Privatization report: Bernie wants to rein in charter schools | CoreCivic’s lucrative quarter | and more

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

THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS


EDUCATION

1) National: Citing harm to public schools, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) calls for a ban on new for-profit charter schools and a major new role for the federal government in combatting racial segregation in education. In a series of tweets before the release of his education plan (video, about an hour), Sanders said “charter schools are led by unaccountable, private bodies, and their growth has drained funding from the public school system. When we are in the White House we will ban for-profit charter schools,” and, “as president I will stand with groups like the @NAACP and put a moratorium on federal funding of new charter schools until rules are in place to make sure they are operating with transparency and accountability.” AFT President Randi Weingarten said “Thank you @BernieSanders for this vitally important proposal.” 

Diane Ravitch says “thus far, he is the only candidate to address K-12.” This will change. Sanders’s move is sure to turbocharge the discussion on charters in upcoming Democratic debates and primaries and force candidates to weigh in on the issue. Charter school advocates were clearly prepared for this, and the counterattack has been instantaneous. For more see Jeff Bryant’s analysis of how the charter school debate will play out among Democrats.

2) National/Louisiana: Writing in Common Dreams, Jeff Bryant traces the history of federal money being used to prop up failed charter schools (which predates Betsy DeVos), using Louisiana as an example. “But the legacy of the federal government’s charter school grants in Louisiana should not be understood just by the sheer waste of precious education funds, but also by the real human consequences of spreading makeshift charter programs that throw communities into confusion, distress, and a sense of betrayal. That’s probably something you won’t hear Arne Duncan apologize for.”

3) Arkansas: A charter high school in Little Rock is splitting from its management company after declining service and rising fees. “Chris Bell, a fiscal agent for the Little Rock school, said the national NEWCorp organization last year had pulled back services to the Little Rock campus and reduced its management fee that was $275,800 in the 2017-18 school year. But the fee is expected to increase for the coming year, Bell said and added that the local school is expected to save $250,000 by splitting from the management organization.” The state’s authorizing panel has approved the change.

4) California: Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is proposing to tighten legal language protecting students with disabilities and students with poor grades who want to attend charter schools. “In its report, ‘Uncharted Waters,’ released last month, the California School Boards Association urged the state to establish open and non-discriminatory enrollment, suspension and expulsion processes and policies for charter schools.”

5) California: Capital & Main interviews Jackie Goldberg, recently elected to the District 5 school board. Asked about whether lawmakers are ready to confront the charter industry, she says “it’s very hard for them to do so because they get so much money [from the lobby]. Somebody told me that the charter schools in the last 10 years have spent something like $900 million on elected officials. As long as that’s going on, it’s going to be very hard to make changes that work. However, I think if they get the understanding that the public is ready to kill them if they don’t change, then I think they might be willing to make some changes.” Goldberg says “we have got to fix this or we have to go to war against them. I’d prefer the fix to the war.”

6) California: Cipriano Vargas, Barbara Avalos, and Chardá Fontenot explain why local control is needed for charter schools. “A badly needed reform to the charter school authorization process, Assembly Bill 1505, is currently making its way through the Legislature. The measure will ensure that charter schools obey the law, do not stray from their stated mission and truly serve the communities where they are located.” The bill “would authorize a county board of education to deny a petition for the establishment of a new charter school if it makes a written factual finding that the charter school would have a negative financial, academic, or facilities impact on neighborhood public schools, a school district, or the county office of education.”

7) California: “An online charter school wants to come into Berkeley. Who are they?” asks Natalie Orenstein of Berkeleyside.org. “Compass is not chartered with any of the prominent school districts in the counties where it currently operates. Instead, in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, it is among the many charters, including other virtual schools, authorized by two small, semi-rural districts, Acton-Aqua Dulce in Los Angeles County and Mountain Empire in San Diego County. Such set-ups have been criticized by public school advocates, who see tiny districts eager to get paid charter oversight fees but which lack the resources to provide true supervision—and charter schools interested in gaining easy authorization with minimal oversight.”

8) Colorado: In an about face, Aurora school officials have voted to allow Vega Collegiate Academy to stay open. “Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn on Tuesday proposed keeping Vega open—but under a new agreement with several conditions including a third-party investigation into the school to be completed by June. Despite expressing doubts, school board members unanimously approved the new agreement. Had they reaffirmed their earlier decision, Vega could have appealed again. Despite his vote, board President Marques Ivey said he did not respect the State Board’s opinion asking the district to reconsider closing the school.” 

