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- A Chicago charter school has admitted its racist past.
- Active government is the most popular it’s been in almost 30 years.
- Maryland thought deregulating utilities would lower rates. It’s cost the state’s residents hundreds of millions of dollars.
1) National: Who does the American Rescue Plan help? CAP Action has a chart. “States & cities have never seen a revenue bonanza like this in American history,” muni analyst Cate Long says about federal aid in the past year, including the American Rescue Plan. The current package includes $325 billion in direct aid to states and cities. Transit officials across the country say the $30 billion included in the ARP, combined with past cash infusions, should be enough to get them through the pandemic. But the longer term outlook for transportation is difficult (see below).
2) National: Active government is the most popular it’s been in almost 30 years. Gallup’s September Governance poll each year includes a general question asking about the optimal role of government. “The latest update shows that 54% of Americans say the government should do more to solve our country’s problems, while 41% say the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. This is the highest percentage choosing the ‘government should do more’ option since Gallup began asking the question in 1992.”
3) National/Texas: In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler interviewed Johanna Bozuwa, the co-manager of the Climate and Energy Program at the Democracy Collaborative. Bozuwa co-authored “Texas’s Energy Crisis Shows Why We Need to Reform Our Privatized Energy System” with Jean Su, the director of the Energy Justice Program and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “New campaigns are popping up nationwide to take control of the energy system, which gives me hope,” Bozuwa told Mohler. “In Washington, DC, a campaign called We Power DC is hard at work fighting for energy justice and building the road towards public power. There is also a mounting effort in Maine to kick out all the private electric distribution utilities in the state. Reclaim Our Power has made it their mission to fight against PG&E’s gross negligence in its service territory. San Diego has a burgeoning movement to take back their grid.”
4) National: More states are partnering with community organizations to expand vaccination programs for immigrants. “Arizona, Delaware, Michigan and Oregon are among the states joining California and Maryland in enlisting partners trusted by communities to boost vaccination rates among immigrants, many of whom have high-risk jobs in food and maintenance. Those living here illegally often live with no paper trail. Many of them lack the formal identification or utility bills many states require to provide vaccines. Some states, such as North Carolina and West Virginia, have denied vaccines to people without proof of state residence.”
5) National/California: Despite the challenges, local governments are still out there battling to improve America’s public infrastructure and services. “The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Committee, in its 2045 Regional Transportation Plan outlines 644 planned projects, 111 of which are entirely new. Approximately $5 billion will be available for transportation projects through 2045. There is an announced plan to allocate $9 billion to the region’s transportation system over the next 25 years. And, in Pittsburg, members of the City Council have approved an $8.5 million renovation project in the city’s 28-acre downtown park. Plans include upgrading a concession stand, irrigation, lighting, security cameras, picnic and barbecue areas, basketball courts, trails, and accessibility. New construction will include new spectator areas and additional parking facilities.”
6) National: The coronavirus has killed the gospel of small government, writes Zachary D. Carter. “Maintaining state-of-the-art information, transportation and medical infrastructure through sustained public investment could prevent a problem from becoming a calamity. So, too, is understanding that the economy is something that serves society rather than the other way around. Over the past year, the American government spent big to stave off immediate economic ruin. This year, it must show the same financial commitment to the future.”
7) National: The GAO has issued a report and recommendations on improving contract compliance with local hiring rules. “The Army Corps of Engineers spends billions of dollars on construction projects nationwide. The Corps’ guidance describes how its district staff should monitor contractors’ compliance with the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires federal construction contractors to pay workers at least the local prevailing wage. However, some guidance sections are unclear, which could lead to inconsistent monitoring. For example, one district reported reviewing 20% of workers’ payroll records while another reported reviewing 100%. We made 3 recommendations, including that the Corps clarify guidance on selecting payroll records to review.”
