Connecticut city considers selling off a third of its public schools

Here’s our weekly analysis of privatization in the news and in communities nationwide. Not a subscriber? Sign up.

This week’s highlights

  • As a vote approaches whether to privatize several Stamford, CT, school buildings, members of three crucial boards are calling for the matter to first be put to the public.
  • The Idaho Statesman denounces the privatization of the state’s asphalt testing program.
  • A federal court has ruled that private contractors running immigration detention facilities are subject to the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

 

Education

1) National: As the world gears up to respond to the growing COVID-19/coronavirus epidemic, schools across the U.S. are bracing for impact. “Mike Pence, the US vice president, has authorized state health officials to close schools if necessary to contain the coronavirus. (…) Widespread moves in the US to shutter schools would follow school closures introduced in Japan, as well as parts of Italy, in addition to parts of China that were first hit by the virus.” [Sub required]. 

How might this affect the charter school sector? That depends. Despite last week’s market meltdown produced by the spread of the virus, the share price of K12 Inc., one of the major for-profit providers of online charter school services, jumped over 20%, suggesting that some speculators may be playing on a potential spike in online education if brick and mortar schools, whether public or charter, are shuttered.

2) National: In the Public Interest’s Cashing in On Kids reports that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was confronted last week over her support for charter schools. “‘You should resign.’ In a fiery back and forth, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) stumped Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on the percentage of charter schools that are failing nationwide. Twitter. Betsy Devos’s voucher boondoggle. Andrea Gabor, the Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York, writes, “Vouchers are a giveaway for families who can afford to pay the difference between the value of a voucher and the cost of tuition at the most expensive (and best) private institutions.” Bloomberg.

3) National: The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss delves into the world of “social impact bonds” and their effect on education and public services. “The following piece, written by scholars Martin Carnoy and Roxana Marachi, explain this new world in depth.” Carnoy and Marachi write, “Does Goldman Sachs’ investing in desperately needed preschools in your state sound too good to be true? No surprise, there’s more to this funding than meets the eye. And at worst, it may mean that much of today’s philanthropic giving for public services may end up as profit-making investments and the privatization of the public sector. In the past decade, new funding structures have emerged within the social services and education arenas, with accompanying legislation poised to transform how services are delivered and who delivers them. The umbrella term for these new financial arrangements is the Social Impact Bond (SIB), although Pay For Success (PFS) and Results-Based Financing (RBF) are also often used interchangeably to refer to the same basic structures.”

See also Shar Habibi of In the Public Interest’s report, Heard of Pay for Success or Social Impact Bonds? and ITPI’s Guide to Evaluating Pay for Success Programs and Social Impact Bonds.

4) National: Writing in Truthout, Leonie Haimson, the founder and executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit organization based in New York that advocates nationally for smaller classes, says Bloomberg’s Public Education Legacy Is a Case Study in Disastrous Privatization. “For voters who do not live in New York City or never sent their children to public school here,” Haimson writes, “you might not be aware that Bloomberg embodied an aggressive free-market ideology with policies that were contrary to research and hugely disruptive — in the worst sense of the word. Far from the benevolent, pragmatic centrist his campaign likes to portray, Bloomberg and his chancellors reigned over NYC public schools for 12 years with an iron fist, autocratically imposing destructive reforms with little concern for how they upended the lives of communities, students and teachers.”

5) NationalIn its most recent newsletter the Network for Public Education “is asking for everyone to continue making calls and sending emails to the House Appropriations Subcommittee. In the next several weeks they will be making decisions on education funding.  We are asking for a moratorium on funding of the Charter Schools Program and for this money to be pushed to the states where it can be monitored better. Here is the information for calling.  Here is the link to continue emailing.”

6) California: Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post takes a look at the raucous Los Angeles school board primary races tomorrow. “More than $7 million has poured into campaigns—with most of it going to three candidates who support charter schools. Millions of dollars have come from people and groups outside California who support the expansion of charters, which are publicly funded but privately operated, and want to see them spread nationally. Pro-charter forces are being funded substantially by a retired California businessman named Bill Bloomfield, according to the Los Angeles Times. He has spent nearly $2 million to help candidates who are pro-charter school. But in a letter to the Times, he said he was not acting as a ‘surrogate’ for the political arm of the California Charter Schools Association, the Advocates. Instead, he said he was acting to help children. Candidates who do not support the expansion of charter schools are funded largely by United Teachers Los Angeles. Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl has repeatedly called out ‘billionaires’ who, he said in this missive to union members, have tried for 30 years to privatize public education in the district. Voters will decide whether three members should be reelected; they also will fill an open seat. The results will have significant ramifications for charter schools in the nation’s second-largest public school district.”

