Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- School privatization groups are exploiting COVID closure debates for their own ends.
- The White House is urging cities to name infrastructure coordinators.
- Maryland’s Purple Line transit public-private partnership concessionaires are preparing to pile $700 million in additional debt onto the troubled, overbudget project.
First, the good news…
1) National: This Thursday, January 27, at 3 pm ET In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen will join NC Policy Watch for a crucial virtual conversation to discuss his (and Allen Mikaelian’s) new book, The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back. [Register here; Questions? Contact Rob Schofield at email@example.com]
2) California: University of California administrators have reached a tentative labor agreement with 8,000 service workers in a long-running dispute centered primarily around job outsourcing. “The contract, which must still be approved by a vote of the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees Local 3299’s membership, includes wage increases and benefit protections as well as enforceable limits on the school’s ability to outsource service jobs to lower-paid private contractors. Union members throughout California are expected to ratify the agreement by Jan. 30.”
3) North Carolina: After years of neglect, four of the state’s most polluted Superfund sites will be funded for clean-up, reports NC Policy Watch. “With American Rescue Plan funds, EPA targets sites in Charlotte, Gastonia, Yadkinville and Jacksonville; here’s what neighbors should know.”
4) National: Denis Smith, a retired school administrator who served as a consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office, examines the unconstitutional expenditure of public money on private schools in three states whose legislatures and executives are controlled by Republicans, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Ohio. “When the topic is the privatization of public education, where state funds are used in violation of state constitutional language to support private and religious schools and tax dollars are siphoned away from neighborhood public schools, there is no wisdom to be found on the front or back benches of these legislatures, only foolishness. Or maybe that foolishness disguises deliberate, reckless behavior that enables a legislative wrecking crew intent on destroying public education, constitutional norms notwithstanding.”
5) National: Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, one of the pioneers of Critical Race Theory, says Martin Luther King “was a critical race theorist before there was a name for it.” She writes, “The sheer power on display to turn King against himself—a process that has been underway since the first day this holiday was celebrated—is a grim reflection of the way opponents have long subjected antiracist thinking and activism to distortion, misappropriation and redefinition. The brazen casting of critical race theory as the contemporary villain following 2020’s racial reckoning is no surprise. The King holiday and Black History Month are an excellent opportunity—perhaps the only opportunity—to course-correct, contest and redirect the misconceptions about King’s legacy and its interface with critical race theory. Recovering the real King begins by freeing his image from the clutches of those seeking to substitute truthful education with a saccharine narrative built on illusions, delusions and lies. Dr. King was an ‘inconvenient truth teller.’ His insistence on the urgency of racial justice put him at odds with moderate whites in the South, and his denunciation of imperialism put him at odds with allies more narrowly focused on the freedom struggle within U.S. borders.”
6) National: Writing in Newsweek, Florina Rodov, a former public and charter school teacher, says we must support our teachers. “The last few decades have seen vicious attacks on schools and teachers by a bipartisan ‘education reform’ movement intent on replacing public schools with charter schools and voucher programs, and swapping veteran educators with temps from Teach for America. Billionaires finance the campaigns of politicians who carry out their agenda of privatizing schools, and they fund education ‘reporting’ that’s biased against public schools and teachers. But media narratives of ‘Rotten Apple’ teachers and ‘failing’ public schools diverge from who teachers really are and what public schools actually mean to most Americans. Ninety percent of American kids attend public schools, and the majority of K-12 parents are satisfied with the quality of their child’s education, according to a 2021 Gallup poll.”
7) National: School privatization groups are exploiting COVID closure debates for their own ends, reports Molly Shah on The Real News Network. “‘[There are studies showing that] charter schools aren’t really worse but they aren’t really better, the only difference is that teachers got paid less,” said Adam Johnson, media critic and cohost of the podcast Citations Needed, who has investigated the history of the pro-school-privatization, pro-charter-school movement in the US—particularly the ways said movement has been astroturfed in the media by powerful, self-serving actors like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Johnson believes that, despite this research, the hedge fund managers and billionaires who are behind the charter school movement are still more than willing to use the COVID-19 crisis to call for more privatization.
