Our Weekly Privatization Report is an email newsletter for organizers, journalists, and others concerned about the privatization of education, water, and other public goods.
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- An increasing number of Americans want an active government to tackle public needs like public health.
- Why we must fix America by undoing decades of privatization.
- Maryland’s Prince George’s County Council has advanced a plan to build six schools using private financing. Now it’s up to the local school board.
1) National: Writing in The Atlantic, K. Sabeel Rahman, the president Demos and an associate professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, says we must fix America by undoing decades of privatization.
“When I refer to public infrastructure, I mean something much more expansive than roads and bridges; I mean the full range of goods, services, and investments needed for communities to thrive: physical utilities such as water, parks, and transit; basics such as housing, child care, and health care; and economic safety-net supports such as food stamps and unemployment insurance (…) We’ve all seen that the private provision of essential services, including food, health care, and banking, is often predatory, extractive, exclusionary, and not especially efficient. Nevertheless, we should not be Panglossian about the prospects of public provision; real public infrastructure will also require truly democratic, accountable, and responsive administrative bodies. If we are to survive this crisis—and imagine a more equitable, dynamic economy to come, we must start with a recommitment to the value of universal, inclusive public infrastructure.”
2) National/Think Tanks: Danielle Allen, director of Harvard University’s Center for Ethic, has weighed in on how citizens think about the public good vs. privatization. “I think what you see is that we’ve spent so much time for the last few decades asking how we can privatize solutions that we literally don’t know how to think about public good commitments and investments any longer. (…) I think we just have to open space in people’s imaginations for the concept of the public good. Instead of saying, ‘How can we privatize that?,’ we should be asking the question of, ‘How do we tell what[‘s] the public good? How do we spot the need for the public good?’” [Video, about 50 minutes]
3) National: Election officials are preparing to guard against election intimidation across the country. “Election officials are stressing buffer zones that prohibit electioneering within a certain distance of polling places, depending on the state. The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, based at the Georgetown University Law Center, issued fact sheets for each state explaining what to do if armed individuals are near a polling site.” For more on how voter intimidation could get very ugly, see Capital & Main.
A coalition of advocacy groups is coordinating over 170 events post-Election Day should Trump either declare victory before all votes are cast, or refuse to accept election results. The events are being organized nationwide on Nov. 4 by Protect the Results, which represents a coalition of more than 100 advocacy groups, labor unions and grassroots organizations including Stand Up America, Indivisible, Republicans for the Rule of Law, the Sierra Club and many others. Protect the Results launched an interactive map to allow U.S. voters to RSVP to planned events and create their own.
4) National: More Americans want active government to tackle public needs, researchers find. “The share of U.S. adults who support an active government role in society increased by more than 40 percent during the initial pandemic response—up from 24 percent in September 2019 to 34 percent in April 2020—according to a new national public opinion survey conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins University SNF Agora Institute.”
5) National: Jared Bernstein, former chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, joined Tom Keene on Bloomberg Surveillance to discuss Trump’s and Biden’s competing economic agendas [at 18:00]. On the same program, Vitor Gaspar, IMF Director of Fiscal Affairs, says that public investment can play a key role in boosting growth [at 12:00].
6) Kentucky: Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has announced the state will provide $2.8 million for 14 Recovery Kentucky centers across the commonwealth to help ensure safe, stable housing for those recovering from substance use disorder. “Everyone should have access to safe, stable housing,” said Beshear. “As Kentuckians recover from substance use disorders, we must ensure their safety and well-being, especially during this pandemic. This funding will provide much-needed assistance to keep residents and staffers safe from COVID-19.”
7) Illinois: It has been six months since the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform was to have issued a report. The Quad City Times and Illinois citizens are fed up. “Last week, a group of good government organizations called lawmakers on their inaction. In a letter, the groups noted some delay because of COVID-19 was understandable. But other public bodies have found ways to meet and go about their business; apparently, not this one. Meanwhile, lawmakers are scheduled to go back into session next month. The groups say they want ethics reform, but only if it’s done right.”
