Privatization Report: Betsy DeVos turns to for-profit college veteran | More libraries are hiring social workers | and more

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

THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS

EDUCATION

1) National: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos installs a veteran of “for-profit organizations that operate low-quality education programs” as chief architect of her education policy. “President Trump’s Department of Education is stacked with former for-profit executives whose companies got rich by ripping students off,” said Charisma L. Troiano, the press secretary for Democracy Forward, a government watchdog organization that has accused Ms. Jones of several conflicts of interest. “For decades, Diane Auer Jones has advocated for this predatory industry.” 

2) National: Jeff Bryant of Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute, writes that charter schools are “a major dividing line for the 2020 Democratic candidates,” and the experience of Pennsylvania will be instructive for assessing their positions. “Few politicians seem to understand this reality, and political discourse has yet to catch up to debates over rising costs associated with school choice in local communities where charters are now a large presence.” 

3) National: Is the growth of online higher education posing a threat to the financial health of traditional universities? “The development of online education raises the question of whether it will evolve from a supplement to traditional in-person learning to something that supplants it. One expert on technological disruption even predicts that half of the nation’s 5,300 bricks-and-mortar colleges and universities could be closed in 10 to 15 years as a result. The credit implications have not fully been baked in with rating agencies and analysts mixed on the future of the higher education sector — but they are talking about potential disruptions.” [Sub required]

4) National: In the second of two articles, Shawgi Tell looks at a familiar argument for charter schools and finds it wanting: “It goes something like this … some charter schools are ‘good’ or ‘work,’ and as long as it is ‘all about the kids’ and ‘increasing test scores,’ then I don’t care if the school is a charter school, public school, or catholic school. I support any type of school as long as it is “a good fit for the kids.” This is really nothing more than open support for privately-operated charter schools. (…) It is another way of saying that funneling billions of public dollars a year to wealthy private interests is acceptable as long as the charter schools the wealthy elite benefit from are ‘a good fit for the children.’”

5) Arizona: The owners of a Gilbert charter school “have been nailed for spending $180,000 in public funds on sports tickets and such. So why isn’t that a crime?” asks Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic.  “Why, you might ask, didn’t Attorney General Mark Brnovich prosecute these people? ‘We can’t,’ [Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s spokesperson] Ryan Anderson told me. ‘If this were a district school, this may have been a very different circumstance but they (charter schools) are treated differently in the statutes.’ Translation: they get a pass.” 

6) ArkansasThe state board of education has gone to court to try and get a charter school’s accounting. The board “asked a circuit court to order Valerie Tatum, former head of the failed Covenant Keepers charter school, to produce records it’s been seeking or hold her in contempt of court.” The Arkansas Times reports “Tatum was superintendent of the charter school in Southwest Little Rock. The school’s operating agent was a nonprofit, City of Fire, whose board chair was Tatum’s husband, Tyron. The school was plagued over the years by financial and educational issues, but the state board allowed it to keep operating in May 2017. Tatum left her job in September 2018. Problems continued and June 30, the school went out of business. After Tatum left, but before the school served notice in January of plans not to continue its state charter, the Education Department said Tatum took furniture and money from the school accounts without authorization.”

7) CaliforniaCapital & Main’s Bill Raden comments on the California Charter School Policy Task Force’s (CTF) proposed reforms. “It remains to be seen  whether the majority recommendations—some of which are already reflected in a raft of bills currently inching towards the governor’s desk—will be supported by Newsom, or how much genuine reform will surmount the legislative hurdles expected from Sacramento’s powerful Corporate Dem caucus.” Raden also takes a look at the various post mortems on the failure of tax measure EE, which would have provided funds for LA schools. 

8) California: In a “tense” meeting, the Berkeley Unified School District rejected the proposed merger between REALM Charter School and Compass Charter Schools and revoked REALM’s charter. “Board members at the meeting cited concerns with Compass’ ability to cater to diversity and equity, communicate with the board and provide effective education, among other things. The board voted 3-2 to reject the merger. The board also voted to revoke REALM’s charter with a vote of 4-1, as REALM Executive Director Victor Diaz said at an earlier meeting that REALM could not financially survive without the merger.”

9) California: Voice of San Diego has run an extensive article on how an online charter school scammed the public out of $80 million. “In one discussion between Crider and McManus about the nature of A3 as a company, Crider said she tended to describe the organization as a ‘vendor,’ according to the indictment. McManus responded that A3 served as a ‘management company.’ He never understood why people got so ‘wound up’ about the charter management side of the business, he wrote, according to the indictment. ‘Thankfully we run a tight ship,’ Crider responded.”

