An email newsletter for organizers, journalists, and others concerned about the privatization of education, water, and other public goods. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- Why states and localities should increase—not decrease—public spending during the pandemic.
- Americans are less divided about the role of government than corporate leaders and right-wing politicians would have you think.
- Why online charter schools are no solution in a pandemic.
1) National: “These are dark times, for sure,” says In the Public Interest’s Executive Director Donald Cohen. “But we’re less divided about the role of government in American life than corporate leaders and right-wing politicians would have you think. (…) If 2020 has revealed anything, it’s that public goods—like public health, water, and public safety—must be adequately funded and publicly controlled. And we need to make sure those public goods are available to all of us, whether we’re white, Black, or brown; whether we’re native or a newcomer.”
2) National: Writing in Route Fifty, In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler explains why states and localities should increase—not decrease—state spending during the pandemic. “”State and local leaders must avoid falling into the downward spiral of austerity and privatization. Not only will it hurt the local economy, but it could also undermine policymaking for decades to come. For example, Chicago’s parking meter contract contains clauses that give away the city’s rights to manage traffic and land use near the meters until 2083. That’s on top of the city losing nearly $1 billion on the deal. Some states and localities have recognized that privatization is a fool’s errand and as a result, insourced—or ‘re-municipalized’ services.”
Even apparently modest cutbacks of state spending can have serious effects. For example, “a recent 10% budget cut to the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office—part of reductions implemented by every state agency—is having ‘devastating effects’ on local public safety, leaving prosecutors unable to handle many juvenile and low-level misdemeanor cases.”
3) National: Responding to the failure of Missouri authorities to hold St. Louis police officers accountable for the death of Brionna Taylor, the Partnership for Working Families says “We grieve with the Louisville community and especially Breonna Taylor’s family & friends. This system thrives on Black death and suffering. It will be dismantled by those who it terrorizes. We will strip it of its power + resources. We who believe in freedom shall not rest.”
4) National: The scientists are standing up against the Trump administration’s dereliction of duty on chemical safety. EDF’s Tom Neltner and Maricel Maffini report “we found that in only one of 877 [Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)] notices did a food manufacturer consider the cumulative effect requirement in a meaningful way. And we found no evidence that the agency either recognized this single attempt to follow the law or had objected to the omissions in the 876 other notices. This failure has significant consequences for public health, particularly for communities who already face significant health and socio-economic disparities, and for children, who are uniquely susceptible to dietary exposures to multiple chemicals. For this reason, EDF joined with other health, environmental, and consumer groups to file a formal petition to demand FDA and food manufacturers start following the law.”
5) Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Housing Action has won a dramatic victory after its 6 month direct action campaign forced the city to relinquish 50 vacant homes to a community land trust. “It’s a good start but it’s also not enough,” said Black and Brown Workers Cooperative organizer Sterling Johnson. “There was already a major housing crisis in Philadelphia and we anticipate a wave of mass evictions on top of that due to Covid-19. The scale of the housing crisis would require thousands of new units of low-income housing but we feel that with this agreement we can at least get started moving people off the street and into homes before winter. This is only the beginning.”
6) Think Tanks: Some background reading on the law and privatization by legal scholar Paul R. Verkuil, who served as 10th Chair of the Administrative Conference of the United States under President Obama. “This Article illuminates the public dimension of government functions. By exploring the public-private distinction and relating it to constitutional, statutory, and administrative requirements, it structures an argument that identifies and insulates inherent functions of government from the outsourcing calculation. The idea that some jobs in government are better performed by the private sector is accepted; but for other assignments, where policymaking is at stake, the public actor is not fungible or replaceable. The public interest, an elusive concept admittedly, has an inevitable role to play in our political system.”
7) National: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been defeated in her effort to route more coronavirus aid to private schools. “The diversion particularly irked public school advocates because private schools—unlike public schools—had access to billions in forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, another part of the CARES Act. In April, soon after DeVos released the guidance, the American Federation of Teachers and the national school superintendents association even called on local school officials to disregard the guidance, which was not legally binding.”
