Weekly privatization report

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1) National/Revolving Door News: A Trump official who spent his time shilling for private prisons gets a new job working for the GEO Group. “In January, Government Executive reported that Frank Lara, then the bureau’s assistant director for correctional programs, sent a memorandum with the subject line ‘increasing population levels in private contract facilities’ to agency leaders. In it, Lara tasked facility leaders with identifying inmates for transfer to private facilities, saying it would “alleviate the overcrowding at Bureau of Prisons’ institutions and maximize the effectiveness of private contracts.” A few months later, Lara announced his retirement. Earlier this month, he began working at the GEO Group as its director of operations.” Eric Young, president of the union local that represents bureau correctional officers [AFGE CPL-33], called Lara’s move, “The biggest damn conflict of interest that I’ve ever seen.”

2)National/Washington: As of Friday, 62 people were on strike at the GEO-operated Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, activists told ThinkProgress. “On Saturday, organizers held a rally near the detention center, demanding an end to what they called retaliation by staff against the people held there. The demonstrations, which began on August 21 and will continue until September 9, have been held in prisons in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, California, Ohio, Indiana, New Mexico, Florida, and Texas, according to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.” Inmates in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said, “We recognize that the staff in the jail are workers who are also facing injustice. We are asking for a more productive rehabilitative environment that supports the wellbeing of everyone in the system. These policy changes will also benefit the workers in the jail.”

Journalist Chris Hedges has weighed in on the national strike, pointing out that “prisons in America are a huge and lucrative business,” citing billion dollar corporations such as GEO Group, CoreCivic, Aramark, Global Tel Link, Corizon Health, and JPay (“a subsidiary of the telecommunications firm Securus Technologies, which is owned by the private equity firm Abry Partners.”) Private corporations “exploit prison labor in at least 40 states. In some cases these workers are paid next to nothing.”

3) National/Washington: How Big Tech Swallowed Seattle. “This has made the city seem like a model for urban revitalization, a sort of developer’s Valhalla. And yet, as cities try to crib from Seattle, the town itself is full of doubt and anger. The turbocharged growth has exacerbated traffic, despite huge investments in public transit. Housing prices have shot up faster than in any major city in the U.S. for most of the past two years. Homelessness has reached crisis levels. Formerly subdued City Council meetings routinely devolve into shouting matches. (…) All this suggests that the bragging rights of landing the deal could be quickly followed by a pit-in-the-stomach moment once residents learn what’s gone on in Amazon’s hometown. Seattle has had the ‘jubilation of great success,’ says Richard Florida, an urban studies professor at the University of Toronto. Now the city’s ‘getting punched in the face with it.’”

4) National: In a Labor Day message, AFT President Randi Weingarten points to the importance of the statehouses. “These states can serve as a check on the dangerous and reckless policies of this administration. And they’re where we’ll be able to move an agenda of investment in public education instead of austerity and privatization, to strengthen unions, to make healthcare and college more affordable, and to rebuild the middle class.” See also Unmasking the Hidden Power of Cities, a report by LAANE, In the Public Interest, and the Partnership for Working Families: “Privatization, the extraction of public wealth, increasing financialization of the economy, deregulation, and tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy translate to sweeping private control over vital public goods (i.e., education, infrastructure, clean air and water) and weaken the pillars of American democracy.”

5) National: Thom Hartmann on the dangers of privatization: “Do we really want an America where our infrastructure is merely a profit center for Mitt Romney-style investors?” [Video, about 10 minutes]

6) National: The Veterans Administration is attracting private firms pushing dubious PTSD treatments, Reveal’s Jaspar Craven and Suzanne Gordon report. “The acting assistant deputy undersecretary for health for patient care services, Dr. Marsden McGuire, warned against ‘quackery’ and medical claims ‘made falsely, with ill intent.’ He said he’s received complaints from VA psychiatrists who have been urged to adopt dubious treatments. He then recommended that the agency invest its limited resources in those treatments most likely to help.”

