Weekly privatization report

 

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1) National: Diane Ravitch, Jan Resseger, and Steve Hinnefeld have posted useful summaries of the Network for Public Education’s annual conference in Indianapolis last weekend.

Ravitch writes, “I attended several panels. One was exhilarating, another was very sad. The exhilarating one was a presentation by teachers from Arizona who are active in #RedForEd and in the effort to stop a legislative plan for universal vouchers. (…)       The other panel was a presentation by four Puerto Rican activists, who described the effort to close and privatize the Island’s public schools. The Governor is working with the hedge fund managers who are salivating over the chance to close down public education.”

Resseger writes, “One of the most fascinating workshops at the conference explored the complexity of researching the groundbreaking, June 2018 report, Grading the States: A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools, and the importance of the report, the first comprehensive effort to track and compare the growth of privatization and the characteristics of state vouchers and charters. (…) Sure enough, the report confirms that assumption, most clearly in the diversion of tax funds away from public schools: “Vouchers and charters do not decrease education costs, but instead divert tax dollars ordinarily directed to public schools thus limiting the capacity of public schools to educate the remaining students.” For more on how the diversion of funding from traditional public schools to charter schools damages communities, see In the Public Interest’s report,Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.

Hinnefeld writes, “The mood in Indy was optimistic and determined. Teacher walkouts last spring in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma, and the public support they garnered, were still on everyone’s minds. The expansion of charter schools has slowed, studies have found that vouchers don’t work and news media have caught on to how unregulated school choice promotes segregation and inequality.”

2) National/Illinois: Teachers at Chicago charter schools will hold strike authorization votes on Wednesday that could lead to the first-ever work stoppages at any charter schools in the nation. “Votes will be cast Oct. 30 by teachers at the city’s 15 schools in the Acero network, the largest unionized charter operator in Chicago Public Schools. Teachers will vote Nov. 2 on a possible strike at four Chicago International Charter School locations: ChicagoQuest North, Northtown, Wrightwood and Ralph Ellison. Charter school teachers united as ChiACTS have voted to authorize a few strikes over the last two years—including at Acero schools when the network was known as UNO—but this would mark their first strike vote since merging last year with the Chicago Teachers Union. More than 700 teachers could hit the picket line.” Chicago JwJ says “The bosses better get busy negotiating. ✊#1u”

3) National/Maryland: Next Tuesday voters will decide on Baltimore’s referendum on banning water privatization. For background see Food & Water Watch’s brief on Ballot Question E. “Ballot Question E, if passed, would protect Baltimore’s water systems from extreme forms of water privatization. It would make the water systems ‘inalienable assets’ of the city of Baltimore, and prevent privatization or outside ownership and control of these critical systems. It means no corporation can take these assets away from the city. (…) The amendment further prohibits the city from allowing any for-profit corporation to get a franchise or the right to control the public water and sewer system. That completely bans extreme forms of water privatization.”

4) National: Amazon has pitched U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use its facial recognition software in American communities, the Project on Government Oversight reports. “According to the documents obtained by POGOthrough a Freedom of Information Act request, officials from ICE visited Silicon Valley this June to meet with Amazon Web Services at the Redwood City, California office of McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm that had a management contract with ICE that ended this summer. McKinsey’s role in connecting ICE to companies with cutting edge facial recognition products and other technology is also previously unreported.”

A former ICE official told POGO “about the potential for abuse of this technology, especially given the current political climate. ‘If they have this technology, I can see it being used in any way they think will help them increase the numbers of detentions, apprehensions, and removals,’ said Alonzo Peña, who served as deputy director of ICE and was previously special agent-in-charge of its field offices in San Antonio, Phoenix and Houston. Possible abuse ‘should be an area of concern, given this new technology—there’s potential for its use to be very widespread.’” ACLU has filed a FOIA request demanding DHS and ICE reveal how they use Amazon facial recognition software.

