Here’s our weekly analysis of privatization in the news and in communities nationwide. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
This week’s highlights
- As expected, charter school interests are pouring millions of dollars into Los Angeles school board elections.
- The right wing is fighting against local hire regulations in Virginia that mandate serving communities of color.
- How much does it cost to read in prison? In West Virginia, it’s five cents a minute.
1) National: Ballotpedia has published information about the positions of the 2020 presidential candidates on charter schools and voucher programs.
2) National: Steve Suitts, the author of “Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement,” says “School Vouchers Are Just Code for ‘Segregation Forever.’” Writing in the Daily Beast, he says “their advocates claim that vouchers and ‘school choice’ constitute a civil right, a social justice issue. In fact, the call for ‘school choice’ today echoes the language of Southern segregationists who called for ‘freedom of choice’ to evade school desegregation. And today’s advocates employ many of the same arguments and tactics, including vouchers, that were the prime strategies of segregationists in their attempts to overthrow the Brown decision.”
3) National: Planet Bloomberg seems to be cottoning on to the fiscal and educational disaster that school vouchers have become, not least because they pose a threat to charter schools, which Michael Bloomberg has promoted. Writing in Bloomberg Opinion, Andrea Gabor, the Michael R. Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch, takes aim at Trump’s plan to vastly expand federal school voucher spending. “Congress could ignore many of the education budget proposals as it has in recent years. But DeVos’ voucher strategy could get a boost from the Supreme Court, which just heard a case challenging a Montana Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a tax-credit scholarship program because the credits would be used at religious schools. If the Supreme Court greenlights the use of such voucher-like vehicles to pay for religious schools, it would devastate public-education funding.”
4) Arizona: A third administrator at a now-shut metro Phoenix charter school “has pleaded guilty in a fake enrollment scheme that bilked the state out more than $2 million, authorities said Thursday. (…) They were accused of creating false student profiles and submitting them to the state to collect additional funding as the school’s enrollment plummeted. According to the AG’s office, they reported about 190 fake students to the Arizona Department of Education in 2016-17 and about 450 phony accounts the following year. The school abruptly closed in January 2018, citing financial woes, before the education department was to conduct a random audit.”
5) California: Bill Raden of Capital and Main reports that charter school interests are pouring millions into Los Angeles school board elections. “A flood of outside privatization money has put March 3’s Super Tuesday election on target to smash LAUSD’s 2017 record as the nation’s priciest school board primary ever. At last count, Laundromat tycoon Bill Bloomfield and the Reed Hastings- and Jim and Alice Walton-bankrolled Charter Public Schools PAC have poured in nearly $6.4 million to stop L.A. teachers from returning to office three pro-public school progressives—George McKenna (Board District 1), Scott Schmerelson (BD 3) and Jackie Goldberg (BD 5)—and electing an education justice veteran to fill the sole open seat in BD 7, LAUSD parent and Reclaim Our Schools L.A. co-founder Patricia Castellanos.”
6) California/National: Writing in EdSource, Louis Freedberg reports that Democratic presidential primary candidate Michael Bloomberg has invested heavily in promoting charter schools in California. “His support of charter schools could present a stumbling block in his ability to attract support from labor unions in his presidential campaign — most especially teachers’ unions which in states like California represent a powerful element of Democratic activism in terms of money and on-the-ground organizing. It is also not an issue Bloomberg gives any indication that he will try to avoid.”
7) Florida: Sun Sentinel opinion columnist Randy Schultz looks at how election year politics are affecting the battle over vouchers going to discriminatory schools. “No one, though, can dispute the reporting. Almost one-fifth of the roughly 106,000 voucher students attend schools that discriminate. Those students accept roughly $130 million worth of vouchers. So why won’t the Legislature even hear bills that would require voucher schools to end anti-LGBTQ policies? Several reasons present themselves. (…) Perhaps, however, Republicans also believe that voucher schools could help deliver Florida to President Trump.”
8) Illinois: Glenbrook High School District 225 is facing a whopping increase in school bus charges from First Student. “The initial bid from First Student had a 69% increase for its services, but the district negotiated it to the current 41.9%, receiving a discount in part because the district also uses the bus company for travel to activities and athletic events, Gravel said.” Would they be better off running their own bus service?