“In an article published on Jan. 10, Johnson explains how Wall Street groups that have been calling for privatization of schools for decades were able to use outlets like The New York Times to pit teachers’ unions against parents after schools once again began discussing prioritizing staff, student, and community safety over continuing in-person learning this year. ‘[Teachers’ unions] are becoming the scapegoat for months of pent-up frustrations over children’s learning loss from being at home,’ Johnson told TRNN.”
8) Indiana: The right-wing assault on education about race in the U.S. is being codified into law in a number of states, in some cases in vicious ways. In Indiana, Michael Macaluso, a faculty member in the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education and a fellow in the university’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, says these efforts to invoke parental control are misplaced. “Education at its best positions parents and teachers as allies, working with one another to support students’ holistic formation. The proposed parental oversight perverts that relationship, potentially pitting parents and teachers against one another in the pursuit of what was once academic excellence and learning for the fleeting winds of societal discourse.”
9) Iowa: There is strong opposition to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ (R) school voucher proposal. “Greene County School District Superintendent Tim Christensen disagrees and doesn’t believe that public, taxpayer money should be used to fund private schools. ‘In particular if you’re going to go down that path, everybody needs to have the same playing field, and that doesn’t exist. Private schools do not have to meet the same requirements as public schools. And I really struggle with, to me, taking 30-percent and giving it back to the small schools is a way to hopefully appease the rural areas in the state to be supportive of this plan and I’m not supportive of it.’”
10) Michigan: Dark money is fueling the state’s school privatization drive, reports the Detroit Free Press’s Maurice T. Cunningham. “Michigan is facing two initiatives that would advance the privatization of public education. The campaign is being funded by the DeVos family, one of the state’s richest families, and several dark money groups with unknown check writers. It’s an attack on public schools and an attack on democracy. I know. I exposed a similar scheme in Massachusetts. The Let MI Kids Learn ballot committee is collecting 340,000 signatures to advance two measures, the Michigan Student Opportunity Scholarship Program Initiative and the Michigan Tax Credit for Student Opportunity Scholarship Contributions Initiative. Critics argue that the measures are a thinly veiled voucher program, a step toward the privatization of public education. Neither initiative is likely to be voted upon by the people. If proponents get sufficient signatures, they can simply ask the Republican-led Legislature to pass both measures, which will then become law without going before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Since Whitmer has already vetoed similar measures, Republicans will bypass a vital check and balance of democracy.”
11) North Carolina: A former Three Rivers Academy teacher has described chaos at the charter school to NC Policy Watch. “Don McQueen, operator of Three Rivers Academy, allegedly padded enrollment numbers, paid families so students would attend class, and took other extreme measures to ensure state per-pupil funds kept flowing to the troubled charter school in Bertie County. A former teacher detailed these allegations in an interview with Policy Watch, which were corroborated by a former principal of the school, Hans Lassiter. Lassiter worked at the controversial Bertie County charter school during the first half of the 2020-21 school year.” Earlier this month, the State Board of Education followed the recommendation of the Charter School Advisory Board and ordered Three Rivers to close. The school is appealing the State Board’s order.
12) Pennsylvania: Eugene DePasquale, the former two-term Auditor General of Pennsylvania, and Bernie O’Neill, a former state lawmaker, say it’s long past time for the Pennsylvania Legislature to pass charter school reform. “Choice in public education is well-established in Pennsylvania. However, the status quo results in taxpayers sending hundreds of millions of public education dollars more than what charter schools need to provide an education. This is especially true for cyber charter schools which do not maintain a physical school building and for all charter schools when it comes to well-documented overpayments for special education services. There’s a word for this type of spending—wasteful. And residents across the state feel the impact of these overpayments when their local school districts are forced to raise property taxes because of these costs.”