7) CaliforniaThe Sausalito Marin City School District is set to unveil a draft desegregation plan this Thursday, but an approach to unifying a public school and a charter school still faces obstacles. The district has “entered into talks with Willow Creek Academy officials over a lawsuit pending in Marin County Superior Court. Willow Creek, a K-8 charter school in Sausalito, and the district, whose only school is Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, a TK-8 public school in Marin City, are under pressure to come up with both a unification plan for the two schools and a desegregation plan, which targets Bayside MLK.  The lawsuit has been identified as an obstacle to the unification plan. The Sausalito-Marin City district has said it would not meet with the Willow Creek board unless the charter school dropped the lawsuit.”

8) Connecticut: As a vote approaches tonight on whether to privatize several Stamford school buildings, members of three crucial boards are calling for the matter to first be put to the public. “Board of Representatives member Nina Sherwood, Board of Education member Mike Altamura and Board of Finance member Kieran Ryan in an op-ed this week have called for a referendum on the issue. ‘For me to turn around and sell a third of their public school property seems so immoral to me,’ Sherwood said, referring to Stamford taxpayers. ‘It’s their land. It’s their schools.’ The public-private partnership idea involves selling five aging public school buildings to a private developer for $1 each. The developer would then demolish, rebuild and maintain the new structures, while leasing them back to the city for up to 90 years.”

9) Delaware: Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt and Brooke Schultz of the Delaware State News examined public school teacher salaries at districts across the First State, but where do charter school teacher salaries fit in? Delaware Public Media contributor Larry Nagengast took a closer look at them and what drives how charter schools pay their teachers. “Teachers in Delaware’s charter schools generally earn less than their peers in traditional public school districts, but that’s not always the case.” [Audio, about 11 minutes]

10) Florida: At an Orlando charter school, police officers arrest a six year old child who is “crying and begging officersnot to arrest her as one fastens zip ties around her wrists. (…) Turner was fired shortly after the arrest. Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon said at the time that Turner didn’t follow department policy of getting the approval of a watch commander to arrest someone younger than 12. (…) Turner was quoted by News 6 in Orlando as saying: “I was a police officer for 23 years, and I was in the military before that. All I’ve ever done is to serve my country and my community. That’s all I have to say about this.” 

Black Lives Matter says “THIS. MUST. STOP. Our babies deserve to be nurtured and protected, not humiliated and abused by police. We will never stop fighting for our humanity.” In 2018 the Advancement Project and Alliance for Educational Justice released a must-read report on school policing in communities of color. “Per the report, there are some 1.6 million students in the United States who attend a school that employs law enforcement officers, but not a single school counselor.”

11) KentuckyThe state’s first charter school applicant has lost its appeal. “The board of Newport Independent Schools denied the application in December, saying it appeared the group had plagiarized part of its application, that they did not show they had the competency to provide a quality education, and that they did not appear to have real community buy-in.”

12) MichiganBetsy DeVos’ home state is still getting an F in charter school oversight. A new report has documented the woeful state of charter school oversight in Michigan. The 60-page study “highlights the absence of enforceable rules and standards governing charter schools and their authorizers. It was conducted by the nonprofit Citizens Research Council of Michigan on behalf of the law school’s Levin Center. ‘The concern that this report raises is that we don’t have standards for the performance of authorizers,’ said Jim Townsend, director of the Levin Center. ‘Do we have mechanisms in place to oversee these charters? The answer is no.’ The lack of charter school oversight and performance issues in Michigan is no secret. The Education Trust – Midwest said in 2016 that Michigan ‘has a very serious authorizer performance problem,’ according to its study titled ‘Michigan Charter Schools: A Broken Promise.’”