9) Indiana: In an editorial, the Journal Gazette demands action from lawmakers for the “breathtaking violation of the public trust” by charter schools, revealed in a report by the State Board of Accounts last week. “State auditors found public funds misappropriated through “malfeasance, misfeasance, and/or nonfeasance.” The complexity of the scam required a diagram to lay out ties among Stoughton, other charter officials and 14 private companies that shared in ill-gotten school funds – almost $69 million. (…) None of that appears to matter to Bosma and other legislators, who have been rewarded for their support of school choice by generous campaign contributions.”
10) Massachusetts: A state education board is imposing tough conditions on the beleaguered City on a Hill Charter School. “Riley laid out eight terms of probation that City on a Hill must follow within two years if it wants to avoid suspension or revocation of its charter. DESE will vote on probation next week. Some of those conditions include creating a reserve account for expenses, giving weekly enrollment updates to DESE, improving academic performance and MCAS results, and temporarily limiting enrollment to 350 students before getting the green light to enroll the full 400.”
The Boston Globe reports that “a state review conducted as part of the licensing-renewal process for the original Roxbury school describes a charter school network in deep turmoil as it has confronted years of unstable leadership at the highest levels. In the past three years alone, 20 trustees have left the board, while the overall number of board members has dwindled from 15 to eight. And since 2014, the charter network has had four different chief executives.”
11) Minnesota: A battle is shaping up over a proposed amendment to the state constitution allegedly directed at improving education and narrowing the education gap in the state. A prominent supporter of the drive is Neel Kashkari, the current president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. Kashkari, a former Goldman Sachs banker, ran as a Republican candidate for governor in California in 2014. “Education Minnesota, the teachers union, opposes the amendment idea, seeing it as a back door to private school vouchers and an advantage for those parents who can hire lawyers. But the proposal is uniting an unusual coalition of diverse ethnic, occupational and public interest groups. (…) Others are not so enamored. Some education researchers claim the language on standards set by the state in the constitution would reduce public education improvement efforts to focus only on test scores. Others worry that it will actually create more segregation in Minnesota schools as court rulings take over legislative power in this area.”
12) New Hampshire: Republican State Senator Jeb Bradley has introduced a bill to allow the state to accept federal money for charter schools. State Sen. Dan Feltes (D-Concord) “said SB 747 is an effort to try to appear pro-education in an election year, but said it focuses on increasing the number of charter schools, not supporting existing charter schools. ‘That’s a costly, long-term commitment when we have declining student enrollment statewide. President Trump is already defunding this grant, and New Hampshire taxpayers will be left holding the bag. We need to put our taxpayers, our kids, and our existing charter schools in New Hampshire first — not Gov. Sununu’s political agenda.’”
In a letter to the editor of the Concord Monitor, Maureen Ellermann says, “Instead of focusing our attention on creating separate schools for individual students, why don’t we begin to celebrate and honor the work that’s being done in existing schools by educators and administrators? Why don’t we start supporting those people who work with our children every day? Why don’t we give them the funds and tools they need to ensure our children’s success in their futures? Let’s give all kids the opportunity to perform and shine in whatever course of study they choose.”
13) North Carolina: When a private contractor working for a public agency takes a survey of the views of parents on a high school, who owns the comments? “The comments that more than 3,100 parents made about the Wake County school system’s controversial high school math curriculum may not be released to the public. MGT Consulting Group collected the parental comments as part of a third-party review of the Wake school system’s use of the MVP Math Curriculum. School officials say that the individual parental surveys are not public records, but they’ve asked MGT if they’d be willing to release the documents. Still, it’s unclear whether the surveys will be made public. The parents who took the surveys were told their responses would be kept confidential, according to Simmie Raiford, MGT’s vice president of Pre-K to 12 education.”
14) Ohio: In a letter to the editor of the Toledo Blade, Kevin Dalton, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, denounces Trump’s plan to dump $5 billion into voucher programs and calls on lawmakers to take a stand. “Because of legislative infighting, we still have no resolution to the impending expansion of EdChoice vouchers that will devastate funding for Toledo Public Schools and other districts across Ohio,” Dalton writes. “It’s time for the supermajority in the legislature to decide which side they’re on. Do they stand with Mr. Trump, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and school privatization lobbyists? Or do they stand with the overwhelming majority of Ohio public school students and parents?” The Cincinnati Enquirer has produced this explainer on Ohio vouchers.