13) Tennessee: The Nashville Metro Council has rejected a lease renewal for one Nashville charter school but approved another based on their terms. The Tennessean reports that “Council members Ginny Welsch and Russ Bradford said charter schools divert much-needed funds from public schools while facing less program requirements. In light of a potential increase in state funding for charter schools, Bradford said MNPS [Metro Nashville Public Schools—ed.] should ‘go back to the table and ask for more money.’ An early draft of Tennessee’s new education funding formula—which does not list proposed funding amounts—includes one ‘funding weight’ that would allocate additional funds to charter schools that pay to rent, maintain and improve facilities owned by the local school district. This additional funding would support in-classroom services and student resources. This is one of several funding weights, and funding for students in poverty would have heavier emphasis than charter school funding, the draft indicates. ‘It’s obvious that the state will give these charter schools more money, so they need to give that money back to us,’ Bradford said.” [Sub required]
14) Tennessee: A state Senate committee has approved a bill to allow for the expansion of a school voucher system because of COVID-19-related school closures. “Senate Bill 1674 would allow for educational savings accounts (ESAs) for students who attend a public school that did not offer 180 days of in-person learning because of COVID-19 closures.”
15) Texas: The Texas AFT has denounced Gov. Abbott (R)’s gross mishandling of the Covid crisis in the state’s schools. “Instead, Abbott is parading a Parents Bill of Rights to pander to the false narrative that our schools are shutting out parents. ‘We’re all for full parental involvement in their kids’ education, families engaging in their school communities, which is why we already have a Parents Bill of Rights passed by the Legislature back in 1995,’ said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo in a statement yesterday. ‘Those comprehensive rights and additions to them through the years have given parents greater access than ever before to curriculum and all decisions made in schools. What we won’t agree to is a phony, politicized storyline from the governor that ends up targeting and vilifying teachers and schools.’”
16) International: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), representing school support staff at all seven Regional Centres of Education and the Conseil scolaire acadien, “is calling on the Nova Scotia government to give staff respirators (N-95 or higher) and to close schools until there’s a significant reduction in community spread of the Omicron variant. ‘What’s the plan if there are not enough staff available to drive buses, clean schools, maintain ventilation equipment, or work with students with cognitive concerns or behavioural issues?’ asks Lisa de Molitor, chair of CUPE’s Nova Scotia School Board Council of Unions. ‘Because that’s where we’re headed if the premier doesn’t close schools or provide staff with the proper PPE to keep them safe on the job.’”
17) National: The White House is urging cities to name infrastructure coordinators. From constructiondive.com:
- “Former Mayor of New Orleans and current White House Senior Infrastructure Advisor Mitch Landrieu (pictured above, right) has sent letters to the nation’s governors, urging them to appoint their own infrastructure coordinators, in an effort to smooth the rollout of $1.2 trillion in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
- “We know that needs, capacity, and challenges can vary widely by locality,” Landrieu’s Jan. 4 letter reads, according to CNN. “We need to make sure our programs reflect these realities across your state and our country, and having a senior, single point of contact in your office will help ensure that issues get elevated appropriately and rapidly.”
- The letter urges governors to create their own infrastructure task forces, modeling them after a task force created by President Joe Biden in November. Landrieu co-chairs the federal task force along with National Economic Council Director Brian Deese.
“While state leaders may follow Landrieu’s advice to pull together task forces to secure the funding from the government, companies will find themselves competing for those federal contracts, which makes up about 11% of the total IIJA spending, according to Bloomberg. Much of the funding for appropriations could be used on existing contracts as well, Murphy told the Federal News Network. ‘I think we’re gonna see a lot of existing contracts be utilized to get this work out the door, because as you know, when these funding bills come so late in the year, there’s a very narrow window to push this money out the door before the end of the fiscal year,’ [Bloomberg data analyst Paul] Murphy said.”