8) National: The new federal COVID rescue law contains more paid leave for federal employees. “Full-time federal employees will be able to receive up to 600 hours, or 15 weeks, of paid leave to recover from COVID-19, quarantine or care for a sick family member or a child who is attending virtual school due to the pandemic. Employees could also use the leave for the purposes of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine or recovering from any symptoms or conditions related to immunization. There are, however, a few exceptions. Employees can’t use this new emergency paid leave at the same time as any other kind of paid time off, and the leave benefits will be capped at $1,400 a week.”
9) National/New York: Success Academy, the Charter school network, has been ordered by a federal judge “to pay over $2.4 million on a Judgment in a case brought by families of five young Black students with learning and other disabilities who sued after the children were pushed out of a Success Academy school in Brooklyn. Success Academy’s efforts to oust the children even included the creation of a ‘Got to Go’ list, as reported by the New York Times in October 2015, which singled out the students they wanted to push out, including the five child plaintiffs.”
10) National: The charter school lobby is taking aim at San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten, who has been nominated by President Biden to be Deputy Education Secretary. “Groups like the Center for Education Reform and the Powerful Parent Movement have singled out Marten’s criticism of charter school policy in California and her work on a task force that supported changes to the state’s authorizing laws.”
But “Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of large urban public school systems, offered the organization’s ‘enthusiastic support’ for Marten after the choice was announced in January. ‘Cindy Marten will be the perfect complement’ to Cardona, he said in a statement. ‘Both have been school-level leaders and thoroughly understand the complexities of public education at the state and local levels like few other leadership teams in the department’s history.’”
11) National: The New York Times reports that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and AFT head Randi Weingarten secured an earmark in the American Rescue Plan for nearly $3 billion for private schools. “The deal, which came after Mr. Schumer was lobbied by the powerful Orthodox Jewish community in New York City, riled other Democratic leaders and public school advocates who have spent years beating back efforts by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to funnel federal money to private schools, including in the last two coronavirus relief bills. Democrats had railed against the push by President Donald J. Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to use pandemic relief bills to aid private schools, only to do it themselves.”
12) National: “Not enough people are noticing the war on democratically elected school boards across the country,” says Noliwe Rooks. “This is an example of how the wealthy and ideologically driven use democracy to kill democracy!” Teens Take Charge report “Disturbing news from Kentucky, where the legislature is trying to remove student and teacher members of the Board of Ed. A medical board would never not have doctors. A bar association would never not have lawyers. Come on y’all!”
13) District of Columbia: DCist reports that “the District is not adequately collecting and recording key education data, despite receiving federal money to build out a system to store and share the information, according to D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson. (…) For example, the report said OSSE relies on D.C. Public Schools and charter schools to submit their own data on suspensions, which is federally-mandated. OSSE directs schools to record the type of suspension, in or out-of-school, and the number of days a student is suspended. But the report found the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees charters, provides guidance that says schools should only record incidents if they result in out-of-school suspensions.”
14) Florida/National: A major court case is pending on appeal that could disrupt the bond financing of public school systems throughout the state. “On Feb. 24, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that the Palm Beach County School District was in violation of state law by excluding the charter schools in its district from getting any share of the money raised by a voter-approved tax. Florida state law says charter school students will be funded ‘the same as students enrolled in other public schools in the school district.’”
The credit rating agencies are watching the case closely, since it could affect the ability of school districts to fund their operations. “Moody’s said in a report last week that while its ratings for Palm Beach County schools remain unchanged, the court’s ruling was a credit negative for the district. Moody’s said that because of the decision the Palm Beach County district will now have to share with all charter schools in Palm Beach County about $22 million a year through fiscal 2023. ‘The lost funds are equal to only about 1% of the Palm Beach district’s fiscal 2020 operating revenue, but the gap will still have to be closed, possibly through cuts,’ Moody’s said in its report. Some of the cities in Palm Beach County include Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Jupiter, Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, North Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.” [Sub required]
15) Florida: The new Florida voucher bills are a ‘death knell’ for public education, writes Kathleen Oropeza in The Progressive. “Florida has over a thousand pages of state statutes that hold school districts to strict accountability in using high-stakes tests to rank, sort, and shame teachers, students, and schools. Yet the state is largely silent on the lack of accountability imposed on private, mostly religious, schools who are the greatest recipients of vouchers. (…) It is no exaggeration to say Florida’s SB 48 and the conversion to education savings accounts is likely the greatest threat to the state’s public education system that most of us will ever see in our lifetimes.”