15) Virginia/National: Democratic control of the statehouse could mean Virginia public school teachers get collective bargaining rights, “signaling a historic shift for the state and a major victory for labor advocates nationwide.” The Washington Post says “the legislation would have national resonance, said Joseph E. Slater, a University of Toledo professor who specializes in labor and employment law. He said Virginia has for decades served as ‘America’s poster child, along with the two Carolinas,’ for hostility to public-sector labor rights. ‘There is supremely important symbolic weight here,’ he said. The bill ‘would lift the spirits of labor in the United States.’” The VEA says, however, that before the law could be implemented “a lot of groundwork would have to be laid.”
16) National: The Department of Homeland Security is to waive contracting regulations to speed up border wall construction. “Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, was quick to criticize the move. ‘President Trump broke his promise to make Mexico pay for the wall,’ Thompson said in a statement. ‘Now he’s not only sticking the American people with the bill, but also waiving procurement laws meant to protect taxpayers from government waste, fraud and abuse. His cronies are likely to be the beneficiaries, while we are left overpaying for border wall that doesn’t work or, as we saw recently, literally falls over.’”
17) Florida: Interesting bits of the backstory to the failed effort to privatize Jacksonville’s electric utility continue to spill out, many courtesy of Nate Monroe. It seems the privatizers were deathly afraid of the media and public finding out about their machinations, so they crafted a crisis management plan to conceal the details. “A communications plan crafted by JEA consultants in early August warned that an ‘already skeptical community,’ local media, an ‘easily influenced group of elected officials’ and ‘potentially ruthless bidders’ could derail the privatization process. There was ‘no doubt,’ the crisis communications plan said, that privatization was ‘the only viable next step for JEA.’ ‘Although we can’t know exactly how or if any of these stakeholders will become a problem, crisis management planning begins long before an issue arises.’ The written communications plan gives lie to an argument—one increasingly leaned on by JEA executives—that privatization was merely one option of several the utility was considering, and not their preferred outcome.”
The story continues. Three JEA bidders—NextEra Energy, Duke Energy and American Water Works—are suing to keep secret the dollar amounts of their offers to JEA. JEA wants to release the information, and “three other bidders that were still in the running when the sales process ended have not objected to JEA releasing the dollar amounts of their responses. Of those firms, Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets submitted the biggest offer at $9 billion for JEA’s electric, water and wastewater operations.” Florida Circuit Court Judge Virginia Norton will hear the lawsuit.
18) New York: There is bipartisan backing for a state bill to establish a public water authority for Long Island’s North Shore. “‘For too long, residents of Long Island have been kept in a vise-like grip by New York American Water,’ Montesano said in a news release. ‘This is the first step in relieving those who have had costly and unfair charges imposed upon them by American Water.’ Gaughran said that Montesano’s involvement was significant. ‘I’m glad that Assemblyman Montesano is joining in this effort,’ Gaughran said, ‘and I think that will be very important in having this passed.’ If the bill passes the Senate and Assembly, it will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If Cuomo signs it, Gaughran said, the new water authority will purchase New York American Water’s infrastructure and hire its own workforce. The authority could contract with surrounding water authorities until that process is completed.”
19) Virginia: The right wing is fighting against local hire regulations that mandate serving communities of color. Hans Bader, a long time opponent of affirmative action, has worked for organizations such as the Center for Individual Rights and the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, and promoted California’s ban on affirmative action. He has also worked as an attorney in education secretary Betsy DeVos’ general counsel’s office at DOE. He is now writing panicky articles about progressive new legislations that Virginia Democratic lawmakers are bringing in.
Criminal Justice and Immigration
20) National: CoreCivic has declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.44 per share. With 119.1 million shares outstanding, this amounts to a quarterly payout of $52 million.
21) California/National: Community activists in McFarland won a major victory last week when the city’s planning commission vetoed a proposal to convert two state prisons slated for closure into detention centers for undocumented immigrants, operated by the GEO Group under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “If the residents don’t want them because of their fear of ICE or whatever, the city belongs to the residents,” said the mayor. ““An ICE detention center, that would bring fear to our community. We might have to leave,” said Ms. Ramirez, who helped organize the opposition in McFarland. “Ms. Ramirez, in tears, said, ‘I’m happy for my people.’”