13) New Mexico: Students at McCurdy Charter School are speaking out about being made to clean bathrooms. “Katherine Petersen, a freshman at McCurdy, said School administrators have told her and many of her classmates to clean restrooms during their advisory period. She said the cleaning usually consists of scrubbing walls and mopping floors, sometimes with no gloves or masks for protection. ‘That’s gross,’ she said. ‘We’re not here to do that.’ McCurdy Director Sarah Tario confirmed the School is having students clean facilities, which she said is part of an effort to get students to ‘take ownership’ of their campus. (…) Parents, though, have still expressed anger over their students having to clean. ‘It’s disgusting,’ said Connie Petersen, Katherine’s mother. ‘We send our kids to school not to clean toilets.’” 

14) North Carolina: Despite a meeting called to discuss the use of “seclusion” and “restraint” against students in a charter schoolthe use of which was suspended last fall, the meeting did not discuss its illegality. “Instead, the presentation and ensuing conversation focused on the necessity of a seclusion room over the more severe method of physically restraining a student.”

15) Oklahoma: Lawmakers are looking into Epic Charter Schools’ practice of “shielding how it uses millions in taxpayer dollars for something called the Learning Fund. (…) State law enforcement investigators who have been probing allegations of embezzlement, racketeering and forgery by top executives at Epic and willful neglect by members of its independent governing board, revealed in public court documents that the private management company Epic Youth Services has made millionaires out of school co-founders David Chaney and Ben Harris. School officials acknowledged to the Tulsa World payments for previous years totaled $50.6 million for something Epic Charter Schools calls the ‘Learning Fund,’ and based on a recent uptick in student enrollment, Epic’s allocation for 2019-2020 alone could be as high as $28 million.”

Moreover, while all this money was being made, the school was failing its students: “In a five-month investigation, Oklahoma Watch found that fewer than 1 in 5 of Epic’s 2019 graduates enrolled in a public Oklahoma college or university last fall. Its rate was lower than rates for all of the state’s 10 largest school districts, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of education data. The data was collected from nearly every college and university in the state.”

Nevertheless, Tom Cole (R-OK) is upset that Trump’s budget proposal will not be sending even more money directly to his state’s charter schools.

16) Pennsylvania: The Gateway Board of School Directors in Monroeville has joined other school administrators across the state to demand charter school funding reform. “‘These payments are calculated in a manner which requires districts to send more money to charter schools than is needed to operate their programs and places a significant financial burden on districts’ resources and taxpayers,’ reads the resolution, which was presented by Rick McIntyre, school board vice president. Read the resolution in full here and by downloading the link that reads ‘Resolutions Presented by Board Members.’”

Last week the Pittsburgh school board voted to back two new charter school law reform bills in the legislature that will be introduced shortly. “The bills would require that charter schools be reimbursed using the special education fair funding formula for special education students already used by public school districts. They also institute a statewide cyber charter school tuition rate. ‘Charter school funding is, to me, something that’s broken. The funding formula is broken,’ school board member Pam Harbin said. ‘We are overpaying charter schools for students, particularly students with disabilities.’”

17) Pennsylvania: As school districts across the state prepare their budgets over coming months, “one of the fastest growing costs for all school districts is charter schools—publicly funded, privately operated schools that offer education wholly online or at a site within a community. School districts pay 100% of charter school tuition bills and rapidly increasing tuition payments are a top reason that property taxes continue to rise. Although charter school students represent only 8% of all public school students, in 2017-18, 37 cents of every new property tax dollar raised was sent to a charter or cyber charter school.”

18) PennsylvaniaA fraud investigator has been hired by the Easton Arts Academy Elementary Charter School board to examine the school’s finances. “The school lost its three top administrators over the course of the past year. The top finance administrator, Shawn Ferrara, left the school in June. CEO Joanna Hughes was fired in December and Operations Manager Jacque Zupko was fired in January. Zattoni said there have been questions raised about duties the administrators performed, although she declined to cite specifics. ‘We have to make sure that the finances are under control before we hire new (administrators) to come in,’ she said Thursday. For now, principal William Wright is serving as interim CEO.”

19) WyomingPark County has decided to stick with its custodians and reject privatization of their jobs. Had the privatization taken place, the workers would have lost health insurance for themselves and their families. “Last week, Tilden recalled one worker saying how important the job was for her, helping her care for a sick child.”