16) Florida: Less than seven months into its first year of operation, the governing board of Cornerstone Classical Academy in Jacksonville has voted to fire its principal. “The unanimous vote to terminate Williams came four days after the board convened an emergency meeting to vote on suspending Williams without pay, which was also approved. ‘There was no transparency,’ a Cornerstone parent who declined to be identified told News4Jax Tuesday. ‘Nobody knows what was going on. They said there are reasons why they couldn’t tell us.’ The parent, who attended Tuesday morning’s meeting, described little discussion and even less explanation. ‘They had a couple of comments, they held the vote, they all said they voted to vote her out and to terminate her, and then they said, “meeting adjourned,” and they immediately hung up. That was it.” According to a Monday Facebook post from the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization, no information has yet been shared with that group.”
17) Illinois: WBEZ’s Sarah Karp reports that Chicago’s largest charter school network, the Noble Charter Network, “sent a letter to alumni this week admitting that its past discipline and promotion policies were racist and apologizing for them. The apology is notable not just as an acknowledgment of misguided policies, but as a repudiation of the ‘no-excuses’ philosophy adopted by many charter schools during the 2000s.”
18) Louisiana/National: Eva Kemp, who “spent several years helping elect pro-charter school candidates in Louisiana at Democrats for Election Reform,” has moved up to Washington to “oversee letters sent out by President Joe Biden.”
19) Missourian: A term-limited Republican state lawmaking has been hurling abuse at the Columbia Missouri National Education Association. State Representative Chuck Basye (R-Columbia) supported Ted Cruz in the election before backing Trump. “Public schools in the state’s largest cities have been targets of complaints from conservative lawmakers who are pushing charter school expansion, education savings accounts and other measures that many school district leaders say will hurt their schools financially.”
20) New Jersey: Chalkbeat reports that “New Jersey has rejected the expansion plans of Newark’s largest charter school networks, a policy shift that could help reverse the city’s pattern of growing charters and shrinking traditional schools.” Deborah Smith-Gregory, president of the Newark NAACP which has called for a moratorium on charter growth, said “it’s about time. For the past 11 years, they have let the charter schools have carte blanche.”
David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which filed a 2016 lawsuit seeking to stop Newark charter schools’ expansion. said in an email to Chalkbeat “why would these charters even be asking for expansion if they have empty seats? It’s time for Newark charter operators to give up their relentless drive for more and more ‘market share’ and end their competition with the district for students and funding.”
21) New York: A KIPP charter school that is due to open this fall in New York’s Upper West Side faced opposition. “The school faced stiff opposition from the Community Education Council District 3 (CEC 3), a parent group that’s similar to a school board. The board of CEC3 said at the time that the new school would undermine its own efforts to desegregate middle schools. As students are pulled out of the traditional public school system to charter schools, education funding goes with them. CEC3 launched a petition against the school that got over 700 signatures. Among other issues, several District 3 schools are under enrolled and could face more problems if students head to charters. There are 17 traditional public middle schools in the district; KIPP will be the sixth charter.”
22) Rhode Island: Are we about to see a repeat of the war waged by big money interests against public education waged in Massachusetts a few years ago? “A well-funded group of parents and charter school supporters is making plans to aggressively lobby Rhode Island lawmakers against legislation that would place a three-year moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, including the ones that already received initial approval from the state last year. Stop the Wait RI was formed by Janie Seguí Rodríguez, a Pawtucket resident who lost a Democratic primary for City Council by two votes last year. She said the group has already recruited 440 parents and it plans to focus on the House of Representatives, which has not yet taken up the moratorium bill (the Senate has already approved it).”