10) Colorado: The Colorado State Board of Education has terminated HOPE Online Learning Academy’s contract for Aurora, “citing low performance, poor teacher qualifications, and lack of oversight at the elementary and middle school.” The online charter school continues to operate in Pueblo, Castle Rock, Broomfield, Westminster, and Brighton. 

11) District of ColumbiaThe D.C. Association of Public Chartered Schools is running a radio campaign urging D.C. to turn over more unused school buildings to charters. “In a May memo to the D.C. Public Charter School Board, [Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn] questioned whether it made sense to open up new schools in areas of the city where existing schools are already struggling with enrollment. According to the memo, stand-alone middle schools in D.C. have a 66% utilization rate overall, but there is a huge disparity between public charter middle schools, which are 98% utilized, and DCPS middle schools, which are 60% utilized. The empty middle school seats were mostly in Wards 6, 7 and 8.”

12) District of Columbia: Somerset Prep DC Public Charter School has been accused of inflating school grades to pass students. “There are students who have been able to graduate without knowing how to read. Functionally illiterate,” one educator said. “These Somerset charter school employees say they’ve witnessed principal Lauren Catalano inflating grades to increase passing scores. When asked if there was a specific program used, multiple educators responded, ‘PowerSchool.’ One added of Catalano, ‘She’s principal, head of school, and CEO. She has access to everything.’ Another educator commented, ‘I put the grades in the system and Lauren Catalano, principal, changed the grade and once she changed them, it was locked, so no one can change it.’”

13) Ohio: Republican state senators have frozen the education budget, but are trying to channel “$550 million Gov. Mike DeWine put in for wraparound services such as counseling and after school programs in lower-income districts” to the school vouchers program. “Districts that have been growing—but which saw their increases in state funding limited or capped—have threatened a lawsuit, saying that violates federal equal protection laws.” 

14) Pennsylvania: House lawmakers have finally tackled the long-overdue revision of the state’s charter school law, passing a slew of measures, but the funding issue is still unresolved. Luzerne County Representative Mike Carroll, argue charters “can’t be considered without addressing an overarching issue. ‘You can’t have the charter schools without the funding that comes from our 500 school districts,’ he said. ‘As we contemplate any charter school bill…our school districts and our students and our teachers—at least for me—will insist on a conversation about how we fund charter school education.’” 

Governor Tom Wolf (D) is set to veto a bill that expands taxpayer support for private and religious schools by $100 million. “The bill would double the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), allowing corporations to divert state taxes to support private and religious schools. The bill also allows the tax credit to grow automatically by 10 percent in any year that 90 percent of the credits are claimed and expands the number of students who may apply for scholarships to private schools, raising the maximum household income of applicants from $85,000 to $95,000.”

15) Texas: In a victory for the Austin school district, the state bard of education has rejected an application by charter school operator Royal Public Schools to gain a toehold in the Austin district. “The Austin school district has been losing students—and the money that comes with those students—for several years, and district officials forcefully pushed back against the Royal application. Once a charter operator wins approval to open a school in a district, expansion requests are routinely approved administratively by the Texas Education Agency.” Royal Public Schools was created by Soner Tarim, founder and former chief executive of charter school giant Harmony Public Schools. The Turkish press has been eagerly following the Texas decision, since it involves a charter school company allegedly tied to Erdogan opponent Fethullah Gulen.

16) Texas: The state board of education has overridden local concerns and approved two new charter schools in San Antonio, “though the vote on one of them was narrow, marked by sharp debate over charters’ rapid expansion in Texas’ largest cities amid an increased willingness of traditional school districts to push back. The San Antonio Preparatory Charter School survived a veto attempt by a 6-8 vote after opponents criticized its application as painting the Judson Independent School District in a negative light. Charter leaders plan to open a school in that district, near the Woodlake neighborhood.” 

17) Washington: The Pullman Charter School Initiative says a charter school may open in Pullman by 2021. “As a member of the fellowship, PCSI will be provided with a $90,000 stipend to hire an independent contractor, or fellow, for a year to spearhead the establishment of the school and the writing of the school’s charter.” 

18) West Virginia: Today is the day the House convenes and the battle over right wing efforts to privatize education, promote vouchers, undermine seniority and silence the voices of educators and parents comes to a head. Randi Weingarten of AFT says “our schools CAN be better. But this special session is ignoring the will of West Virginians & pushing a pro-DeVos charter voucher agenda. It’s time to end the session and #FundOurFuture#55Strong@AFTWV.” AFTWV says “we need you at the Capitol” this week! [Video, about 2 minutes]

19) Wyoming: State lawmakers are looking for a permanent fix “to the law that double-pays charter schools for routine maintenance and utility costs. The move would save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for a state education system that’s already strapped for cash.” 

