1) National: In the Public Interest executive director Donald Cohen has just published a book, Dismantling Democracy, that puts Trump in the context of a forty-year assault on government and shows progressives ways to fight back. “Progressives have won significant policy battles across the country in the past few years, such as minimum-wage increases and public investments in child care. But those victories have not translated into increased understanding of and support for the kind of basic public powers that they depended on,” Cohen writes. “The bottom line is that progressives are losing the larger war for the soul of the nation,” but he proposes ten ideas and strategies to regain the initiative.
2) National: In an excellent, fact-filled new study, the Prison Policy Initiative reports that in “20 years of net jail growth in this country, all of this growth is in the pretrial population. We need to reform policing, prosecution, money bail.” For-profit prison companies are counting on new prison construction to boost their bottom line growth. “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2018,” by Peter Wagner and Wendy Sawyer.
3) National: As Trump’s tariffs threaten to raise costs for infrastructure materials, “the dinner bell is ringing” for lobbyists pushing for exemptions vs. hanging tough. “Tariffs on imported aluminum and steel could drive up the cost of infrastructure investments, accentuating price pressures already brought on by a growing global economy.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “higher demand in the U.S., meanwhile, has propped up prices for concrete and other materials, making it more expensive to build roads, bridges, schools, health centers and other facilities when U.S. infrastructure is rapidly aging.” This will obviously affect the feasibility of many anticipated projects by raising costs and thus making it that much more difficult to find long-term adequate, sustainable funding sources—taxes and/or tolls. If a trade war develops and costs shoot up, will the private sector still be willing to pony up the $1.3 trillion in financing envisaged under the Trump plan?
4) National: Private, for-profit prison companies that force immigrant detainees to work for little or no money have some new supporters: eighteen Republican members of Congress. The lawmakers “sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Labor, calling for them to help private-prison company GEO Group defend itself in lawsuits by former detainees. (… ) GEO Group filed the congressmen’s letter with U.S. District Court in the Central District of California on March 12 as part of the Novoa v. GEO Group suit. It argues that immigrants should not be able to sue prison companies because they aren’t employees there, and that paying them $1 per day for their work is lawful. The letter also said that the allegedly forced labor saves the government money and improves detainees’ morale.”
Three of the lawmakers are from Georgia, which has a hideous history of chain gangs, convict leasing, cruelty, and forced labor (click on Georgia). [Read excerpts from I Am A Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang]
5) National: GEO Group releases its Proxy Statement in advance of its annual general meeting, which will be conducted via live audio webcast on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 at 9:00 a.m. (EDT). From 2015-2017 (table on p. 34) its current executive officers received $42,060,669 in compensation. From 2016 to 2017 the GEO executives’ compensation almost doubled, from $10,982,295 to $20,358,689. In the revolving door category, J. David Donahue, who served in the Indiana, Kentucky and U.S. Bureau of Prisons, received $4,098,123 in compensation from 2016 to 2017. The proxy statement reports—pursuant to regulations under Dodd-Frank—that “the total annual compensation for the year ended December 31, 2017 was $35,630 for our median employee and $9,664,433 for our CEO as reflected in the ‘Total’ column of the Summary Compensation Table. The ratio of our CEO’s pay to that of our median employee for 2017 was approximately 271 times.”
6) National: Capital and Main and the International Business Times report that “the missteps and errors of ICE and its contractors have led to concerns about the safety of immigrant detainees with mental health issues. (…) The investigation, which generated audio interviews of Stewart staff and detainees, along with recordings of Jimenez’s personal phone calls and official documents, revealed that CoreCivic, the for-profit prison company that operates Stewart for ICE, and ICE Health Services Corps, which provides health care at Stewart, cut corners and skirted federal detention rules.”
