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Weekly Privatization Report 1-22-2018

1) National: The labor and anti-privatization movements lost one of their giants last week with the passing of Paul Booth. Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest and a longtime friend of Paul and Heather Booth, said “There was no greater fighter against privatization and for public services and the common good. We relied on Paul for ideas, insights and friendship. He will be terribly missed but we will do what he’d expect—fight on.” Appreciations and recommitments have come in from far and wide, from AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, the National Employment Law Project, Peter Dreier, Si Kahn,  and many others.

Booth played a key role in saving social security from privatization under the Bush administration—shortly before the 2008 financial crash would have wiped out the retirement security of millions had they gambled their Social Security savings in the stock market. Booth was no newcomer to the anti-privatization fight, having helped to launch the New Century Alliance for Social Security in 1998, which pledged “to protect Social Security from schemes that ‘privatize’ America’s retirement system by reducing guaranteed benefits to fund private investment accounts.”

In the face of facile obituaries of the labor movement, Paul Booth was a strong believer in its capacity for renewal and expansion, and a pioneer of the new Organizing Model. “Today fights come from three sources,” he wrote. “There are fights that grow, more or less spontaneously, from workers taking risks. There are the fights picked by our enemies: fights like Wisconsin and Right to Work, fights where our enemies try to bust a union through lockouts, bankruptcy, legislation or other tactics to become ‘union-free.’ And then there are the fights we pick: campaigns where we go on offense, where we take risks in order to grow our power. For all of these, we need organizations that will tap everyone, in our unions and outside them, to take action, to support workers, even workers very different from themselves. We need rapid response capacity; those who are disposed to take action must be organized to be ready. As we take action, we need to build in a learning system, so that each action builds commitment and so that the next will be more powerful.”

2) NationalThe New York Times reports that Jacque Simon, the public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal employee union, “said federal workers have not yet been given any instructions about how agencies plan to operate or whom will be sent home if a shutdown occurs. Keeping the parks open, she said, is a smart political move.” But “Ms. Simon said a shutdown would be an ‘economic disaster’ for federal employees, and said she is concerned that national parks may remain open by the government paying contractors while sending federal workers on furlough. That, she said, would amount to an illegal privatization of the work force. ‘We will be watching that very closely,’ she said.”

3) National/Florida: The privatization of education is a women’s issue, says Emma Collum, the founder of the Women’s March Florida chapter as she attended this weekend’s Florida Women’s March. Collum helped bus thousands of Floridians to Washington, DC, for last year’s Women’s March on Washington. “‘Women need a seat at the table,’ Collum said. Issues affecting Florida, such as sea level rise and the privatization of public education, are women’s issues, she said. In addition to galvanizing voters, the march aimed to raise money for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Miami.” In Washington, DC, a contingent of women veterans talked about the effort to privatize and destroy the Veterans Administration.

4) National: The Network for Public Education has put together a toolkit for fighting back against school privatization during “National School Choice Week” this week. “We will continue to post new material to share. Every day this week we ask you to go to the site and take action. Each action is designed to tell the truth about School Choice Week and its supporters…. Here is the real choice we face. Either we support public schools governed by our elected neighbors or we let state governments dole out tax dollars to parents to shop for schools.”

5) National/OhioMother Jones explains how “The GOP’s Biggest Charter School Experiment Just Imploded.” Lack of oversight played a central role in the closure: “ECOT itself was technically a public entity subject to state oversight, but Lager, inspired by a structure pioneered by Brennan and allowed by Ohio law, founded a for-profit management company called Altair that billed ECOT millions in fees for services like ‘strategic planning.’”

6) National: U.S. prisons have radically scaled back in-person visits and the availability of books in favor of “video visitation” run by private, for-profit corporations, and commercially pre-packaged pabulum reading material. “So far out of five vendors with available product lists, only 77 different books are available to be purchased, 24 of them coloring books and 21 puzzle books.” Lucius Coulouten of the Prison Policy Initiative says video visitation is “a dehumanizing experience” run by “an exploitative industry that hurts incarcerated people more than it helps them.”

7) NationalMuckRock’s Beryl Lipton urges us to redouble efforts to keep the spotlight on private prisons in 2018, especially through scrutiny by local activists. “Local initiatives in such an environment have become more important than ever, helping activists to make headway, even if the federal government appears to be working against them. In California, the Dignity Not Detention Act, which went into effect on January 1st, makes any facility detaining a non-citizen subject to the California Public Records Act. As we move into Year Two of the Trump presidency, MuckRock will be looking to learn more about how the industry is growing and expanding as it reacts to and crafts drug policy.”

MuckRock
 regularly shares interesting war stories from the FOIA front. This week: redacted reasons for why the Bureau of Prisons doesn’t permit prisoners to play Dungeons and Dragons, and kudos to the Attleboro City Council for releasing a full five years (2010-2015) of its executive session minutes. This year Sunshine Week is March 11-17.