8) National: Florina Rodov of the Independent Media Institute explains why online charter schools are no solution in a pandemic. “Privatizers are no strangers to disaster capitalism. The DeVos and Koch-funded Heritage Foundation helped turn post-Katrina New Orleans into an all-charter district containing both brick-and-mortar charters as well as virtual schools powered by K12 Inc. Nearly half of all schools were rated a D or F in 2019. Since New Orleans’ schools serve mostly economically disadvantaged students of color, it’s difficult not to view the charterization of schools as a racist attack. Then again, racism is ingrained in school privatization and K12—Bill Bennett, the co-founder and first chair of K12, was forced to step down from the company after he said that aborting Black babies would reduce crime.”
Investors seem to have lost their pandemic-induced irrational exuberance for K12 stock, whose price has been cut in half since the beginning of last month.
9) Arizona: A second executive of Goodyear public charter school is going to jail. “Vega on Wednesday became the second school executive sentenced in the case. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jay Ryan Adleman ordered Vega to serve four months in Maricopa County Jail and five years of supervised probation after her release. Vega, according to court records, suggested the school use ‘placeholder students’ to inflate the school’s enrollment. The hope was that the made-up students would eventually be replaced by real students, but that never happened.”
10) Arizona: A private, for-profit company is getting federal funds meant for charter schools. “Prenda is exploiting gaps in regulation and oversight in the hopes of growing so fast and large that it alters the industry it seeks to disrupt. Prenda is not a private school, a charter school or a public school. But at different times it operates as all three—drawing taxpayer funding or support for each type of school. It teaches public and private school students together in the same classroom, which may not be legal under Arizona state law. As a result, there’s little government oversight of Prenda guides and how they lead their home classrooms.”
11) California: Several San Diego charter schools are suing the state for allegedly denying them funding for new students who want to attend. “The lawsuit was filed by the Classical Academies, Springs Charter Schools and The Learning Choice Academy in San Diego and by some students who attend or want to attend those schools. It seeks class action status to include the 310 non-classroom-based charter schools in California that served 195,000 students last school year.”
12) California: Seven billionaires are pouring money into pro-charter school candidates for Los Angeles school races and California legislature, Tom Ultican reports. “In 2020, the four odd numbered LAUSD board seats were up for election. Since the charter school industry already has three board members not up for reelection, they only need to flip one seat to regain control of the board. In 2019, they lost control of the board when Jackie Goldberg received 71.6% of the vote in a special election to replace district 5 board member Ref Rodriquez who pled guilty to conspiracy charges.”
13) Connecticut: The president and CEO of the state’s now-disbanded education partnership with hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio “has filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against Dalio’s philanthropic organization, as well as a nonprofit group called Say Yes to Education that she headed for 12 years, and two individuals who she claims spread ‘malicious lies’ about alleged misconduct by her at Say Yes. (…) Defendants’ wrongful acts involve abuses of wealth and power, misuse of a not-for-profit public-private partnership for private purposes, a chronic lack of transparency, a disregard for the reputations of others, and clear breaches of contractual duties,’ according to the suit.”
14) Florida: School vouchers are a key talking point in Florida elections from the local to the national races, and a vast amount of pro-voucher money is flooding into campaigns. “Many of the for-profit companies that build and manage charter schools also spend heavily in state races, usually focusing on GOP candidates. Charter Schools USA, which has 59 schools across Florida, and an affiliate, Red Apple Development, have contributed nearly $160,000 to PACS and individual candidates in Florida, including sending $25,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. School Development HC Finance, which has ties to Academica, another for-profit management company, gave $508,000 to committees and candidates, including $135,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign and $120,000 to the state GOP. One the other side, the Florida Education Association has sent $249,000 to candidates and political action committees. Its affiliated PACs donated $69,000 to the Florida Democratic Party and $35,000 to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign to promote candidates friendly to traditional public schools.”