18) National: White House senior adviser and Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu has offered some tips for how cities can apply for infrastructure grants. “For instance, he said city leaders should make sure proposed road and bridge projects are part of their regional planning organization’s transportation improvement plan. Additionally, he said, they could determine where they’d like to install electric vehicle chargers, map and inventory lead pipes that need to be replaced, and work with states to identify broadband gaps. He also suggested that mayors preparing to pursue grant funding should loop in their congressional representatives as allies—even if those lawmakers voted against the infrastructure legislation. ‘Even those that voted no, still want the dough,’ he quipped.”
19) National: The American Water Works Association has a brief breakdown of water funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
20) National: Public Works Financing editor Michael Bennon has some pertinent advice on how to approach the question of how the new federal infrastructure legislation will operate in practice. “How will the BIL’s One Federal Decision changes to permitting impact the Biden Administration’s other permitting changes? How will state/local cost share be factored into the legislation’s dozens of discretionary grant programs (if at all)? Will the BIL’s Value‐for‐Money (VfM) requirements for megaprojects change minds, or become a box‐checking exercise? And will guidance for VfM’s be made more uniform across the states or will they retain the flexibility they have today? In these questions and others, the devil is in the details, and the details aren’t in the legislation. They are in the legislative guidance.” [Public Works Financing, January 2022; sub required].
Here are the FHWA guidance memos.
21) National: The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board is offering a new course on SFFAS 49, Public-Private Partnerships: Disclosure Requirements. The training covers:
- What P3 risk-sharing arrangements are and what they could look like
- How to apply SFFAS 49 P3 disclosure requirements beginning with the exclusions, definition, risk-based charact eristics, and materiality considerations
- How to assess risk-sharing and expected life tied to economic incentives
- Required disclosures and why the Board considers them important
- Potential measurement and recognition issues
The training yields three hours of government CPE. “To coordinate an SFFAS 49 training session for your agency or provide other feedback about FASAB’s training efforts, please contact Mr. Domenic N. Savini at firstname.lastname@example.org with a cc to Ms. Monica R. Valentine at email@example.com.”
22) Maryland: The Board of Public Works will meet online this Wednesday and the Purple Line P3 is on the agenda. Here is the agenda. The Purple Line items go from pages 70 to 121.
23) Maryland: Community activists in College Park are fighting to protect undeveloped woods next to the University of Maryland that would be impacted by construction of a station on the Purple Line so-called public-private-partnership. ““We’re going to fight until we have to stand at the trees and wait for the bulldozers to come and knock them over,” said Helena Kaiser of the Save Guilford Woods Coalition.”
24) Maryland: The Bond Buyer reports that the Purple Line ostensible public-private partnership concessionaires are preparing to pile $700 million in additional debt onto the troubled, overbudget project. “The deals come with the Maryland Board of Public Works slated to vote Wednesday on a revamped public private partnership agreement that will bring in a new contractor and, among other changes, remove a key termination right that the last contractor relied on towalk off the job.” [Sub required]
25) International: Eletrobras, Brazil’s state-run power company has called an extraordinary shareholders meeting to approve its privatization plan. The meeting is scheduled for Feb. 22, at 2 p.m. local time (4 pm ET), and will be held remotely, according to documents sent by the company to Brazil’s Securities and Exchange Commission.
26) Think Tanks: Route Fifty will be holding a yearlong event series called “Follow the Money” to track the spending of federal dollars. The first is on February 15th at 1 PM ET. “Billions of dollars are flowing into state capitols, city halls, and county executive offices. The historic infusion of cash to state and local governments represents a unique opportunity for innovation in infrastructure, technology, economic development, and more. This series will be highlighting state and local case studies around these crucial time topics, but how exactly will states, cities and, counties use the money? What are they investing in long-term? And how are they tracking the effectiveness of new goods, programs and, services for residents?”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
27) Kentucky: A week after being taken from the Fayette County Detention Center to a hospital, a 56-year-old inmate has died, prompting an investigation into his death. “According to the detention center, on Jan. 13, Corizon Medical staff members, who provide medical services at the jail, determined inmate Gregory Lynn Smith needed to be transferred to the hospital for evaluation and treatment.”