7) National: Teachers are leaving privately managed charter schools, both for-profit and non-profit, at an “alarming rate,” according to a new study. “Using national data from the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey, they found the odds of attrition at for-profit EMOs 38 percent higher and at nonprofit CMOs 24 percent higher than at regular charter schools. They also found the odds of migration 97 percent higher for EMO teachers and 58 percent higher for CMO teachers.”

8) National: Taxpayers are subsidizing huge corporate pay gaps, a new study by the Institute for Policy Studies reports. “More than two-thirds of the top 50 federal contractors and the top 50 federal corporate subsidy recipients paid their CEO more than 100 times their median worker pay in 2017. By contrast, the U.S. president’s salary equals just five times the pay of the average federal government employee. The typical American believes CEO pay should run no more than six times average worker pay.” The Geo Group, which runs immigrant family detention centers, “took in $663 million in Justice Department and Homeland Security contracts in 2017. Geo CEO George Zoley pocketed $9.6 million that year, 271 times more than his company’s median employee pay of $35,630.”

9) National: Clare Coffey, who teaches kindergarten at a small Catholic school in the Philadelphia area, urges material support for prisoners on strike over a number of issues, including slave wages and the profit-gouging of prisoners and their families by private corporations and prison officials on telephone, visitation and electronic communication services. “We that are financially stable should provide a community kitty for those who don’t have family support on the outside. This shouldn’t just fall on one or two of us but should be a responsibility of all of us that are financially stable.” [See “Burritos or not, I’m not eating today”]

10) National: Wendy Lecker, a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and senior attorney at the Education Law Center, writes in the New Haven Registerthat political support for public education and opposition to school privatization and underfunding is spreading:

“Last week, six Republican Oklahoma house members who voted against tax increases for teacher raises were ousted in primary races. Of the 19 Republicans who voted against teacher pay raises, only four will be on the ballot in November. In Georgia, democratic gubernatorial primary winner Stacey Abrams openly declares that she doesn’t want to be Georgia’s ‘education governor’—she wants to be Georgia’s ‘public education governor.’ She advocates increased investment in public schools and opposes privatization schemes that drain resources from them. On Tuesday, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum won a surprise victory in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. Gillum credits his public school education for much of his success in life and supports increasing investments in public schools, including raising teachers’ starting salary to $50,000. Educator David Garcia, the Democratic candidate for governor in Arizona, vowed to ‘end destructive privatization schemes that drain money out of classrooms, and … to invest in our teachers and classrooms once again.’ Longtime public school supporter Ben Jealous is Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Teachers are running for office across the nation, including a former National Teacher of the Year, Waterbury’s Jahana Hayes, who won the primary for the U.S. House of Representative in Connecticut’s fifth congressional district. Public education, an issue usually ignored by politicians, is suddenly taking center stage in political campaigns.”

11) National/International: The rolling saga of shoddy performance by large consulting firms engaged in government contracting continues. Boston-based Bain & Company has launched a “deep and extensive” internal investigation into work it did for the South African revenue service. “The company’s overhaul of the SARS operating model was blamed by senior officials testifying at the commission chaired by retired judge Robert Nugent for the destruction of the tax agency’s capacity—which contributed to the hole of about R50bn in revenue collection for 2017-18.”

12) California: The Sacramento Press Club will be hosting a debate next Tuesday, September 11, at 5 pm between the two candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck. The two candidates “agree that the time has come to review California’s quarter-century-old charter school law, while disagreeing over how best to handle the impact of charter school growth on the financial health of school districts.”

13) California: The question of what was done with the $28 million proceeds from the sale of Adelanto’s correctional facility to the GEO Group has become a political football. “By fiscal year 2015, when General Fund expenses were $12.8 million versus income of only $8.2 million, the city had wiped out about $27 million in cash reserves, or nearly the entirety of the prison sale proceeds, according to Cheng.”

14) California: A troubled Salinas charter school has reopened under tighter controls after risking closure by the school board. “Trustees also installed Alberto Jaramillo, principal of Virginia Rocca Barton Elementary School within AUSD, as the eighth board member for the nonprofit Under Construction Education Network, which governs Oasis. The move was made possible by the school’s memorandum of understanding with the district, a staff report read.”

