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- Oceanside Unified School District is taking the initiative to help remove students’ barriers to education by building stronger connections between school staff and the community.
- On Wednesday, Books & Books in Miami, Florida, hosts Donald Cohen, America’s leading defender of the public interest.
- Jennifer Berkshire, co-author of The Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door (available through New Press), explains why teachers are dropping out.
First, the good news…
1) National: “Your last part is called ‘Becoming Pro-Public: What to Do in Response.’ So what can we do about all this?” Paul Rosenberg of Salon asked Donald Cohen, co-author of The Privatization of Everything. “At a more practical level, we have to assert control over our public goods,” says Cohen. “Water systems that were privatized are being in-sourced and re-municipalized around the country. That’s an action that should be taken in lots more places. We should allow the Weather Service to create an app. We should allow public banking. We should allow the IRS to create easy tax forms. We should unshackle the public sector. The government contracts for all sorts of things. Where it goes wrong is because hard questions aren’t asked in advance before the decision is made to do it, before a contract is signed. And that’s the crucial part…”
See also the interview of Donald on The David Feldman Show (video, about 32 minutes).
2) National: Architect magazine has a great interview with Heather McGhee where she talks about the intersection of “a better American dream” and infrastructure for the public good. “In her book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (One World, 2021)—released in paperback last week—McGhee outlines how desegregation efforts to welcome people of color to use these publicly funded pools, which were either explicitly or tacitly built for white people, created an avalanche of closures or privatizations. In short, white folks would rather shutter this public good than share it with people of color.”
3) California: Oceanside Unified School District is taking the initiative to help remove students’ barriers to education by building stronger connections between school staff and the community. “Mission, Libby and Laurel elementary schools and Jefferson Middle School have become “community schools,” according to a recent announcement on the district’s initiative. The four schools were chosen based on their individual needs. Accordingly, the school district has hired four new staff members, one for each school, to help improve students’ educational outcomes by connecting them and their families to resources such as healthcare, dental, mental health and social services. ‘These communities are under-resourced, have a higher level of multi-language learners, and have a higher number of people living below the county health index,’ said Donald Bendz, communications director for the school district.”
4) Florida: Miami New Times says “On Wednesday, Books & Books hosts Donald Cohen, America’s leading defender of the public interest. In his latest book, The Privatization of Everything, Cohen explores the efforts to turn public goods into for-profit ventures. The historian and author will be joined by Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to discuss his book and how citizens can fight back at the rampant privatization on services that should belong to the public. 7 p.m. Wednesday, February 23, at Books & Book, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 305-442-4408; booksandbooks.com. Admission is free with RSVP via eventbrite.com.”
5) Pennsylvania: Delaware County officials have come up with a good idea to address their waste management services for the next ten years: set up a formal Citizens Advisory Committee to consult the public.
6) Tennessee: AFSCME reports that big pay hikes for corrections workers in a Tennessee county will close a longstanding wage gap. “Local 1733 President Jason Hunter said the raises will close a pay gap between Shelby County’s corrections officers and deputies dating back 20 years. Both perform the same duties, but deputies were being paid several thousand dollars more than COs. Hunter, a Shelby County corrections deputy, recognized his co-workers’ hard work. ‘I am so proud of the work our members did to address this wage issue,’ he said. ‘Our members went through the books and were able to lobby the mayor, the Shelby County Corrections Department and the county commissioners to show that our responsibilities were the same, but our pay was unfairly lower than a similar job title. Members will see a 20% raise – those making $38,000 will see their salaries increase to $53,000.’”
7) International: CUPE Ontario participated in a Community Solidarity Toronto rally on Sunday. “A far-right led group has taken over and manipulated the anxieties and concerns of some to create truly frightening conditions for residents and workers in Ottawa. ‘As long as it’s necessary, we’ll keep naming—loudly, clearly, and collectively—what we’re witnessing,’ said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. ‘These are white supremacists, plain and simple, who desperately latch onto whatever the issue of the day might be in order to spread their ideology of hate, sow seeds of chaos and dissent, and upend the lives of residents and workers. Enough’s enough. No more hate. No more chaos. No more sleepless nights for, and harassment of, our neighbors. It’s time to forcefully oppose these currents of white supremacy; offer a vision of the solutions we need, like real affordability, permanent paid sick days, and investments into childcare and healthcare; and organize to make this vision a reality.’”
