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- For-profit remote learning is a disaster for students and teachers alike, writes a high-school adjustment counselor.
- A new study has poured cold water on the most important justification for Maryland’s proposed so-called highway “public-private partnership“—that it would significantly improve travel times.
- The Biden administration is using local governments to evade its commitment to end the use of private prisons.
First, the good news…
1) National: Abortion rights activists across the country protested against right wing moves to overturn the Constitutional right to access abortion, which includes the privatization of enforcement of Texas’ near-total ban on abortion. Resistance is growing. “Photos from the event show an energized public exercising their First Amendment right to let people like Texas governor Greg Abbott know that these kinds of unconstitutional legal games aren’t going to fly. There’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Handmaid’s Tale cosplay. Upturned middle fingers. More clever protest signs than you can possibly imagine. The outrage is real.”
On Friday a federal judge heard arguments on an emergency blockage of the Texas law. “It is unclear how soon Pitman will decide. It is also unclear how quickly any of Texas’s nearly two dozen abortion clinics would move to resume normal operations if the law is set aside. Texas officials would probably seek a swift reversal from the conservative fifth US circuit court of appeals, the same court which allowed the restrictions to take effect, and set up the supreme court’s decision not to block the law.” The U.S. Supreme Court term opens tomorrow. Last week, the State Innovation Exchange(SiX) organized an amicus brief with nearly 900 state legislators committed to not only protecting the constitutional right to abortion but to ensuring that people have equal access to abortion no matter what state they live in.
2) National: The Biden administration’s regulation mandating vaccines for private corporations with over 100 employees is spreading through the country. “The Department of Labor has clarified that in Tennessee and most states—26 states and two territories with state OSHA plans—the emergency rule will also apply to public employers, including educators and school staff.”
3) National: In the ongoing battle in Congress to shape the infrastructure and social benefit/environmental/education bills, progressives are wielding unprecedented power. “Ultimately, nearly 30 members publicly opposed Pelosi’s de-linking efforts, with Jayapal having close to another 30 in her back pocket. Pelosi delayed the infrastructure vote from Monday to Thursday, and then gave up on Thursday night. Negotiations in both chambers on the broader deal continue, but there’s a recognition that only negotiation, not steamrolling, will get the infrastructure bill passed into law.” Biden is expected to meet with lawmakers this week to discuss the impasse and work toward a package that can pass the Senate.
Bloomberg reports that “Celinda Lake, who runs Lake Research Partners and served as one of the leading pollsters for Biden’s 2020 campaign, said that voters are hearing too much about congressional procedure and too little about what Biden’s economic plans would do.”
4) National: The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has announced the winners of the Ridenhour prizes for those who persevere in acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society. “José Andrés, famous chef and humanitarian, will receive the Courage Prize. Cariol Horne, a 20-year veteran police officer from Buffalo, New York, who was fired and lost her pension after she physically stopped a fellow officer from choke holding a suspect in 2006, will receive the Truth-Telling Prize for her work to prevent police misconduct both in the moment and with subsequent legislation. Claudio Saunt, a history professor will receive the Book Prize for Unworthy Republic: The dispossession of Native Americans and the road to Indian Territory. Ramona S. Diaz, a filmmaker, will receive the Film Prize for her documentary ‘A Thousand Cuts.’” [Register for the November 10 virtual event]
5) Oregon: Riverbend Landfill in McMinnville will pay a $104,482 fine and take actions to reduce its pollution emissions under a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Salem Statesman Journal reports. The municipal solid waste landfill and recycling center is owned and operated by Waste Management, Inc. and has been in operation since 1982.
