with Inspire. (…) The superintendents said in their audit request they have reason to believe Inspire engaged in fiscal malfeasance, conflicts of interest, manipulation of enrollment and revenue and other improper activity.”
5) California: Bullis Charter School will no longer give priority enrollment to students residing in wealthier portions of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. “The letter comes one month after LASD’s board signed a letter of its own, accusing the charter school of discrimination by enrolling a disproportionately low number of low-income students and students with disabilities. The letter requested that the county block the charter school from reinstating an enrollment preference that could worsen the disparity.”
6) California: The founder of a charter school in South LA and her son have been sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to misusing $200,000 in taxpayers’ money meant for the campus. “She and her son worked together to steal $200,000 in public funds from the school and funnel it to a business she owned, authorities said. As part of the scam, her son approved fake invoices supposedly for school supplies and food from the business. The scheme went on between 2012 and 2014, prosecutors said, and the money was eventually transferred into Kendra’s personal bank account from the business’s account.”
7) Colorado: Aurora Public Schools says that one of the municipality’s newest charter schools is in breach of its contract because of low enrollment. “A person close to the situation, who requested anonymity, told Denver7 that administration asked staff earlier this month to go door to door in the neighborhoods near the school, and to work in grocery store parking lots to try to get parents to enroll their kids in the school. ‘It was not right to have staff go out knocking on doors, bothering families on Sundays or Saturdays to get their child enrolled,’ the person said. ‘Who wants to move their child in the first or second week of October out of a school they’ve been attending since August?’”
8) Connecticut: Parents are pushing back against what they see as a lack of transparency by a nonprofit charged with helping disadvantaged students. “Gwen Samuels, founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, said her organization has begun a petition drive to demand the General Assembly reverse legislation exempting the Partnership for Connecticut. ‘We have children that have dreams who are in juvenile justice systems, right? Because we have a broken educational system. I get it. But you don’t get the luxury of doing it in a vacuum. You don’t get the luxury of doing it secretly,’ said the Meriden mother. ‘We support the deal. We oppose the secret. That is why we are saying repeal the secret deal.’ Friday marked the first public meeting of the partnership’s new board of directors, which will oversee a $100 million contribution from the foundation of Barbara and Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates; and $100 million in matching state taxpayer funds over five years. State legislation creating the entity also calls for another $100 million from other yet to be named philanthropists and business leaders.”
9) Florida: Republican State Senator Manny Diaz (Miami-Dade), the chair of the education committee, has introduced a pair of bills dealing with the state’s charter school system, one temporarily barring certain individuals from opening a charter school if they were involved in a charter school that had been shut down; and another that he says will “streamline” the process for high-performing charter schools to expand.
10) Georgia: KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools, the largest charter school operator in the state, has received more foundation funding to fuel its expansion. KIPP serves Atlanta Public Schools (APS) students. Charter school interests are heavily involved in political funding.
11) Illinois/National: Derek Seidman, a research analyst for the Public Accountability Initiative and littlesis.org, says the Chicago teachers strike, which has gained national attention, “is about who will shape Chicago: billionaires who buy politicians to privatize schools, or working-class communities who want affordable housing, decent jobs, good schools, and justice. Here are some of the private equity barons and luxury developers in Chicago whom the teachers are up against.”
The strike has received support from all across the country. The Partnership for Working Families said in an email that it “stands in solidarity with the CTU and SEIU members and their families, and we invite you to support them by donating to the Strike’s Solidarity Fund. You can donate directly to CTU to cover strike materials and personnel (scroll down and to the right). This contract fight exemplifies what we call ‘bargaining for the common good,’ a movement that leverages unions’ power to negotiate on social justice issues affecting their communities beyond salaries and benefits.”
12) New York: New York City’s largest teachers union has scored a major victory “with an appeals court ruling that state policymakers overstepped by diluting certification requirements for charter school educators. (…) Michael Mulgrew, president of United Federation of Teachers, applauded Thursday’s ruling. ‘Once again, the children of New York won,’ Mulgrew said in a statement. ‘The state’s Appellate Court made it clear that SUNY charter schools can’t dumb-down teacher certification standards.’”
13) North Carolina: Christina Womble, the former head of a charter school in Holly Springs, has questioned its rapid growth and raised issues of board interference. “Each student is paid in a charter school by head,” she said. “So, if we grew faster, we got more money.” WRAL reports “when Womble pushed back against the accelerated growth curve, she said, it caused friction between her and the Pine Springs Prep board. ‘If I wasn’t doing their agenda, they would retaliate back towards me,’ she said. She was placed on administrative leave March 30, even though, she said, she had never received a negative performance review. Womble sent a letter to students’ parents that accused board members of harassment, bullying, grade tampering, financial conflicts of interest and even unwanted sexual advances and interference in people’s personal lives.” Pine Springs Prep “is also the fourth of TeamCFA’s North Carolina schools where the top administrator has abruptly resigned, been fired or been placed on leave in the past two years.”