9) Florida: Writing in the Gainesville Sun, Carl Ramey starkly lays out the agenda of the school privatizers in Florida and beyond, saying they will move beyond vouchers to implement direct public funding of private schools. “Here’s how it works: a state-sanctioned entity, like Step Up For Students (an outside advocacy group), awards vouchers to eligible students for private school tuition, funded through corporate donations. The corporate participant gets a tax credit and the state suffers a corresponding loss of tax revenue. Maybe no more. Ron DeSantis, Florida’s newest governor, just like Jeb Bush years ago, is loudly proclaiming the righteousness of direct state funding of private school tuition (irrespective of religious affiliation). For now, the law signed by DeSantis this month represents a mere pittance, relative to the state’s vast education budget. Still, it’s an alarming trend. The plan is obvious. Start small, but establish the legal premise that Florida’s annual per-student budget for public schools can be regularly dipped into in order to fund private school vouchers. Then, just as lawmakers have done in recent years, continue to earmark larger and larger funds for more and more private school students.”

10) FloridaCharter schools as a real estate play. “Currently, [ESJ Capital Partners] has 23 charter and privately-owned schools within its portfolio with a value of more than $350 million, the release said. In March, ESJ sold the Renaissance Charter School at 3200 South State Road 7 in Wellington to Red Apple at Wellington LLC for $23 million.”

11) Idaho: Two Blackfoot charter schools are revamping their management structures after reported mismanagement. “Both schools are under investigation by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission for potential ‘misuse or misappropriation of assets and cash.’ The schools each receive state funding based on average daily attendance. Together, they serve about 750 students, with budgets totaling some $4.3 million. Amid its investigation into the schools’ finances, the commission outlined a range of improvements required for Blackfoot to have its charter renewed.”

12) Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has signed into law a bill to allow Prince George’s County to use ‘public-private partnerships’ to build schools

13) Michigan: Writing in Chalkbeat, Koby Levin reports on closed and inaccessible charter school board meetings. “When parents have an issue with their child’s school, there’s at least one place where they’re guaranteed a hearing on anything from school finance to student discipline: a school board meeting. Yet in Detroit, a city with an infamously troubled school landscape, dozens of charter school board meetings are hard to find or poorly attended — if they happen at all.”

14) Michigan: Democrats on the state school board have lambasted waste in Michigan’s charter sector “using a symbolic vote to raise concerns about the mishandling of federal charter school grants.” Board member Michelle Fecteau said “I don’t want to feed the beast. Not until we can provide true choices without these negative consequences.” 

15) Pennsylvania: The state legislature has taken the first steps to tighten up oversight of charter schools, but Democrats object to some provisions. “Two of the bills passed got bipartisan support. One creates new ethics requirements for charter school administrators, and another would let charter students enroll in college classes. The other two saw significant opposition from Democrats. One would make it easier for charter schools to buy or lease unused school buildings, and would boost cyber charters’ access to public school facilities for standardized tests. The other would standardize the process for charter applications and amendments.”

16) Tennessee@trekkerteach12says “My 1st teaching job was in #Nashville; the kids & my colleagues made it the best 4 yrs of my career! But I had to work 2-3 jobs just to get by & charter privatization was starting to creep in. It’s why I left. Sending #RedForEd solidarity to MNPS teachers taking a stand today!”

17) Virginia/National: The intrepid Jim Bacon of Virginia’s watchdog website and blog Bacon’s Rebellion has been homing in lately on the connection between government outsourcing and the issue of externalizing costs—the costs of outsourcing—which rarely comes through in a mediascape obsessed with “if a private contractor can do it cheaper then privatize.”  In “Dumping, Again, on the Lowest-Paid Folks” (about outsourcing the jobs of school custodians) he writes “if the government worker whose job is outsourced loses his/her health insurance, at some point, there will be a cost to the public, whether it is a hospital having to eat the cost of indigent care or Medicaid paying the cost. (…) There are also costs, albeit intangible, to the agency. Generally, a regular employee feels more invested in, and loyalty to, his/her employing agency, than does a contractor, especially those in the lower-paid ranks.” Beyond this, “dare I say it, there is an element of right and wrong here. It is not right for governments to treat its lowest-skilled and lowest-paid workers differently than it does the rest of its workforce.  As an Alexandria School Board member put it, ‘It is wrong to balance the budget on the backs of some of our lowest-paid employees.’”