23) West Virginia: In a letter to the editor of the Herald-Dispatch, Nicholas Amis of Huntington is concerned about the possible impact of a law under consideration in the state legislature that could see charter schools move into many communities. “I feel it is very risky to endorse or support a charter school in our area under these conditions,” Amis says, “especially because many studies show that charter schools typically do not perform any better than schools in their local public school districts, and a lot of the students in Cabell County qualify for free or reduced lunch based on their socio-economic status. If a charter school suddenly closes (half of which fail by year 15 or sooner), its students will more than likely return to the local public school district that will already have less funds to operate. That’s right. Charter schools take funds from the local school district in which they are located to function. From my understanding, and from many others, House Bill 2012’s aim isn’t just about “school choice” but a way to dismantle public education in our state.”
24) West Virginia: The West Virginia Supreme Court is requiring the Monongalia County Board of Education and the state Department of Education, to defend their rejection of a charter school application. “Monongalia’s board unanimously voted against the application by the West Virginia Academy during an hour-long meeting on Nov. 30. The neighboring Preston County school board separately voted down the same proposal during its own 5 p.m. meeting the same day. Monongalia board members said the application fell short on a variety of issues.”
25) National: The American Society for Civil Engineering (ASCE) has released its long-awaited new Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. “Prepared by the Society every four years as a means of assessing the overall condition of civil infrastructure nationwide, the 2021 report card accords America’s infrastructure an overall cumulative grade of C–. While room for improvement obviously remains, the achievement marks the best overall score since ASCE issued its first report card in 1998.” But more investment is urgently needed, especially in transportation.
The report finds that “of the 16 existing individual infrastructure categories assessed as part of the 2021 report card, five sectors—aviation, drinking water, energy, inland waterways, and ports—improved. However, 10 categories remained unchanged, while one—bridges—went down slightly. Stormwater, included in the 2021 report card for the first time as a stand-alone category, debuted with a grade of D.”
Among the noteworthy items:
- There is a water main break every two minutes and an estimated 6 billion gallons of treated water lost each day in the U.S., enough to fill over 9,000 swimming pools.
- Growing wear and tear on our nation’s roads have left 43% of our public roadways in poor or mediocre condition, a number that has remained stagnant over the past several years.
- There are 30,000 miles of inventoried levees across the U.S., and an additional 10,000 miles of levees whose location and condition are unknown.
This raises the questions of funding and financing. Optimists are hanging their hopes on the possibility of a large infrastructure bill passing Congress through the reconciliation process. But The Bond Buyer mentions some sticky issues here. “Municipal bond provisions would still stand a chance if they do go that route, though a ten-year horizon would be challenging. A reconciliation bill would mean all costs would have to be incurred within 10 years, which contrasts with bonds with a decades-long life, said Emily Brock, director of the Government Finance Officer Association’s federal liaison center. ‘Our motivation is to make sure that we have ten Republican senators on all of our initiatives so that there is the possibility of movement outside of reconciliation,’ Brock said. “Should reconciliation be the tool by which infrastructure can move? We can work with that.’ If reconciliation is used, lawmakers would not be able to include surface transportation reauthorization.” All that private dry powder supposedly sitting on the sidelines waiting for government leverage is looking a bit moist.
In any event, infrastructure is only one of several “must do” concerns of Democrats, but seems to have a powerful ally.
26) Maryland/National: U.K.-based Infrastructure Investor ran a puff piece on the so-called public-private partnership deal to build six schools in Prince George’s County, saying the controversial project “takes a page from the UK playbook.” Still, they concede that “the accuracy of the $174 million in projected savings on the PGCPS project is one aspect of the PPP that opponents have called into question. According to the PGC council document, construction costs will amount to $485.8 million, a figure that reaches $930.8 million when milestone payments and financing costs are factored in. But, that is still less than the $1.1 billion the projects would cost under a traditional procurement model, a figure that includes deferred maintenance costs, according to PGC. Fengate declined to provide further financial details. There are also questions around whether the model actually saves development time.” [Sub required]
It should be noted that the anticipated cost of the PPP project is actually $1.24 billion, $140 million more than the traditional model figure given by Infrastructure Investor. That would be $4.66 million a year that could come from the cash-strapped school district for 30 years.