6) National: For-profit remote learning is a disaster for students and teachers alike, writes Nora De La Cour, a high-school adjustment counselor and member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, in Jacobin. “The nearly universal problems with remote instruction last year made it politically impossible for the privatization crew to continue arguing that e-learning is the glittery new frontier of educational progress. In fact, survey data shows that a majority of parents disapprove of any kind of change to traditional schooling. This is despite a relentless onslaught of rhetorical attacks on public schools—from the bipartisan vilification of teach ers’ unions to right-wing attempts to use mask mandates and critical race theory to breed ill will among parents. The term “school choice” has apparently become so distasteful that school choice conservatives are looking to rebrand their body blows to public education as a “school freedom” and “parents’ rights” movement. They’re winning legislative battles in diverse states, but they’re losing the war for public opinion.”
7) Florida: When private developers add a burden onto a town’s existing services and infrastructure—e.g., increased school attendance—how much should the beneficiaries of the development, such as homeowners, pay in fees to defray that added burden on the public? Flagler County is dealing with the issues. “The board needs to build up revenue in anticipation of having to build a new high school and a new middle school in the next several years. (…) The district used to get state dollars to build schools, the so-called public education capital outlay dollars known as PECO. In 2008-9 alone, Flagler received $4.3 million (the equivalent of $5.6 million today). Flagler is receiving zilch in PECO dollars now. The state ended those appropriations when it shifted them to charter schools. The state used to allow districts to set a higher property tax rate to raise local revenue for construction. The state ended that, too, cutting back that levy 25 percent, an enormous loss for the district. That left impact fees as the principal building block of new schools.”
8) Massachusetts: Thomas Nickerson, president of the New Bedford Educators Association, and Keith Michon, president of the Fall River Educators Association, write a letter to state education officials urging them to reject the application for the proposed Innovators Charter School. “This is a deeply flawed proposal for our communities as it will drain millions of dollars from public schools to support a privately operated charter school touting ‘innovations’ that are, in fact, duplications of programs already in place in our district public schools. (…) Charter schools are not obligated to educate all students and are free to send students back to their district schools. This inevitably creates an uneven playing field as district schools will have diminished resources and the greatest concentration of students with needs that charter schools fail to meet. Charter schools are also deeply undemocratic. They operate with privately selected boards and do not answer to locally elected officials, despite the schools’ reliance on public funds.”
9) Michigan: A new state audit of Michigan’s cyber charter schools “raises questions about whether students are participating in the classes in which they’re enrolled, and whether they’re receiving the required hours of instruction.” Casandra Ulbrich, president of the Michigan Board of Education says “it supports concerns I’ve had for a really long time. The legislature needs to provide clearer legal language for the department to have strong oversight ability when it comes to both authorizers and charter schools. (…) The audit will likely fuel ongoing criticism of cyber charter schools, which offer entirely virtual instruction to students in grades K-12 across Michigan. Studies of the full-time virtual programs in Michigan note that their courses have an average pass rate of 53%, far below the statewide average of 90% for all schools.”
10) New Jersey: Disgusting school lunch offerings in Paterson may lead to outsourcing. “The mayor said that outsourcing the school lunches, or possibly changing the vendor, are options that are currently being considered. In addition to meeting with kitchen staffers, the district is also planning on sending surveys out to students to get a better feel of what they like and don’t like about their school lunch options.”
11) Pennsylvania: Reacting to the news that Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. will leave his post as chief of the Philadelphia School District at the end of the academic year, Eileen Duffey-Bernt, a Philadelphia public school nurse who was named 2021′s Pennsylvania School Nurse of the Year, has a suggestion about his replacement: “The process should be focused on finding someone who is passionate about public education and not someone who wants to just privatize and outsource everything. They need to believe that we can build a strong school district, instead of telling people that the best option is leaving public schools. I would tell the new superintendent that they can trust those of us who work on the front lines. Parents, nurses, teachers—we’re not the opposition.”