7) National: The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on Thursday on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s criteria for evaluating and approving ‘public private partnerships’ for land, sea, and air ports of entry, the number of which is increasing. GAO found that “as of November 2017, CBP had not developed an evaluation plan—which could include, among other things, measurable objectives, performance criteria, and data collection plans—to assess the overall performance of the [Reimbursable Services Program] and [Donations Acceptance Program], consistent with Office of Management and Budget guidance and leading practices. Given CBP’s staffing challenges and anticipated growth of the RSP and DAP, an evaluation plan could better position CBP to further integrate evaluation activities into program management.” It recommends that “CBP develop an evaluation plan to assess the overall performance of the [Reimbursable Services Program] and [Donations Acceptance Program]. DHS concurred with the recommendation.”
8) National: The West Virginia teachers strike continues to have ripple effects across the country as teachers may strike on April 2 in Oklahoma, and Arizona teachers are rising up. “We just had a Red for Ed rally at the Capitol on Wednesday morning, during our spring break. We were there to oppose SB 1467, a bill that would take funds away from public education and give it to private schools through school tuition organizations (STOs), which provide scholarships to attend private schools.” Labor Notes interviewed Phoenix seventh-grade math and science teacher Rebecca Garelli, a leader in the group. Garelli reports that the right wing Goldwater Institute has been on their Facebook page monitoring the group. The institute, which has Grover Norquist on its board, is headed by someone named Victor Riches.
9) National: David Halperin reports that Bridgeport Education, a for-profit college operator, is trying to become a nonprofit. “As we wrote yesterday, legitimate non-profit colleges contract out some services to for-profit companies, and some such deals surely make economic sense. But we said that all such deals deserve proper scrutiny, and particularly should be reviewed in certain conditions: where the contracting with a single for-profit company extends to a wide range of operations, where there are business deals with insiders, and where companies with a history of deceptive practices and predatory abuses are involved. While we haven’t seen the details of the Bridgepoint restructuring yet, the company’s record provides no reason to optimistic about the public benefits of this deal.”
10) National/California: “I was a teacher at a [Los Angeles] charter school for a year. Here’s why you shouldn’t believe the hype that Betsy DeVos is trying to sell,” writes Florina Rodov. “If they are to continue, charter schools need to be better regulated so that they don’t become cesspools of corruption. Furthermore, it makes no sense to defund public schools, which 85-90% of kids attend, for the benefit of the 5 percent that attend charters, when only a handful perform better than public schools, while most do the same—or worse.”
11) National: The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) says hiring contractors to help ICE and the Customs and Border Patrol find new employees doesn’t make sense. “ICE and Border Patrol, both of which are part of the Department of Homeland Security, will pay the private companies a flat rate for every new employee hired, potentially incentivizing the companies to cut corners and not fully vet every candidate before they’re hired. As history has shown, this can have dangerous—even deadly—consequences.”
12) National: As the tension surrounding Trump administration firings intensifies, speculation is rife that Trump may replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who has opposed wholesale privatization of the $198.6 billion department, with Fox talk show personality Peter Hegseth. Hegseth, a veteran right winger with close ties to the Kochtopus, was passed over in 2017 in favor of Shulkin because of his inexperience at running such a large organization. The VA has almost 400,000 employees.
13) National: Ellen Brown ties together the need for public banking and resistance to efforts to privatize the U.S. Postal Service. “The need for postal banking is present and growing. According to the Campaign for Postal Banking, nearly 28 percent of U.S. households are underserved by traditional banks. Over 4 million workers without a bank account receive pay on a payroll card and spend $40-$50 per month on ATM fees just to access their pay. The average underserved household spends $2,412 annually—nearly 10 percent of gross income—in fees and interest for non-bank financial services. More than 30,000 post offices peppered across the country could service these needs.”
14) National: Lesley Stahl: “Perhaps you should visit public schools that have lost funding to charter schools and aren’t doing so well.” Betsy DeVos: “Perhaps I should.”
15) National: Two private, for-profit water companies plan to merge. SJW and its subsidiaries serve more than one million people in and around San Jose, Calif., and Canyon Lake, Texas. Connecticut Water and its subsidiaries provide water to more than 450,000 people in Connecticut and Maine and wastewater services to more than 10,000 people in Connecticut, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The new company would be the third-largest water and wastewater utility based on rate base and enterprise value. American Water Works Co. and Aqua America Inc. are the first- and second-largest. The combined company will be better positioned to expand its geographic reach by acquiring more municipal utilities and service contracts around the country, the people said.”