8) Indiana: Michael J. Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State, looks at some of the issues involved in economic development planning. “From time to time, county and municipal governments face the need to perform economic development planning. Generally, this means outlining priorities for investment in public infrastructure or public services. In some communities, this might be pretty complex, involving some deep thinking about urban expansion over the coming decades. Elsewhere, the planning may be modest, involving expansions of parks or improving a road access. This work is important, but not in the way most elected leaders or community members believe.”
9) International: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wins a second term on a strong progressive Labour Party platform stressing national unity—“governing for every New Zealander.” Ardern was elected PM in 2017 on a program that included reversing school privatization and a strong commitment to expanding support for mental healthcare, which her government did. Proposals for improving the mental healthcare system in a second term include rolling out free counselling for all under-25s, and a focus on prevention. Earlier this month the New Zealand Public Service Association released a report exploring ten possible futures for public and community services.
10) National: The National Education Associations warns of the multiple dangers that a right wing Supreme Court with Amy Coney Barrett on it poses to public education, workers rights, immigrants and LGBTQ protections. “The Court recently ruled that when states set up a voucher program, they have to include religious schools. However, the Supreme Court has not ruled yet whether states may forbid discrimination in all schools that receive vouchers, including religious schools, and it will hear a related case this year. Barrett’s opinion is already clear. She sat on the Board of Trustees for Trinity Schools, Inc.>, which operates private religious schools, enrolls voucher students, and discriminates against LGBTQ students and families.” In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen says “the coming years will require coherent and focused legislative action at every level of government to establish the primacy of public goods and the ability of public institutions to protect the common good.”
For an in-depth look at the battle over the Supreme Court check out WORT-Madison’s interview with Lisa Graves, veteran researcher and former chief counsel for nominations on the Senate Judiciary Committee. [Audio, about an hour]. Lisa also appeared on FAIR’s CounterSpin to discuss the story behind Amy Coney Barrett, the key role of the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, and the dark money funding the right wing’s structural takeover of the courts. [Audio, about 30 minutes].
11) National: School support staffs are being hit hard by workforce cutbacks. “Charlotte Shindler is president of Service Employees International Union Local 1948/Public School Employees of Washington, which represents about 30,000 workers—including custodians, nurses, teachers aides, and bus drivers—at Washington public schools and state universities. While emphasizing that the numbers were approximate, she said as of last week about 1,000 of the union’s members had been furloughed, and about 200 had been laid off. ‘This is a very small fraction of our membership,’ she said. ‘But for those people it’s huge.’”
12) California: Charter school politics is influencing the Santa Clara County Board of Education Area 1 race, with charter school proponents making large contributions to incumbent Grace Mah. “Charter school political action committees and representatives have contributed more than $200,000 to Mah’s campaign in the last three weeks, many of them large donations that came in after the most recent reporting period. The Charter Public Schools Political Action Committee (PAC) has made two large donations: $75,000 on Sept. 28 and $105,000 on Oct. 13, according to campaign finance reports. Other contributions came from Santa Clara Charter Advocates for Great Public Schools ($5,000) and Champions for Education PAC ($20,000) as well as members of the boards of directors of Rocketship Public Schools, ACE Charter School and Bullis Charter School in Los Altos. Mah’s campaign raised about $80,000 through Sept. 19, bringing her current reported total to about $290,000.”
Palo Alto Online reports that “campaign contributions in this race further underscore the charter school divide, with Mah receiving significant support from pro-charter organizations and Baten Caswell receiving large amounts from vocal critics of Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, whose next renewal will come before the board in 2022.”
13) California: A now-terminated charter school, lashing out at charter school opponents, is suing San Jose Unified for the third time, seeking $2 million. “Ben Spielberg, a spokesperson for the district, said San Jose Unified was ‘surprised’ by the latest suit, given that Promise Board President Dean Elias stated in a formal court declaration in October 2019 that the charter was ceasing operations and ‘will not challenge the notice of termination through any legal proceeding.’ ‘I think when you look at the situation with Promise and look at the public resources that have gone to what I would say is a bad actor, it is a real detriment to the overall education system,’ Spielberg said.”
