- Penn Station Privatization Revolving Door
- Paperback Privatization of Everything
- More charter schools moving to Montana soon?
First the Good News…
1) National: The Privatization of Everything is now in paperback. Co-author Donald Cohen follows up with four ideas on how to use the book for your work.
- Educate Legislators: If you’re engaged with policy and you think the book will be well received by legislators and other policymakers, we can provide free books to give to them.
- Internal Education: We can also offer significant bulk discounts on the book. With the hardcover, several unions and organizations made large bulk orders to distribute to staff, members, and leaders. Some used the book as a fundraiser and the paperback will make that even more accessible. I also did internal staff briefings and discussions for organizations and unions with the goal of putting their work into the larger context of the private takeover of public goods.
- Campaign Education: If you are part of a union, a nonprofit organization, or a group of concerned citizens working on a campaign to save a public good from falling into private hands, we’d like to see if there are ways we can work together—to share the book and provide trainings and workshops on-site or online to help you do your work.
- College and High School Classes and Training Programs: I was particularly glad the book got into the hands of the next generation of leaders, organizers, and just plain citizens as assigned reading for college and even high school classes. Thanks to technology, I spoke to a number of those classes across the country. I’m happy to do more of that, and I’d also like to talk with folks in training and trade apprenticeship programs. If you’re a professor, high school teacher, or on faculty in a trade or training program, consider using the book in a class.
2) National: There is good news on the Artificial Intelligence-pushback front. After years of pressure from concerned AI experts, scientists, and activists, AI industry-connected figures, including Elon Musk, responded with an open letterasking for a six-month moratorium on AI development so public interest concerns and solutions can be addressed.
However, longstanding critics of the corporate domination and racial, gender, cultural, and authoritarian biases of the technology sharply rejected Musk’s intervention as inadequate:
“Contrary to the letter’s narrative that we must ‘adapt’ to a seemingly pre-determined technological future and cope ‘with the dramatic economic and political disruptions (especially to democracy) that AI will cause,’ we do not agree that our role is to adjust to the priorities of a few privileged individuals and what they decide to build and proliferate. We should be building machines that work for us, instead of ‘adapting’ society to be machine readable and writable. The current race towards ever larger ‘AI experiments’ is not a preordained path where our only choice is how fast to run, but rather a set of decisions driven by the profit motive. The actions and choices of corporations must be shaped by regulation which protects the rights and interests of people. It is indeed time to act: but the focus of our concern should not be imaginary ‘powerful digital minds.’ Instead, we should focus on the very real and very present exploitative practices of the companies claiming to build them, who are rapidly centralizing power and increasing social inequities.”
3) National: There is a new book, Schools of Opportunity: 10 Research-Based Models of Equity in Action, that describes in detail how some successful schools approach their work with students. The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss has a summary. “The excerpt explains how this school weaves this holistic approach throughout the school’s different elements. Importantly, while the story starts with a discussion of mental health resources, it quickly expands to include teaching and curricula —and all of these are tied together. (…) During a time when multiple states across the country have adopted or proposed legislation that forbids conversations about race, equity and privilege in public schools, DMLK showed how embracing the difficulty, the pain, and the beauty of these conversations honors the whole histories of their students of color.”
4) National: The Securities and Exchange Commission has approved the establishment of “new Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board Rule G-46, setting up the core standards of conduct for solicitor municipal advisors.” [Sub required]
5) Arizona: Resistance is growing against the damaging effects on state economies of conservative assaults on ESG(environmental, social and governance) best practices. “In her veto letter, Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs said the bill is unnecessary and if enacted ‘could result in banks leaving Arizona’s market.’ ‘This would limit competition and increase costs for local governments, costs which ultimately fall on taxpayers,’ Hobbs added.” (…) “A study last year said Texas’’ firearm discrimination law and another aimed at companies found to be boycotting fossil fuel businesses increase borrowing costs for issuers in the state.” [Sub required]
6) California: The American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson reports that public sector drug-making is now becoming a reality. “Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state had signed a $50 million contract with the nonprofit generic drug manufacturer Civica to produce insulin that will be available to Californians at a cost of $30 per ten-milliliter vial, which is what it will cost to manufacture and distribute it. The private companies, by contrast, generally price at ten times that level.” Next up. Naloxone.