Infrastructure

20) Florida: Jacksonville City Council member Rory Diamond says the effort to privatize JEA, the city’s electrical utility, was “based on the biggest lie ever told in our city’s history.” The Jax Daily Record reported that “Nelson Mullins lawyers Lee Wedekind and Daniel Nunn presented the research their firm sent to Council in a Dec. 26 memorandum. The memo detailed how JEA executives presented ‘somewhat manipulated data’ to show a decline in energy sales, an argument for privatization.”

21) Florida: Reversing course, Indian River County has decided to pursue its legal case against the establishment of a private passenger rail line on the east coast of Florida. On Feb. 18, the county “accepted a private, nonprofit group’s offer to fund the cost of filing a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn the county’s unsuccessful appeal against the U.S. Department of Transportation and Brightline, also known as Virgin Trains. Commissioners voted 5-0 to give the Florida Alliance For Safe Trains until the end of February to raise $200,000 estimated cost of filing for a writ of certiorari.” The county is challenging the use of Private Activity Bonds for the project. The deadline for filing for a writ is March 19. “In addition to the federal litigation, Indian River County is also pursuing a lawsuit in Florida state court asking a circuit judge to determine who is liable for funding “substantial” railroad crossing improvements needed for the private passenger train.” [Sub required]

22) Idaho: In an editorial titled “Privatization or Piratization: Idaho Learns Again That Outsourcing Doesn’t Always Work,” The Idaho Statesman denounces the privatization of the state’s asphalt testing program. “Federal investigators are looking into Idaho’s asphalt testing practices for road construction. Several contractors have been altering results to those tests, according to government records. (…) Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me for more than 20 years, shame on me. That’s the case with revelations reported by the Idaho Statesman’s Audrey Dutton that private companies responsible for checking the quality of Idaho’s road materials have altered the results of their asphalt tests thousands of times. The so-called ‘suspicious alterations’ may have allowed contractors that repair and build Idaho’s highway infrastructure to get bonus payments when they should have been penalized for substandard work—or even forced to tear up the asphalt and replace it.”

23) International: The British government has nationalized the train system in the north after “widespread commuter chaos” under the privatised railway system operated by Arriva Rail North. “But some in the industry doubt a Conservative government would tolerate further nationalisation as it would galvanise critics of private sector involvement in public services,” the Financial Times reports. “The Labour party has long trumpeted public ownership of the railways, a policy that is popular among voters.” [Sub required]

Criminal Justice and Immigration

24) National: In a landmark ruling on Friday, a panel of the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that private contractors running immigration detention facilities are subject to the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Read the full 24-page ruling. The case involves a “voluntary work program” at a Georgia immigration detention center (Stewart Detention Center) run for profit by CoreCivic. This is a ruling on the law, not yet on the factual claims brought in the suit filed by immigrant detainees. For more on the case follow @ashahshahani, and check out this profileof Azadeh Shahshahani.

25) National: Many states trying to tackle problems in their prisons—understaffing, outdated facilities and insufficient medical care—face a critical issue: a lack of good data. “Across the country, while there exist profound gaps in the kind of data states maintain for their own prisons, there might be an even bigger problem in what corrections officials know about the jails that many states use for short-term inmate stays and as a solution for overcrowding.” And private prisons?

26) Ohio: An ICE detainee’s death at the CoreCivic-owned Northeast Ohio Correctional Center was discussed at a community meeting on Thursday. “Katie Salupo is a part of a group that formed as a way of assisting immigrants who have been released from the Youngstown detention center. For over a year, members from the group would go down to the bus station every day and help immigrants who had just been released. Salupo said once released from the prison, they were dropped off at the bus station and simply left to fend for themselves. Many of them, not able to speak English, couldn’t even read their bus ticket. ‘When they do get enough money raised for their bond, they’re dropped off at the bus station, sometimes in the middle of winter, wearing nothing but T-shirts,’ she said.”

Public Services

27) National: The New York Times reports that patients treated for COVID-19/coronavirus infections are being hit with large surprise bills from private companies. “But the hospital bill represented only a fraction of those the family received. The ambulance company that transported the Wucinskis, American Medical Response, charged the family $2,598 for taking them to the hospital. A company representative declined to comment on the bill ‘due to patient privacy concerns,’ but said the company would look into the case. An additional $90 in charges came from radiologists who read the patients’ X-ray scans and do not work for the hospital. Having such doctors, who may be outside a patient’s insurance networks, provide services to hospital patients is one of the major causes of surprise medical bills.” Jamil Smith of Rolling Stine says “the feds have the authority to quarantine and isolate patients if officials believe them to be a public health threat. But what if a private ambulance company is used? Or the isolation happens in a nongovernmental medical facility?” 