14) Florida: After coming under criticism, The Villages Charter School has resumed COVID-19 reporting. More cases are cropping up. “The school, which largely educates children of the Developer’s family, Villages employees and those who work in various businesses located in the sprawling retirement community, had stopped reporting positive results to the school district last week amid an outbreak of 11 cases among eight students and three staff members. Those cases, which were reported to the Developer-owned Daily Sun instead of the school district, involved several members of The Villages High School football team and led to the cancellation of games against Leesburg High School and South Sumter High School. They also forced about 80 students into quarantine.”
15) Maryland: Despite a tough battle by citizen activists warning about the higher costs and risks associated with P3s, the Prince George’s County Council voted Thursday to advance a plan to build six schools using private financing. The council had voted to delay approval of the plan to spend $1.24 billion to privately contract for building and maintaining six schools for 30 years, but developers were able to split off minority business interests from the wider community by promising that 20 percent of the spending would go to minority-owned businesses based in Prince George’s. Shortly after the council had voted to delay and investigate the proposal further, Mel Franklin (D-At Large) moved to support the P3, pointing to a letter he received from developers. The Prince George’s County Board of Education is scheduled to vote this week on the contract.
Experts have warned against a rushed process. “The best time to make sure you’re making the right decision is at the beginning, instead of trying to do a rush job of amending a contract right before it’s going to be approved,” said Shar Habibi of In the Public Interest. Jeremy Mohler, also of In the Public Interest, told NBC Washington that “there’s risk that comes with the P3.” “Public-private partnerships are expensive, risky and often secretive deals signed behind closed doors,” said Mohler. “With the Purple Line P3 stalled and no end to the COVID-19 crisis in sight, Prince George’s County would be foolish to rush this process without community input.”
PG Our Revolution sponsored an informative webinar on the PG schools P3 issue, which you can watch here. [Video, about two hours]
16) New Hampshire: State lawmakers are blocking a charter school from getting funding from Betsy DeVos’ $45 million charter support program. “In the past, the Democrats have said they were concerned about the effect the grant championed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could have on traditional public schools at a time of decreasing enrollment. They have also said that after the start-up grant, the state will be on the hook to continue funding the schools.”
17) Ohio: School bus drivers in Xenia, who are employed by First Student, may be going out on strike after a 21-day cooling off period ends in early November. “The district was also involved in negotiations with First Student and was prepared to seek quotes from alternate transportation until agreeing to a five-year deal in June. School officials are keeping an eye on the latest development.”
18) Oklahoma: The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board has voted to begin contract termination process against Epic Charter Schools based on the state’s new forensic audit. “Assistant Attorney General Marie Schuble recommended that the board pursue the matter based on information that the operators of the state’s largest virtual school may have failed to meet contract standards for fiscal management and violated various laws, as well as for ‘good cause.’ (…) ‘These are really heavy allegations and really heavy breaches if they are proven to be as they are described,’ [Vice Chair Robert Franklin] said. ‘We have to protect online education; we have to protect strong choice and make sure everyone is being transparent.’” Only one member of the board voted against the contract termination—Aunt Phyllis, “a family member of one of the school’s two co-founders who have reportedly become millionaires through their deal to manage the school.”