7) Ohio: Republican efforts to roll back democracy in the Buckeye State are meeting major resistance. “One GOP bill would allow a total takeover of the educational curriculum by extremist politicians by eliminating the independence of the state school board. Another effort would make it nearly impossible for voters to adopt constitutional amendments to challenge right-wing overreach on reproductive rights, voting rights, and redistricting. (…) Opposition to the GOP agenda has ballooned. Over 172 organizations representing labor, social justice, and religious organizations across the state comprise the ‘We Are Ohio’ coalition. The quickly growing resistance has split the ranks of GOP legislators, and their disunity has begun to bog down the anti-democratic offensive.”
8) Virginia: Sandra Jones of Our Schools reports that the defeat of a school voucher program shows that resistance is broadening. The fight isn’t over, “but the reluctance of Virginia lawmakers to go forward with this idea shows where opposition to this form of school choice is coming from and calls into question just who these proposals would create ‘opportunities’ for, and how they would impact local schools that the vast majority of parents choose to send their children to.”
9) Great Resource: Protect Our Care has a regular rundown of news reports on threats to public health systems, including Medicare Advantage and bad artificial intelligence, and what’s being done to push back against them. The resource goes back to 2017, so it’s a useful database of reports that deal with healthcare privatization efforts.
10) National/Texas: Carol Burris wrote an excellent piece on Republican efforts to turn Houston’s largely Black and Hispanic public school district into a privatized charter school system feeding taxpayer dollars into private and religious operators. “This intervention does not help students, and it mutes community voices, undermines democracy in Black and Hispanic communities, and pushes charter schools and other privatized alternatives to democratically governed schools. (…) ‘The Houston public school system is not failing,’ [New York University professor Domingo Morel] said. ‘Rather, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Education Commissioner Mike Morath, and the Republican state legislature are manufacturing an education crisis to prevent people of color in Houston from exercising their citizenship rights and seizing political power.’”
11) National: Last Tuesday, AFT President Randi Weingarten delivered a major national speech, “In Defense of Public Education.” Weingarten says everything is at stake. “Attacks on public education are not new. The difference today is that the attacks are intended to destroy it. To make it a battlefield, a political cudgel. After former President Trump lost re-election, Steve Bannon, his key ally, declared that their fight goes through school boards. In a speech last year, culture war operative and Governor Ron DeSantis’ appointee Christopher Rufo put it bluntly, ‘To get to universal school choice, you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust.’ To this end, he says, his side has ‘to be ruthless and brutal.’ And, I would add, well-funded, which it is.”
12) Colorado: With a new charter school set to open in Grand Junction, “some community members have wondered how that will affect the school district’s finances and whether it will impact the declining enrollment trends the district has been facing for a few years and that are expected to continue throughout the rest of the decade. The Daily Sentinel discussed the state of charter schools in Mesa County with School District 51’s chief financial officer, Melanie Trujillo, and its director of site leadership, Dan Bunnell, this week to discuss how charter schools are funded and which schools receive attention from the district.”
As for the new charter school: “The other charter schools in the district, including the incoming Ascent Classical Academy—part of the Hillsdale College network of Christian-based schools around the country that had charter bids rejected by school boards in Durango and Ignacio in recent months—are Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI) schools. Trujillo said that, for these schools, money doesn’t even pass through the district and that these schools receive 100% of their funding from the CSI.”
13) Florida: The drama over the reported forced resignation of a Hillsdale College affiliated charter school for showing a photo of Michelangelo’s David statue to students is getting even more bizarre. Now Hillsdale, apparently embarrassed, has cut its ties to the school and claims it has no objection to depicting “the human form” in its art classes. Now the former principal is saying she never told The Tallahassee Democrat that a parent’s complaint that the statue was pornographic had started it all. The Democrat’s editor stands by its reporting.