12) Pennsylvania: University of Colorado professor Kevin Welner writes that charter schools in Pennsylvania and elsewhere aren’t as “public” as they claim they are. “In the final two chapters of our book, ‘School’s Choice,’ Mommandi and I point to a future with charter schools that don’t screen or push out students who are lower achieving or more expensive to educate. First, we hold up examples of charter schools that have resisted the incentives to limit access by, for example, working to support their communities’ most marginalized students. We then offer a design for a healthier charter school system that doesn’t put these exemplary schools at a disadvantage when it comes to accountability and funding systems. Even in a post-pandemic world, charter school enrollment may continue to grow. But until the public has more access, charters will not be truly public.”
13) West Virginia: Two West Virginia fathers are suing state officials over a law that allows charter schools to open without the approval of local voters. “The two fathers who are suing over the new law are both public school teachers and teachers’ union members. Defendants in the case include Gov. Jim Justice and the leaders of the House of Delegates and Senate. The lawsuit cites a section of the state constitution that says, ‘no independent free school district, or organization shall hereafter be created, except with the consent of the school district or districts out of which the same is to be created, expressed by a majority of the voters voting on the question.’ The suit calls the right to vote on matters relating to public schools ‘a defining democratic virtue.’”
14) Think Tanks: Duke University history professor Nancy McLean traces the joint efforts of Milton Friedman and southern segregationists to use the language of choice to justify continued school segregation. “The collaboration between neoliberal intellectuals and segregationists involved opportunism on both parts, to be sure. But what made it work was the overlap in their values and views of government.” [Download the paper].
For a close-up view of the dynamics of school desegregation today in public schools, see Amanda Vender’s discussion of self-segregation in NY Chalkbeat. “As white and affluent children exit Jackson Heights and literally cross the paths of their immigrant neighbors on the way to school, all children internalize a message that some schools aren’t good enough for white or privileged kids. Racism is sustained, generation after generation. ‘They don’t want their children with our children,’ the PTA president at my children’s elementary school, an immigrant parent, told me once. ‘They have their own schools.’ In 2021, we can do better.” Vender is a co-founder of Jackson Heights People for Public Schools and has been an educator and activist for public school equity for over 10 years.
15) National: In its just-released newsletter, The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) says it is looking for further research on disclosures for its so-called Public-Private Partnerships project. “At the August 2021 Board meeting, members reviewed the results of staff’s analysis of the fiscal year (FY) 2020 disclosures required by Statement of Federal Financial Accounting Standards (SFFAS) 49, Public Private Partnerships: Disclosure Requirements. This analysis consisted of all 24 Chief Financial Officers Act agencies and the 16 significant entities. The subsequent Board discussion about the analysis helped to address the varying member concerns and observations from the June meeting. The majority of the members agreed not to proceed with measurement and recognition until the Board gains additional insight regarding how the P3 definition, exclusions, risk-based characteristics, and materiality guidance contributed to the disclosures, or lack thereof, in the FY 2020 reporting cycle. Visit the public-private partnerships project page to learn more. Point of Contact: Domenic Savini, 202-512-6841, firstname.lastname@example.org.”
16) National: President Biden has approved a 30-day extension bill for highway funding. “Pelosi wrote in the letter, Congress needs to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by October 31 before the extension for funding for surface transportation runs out. ‘There is an October 31st Surface Transportation Authorization deadline, after last night’s passage of a critical 30-day extension. We must pass BIF well before then—the sooner the better, to get the jobs out there,’ she wrote.”
17) National: Dan Gearino of Inside Climate News has a useful explainer on what’s driving the differing ways utilities view the clean energy proposal, which could turn on a spigot of federal money. “The differences come down to variations in companies’ comfort levels with making big investments in carbon-free energy, plus local issues like the availability of wind and solar power within a utility’s territory and the politics of state legislatures and utility commissions.”
18) Maryland: A new study has poured cold water on the most important justification for the I-270 so-called public-private partnership—that it would significantly improve travel times. “Computer models predicting driving speeds in 2045 from the George Washington Parkway to I-270 West Spur on the Inner Loop during the afternoon rush found that cars in the general travel lanes will only move at a snail’s pace, an average of 7 mph, regardless of whether the toll project is built. It also found the average travel speed for drivers who choose to pay to take the toll lanes would be 23 mph, despite promises from some transportation officials of 45 mph speeds on the HOT lanes. The projections for the state’s updated draft environmental impact statement were developed using computer modeling. The update is required by the federal government after the decision to not continue toll lanes from I-270 into Prince George’s County.”