19) National: States and agencies have pulled back on infrastructure funding worth over $10 billion, showing the dire need for direct federal aid. “Large cities can’t function without transit, [Howard Cure, director of municipal bond research at Evercore Wealth Management] said. New York state has added fees or taxes to help support its revenues over the years. New York issued $2.2 billion dollars in personal income tax revenue bonds, some of which went to help the MTA through the pandemic in July. ‘The expectation is that the state of New York can and will support the MTA if additional federal monies aren’t forthcoming,’ Cure said. However, if the MTA was in a weaker state like Illinois, investors would not be as sanguine, Cure said.” [Sub required]
20) National: The Bond Buyer reports that “privatized student housing projects will remain under pressure at least into the spring, as reduced occupancy levels won’t improve, according to analysts. Moody’s Investors Service analyst Florence Zeman said a number of public-private partnership residence hall developments have been negatively impacted by colleges offering virtual learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted an increasing number of students to stay at home. With 44% of schools already going fully or primarily online this semester and plans for early 2021 in flux, she added, student housing P3s are facing the possibility of additional downgrades in the coming months.” [Sub required]
21) National/International: Macquarie Infrastructure Debt Investment Solutions is following institutional investors down the debt quality chain to attract investors. “Macquarie Infrastructure Debt Investment Solutions has tapped into institutional investors’ appetite for the asset class, this time offering a new strategy in the form of a recently launched vehicle that invests in sub-investment grade infrastructure debt.” [Sub required]
22) Maryland: Officials at the Department of Public Works in Baltimore announced that they intend to privatize the reading and maintenance of their 4-year old smart meters, at a cost of millions of dollars. “The move will mean the layoffs of 63 city employees who complain the meters are the problem. ‘They’ve been notifying management for years that this equipment is subpar when its submerged in water they don’t get reads,’ said Antoinette Ryan-Johnson who leads the union that represents DPW workers.”
23) Michigan: After plunging into bankruptcy, Detroit has finally recovered enough to go to the bond market on its own steam. “‘The proceeds will finance recreation and museums, public safety and transportation projects in accordance with the prior voter authorizations,’ John Naglick, Detroit’s chief deputy financial officer, said in an email. ‘It is a stand-alone unlimited tax general obligation just like the $135 million issued in December, 2018.’” [Sub required]
24) Pennsylvania: Having failed to attract public support for a new arena, the Philadelphia 76ers may be trying to set off an urban-suburban bidding war. “The NBA franchise, currently a tenant at the 24-year-old Wells Fargo Center, looked into building a new arena in the Penn’s Landing section of Philadelphia along the Delaware River as part of a $4 billion mixed-use project that would have been funded through Pennsylvania’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone program.” And what would be in it for hardscrabble, working class Camden? “Fiorenza said in addition to tax credits on business and sales taxes, a Camden arena could also be funded through increases to parking and hotel taxes used by other cities when constructing sports facilities.” [Sub required]
25) International/Think Tanks: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has released a new review of P3s, Asking the right questions: A guide for municipal officials considering P3s. “Asking the right questions challenges the claims made by advocates of P3s, documenting the many ways that P3s are poor public policy. “We see time and time again why P3s are expensive and unaccountable,” said CUPE National President Mark Hancock. “They diminish the quality of services for the public, and they hurt jobs and our communities.”
The updated guide also looks at the impact of the federal government’s Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB). The CIB brokers privatization deals, including P3s, for water, transportation, energy, transit and broadband projects.” CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury says, “when we look at all the evidence that points to P3s costing the public more and delivering them less, why should our cities and towns look at anything other than public procurement? It’s clear that the best way forward is for municipalities to abandon P3s and focus on improving project delivery in house.”
The second edition of the guide was co-authored by the late John Loxley and his son, researcher Salim Loxley. It was completed just before Dr. Loxley, one of Canada’s leading experts on P3s, died unexpectedly on July 28, 2020.
Criminal Justice and Immigration
26) National: According to a new report by the Sentencing Project, nine states are barring at least 10% of their adult Black population from voting in 2020. They are AL, AZ, FL, IA, KY, MS, NE, SD, and TN. Tennessee’s African American disenfranchisement rate is the highest at 22%. More than one in five Black adults are disenfranchised there. “Despite significant legal changes in recent decades, about 5.2 million Americans are disenfranchised in 2020. When we break these figures down by race and ethnicity, it is clear that disparities in the criminal justice system are linked to disparities in political representation. The distribution of disenfranchised individuals shown in Figure 1 also bears repeating: about one-fourth of this population is currently incarcerated, and about 4 million adults who live in their communities are banned from voting. Of this total, 1.3 million are African Americans.”