8) National: In The Nation, Jennifer Berkshire, co-author of The Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door (available through New Press), explains Why Teachers Are Dropping Out: Covid and the Culture Wars Have Turned An Exodus of Teachers Into An Emergency. “[Former teacher Will Wong] fears that the pandemic has only exacerbated the gap between what our schools can do and what they are tasked with doing. ‘Teaching, feeding kids, violence prevention, mental health needs—this is what our schools are faced with right now, but personnel, capacity, and funding don’t match what we’re requiring schools to do,’ Wong says. The result is an increasingly destructive cycle that drives teachers to flee in frustration, leaving schools even less prepared to confront escalating challenges. As public trust further erodes, the calls to privatize schools grow steadily louder. That cycle is precisely why Nic Jones is considering ending his career as a high school English teacher in Boston just as he was getting started.”
Berkshire also takes on National Review’s new twist on its long crusade to channel public money into religious and private schools, and the ease with which they are moving beyond their long-term charter schools tactic. “What’s weird about the ‘new politics of school choice,’” she says, “is that the right is now pretending that charter schools never happened. I get that vouchers were always the end goal but it’s still kind of jarring.”
9) Arizona: The Republican-controlled state senate has approved a huge expansion of the state’s school voucher system. “There’s also the fact that private schools need not take all applicants. ‘Eligibility does not equate to the ability to use it,” Quezada said. The “choice” in this program is not for parents but for the schools that get to pick and choose who to admit, he said. ‘It’s not our ELL students,’ he said, meaning students who need additional instruction to learn English. ‘It’s not our kids with disabilities, it’s not our kids with discipline issues, it’s not our kids that are behind in their classes,’ Quezada said. ‘They’re going to pick the kids that are easier and cheaper to educate and so that will raise their scores and make them look like a high-performing school.’”
10) California/National: The successful recall campaign of three of San Francisco’s school board members was fueled by a major input of cold hard cash by school privatization interests, Capital & Main and 48hills.com report. Tim Redmond goes to the heart of the matter. “Why is a group funded by right-wing billionaires and millionaires that was founded to keep progressives off the Board of Supes and keep the mayor in control at City Hall—and is now funding the Chesa Boudin recall—giving $238,000? Why is there more than $1 million pouring into this recall? It boggles the mind. (…) But there’s clearly more going on here than a group of unhappy parents. A few political takeaways here: If you set aside the pandemic and the renaming of schools and look at the long term, one of the major issues facing San Francisco Unified School District, and other districts around the country, is the rise of charter schools. Charter school proponents, led by the likes of Michael Bloomberg and Betsy DeVos, are in essence trying to privatize public education. They want to create a market system where parents get vouchers and can send their kids to private schools or public charters (which typically do not have unionized teachers), starving the public-school system of money.”
11) Pennsylvania: A state panel has upheld the Philadelphia school board’s decision “not to renew two charter schools, setting a course for ASPIRA Olney High School and ASPIRA Stetson Middle School to return to district control later this year.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that “the old School Reform Commission gave struggling Olney and Stetson to ASPIRA as part of its Renaissance initiative that tapped outside providers to run schools. According to a hearing officer’s report, while ASPIRA made progress in improving the schools’ climates, it didn’t live up to the academic promises it made and had financial shortcomings, too.”
12) Tennessee: In a scene replayed across the country in recent years, elected officials are warning that expansion of the number of authorized charter schools will drain massive amounts of money from traditional public schools, weakening them and adding to a drain of teachers. “When you have an organization or a programming that has the opportunity to come in and take even more funding from a public school, that’s a big problem,” Johnson City Board of Education member Michelle Treece said.