28) National/Think Tanks: Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest says, “When the rich don’t pay their fair share in taxes, the rest of us have to pay more—through higher taxes, tolls, and water rates, and more tickets, fines, and court fees. We know what the government is capable of, if it’s aimed at helping all of us, regardless of where we’re from, what we look like, or how much (or little) money we have. For example, Boston recently expanded the city’s already wildly popular free bus service. Seattle is giving an additional $3,000 to childcare workers. What we need to do is make the right people pay their fair share to make more of those sorts of things happen.”
29) National: Writing in The American Prospect, Suzanne Gordan traces out the continuing damage the Trump administration inflicted on the Veterans Administration and its impact on veterans. “Many career managers and caregivers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) experienced the Trump administration as a four-year wrecking ball. Trump’s political appointees waged war on Veterans Health Administration (VHA) caregivers and their unions, like the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and National Nurses United (NNU). More of the VHA budget is being spent on outsourced care, as part of Trump’s push to privatize the agency. The White House left 50,000 vacancies unfilled, until COVID-19 forced Trump’s VA secretary, Robert Wilkie, to spend emergency congressional funds on thousands of new hires in 2020. As one final blow to efficient VA functioning, Wilkie also implemented a human resources modernization (HRM) plan that has become a poison pill for VHA caregivers and administrators. The system, which remains in place today, has led to huge shortages in staff, closures in programs and services, and unacceptable delays in care for veterans.”
30) California: After a monthlong strike, under massive financial and other pressures Teamsters 542 workers have ratified a proposed agreement in San Diego with Republic Services, a leading privatized trash collection company. Republic Services with nearly $3 billion a year in revenue, is reportedly planning to use its massive cash pile to go on an acquisition spree approaching $1 billion. Voice of San Diego reports “Strikes only work if the union’s members stay off the job and hold themselves to the collective cause. But word began to spread that several of their own had abandoned the strike and crossed the picket line. As the company sought ways to clean up trash that was piling up and generating complaints, it brought in non-unionized workers from other parts of the country.
“There was also an unofficial deadline looming over the heads of the Teamsters based on the terms of their previous contract. If they waited too long, they risked losing their health care. Holding out for a better deal became increasingly difficult. The union provided financial support but it wasn’t enough to cover all the costs of raising a family. Tapia said he pulled his kids out of sports and dance class to save a few bucks and missed a car payment. Things got even more serious from there.”
Cesar Silva, a union steward with Teamsters Local 542 and a 16-year veteran of Republic Services, says in an op-ed that “Republic Services told workers we were family. Strike negotiations proved otherwise.” An attempt at federal mediation was called an “unmitigated failure” by the union.
31) California: In a hard-hitting editorial, the normally conservative San Diego Union-Tribune says about the Republic strike, “If a local government doesn’t have the legal firepower to match that of the deep-pocketed company it is negotiating with, that is a big problem.” The SDUT says, “In an essay for The San Diego Union-Tribune’s opinion section, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas expressed deep frustration over how little leverage her city had to force Republic ‘to fulfill its duty under the contract with the city to collect trash, recycling and green waste from our homes, multi-family complexes and businesses.’ That was because a provision in Chula Vista’s contract with Republic defined a work stoppage as an ‘uncontrollable circumstance’ and thus not a legal ground to cancel the contract. Casillas Salas also deplored the company’s failure to honor promises to bring in other workers in its employ to handle its responsibilities, and its failure to communicate adequately with City Hall and its aggrieved customers.”
32) Florida: Well it’s rare for lawmakers to make it this explicit, but Florida has: a Senate bill would make local governments pay businesses if an ordinance hurts profits.