15) Florida: Less than a month after a new charter school opened, its principal has resigned, claiming one of the co-founders misrepresented her educational experience and character toward students. “In a Facebook post last week, Courtney Paschal Purnell, the former principal of Independence Classical Academy, said the ‘school should be 100% about the success of our children and the betterment of our community.’ Director Sandy Krischke, according to Purnell, ‘willfully committed academic stolen valor’ and ‘misrepresented’ her certifications and character.”
16) New York: Privatized busing is eating away at school budgets. “Buffalo Public Schools has agreed to pay $3.7 million to a private bus company for the month of September—even though the district’s students are not riding any buses this month. But Maryvale, one of the county’s smallest school districts, is refusing to pay First Student for the months that its students are not riding the bus. ‘They’ve been asking us to pay them for fixed costs,’ said Maryvale Superintendent Joseph D’Angelo. ‘I’ve been telling them, “we can’t pay you for services we aren’t getting.”’
17) Texas: A charter school teacher has been fired for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask. “Lillian White said she wore the mask to demonstrate her support for Black students and faculty, but also to advocate for an anti-racism action plan and a more diverse curriculum. (…) The art teacher, who has worked in education for more than 10 years, continued to wear the mask despite receiving multiple requests from school officials to stop. ‘I immediately knew it was time for me to make a decision, and I didn’t think twice about it. This is a human rights issue and I did it for my students who experience racial injustice in school. I refused to back down,’ White said.
‘If you’re scared about what parents are going to say because a teacher is supporting equal rights, you need to reevaluate the kind of people you’re catering to. By staying silent, Great Hearts is only supporting racist parents.’”
18) National/Hawaii: In another devastating blow to the P3 model, the city of Honolulu “announced Friday that it is pulling out of the effort to land a private-sector partner to complete construction and operate the 20-mile system during its first 30 years.” A press release from Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s office on Friday “said that the city has informed rail’s federal partners at the Federal Transit Administration that it’s no longer participating in the P3 effort. It didn’t offer more details because the procurement is still active.” The news comes on top of the recent collapse of the Purple Line light rail P3 project in Maryland.
19) National/International: It seems stock investors are defying gravity on Transurban, continuing to support its share price, which is down only 1.2% this year despite a 90% decline in its toll road traffic since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the profiteers are speculating on the collapse of public transport and an uptick in car traffic in the midst of the climate crisis? “Ultimately, many of these people will need car transportation options. That paves the way for Transurban to increase traffic numbers just from a shift in commuting habits. In a perfect world, investors would see that hit the bottom line and boost the Transurban share price higher. The other factor is restricted public transport numbers and perceived safety.”
20) Hawaii: Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) Executive Director Andrew Robbins will keep his job for now. “Meanwhile, he’ll continue to preside over a multibillion-dollar megaproject whose schedule and budget woes are only getting worse. Efforts to relocate utilities along Dillingham Boulevard have stalled, officials managing the project say, due to an impasse between HART and the city’s planning department over the rail agency’s latest designs for that work. That impasse will mean further ‘substantial’ cost and schedule impacts to a rail project that has already seen a heavy share of cost increases.”
21) Illinois: The pandemic has made it even harder for some Chicago residents to access clean water. [I Grow Chicagodirector of development Zelda Mayer] “said the factors that heighten water insecurity are extensive and not limited to housing instability. This only highlights how “no issue can really be viewed in isolation,” she said. Underlying problems, such as income inequality, poor water quality, and utility affordability, need to be addressed in order for people throughout the city to access a safe water supply.”