13) Utah: The controversial issue of school vouchers has returned to the capital, as a House committee passes a vouchers bill. [Video, about 11 minutes]. Chris Jones and Nadia Pflaum of KUTV also report that charter school performance has also become a major issue for Utah. But they claim “It isn’t that charter schools are suddenly performing poorly, the director of the SCSB says. It’s that her board is being more proactive to help keep these schools in line with rules and regulations.”
14) Think Tanks: On February 3, Duke University historian Nancy MacLean and Diane Ravitch held a Zoom conversation called “Public Education in Chains,” about the nefarious conspiracy to undermine and privatize our public schools. The discussion was sponsored by Public Funds Public Schools and the Network for Public Education. [Video, about an hour]
15) National: The New York Times reports that the asphalt industry is the big winner from the infrastructure bill. “‘We are America’s No. 1 most recycled product,’ said Jay Hansen, the executive vice president for advocacy at the National Asphalt Pavement Association, the industry’s main trade group. A 21-page letter the association sent to Mr. Biden’s transition team late in 2020 titled “Build Back Better With Asphalt” suggested asphalt was also critical to job creation and economic recovery.” For an excellent deep dive on the prominent role of Koch interests in the asphalt industry, see Jeff Wood’s interview of Kenneth O’Reilly, author of the book “Asphalt: A History.”
16) National: Last Wednesday, American Water, one of the largest water privatization companies in the U.S., released its annual report for 2021, reporting revenues of $3.93 billion and net income of $1.26 billion. Read their 10-K.
17) Maine: Citizens of Mane are organizing to fight a loophole that enables out-of-state companies to dump trash, some of it toxic (PFAS/forever chemicals), in the state. There’s an online meeting and panel discussion this Friday. Register here. “Landfill expansions, toxic leachate, and out of state waste—oh my! Maine has become a dumping ground for the Northeast. A coalition of community members and tribal citizens adversely affected by the negative impacts of landfill, incinerator, and waste disposal activities have banded together to keep tabs on all trashy things, and advocate for responsible policies to deal with our waste. (…) Learn about the fight to close the out of state waste loophole and how you can support these efforts.” Lawmakers may be poised to pass legislation closing the loophole.
18) Maryland/National: A major roadblock has hit the $9 billion I-270 “public-private partnership” project that is a centerpiece of Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) administration and the road privatization industry. “A Montgomery County judge expressed disbelief Wednesday that Maryland officials defended their selection of a private team to design billions of dollars’ worth of toll lanes without addressing a losing bidder’s allegation that the winning proposal is not ‘financially feasible.’” Citizen activists have been making the same point about financial feasibility for months, but have been rolled over by the Maryland Department of Transportation. Will MDOT continue to ram through this boondoggle despite the red lights flashing?
ENR reports that “Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge John M. Maloney largely rejected the agency’s assertion that the project’s losing bid team—Capital Express Mobility Partners, led by Ferrovial-owned infrastructure developer Cintra—had missed stated deadlines to protest the state’s February 2021 selection of Transurban/Macquarie Infrastructure-led Accelerate Maryland Partners for the project’s predevelopment phase. Of the three proposals MDOT considered for the project, the Cintra-led one received the highest technical rating and the lowest financial score. Conversely, Transurban/Macquarie received the highest financial score and a ‘Good’ technical score.”
19) Nebraska: A Nebraska bill would authorize the use of public-private partnerships for transportation projects. “The Nebraska DOT director would be required to develop regulations by July 1, 2023, to determine when a public-private partnership could be used for a particular project.”
20) South Dakota: State officials and unionized public sector highway workers are wrangling over wages. “While a 3% wage raise for county employees was approved, those who are part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees did not get the boost. That’s per a request from labor representative Puja Datta, who said the request was made because a new union contract had not been negotiated. By law, implementing the wage increase without a negotiated agreement is violation of labor law and could result in a complaint filed with the Department of Labor, Datta said.”