GEO Group will likely appeal the planning commission decision. “Faith in the Valley Community Organizer Alex Gonzalez, who was in McFarland on Tuesday, said McFarland residents would be ready to push back against GEO if called upon to do so again. ‘The community is organized and the community is ready to speak out,’ he said. ‘The community made their voices heard. The community made it clear that they are united and they are organized against institutions that profit off of human lives.’”
Meanwhile, city planners in the Mojave Desert gave permission for the expansion of one of the country’s largest immigration detention centers, the GEO Group’s Adelanto ICE Processing Center. “During more than three hours of public testimony, immigrant advocates from across the state criticized the facility’s track record of delayed medical care and deaths, while GEO employees highlighted the more than 600 jobs and financial contributions the company currently provides to the city.”
22) Colorado/National: A former detainee is suing GEO Group, which operates and manages the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Aurora, for failing to provide him with adequate medical attention. “Lima-Marin said he told a guard immediately that he needed medical attention, but he said that didn’t happen for more than an hour. ‘The pain is ridiculous,’ he said, describing his wait. ‘I’m sweating, I’m shaking.’ Eventually, he explained, staff took Lima-Marin to the hospital, where a UCHealth emergency room physician determined he had fractured multiple bones in his face and would need surgery within a week to avoid permanent impairment. Yet Lima-Marin never got that procedure because he said ICE never brought him back to the hospital, nor did they give him the strong pain meds he was prescribed. ‘They gave me some other medication that was nowhere near what I needed,’ Lima-Marin said. ‘I was in constant pain.’”
23) Ohio/National: A Mexican man in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has died of a suspected suicide at the CoreCivic-owned Northeast Ohio Correctional Center. “The [Buzzfeed] story said the death is the seventh in ICE custody in the current fiscal year, which began in October, and that it happened as the agency is scrutinized over complaints that it does not provide adequate medical care to those in its custody. The scrutiny comes as President Donald Trump’s administration continues arresting large numbers of people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.” The victim’s removal case has been pending for over five years.
24) Massachusetts: Harvard students are suing the university over its investments in private, for-profit prison corporations. “Jarrett Drake, a plaintiff in the case, described the ‘prison-industrial complex’ to CNN as the mixture of overlapping interests between the government, prisons, police, and corporations in ‘keeping bodies confined and controlled.’” The students contend in the lawsuit that the money “funds the opulent lifestyles of Harvard’s top administrators who are prison profiteers.”
25) West Virginia: How much does it cost to read in prison? In West Virginia, it’s five cents a minute. That’s $3.00. “Oh, and the average wage for a WV prisoner is 30 cents an hour.”
26) International: A scandal-ridden prison once run by G4S has been handed over to Serco to operate by the British Home Office. “The eight-year deal was announced on the day that a National Audit Office report said the department had a record of facing ‘delivery and coordination challenges’ when it relied on other government bodies, law enforcement agencies and private sector contractors to deliver services.”
27) National: Black men with prostate cancer are twice as likely to die as white men. Except those with VA health care. In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler reports “I’m sure there are plenty of smart VA policies, but there’s one glaring difference between VA care and the profit-driven private health insurance industry. VA care is public. It provides the same care to all eligible veterans, regardless of income. In fact, VA care outperforms private insurance by nearly every measure. Lower death rates after surgery? Check. Better outcomes treating heart ailments and pneumonia? Check. Shorter wait times? Check.”
28) National: In a backgrounder on the issue, the Society of Environmental Journalists says weather data privatization poses conflicts in a changing meteorology landscape. “Should private businesses profit from data gathered via taxpayer-funded satellites? Some private companies think so, and use what others see as a distorted and misleading free-market mantra to justify it.
The weather privatization movement has been tightly linked with some bastions of conservative free-market ideology (like the Competitive Enterprise Institute). But it has also been rooted in the fertile soil of companies who stand to make money off of the deal. Private weather companies are a thing.”
29) National: “Privatization has ushered in mold, mismanagement and worse,” a New York Times op-ed writer says in a report on military housing. “Fast forward to now,” writes Frances Tilney Burke. “The reality is that privatization hasn’t lived up to expectations. One of these private companies, Corvias, is currently embroiled in a large lawsuit waged by 10 families in Fort Meade, Md., who report horror stories of open sewage, pervasive mold, lead-based paint, unresolved repair issues, and the secondary effects of subpar housing conditions on the health of their children. Such complaints are replicated across many military installations. (…) Privatized military housing needs to be remedied, and so, too, does the department’s oversight of housing for its most precious commodity: service members.”