22) Maryland: Will the state take on more debt to rescue the Purple Line? MDOT “said bonds issued by the department or by a new developer are a possibility. The federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act will continue to be an important funding source.” Moody’s Investors Service estimates the state’s potential exposure for the delays to be about $750 million on the $5.6 billion project. Annual availability payments start in 2023. “We view availability payments as debt-like obligations,” says Moody’s. [Sub required]
23) International: France has ‘completely failed to regulate’ its toll roads, says Frédéric Blanc-Brude, director of the EDHEC Infrastructure Institute and co-author of a new report on the issue. “The Singaporean institute found overall return for toll road concessionaires in France is between 6.4 percent and 7.8 percent. However, the average return on equity rises to between 27 percent and 35 percent when taking into account the debt on the balance sheets of the concessionaires. This “has no equivalent in Europe”, according to EDHECinfra, whose findings were referenced last week in a report by France’s Senate Investigative Committee on motorway concessions. While the committee has taken EDHEC’s findings into consideration, Blanc-Brude does not believe this issue is exclusive to French toll roads.” Some have proposed “a fairer model of tolls being at least 15 percent lower while still allowing concessionaires to retain profits on the contracts.” [Sub required]
Criminal Justice and Immigration
24) National: A House committee report has sharply criticized the Aurora ICE facility for its handling of the care of Kamyar Samimi, a detainee who died in December 2017 after fifteen days in detention. “Penned by the House Committee on Oversight Reform’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, on which Democrats are the majority, the report delves into various deaths in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and other instances of deficient medical care. Regarding Samimi’s death and medical care in general at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, the report includes analysis from a medical expert report included with a 2018 Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties investigation, an ICE detainee death assessment, and internal audits by GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the facility.”
25) National: Activists chased Palantir across the country last week to protest its contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Pentagon, and other federal law enforcement agencies. “The protests were organized by Mijente, an immigration rights group that started the #NoTechForICE campaign to publicly shame Silicon Valley companies that do business with the agency. The group has pressured Palantir for years after publishing documents that show Palantir’s data-crunching software was used by ICE to manage information on undocumented people in order to plan arrests. Protests began last week when activists staged a demonstration against Palantir outside the New York City offices of BlackRock, an asset management company that has invested in Palantir.”
Last week Palantir was sued by the Labor Department for engaging in systematic discrimination against Asian job applicants. “‘Federal contractors have an obligation to ensure that their hiring practices and policies are free of all forms of discrimination,’ a government spokeswoman said. A Palantir spokeswoman didn’t have an immediate comment. The suit threatens Palantir’s government business. The U.S. seeks to end the hiring practices and recover lost wages, interest and other benefits for the affected class.” [Sub required]
26) National: A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to stop denying pandemic relief funds to incarcerated persons. “A Treasury Department Inspector General report confirms that, as of early May 2020, the IRS had determined that at least 80,000 incarcerated people were eligible for payments of over $100 million. The Judge’s order will thus result in desperately needed economic assistance of over $100 million to be delivered to members of the Class.”
27) National: At his confirmation hearing, Chad Wolf was hit with a flood of questions on DHS scandals. “The nine-month acting secretary told senators he was unaware that his wife’s consulting firm was given more than $6 million in DHS contracts since he was chief of staff to then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. ‘There’s a new story about some contract that DHS awarded to my wife’s firm. I guess it was in 2018. I just found out about it last night when the media inquiry came in,’ Wolf said.”
28) National/Oklahoma: The Cushing Correctional Facility, operated by CoreCivic, has begun to receive prisoners. “The new contract would save almost 200 local jobs, [Cushing City Manager Terry Brannon] said when the deal was announced. There were still 199 employees on the payroll at CCF when it was signed. Brannon had previously expressed concern for CCF employees and their families and for the local businesses that provide goods and services to them and the prison.”
29) National: Despite mass suffering and a financial crisis in state, cities and local governments around the country, Republican Senators have left Washington DC. “It’s disgraceful that Trump and his Senate allies have found time to fast-track their SCOTUS plans while Americans are continuing to suffer without a new relief package,” said Kyle Herrig of Accountable.US
“But the prospects of the GOP agreeing to a deal before the November election appear vanishingly slim at present, given the refusal of many Senate Republicans to approve much-needed spending on state and local aid, an expansion of nutrition assistance, robust housing relief, and a $600-per-week unemployment supplement.”