21) National/Texas: “Until Texas takes public control of its power system, the risk of being knocked out by another heavyweight punch is all but guaranteed to remain,” Donald Cohen of In the Public Interest writes in Truthout. “Unfortunately, its leaders seem to be headed in the opposite direction. Governor Abbott has been aggressively luring cryptocurrency-mining companies to the state, arguing that they will somehow encourage energy providers to build more capacity. Yet, crypto mining is an extremely energy intensive industry. As The New Yorker reported, ‘Crypto-mining facilities in Texas already consume enough electricity to power several cities.’”
As Cohen and Allen Mikaelian explain in The Privatization of Everything (see this excerpt from In These Times), privatization fuels catastrophic climate change.
22) International: Traffic revenues have slowed down for Transurban, the road privatization octopus. “While traffic had rebounded in the three months to December as COVID-19 vaccination rates improved and restrictions eased, Mr. Charlton said traffic had weakened again in January and February. (…) Traffic across all Transurban’s toll roads in Australia and the US dropped 4.8 per cent in the six months to December compared with a year earlier, and was down almost 22 per cent on the same period two years ago before the outbreak of the pandemic. Group profit margins weakened to 65.9 per cent from 69 per cent a year earlier.” [Sub required]. For more on Transurban see number 18 above.
23) International: How do private investors make money in a Public Private Partnership? Here’s a very simplistic corporate version. Disregard the video in the piece, which has nothing to do with P3s and it’s unclear why it’s there. But hey, if you want to get a very basic idea of how people make money through private equity deals (spoiler alert: it’s the fees) do feel free to watch the video.
24) International: Was favoritism involved in the efforts to privatize Eletrobras, Brazil’s major utility? There will be an investigation.
Criminal Justice and Immigration
25) International: Another huge banking scandal has erupted over Credit Suisse with a whistleblower’s release of data that “has exposed the hidden wealth of clients involved in torture, drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption and other serious crimes.” Over the years Credit Suisse has faced a number of scandals, including some involving charges of looting of state assets in the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship. Credit Suisse has also stood up privatization consulting services looking for business in Russia and Brazil. For a useful timeline of these decades of scandal see Crooks, Kleptocrats and Crises: A Timeline of Credit Suisse Scandals. The Swiss government, Credit Suisse Foundation, and UBS Optimus Foundation recently set up a “new public-private partnership to promote innovative development finance.”
26) National: GEO Group is plunging headlong into the business of making money off what James Kilgore has called E-carceration, in GEO’s case with immigrants. See here and here. As it happens The Majority Report just hosted Kilgore to discuss his new book, Understanding E-Carceration: Electronic Monitoring, the Surveillance State, and the Future of Mass Incarceration, published by New Press.
27) National/California: The public is being kept in the dark about the future of San Diego’s Federal Detention Center. The Biden administration “is refusing to disclose whether a controversial federal jail in San Diego will shutter in March—or if a private prison company will use an unconventional workaround to keep it open. Western Region Detention Facility is run by the for-profit corporation The GEO Group Inc., which has managed the facility for the U.S. Marshals Service since 2000. The federal jail primarily houses nonviolent offenders waiting to be arraigned, tried and sentenced.”
The ACLU has filed a suit to get the Biden administration to disgorge information on the future of the contract for the 770-bed facility. “Our communities have a right to know about and challenge efforts to further mass incarceration,” said Summer Lacey, criminal justice director at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “This litigation is a demand for the transparency necessary to collectively push for transformative change.”
28) National: Double S Capital has posted a note on Seeking Alpha asserting that GEO Group will pull off a successful debt restructuring. But “as cash flow won’t accrue to the shareholders for years, I’m still bearish on GEO stock in the medium-to-long term.”