14) Florida: Faculty at New College, which is under a right-wing assault by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and his ally Richard Corcoran, are seeking protection of academic freedom for the public institution. “About 85 attendees including New College supporters listened as several Florida professors—some who were New College alumni—voice their concerns over the looming House Bill 999 and its companion, Senate Bill 266. The legislation would regulate diversity, equity and inclusion during the hiring process at colleges and eliminate inclusion offices and programs. It would also remove any college major or minor that includes race studies, feminist theory, queer theory or ethnic studies, and it would make it easier to hire or fire tenured professors. UFF represents over 25,000 faculty at all 12 public Florida universities and has lobbied on behalf of professors to stop HB 999. Andrew Gothard, president of the United Florida Faculty and an English instructor at Florida Atlantic University, kicked off the event on the Sarasota campus.”
15) Indiana: Lawmakers are seeking ways to pump more funding into charter schools. “Another provision in the bill seeking to force school districts to share referendum funding with charter schools drew pushback from traditional school officials. They argued that charters are not entitled to funding from local property taxpayers because those schools generally do not have the same expenses as their traditional public counterparts.”
16) Massachusetts: The Boston Globe reports that “the GOP has decided the path to victory at the ballot box goes through the nation’s school committees. Even in Massachusetts.” But people are pushing back. “ That doesn’t mean they’re not trying here, though. On Wednesday night, the Newton School Committee unanimously voted down an effort to give a group of parents and teachers critical of the district’s racial equity policies an outsize influence over the city’s schools.”
Dana Carmichael, a retired teacher and librarian from Whitefish, writes, “Many of our rural schools currently have four-day weeks. So why the big push for charter schools? The real agenda is to undermine the tenure protections and teachers’ retirement system, as charter schools would not participate in either of these systems. Our private schools already eschew these protections, which is why salaries lag behind their public employee counterparts. Fewer rules and regulations might be what charter proponents want you to buy, but HB-562 wants to create a new government entity called the Community Choice School Commission. All seats would be appointed one for one by the governor, house majority and minority speakers, senate majority and minority speakers, and the state superintendent of schools. Notice how the majority of these appointees would be beholden to officials elected by individual voting districts?”
Patricia A. Rosenleaf of Great Falls says, “We cannot tolerate charter schools which are exclusionary, which practice selective coursework, which retain the right to throw out any child who does not fit their parameters. As for the funding of such schools, I don’t think the general public should be held fiscally accountable for such endeavors unless the charter schools are run the same way as public schools: totally accepting of all students, regardless of scholarship, behavior or abilities. Another problem I see is that often charter schools are run by income-seeking corporations. It’s at that point that the needs of children go out the window, and the needs of the corporation become paramount..”
18) New York: The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has filed a lawsuit to block charter school expansion by preventing “charters from sharing public school sites, while sympathetic Democratic state lawmakers introduced legislation that would scrap related funding. If successful, the double whammy would essentially block the opening of new charter schools by denying them classroom facilities and resources necessary to teach their students.” The New York Post reports that “the suit contends officials failed to consider the impact of a new law to reduce class sizes, which could require more space in DOE schools. The UFT and anti-charter allies have filed more than a dozen unsuccessful lawsuits seeking to stymie Success Academy schools over the past decade.”
19) North Carolina: The Burke County Board of Education is gearing up to fight a charter school funding bill. The board meets tomorrow to decide its course of action. “At issue in the bill is a provision that would narrow the scope of funding sources local districts could withhold from charter schools. If passed, critics say the bill would unfairly advantage charters schools, forcing districts to share funding from sources such as federal Medicare reimbursements, sales tax refunds, rental, tuition and other fees, grants and more with them. According to the North Carolina School Boards Association, which opposes H.B. 219, this creates an unfair advantage for charter schools, since they get to keep 100% of their revenue from these sources.”
20) Virginia: A Loudoun County charter school faces probation and could lose its charter. “The plan said the financial audit from July 1, 2022, to Dec. 31, 2022, showed past mistakes hadn’t been corrected and there were new deficiencies. Among the deficiencies cited:
- Misstatements regarding the fair market value of rental space and reclassification of revenues.
- Cash disbursements lacking proper documentation and incomplete cash receipts.
- Deposits exceeding federally insured limits and inaccurate posting of expenditures.