27) National: Writing in Filter, Alexander Lekhtman explains why private prisons are spending a fortune on 2020 republican candidates. “Data released in September by the Center for Responsive Politics show that private prisons have spent more on this election cycle than any other in the last 30 years. Political spending from private prisons has steadily ticked up since 1990, but has surged since 2014. The largest current contributor is GEO Group, which accounts for 85 percent of this cycle’s political spending. CoreCivic Inc. and Management & Training Corp are the second and third-largest contributors.” [Center for Responsive Politics data]
28) National: Capital & Main passes on the news that its reporter Angelika Albaladejo has won the October Sidney Award for “Death, Miscarriage, and COVID-19: Inside ICE Air’s History of Medical Neglect.” The Sidney is a prize awarded on a monthly basis to “outstanding investigative journalism that fosters social and economic justice.” Capital & Main says “Albaladejo’s investigation uncovered a broad pattern of medical negligence on flights chartered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to transport detainees across the country and the world. Since 2012, heart attacks, a miscarriage and even a death have all occurred on ICE flights, according to complaints filed with the agency. In the months since the pandemic began, the agency has reportedly used private planes to shuttle coronavirus-infected detainees to Central and South America, the Caribbean and Africa. ‘Albaladejo challenged ICE’s notorious secrecy and won,’ said Sidney judge Lindsay Beyerstein. ‘She litigated to obtain critical documents that the agency wanted to keep hidden.’”
29) National: The country’s two largest private, for-profit prison corporations will be announcing their earnings just before and just after the November 3 election date. CoreCivic has announced the dates of its 2020 Third Quarter financial information release and conference call. It will release its 2020 third quarter financial results after the market closes on Wednesday, November 4, 2020. A live broadcast of CoreCivic’s conference call will begin at 10:00 a.m. central time (11:00 a.m. eastern time) on Thursday, November 5, 2020. The GEO Group has also announced the dates of its 2020 Third Quarter financial information release and conference call. It will release its third quarter 2020 financial results on Thursday, October 29, 2020 before the market opens. GEO has scheduled a conference call and simultaneous webcast for 11:00 AM (Eastern Time) on Thursday, October 29, 2020.
30) Florida: The Broward County Sheriff’s office has fired two top administrators after a woman who went into labor in her jail cell was not given medical care despite screams of pain. “Last year, jail inmate Tammy Jackson, who is mentally ill, was forced to deliver her child in an isolation cell. At the time, Broward County’s Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said she delivered the baby alone, while a BSO spokeswoman said a medical team attended to the mother and child. ‘It is unconscionable that any woman, particularly a mentally ill woman, would be abandoned in her cell to deliver her own baby,’ the public defender wrote at the time.”
31) National: After nationwide protests and multiple court defeats, the U.S. Postal Service has promised to reverse changes that slowed mail service nationwide and threatened to sabotage vote-by-mail in the elections. “The postal service agreed to reverse all changes, which included reduced retail hours, removal of collection boxes and mail-sorting machines, closure or consolidation of mail-processing facilities, restriction of late or extra trips for timely mail delivery, and bans or restrictions on overtime. The agreement also requires the Postal Service to prioritize election mail. The settlement agreement was reached a day ahead of a hearing in the U.S. District Court in Great Falls. It applies to all 50 states.”
32) National: Government Executive reports that from an administrative standpoint Trump has been a disaster. “Trump often blames the ‘deep state’ and Democratic sabotage for his long list of failures. But the number of breakdowns, as determined by surveys of public interest in major stories and investigations of federal government performance, is well above average compared to his predecessors Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.”