14) Pennsylvania: School choice has not cured Philadelphia’s ailing system, writes Deborah Gordon Klehr in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A study of charter schools in Philadelphia published by the Education Law Center earlier this year is a stark reminder that many parents don’t get to choose and that ultimately it may be the school and not the parent doing the choosing. More charters and more slots haven’t cured an ailing school system. This is not to discount the successes we know exist for students in many city charters. But Philadelphia’s 22-year history of rapid charter expansion coupled with inadequate oversight is entrenching new inequities in an already unequal landscape.”
The Education Law Center has filed suit against a Philadelphia charter school for denying a young girl enrollment because of her ADHD. “The suit seeks to have the girl immediately enrolled at the charter and awarded “compensatory education services” for the time she was excluded from the school. It also asks the court to order the school to include students with disabilities, and to contract with a provider to train staff on inclusion and diversity. Margie Wakelin, a staff attorney for the Education Law Center, called the case ‘explicit’ discrimination.”
15) Texas: The Waco Independent School District is losing students to charter schools and other districts. “We do tend to see a charter return for high school,” said Bob Templeton of Templeton Demographics. “A lot of time charter schools don’t have the breadth of offerings as local high schools, like fine arts and athletics and other extracurricular activities.”
16) Washington: A charter school in Kent has abruptly closed “because of a staff exodus and dwindling student enrollment—making it the fourth Washington charter school to shutter in the past year.” This fall, “the school’s ambitious mission was quickly overshadowed by practical problems in the classrooms. Ashé (pronounced ah-SHAY) relied on an ‘inclusive’ classroom model, which means that students with special needs and those with advanced abilities worked alongside their peers. Teaching all levels of students can be tough for any teacher, Sullivan said, but this was particularly true for staff new to the profession.”
17) Hawaii: A new private sector report says the state needs $88 billion over the next 30 years to fix its infrastructure and retirement system. It offers no solutions, but does throw shade on the public sector. “Elected officials are political animals, and they tend to make decisions based on when their next election is coming out,” said Colbert Matsumoto, who chairs the HEC committee that drafted the report. “They’ve deferred hard decisions. I think the private sector is in a much better position” to address the challenges, he added.”
Rep. Sylvia Luke, who chairs the state House Finance Committee, “agreed that the state faces daunting challenges and that the government won’t be able to handle them alone. Still, she called Matsumoto’s comments a ‘nice soundbite’ that fails to provide enough detail. ‘They need to be very clear in what they mean as far as the private sector needs to pick up the slack because the private sector is already doing a lot of that work,’ Luke said Tuesday, referring to the myriad government contracts that go to private sector firms.” The report is being touted by conservative news outlets.
18) Missouri: The saga of the attempted privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport has just gotten more complicated. Several days after officials issued a Request for Qualifications from potential private bidders for the airport, a proposal to explore regional public governance of the airport has emerged. “The St. Louis County Port Authority, under new management since a change in county administrations, is expected to vote as early as next month to begin the process of hiring an outside contractor to conduct the study. ‘I think there’s a place for perhaps a more transparent look at this,’ said Denny Coleman, interim director of the Port Authority and a longtime local economic development official.” St. Louis Alderman Cara Spencer, who has spearheaded efforts to resist the rushed and secretive, and conflicted process to privatize the airport, proposed an outside study and advice from an independent consultant this summer, has “applauded the consideration of a separate study unconnected to the existing consultants. ‘I’m encouraged to hear other regional leaders are stepping up to voice their concerns about this.’”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
19) National/Georgia: Project South has submitted a letter signed by 100 organizations to the Georgia Congressional Delegates urging them to investigate the human rights violations occurring at the Stewart Detention Center, which is run for profit by CoreCivic. “We are writing to request that you conduct a full investigation into the Stewart Detention Center. In the past two years alone, four deaths have occurred at the Stewart Detention Center. Most recently, on July 24, 2019, Pedro Arriago-Santoya, 44 years old, died while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at Stewart. Two years have passed since Project South, an Atlanta-based social justice organization, in collaboration with Pennsylvania State University Law School’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, published a report on detention center conditions, titled Imprisoned Justice: Inside Two Georgia Immigrant Detention Centers. In those two years, there have been no improvements in conditions at Stewart. Recent accounts from detained immigrants at Stewart indicate overcrowding, understaffed medical personnel, verbal and physical abuse, disregard of medical needs, accessibility concerns, and insufficient nutrition with irregular mealtimes. One detained immigrant remarked: ‘They call this place a black hole for a reason.’”
