Weekly privatization report: Big St. Louis airport vote | Private prison lobbying ramps up | and more

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

THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tomorrow’s vote for president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen will be crucial for deciding whether St. Louis Lambert International Airport gets privatized in a scheme being pushed by a local billionaire.
  • After a seven-day strike, Oakland teachers have won an 11 percent pay increase, more resources for students, and for the city to seek a cap on charter schools in Sacramento.
  • Private prison corporation CoreCivic has hired a new lobbying group, including Brian M. Johnson, former Director of Federal Relations for the American Petroleum Institute and a former Grover Norquist operative.

EDUCATION

1) National/California: After a seven-day strike, Oakland teachers have won an 11% pay increase, a reduction in class sizes, a five-month pause in school closures, lower caseloads for special education teachers, the hiring of more student support staff, including special education teachers, psychologists and nurses, and for the city to seek a cap on charter schools in Sacramento. The Oakland Education Association “won a ‘five-month pause’ on school closures after protesting a district plan to shut as many as 24 schools that serve primarily African-American and Latino students. The union had argued that closing the schools would send more students to charter schools that drain more than $57 million a year from the district.” Oakland has the highest concentration of charter schools in the state. A similar halt to new charters was part of the deal ending the Los Angeles teachers strike. [Full tentative agreement; OEA video on school privatization]

The implications of the Oakland, Los Angeles, West Virginia, and other wins are broader. “The crisis in affordable housing is caused by the same billionaires and politicians that are driving school privatization,” writes Lois Weiner.

2) National: Democratic Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, declares education secretary Betsy DeVos’ proposed $5 billion federal tax credit for contributions to private school scholarships dead on arrival. “Secretary DeVos keeps pushing her anti-public school agenda despite a clear lack of support from parents, students, teachers, and even within her own party,” Murray said. “Congress has repeatedly rejected her privatization efforts and she should expect nothing less here. This proposal is dead on arrival and I’m going to keep fighting for what people actually want—improving the public schools in neighborhoods around the country that serve the vast majority of our students.”

3) National: On the Have You Heard podcast, Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider talk about the “portfolio model” of charter schools, one of the “hot button issues” in public education today. “There’s big money lining up to bring the portfolio model to a school district near you. But what is it exactly? Scholar Katrina Bulkley helps Have You Heard plumb the depths of portfolio management.” [Audio, about 35 minutes]

4) National: Presidential candidate Kamala Harris takes aim at Betsy DeVos’s federal private school tax credit. “We should be investing more in public schools and public school teachers. Let’s stand up for our children’s futures and fight this Administration’s privatization schemes.” Criticism came from all directions, including from conservatives who worried that such a tax credit would empower future Democratic administrations.

5) California/National: State lawmakers have introduced legislation to counter the Trump administration’s loosening of tougher enforcement standardson for-profit colleges imposed by the Obama administration. “Chiu’s bill would reinstate the Obama administration’s policy in California, and would go a step further by barring colleges from enrolling students in programs where graduates fall below a certain income level. There were 266 programs, most of them at for-profit colleges, in California in 2017 that were in that category or near it, federal data show. ‘Without this rule, bad programs will continue to prey on vulnerable students,’ Chiu said.”

6) California: DSA Los Angeles weighs in on tomorrow’s school board vote and says “billionaires want to privatize our schools to siphon enormous amounts of public money into their own bank accounts, but we can fight back. Say NO to privatization & vote for a strong voice for public education: #VoteJackieGoldberg for #LAUSD School Board on Tuesday, March 5!” 

7) Ohio: Despite the ECOT scandal, which hasn’t fully been resolved yet, charter schools want more taxpayer money. “Some charter officials are pressing the state for another $2,000 per student a year for most charter schools in the upcoming state budget. Leading the charge are the Breakthrough Schools, the Cleveland based chain that has the strongest results out of all charters in Ohio. Joining them are the growing Accel Schools chain, which has grown to 40 schools in the state over the last three years.”

8) Ohio: The Dayton Daily News finds that “the Richard Allen charter schools in Dayton and Hamilton are still being run by a person who was sued by the state attorney general 18 months ago for her role in misspending $2.2 million in school money.”

9) Oklahoma: Pastors for Oklahoma Kids reminds lawmakers “Public Education for ALL kids is still the only education you’re constitutionally sworn to uphold & defend. All other privatization experiments are completely extra-constitutional!” 

10) Texas: In the first of a four-part series resulting from a year-long investigation, Susan Carroll and David Hunn of the Houston Chronicle report on the dismal performance of the Texas Permanent School Fund, which exists to support public education in the state. “That trust, dedicated to K-12 schools, is now valued at $44 billion, bigger than even Harvard University’s endowment. It is also broken. The Permanent School Fund has failed to match the performance of peer endowments, missing out on as much as $12 billion in growth and amassing a risky asset allocation.” The other parts of the story will appear in coming days.

11) West Virginia: Well the victory by teachers, parents, unions, and other community members over the school privatization juggernaut seems to have driven a rare if growing wedge in the school privatization camp. Yesterday in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the Founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, Jeanne Allen, all but blasted conservative politicians in West Virginia for being sellouts. “This time it’s the politicians with blood on their hands,” she fumes, complaining that “they are content for West Virginia to remain among the six states with no charter laws.” [Sub required]


INFRASTRUCTURE

12) National: Sen. Bernie Sanders has announced he is running for president. Discussing water infrastructure, Sanders says “not only do we allow corporations to pollute our waterways, but government has failed to keep up with critically needed improvements to our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. We should not privatize water and wastewater services, which would drive up prices and reduce access to clean water. Instead, federal agencies like the EPA and USDA should support local communities as they work to carry out these necessary infrastructure improvements.” Sanders, along with Reps. Brenda Lawrence and Rep. Ro Khanna, is introducing the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act of 2019.

13) National: A Republican congressman, Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), has received an award for his efforts to protect the Bonneville Power Association (BPA) from privatization by Trump. “Last year, following a proposal from the Trump Administration to privatize BPA, Walden raised his concerns in a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in which expressed strong opposition to this proposal. Walden also secured a commitment from Secretary Perry to not privatize BPA during a hearing before the Energy and Commerce Committee. During the hearing, Walden said, ‘this idea of selling off electric transmission assets and abandoning cost-based rates has been roundly rejected by virtually every member of the Pacific Northwest Congressional delegation. It is the one idea—bad idea—that unites all of us in the Northwest. I’m afraid this move could do nothing but harm my constituents, drive up electricity costs, and hurt consumers across the region.’” Could this be a trend?

14) National/Think Tanks: The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and Cato Institute, both funded by the Kochs, are pushing Amtrak privatization again.

15) MissouriTomorrow’s vote for president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen will be crucial for deciding whether Lambert Airport gets privatized, writes Jake Lyonfields, who is supporting Megan-Ellyia Green. The president has a vital role in how a local 3-person political board will ultimately weigh in on the decision. “Right now, a simple majority vote at E&A would be enough to approve privatization, and Reed has sent several signals that he would support the privatization of our airport. Notably, Comptroller Darlene Green seems to oppose airport privatization, while Krewson supports privatization. Accordingly, replacing Reed at the helm of the Board of Aldermen is essential to defeating this wrong-headed, profit-motivated privatization measure.”

The issue of public subsidies for private businesses is also at stake. “Alderwoman Green has said she opposes having the city own the [soccer] stadium. As board president, she or Nasheed, a state senator, could relegate upcoming legislation to unfavorable committees,” reports the St. Louis Business Journal. “The women could also push for a community benefits agreement, long sought by progressives for big development projects. MLS intends to award its 28th team this year, and St. Louis and Sacramento look like the frontrunners.” [Sub required]


CRIMINAL JUSTICE & IMMIGRATION

16) National: CoreCivic has retained the lobbying services of The Vogel Group. One of Vogel’s lobbyists for CoreCivic is Brian M. Johnson, former Head of Tax for the American Petroleum Institute and a former Grover Norquist operative. The issue code is banking. In addition to working on immigration policy, Vogel reports that “before joining the firm, Brian was a Director of Federal Relations for the American Petroleum Institute and prior to that, a manager of federal affairs for Americans for Tax Reform.” Johnson is a former executive director of the anti-union Alliance for Worker Freedom, a branch of Grover Norquist’s ATR. He will be working as a lobbyist for CoreCivic with prominent DC lobbyist Alex Vogel, who lobbied for the private prison company from 2010-2014.

17) National: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) intends to hold hearings “to make these banks accountable for investing in and making money off of the detention of immigrants.” Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, an advocacy group connected to Make the Road, says “people deserve to know who is benefiting from caging children. Too little is known about the profit motives behind aggressive immigration enforcement.”

18) National: Seth Sandronsky, a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, reports on the launch of a new campaign to end banks’ financial role in lending to for-profit operators of immigrant detention facilities under contract with ICE. “People from around the world are in immigrant detention stateside. “In El Paso right now there are Sikh detainees from Punjab hunger striking, and in Yuba City (north of Sacramento) we have detainees from Southeast Asia as well as Central America and Mexico,” according to [Autumn Gonzalez of Sacramento-based NorCal Resist]. ‘Some are folks whose families came without papers years ago, and due to some kind of minor interaction with law enforcement, such as a traffic violation, they’ve gotten caught in the ICE process.’” 

19) National: Following congressional hearings last week, PBS NewHour correspondent Amna Nawaz gave an excellent summary of the current state of family separation practices under the Trump administration. “Listen, the number one headline to me, Judy, was confirmation from Border Patrol that family separations continue, and not just where we’d expect them, if there is a danger to the child or a violent criminal history of the parent, also just if the parent is illegally reentering. The first time you illegally enter, it’s a misdemeanor. The second time, it’s a felon—a felony, rather. So that is still happening. And we have heard anecdotes about that, heard that from our sources. It’s confirmation from Border Patrol. Also striking to me, though, is how many of those key questions weren’t answered today. There were hours of questions, multiple repeated questions to those officials. We still don’t know who conceived of the policy. We still have no idea why it was implemented in the chaotic and messy way it was. And we still don’t know how many kids were affected. It’s a stunning thing, because, for the last year, we have been trying to figure out answers to those questions.” 

20) National: As states look to cut jail populations—and private prison companies look to expand their profitable businesses in electronic monitoring—electronic “miniature prisons” are on the rise, reports The Appeal’s Kira Lerner. “”Because of the trauma of electronic monitoring, she decided to plead guilty rather than fight her case in court. Accepting the plea deal, she said, meant she would no longer have to subject herself to GPS tracking and surveillance around the clock. There are more than 2,700 people on electronic monitoring in Cook County, Illinois, alone, according to a local news report. Across the country, the rate of electronic monitoring has increased significantly. According to a Pew study, the number of active offender-monitoring devices increased nearly 140 percent from 2005 to 2015, when more than 125,000 people were supervised with the devices.

21) National:, “When does a jail fail enough for it to be expelled by ICE for good?” asks The Washington Post’s Joe Davidson. “One of the latest comes not from the southern border, where untold numbers of children were separated from their parents, but from Newark. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, used Essex County Correctional Facility there to incarcerate up to 928 men in circumstances that seem reprehensible, as described in a new DHS OIG report. ” [See the photos in the report] One inmate said, “the food that we received has been complete garbage, it’s becoming impossible to eat it. It gets worse every day. It literally looks like it came from the garbage dumpster; I have a stomach infection because of it and the nurse herself told me it was caused by the food.” ECCF is a public facility, but can ICE’s inspection regime be that much better at its contracted facilities?

22) Arkansas: State officials have selected a contractor to run their youth detention centers. “Rite of Passage could take control of the facilities as soon as May, said department spokeswoman Amy Webb. Rite of Passage also has the option to renew the contract in one-year installments until 2026. Critics and federal investigators say the state’s youth detention centers have faced a variety of problems over the past decade, such as sexual assault, substandard facilities and inadequate behavioral health treatment.” 

But “child advocates questioned the state’s decision to privatize the operation of the facilities. ‘This privatization contract raises grave concerns about the implications for the basic rights, bodily integrity, education and rehabilitation of our most vulnerable youth,’ said Amy Lafont, a Little Rock attorney who works with families and children in the juvenile justice system. Lafont also raised concerns about Rite of Passage’s history. Rite of Passage currently manages the 120-bed Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center near Alexander, which is the state’s largest juvenile correction facility. It took over operations in 2016 through a $34 million, three-year contract.”

23) California: KQED’s The California Reports brings us up to date on efforts to end cash bail. The bottom line: ending cash bail is on hold until 2020, but critics aren’t waiting to push reforms. “When California passed a law last year aimed at eliminating cash bail in the state, the bail industry jumped into action, gathering enough signatures to put the question before voters as a referendum in 2020. That referendum prevents Senate Bill 10 from taking effect until voters weigh in. But in the meantime, California’s pretrial system is continuing to evolve as supporters of bail reform push a slew of changes to what they see as an unfair system. ‘The bail industry makes a lot of money off of people, and they’re going to do everything they can (to preserve the status quo)’ says State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, author of Senate Bill 10. Those initiatives are taking place in courtrooms across California and in the state Capitol—and they could provide a road map for the future if voters end bail in 2020.” 

24) Louisiana: Two former St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office (STPSO) deputies have pleaded guilty for their roles in a kickback and bribery scheme involving a contract for the privatization of a work release program. An excerpt: “On June 4, 2013, Public Official 1 entered into a cooperative endeavor agreement (‘privatization agreement’) on behalf of STPSO with St. Tammany Workforce Solutions, LLC to operate the Slidell work release program. Although Person 1 and Person 2 acted effectively as passive members and did not participate substantially in the operation, oversight, or administration of the Slidell work release program, Person 3 was required to pay Person 1 and Person 2 salaries in addition to their ownership disbursements. Person 3 was also directed to pay Person 4, who was Public Official 1’s relative and an employee at STPSO, approximately $30,000 per year for a no-show job at the Slidell work release program.”


PUBLIC SERVICES

25) National: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), addressing the American Legion, pushes back on Veterans Administration privatization. “We’re committed to strengthening the four walls of the VA and fighting privatization efforts. We must fight the privatization efforts. Sometimes they’re disguised. Sometimes they come in disguise, but we all have to recognize the ramifications of any proposal. Give it its fair shot—is it in furtherance, a strengthening of our ability to honor our responsibilities to our veterans?”

26) Alaska: The budget proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) and Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin (a former trustee for GEO Group’s Correctional Properties Trust) is receiving widespread condemnation for slashing public services and driving privatization of Alaska’s public assets. Kengo Nagaoka of The Alaska Center, Tristan Glowa a community organizer for Native Movement and the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, and Derek Reed of NEA-Alaska say “every community in Alaska suffers with this budget, rural communities more than any others. While Alaskans are forced to argue over a false choice between Permanent Fund dividends and the services essential to our communities, this administration is already moving to privatize the public institutions we depend on. Gov. Dunleavy would not have been elected had he campaigned on privatizing the Alaska Marine Highway, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and our prisons, or appointing commissioners with blatant ties to Pebble Mine. Meanwhile, Pebble Mine hearings will march forward during the height of the budget battle. While we scramble to preserve our communities, outsiders look to make a profit.”

27) Minnesota: City, county and state officials get an earful from Minneapolis public housing residents. “Several audience members asked the panel about public housing. Ladan Yusuf of the Defend Glendale and Public Housing Coalition said each representative should be held responsible for privatization of local public housing. ‘People are being pushed out of their homes in public housing and all of you guys are responsible,’ Yusuf said. ‘You should be all ashamed of this crisis.’”

28) International: The Ontario Health Coalition, with the support of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 1712, is having a rally in Toronto on April 30 to fight back against plans to cut back and privatize the Ontario health system. “Despite the rosy-sounding rhetoric of Health Minister Christine Elliott that has focused entirely on positive-sounding words like ‘coordination’ and ‘teams,’ the draft legislation that was leaked a few weeks ago by a concerned civil servant to the NDP who made it public, was very clearly written to give the new ‘Super Agency’ powers to order—with the stroke of a pen—the privatization of anything deemed a ‘support service’ in almost all of the health care system. Similarly, the ‘Super Agency’ has the power to order the privatization of any procurement (not limited by definition). The minister and the Super Agency together have powers to order transfers, closures, megamergers of virtually all health care providers.”

29) International: Although it has not been covered by the media in the U.S., there has been a dramatic overturning of decades of government outsourcing ideology in Britain. “The scathing reports, also last week, from the National Audit Office on Grayling’s contracting out of probation and from the public accounts committee on the contracting out of army recruitment were the coup de grace for outsourcing. Probation, and the rehabilitation of offenders, is a vocation requiring patience, resources, dedication and emotional intelligence. If a private company is to enter the lists, it needs to be founded explicitly on those public benefit purposes and accorded necessary resource, otherwise outsourcing is bound to be a fiasco.” Will the mania for privatization, which originated decades ago in right wing think tanks around Margaret Thatcher before migrating here, suffer the same fate in the U.S.? 


OTHER

30) National: One of the nation’s top Army leaders, Mark T. Esper, and one of North Carolina’s senators, Thom Tillis, “said Friday there is no reason why military families on Fort Bragg should have to live with housing concerns like lead paint, cockroaches and ants. (…) Corvias is Fort Bragg’s private housing contractor. (…) ‘A troubling piece of this it seems to me as well there was a great fear of retaliation out there in the system. It’s not by the Army, but by the contractors,’ Esper said.” This Thursday the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “The Chain of Command’s Accountability to Provide Safe Military Housing and Other Building Infrastructure to Servicemembers and Their Families.” Top military brass from all the services will testify.

31) National: The IRS says “its auditors plan to focus on excessive cost of issuance for private activity bonds, defeasance, and public safety or jail bonds.” [Sub required]

32) NationalAnother privatization mistake comes home to roost. “Helium is running out because in 1996, the Helium Privatization Act required that the Department of the Interior sell its helium to help make up the cost of building the reserve. In turn, the United States government sold most of the nation’s stockpile of helium at below-average prices by 2015.”

33) California: Flor Barajas, the Deputy Director at Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), calls for more democratic decision-making on the use and redevelopment of public open spaces. “The proposed redevelopment of the Willowick Golf Course is an example of how the councils of Garden Grove and Santa Ana, including Mayor Pulido and Mayor Steven Jones want to squash resident participation. In fact, they have publicly expressed they want to limit participation in determining the future for Willowick by forming ad-hoc committees that will meet in secret to ‘streamline’ the development process.”

34) IllinoisThe bond market is warily eyeing the two-person April race for Chicago mayor, having just witnessed strong gains among progressives for other elective offices in the city. “Preckwinkle was endorsed by the teachers’ union and has strong labor support. That could signal an unwillingness to extract savings from labor. ‘She may be more bondholder friendly in the short term but maybe in the long term more detrimental to the city,’ Nguyen said, if she favors raising taxes as ‘opposed to restructuring the spending side.’ (…) Lightfoot said in a recent public forum that the city will still need to ‘come up with progressive forms of revenue’ to address near-term budget needs.” [Sub required]

35) New York: The establishment of private sanitation zones will cut down on dangerous “private garbage trucks running roughshod over the five boroughs,” according to a new report. “The plan will reduce private carting truck traffic in the city by 50%, which will produce less pollution and curb chances for fatal accidents, the department said.

Recyclable and organic collection are also projected to jump by 44%, making the city cleaner, the study shows.” Sean Campbell, president of Teamsters Local 813, says “if the city limits one hauler to each waste zone, we will get the biggest benefits for New Yorkers. The commercial waste industry has been stuck in the dark ages for too long.” Hearings will be held March 11 and March 14 by the city.

6) New York: Cybersecurity for the city government (e.g. against public-sector ransomware attacks) “presents a business opportunity,” the Bond Buyer reports. “Enter the city’s public-private partnership, Cyber NYC. Two Israeli companies, Jerusalem Venture Partners and SOSA, the latter an open innovation platform, are running point on a $100 million program by the quasi-public New York City Economic Development Corp. The city is providing $30 million with private funding to cover the other $70 million. The aim is to produce 10,000 jobs within five years.”