27) National/Texas: Unless the US prioritizes energy infrastructure, Texas winter storm blackouts could happen again. “If it can happen in Texas, it can happen anywhere. ‘I don’t think anyone should be getting smug about this,’ said Severin Borenstein, faculty director of the Energy Institute at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley. ‘This is going to be a challenge everywhere.’ (…) That means part of the drive for greater reliability and resilience in the power grid has to come from power users, who must pressure lawmakers and regulators to act. Consumers must also be willing to shoulder some of the burden.”
28) District of Columbia/Maryland/Virginia: Washington, DC has seen the largest drop in traffic congestion among large cities, the Washington Post reports. “Traffic delays in Washington decreased 77 percent—the most of any major metro area in the United States, according to the 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard released Tuesday by traffic analytics firm Inrix. The capital region ranked 12th in traffic congestion, a shift from fifth place in 2019, according to the report, which analyzes millions of miles of driving data obtained through smartphone apps and other GPS data sources.” So here’s a question. Are the revenue projections, if any, for Gov. Larry Hogan’s I-270/Beltway multibillion dollar P3 boondoggle—which is supposed to be financed via Lexus Lane commuters escaping congestion—real? Perhaps Maryland residents should be told ahead of time, this time.
Criminal Justice and Immigration
29) National: ICE has no clear plan to vaccinate thousands of detainees, The New York Times reports. “ICE runs a network of more than 200 public and privately run facilities and county jails, which at one point during the Trump administration held an average of more than 50,000 people a day, a record high. The agency is now detaining fewer than 14,000 people a day, its lowest average in decades, in keeping with CDC recommendations and court orders. (…) Records show that the virus has spread through ICE facilities over the last year, with hundreds infected in states such as Texas, Georgia, Arizona and Virginia. Eloy Detention Center, in the Arizona desert, is monitoring 47 active coronavirus infections, according to ICE.”
30) National: CRS has just released an explainer on The Biden Administration’s Immigration Enforcement Priorities. “The ICE guidance provides that the priorities are to be applied to a wide range of enforcement decisions, including whether to initiate or pursue removal proceedings; whether to stop, question, or arrest a [noncitizen]; whether to detain or release an [noncitizen]; whether to issue a detainer; whether to grant deferred action; and when to execute a final removal order. The ICE guidance permits enforcement actions against [noncitizens] who do not meet the criteria for priority cases (taking into account certain aggravating and mitigating factors), but only with advance supervisory approval. If there are exigent circumstances (e.g., the [noncitizen] poses an imminent threat to life or an imminent substantial threat to property), and securing preapproval is impracticable, the enforcement action is permitted so long as the officer conducting the action requests approval within 24 hours.”
31) National: Ella Fassler writes “Keith Malik Washington, a Black journalist and detainee at a GEO Group halfway house, was charged with ‘Unauthorized Contact with the Public’ for contacting press about a COVID-19 outbreak. Now, BOP may send him back to prison.” Read her article on the saga.
32) Arizona: The state is going to ask Corizon for reimbursement of a $1.1 million contempt of court fine that the state just paid for failing to comply with a legal settlement requiring improvements to inmate care. “Such a request would mark the second time the state has tried to pass along the financial burden for a contempt fine for noncompliance with the 6-year-old settlement to Corizon Health Inc., the state’s prison health care contractor for five years until another company took over in mid-2019.”
33) Colorado/National: The Aurora City Council will ask President Joe Biden to end private immigrant detention, Westword reports. “Aurora is home to the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center run by private prison company GEO Group. ‘This company is engaged in egregious human-rights violations in abuses that have been confirmed in reports by ICE and the government,’ Councilmember Allison Hiltz, who proposed the letter, said just before the vote at the March 1 council meeting. (…) But Aurora City Council is not alone in asking the Biden administration to cut ties between Homeland Security and private prison companies; in late January, Crow and 74 other members of Congress, including all of the Democratic representatives in Colorado’s delegation, sent a letter to President Biden requesting just that.”