20) Alaska: The Department of Corrections is planning to send between 250 and 500 prisoners to out-of-state facilities. “Should a successful bid be awarded, the department hopes to begin transferring inmates in early 2020,” said commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom. “State prisons have seen a surge of inmates since the Alaska Legislature voted to repeal (with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s approval) the criminal justice reform legislation known as Senate Bill 91. (…) ‘I’m not sure who’s going to respond,’ Dahlstrom said when asked whether inmates could end up in private prisons.”
21) California: The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has reportedly divested from GEO Group and CoreCivic, the private, for-profit prison and immigration detention corporations. “CalPERS came under scrutiny back in June when Educators for Migrant Justice, a nonprofit group seeking to end family separation, started pressuring the pension fund to divest. According to the source, CalPERS decided to drop the two companies roughly a month ago. The news was confirmed when the California Faculty Association posted on its Twitter account that CalPERS announced the news at a meeting on Friday. A spokesperson for CalPERS did not immediately return an email seeking comment.”
22) Florida: In the GEO Group’s home state, Democratic lawmakers have thrown down a challenge to the GOP to work with them on criminal justice reform. “House Democratic Leader Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa and Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, during a Tuesday press conference in Tallahassee called on Republicans to set aside partisan divides to seriously evaluate criminal justice reform proposals being pre-filed for the 2020 session, which begins Jan. 14. Chief among them is a House-Senate companion bill – House Bill 189, filed by Hart and McGhee, and Senate Bill 394, filed by Bracy—that would allow first-time non-violent offenders to get out of prison after serving 65 percent of their sentences, instead of the 85 percent now mandated by state law.”
As the Nov. 5 off-year elections across the nation approach, The Appeal has produced a useful guide to Criminal Justice on the 2019 Ballot.
23) Kentucky: The state is reopening the former Otter Creek Correctional Facility, which was formerly operated by CoreCivic. It is now called the Southeast Kentucky Correctional Center. “Gov. Matt Bevin and officials with the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet joined local officials at the announcement, held at the Wheelwright Fire Department. Bevin signed an executive order reorganizing the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to reopen the prison, directing the cabinet to work with the Finance and Administration Cabinet and the state budget director to reopen the prison.” In 2016, Bevins vetoed budget language that would have allowed the reopening as a private prison. “The Kentucky Jailers Association, the Kentucky Judge Executive Association and other organizations opposed the budget language, saying the private prison policy would shift money away from counties. They reported that the state pays $35 per inmate daily to house prisoners in county jails, but said it would cost $55 daily to house them in private prisons.”
24) Louisiana/National: Will the goals of deincarceration be defeated by immigrant detention? As the number of immigrants soars under Trump, Louisiana has become a detention hub, the Times-Picayune reports. “It’s something of a lucky break for Louisiana wardens and private jailers who have grown dependent on revenue from housing inmates, because the new influx of immigrant detainees coincides with an effort by Louisiana officials to reduce the number of state prisoners.”
25) New York: The New York City Council has passed a controversial plan to build four new borough-based jails, setting the stage for a possible closure of the notorious Rikers Island jail. “‘For many of us this is one of the most significant votes of our entire career,’ Council Speaker Corey Johnson said before a packed Council chambers. (…) This will be a vote for a new criminal justice system, a vote against mass incarceration. (…) This is a vote that recognizes the dignity of people … this is a vote of conscious, this is a vote of progress … Today, I vote yes.’” The Daily News reported that” thirteen council members shot down the plan, including Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brooklyn) who said the proposal does little to help her constituents.”
Writing in The Appeal, Jonathan Ben-Menachem called the deal a “Faustian bargain,” citing four reasons: “It sets an arbitrary floor for decarceration; it fails to address systemic abuses perpetrated by the city’s Department of Correction (DOC); it pours even more money into the city’s already-bloated carceral apparatus instead of investing in communities; and it’s unclear whether the proposal requires the city to close Rikers.”
26) Think tanks: The private prison and immigration detention industry relies heavily on the permanence of mass incarceration to secure its profit model. The ACLU and Urban Institute have produced a state-by-state plan to end our mass incarceration crisis, showing how each state can cut the number of people behind bars by half. “It’s a national crisis, but it’s also one that flows from choices made by state and local governments. States are spending huge chunks of their budgets on prisons rather than on other community needs. (…) If states adopt reforms presented in the blueprints, no one below this line would be behind bars. (…) On its own, this won’t end racial disparities. That will require fighting for racial justice on all fronts.”