33) National: The Teamsters joined with environmental activists and labor organizers last week for an “Organizing for Waste Justice Gathering” to advocate zero waste practices in the sanitation industry. “Panelists at the online event, hosted by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), emphasized the social, environmental and labor impact on workers and residents who live and work near landfills and incinerators operated by private waste companies.” John Bouchard, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 350, said “union members are becoming conscious of how environmental issues affect labor, and as labor leaders we have a moral and ethical obligation to address environmental issues. Teamsters who work in the waste industry are at the intersections of waste management and community empowerment, our members know the impact current waste management practices are having on people in different communities, especially low-income communities, and they understand that it is all connected and tied together.” [Watch the video; about an hour]
34) California: An important test is looming over school and public services funding. “A coalition of unions have spearheaded a statewide coalition to pass a progressive taxation initiative in the November 2020 elections that would raise $13 billion for schools and public services by reforming Proposition 13, a landmark anti-tax initiative passed in 1978.” For more on Prop 13 and the battle for reform, see KCET’s report, Proposition 13 Under Increased Scrutiny as California Faces Economic Crisis. “Under Proposition 15, commercial properties would be reassessed every three years, based on the current market value. It would exempt business properties that are worth $3 million or less. The ballot measure wouldn’t apply to residential properties. According to the California voter guide, the measure would generate an estimated $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion in new funding annually.”
35) Massachusetts: Demand is building up for more investment in public services. “Advocates and workers across the Cape called upon leaders on Beacon Hill to invest more funding into public services during a recent virtual meeting with Raise Up Massachusetts. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, reopening plans progress, and leaders in Boston finalize state fiscal budgets, members of the meeting stressed to officials that there are still plenty of workers and public industries that are struggling. Cuts in the state budget, they added, would make a proper economic recovery even more difficult.”
36) Oklahoma: In a letter to the editor of the Tulsa World, Lynn Bootes of Bixby says this is the wrong time to bring up privatization of Medicaid. “For a newly evicted family, for those who are doubling up with relatives, for those with transportation issues, it needs to be simple to access and use and available throughout the state. Sneaking a hastily contrived plan through in the rump of a heated election does no one any favor. It is more noise than substance. Haste makes waste. Legislators on both sides of the aisle would do well to ignore it.”
37) Oklahoma: Lorena Smith is retiring after 40 years at Ardmore Public Library. “It’s been a very satisfying career, and working with the children for so many years was awesome,” Smith said. “When I’m out around town, adults come up to me from time to time to tell me they remember me from when they were kids at the library. Even my grandkids’ friends have told me that they remember me from story hour. It’s really neat to talk to those people and know you’ve made a positive impact on their life.”
38) International: Mike Parker, President of Canada’s Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA/NUPGE), has issued a statement reacting to the news that between 9,700 and 11,000 Alberta Health Services employees will be laid off. “This government has decided to tear apart its best line of defense against the ongoing pandemic. To be clear, this is about privatizing health care. Money isn’t being saved; it’s being transferred to private pockets instead of being used for patient care. Privatization costs more and could very easily result in poorer health outcomes during this pandemic . . . and the next one.”
39) Washington: Faced with severe budget cutbacks, Tacoma’s public libraries have launched a campaign for adequate funding. “In response to the release of the budget proposal, TPL has launched a public advocacy and fundraising campaign called Tacoma Needs Strong Libraries.”
40) National: Our public interest regulatory system, which has been under assault for decades by the right wing and under even more intensive assault since the Trump administration came to power, is facing additional attacks on two fronts: from a rushed and panicked crop of Trump deregulators who now fear their project will go down with the Trump ship if he loses the election; and a from a longer term direction with the extreme right wing’s takeover of the Supreme Court. On the latter see the Center for Progressive Reforms two part series. Part 1, Part 2.
41) Think Tanks: A RAND study reports that the price of insulin in the U.S. is up to 10 times higher than 30 other top industrialized nations. “The average U.S. manufacturer price per standard unit across all insulins was $98.70, compared with $6.94 in Australia, $12.00 in Canada, $7.52 in the United Kingdom, and $8.81 across all non-U.S. OECD countries combined.” (p. 10, 11)