28) National: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is urging the Senate to expand bonding for public transit—including “public-private partnerships”— in the next transportation reauthorization bill. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce favors paying for those investments with an increase in gas and diesel taxes along with increased use of federal loan programs, private activity bonds and public private partnerships that will tap into more private investment. ‘There’s $100 billion in private global capital looking for investment opportunities in infrastructure,’ said Ed Mortimer, the chamber’s vice president of transportation and infrastructure. Mortimer also is executive director of Americans for Transportation Mobility, a chamber-led group that includes organized labor, business groups and transportation organizations.” [Sub required]

29) National@m3anderthal says “underneath all the flashy branding, the tech sector’s primary profit plan is the same as any other robber baron’s: a complete privatization of public resources.” How about a credit card machine on a water fountain

30) Florida: Corporate giant Waste Management said it will change its plans and allow mixed-paper recycling in Broward County after all, the Sun-Sentinel reports. “The stunning about-face came late Friday afternoon to the surprise of city leaders who were already getting push-back from residents. Waste Management had sent letters to 14 cities letting them know they could no longer recycle mixed-paper starting Aug. 1. That included newspapers, mail, magazines, glossy inserts, pamphlets, catalogs, print and office paper and school paper. (…) But late Friday the company said in a new letter to the cities that ‘we have heard from Broward County officials and several of our municipal customers who have asked if it would be possible to continue recycling mixed paper even in these challenging markets. We certainly want to work with you to honor that request.’” Seems pushback from the public sometimes works with contractors. “There has been mounting dissatisfaction in Broward with the mega-hauler and some city officials suspected the initial plan by Waste Management to end paper recycling would bolster plans to create their own disposal systems.”

Everything Else

31) National: Daily Kos staff writer Mark Sumner says “America is about to get a godawful lesson in why health care should never be a for-profit business.” He writes, “the first people who dared ask to be tested for COVID-19 get handed a bill for thousands of dollars, the primary result of which will be to dissuade other Americans from asking to be tested. Which is, right there, exactly the result that is best for insurance companies—and worst for the nation. It’s an absolute certainty that Americans will hide their sniffles, drown their symptoms in over-the-counter drugs, and try to ‘tough it out’ because they can’t afford health care. Besides, they have no paid sick leave, no paid child care, and no guarantee that missing a day’s work won’t mean being cast to the curb. All that ‘socialist’ crap.”

American science journalist Laurie Garrett says “there are 2 reasons why America will not be able to stop #COVID19 if we have widespread community transmission: 1.) Our response system is in chaos, and, 2.) Millions of Americans can’t afford to see a doctor, must less pay for hospitalization.”

32) NationalA federal judge has vacated oil and gas leases on public land to private companies. “‘The judge confirmed that it’s illegal to silence the public to expand fossil-fuel extraction,’ said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. The lawsuit centered on a 2018 memorandum, “No. 2018-034,” issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency of the Interior Department. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is a former oil and gas lobbyist.” 

33) California: Writing in the Napa Valley Register, Richard Hazeltine pushes back against arguments for privatization. “We are self-governed, in a system that has worked for over 200 years. The idea that we would be better served by private entities begs the question: Does privatization give us better control? Has this worked in other contexts; other countries; other societies? It’s easy to say something can be better or more efficient, but what is given up in exchange? How will we ensure that private entities do a better job? Is ‘our’ government suddenly capable of doing a better job of oversight because a private company has taken over? Can we vote them out if not? Obviously, the responsibility of oversight does not go away. But it may be taken from us. Will stockholders consider the common good? Will business leaders?”

Governing for the Common Good

34) Rhode Island: The state is beginning to make progress in treating drug-addicted inmates. “Nationwide, two-thirds of the country’s 2.3 million inmates are addicted to drugs or alcohol, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. But only a small fraction of those who need treatment behind bars receives it. (…) ‘Once you put them on addiction meds, most inmates become fine, perfectly reasonable people and stop causing trouble. It begs the question of why we lock them up for the disease of addiction in the first place.’”