27) National: John Oliver of Last Week Tonight takes a brilliant crack at Trump’s plan to install a privatization zealot as head of the National Weather Service. [Video, about 16 minutes]
28) National: A number of Koch-funded organizations and infrastructure privatization enthusiasts are pushing a piece of federal legislation, HR 3791, to increase private financing of airport construction. The bill would reduce the current passenger facility charge (PFC), the local airport fee, and reduce federal Airport Improvement Program spending. Among the signatories of the letter are Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation, DJ Gribbin (Trump’s former infrastructure czar), and Jason Pye of FreedomWorks.
29) Arizona: The state is paying a fortune to store records with a private company, says Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. “Hobbs published a proposed budget Thursday that calls for an infusion of funds into her office for 2020, the coming election year. She pointed to the Iron Mountain contract as a major drain on the office’s finances, describing the deal as part of what she called ‘severe mismanagement and irresponsible oversight of public resources’ under [her Republican predecessor Michele] Reagan’s administration. Under the contract with Boston-based Iron Mountain, the price for each box is only going up. The Secretary of State’s Office says the costs of storing government records has nearly doubled from the year before the contract took effect. At the same time, the state is paying to maintain its mostly vacant complex of warehouses, which remain government property.” [Sub required]
30) Texas: Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) is declaring war on cities and counties. “Any mayor, county judge that was dumb ass enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity, my goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties,” said Bonnen. “Shortly after Sullivan released the recording Tuesday, it publicly exposed Bonnen’s apparent animus toward local leaders during his first session as speaker—and Burrows’ plans to take away a major revenue stream local governments use to finance everything from public transit agencies, major sporting venues, corporate relocations and some emergency response services.”
31) Washington: Under public pressure, the Mountlake Terrace City Council has pushed back against Waste Management’s request “to charge Mountlake Terrace customers for picking up recycling—and to charge customers a $25 fee if they don’t recycle correctly.” MLT News reports that “under the city’s current contract with Waste Management, which runs until 2022, recycling is included as part of the garbage service. However, Waste Management Public Sector Manager Marcella Manibusan said the company was asking the council to consider the ‘extraordinary recycling rate increase’ to offset increased processing costs at the Woodinville center where the city’s recyclables are processed.”
Odds and Ends
32) National: More evidence that weak public regulation combined with self-oversight by private, for profit companies can have deadly consequences has come to light. “For months, Boeing has said it had no idea that a new automated system in the 737 Max jet, which played a role in two fatal crashes, was unsafe. But on Friday, the company gave lawmakers a transcript revealing that a top pilot working on the plane had raised concerns about the system in messages to a colleague in 2016, more than two years before the Max was grounded because of the accidents, which left 346 people dead. In the messages, the pilot, Mark Forkner, who played a central role in the development of the plane, complained that the system, known as MCAS, was acting unpredictably in a flight simulator: ‘It’s running rampant.’”
33) New York: New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents have taken to the streets to protest the privatization of public housing. “The group gathered at Holmes Towers on the Upper East Side last night, speaking out against plans to convert public housing to private management. This would be done under a practice called Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD. ‘That poses a great threat to a lot of the rights that NYCHA tenants have. Ocean Bay was just recently converted through RAD and they made a whole hosts of repairs, but now Ocean Bay has also seen the highest rate of evictions throughout NYCHA,’ said one protester.”
34) Puerto Rico: The vulture funds are battling in court to get the Puerto Rico oversight board declared unconstitutional so they can reap an even higher return on its “distressed” public debt, The Economist reports. “A ruling is due by July. If it goes Aurelius’s way, it would be a mighty upset—and hugely disruptive for Puerto Rico. The board has collected and paid out claims, and issued $12bn of bonds. ‘I have no idea how one unwinds this,’ said Mr. Wall, for the federal government. He seems unlikely to have to find out. The conservative justices, who are in a majority, seemed to lean towards seeing the board members as Puerto Rican officers. ‘If we conclude that the powers and duties here are primarily local do you lose?’ Brett Kavanaugh asked Mr. Olson. The court will now decide.” Ted Olson represents the hedge fund Aurelius Capital Management. [Sub required]
Governing for the Common Good
35) Illinois: The state has loosened ankle monitor restrictions, though advocates say it’s too soon to celebrate. “James Kilgore, an expert on electronic monitoring who leads MediaJustice’s Challenging E-carceration project, said the change gave Illinois the most liberal electronic monitoring regulations for people on post-prison release anywhere in the country. Yet they still require proper execution, he said. Both parole agents and people on electronic monitoring need to know the new regulations.”
36) Virginia: The state board of education has approved a rule change that will require nearly $1 billion more for schools. The new standards “call for roughly $950 million in recurring funding to be spent on more reading specialists, smaller class sizes and money specifically for schools serving students from low-income families, among other things.”