30) National: In the wake of privatization, public health experts expressed grave concern about possible COVID-19 data manipulation, including political manipulation, at a House committee hearing. “When a for-profit private company takes on ‘an inherently governmental activity,’ [Lisa Lee, PhD, associate vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg] argued, there’s a clear mismatch in objective, which creates even more mistrust. A guiding principle for strengthening the public health infrastructure is to ensure that data flow from healthcare to the state and local public health departments and from there to the federal government. ‘So [data] should be flowing through the public health system, not around the public health system,’ said Jane Hamilton, MPH, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.”
31) International: In a new twist to the privatization of testing, a new COVID-19 app does not accept test results processed in England’s state-run laboratories, hospitals or as part of an official survey.
32) International: A bold experiment in railway privatization is over, The Economist reports. “In 2013 the then transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, gave a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of railway privatization. It had been a brilliant success, he said. Britain had turned a clapped-out railway network into the safest, most improved system in Europe. Naturally, there had been ‘a few wobbles along the way,’ but these had been sorted out. Anybody who believed that railways ought to be controlled by the state was ‘completely missing the point.’ Now look at it. On September 21st the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, declared that the model of railway privatization that Britain has followed for the past two and a half decades had stopped working, and would end forthwith. He did not even pin all the blame on covid-19, which has cut train travel by about three-fifths. So was railway privatization a brilliant success that went wrong, or was it flawed from the beginning?”
33) Think Tanks: On October 19, join six current and former UN Special Rapporteurs for an exceptional event on privatization and public services. Participants will reflect on the impacts of privatization and on renewed momentum and strategies for the public provision of services related to economic, social and cultural rights such as health, education, water sanitation and housing. Joining the discussion will be:
- Philip Alston, former UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
- Koumbou Boly Barry, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education
- Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food
- Leilani Farha, former UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context
- Léo Heller, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation
The event will be moderated by Magdalena Sepúlveda, former UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
34) National: Writing in Politico, Alex Guillén and Paul Demko outline the possibly devastating effect that a shift to the right on the Supreme Court could have on public interest regulation and the ability of a President Joe Biden to govern effectively. Will the “dismantling of the administrative state” be turbocharged by a ruthless tightening of the nondelegation doctrine? “The rightward shift could imperil much of the agenda of a potential Biden administration or a Democratic Congress, making it easier for the courts to block initiatives such as a “Green New Deal” or vast expansion of Medicare. The addition of a sixth conservative justice—expected to be Amy Coney Barrett — could provide the final ingredient needed for Republicans to restrict or reverse decades-old precedents that have protected a range of government programs from legal challenges, including regulations on health care, the environment, technology and the financial industry.”
35) National/California: Wells Fargo, which was embroiled in a major scandal involving the creation of over 2 million fake bank accounts and illegal manipulation of other accounts by its employees, is fending off accusations of racism after its CEO, Charles Scharf, apologized for saying corporate America is having recruiting problems because “there is a very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from,” and for committing massive “redlining” against Black and Latinx communities and homebuyers is Sacramento, for which it is now being sued by the city.
36) National: Guess who’s clamoring for more deregulation, federal subsidies and COVID-19 relief aid as a new package is gong nowhere in Congress? Yes, military contractors. You can’t make this stuff up.
37) California: Writing in Capital & Main, Bobbi Murray uncovers the big money behind opposition to Proposition 15, which would establish a “split-roll” system to tax corporate and commercial property at presently assessed values instead of at rates based on purchase prices set by Proposition 13 in 1978. “Prop. 15 would reset the tax system in a way that could add billions to state coffers. A recent California Legislative Analyst’s Office assessment showed that, should Prop. 15 pass, ‘Overall, $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion per year in new property taxes would go to local governments. Sixty percent would go to cities, counties, and special districts. The other 40 percent would go to schools and community colleges.’”
38) Think Tanks: Philip Mattera of Good Jobs First calls our attention to a new report “on self-proclaimed socially responsible corporations [which] reminds us that the tendency to say one thing and do another can also be seen in the world of business.” The report’s conclusion? “Endorsement of the Roundtable statement did not make a big difference one way or the other.”