For more see the Democracy Now!program “Who’s Behind ICE? How Amazon, Palantir, Microsoft & Tech Giants Are Powering Trump’s Deportations” with Jacinta González, an organizer with Mijente, a national political hub for Latinx organizing. See also Mijente’s report on ICE tech.

5) National: GEO Group has announced that it will holds its quarterly earnings conference call on November 7 at 11 AM Eastern. CoreCivic has announced that it will hold its investor call at 11 AM eastern on November 6.

6) National: The future of the U.S. ‘public-private partnerships’ sector has been dealt a blow by the decision of Skanska to end its participation in the sector “because the ‘risk-reward’ is no longer attractive. (…) ‘Skanska remains fully committed to our civil construction and infrastructure business in the U.S.,’ the company said in a statement. ‘Skanska USA will continue to pursue alternative delivery infrastructure projects, including design-build projects.’ Skanska is involved in a number of ongoing P3s, including one of its largest—the $4 billion overhaul of New York City’s LaGuardia Airport—and Florida’s $2.3 billion redevelopment of Interstate 4 through Orlando.” [Sub required]

7) National: A chickenpox outbreak at ICE’s GEO Group-run Aurora, Colorado facility is “drawing accusations by immigration activists of medical negligence and due-process violations.” At a rally in downtown Denver on Thursday, “former detainees detailed the lack of medical treatment they received at the Aurora detention facility. Isidro Quintana spent five months at the detention center. He said detainees would plead with guards for medical attention but were mostly ignored. One day, Quintana said, he witnessed a man telling a guard that he was having heart palpitations. ‘The guard’s response was, “You don’t look bad to me; you look really healthy,” Quintana said.”

8) National: Third party investors in a “blind pool,” such as pension funds and university endowments, can find themselves in an awkward position when sovereign wealth funds are involved. “Investors in Blackstone’s debut infrastructure fund find themselves in a tricky position, one that raises questions about alignment of interests and responsible investing many may not have considered. Third-party LPs in the manager’s open-ended vehicle are mostly US state endowments and pensions that committed to a blind pool seeking to invest $40 billion mostly in US infrastructure. But thanks to a record $20 billion anchor commitment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, they are now in partnership with a sovereign wealth fund backed by a government accused of being involved in the murder of an innocent man.” [Sub required]

9) National: The stock market has reacted very negatively to news that Aqua America intends to purchase Peoples gas company, a move outside its “core competency” in water and into energy. Will more debt lead to pressure on rates?

10) Arkansas: The Office of State Procurement has issued a Request for Proposals for a Strategic Advisor Management Consultant “to assist in the development and implementation of a program to administer the Partnership for Public Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPFIA).”

11) California: AFSCME Local 3299 workers struck in solidarity with Patient Care Technical Unit last week to protest outsourcing by the University of California system. “Drawing to a close on Thursday evening, Oct. 25, the three-day worker strike sought to protest against the outsourcing of UC worker jobs to outside companies, a practice that exploits workers with unfair wages and few healthcare benefits.”

12) California: Next Tuesday Measure J is on the ballot, which would “compel the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to conduct a feasibility study of a public buyout of Cal Am’s local water system.” The run-up to the vote has seen a well-funded effort by California American Water to legally harass the grassroots campaign favoring the insourcing of the water system, Public Water Now. “‘This kind of legal harassment is how Cal Am tries to defeat Public Water Now’s efforts and waste our time and money,’ George Riley, co-founder of Public Water Now, said in a statement. ‘We’re quite certain that the community knows that we are behind Measure J and that Public Water Now is paying for these yard signs. All this is meant to distract the public from Cal Am’s skyrocketing water costs and mismanagement of our watershed.’ Riley estimates the lawsuit will cost Public Water Now between $5,000-$7,000 in legal fees, adding, ‘The real loss is volunteer time.’”