18) Washington: One of the state’s first charter schools, Soar Academy in Tacoma, is to close. “The charter school announced in January that it was shutting down at the end of the school year, citing financial constraints. Jackson said Soar wasn’t operating on a deficit, but the budget forecast going forward was dire. (…) Jackson lamented how the privately run school could not tap into the local levy dollars that taxpayers approved for the public school system.”

19) Wisconsin: Milwaukee Public Schools is to conduct an internal investigation into its former partnership with a troubled charter school company. “The decision comes about a month after federal prosecutors announced bribery charges against former MPS Board President Michael Bonds, who left the board last year. Bonds was accused of accepting at least $6,000 in bribes from Philadelphia-based Universal Companies.”

20) International: Cécilia Gondard of Eurodad—the contact point for the Global PPP Manifesto Campaign—passes on news that the battle against ‘public-private partnerships’ has taken on a highly organized and combative form—Marseille contre les PPP (Marseille against PPPs). “The decision of the Mayor of Marseilles to renovate schools through PPPs has been strongly opposed by teachers, families, architects and building entrepreneurs in Marseille. They all rallied with a common objective: stopping the education PPP project. This programme would consist in destroying the existing buildings before rebuilding them. This would cost 500 million euros, to which the maintenance contract would add 500 million euros more, thus reaching 1 billion euros. With this PPP, the city of Marseille will end up paying a monthly rent to the building company. 5 big companies are competing for the contract: Vinci, Eiffage, Bouygues, NGE et Fayat.” For more check out their website.

INFRASTRUCTURE

21) National: President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are expected to meet again on infrastructure this week. The Hill seems pessimistic, and noted that during the last meeting Trump expressed opposition to ‘public-private’ partnerships as part of an agreement while Schumer supported them along with an 80%-20% federal-local government funding split. “Skeptics have questioned whether the president is genuinely interested in bipartisanship, and whether Democrats should give Trump a win on infrastructure while he stonewalls their investigations and provokes calls for impeachment from some members.”

Local government officials have been clear: they need massive federal funding for any viable infrastructure initiative to be successful. “There’s no way we can do this alone at the local level,” says Corina Lopez, the vice mayor of San Leandro, California. “We need the federal government to round out the picture and create more robust infrastructure spending.”

22) National: The Los Angeles-based engineering company AECOM (revenue for the twelve months ending March 31, 2019, $18 billionboasts that “we design, build, finance and operate critical infrastructure assets for governments.” They seem to like taxpayer dollars in payment for these services, but it seems they don’t like paying taxes.

23) National/New Jersey: Will the courts rein in corporate-friendly public utility boards? ProPublica reports on a new lawsuit brought by Stefanie Brand, New Jersey’s rate counsel, challenging a Public Utilities Board’s decision to grant a $300 million bailout of a nuclear power plant owned by PSEG. Brand “said that by ignoring its own staff experts and providing little basis for the amount of the surcharge, the board had violated the law.” Ratepayers were for the most part kept in the dark: “While the run-up to the BPU vote was marked by full-page newspaper ads and stories in local media, the only indication that customers were subsidizing PSEG’s nuclear plants was, for some, a note on the top corner of their latest bills.”

24) CaliforniaAre there P3s in San Diego parks’ future? “Going forward, the mayor is considering alternative ways to finance more park improvements, more often. In early summer, [Mayor Kevin] Faulconer (R) plans to gauge the private industry’s interest in redeveloping Inspiration Point. The effort would seek some type of public-private partnership so that the city could make money on the acreage east of Park Boulevard and west of the Navy hospital.”

25) Illinois: The seemingly never ending push for a proposed South Suburban Airport ‘public-private partnership’ is on again, though so is the inevitable opposition.

26) Michigan: State Representative Larry Inman (R-Traverse City) has been indicted by a federal grand jury for trying to sell his vote on a measure to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law. Prevailing wage agreements are often part of ‘public-private partnership’ projects.