16) California: Clare Crawford, senior policy advisor with In the Public Interest, and Chris D. Funk, superintendent of the East Side Union High School District, highlight a major flaw in California’s charter school approval process. “California’s state board is approving charter schools that were denied by local decision makers at a high rate—71 percent—and a number of those schools have failed, just like Paramount. (…) State law must be reformed to return authority to local decision makers. There are a number of reforms being proposed that could help, including SB 1362proposed by Sen. Jim Beall, which would promote local control of charter schools. Parents, teachers, and democratically elected school boards should be able to decide what’s best for their students and communities.”
17) California: The Bellevue Union school board in Santa Rosa votes to close the Stony Point Academy charter school. The board “voted to shutter the school after listening to presentations by Superintendent David Alexander and the district’s new chief business officer, Chris Kim, who laid out a grim budget outlook for the school over the next two years. Kim projected the school would continue deficit spending even if it reached its targeted 42-student enrollment increase next year. ‘If SPA doesn’t meet its fund balance, it must be balanced by the district’s general fund,’ he said. (…) Critics assailed the previous superintendent and board members, who they claimed failed to properly plan for the growing school.”
18) California: A Sonora charter school is facing the possible revocation or non-renewal of its charter due to poor performance. “According to 2016-17 state testing data for the nine K-8 elementary schools in the county, Foothill Leadership Academy has the second largest percentage of students falling below the English/language arts and math standard. And in February, the school’s checking account dipped to a balance of (negative) – $683.10.”
19) Connecticut: A proposal to build a charter school in Danbury has provoked heated debate. “City Councilman Irving Fox, a former chairman of the Danbury school board, strongly supports the plan and is a founding member of the proposed charter school. ‘While the school district has worked with the city, it has not been enough to keep up with the explosive growth we’re facing,’ he said. ‘Our students are in dire need of high-quality seats. The proposal would help satisfy this need … This community needs an infusion of resources that Danbury Prospect would bring.’ But critics are skeptical of that pitch. They argue that charter schools divert increasingly scarce state resources but serve only a sliver of students, while still sticking local districts with new transportation and special education costs.”
20) District of Columbia: Metro DC DSA rallied last Thursday to demand that “we abolish ICE and end deportation profiteering.”
21) District of Columbia: The DC school district will be taking over an all-girls charter school that had its license revoked for poor performance. The ACLU has sued the city over single-sex charter schools. “In the 2016-2017 school year, 9 percent of Excel students met or exceeded expectations in math, compared with 27 percent citywide. In English, 19 percent met or exceeded expectations, compared with 31 percent citywide.”
22) Florida: The fatal bridge collapse in Miami once again demonstrates the importance of contractor selection and strict and adequately funded contract compliance monitoring of infrastructure projects—public, private, or public-private. “The state transportation agency accused the university of violating terms of an agreement to manage the contract. The Florida Department of Transportation said that because of the unique design of the pedestrian bridge, FIU had been required to obtain an ‘independent, secondary design check.’ But the state document said FIU had selected a contractor that was not ‘pre-qualified for this service, which is required under FIU’s agreement with the state.
The state said the independent firm chosen by FIU was Louis Berger. The company said in a statement to The Washington Post that it was ‘not involved in the construction phase’ of the bridge and supports a vigorous investigation into the collapse. The company did not respond to follow-up questions about whether it has reviewed the project on paper or on-site, or about the assertion by the state of Florida that it was not certified to do either.”
23) Florida: Skepticism greets Mayor Curry’s assurances that he has not decided on privatizing the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA). “Mayor Lemny Curry has sent a letter to JEA employees attempting to rebut rumors he’s pushing privatization. Obviously this only works if people believe it,” says @NateMonroeTU.