34) New Jersey: Kean University students have taken aim at their school’s ties to ICE and CoreCivic. ““I started the petition once I heard of Kean’s affiliation and the connections to ICE and the Elizabeth Detention Center,” said Callahan, a Kean University alumnus, on Tuesday, March 2. “We have a petition with more than 1,500 signatures, and we wanted to bring it to President Repollet’s attention. … The overall mission is to get Kean University to sever all ties with Anne Estabrook and Dave Gibbons and, ultimately, free all the people who are detained in the Elizabeth Detention Center.”
35) Revolving Door News: Derrick Schofield, who previously served as Commissioner of Corrections for the State of Tennessee, has cashed in as Executive Vice President of Continuum of Care and Reentry for The GEO Group and is now penning op-eds promoting his new employer.
36) National: President Biden is expected to issue an executive order within his first hundred days in office “mandating that federal contractors grant emergency medical leave and pay their workers at least $15 an hour, a change affecting about 700,000 people, many of them in custodial and food service. (…) Other actions within Biden’s authority include restoring and expanding Obama-era rules extending overtime eligibility to about 4.2 million workers; increasing Labor Department staff tasked to investigate wage theft, worker safety violations, and the misclassification of workers; directing federal agencies to bargain with unions on non-mandatory issues. Biden also wants to expand programs through the National Apprenticeship Act to train Americans for good paying jobs in disparate fields, including construction, manufacturing, technology, energy, and caregiving.”
37) National: Advocates are sounding the alarm over a quiet Trump-Era move that could further privatize Medicare. “On December 3, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)—then under the leadership of Seema Verma—unveiled an innocuous-sounding proposal titled the Geographic Direct Contracting Model (Geo) with the purported goal of delivering ‘Medicare beneficiaries value through better care and improved quality.’ But a look beyond the plan’s technocratic exterior reveals what Center for Health Journalism reporter and editor Trudy Lieberman described earlier this week as a privatization model that could ‘take root and potentially turn every senior into a customer of a privately-run managed care organization.’”
38) Maryland: Maryland thought deregulating utilities would lower rates. It’s cost the state’s residents hundreds of millions of dollars, reports Agya K. Aning, a Roy W. Howard fellow at Inside Climate News focusing on environmental justice. “When some documents arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later, they showed he was being switched from his fixed utility rate to a variable rate plan that would have been twice as costly, since BG&E was set to lower its prices in a few days. Among those documents, there was no contract to be found. Fields wasn’t surprised. As it turns out, he’s the deputy counsel for Maryland’s Office of People’s Counsel—the agency responsible for prosecuting this exact kind of fraud. His telephone solicitation and the documents he received were all described in a complaint filed by the office last June before the Maryland Public Service Commission against SunSea Energy, a New Jersey-based energy retailer.”
39) International: Latin America is in danger of being overrun by privatized cities cooked up by a libertarian zealot. Brasil Wire tell the story of how “an international libertarian organisation is behind proposals to privatize Brazilian cities, creating vast luxury condominiums for the most wealthy, and removing democratic rights from their citizens.”
They report that “Free Private Cities is the brainchild of its director, Titus Gebel, who according to the organization’s website is “a German entrepreneur with a PhD in international law and an extensive worldwide network. He founded amongst others Frankfurt-listed mining company Deutsche Rohstoff AG, retired as their CEO in 2014 and emigrated with his family to Monaco. With Free Private Cities, he wants to create an entirely new product in the “market of living together”. If successful, it will fast-track knowledge and progress for humanity. Titus has dedicated the rest of his life to making Free Private Cities a reality.”
For decades Brazil’s urban development model “has been moving back to its colonial past, towards enclosed private condominiums, walled citadels rising out of the countryside and from the sprawl of cities such as São Paulo. The Alphaville concept took this a stage further, with entire neighborhoods constructed in the form of gated communities, and Rio’s Porto Maravilha project became effectively a city within a city. But with libertarian ideology now running amok within the Bolsonaro government, the proposed charter cities have become an apparent logical conclusion for this type of development.”
Photo by michael_swan.