19) Massachusetts: Two developers are vying for the third Massachusetts offshore wind development, and “are dangling the promise of economic development and renewal at a Massachusetts port if their project is selected. Mayflower Wind in Fall River and, announced Thursday morning, Vineyard Wind in Salem. The company, which is based out of New Bedford as it advances the nation’s first utility-scale off shore wind farm, said it has entered into an agreement with the city of Salem and Crowley Maritime Corporation to create a public-private partnership ‘aimed at establishing Salem Harbor as the state’s second major offshore wind port’ and creating hundreds of jobs.”
20) Pennsylvania: The Harrisburg Patriot-News reports that “a plan to toll the I-83 South Bridge in Harrisburg to pay for its replacement is drawing strong opposition from leaders of two West Shore communities that would be heavily impacted by it.” PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian “said environmental and societal impact studies are underway and meetings with leaders of impacted communities are nearly complete. The department anticipates selecting a private firm that will be responsible for the build, design and maintenance of the bridges by Feb. 15. Three firms are currently in the running for that contract.” PennDOT “intends to use a public-private partnership for this program. That entails the state contracting with a private company that would borrow money to pay for the design, construction and maintenance of the bridges for a 30-year period. PennDOT would pay the firm’s fee using revenue generated from tolls.”
21) Puerto Rico: With widespread electricity blackouts, the anti-privatization protests of long suffering Borinqueños have been vindicated—and will continue. “Friday’s protests are only the latest instance of resistance against LUMA Energy. Labor unions, activists, social organizations and politicians have expressed hesitation or flat-out opposition toward the private operator, for reasons ranging from concerns over privatization of government services to quality of service. Another protest on a major expressway in San Juan is also scheduled for Oct. 15.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
22) National/Pennsylvania: Well it’s clear now that the Biden administration is using local government structures as conduits to evade its commitment to end the use of for-profit prison companies. Former contract prisons are being repurposed as immigration detention facilities to keep public money flowing into the same private coffers. “Clearfield County’s decision-makers inked a five-year contract Tuesday to repurpose a former private federal prison as a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility. The about 1,878-bed facility less than five miles from Philipsburg is expected to open by mid-to late November, Clearfield County Commissioner Tony Scotto said Wednesday. Neither Scotto nor ICE were immediately able to divulge how much the agreement will pay the GEO Group to operate the facility. About 800 people are set to be detained at the facility when it opens, Scotto said. No children are expected to be detained. The GEO Group is the top taxpayer in the Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District. The real estate investment group poured in nearly $475,000 annually, district Superintendent Gregg Paladina said when the prison’s closure was announced.”
Newsweek reported yesterday that the Biden administration is holding as many immigrants in private prisons as Trump.
23) National: When did the GEO Group first become involved in detaining Haitian refugees? According to Todd Miller in The Border Chronicle, over a decade ago. “The U.S.-Haiti border had arrived. It came with 16 Coast Guard cutters roaming Haitian shores and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security opening up detention beds run by the private prison company Geo Group in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. U.S. officials call this elastic apparatus in Caribbean waters, which can expand at a moment’s notice, the ‘third border.’”
24) National: The New York Times has done a deep dive on Jack A. Brown III, whom it reports made $1 million to run homeless shelters despite troubled past. “Soon after, a rival firm, Geo Group, acquired the company where Mr. Brown worked, retaining him as a vice president. Unbeknown to his employer, Mr. Brown quietly formed his own nonprofit organization, according to court documents and charity filings. In 2009, as Geo Group was applying for a multimillion-dollar contract with the federal government to operate a halfway house in Brooklyn, Mr. Brown abruptly resigned. He then submitted a competing application for the federal contract through his new nonprofit organization, successfully underbidding Geo Group. The company sued Mr. Brown and his nonprofit for fraud, arguing that he had stolen confidential documents and duped his bosses, according to court filings.”