30) Michigan: A Hillsdale resident is demanding that the city council refuse Waste Management’s insistence on a rate rise in the middle of its contract with the city. “Why are we even entertaining the idea? The responsible and common sense thing to do would be to tell Waste Management with an upfront and resounding “NO!” We should consider another trash hauler if Waste Management cannot honor its agreement. It was originally reported by The Monroe News that Stevens Disposal had the lowest bid in 2018, but a majority of city council elected Waste Management instead. Now Waste Management wants more. This doesn’t seem fair to the taxpayers—or the other companies that provided bids in 2018.”
31) Texas: The Austin City Council may have to call a special meeting this week to deal with the thorny question of what to do with its trash. Last week the council did not approve an emergency extension of the contract with Waste Management. “At the council meeting, several people spoke out against a contract extension with the company they claim has been a bad neighbor. ‘We urge you to stand with us and forbid any City of Austin facility discards from going to this problem landfill,’ said Robin Schneider of Texas Campaign for the Environment. ‘We want to make it clear that this city does not do business with bad actors.’”
“People who don’t have the opportunity to live in the ‘highest opportunity’ parts of town are still having to deal with the whole city’s trash,” Council member Natasha Harper-Madison said, referencing years of complaints from Northeast Austin neighbors about the site. “I know we have to put our trash somewhere, but we can do it in a way that doesn’t compromise people’s health and wellness and quality of life.”
32) National: Are federal waters going to be privatized for fish farming? “The prospective demonstration farm from Hawaii-based Ocean Era has engendered strong opposition from local residents and environmental groups, who worry that setting a chain-link mesh pen in open water 45 miles southwest of Sarasota would upset the ecosystem and establish a precedent of privatizing federal waters, paving the way for more farms. Private oyster farming has helped the Chesapeake Bay. Not everyone is happy about the practice. ‘The problem is not so much the one farm, but what about 10 or 15 farms? That’s a lot of extra pollution to put into the gulf,’ says Neal Schleifer, a 40-year resident of Siesta Key who opposes the farm. ‘The permitting here is for pollution discharge. Our area is particularly sensitive and prone to red tide blooms. Our largest industry is tourism. Is it worth that risk?’”
33) Oregon/Montana/North Dakota: Lack of public regulation of private corporations over the disposal of toxic fracking waste “is now a national scale controversy,” Weather.com reports. “In the last three years, 2 million pounds of radioactive fracking waste has been exported from North Dakota into Oregon and then illegally buried in a landfill in Arlington. (…) It started with a tip from North Dakota. Oilfield Waste Logistics of Culbertson, Montana, needed to dispose of their radioactive toxic waste from Bakken oil field and proposed doing so to Chemical Waste Management, a landfill operator in Oregon. Between 2016 and September 2019, nearly 2 million pounds of radioactive waste—highly contaminated filters, tank sludge and slurry from drilling pipes—were transported to Oregon on unmarked railcars and buried in Arlington, the Oregonian reported. Here’s where things started getting gnarly.”
34) Washington: The state has banned new permits for water bottling operations, calling process detrimental to public welfare. “The move was hailed by water campaigners, who declared it a breakthrough moment in the fight against the privatization of such a valuable public asset. ‘Washington State is carving the path towards a groundbreaking solution,’ said Mary Grant, the director of Food & Water Action’s public water for all campaign, in a statement. ‘This legislation … would ban one of the worst corporate water abuses—the extraction of local water supplies in plastic bottles shipped out of watersheds and around the country.’”
35) Revolving Door News: The Revolving Door Project, in partnership with the Demand Progress Education Fund, has just launched a new website—the Agency Spotlight—that makes it easier than ever to keep abreast of the revolving door situation at Independent federal agencies.
36) Upcoming Meeting: “NeoLEAPeralism: History of Anti-Privatization in El Salvador,” Hosted by CISPES-Los Angeles Chapter, February 29 at 3pm.
Governing for the Common Good
37) California: The Los Angeles City Council has moved to ban wild and exotic animals at house parties. “Ryu’s push for restrictions like those in the ordinance began with a motion he introduced back in 2016. ‘This is an important step forward for Los Angeles, for animal welfare,’ he said this week. ‘It is something that I hope that we will see carried across our nation.’”