15) California: A Highland charter school has opened in a former Kmart. “Freshman Christian Dull said it appears to be working. ‘It’s definitely a different environment,’ Dull said. ‘It’s not really a school, kind of.’”

16) Colorado: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis told a crowd in Grand Junction over the weekend that “one of the biggest potential risks to western Colorado is the privatization of public lands. Once our public lands are carved up, there’s no going back to our heritage and our way of life in western Colorado.” For more see Steven Davis’ recent book, In Defense of Public Lands: The Case Against Privatization and Transfer.

17) Florida: James Burns, an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning in Florida International University’s School of Education and Human Development, urges Floridians to stand up for public education. “Florida has long spearheaded an educational race to the bottom as a laboratory for every aspect of the radical privatization agenda in education. Charter schools operate essentially without regulation. Right to work laws have obliterated public sector unions. Teachers fear for their jobs while children stress out over oppressive testing and the threat of being held back. We as citizens have a choice about the kind of schools we want. Do we want schools that churn out compliant cogs for the machine? Or do we aspire to create and support public schools that cultivate the intellectual and affective capacity of our children who can reconstruct the world as more just and peaceful? Let’s build the schools we need.”

18) Illinois: Early last month, Gov. Rauner (R) signed HB 4508 which means any publicly owned water system in Illinois can now be targeted by profit-driven private water companies. The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) has some suggestions for What Now? “Here is what you need to know if your municipality is approached by the private companies: The power to privatize your water system lies with your local elected officials; The private water company will offer your municipality a very good price, since their customers will foot the entire bill; Ask your local elected officials to consider alternatives to privatization; Understand that publicly owned water systems will still have rate increases; Push your representatives in Congress for water infrastructure funding.”

19) Iowa: Republican Governor Kim Reynolds’ administration “has given Iowa’s for-profit Medicaid insurers a big, sloppy pay raise.” The Des Moines Register says “they have denied care to Iowans, shunned transparency, starved health care providers by refusing or delaying reimbursements and done everything they can to boost their profits while wringing more money from taxpayers.”

20) Louisiana: Nepotism cases have regularly cropped up in the Bayou State’s charter schools. But in recent years, the education department “has adopted anti-nepotism policies similar to state laws that were already on the books.”

21) Massachusetts: Maria Belen Power of Green Roots, an organization that works for environmental justice in Chelsea and surrounding communities, says Gov. Baker’s stewardship of MBTA has been a failure. “Through its push to privatize the MBTA, continued inadequate service, and lack of genuine and constructive engagement with riders, the MBTA continues to neglect communities that rely on it. (…) The Governor’s push for MBTA privatization is the wrong approach. Touted inaccurately as a sure way to save money, privatization is a profit-making opportunity for corporations who can then cut corners, provide poor service, and pass on the bill to taxpayers. Our communities need deep investment in public transportation that can provide reliable service while also ensuring fair wage union jobs for our families and friends.”

22) Michigan: A Muskegon Heights charter school is under fire for its principal having purchased $25,000 in gift cards. “The Muskegon Heights Board of Education voted 6-0 in favor of a resolution expressing its disagreement with the PSA board’s decision not to suspend Garcia. The resolution passed on Aug. 27 cited Garcia’s spending of the $25,000 on gift cards as well as the school system’s nearly $1 million deficit budget for 2017-18. Community members who spoke at the Aug. 27 meeting also called for Garcia to be suspended. The Michigan Department of Education is looking into the spending on the gift cards, and whether it violated state law, MDE Spokesman Martin Ackley said earlier.”

23) Missouri: Apparently not satisfied with their efforts to sell off Lambert International Airport (which just did very well, thank you very much, over the Labor Day weekend), the privatizers are at it again in St. Louis, this time aiming to cash in on trash collection, and getting a boost from the Post-Dispatch’s business columnist. But Paul Thompson comments “it would be far better for St. Louis to better manage the public collection, which would reduce costs and improve service,” and he’s right. For more see In the Public Interest’s report, Is Your Waste Contract Putting Your Municipality At Risk?, and check out Germà Bel and Mildred Warner’s Privatization of Solid Waste and Water Services: What Happened to Costs Savings?

24) Montana: “Dark Money,” a film about “the efforts of Montanans of all types to keep big, out-of-state, secret corporate money from controlling their politics & lives,” has just been released.

25) New Jersey: A Newark charter school network is facing charges that it improperly suspends students with disabilities “at a disproportionately high rate, violating their rights. (…) The complaint alleges that North Star Academy gave suspensions to 29 percent of students with disabilities during the 2016-17 school year. The network disputes the complaint’s allegations and says the actual figure was 22 percent.” At the Newark public schools, “just 1.3 percent of special-education students and 1.1 percent of all students were suspended in 2016-17, according to the attorney’s analysis of state data.”

26) Pennsylvania: About 150 residents packed a special meeting of the Chichester School Board to hear a proposal for a new charter school—but the applicant never showed up. “Even though Jolly was not present, residents were given the opportunity to comment. Every individual who spoke was in opposition to the charter school. ‘I am firmly opposed to a charter school going into the district,’ said Michele Lauginiger to loud applause. ‘I don’t think it’s beneficial to any of the children in our district. We, as taxpayers spend a lot of money in taxes to enhance the education the children receive here. This isn’t going to benefit anybody but outsiders who are going to reap the benefits.’”

27) Puerto Rico: At a forum on public education in Bayamon, Michael Elsen-Rooney of The Teacher Project at Columbia Journalism School tells us there was “lots of chatter and worry about the arrival of charter schools, recently made legal in PR.” Mercedes Martinez, the president of Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico, warned about charters in the U.S. expelling the most challenging students, citingSuccess Academy Charter Schools’ “got to go list” as an example. “Audible gasp in the crowd when she explains it.”

28) Tennessee: Randy Stamps, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, takes on Terry Cowles’ zombie-like defense of the privatization of state jobs even after Gov. Bill Haslam says “Honestly, the truth is we haven’t brought up outsourcing once since that and we won’t ever again. We thought it was a great idea, the schools that wanted to use it could use it, but we made it really clear that they can make the decision not to do it. The other campuses didn’t do it as well at Martin and Chattanooga and Memphis. We get it. And we’ve moved on.” Says Stamps: “It appears as though Mr. Cowles hasn’t moved on.”

29) Texas: Texas AFT and Texas State Teachers Association are suing the Texas Education Agency and its commissioner over the handling of a law that allows school districts to let charter school operators take over struggling public school campuses. “The lawsuit says Morath ‘departed from his own agency’s rules’ in announcing a rule that ‘limits the safeguards’ the Legislature implemented to protect teachers and other employees in such takeovers. Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro says in a news release that Morath ‘made an unlawful power grab to have complete authority over approving these charter takeovers.’”

30) Texas: Public education advocate Diane Ravitch points us to an article by Glenn W. Smith, an opinion writer for the Austin American-Statesman, that “eviscerates the sinister motives behind the A-F grading of schools,” which Texas Republicans want to introduce. “This plan was promulgated by Jeb Bush and his team of privatizers,” Ravitch explains. “My home state of Texas is the home of [No Child Left Behind] accountability. Nearly 20 years after that law was passed, we are still waiting for ‘no child [to be] left behind.] Fortunately, we now have a federal law in which Congress promises that ‘Every Child’ will Succeed. More snake oil. Comply or die.”

31) Texas: Kate Ross Apartments, Waco’s oldest public housing complex, “could be torn down and rebuilt during the Waco Housing Authority‘s transition to a privatized affordable housing system.”

32) Wisconsin: Controversy remains over how much Lakeland taxpayers will have to pay for the district’s charter school operations. For charter school governance board president and Lakeland Times publisher Gregg Walker, “the proposed budget represents a win-win-win for the students, the school district and for taxpayers. Not everyone saw it that way, however. Hazelhurst resident Robert Collins raised questions both about transparency and the ultimate costs to taxpayers. Collins recounted a past school board meeting when then board member Tom Gabert said the school would likely have to tap its fund balance to pay for charter school costs because the LUHS district was at its levy limit. ‘After reading articles, I got concerned about just what is the share to the taxpayer,’ Collins said. ‘What is going to be the Lakeland area’s obligation to the taxpayer to run these two schools for three years? Before you vote whether to go ahead, the least you should expect is a budget.’ Collins said Walker told him last spring there would soon be a published budget and full transparency but that five months later he was still waiting for the budget to be printed. Collins also said Walker had promised no one’s taxes would be raised. ‘Well, I don’t know about you folks, but when he says nobody’s taxes are being raised, if you take it from the general fund, 100 percent of your contribution, where did that money come from?’ he asked the board. ‘The taxpayer. It didn’t just float down and you have a general fund. It’s already monies that have been taxed to the taxpayer.’ Those dollars would have to be diverted from other projects, Collins said.”

33) International: The Ontario government, now under Premier Doug Ford, is moving ahead with plans to privatize Toronto’s subway system. He has appointed an advisory panel. “The president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents TTC workers, called on Toronto residents to stand together to protect the public transit system. ‘To improve the TTC, the government should fund it properly—not break it apart,’ Frank Grimaldi said. ‘A divided system raises issues of accountability and integration while taking the first step in a slippery slope towards privatization, delays and fare hikes.’”

34) International: Eli Friedman, Associate Professor of International and Comparative Labor at Cornell ILR, reports that anti-school privatization protests in Hunan, China have been met with repression. One Twitter report said tuition is up 10 times. [Video]

35) International: Private equity groups continue to trade education companies like they’re properties on a Monopoly board. “The investment firm for Switzerland’s wealthy Jacobs family has agreed to acquire global private schools group Cognita from Bregal Investments and KKR, the partners said on Monday, without giving financial terms. (…) Cognita operates more than 70 schools in eight countries, including Britain, Singapore, Chile and Brazil, educating more than 40,000 children, a joint statement said. Cognita was formed in 2004 by private equity firm Bregal and the late Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools in England. KKR took a 50 percent stake in 2013.”

36) Revolving Door News: Harley G. Lappin, who went from being director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to being a member of the board of directors of CoreCivic, just cashed out some shares in the company for $397,567.53. But don’t worry, Harley still “owns 47,846 shares of the company’s stock, valued at approximately $1,219,594.54.”

37) Revolving Door News: Rikardo Hull, who spent a decade at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission playing “a key role in helping to develop Pennsylvania’s markedly successful water regulatory climate,” is joining the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) as its new Executive Vice President of Strategy & Regulatory Affairs.

38) Think Tanks: Nnimmo Bassey, director of the ecological think tank Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at the Sustainability Academy, says the oceans and coastal waterways are being privatized by commercial interests. “The creeks, rivers and swamps of the Niger delta, for example, have all be privatized by the oil companies through pollution. Our continental shelf and deep waters have been partitioned and are effectively owned by the oil companies because of the security zone (often up to 5 km radius) around their installations that are cordoned and closed to fishers, including areas with endemic fish species. So, our waters are also privatized through security cordons for unhindered extractive activities. This is a clearly objectionable privatizing of the commons.”

Legislative Issues

1) National: President Trump’s plans for privatizing the U.S. Postal Service, which he is keeping under wraps until after the midterms, are drawing opposition in Congress. H.Res.993, opposing privatization, now has 147 co-sponsors from both parties. Will he enable for-profit companies to handle first class mail?

2) Louisiana: The state, whose largest city’s school system (93% charters for New Orleans) has just been brought out of emergency administration and transferred to public control, is witnessing a tug of war between charter school interests and advocates for tighter legislative and public control. Caroline Roemer, executive director of Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, says there is “an alarming trend” for lawmakers to add charters to almost every education bill. “Long gone are the days that we could assume charter schools would be excluded from bills that address traditional school district issues like teacher leave, curriculum and school operations,” Roemer said. “We believe those little instances and inclusions in bills would start creating death by a thousand paper cuts.”

 

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