27) Missouri: In the latest Blinders Off show, experts and activists fighting to block the privatization of Lambert Airport discuss the recent developments and the wider background of the privatization drive. Guests include Cara Spencer (Alderman of the 20th ward, St. Louis); Ray Mundy (executive director of the Airport Ground Transportation Association, Professor of Transportation Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Director of the Center for Transportation Studies); Dr. Daniel L. Rust (author and Assistant Professor of Transportation and Logistics in the School of Business and Economics, author of The Aerial Crossroads of America: St Louis’ Lambert Airport); Glenn Burleigh (activist with St. Louis Not For Sale); and Gerry Connolly (activist and watchdog). [Audio, about an hour and 20 minutes].

28) MissouriAirport privatization consultants are dodging critics as their billings grow, reports the Riverfront Times. A couple of weeks ago they backed out of a public discussion. “The Rex Sinquefield-affiliated lobbying group Grow Missouri leads the team. In the first quarter of 2019 alone, its contractors racked up more than $2.39 million in invoices, records show. And that doesn’t even include Grow Missouri’s work, just the companies and firms invoicing it. None of that is costing the taxpayer—yet. Unless a lease is approved by the city, Sinquefield pays the bills; if the airport is leased, the payments get rolled into whatever deal is approved. But while the efforts are not costing us, it’s also notable how little they’re engaging us.”

29) Pennsylvania: Having secured public control of the Philadelphia Gas Works in the face of an effort to privatize it, the city is now using that control to determine the future of the utility in the face of the reality of climate change. Had it gone into private hands such an outcome would have been highly unlikely, and it certainly would not have involved widespread public input. “The city is undertaking a study to explore a ‘just transition’ for PGW, the nation’s largest municipal utility, said Christine Knapp, the city’s director of sustainability. The study, whose budget is undetermined, will be financed under an award from the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge and is expected to be completed by the end of 2020, she said.”

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND IMMIGRATION

30) National/California: The federal government is looking to open new immigration detention facilities in California to house between 5,100 to 5,600 detainees, according to ICE solicitations. The ICE Request for Information mentions Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. The deadline for responses was May 9.

31) National/New MexicoCoreCivic will activate the 910-bed Torrance County Detention Facility under a new management contract with the county in New Mexico and Immigration and Customs Enforcement that took effect last Wednesday. The Register Citizen reports that “county officials expect the reopened prison to provide more than 200 jobs and house over 700 immigrant detainees as well as some local inmates. Under the proposed contract, the federal agency would pay the county nearly $2 million per month during the first year of prison use. The price would increase in future years.” 

32) National: A GEO Group employee in Portland is reportedly being investigated by the for-profit immigration detention company for bailing out a white nationalist. ICE, which contracts with GEO Group, directed questions to the company. “An advocacy nonprofit says the association between an ICE contractor and the Proud Boys is troubling. ‘Western States Center is concerned to learn that a Portland-based ICE contractor provided bail to a known member of a group that has used political violence to terrorize vulnerable communities and undermine democratic institutions across the Northwest,’ says Amy Herzfeld-Copple, deputy director of programs and strategic initiatives. ‘We encourage local and state officials to immediately open up investigations to ascertain if GEO Group is intentionally or unintentionally supporting violent paramilitary activity in the city of Portland.’” For more on the Proud Boys see the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Spring 2019 Intelligence Report.

33) National: CoreCivic has declared a first quarter cash dividend of $0.44 per share. With 119,068,000 shares outstanding, that comes to $52,389,920 for investors. The company is contesting a lawsuit claiming that its practice of paying as low as $1 a day to immigrant detainees amounts to illegal forced labor

34) National: U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan has struck down defenses offered by the private company that runs the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, “opening the way for the state to force The GEO Group to turn over profits to compensate immigration detainees and start to pay them minimum wage, rather than the $1 a day the company has paid up until now.”

35) National/International: In an interview, Brennan Center Senior Fellow Lauren-Brooke Eisen discusses how her research into private prison facilities in Australia and New Zealand could inform better practices in the United States. Her recent research is featured in a new epilogue of Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration. “People would also come up to me and say that they didn’t know there were private prisons in the U.S. at all. Or they didn’t realize that companies were profiting off of incarceration by privatizing some services within a prison, like charging high fees to people behind bars for things like email or video conferencing. Some people are also surprised to learn that we have outsourced most of the management of immigration detention facilities to the private sector.” 

36) National: GEO Group has raised its minimum wage for correctional and detention officers to $14 an hour after this year and $15 an hour after next year. “GEO Group has had its share of controversies, including raised eyebrows about its executive compensation packages and its safety record in other states, according to the Palm Beach Post.”