The plan called for two surprise audits, one of which has been done so far. A summary for LCPS board members of the Feb. 9 audit showed many problems in last year’s audit hadn’t been corrected. They included failure to record fair market value of rental space, cash disbursements lacking proper approval and documentation, and failure to obtain proper approval of bank reconciliations (summaries of banking activity).”
21) National: This is a tough time for state and local public infrastructure finance. “March municipal bond issuance dropped 30% year-over-year, as issuers this month dealt with Silicon Valley Bank collapse-induced volatility in the U.S. Treasury market, rising interest rates and an uncertain outcome for Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Total volume for the month was $31.795 billion in 515 issues, down from $45.555 billion in 985 issues a year earlier, according to Refinitiv data. Tax-exempt issuance was down 36.9% to $22.368 billion in 465 issues from $34.443 billion in 823 issues in 2022.” [Sub required]
22) National: A bipartisan group of Senators, led by Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff, is launching an inquiry “to improve data collection about privatized housing conditions that may pose a risk to military families’ health and safety. (…) This is the latest action in Sen. Ossoff’s continued work to protect military families living in privatized housing.
Last year, as Chair of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Sen. Ossoff led an eight-month bipartisan investigation This is an external link into the mistreatment of military families in privatized housing at Fort Gordon.”
23) National: Are you ready for a deep dive on the ‘public-private partnerships’ (P3) landscape right now? If so, check out the Bond Buyer’s podcast interview of Pat McCoy, Deputy CFO of the Gateway Development Commission, and Corey Boock, a P3 attorney with Nossaman. [Audio, about 35 minutes]
24) National: As the crisis over a shortage of air traffic controllers looms over the summer, we can expect calls for privatization to mount up. On Friday the Wall Street Journal published a letter to the editor to that effect by Scott Stanley, a former COO for London City and Gatwick airports. [Sub required]
25) New York/Revolving Door News: In a spectacular case of revolving door public-private musical chairs, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) is looking at a proposal to partially privatize Penn Station. And who heads the American subsidiary of the Italian company, ASTM Group, which is going to bid on the private parts of Penn Station that Hochul wants to sell off? Why none other than Pat Foye, “who has run both the MTA and the Port Authority and has been integral in presenting the companies proposal for Penn Station to state and city officials and neighborhood representatives in recent weeks.”
26) Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Daily Cardinal has a report on how living in university housing is harming the wider community. “Over the past two years, UW-Madison has seen two of its largest classes in university history. Further, increasing enrollment of affluent and out of state students, and the privatization of the Madison housing market, has led to an unaffordable luxury apartment market in Madison, according to a 2020 study from UW-Madison’s geography department.” The article is by Noe Goldhaber.
27) International: Two large privatized water companies have been found responsible for 40% of England’s sewage spills, The Financial Times reports. “The privatised water sector has come under growing pressure over the volume of sewage entering the UK’s waterways and the sea, as well as over water wastage and leaky pipes. Some environmental campaigners say the government and Ofwat, the industry’s economic regulator, must do more to ensure that companies invest in upgrading their services and reducing pollution incidents. The EA has also come under scrutiny from campaigners who say it is critically underfunded and unable to hold offenders to account.” [Sub required]
28) International: “Water, water everywhere, but where did all of the money go?” The London Sunday Telegraph, a leading conservative Thatcherite newspaper, has torn a hole in the mythology of Margaret Thatcher’s privatization crusade. “Water companies say that more than £160bn has been invested in the sector since 1989. However, industry leaders concede privately that questions remain as to how wisely the money was spent. The UK has not built a new water supply reservoir since 1991, for instance. During this time the population has swelled by 10 million. Feargal Sharkey has established himself as the de facto leader of a movement determined to force change. Sharkey, famous in the 1970s and 1980s as lead singer of punk band the Undertones, says: ‘The water companies have made off with billions of pounds worth of our money and the money’s gone.’” [Sunday Telegraph, April 2, 2023; Sub required]
29) National: In a particularly ghoulish ruling cutting off millions of Americans from access to public healthcare, a Bush-appointed Texas-based right wing federal judge has ruled against key preventative care provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Elie Mystal remarks that “O’Connor is regularly overturned by his conservative brethren on the Supreme Court, which should give you an indication of just how far afield he is from even the standard right-wing fanatic’s interpretation of the law. But his decisions cause a lot of pain and suffering as people wait years for the Supreme Court to get around to the business of telling him that he’s wrong. O’Connor is like a guy who steals your car to take it out for a joy ride: Even if you get it back, by the time you do it’s dented and abused and it smells funny. The problem is that the ‘car’ in this analogy is ‘the United States government.’”