25) Arkansas: LaSalle Corrections is negotiating on a so-called public-private partnership to operate a jail in Bradley County after failing to build the facility. “At the last Quorum Court meeting, Billy McConnell, owner of LaSalle Corrections, said it was not economically feasible for his company to build the jail. He left open the possibility that the county could build the jail itself by issuing revenue bonds for about $35 million, with LaSalle still providing management of a county-owned facility. State Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, who is also a BCEDC board member, said at the BCEDC meeting, ‘At this time, we have more skin in this than anyone else. We have a contract that’s not going to be filled.’ He said he had talked with LaSalle representatives and they indicated they were willing to pay back the entire contract and have the land come back to BCEDC.”
26) Kansas: In addition to its use of for-profit prison companies for immigration detention facilities, the Biden administration is also being criticized for using local government pass-throughs for non-immigration contracts, such as those which traditionally were signed between the US Bureau of Prisons and the corporations. This is at the heart of a tense battle now unfolding in Kansas.
In a fit of pique, CoreCivic has lashed out at the ACLU of Kansas, which has written to the White House demanding the closure of “the deplorable CoreCivic private jail in Leavenworth, KS. The ACLU says “CoreCivic is a private company that runs jails and prisons in the United States. Their Leavenworth jail contracts with the US Marshalls service to hold people facing federal charges—people who are still presumed innocent and awaiting their day in court. These people experience horrendous conditions and dangerous violence. Stabbings, suicides, and even homicide occur with alarming frequency in the last year, with weapons, drugs, and other contraband now a common occurrence.
“The inhumane and poorly run CoreCivic Leavenworth is set to close in December 2021. As part of President Biden’s Executive Order to end private prisons, the US Marshals should let the contract expire. Still, CoreCivic is campaigning to remain open. (…) One way CoreCivic has proposed keeping this facility open is with a pass-through contract with Leavenworth County, so the CoreCivic can circumvent the Executive Order by not signing directly with US Marshals. We are imploring the Biden Administration and Leavenworth County to maintain the current schedule, keep their promise, and close CoreCivic Leavenworth in December 2021.” The letter says “we can think of few places worthier of immediate action than this facility, which has proven itself to be increasingly dangerous and incapable of upholding the constitutional rights of those confined therein.”
27) Washington: State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing to force the immediate closure of the Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) in Tacoma. “Attorney General Ferguson says GEO Group was supposed to shutter the detention center this past Monday, Sept. 27, when the company’s contract expired. GEO Group had negotiated a new contract until 2025 with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but Ferguson says the new law doesn’t allow for that extension. ‘So we’re asking the court to take action to shut them down,’ says Ferguson.
‘They are out of compliance with state law and they admit it, so from our standpoint it’s not especially complicated. State law broadly makes for-profit prisons or detention centers illegal in Washington state.’”
28) National/Think Tanks: Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest says we should stop making fun of anti-maskers and instead confront their anti-government ideas. “The answer isn’t to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy few even more. Or get rid of the DMV. Or privatize the sanitation department. Or—in the case of public schools—hand them over to privately managed, unaccountable charter school management organizations. It’s to defend, fund, and improve the public institutions we rely on every day. And it’s to call out the obvious attempts by right-wing leaders to divide us against each other.”
29) National: Writing in The Nation, Abdullah Shihipar says relying on public-private partnerships has weakened America’s pandemic response. “Perhaps the biggest example of the private-public partnership can be found in the development and rollout of the vaccines through a program launched in 2020 by the Trump administration, known as Operation Warp Speed. As part of Operation Warp Speed, six pharmaceutical companies received billions of dollars in public funding to use towards research. (…) While the United States has not had problems with the supply of the vaccine, the monopoly vaccine companies like Moderna have over their patents have kept the pace of vaccination slow elsewhere in the world, which ultimately harms efforts to end the pandemic at home. In addition to this, even though the Moderna vaccine was publicly funded and developed, the company has been accused, along with Pfizer, of charging countries five times the amount the vaccines are worth.”