24) Florida: An Escambia County Circuit Court jury finds an Ohio businessman guilty of selling marked-up goods and fraudulently billing Florida charter schools, including five in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. “Escambia County Assistant State Attorney Russell Edgar said Kunkemoeller and Marcus May, the founder of Newpoint Education Partners, conspired to engage in a fraudulent billing and kickback scheme. Newpoint is a charter school management company that operated 15 schools in six Florida counties. Edgar said that May solicited Kunkemoeller to form two shell companies, School Warehouse and Red Ignition, to purchase furniture and equipment supplies and mark up the prices as high as 300 percent to sell to charter schools managed by Newpoint.”
25) Florida: Miami-Dade public schools superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho posts a quick rejoinder to Betsy DeVos: “In Miami @MDCPS, the graduation rate of 80.7 % increases to 84.7% if charter schools are removed from the calculation.”
26) Georgia: Let’s hear it for the “administrative state” and for public interest advocates. For the first time, the Georgia Division of Environmental Protection (EPD) “will check the addresses where water systems take their samples to be sure those sites are at the highest risk for lead contamination.” The steps grew out of a report last year done by Georgia Health News and WebMD.
27) Kentucky: Teachers aren’t just striking and raising demands for better wages and pensions, they’re running for office. “In Kentucky, 28 current or former educators are currently seeking seats in the legislature—a record number in that state. Many were motivated to run by a recent law allowing charter schools to operate in the state, as well as proposed changes to teachers’ pensions. ‘It just went through my soul that a governor would attack teachers,’ Cathy Carter, a teacher running for a Kentucky House seat, told the Associated Press. ‘I just didn’t understand it.’”
28) Louisiana: The state Supreme Court has upheld the state’s charter school funding plan. “The Iberville Parish School Board, the Louisiana Association of Educators and local chapters of the teacher’s union argued in lawsuits that funding the state-chartered schools through a formula meant to pay for local school districts violates the Louisiana Constitution. The formula divvies up both state and local tax dollars. ‘I’m disappointed in the court’s decision,’ Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators said in a statement. ‘This ruling solidifies the division of public schools into separate systems, creating greater inequities for our students.’”
29) Louisiana: The state is launching its first “toll feasible” infrastructure ‘public-private partnership.’ It has issued a Notice of Intent “to enter into a comprehensive agreement with a developer possessing the capability to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the Belle Chasse Bridge & Tunnel Replacement Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Project.” Responses are due by April 4, and the state wants a contract execution date no later than October 2019.
30) Louisiana: A Shreveport charter school operator spent $13,000 on a trip by its management team to New Orleans during Mardi Gras. “Taxpayers also covered the cost of a one-night stay for Jennings at the Troubadour Hotel, which describes itself as a boutique hotel. Besides covering hotel costs, the school let every employee take a personal vehicle—a cost of nearly $4,000 for mileage—and even rented a car for one employee so she could drive to New Orleans. The school also rented a van to shuttle people between their hotels and the New Orleans charter school.” KTBS reports, “State education officials said in a letter to Linwood’s board that they were satisfied the trip was legitimate and looked no further. They didn’t respond to interview requests. The Ethics Board is investigating Moham’s allegations but no hearing date has been set.”
31) Missouri: Danny Wicentowski recapitulates the saga of efforts by right wing billionaire Rex Sinquefield and some St. Louis politicians to privatize Lambert International Airport under a federal pilot program. Resistance is continuing, and the airlines haven’t signed off on the deal.
32) New Jersey: A movement against immigrant detention is getting off the ground, focused on Essex County. “One possibility is to link the issue of how to replace the blood money in the ICE contract to the savings that could be made by replacing the county’s dozens of profitable contractors with direct government employment, a ‘deprivatization’ campaign that would strike at the heart of [County executive Joseph DiVincenzo’s] power base and link the interests of immigrants and government workers.”
33) New York: A City of Hudson councilor has requested that the city join the ALEC-affiliated American City County Exchange. The city council, which previously voted to join the National League of Cities, postponed a decision. “Roy Sjoberg of Hudson said the exchange is a ‘sinister organization’ that will focus on privatization of government services. American City County Exchange is associated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization that Sjoberg said is used to promote corporate interest. ‘This organization has an agenda so I just would ask you to pause before you join the organization,’ Sjoberg said.” Nick Wachinski, currently listed as the private chair of ACCE, is the former executive director of the American Bail Coalition and is now CEO of Lexington National Insurance Corporation, which underwrites bonds in criminal cases. Wachinski opposed bail reform in Maryland. Hudson has a long prison history, and is the location of Hudson Correctional Facility.