13) California: The ACLU is defending a public school board member who was threatened with a lawsuit by a private charter operator for asking questions about the operations of a private charter school that was up for renewal. “The ACLU Foundation of Northern California is committed to fighting against spurious legal claims that threaten free speech. Especially when corporations and other powerful entities attempt to strong-arm people who have less resources at their disposal.” The threatening letter was written by Frances Teso, founder and chief executive officer of Voices College-Bound Language Academies, a charter school network. Teso was just awarded a Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship. The Pahara Institute has charter school backer Reed Hastings, the billionaire founder of Netflix, on its board of directors. Kim Smith, the co-founder of the New Schools Venture Fund, is its CEO.

14) California: Antioch Unified school board trustees have unanimously voted to send a “notice of violation” to leaders of East Bay Tech Academy “alleging it concealed financial information and misled them about its connection with Clayton Valley Charter High School, whose management and spending practices are being investigated by the county.” But “the same trustees on May 9 approved East Bay Tech Academy’s plan to establish a charter high school and middle school despite district staff’s recommendation to reject it. The staff expressed concern about the charter schools’ ‘unrealistic’ enrollment and financing expectations, their association with Clayton Valley and an overall lack of ‘comprehensive’ details.”

15) California: Last Wednesday the Los Angeles City Council adopted a recommendation to negotiate a legal services agreement with Ashurst LLP and Loeb LLP as legal advisor for the  development of the Los Angeles Street Civic Building Project and forwarded the recommendation to the mayor, who has until November 5 to act. No community impact or fiscal impact statement has been submitted.

16) Colorado: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock plans to centralize the ‘public-private partnerships’ process in a newly created Performance Based Infrastructure Office. Denverite reports “the office has to be agnostic on the benefit of P3s to ensure city residents get a good deal, an outside expert says.” Assuming the City Council approves the budget, the office will begin operations sometime next year. But Councilman Rafael Espinoza is against the office. “Streamlining P3 contracts will indirectly raise the cost of living by putting taxpayers on the hook decades later, he said, while casting a shadow over public amenities. ‘We are now adding a profit component to public infrastructure,’ Espinoza said. ‘As much as people think the private sector can deliver things cheaper, no, they first feed themselves. We as elected officials don’t get to operate behind the shroud of a private corporation, but as soon as we offload infrastructure to a private company, they do, because they’re not beholden to us. They’re beholden to shareholders.’”

17) Florida: The conservative Daily Calleris worried that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum will move to rein in the state’s charter school expansion. “A recent Integrity Florida investigation concluded the state’s charter school system needs more oversight and has suffered from a lot of the same problems as public schools, including mixed academic success, a lack of innovation, and mismanagement.”

18) Florida: Unhappy Clermont residents poured into the City Council last week to protest a controversial charter school approved earlier this month. “The charter had been denied twice by the Lake County School Board until board members relented under the threat of a lengthy and uncertain legal battle. Then the Clermont City Council approved a construction permit for the for-profit Charter Schools USA. But on Tuesday, opponents of the school called on the council to take a new vote and revoke the permit.”

19) Georgia: Concerns are being raised about the Atlanta Public Schools’ adoption of the “portfolio model” for rating schools. “Carol Burris, executive director of the New York-based Network for Public Education, decries the portfolio strategy, which she likens to playing the stock market: Districts invest in a variety of school models and governance types and regularly assess their performance. ‘If you have a bad stock, you dump your stock. In this case, you dump your school or you have the school taken over by a charter school or by someone else,’ she said. Burris contends that causes ‘a lot of disruption’ and leads to the community losing its voice.”

20) Hawaii: A Request for Proposals has gone out from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) and the City and County of Honolulu (City) for sealed bids on the Honolulu Rail Transit Project’s City Center Guideway and Stations/Pearl Highlands Design-Build Finance Operate and Maintain (DBFOM) Contract. Proposals are due December 21.

21) Illinois: The Peoria League of Women voters has raised questions about a conflict of interest involving Illinois American Water Co. and two members of the City Council. “The League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria and several private citizens cited large donations by Illinois American to Peoria Promise, a scholarship organization chaired by Ardis, and WPNV-FM, a community radio station managed by Moore, as creating a possible conflict.”

22) Indiana: The Utility Regulatory Commission has set two public hearings (on Nov. 7 and Nov. 26) to consider Indiana American Water’s request for a 17% rate increase.

23) Massachusetts: Northampton parents, educators, students and state and local elected officials rally to support their public schools. “A rally was held at Northampton City Hall where people expressed their concerns with the proposed expansion of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School. The charter school recently made its third request to the state for expansion, asking to increase its maximum enrollment to 952, which is almost double its current enrollment of 493. Education Commissioner Jeff Riley and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education are accepting public input on the proposal until December 3rd.”

24) Louisiana: A New Orleans teacher is suing the Collegiate Academies charter school network, saying the network didn’t protect her when she was sexually assaulted by a special needs student. “Williams claimed in the lawsuit the network was aware of the student’s behavior because of past incidents. The lawsuit stated he has ‘attacked at least five’ other women who taught at the school in the past two years he has attended the school. The lawsuit claims the network ‘failed to put parameters in place to protect Brenda Williams knowing the dangerous risk that was involved with female staff being left alone’ with the student. Collegiate Academies manages five charter schools, four in New Orleans and one in Baton Rouge, as well as Opportunities Academy, a full-day, post-secondary program for students ages 18-21 with moderate to significant disabilities. Opportunities recently obtained a $1 million grant from the Walton Foundation for expansion.”

25) New York: The New York Police Department is cracking down on private trash carting companies who are operating dangerously. “In addition to moving violations, officers also inspect truck maintenance and issue safety violations ranging from issues with their lights to their breaks. The crew Kramer was travelling with found dozens of problems, with one truck even being taken out of service for faulty brakes. ‘See how big these trucks are, they’re thousands of pounds that are going fast,’ one officer said. ‘(It) could be a death sentence.’”Workers on the trucks say they are constantly pressured by their bosses to speed up their work.

26) Ohio: Springfield City Schools have joined the state lawsuit against what was the largest online school in Ohio. “The local school district is seeking more than $3.5 million from the Electronic School of Tomorrow — ECOT — because the district says millions of dollars were stolen from its students over the last six or so years. The Springfield Board of Education passed a resolution late last month giving its administration permission to seek all legal remedies to get the money back.”

27) Oregon: State school ratings indicate charter schools need extra assistance. “Many of the high schools identified for support are charter schools, like the Alsea Charter School on the Oregon coast, and online programs such as the Clackamas Web Academy, Oregon Connections Academy and Oregon Virtual Academy.”

28) Pennsylvania: Quakertown residents are concerned that the school district’s vote to sell public school buildings could open the door for a charter school infiltration. “Resident Chris Spear cautioned the board, believing that safeguards in the sales agreement may not be enough to prevent the entry of a charter school into the community. Quakertown has a right to first refusal clause in the sales agreement that allows them to match the first sales offer if one of the schools would go back up for sale. Spear also said that the upcoming Pennsylvania gubernatorial election in November could further threaten the district, as the Republican nominee Scott Wagner has voiced his support for charter school reform and school choice programs, positions which Spear suggested could hurt public school districts like Quakertown.”

29) Pennsylvania: State Auditor Eugene DePasquale’s audit of the Avon Grove School District finds that the district did not properly account for transportation of charter school students. The district “incorrectly reported the number of nonpublic school and charter school students transported resulting in a net overpayment of $115,500. (…) Ultimately, the District did not have a process in place to reconcile all requests for transportation from nonpublic and charter school students to yearly totals reported to [the Pennsylvania Department of Education]. Additionally, the District did not have a procedure in place to help ensure that charter school and nonpublic school student data was reported correctly to the PDE.”

30) South Carolina: An ad hoc legislative committee has begun collecting information about the state’s charter school system, which has been mired in controversy over authorizations and funding. “Lawmakers are taking a look at the policies for charter schools and their authorizers across the state to see what’s working and what needs to change ahead of this next legislative session.” Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, chairman of the committee, “said there are no specific plans of action intended to come from the committee. ‘What prompted all of this are the concerns of Erskine’s rapid growth as an authorizer, and at some point, it was decided by leadership to form an ad-hoc committee to look into not only the Erskine situation, but to look at all of the charter schools from A to Z and to look at the legislation that’s been in place for a number of years,’ he said. Taylor said it was the first of many meetings for the committee, which has its next meeting tentatively scheduled for Nov. 13.”

31) Texas: In a 12-page memo, William J. Gumbert has provided some facts and figures to explain “What Local Taxpayers Should Know About the State’s $20 Billion Privatization Experiment—Diverting Local School District Taxes to Privately-Operated Charter Schools.” Gumbert, the Managing Director and Co-Director of Texas Public Finance at BOK Financial Securities, and a former managing director at RBC Capital Markets in Dallas, writes, “Despite the proven success of Texas school districts that serve communities with lower student/teacher ratios, more experienced teachers, more dollars for instruction, a wider array of co/extra-curricular choices and more social, health and community services, it is unfortunate that the facts do support that the State’s dual education system operates at the expense of local taxpayers and school districts that serve 94% of all students.”

32) Washington: Despite the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling that the state’s 12 charter schools can continue to receive state lottery money, this “does not necessarily end the battle over the publicly-funded, privately-run schools,” Dahlia Bazzaz reports in the Seattle Times. “While there’s no immediate plan to challenge El Centro de La Raza v. Washington, the state’s growing charter-school sector, which enrolls about 3,500 students, could still face fiscal, legal and political challenges. ‘I expect there will be guerrilla warfare,’ said Hugh Spitzer, a constitutional-law professor at the University of Washington.”

33) West Virginia: Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper says the Public Service Commission process for considering rate increase requests by West Virginia American Water (24%) and Appalachian Power (11%) is “rigged.” A lawsuit may be in the offing. “If the new hike for Appalachian Power is approved, the average customer’s bill will go up $8 to $12 atop an increase approved the previous year, Carper said. The power company, he said, “is turning a deaf ear to the public,” while the Legislature voices no opposition in their behalf.”

34) International: The British government is working to rectify some “bizarre” infrastructure ownership structures that go along with ‘public-private partnerships’ and shut out smaller investors in favor of big funds. “There are definitely things holding back [defined contribution] organizations from investing in certain things. It’s just not happening as we would like,” [Pensions Minister Guy Opperman] told the gathering of over 200 public and private pension funds. ‘I find it really bizarre Crossrail and King’s Cross are run by Australian superfunds, not by British organizations. People will say ‘they are bigger’ and ‘it’s different’ and I accept that. At the same stage, with auto-enrolment and consolidation, we are going to see a situation, if not now, then in the future when this is going to be radically different.”

Legislative Issues

1) National/International: Erik Prince, the founder of security contractor Blackwater and brother of education secretary Betsy DeVos, has hired a lobbyist to push his plan to privatize the American military effort in Afghanistan on Capitol Hill. “Ron Phillips of Gavel Resources, a former House Armed Services Committee staffer, started representing Prince in September and reported lobbying Congress and the Defense Department on his behalf in a disclosure filing.”

2) New York: The Gothamist asks “Would A Democratic State Senate Threaten Charter Schools’ Favored Status?” One key issue would be a 2014 law that cements public financial support for charters, Ross Barkan reports, “One of the two main drivers of growth in the Department of Education’s budget has been rent for charters. (The city is projected to spend $44 million for space at 63 charters, a jump from $27 million paid last year.) ‘Once something is law, especially education law, it is very hard to take it back or get it repealed,’ said Jasmine Gripper, the legislative director of the Alliance for Quality Education [AQE], a progressive education group that has opposed Cuomo. ‘That’s a really heavy lift.’AQE would love to see the law repealed, but Gripper lamented that de Blasio, seemingly humbled from the loss of the 2014 fight, hasn’t taken the issue up again. ‘It’s hard for advocates alone to carry the water,’ she said.”

 

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