37) National: Bend the Arc says a protest at the GEO Group’s headquarters demanding “Shut down Adelanto, no more private prison contracts” is “just the beginning.” GEO Group is worried that activist protests are a threat to its bottom line.

38) Virginia: Writing in Daily Kos, DrLori takes an in-depth look at Harrisonburg, a small town in the Shenandoah Valley, and at ICE’s plans to expand its facilities there. “Harrisonburg is just one town—a complicated town with a complicated history that it has yet to reconcile—but its experience is writ large across the nation. ICE is here; ICE is expanding. No one knows why but the portent is obvious, and local officials are either complicit or too cowed to resist.”

39) Think tanks: The new Partnership for Working Families report on how state preemption/interference laws are hindering local community control on fundamental issues including minimum wages, paid sick leave and affordable housing notes that one of the strongest supporters of such a law in Tennessee, Senator Ferrell Haile (R), is a beneficiary of CoreCivic largesse. “One of Senator Haile’s top campaign contributors is CoreCivic, the second largest private prison corporation in the country, and an early participant in an ALEC task force that advanced model ‘Truth in Sentencing’ and ‘Three Strikes’ legislation.” [For All of Us, By All of Us: Challenging State Interference to Advance Gender and Racial Justice, p. 16]

Rich Templin, legislative director of the Florida AFL-CIO, asks a pertinent question: “How is it that Senators who routinely champion preemption bills, stripping control from local governments, now argue FOR local control when it comes to guns in classrooms? What am I missing?”

40) Think tanks: Brett C. Burkhardt, an associate professor of sociology in the School of Public Policy at Oregon State University, has written an article for the journal Criminology & Public Policyon the politics of correctional privatization in the United States

Burkhardt writes, “the private corrections industry has come a long way in the last 40 years. Its reach has expanded into new jurisdictions and new services. The industry has also consolidated and is now dominated by a few dominant firms. Those firms work to shape politics and policies, and in turn, they are affected by ongoing political battles. The private corrections industry is now in a somewhat precarious position. Certain social and political conditions are favorable: State and federal prison populations are enormous, detained immigrant populations are growing, the population of parolees and probationers is massive, and the current federal administration supports privatization. Yet other factors threaten the future viability of the industry: ongoing criminal justice reform, especially in the states; (slightly) declining prison populations; negative publicity related to harsh immigration policies; and continued mobilization by oppositional activists. The industry’s future success will be influenced by support from political officials, the efforts of critical social movements, and shifts in public opinion regarding privatization.”

PUBLIC SERVICES

41) National/Georgia: The much touted Sandy Springs model, in which a town privatized all of its services and functions to for-profit companies, has finally collapsed. The experiment in libertarian utopia, vigorously promoted by right wing ideologues at Koch-funded think tanks such as the Mackinac Center and the Reason Foundation, ended last week with news that the city “is bringing most of those services in-house in a dramatic shift.” Eating crow after years of failed promises that privatization would save taxpayers money, “the city cited rising costs of service and estimated more than $14 million in savings over five years by taking most government services public.” 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports “On July 1, services including public works, community development, information technology, finance, economic development, communications, facilities and Performing Arts Center operations will be handled by city employees, the city said. On Aug. 15, recreation and parks and municipal court contracts will be terminated.”

42) National: As the debate on national healthcare resumes in Congress with the House Rules Committee holding a hearing on Medicare for All [Video, about 6 hours], Tim Schlittner, co-host of the AFL-CIO’s State of the Unions podcast interviews Bonnie Castillo of National Nurses United. Castillo talks about getting the profit motive out of healthcare, the growing corporatization of healthcare, and much more. [Audio, about a half hour]

43) Pennsylvania: Focusing on the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP), Paul Tucker of The Union News says “transit system privatization could hurt residents and the unionized work-force.”

OTHER

44) California: Hundreds of residents packed a public meeting “to hear community leaders rail against a huge new logistics center planned for the town’s airport. (…) At the San Bernardino gathering, leaders of community, labor and environmental organizations did not advocate scrapping the airport development altogether. But new logistics facilities, they argued, should come with ‘community benefits agreements’ guaranteeing well-paid, stable jobs and measures limiting air pollution, including air filters and soundproofing for schools and residences. Unions want the new employer, whoever it may be, to allow them to organize workers.”