33) Kansas: A former Waste Management employee in Topeka has filed a race discrimination lawsuit. “Coworkers and supervisors called Smith obscenities, played racist videos while he was around and addressed him in mocking manners, the lawsuit said. He filed complaints with the local human resources department. But according to the lawsuit, the department did not investigate the complaints. Aside from filing complaints, he told his local supervisor about the incidents. The supervisor, however, allegedly told Smith to ‘stop nit-picking,’ the lawsuit said. Smith claims he was fired after he and another coworker, who is white, were involved in an accident with a compacter. According to court records, both Smith and the other employee saw no damage to the operating equipment and kept working. They did not file an incident report. After an investigation was conducted, his supervisor and regional supervisor fired him, but not his coworker, according to the lawsuit.”
34) Maryland: The Baltimore Sun points out the high cost of Maryland’s understaffed state government. “Last Tuesday, Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles made a concession during a public hearing in Annapolis that you don’t hear every day from a top Hogan administration official. It was essentially this: The state doesn’t have enough employees to adequately enforce anti-pollution laws. And it wasn’t some sudden problem related to COVID-19, but much more chronic and long-standing. In the case of those who oversee drinking water systems, for example, the Department of the Environment has a vacancy rate of nearly 40%, a shortage that dates back years before the pandemic. Secretary Grumbles also admitted the agency needs to do a better job of policing the poultry industry and vowed to hire more inspectors to protect the Chesapeake Bay against threats like runoff from farm fields saturated with chicken manure.”
35) Pennsylvania: Republican lawmakers are making another push to privatize liquor sales in Pennsylvania. In the past they have repeatedly failed. A new approach would let voters decide. “Simple to say, but not so simple to do. Rep. Mihalek wants to privatize Pennsylvania through a constitutional amendment that would silence the governor and empower Pennsylvanians.” But “Democratic Senator Jim Brewster is opposed to liquor privatization because alcohol sales brought in $813 million last year for Pennsylvania and employed thousands of workers. ‘I’m here to defend the taxpayers and the employees,’ Brewster added. ‘The hypocrisy in Harrisburg is so annoying to me. We brag every day about the creation of jobs and here we are with the stroke of a pen we could eliminate 5,000,’ Brewster said. ‘If somebody wants to bargain that away because they think something’s gonna get better I’m old-fashioned you gotta prove that to me.’”
36) Washington: Lake Stevens has proposed cutting ties with Sno-Isle Libraries. “We are disappointed that the City of Lake Stevens is considering this drastic and unnecessary action to privatize our shared public library services with an out of state, third party provider,” said Lois Langer Thompson, executive director of Sno-Isle Libraries. “We are ready to address any concerns of the Mayor and City Council, and to continue our longstanding partnership with, and service to, the people of Lake Stevens.” A potential alternative library services provider has not been identified.
37) California: East Bay/Indybay reports that “a rally was held at Oakland City Hall on January 19, 2022 to oppose the use of public money to fund billionaire GAP and A’s owner John Fisher build a stadium on Howard Terminal in the Port of Oakland. This privatization will threaten the jobs in the port and gentrify West Oakland. The Democratic Party politicians are supporting this negotiation with Fisher.”
38) International/National: As demonstrations against the privatization of lithium take place in Chile, there is also growing official opposition to privatization. “During the protest, it was also stated that the lithium tender promoted by the outgoing government leaves the hands of the government of the incoming president, Gabriel Boric, tied. In addition, it was denounced that the decision of the Piñera Executive was hasty and was taken without taking into account the popular feeling of industrializing lithium not from private interests but from public projects that help exploit the resource in a sovereign manner and in the interest of Chileans, not minorities. (…) Following the announcement of the tender, opposition deputies filed a lawsuit with Chile’s Comptroller General to request that the decision be annulled and investigated. Hours later, the Judiciary announced that the Copiapó Court of Appeals ordered the suspension of the tender.”
WBUR reports that “both Chile and Bolivia have elected new leftist leaders who are questioning the privatization of lithium production and the high profits that foreign powers have been able to negotiate. U.S. companies that depend on lithium minerals, including automakers, would like to guard their supply chains from global political contingencies. They want domestic sources.”
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages