Weekly privatization report: The shutdown’s impact on workers, and more.

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

1) National: As the federal government shutdown drags into its third week, impacting over 800,000 federal workers. AFGE President J. David Cox says “our members take home an average of around US$500 each week. Any interruption in their pay has a devastating impact on them, their families, and their communities.” AFSCME President Lee Saunders has called on Trump to accept a House and Senate Democratic proposal to reopen the federal government

Beyond this, however, the shutdown’s “effects are starting to cascade far beyond the hulking agency buildings in Washington,” reports the Washington Post. “Private companies with federal contracts are coping with chaos, confusion and uncertainty, while businesses large and small that rely on the operations of the vast federal bureaucracy are starting to feel sand in their gears.” In a letter sent to Congressional leaders today, The Professional Services Council, the trade association of government contractors, has “underscored the vital role of hundreds of thousands of workers who support the government through contracts, delivering services to citizens, maintaining and modernizing thousands of information and data systems throughout America. As the shutdown drags on, more and more of these workers are losing their work and their pay.” For background on the shutdown see this Congressional Research Service report.

2) National: The shutdown is also affecting implementation of the recently passed federal criminal justice reform billThe First Step Act “would expand job training and other programming aimed at reducing recidivism rates among federal prisoners. It also expands early-release programs and modifies sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, to more equitably punish drug offenders.” The bill does not affect most incarcerated people because they are in state and local prisons and jails and it isn’t retroactive. Critics have denounced the shortcomings of the new law, which they say “boosts privatization, fails to dismantle mass incarceration, nor does it implement sentencing reform.” 

3) National: Videos of employees of a private contractor—Southwest Key—pushing, dragging and shoving migrant children obtained by the Arizona Republic are under review for criminal charges and have added to concerns about the abusive treatment of migrants by the Trump administration. “As the same time the incidents captured on video were happening, Southwest Key was under pressure from state regulators over failing to ensure that all of its employees were properly backgrounded. The health department threatened to revoke the licenses of all 13 Southwest Key shelters. But settlement talks resulted in Southwest Key agreeing to close two shelters in exchange for the state dropping its revocation threat. One of them was the Youngtown facility.” The New York Times says “a difficult situation for migrant children in government custody could grow more challenging if the largest provider in the overburdened shelter system were to lose its grants.” Southwest Key is also under investigation for possible misuse of federal money

4) National: The ACLU’s Lee Gelernt reports that despite headlines announcing Trump’s ending the separation of migrant families, “the administration is still separating children from their parents, sometimes using vague and unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing or minor violations as justification.” And plans for profiteering from family detention are continuing apace. Writing in the American Prospect, Daniel Moattar reports that “family detention centers run by the country’s two largest for-profit prison operators are set to become some of Texas’s biggest child-care providers, following a recent state appeals court decision. Under the ruling, the centers—which have been accused of enabling sexual abuse and allowing children to die in their care—will receive the same type of licenses granted to the state’s daycares, potentially enabling them to detain children indefinitely.” 

5) National: GEO Group’s stock price is down over 14% in the past year, and CoreCivic is down close to 21% in the past year. (Set chart period to one year). 

6) NationalHow widespread is racial bias among emergency medical responders both public and private? A new study is shedding some light. A critical piece is whether private ambulance companies choose to share their data. “’We were prepared to maybe not look that great,’ explains Robert McDonald, the operations manager at American Medical Response in Portland. AMR is one of the nation’s largest ambulance organizations, and it shared its data from more than 100,000 charts with Kennel.”

7) ArizonaCharter schools in the state need more accountability, say Denton Santarelli and Tom Heck of the Best Public Education Foundation. “In Arizona, there are two types of schools in public education—traditional district schools and charter schools. Both receive public taxpayer dollars to operate. Our concern is that these two types of schools are not held to the same level of public accountability and transparency for the spending of public tax dollars.”

8) California: Bullis Charter School in Los Altos was “the biggest news generator throughout 2018,” reports the Mountain View Voice’s Kevin Forestien. “That critical board vote came on Dec. 20—Bullis Mountain View declined to push the date until after the holiday break—but nobody in the room seemed particularly happy. The district’s leadership thoroughly criticized the charter school organization and cast doubt on its stated goals to serve low-income children, launching what could prove to be a tense relationship.”

9) CaliforniaPG&E, the country’s largest privately owned, publically regulated utility, is considering bankruptcy, Reuters reports. “A bankruptcy filing is not certain, the sources said. The company could receive financial help through legislation that would let it pass on to customers costs associated with fire liabilities, the sources said. But that is just a possibility, they said, so bankruptcy preparations are being made. (…) The utility has been wrestling with how best to proceed after two years of destructive fires. California policymakers had approved a bill that let utilities pass on to customers some costs related to wildfires, according to Moody’s. But the bill did not cover 2018 fires.” 

10) California: The Daily Bulletin (Inland Valley) reports that the San Bernardino County school board had multiple conflicts of interest when it voted last month to approve a charter school. “In an 81-page letter sent to the county school board, and obtained by the Southern California News Group through the use of the California Public Records Act, Chino Valley Unified covers the basis it had for denying Sycamore Academy a charter in three unsuccessful attempts in the past. But the Dec. 18 letter also says that two county board members – Hardy Brown II and Ken Larson – had conflicts of interest regarding Sycamore Academy and should have recused themselves from that board’s Dec. 3 vote. Sycamore Academy’s parent organization—the Ronald Reagan Charter School Alliance—gave $14,975 on behalf of the Sycamore charter to the Black Voice Foundation, where Brown serves as chairman.”

11) CaliforniaA proposed charter school is suing the San Jose school district—again. “In the new lawsuit, filed in December, Promise says the district unfairly invalidated the forms for more than a hundred students whose parents’ planned to enroll them at the new charter school once it opens. The number of students expected to enroll is used to determine whether a school district is required to allocate classroom space to a charter school attempting to open within its boundaries. (…) A district official said many of the forms didn’t include students’ dates of birth, which they said were required to verify eligibility, while other forms had addresses that were outside the district or couldn’t be verified using a California student database.”

12) Connecticut: Wendy Lecker, a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and senior attorney at the Education Law Center, reports that “the charter school lobby has spent eye-popping amounts in efforts to sway elections and ballot measures across the country in recent years. And their efforts have fallen flat in comparison with grassroots advocacy on behalf of public education. (…) After their spectacular public losses, the charter lobby is getting craftier. A recent report by Common Cause and the Connecticut Citizens Action Group reveal some of their newer tactics, but with many of the same backers.” [Who is Buying Our Education System? Charter School Super PACs in Connecticut]

13) District of ColumbiaA DC Mom has busted an unlicensed charter school. “Jones didn’t know it then, but she exposed a major crack in the charter school system. The center, which has no website and no business license, was operating out of an unassuming row house on Minnesota Avenue, in Southeast D.C. The facility ran completely under the radar. The Office of the State Superintendent wasn’t even aware it existed. OSEE and the Public Charter School Board are now investigating the center. Charter schools, including Monument Academy, referred special needs students to the center on a temporary basis after they were being suspended.” The school was able to operate in D.C. “while taking in special needs students from at least six different charter schools.”

14) FloridaA bridge trustee (UMB Bank NA) is suing the state of Florida to force it to impose a toll hike on motorists for defaulted bonds on Garcon Point toll bridge. “The Santa Rosa Bay Bridge Authority board, which hasn’t existed for years because board appointments weren’t made by Gov. Rick Scott, declined to follow rate covenants and raise tolls in part because members believed local residents would balk at the cost and use competing nearby free roadways. The first bridge trustee, Bank of New York Mellon, wrote to the FDOT in March 2015 requesting the agency raise tolls. The bank claimed that FDOT’s lease-purchase agreement with the authority for bridge maintenance also required the department to establish and collect tolls. The FDOT disputed the trustee’s interpretation of the agreement.” [Sub required]

15) Florida: In a letter to the editor of the Citrus County Chronicle, Rosemary Nilles of Inverness points to private religious and charter schools and asks “will Florida taxpayers sit up and take notice when public schools can no longer afford sports teams, any electives (e.g. music, art, theater, computers, etc.), building repairs, transportation, nurses, librarians, special education teachers, janitors, or well qualified, experienced classroom teachers?”

16) Maryland: In an interview with Pacifica Radio’s “On the Ground,” In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler explains why Gov. Hogan’s plan for a $9 billion highway expansion plan is risky. “Rather than use public financing, Hogan is turning to the private markets to finance, build and operate the project. Elsewhere, these so-called public-private partnerships have led to problems, including next door in Virginia, where the state’s high-priced toll lanes are nicknamed “Lexus lanes.” But there’s a further issue with building more lanes: they lure more drivers to the road, and traffic quickly rebounds, while the public purse is drained and pollution increases. At least that’s what a joint study by two public interest groups says.” [Audio, about 8 minutes]

17) MissouriA meeting of the St. Louis airport commission has been scheduled for this Wednesday. “No ‘open agenda’ or ‘other business’ listed. Will an update on @flystl lease-privatization process be given? #WhoseAirport#SignPropV#BB93.”

18) New YorkA Buffalo charter school is to close its doors at the end of the school year in June. “The Board came to the realization that given the school’s current kindergarten – grade 4 educational model, we are financially unable to retain, recruit and provide the necessary and additional resources for our students and staff to succeed and excel,” said Board President Jerry Linder.

19) Ohio: The Cincinnati Planning Commission has blocked efforts to locate a charter school in the Melrose YMCA in Walnut Hills. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld  “cited the recent scandal surrounding the Educational Classroom of Tomorrow, a charter school that heavily contributed to Ohio elected officials but continued to stay in business despite its failure, as a reason for the city to put the brakes on the project. ‘Ohio is still reeling from … one of the worst public corruption scandals in the history of our state,’ Sittenfeld said.”

20) Texas: Tensions over money and attendance continue to roil schools as “districts across the Rio Grande Valley battled to keep current students and enroll new ones.” In Brownsville, “the battle was primarily between the Brownsville Independent School District and IDEA Public Schools, the Donna-based charter school district that has grown beyond the Valley and now bills itself as the fastest growing charter school district in the country. IDEA built its first school in Brownsville in 2006 and is now building its fourth campus in the city. Charter districts Harmony Public Schools and Jubilee Academies have also been active.”

21) Washington/Idaho/Oregon/Montana/Nevada/Northern California/AlaskaNorthwest tribes have united to oppose water privatization. “As corporations like Nestle and the fracking industry seek to privatize watersheds, it is necessary for Tribes and other communities to be proactive in the protection of their watersheds from privatization and exploitation. Mni wiconi, water, is a source of life not a source for corporate profit and exploitation. This resolution puts Northwest Tribes at the forefront of protecting watersheds from privatization and takes the additional step in recognizing that nature too has a right to exist free from exploitation.”

22) WashingtonThe state’s newest charter school could be coming to Bremerton. “The opening of Catalyst’s charter school would mean a loss of funding for Bremerton and surrounding school districts, since education funding in Washington state is apportioned according to student enrollment. The funding follows students, not schools. That’s been a key sticking point in lawsuits filed against charter schools.”

23) International: Brazil’s newly installed right wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has unveiled a program of massive privatizations of airports, ports, and electric utilities.

24) International: South Africa’s beaches have “an ugly problem of racial exclusion and privatization,” Lynsey Chutel writes in Quartz. “On Dec. 26, a private security company forcibly cleared people off Clifton’s fourth beach, a public area. It quickly became a racially charged issue. The company was hired by business owners on the strip who claim crime has risen in the area. To anyone being shooed away from a public beach, this was seen as an attempt as the wealthy trying to privatize a public space. Like healthcare, education and housing, security has also been privatized in South Africa building even higher walls in an already divided country. Crime is already a public conversation tinged with racism in South Africa.”

25) Revolving door news: House Democrats have introduced measures to crack down on “Federal employees who pass through the revolving door with the private sector and engage in other actions that could present conflicts of interest. (…) The new House majority put forward the For the People Act (H.R. 1) as its first legislative priority, after the more immediate concern of reopening the full government.” The bill “includes many reforms that the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has long supported.” It would “prohibit ‘golden parachute’ incentive payments from private companies to former employees entering government service and would impose stricter limits on former contract procurement officers leaving government service.”

26) Think tanks: Ronald Aronson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Wayne State University, takes aim at “the privatization of hope,” which “refers to political, economic, and ideological projects of the past two generations, including the deliberate construction of the consumer economy and then the turn toward neoliberalism. We have not lost all hope over the past generation; there is a maddening profusion of personal hopes. Under attack has been the kind of hope that is social, the motivation behind movements to make the world freer, more equal, more democratic, and more livable.”

Legislative

1) National: The National Conference of State Legislatures has provided a useful interactive map providing information on legislative sessions in each state, district and territory in 2019. [State sessions breakout(PDF)]

2) National: Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine plan to introduce legislation “to secure back pay for the federal contractors who have gone without pay during the government shutdown. Warner and Kaine were joined by Senators Tina Smith, Sherrod Brown, Chris Van Hollen, and Ben Cardin. Each day, thousands of federal contractors provide critical services to support the federal government, often at low wages, and many have been furloughed or forced to accept reduced work hours as a result of the government shutdown. Many of these workers are janitorial, food, and security services workers.”

3) National: Lawmakers from both parties are concerned that the “New VA Private Care Program Could Be a ‘Train Wreck.’” Sen. John Tester (D-MT) “suggested VA is now considering a complete outsourcing of certain procedures and appointments, as well as giving veterans carte blanche to pursue private care outside of VA based on ‘arbitrary’ wait times or distance from a VA facility. One of the main tenets of the new law was to move away from such metrics for determining eligibility for outside care, Tester said.” Isaac Arnsdorf and Jon Greenberg of The Pacific Standard report that since 2014, Health Net and TriWest Healthcare Alliance “have been paid nearly $2 billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses—a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.”

4) National: The Daily Beast reports that the House Intelligence Committee wants mercenary entrepreneur Erik Prince to come back and testify. “‘There’s some significant questions about the truthfulness of what he told the committee based on what we’ve learned subsequently,’ he told The Daily Beast. ‘He also refused to answer a number of questions because he was there voluntarily. And I think it’s important that Congress get all of its questions answered, even if we have to subpoena him.’” [h/t to veteran researcher Bill Berkowitz]. Prince has stirred speculation that he is reviving plans to privatize the war in Afghanistan

5) National: On its Legalese podcast, Abolish Private Prisons, an Arizona-based nonprofit, hosted an interesting discussion on whether private, for profit incarceration is constitutional or not. Co-hosts Amena Kheshtchin and Herbert Paine interviewed John Dacey, who is Founder and Executive Director of Abolish Private Prisons and Robert Craig, Staff Attorney at Abolish Private Prisons. [Audio, about an hour]

6) National: As the new congress convenes, it will be interesting to see how lawmakers handle the issue of contractor transparency. Although some abstracted information on government contracts is publically available, full contracts are not. There was a Senate bill last term that would have required the full publication of all government contracts on a national website for citizen activists and others to review (minus national security sensitive or classified information or trade secrets or other proprietary information). It would require government contractors to post “machine-readable, searchable copy of” contracts above $150,000.  The bill, S.651, was introduced last March by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Will it be reintroduced along with a companion bill in the House?

7) Arizona: Rep. Kelly Townsend (R) has introduced a bill to make charter schools comply with state open meetings law. “House Bill 2032 would require charter schools, their governing bodies, sponsors, holders, operators and boards of directors to comply with state laws that already apply to school districts. State law requires that all meetings of public bodies shall be public and open for anyone to attend, and all legal actions of those bodies must occur during open meetings.”

8) Indiana: “This Indiana virtual charter school graduated just 2 percent of its students in 2018,” reports Chalkbeat’s Shaina Cavazos. “Lawmakers are expected to consider recommendations for improving virtual schools during this year’s legislative session.”

9) KentuckyThe state is shaping up as a major legislative battleground on education this year. “Teachers rejoiced and Republicans despaired across Kentucky,” the Bowling Green Daily News reported, “as the state’s Supreme Court struck down a law that had made changes to one of the country’s worst-funded pension systems.” Local educators “will be watching state lawmakers closely in 2019 as they take another shot at fixing Kentucky’s strained pension system and possibly grapple with a charter schools funding mechanism. Although lawmakers won’t consider a state budget this year, Kentucky’s Department of Education will ask them to let K-12 funding follow students to a charter school of their parent’s choice. That notion has drawn mixed reactions from some lawmakers, including Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who told regional superintendents in a meeting last month that he doesn’t see much eagerness among lawmakers for that concept.” 

But the Koch and Donors Fund-supported Bluegrass Institute is still pushing for more charter school funding in the new legislative session. “Even though this is a short session year for the legislature and a supermajority vote is required to pass such a funding bill in 2019, the fact that Republicans hold such a majority in both houses and tend to favor charter schools means this topic is far from dead in 2019,” they say. The institute is affiliated with the Koch-backed State Policy Network.