20) International18,000 medical students in Morocco are standing up to resist the privatization of the country’s medical schools.

21) International: Kira Boe of Oxfam welcomes the decision by the board of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) to bar funding to private, for-profit schools. 

INFRASTRUCTURE

22) National: Politico reports on how Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao “created a special path for McConnell’s favored projects.” Chao oversees millions of dollars of federal transportation grants, and is the boss of Dan DeBono, DOT’s chief infrastructure funding officer, an ardent supporter of ‘public-private partnership’ projects that must work their way through the DOT approval process.

23) National: A bill has been introduced to allow Private Activity Bonds to finance carbon capture. “Under the bill, if more than 65% of carbon dioxide emissions from a given facility are captured and injected underground, then 100% of the eligible equipment can be financed with PABs. If less than 65% is captured and sequestered, then tax-exempt financing is permitted on a prorated basis. (…) Although their bill has never advanced through a committee, Bennet and Portman have a timing advantage this year with other lawmakers also introducing bills involving expansion of PABs. And the politics have changed at least in the House, where all tax-related legislation must originate. Democratic Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, a former mayor who supports the municipal bond industry, has replaced Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas as chairman of the tax-policy writing House Ways and Means Committee.” [Sub required]

24) New Mexico: Amid a rising tide of revenue and strong demand for public municipal bonds (which are generally cheaper than private financing for infrastructure), New Mexico “enters the 2020 fiscal year July 1 with a record budget for capital outlay projects backed by bountiful revenue from oil and gas. Lawmakers at this year’s session provided $993 million for 1,600 bond-funded projects around the state.” Public works are not the only beneficiaries of the brighter picture. “The budget also gives school staff 6% raises and other state employees pay hikes of 4%. Minimum teacher pay would rise by as much as 12%. A 15% raise goes to statewide officeholders, starting with those who take office in 2020, under separate legislation.” [Sub required]

25) International: The World Bank has published a report on gender and ‘public-private partnerships.’ Among other things, it says “merely providing much-needed infrastructure and related services will not improve gender equality outcomes. Broader social power structures, norms, and a country’s legal and regulatory environment can impact women’s and men’s abilities to equally benefit from infrastructure services. The process of challenging power structures and changing norms is not easy, though many openings exist throughout the infrastructure project-development process to do so.” 

For a critical approach to PPPs and gender, see also DAWN’s “Public-Private Partnerships and Gender Justice in the context of the 3rd UN Conference of Financing for Development,” which points out, “PPPs cannot be a choice without guarantees that they will respect human rights and ILO standards. Mandatory rules and accountability mechanism to ensure private sector compliance with women’s human rights should be established. Voluntary guidelines have proven to be wholly inadequate and inappropriate in responding to women’s human right abuses, especially by transnational corporations.”

26) Revolving door news/International: Malcom Turnbull, the former Australian prime minister who pushed the “asset recycling” model of infrastructure privatization to Trump, has taken a plum position with the private equity group KKR.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND IMMIGRATION

27) National: Sen. Ron Wyden takes aim at the private prisons companies’ REIT tax status. “A bill proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Thursday would strip private prisons of the ability to be considered real estate investment trusts (REITs). REITs allow for a special tax exemption that sees companies taxed at the individual rather than corporate level—or at the point of dividend payments for shareholders, but not at the point of profits for the companies. In a statement, Wyden explained why he believed the move was necessary, citing the moral imperative of the moment. ‘The private prison industry is booming, particularly with the Trump administration holding more immigrants in detention than any time over nearly the past 20 years,’ said Wyden.  ‘Companies that profit off of putting children in cages shouldn’t get tax breaks.’” [Draft of the bill]

28) NationalMigrants in hospitals are being treated like felons, doctors say. “Doctors say that agents arriving with immigrants are typically kind and respectful. But one exception galvanized physicians in Texas last year. A cancer patient was admitted to a public hospital accompanied by two guards from the GEO Group, the private contractor for the immigration detention facility where he was being held. Doctors came to believe that guards were texting parts of their conversations with the patient to someone outside the hospital. The patient told his doctors that he feared speaking in the earshot of the guards, who, unlike local police officers, refused to step outside during examinations. As the man lay shackled to his hospital bed by both wrists and ankles and at his waist, the skin on his back began to ulcerate. Doctors said they felt intimidated and powerless.”