29) Tennessee: New allegations of inhumane and “out of control” treatment by CoreCivic at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center have emerged. “‘I’ve never seen that many people die in one place,’ Edward Shelton said. In the more than 10 years that Edward Shelton served time at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, he thought he’d be one of them. ‘I was urinating blood. They said it wasn’t an emergency,’ Shelton said. Shelton said he became ill, suffering from kidney problems, high blood pressure, and stomach issues. Shelton said no matter how many times he told officials there about his medical issues nothing happened. It’s why his mother Darlene Carruthers-Shelton said she wants to shine a light on what happened to her son. ‘Just because someone is incarcerated, it doesn’t mean that they need to be mistreated,’ Carruthers-Shelton said.”
30) Tennessee: Is the prison in Mason closed for good? “Attempts to reach CoreCivic for confirmation of this were unsuccessful. In the weeks before the contract expired, Tipton County Executive Jeff Huffman and CoreCivic representatives attempted to keep the prison open. The basic framework of the plan would have included Tipton County signing a contract with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and a separate one with CoreCivic, which would have operated the facility. The county would have collected a fee based on facility population that Huffman estimated would have been $200,000 annually.” It may be turned into an RV park. But “so far, that plan does not appear to be in the works.”
31) Think Tanks/National: Concerned about people suffering solitary confinement, whether in public or private prisons? Stay in touch with Solitary Watch and get its weekly roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement.
32) National: Waste Management President and CEO Jim Fish sat down with TV personality Jim Cramer to discuss his company’s woes and plans. “Labor inflation is among the company’s biggest challenges. The company saw 9% wage inflation last quarter, on top of an even bigger number in the preceding quarter. That’s why Waste Management is investing even more heavily in automation and technology to help reduce their labor dependence. Among other approaches, they have been replacing rear-loading trucks with automated side-loading vehicles. They’ve also been investing in optical sorting machines at their facilities to help sort recyclables and keep them out of the waste stream. This trend has been underway for a decade.”
33) National: Medical examiner offices around the country are facing too many bodies and too few forensic pathologists, reports Pew. “The overload at medical examiners’ offices across the country stems from two trends: More bodies are arriving at the offices, the result not only of additional deaths related to the pandemic but also an upward trajectory of homicides, overdoses and even traffic-related fatalities. And the country is simply not producing enough forensic pathologists to keep up with the workload, especially during the pandemic. The workload in many places is delaying timely autopsies or leading pathologists to perform more autopsies than the 250 a year recommended by the field’s accrediting body.”
34) California: “We are fighting for dignity and respect on the job, but we also know that the strike has been affecting our communities and our neighbors and our own families,” said a Republic Services worker about their recent strike against the trash privatization company. “This contract isn’t everything we believe we deserve, but it’s enough to go back to work and go back to taking care of our communities.”
35) Puerto Rico: Protests have grown in Puerto Rico as public sector workers demand higher wages. “The crowd shimmied and clapped as demonstrators held up signs reading, ‘Fair wages now!’ It’s a call that has echoed across Puerto Rico in recent weeks as government employees and supporters take to the streets, emboldened by thousands of public school teachers who abandoned classrooms in early February to demand raises and better pensions. Protests have multiplied and the unrest is posing one of the biggest challenges for Gov. Pedro Pierluisi a year into his term. ‘The people kicked the U.S. military out of Vieques. They kicked out a governor. We can make this happen,’ said Abner Dumey, who teaches history in the northern town of Naranjito.”
36) National: Activist investor Carl Icahn has launched a board fight at McDonald’s over their treatment of pigs, the Financial Times reports. McDonald’s has, in the past, promised to address the issue. “But the Humane Society of the United States, an animal rights charity, has questioned the company’s commitment. In a shareholder proposal filed in November, the group said it appeared McDonald’s was planning to reduce how long it let suppliers lock pregnant sows in stalls, rather than end the practice entirely. Josh Balk, vice-president of farm animal protection at the society said: ‘McDonald’s in 2012, in working with Carl Icahn and the Humane Society of the US, pledged to eliminate gestation crates . . . Instead, they are allowing pork producers to still confine pregnant pigs for six of the 16 weeks of their pregnancy.’”
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages.