Virginia privatized bus drivers vote to strike against French multinational corporation

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

Education

1) National/Michigan: Jennifer Berkshire asks “Will Trump lose Michigan because of Betsy DeVos?” She says “in the three years since Trump turned Michigan red, education has emerged as a potent political issue in the state, thanks to a steady stream of grim studies and embarrassing news stories. Between 2003 and 2015, the state ranked last out of all.” Trump’s relationship with DeVos, his pro-privatization education secretary, “could backfire on Trump not only in Michigan’s suburbs, but also in rural areas, where the GOP’s education policies have even less to offer voters. There, the local schools are foundational community institutions, and the conservative push to privatize public services has transferred bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers, and even some coaches on to the payroll of private contractors that pay less than the state does while providing fewer benefits. ‘When you’ve gutted all of the insurance for these jobs, they’re not that attractive,’ said Keith Smith, the superintendent of schools in rural Kingsley, Michigan. Cuts have forced school districts like his to ax ‘extras, such as music, counseling, and the vocational programs that prepare students to work in skilled trades.’” [Sub required]

2) National: Michael Bloomberg, the former New York Mayor who has a fortune estimated at $53.4 billion, is considering throwing his hat into the Democratic presidential ring, according to The New York Times. Bloomberg has been an ardent supporter of high stakes testing and charter schools, and if he runs he is sure to encounter fierce opposition from public education supporters. His echo chamber has already hit the ground running (pardon the mixed metaphor), complete with disclaimers.

3) National: Jeff Bryant reports that investigations have unearthed “systemic corruption in K-12 school leadership.” Writing in The Progressive, Bryant says “a recent series of investigative articles I reported for Our Schools, an education project of the Independent Media Institute, found numerous instances of school purchases and personnel being steered toward decisions that rewarded opportunistic leaders and well-connected companies rather than students and teachers. And even though a number of such exposés suggest systemic corruption, media accounts generally frame these scandals as singular examples of corrupt behavior.” 

4) National: The Network for Public Education has produced a very useful explainer on school privatization. Topics include “Are charter schools truly public schools?” “Are charter schools ‘more accountable’ than public schools?” “Are online charter schools good options for families?” and “Are tax credit scholarships a voucher by a different name?”

5) CaliforniaAFSCME President Lee Saunders has applauded the Democratic National Committee for withdrawing from holding December’s Democratic debate at UCLA. “The DNC heard our concerns about the ongoing violations of state law and labor contracts by the UC system in its effort to outsource jobs normally performed by UC workers to low-wage contractors,” Saunders said. “The university system continues to accelerate its secretive outsourcing campaign without notifying the custodial, food service and transportation services workers and nursing assistants, among others who are affected.”

6) California: The State Auditor has sharply criticized the legislature and State Board of Education for failing to ensure that billions of dollars have been spent on low-income children and other students targeted for additional state money. “In a statement, Bill Lucia, president of the nonprofit organization EdVoice, said Howle’s report ‘should be a wakeup call to all the politicians in Sacramento who say they care about closing achievement gaps. This audit uncovered serious control deficiencies lawmakers need to address immediately.’” 

7) Colorado: In a big win for Denver Public Schools and the teachers, parents and students served by them, Denver voters rejected “the portfolio model of school management [last] Tuesday. Candidates endorsed by the teachers union were the victors and the ‘corporate school reform’ candidates lost.” Tom Ultican writes, “obviously, the Denver voters have seen through the corporate smoke and mirrors and are calling for a change. No more closing schools in a poor community because they have low test scores. Instead, help those schools and their educators. No more bringing in unqualified Teach For America corps member and pretending that they are ready to lead classrooms. No more following the dictates of the American Legislative Exchange Council and removing public schools from the purview of the elected school board. No more pretending that politicians and businessmen know better how to run schools than trained experienced educators.”

Kaplan for Kids says, “reform candidates lost by margins of 2-1 in all three races. WOW. Just WOW. (…) And so here we are. Ten years after the DPS transformers won only to lose, 6 years after a 6-1 board, four years after a 7-0 (!) board Denver has fought outside money and national reform voodoo reform to become a 5-2 board, we have battled our way back to a board for teachers, students, strong neighborhood schools and equity for all. We have won the fight against the privatization of public education. It is truly amazing.”

The February Denver teachers’ strike played a role in building momentum for the victory. “Strikes ‘are transformative because they compel conversations that would never normally happen,’ said Wendy Howell, deputy director of the Colorado Working Families Party, which supported the strike and two of the three union-backed school board candidates. ‘The power of those conversations outweighs any [campaign] mailer.’”

8) Iowa: Shelton Stromquist, a professor of history emeritus at the University of Iowa, says “on the face of it, the ‘public-private partnerships’ advocated by University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld may seem innocuous. But the phrase is a smoke screen for a broad attack on the fundamental character of public higher education. It also provides cover for the abject failure of Harreld and the state Board of Regents to effectively advocate for increased state support from their conservative colleagues in the Legislature for Iowa’s flagship higher education institutions. The trend is clearly signaled in the university’s plan to privatize its power plant. It is evident in subtle and not so subtle invasions of the university’s public spaces—such as the plaza outside the Main Library—very recently by corporations like Nintendo or clothing distributors seeking to hawk their wares and ensure student consumers. In his recent speech to the Iowa City Rotary Club Harreld hinted at more to come. ‘There could be more such partnerships between the UI and private companies … we’re looking at doing something similar to this in a number of areas.’” 

9) Kentucky: Charter school and voucher champion Matt Bevin (R) goes down to defeat by Democrat Andy Beshear in the gubernatorial race. “But it’s also wrong to assume Bevin’s loss was just about him,” says Vox. “His defeat was a defeat for some of the core issues in the Republican Party. Bevin is politically toxic because for four years he aggressively pushed a pretty standard conservative agenda. He signed laws to mandate ultrasounds and require that health care providers show patients pictures of fetuses before performing an abortion. The state passed conservative labor laws, including a ‘right to work’ policy to undercut unions, and repealed the prevailing wage, which guaranteed public works employees base salaries. Bevin allowed charter schools to come to Kentucky while proposing cuts to public schools.”

Diane Ravitch writes, “this story in the Washington Post makes clear that Republican Governor Matt Bevin lost because of his mean-spirited attacks on teachers, who are respected members of their communities. It was no accident that Bevin’s Democratic opponent Andy Beshear selected a teacher as his running mate.”

10) New Hampshire: “Betsy DeVos is using the federal Charter Schools Program as her personal slush fund. She recently dumped $46 million into New Hampshire in hopes of doubling the number of charters schools in that small state,” writes Diane Ravitch. “The Governor Chris Sununu is a rightwing school choice zealot. The State Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut homeschooled his children and is eager to eliminate public schools. The legislature was captured by Democrats in 2018. Time to stop the privatization of public money now!” 

11) North CarolinaLt. Gov. Dan Forest is making a school voucher plan a centerpiece of his campaign for governor in 2020. “Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has criticized the voucher program and called in his budget proposal not to provide any new funding. Cooper’s campaign accused Forest of disregarding raising teacher pay in his plan. ‘Dan Forest’s new plan is essentially a roundup of his empty rhetoric on education; it fails to address meaningful reforms to support students and pay teachers what they deserve,’ Liz Doherty, a spokeswoman for Cooper’s campaign, said in a statement Thursday. ‘Instead, it proposes underfunding and robbing our schools to pay for private school vouchers. It’s not surprising given this is the same man who, when pressed about teacher pay, shrugged his shoulders and insisted no one is ‘forcing’ teachers to take these jobs.’” 

12) OhioLeBron James is stepping up again to help disadvantaged students and their families succeed at school. “The Los Angeles Lakers star and his LeBron James Family Foundation announced the opening of I Promise Village, an apartment complex that will provide transitional housing for families with students experiencing unforeseen challenges in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. The village is in conjunction with his I Promise School, which opened in July 2018.” The Chicago Teachers Union says “LeBron is creating transitional housing to help families dealing with homelessness, domestic violence and other immediate unforeseen circumstances. Chicago is creating Lincoln Yards as a playground for the wealthy.”

13) Oklahoma: Lawrence Baines of the University of Oklahoma and Jim Machell of the University of Central Oklahoma have raised a warning flag about state lawmakers’ plans to expand unregulated charter schools and vouchers in the state. “Historically, Oklahoma legislators have been careful with taxpayers’ money. Most voters will not respond favorably if their tax money goes to private jets, expensive vacations, jewelry and mansions for millionaires rather than for the education of children of the hardworking citizens of the state. States that have been lured into the financial abyss of unregulated charter schools and school vouchers have opened a Pandora’s Box. Once opened, it will be difficult, if not impossible to close.” 

14) Pennsylvania: Public education scored a big win in Philadelphia last week when Working Families Party-endorsed candidate Kendra Brooks captured a seat on the city council. Jennifer Berkshire says “Her activism started when her neighborhood school was slated for takeover by a charter school chain. Her city council campaign was an inspiration!” Brooks helped found the Our City Our Schools Coalition.

15) Revolving door newsControversial former Indiana state school superintendent Tony Bennett has landed a gig at K12 Inc. as Senior Vice President, Academics and External Relations.

Infrastructure

16) National: The Economist has set the scene for upcoming battles over the future of PG&E. “PG&E’s management is backed by big funds (notably Abrams, Redwood and Knighthead) that hold just over half its shares. Its restructuring plan favours current shareholders. It proposes raising both new debt and equity. A rival bid by bondholders (among them big asset managers such as Elliott, Apollo and PIMCO) would virtually wipe out current equity. This scheme appeals to fire victims, for it offers them more compensation than the management’s plan. Bondholders appeared to have the upper hand. Then the politicians waded in. On November 4th the mayors of Oakland, San Jose and other municipalities said they want to buy PG&E and turn it into a co-operative. They are pushing Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, and state regulators to back their proposal.”

17) National: The massive impact that the climate crisis is having on infrastructure is sure to raise public-private issues across the country as it has in California with the debate over PG&E. States in the Midwest are being hard hit as well. Inside Climate News and newsrooms across the Midwest just published this joint project exploring what communities are doing to prepare for what’s ahead. The stories come from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Minnesota, states where everything from ice fishing to growing seasons are at risk.

18) National: Mike Garrity of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies says the Bureau of Land Management and the Nature Conservancy are cooperating on the privatization of public land. “The BLM, ranchers, and The Nature Conservancy apparently believe the best use of our public lands is to produce more and more cattle. Trees don’t produce cattle so they need to be cut. Cattle don’t eat sagebrush so it needs to be burned. Deer and elk eat grass that could be consumed by cattle so let’s get rid of the trees that provide critical hiding and thermal cover to reduce the grazing competition from native deer and elk.” The Nature Conservancy is standing by its effort. “Working together with public agencies that control more than 85% of these lands—and private landowners, nonprofits, companies and policymakers—we can develop strategies to restore our expansive, irreplaceable landscapes to a healthier condition for wildlife and for people.”

19) CaliforniaGreg Palast calls for a “hostile takeover” of PG&E by the public. “It’s been done before, in New York. For decades, Long Island Lighting Co., LILCO, like PG&E, left millions of its customers in the dark, endangered their safety and emptied their pockets with monstrously high electric bills. Then, in 1998, the customers seized ownership of the renegade utility—at low cost, below its book value.”

20) California: A rally was held at Mosswood Park in Oakland “against the privatization of the Port of Oakland, against charters and privatization of education and in unity with the workers in Chile, Mexico and Palestine.” Speakers from ILWU Local 10, CWA, OEA and LACLAA Sacramento addressed the rally. [Video, about an hour and 40 minutes]

21) FloridaIs JEA even allowed to sell itself? city council members ask about Jacksonville’s public utility. “During the council’s first workshop to examine the privatization process, Council member Randy DeFoor pushed General Counsel Jason Gabriel on whether the procurement systems allowed JEA to pursue a sale. ‘I have never seen a procurement process used to sell oneself,’ said DeFoor, who is national agency counsel with Fidelity National Title Group. ‘Can you explain to me how that’s possible, legally?’ An incredulous Gabriel responded: ‘I mean, I don’t know how to help you with that basic understanding of the law. They can certainly use the procurement process to sell themselves.’ Before working at Fidelity, DeFoor was senior corporate counsel at real estate investment trust Regency Centers Corp., where she created the legal department. Other council members echoed her concerns, including Matt Carlucci, who asked if the City Council has the authority to ‘pull the plug’ on the entire process. ‘It’s so off track, and the trust level is so low,’ said Carlucci.” [Sub required]

After 18 months of researching JEA privatization, the Civic Council has found JEA is not in a death spiral; the urgency to privatize is “nonexistent”; and JEA’s privatization process lacks transparency. Also, see this Q&A.

22) Missouri: Critics of proposals to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport believe they are close to having enough signatures to force a public vote on any potential lease. “On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Josie Grillas and Chris Ottolino of STL Not for Sale said they are now working with the union-rights organization Jobs with Justice. The groups are working together to analyze the petitions they’ve gathered and see how close they are to ensuring they have enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot.” The city has released information as to who the deep-pocketed corporate bidders are.

Meanwhile, a controversy has broken out over a documentary about the project. “For most of its 90-minute run-time, the documentary Hard Landing At Lambert tells the dramatic tale of how St. Louis City bulldozed thousands of homes in Bridgeton subdivision in the early 2000s in order to build a billion-dollar runway for Lambert International Airport. But the film, released last week in three parts on YouTube, has been met with concern and dismay by city and airport officials, who on Thursday interrogated the film’s executive producer Travis Brown during a meeting of the Airport Advisory Working Group—the same group on which Brown serves as a lead consultant on the subject of privatizing Lambert. Brown is now facing accusations of conflict of interest and circumventing his duties as a project leader for a process city officials often neutrally describe as an ‘exploration’ of privatization. And Brown isn’t just some hired marketing help: He’s the chief lobbyist for billionaire financier Rex Sinquefield and the founder of the Sinquefield-funded nonprofit Grow Missouri, a group that itself serves as the linchpin in a deeply strange arrangement in which Sinquefield pays the city’s consultants to ‘explore’ privatization.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the documentary inadvertently makes the case against the current privatization process. “That tyranny is being repeated today in the very process that Brown and Sinquefield are pushing. Top elected leaders, beholden to Sinquefield for generous campaign donations, are trying to impose yet another potentially disastrous decision on the region while denying voters a say in the privatization of the city’s most valuable asset. By giving voice to those who were wronged in the past, Brown inadvertently makes an excellent case for taking this process away from the mayor and Board of Aldermen and, instead, letting the people decide.”

23) Nevada: Daniel Rothberg of the Nevada Independent reports that “for years, a public water district blurred the line between business and government—with a developer’s brothel workers at the helm.” 

24) Ohio: The proposed privatization of St. Clairsville’s water and wastewater facilities is to be decided upon next Monday by the city council. Council Members Beth Oprisch and Mike Smith have reiterated their opposition to privatizing the city’s water at this time, saying all options have not been explored.

25) International: Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced that the provincial moratorium on new permits to bottle water may expire on January 1, 2020, opening the tap for multinationals like Nestlé. “This decision directly conflicts with the two-thirds of Ontario residents who support phasing out all permits to take water for bottling.” Mike Balkwill, the campaign director of Wellington Water Watchers, says that “at a minimum, the Ford government should extend the moratorium on new permits, put renewal of Nestlé’s existing permits on hold, and conduct a full environmental assessment of Nestlé’s operations in Wellington County. More than that, the government should order a comprehensive public review of the entire bottled water industry in Ontario. Water must remain a public trust.”

Criminal Justice and Immigration

26) National: The private, for-profit prison companies have formed a new PR alliance and hired as its spokesperson the former head of a pro-Trump attack group, Sue Sturgis of Facing South reports. “Wilkes previously worked for America Rising, an Arlington, Virginia-based opposition research group that has come under fire for its tactics. Founded by Mitt Romney’s former presidential campaign manager, the organization operates a super PAC that spreads negative stories about Democratic elected officials and candidates, as well as an arm that houses a video library with materials it sells to GOP candidates and groups.” 

27) National: Albert Fox Cahn of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project reports on how ankle monitors bring invisible jails of debt, pain and bugged conversations. “Not only are electronic monitoring devices being used more often, but they are also being used for increasingly minor cases. I thought I had won, but my client’s ordeal was just beginning. His first panicked call for help came a week later. Police had showed up when his location tracker failed. And then again. And again. And again. It was a constant string of false alarms, each one of which risked a return to jail. Sometimes, it was because the power on the base station was knocked out, other times because the cellular signal was being blocked by the walls of his house. It was torture for my client, and I don’t use that term lightly.” 

28) National: GEO Group has reported third quarter 2019 net income attributable to GEO of $45.9 million. CEO George Zoley told investors, “with respect to recent procurement activity in the U.S. both ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service have issued solicitations in California. The U.S. Marshals expects to award a management contract for the government-owned 512-bed El Centro, California facility before the end of the year. And under a procurement issued last month ICE expects to award a minimum of approximately 6,750 beds in the Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco areas at existing facilities. This procurement is expected to result in new long-term contracts starting in mid-December of this year. It involves a re-bid of existing contracts at our Adelanto and Mesa Verde/ICE processing centers as well as other contractor-operated facilities in California.”

The GEO executive were questioned about their new loan by an analyst. “Dane Bowler: Hey guys. Good quarter. I’m hoping you can provide a little bit more color on the $44 million loan you took out. Who is the counterparty and what properties are securing the loan? Brian Evans: Several banks. We haven’t disclosed publicly who the banks were and it was on a—we have a few assets that are not included in the collateral pool on our senior credit facility. So, that’s where we were able to do it.”

CoreCivic also reported its third quarter results, including net income of $49.0 million, an increase of 20%. CEO Damon Hininger said “our third quarter normalized FFO [funds from operations] at $0.70 per share represents a 21% increase versus the third quarter of 2018 and exceeded the high end of our guidance by $0.08 per share. Our AFFO [adjusted funds from operations, a metric used by REITs—ed.] of $0.70 per share represents a 30% increase over the prior year and a 9% share above the high end of our guidance. Our adjusted EBITDA in the third quarter of $115.4 million represent a 16% increase from the prior year quarter, which exceeded the high end of our Q3 guidance by nearly $10 million.” 

Hininger also said, “the growth we’ve experienced in CoreCivic Safety is a result of increasing demand for both state and federal partners. In fact, since the start of 2018, we have been awarded or activated 11 new contracts totaling up to 12,000 beds across 8 of our safety facilities. This includes new federal contracts with United States Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement at our 2,232-bed Adams County Correctional Center in Mississippi awarded in August of 2019 and our 1,422-bed Eden Detention Center and our 910-bed Torrance County Detention Facility, both of which have been in the process of activating since their contract awards of May of 2019.” They have also been awarded contracts in Kansas and Arizona.

29) CaliforniaChesa Boudin has been elected District Attorney of San Francisco. “During the campaign, Boudin said he planned to continue the work he did as a deputy public defender to eliminate money bail, and expand alternative to incarceration programs, including for first-time DUI offenses.” He also says he will “establish the first-ever Immigration Unit in the District Attorney’s Office. Boudin helped create the first ever Public Defender’s Immigration Unit starting in 2012, and it is now one of the most effective units in any public defender in the country at protecting immigrant rights. In 2013, he worked with the Sheriff to develop a policy of non-cooperation with ICE, a precursor to San Francisco’s Sanctuary City policy.  Now as DA, through the Immigration Unit, he will implement a robust set of protections for immigrants in San Francisco, continuing our city’s important tradition of leading the fight for justice for all members of our community.”

30) Wyoming: Heather Hronek of Mountain View, in a letter to the editor of the Uinta County Herald, opposes the building of a new ICE facility. “Are we going to further exploit the workers at the bottom of the totem pole in hospitality or agriculture by allowing ICE to round them up as fodder for the for-profit prison industry? Most of the money the government spends on this contract will enrich the CEO and stockholders of CoreCivic, not Evanston.”

Public Services

31) National: Veteran Fox Business reporter Charlie Gasparino interviewed Trump-appointed FHFA chief Mark Calabria, who said he will privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac no matter who wins the election, including Elizabeth Warren [Video, about 2 minutes]. Calabria was Mike Pence’s chief economist and before that director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute. 

32) National: Sam Pizzigati, co-editor of inequality.org, looks at “inequality and the iron law of decaying public services.” He writes, “where wealth concentrates, our commons will always downsize. At some point, in every community becoming more unequal, affluent people will come to feel they’ll be better off going life alone, on their own nickel—better off installing their own private courts, better off sending their kids to private schools, better off living in a privately guarded gated development.” 

33) National: Former Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was interviewed by Margaret Hoover on PBS Firing Line. Shulkin explained “his argument against privatization of the VA, a policy dispute that he believes led to his dismissal.”

34) IowaMedicaid costs per individual have more than tripled since privatization. “But a leading critic of privatized Medicaid said the new numbers are clear evidence the transition is not fulfilling its promises. “From Day One, we’ve doubted privatization of Medicaid would save money,” said state Sen. Liz Mathis, a Hiawatha Democrat. She said the numbers should be hard to dispute, since they come from the department’s own reports.” 

35) Virginia/DC/MarylandThe Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO reports that Transdev workers at Fairfax Connector have overwhelmingly authorized a strike. “Fairfax Connector bus drivers, another privatized transportation system in the region that’s managed by the French multinational corporation Transdev, have overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike if necessary. The vote by more than 600 members of ATU Local 1764 comes as ATU Local 689 Transdev workers have been on strike since October 24. Local 1764 is currently in contract negotiations with Transdev and workers are frustrated over poor treatment and unfair labor practices. Their current contract expires on November 30. ‘This strike vote sends a loud and clear message to Transdev that these workers demand to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,’ says ATU International President John Costa. ‘A strike at the Connector would impact 91 routes and would paralyze the entire region. Once again Transdev has demonstrated their blatant disregard for their riders, their workers, and the community at large.’ A rally has been scheduled for this Saturday, November 16 at 11a at Old Town Square in Fairfax, VA to link the struggles between Cinder Bed Road and the Fairfax Connector. Facebook rally calendar listing here; please post and share.” 

36) Revolving door news: Former lobbyist David Bernhardt, Trump’s head of the Interior Department, has proposed to award one of the first contracts for federal water in perpetuity to a powerful rural California water district that had long employed Bernhardt as a lobbyist. Public Citizen president Robert Weissman says it’s “about as corrupt as it gets.”

Odds and Ends

37) North Carolina: Open government was on the ballot, and won. “In Plymouth, North Carolina, former Ward 3 Plymouth Councilman Shawn Hawkins became the new mayor, defeating Brian Roth, who held the mayorship for 19 years. Hawkins ran on establishing a “fair and open decision-making process” to take the place of the existing executive closed sessions of the council. Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, noted in a Twitter thread that prior to Tuesday, the majority-Black town of Plymouth “never had a Black mayor” or a majority-Black council.” 

Governing for the Common Good

38) Missouri: Boone County Circuit Judge Jeff Harris has given a small nonprofit advocacy group a big victory by ruling in its favor in a sunshine law case. The Beagle Freedom Project “had requested records related to the welfare of dogs and cats used for research at the university. The information is required to be produced and kept under federal law. Several other universities, including the University of Minnesota and Purdue University, had provided similar information for free. But not the University of Missouri. It wanted a check for $82,222. The animal rights organization sued.” And won.

39) New York: “The $15 minimum wage was supposed to hurt New York City restaurants—but both revenue and employment are up,” says @ConversationUS. Catesby Holmes, a professor with a focus on labor and employment law, writes, “seven states, including Alaska, Montana and Washington, have already abolished the tip credit. New York may be next. As the debate unfolds, just remember to look at the data. A pay increase for low-wage workers doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. In fact, the evidence suggests that everyone can win.”