34) North Carolina: The Durham School Board has voted 7-0 to bring its custodians back in house after a long period of outsourcing. “The move means DPS will soon end a 13-year relationship with SSC Service Solutions, the company to which it had outsourced its custodial services. (…) Custodians complained that SSC Service Solutions and its subcontractor Premiere paid sub-par wages and did not provide paid sick time, paid leave or paid holidays. Life as a DPS employee should be much better, especially for custodians working full-time. The pay will be better and they will receive the same benefits as any other DPS employee, including North Carolina State Health Plan health insurance and NC Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System retirement benefits.” The Durham Association of Educators (NEA) lobbied to have the custodians moved in-house.
35) Puerto Rico: Teachers are to go out on strike today against the privatization of the Commonwealth’s education system. “The strike is in response to the Puerto Rican House of Representatives passing an education reform bill [last] week that would introduce charter schools and private school vouchers and that would close hundreds of public schools. The government is trying to opportunistically push through this sweeping attack while Puerto Rico is still recovering from the destruction of Hurricane Maria.” The bill now goes to the Senate.
36) Wisconsin: In the face of fierce resistance, charter school activist Howard Fuller has backed off a plan to move his charter school into Milwaukee’s North Division High School. “Critics, including the [Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association] and the advocacy group Schools and Communities United, had derided the proposal as a takeover plan and a threat to traditional public schools that are already diminished, they say, by Milwaukee’s ever-expanding taxpayer-funded school choice options. ‘Families, children and the community in Milwaukee have had more than enough of this 25-year private school experiment with black and brown children,’ MTEA Secretary Ingrid Walker-Henry told supporters at a rally outside North Division on Monday. ‘Whatever funding we have left is being funneled to private voucher and charter schools. And it’s past time to stop with the experimentation … and invest in public schools that meet the needs of all children in Milwaukee,’ she said.”
37) International: After a devastating parliamentary inquiry into GEO Group’s operation of Australia’s scandal-plagued Parklea prison, the New South Wales government says GEO’s contract will be cancelled. The Public Service Association has called on the state government to hand back the prison to public management, but the Daily Mail reports that “the prison management contract will instead be taken over by either G4S, Serco or joint venture partners MTC/Broadspectrum in March 2019.”
38) Revolving Door News: Two former top Democratic congressional staffers, Thomas O’Donnell and Christina Hamilton, have registered to lobby for CoreCivic for Gephardt Group Government Affairs on “ban the box” legislation.
39) Think Tanks: Vault Research has ranking of the “best” public sector consulting companies. Top 5: Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte, McKinsey, Accenture, PricewaterhouseCoopers.
1) National: A Senate panel heard testimony from five Trump cabinet members trying to get the administration’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan unstuck in Congress. They didn’t make much progress, owing to the still unanswered question of where the money is going to come from, how much is needed, and what the balance of private and public money should be. “We can’t toll our way out of it,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said “in an apparent reference to the administration’s suggestion to lift a ban on states’ ability to collect tolls on interstates.” Commerce Committee chair John Thune (R-SD) “conceded that a rebuilding effort could come in the form of several bills, a suggestion Speaker Ryan (R-WI) made last week about infrastructure legislation in the House. ‘I think because of the multiple committees of jurisdiction it inevitably probably will get spread out a little bit,’ Thune told reporters. ‘It could be individual bills that get marked up, reported and then married up on the floor.’” But with gridlock in Congress and a lack of regular order, this seems like wishful thinking.
Three hearings on infrastructure were held by Senate Commerce last week, one on administration perspectives, one on state and local transportation needs, and one on “Investing in Next Generation Broadband.”
2) Kentucky: Lawmakers introduce a school vouchers bill. “House Bill 134 and Senate Bill 36 would enable individuals and businesses to receive tax credits for donating funds to scholarships for middle- and low-income students to use at private schools or for other educational services.”
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