29) National: Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, joined Steve Goldstein of KJZZ in Arizona to discuss the issue of mass incarceration in America. “A recent publication put together by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University includes a broad swath of possible changes—with ideas from Democratic presidential candidates like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren to President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. It’s titled ‘Ending Mass Incarceration: Ideas from Today’s Leaders.’” Chettiar is an editor of and contributor to the publication. The Brennan Center has proposed a plan to safely cut incarceration by 40%. [Audio, about 7 minutes] 

30) National: WNYC’s The Takeaway reports that an “ill migrant continued working in ICE custody until he was hospitalized. Three weeks later, he died.” Referring to a 16-page ICE Detainee Death Review, The Takeaway says “the third concern detailed in the review involves labor practices at the facility. After reporting his illness to staff, Castro-Garrido worked in the detention facility kitchen for food service duties under CoreCivic supervision, potentially transmitting his illness to others. He even worked in the kitchen on the day he was taken from the facility in an ambulance, the ICE review notes. In the past, the facility has fallen under criticism for allegedly threatening migrants who refuse to take part in labor at the facility.” 

The migrant, Yulio Castro-Garrido, was being held at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a class action suit against CoreCivic over conditions at Stewart, including “forcing detained immigrants to work for as little as $1 a day to clean, cook, and maintain the detention center in a scheme to maximize profits” (the case is pending). The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Georgia, and Southern Poverty Law Center have also recently filed a federal lawsuit “challenging the Trump administration’s cash bail system that discriminates against people held in Georgia immigration prisons [including Stewart] based on their financial status. 

31) National: GEO Group has just amended and extended its Senior Revolving Credit Facility to May 17, 2024. “The borrowing capacity under the amended Revolver will remain at $900 million, and its pricing will remain unchanged currently bearing interest at LIBOR plus 2.25%.”

32) NationalDHS/ICE has just signed a contract with CoreCivic to operate a detention center in Youngstown, Ohio. The potential cost is $14,808,921.87. Also, last Tuesday Contract Awards-Company Alerts (CACA) reported that the “Department of Justice awarded contract of COMPREHENSIVE DETENTION SERVICES to CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA. Washington: This contract was awarded to Corrections Corporation of America with a potential award amount of $343,163,743. Of this amount, 100% ($343,163,743) has been obligated. (..) Period of Performance: 05/19/2008-09/30/2030 (22 years, 4 months). Primary Place of Performance LAS VEGAS, NV”

33) California: San Francisco “will become the first county in the nation to make all phone calls from jail free and end all county markups on jail store items,” Mayor London N. Breed and Sheriff Vicki Hennessy have announced. “There are significant social and fiscal benefits associated with expanding communication between incarcerated people and their support networks. Yet, more important than utility is humanity. The relationship between a mother and her child should never be exploited, but rather protected and encouraged,” said Bianca Tylek, Executive Director of Worth Rises, an advocacy organization dedicated to dismantling the prison industrial complex. “We applaud Mayor Breed for building on the advocacy wins in New York City to make jail phone calls free.”

34) National/Colorado: The American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association have jointly filed new complaints against ICE and the GEO Group for failing to provide adequate medical care to detainees at the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora. “We remain concerned regarding the dangerously inadequate medical and mental health care at the Aurora facility, which threatens the health and welfare of detained individuals, as well as their ability to pursue their immigration and asylum claims. Several circumstantial factors over the past year have made the situation for individuals detained in the Aurora facility measurably worse. In January 2019, GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), the largest private prison company in the United States and which owns and operates the Aurora facility, expanded the detention center by opening a 432-bed annex (‘Aurora South’), increasing the facility’s capacity to 1,532. Despite the drastic expansion, staffing of both GEO and ICE employees remains insufficient to manage the growing population. In fact, GEO continues to contract only one physician on staff at any one time to oversee the entire detained population.”

35) National: U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), chair of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has called for an end to the use of private, for-profit prisons to house undocumented migrants. “The bottom line is this,” DeGette said, “We shouldn’t have private prisons housing these migrants. We should shut these down.” [Video]

36) NationalA bipartisan group of Senators has introduced legislation to address predatory phone rates in criminal justice system. “Incarcerated Americans rely on calling services to maintain support systems and bonds with their families connections that have proven to reduce recidivism and prison violence, said [Sen. Cory] Booker (D). Yet our broken criminal justice system allows these calling services to charge exorbitant and prohibitively expensive rates that are as high as $400 to $500 per month. Our bipartisan bill would address this long-standing injustice by allowing the FCC to protect consumers against these unfair rates.”