30) National: The U.S. Justice Department and the Washington Post’s Joe Davidson report that the Biden administration facilitated the circumventing of its own executive order banning federal contracts with private, for-profit prisons. “Curiously for an Uncle Sam who likes to document everything, the records that Justice provided the inspectors “did not include a discussion of the costs associated” with the pass-through, “and there was no documentation” of White House approval. ‘While we have no reason to doubt such approval, we found no documentation of the approval in the materials provided to us,’ the report said, ‘and we were told that no such documentation existed.’”
Davidson writes, “continuing to use the Northeast Ohio facility raises ‘concerns about creating an end-run … which seeks to end the federal government’s support for private prisons and their profit motive for continuing mass incarceration on the backs of poor Black and Brown communities,’ said Amy Fettig, the executive director of the Sentencing Project.” [DOJ OIG report]
31) National: Protect Our Care reports that big health insurance companies are continuing a “lobbying frenzy” to protect massive Medicare Advantage profits. “Recent coverage makes clear that health insurance companies are working overtime to ‘exaggerate the stakes’ in order to protect their massive profits at the expense of seniors.”
33) California: In its latest newsletter, PowerSwitch Action reports that “a new study highlights the health disparities that farmworkers in California face due to unsafe working conditions, environmental hazards, lack of access to healthcare, and more. Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) conducted in-depth interviews with farmworkers across Ventura County to contribute to the report, which found that half of farmworkers lack health insurance, 59% are excluded from unemployment benefits, and one in five experience wage theft. Recently, CAUSE helped to win a grant for Santa Barbara County that will create a Farmworker Resource Program and connect farmworkers with critical resources from healthcare to housing.”
34) Missouri: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is giving the St. Louis region’s only emergency shelter for families facing homelessness $1 million so it can be privatized. “The Bezos grant will also help the agency make major changes to its rapid rehousing program, which helps cover such costs as application fees, security deposits or rent and utility support.”
35) New Jersey: Bordentown Township’s approval of the privatization of its EMS service is met by community and staff outrage. “The outsourcing still needs final approval by Bordentown City, a partner in the shared EMS service led by the township. City council is scheduled to vote on a continued shared service agreement at its April 10 meeting. An audience commotion erupted at the March 27 meeting following a unanimous vote by the five members to hire private contractor RWJBarnabas Health EMS. EMTs and others in the crowd shouted, cried and berated commissioners over the decision, upset about potential job losses and arguing the committee was relying on flawed financial figures and projected savings without seeking input from current EMS staff.”
36) National: The New York Times’ Matt Richtel reports that privatization is contributing to a national crisis in physical fitness and activity. “A combination of factors is responsible. Spending cuts and changing priorities at some public schools have curtailed physical education classes and organized sports. At the same time, privatized youth sports have become a multibillion-dollar enterprise offering new opportunities — at least for families that can afford hundreds to thousands of dollars each season for club-team fees, uniforms, equipment, travel to tournaments and private coaching. ‘What’s happened as sports has become privatized is that it has become the haves and have-nots,’ said Jon Solomon, editorial director for the Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program.”
37) National: The New York Times has a report, “A Campaign Aide Didn’t Write That Email. A.I. Wrote It,” on the pervasive impact that artificial intelligence technologies are having on politics and government. The impact of AI on politics, including at the state and local level, is increasing dramatically. “Many are particularly worried about local races, which receive far less scrutiny. Ahead of the recent primary in the Chicago mayoral race, a fake video briefly sprung up on a Twitter account called “Chicago Lakefront News” that impersonated one candidate, Paul Vallas. ‘Unfortunately, I think people are going to figure out how to use this for evil faster than for improving civic life,’ said Joe Rospars, who was chief strategist on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 campaign and is now the chief executive of a digital consultancy.”
Photo: D. Benjamin Miller