30) National: The reviews are coming in on the efforts by Trump to partially privatize the Veterans Administration, and they are not good. The American Prospect’s Suzanne Gordon reports that “just as MISSION Act critics predicted, using private-sector contractors is no guarantee that veterans will get equivalent or better care in more timely fashion. Two small but important surveys of well-informed VHA caregivers, along with interviews conducted by the Prospect itself, confirm that “community care” is neither quicker nor subject to effective federal oversight, despite its ballooning cost to the VHA. The surveys were conducted by two nonprofits, the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA) and the Association of VA Psychologist Leaders (AVAPL).”
31) National: Jake Johnson says fire DeJoy to stop the fall of US Postal Service. “To limit and potentially reverse the damage DeJoy has inflicted on the USPS, watchdog groups and progressive advocates are ramping up pressure on Biden to take immediate action. While the president can’t remove DeJoy on his own, analysts have noted that he can soon replace both Bloom—who is currently serving a one-year holdover term—and John Barger, whose term expires in December. Such steps would give Biden appointees a majority on the USPS board—and potentially the votes to oust the postmaster general.”
32) California: The Shafter city library has seceded from the Kern County Library system and will be run by Library Systems & Services. “What about the books, you may ask. Taken care of. The Kern County Library has gifted Shafter its own entire collection. So, that’s four partners working together in the name of literacy for one quaint little farm town. Five, if you include the Shafter office of G-A-F, a national roofing company—they’re building a modular annex for the library.”
33) New York: Andrew Sc hwartz, writing in Mother Jones, takes us inside the world of private New York City garbage collection, its labor unions, and the system of tensions—and challenges for governing for the public good—it includes.
34) Tennessee: Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee says the Ford plant 50 miles from Memphis is a major reason to expand transit. “And, seeing that the plant is slated to create nearly 6,000 high-paying direct jobs and nearly 30,000 indirect jobs, including construction workers, thousands of struggling Memphians might also build an economic future there. But unless an issue of the present is resolved, it’ll be a future that many who live in the nation’s second-poorest large city won’t be able to catch up to. As has been frequently documented in the annual Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet, ‘the lack of comprehensive, effective and efficient public transportation…makes progress against poverty very difficult.’”
35) Washington: Where do activist organizations fit into the clientelism matrix of cities? Writing in to the Seattle Times, John Franco raises a complex question in a city where a strong grassroots movement is confronting the powerful corporate titans of Silicon Valley. “The right wing long has used ‘small government’ propaganda as cover for profiteering by outsourcing government functions to favored corporations, with the revolving door and nepotism providing ample rewards for individuals who participate. I see a similar dynamic at work in Seattle between activist organizations and public officeholders.”
36) Montana: The Billings Gazette editorial board has sharply criticized the Fish & Wildlife Commission for acting contrary to the public interest. “The eight permits exceed [Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks] biologists’ recommendations and were awarded completely outside the usual FWP hunting system. This decision by the commission indicates a trend toward privatization and commercialization of the state’s best hunting opportunities—flying in the face of long-held Montana tradition. The ‘public’ the commission is listening to is not the general hunting-tag-buying public but rather the ‘public’ of landowners, outfitters and other special interests. Both the wolf and elk decisions cut directly against the large majority of public comments received by the agency on both issues.”
37) Tennessee: Another publically-owned stadium name gets privatized. “For the first time since 1975, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium will have a new name and a new sponsor. Simmons Bank announced Friday it is in advanced negotiations to be the stadium’s title sponsor. The bank did not announce when the stadium’s new name would be finalized.”
Photo via Phil Murphy.