37) IndianaTwo former corrections officers who worked for GEO Group “have been indicted on federal charges for stealing the identities of unsuspecting inmates to open fraudulent bank accounts and then creating visas, passports and driver licenses.

The men, both of Muncie, allegedly used the bank accounts to funnel money to people living overseas, according to a federal indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana.”

38) Kansas: News that officials are considering sending inmates to a private prison in Arizona is generating controversy. “Part of what makes the private prison option unappealing is the company that it forces Kansas to keep—CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Locally, CoreCivic has been accused of violating wiretap laws at the Leavenworth Detention Center, and has been a central player in the Lansing prison controversy. Its facilities elsewhere have attracted media attention for inmate abuse, understaffing, and poor management. Yet, there are few options for desperate states like Kansas with overcrowded prisons since media reports estimate that CoreCivic and its competitor GEO Group hold roughly 80 percent of the national private prison market.” 

But former CoreCivic correctional officer Ashley Dixon says Kansans must stand against out-of-state prisoner transfers. “I still have not recovered from what I witnessed at that CoreCivic facility. I testified at the Tennessee State Legislature about the numerous human rights abuses I witnessed. Gov. Kelly’s decision to send prisoners to Arizona is likely a death sentence for some of those prisoners. Because poor and working-class people are disproportionately incarcerated, many prisoners sent to Arizona will not be able to receive visits from their family, which is crucial to their survival in prison and eventual rehabilitation.”

39) Tennessee: NewsChannel5 Nashville reports that concerns are mounting about the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center and its operator, CoreCivic. “Through a series of interviews with prisoners and family members of former prisoners, NewsChannel 5 spent months documenting why some state lawmakers say prisons for profit in Tennessee are not working.” 

PUBLIC SERVICES

40) National: In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler says the Trump administration’s latest move to further privatize veterans health care is shameful hypocrisy. “Last week, his administration’s VA leadership launched a program to privatize the health care of millions of veterans. The new Veterans Community Care Program will outsource more of the agency’s care to private hospitals, physicians, and other providers. The move is the latest in a longtime push by groups like the Koch-backed Concerned Veterans for America to dismantle a well-functioning public system. As journalist David Dayen has written, ‘To a libertarian who believes government can’t help but screw up whatever it touches, the VA represents a threat.’”

American Federation of Government Employees (ADGE) National President J. David Cox Sr. says “the VA will be sending veterans out to the private sector without any way of measuring the timeliness and quality of the care they receive. This is a clear double standard that is designed to push veterans out of the VA, no matter the consequences, and to starve the VA of the resources it needs to continue providing the high-quality care veterans expect and deserve.”

41) NationalAfter a determined effort by using the Freedom of Information Act, Food & Water Watch has confirmed that “the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is pursuing deregulation of the inspection system for beef slaughter plants, in spite of recent denials made by agency officials.” Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist with Food & Water Watch, says “the previous attempts at privatized inspection have led to weaker food safety performance and are a ploy by the industry to increase line speeds. The Tyson plant in Holcomb, Kansas is approved to operate at the current maximum line speed allowable, 390 head per hour. FSIS management has had difficulty meeting its inspection staffing requirements in the past in western Kansas, which has contributed to beef slaughter plants not being able to maintain maximum line speeds. Tyson’s solution seems to be to get rid of the government inspectors.” 

42) National: More public libraries are hiring social workers to address homelessness, employment challenges, and other issues in their communities, NBC reports. 

OTHER

43) NationalPrivatized military housing residents will have a say through a new tenants bill of rights, Military Times reports. “The proposed tenant’s bill of rights is one part of an effort being undertaken by defense and service officials to address rampant problems with mold, lead paint vermin and other health and safety problems brought up by military families, frustrated by their inability to get their company landlords to fix the problem, and no advocate within the military.” 

44) National/New York20% of New York drivers for apps like Uber have had to rely on food stamps. “A lengthy article by transportation industry consultant Hubert Horan in the journal American Affairs outlines a series of perceived flaws in Uber’s business model. One of the most startling findings is that most of Uber’s margin improvements since 2015 can be explained by cuts in driver take-home pay—not by increased efficiency.”

45) National: Pew’s Stateline reports that so far, real estate dominates a federal tax break meant for businesses. “But almost two years after the tax break became law, and almost two months after the Trump administration clarified how private equity firms, venture capitalists and other investors can qualify for the tax break, only a handful of people have started funds that focus on operating businesses. Many are still trying to figure out how to satisfy both the IRS and investors eager for high returns.”