8) National: Jennifer Berkshire and Noliwe Rooks discuss segrenomics, “the combination of the segregation that continues to define education in the US, and economics—whole industries that make money off of our unequal system. Like the Silicon Valley hustlers who have their sights set on the Baltimore Public Schools.” Rooks develops the analysis in her new book, Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education. Ending on a hopeful note, in her book Rooks introduces us to some of the students who are fighting back against school privatization. “They’re in middle schools and high schools in many of the places where you see the most aggressive forms of privatized education taking place,” says Rooks.

9) National: In the latest episode of the Have You Heard podcastAlterNet education contributor Jennifer Berkshire and co-host Jack Schneider talk to HuffPost education reporter Rebecca Klein about the extreme ideological teachings on offer at taxpayer-funded private religious schools.

10) National: Does the federal government need more prisons? Reports that “the Bureau of Prisons is continuing pre-construction work on a prison in Kentucky that it says it does not need, even as the Illinois facility stands idle” should raise a few eyebrows and questions about that.

11) Arizona: Barney Helmick, the manager of Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, warns against the risks of airport privatization. “Some want to take away oversight over our air traffic control system away from the FAA and put it in the hands of a private board that is dominated by the biggest airlines and airports. This concerns me because our national network of 3,100 airports are critical to national infrastructure. Many of them like Flagstaff or smaller support a wide variety of vital functions, including law enforcement, medical response, disaster relief, blood and organ transportation and economic growth. Under a privatized system, the focus would shift away from balancing the needs of smaller and larger airports alike.”

12) Arizona: The ACLU of Arizona has submitted 2,600 signatures to the Charter School Board as part of an effort to change the way charter schools admit students. “Officials with the civil liberties group said they could ask the Legislature for help but they are not confident state lawmakers would support the changes. As a result, they are concentrating their efforts on the Charter School Board. They hope for changes before the start of the next academic year.”

13) Arizona: A Phoenix mother is suing a public charter school that she says illegally turned away her daughter because she had Type 1 diabetes. “‘Everybody was on the same page,’ says Kohnke. ‘It seemed like it was only the principal that saw the stuff and was like, “No, no, no, no.” Kohnke says the principal sent her away with a yellow Post-it note with a list of other schools. ‘Once she handed me this I was like, OK, so I kind of understood where we were standing at that point,’ says Kohnke.”

14) California/National: As ICE raids nearly one hundred 7-eleven stores in pre-dawn nationwide sweep, California unions are resisting Trump’s anti-immigrant actions. Tonight from 7-8 EST, Building Bridges’ Mimi Rosenberg and Ken Nash will interview Rusty Hicks, President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor about the challenges. Smartphone streaming at http://stream.wbai.org. Archives available later here.

15) California: Montbello United may get a new charter school in August, even though school board officials are in the dark about the company that runs it. “During a public hearing, which state law requires school boards to hold within 30 days of receiving a petition, board members Edgar Cisneros and Hector Chacon both indicated that they never received the petition and knew little about the school. (…) Jose Salas, who introduced himself as Legacy’s board secretary, said the school’s curriculum would emphasize science and technology, as well as digital learning and character development. But he did not provide any information on the company itself. A filing with California’s Secretary of State showed Legacy Public Charter Schools was registered on Oct. 3, 2017 in La Habra.”

16) District of Columbia: The DC Public Charter School Board orders a charter school, Excel Academy, visited last year by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and First Lady Melania Trump—who touted it as “exceptional”—to close. The school board cited declining test scores and below average reading and math skills. “The trend for student performance over the past several years has been negative, despite any benefits that may have occurred from learning in an all-girl setting,” said board chair Darren Woodruff.

17) Florida: KIPP, the national charter school chain, is about to open a school in Liberty City, Miami, and some are concerned that it is being allowed to do so because of its ties to powerful Florida House Speaker Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran — who is expected to run for governor. “Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and members of the school board needed convincing that a KIPP location in Miami would mirror the network’s success in other places, not its struggles in Jacksonville. ‘My expectation for KIPP Miami is one that needs to be wildly different from what we have seen in Jacksonville,’ Carvalho said.”

18) Louisiana: Auditors have raised concerns about financial management at the Central City charter school, “whose chief financial officer has been accused of violating state ethics law for being paid on the side to do accounting work. Auditors reviewed 25 checks chosen at random from the files at Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy. They found no evidence of proper approval for 19 of them. In five cases, there was no evidence the purchase was for an appropriate school purpose. In nine, the school couldn’t demonstrate that it had received what it paid for.”

19) Massachusetts: Authorities have refused to approve the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School’s application to expand, citing “higher rates of attrition of students with disabilities than other schools within its charter region.”

20) Missouri: As the opaque process to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport moves forward, aldermen call for more transparency. “My concern is, if (a private entity) can make such a wonderful profit off the airport, perhaps we can too,” said 13th Ward Alderman Beth Murphy. Last week the St. Louis Post-Dispatch featured a warning about the proposed deal (details of which have yet to see the light of public day) by In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen, who explained why “there is no clear fiscal or policy rationale for the privatization of the airport.” Later in the week the Post-Dispatch ran a in depth story on the murky lobbying process behind the airport privatization deal. “The rumblings are that billionaire conservative financer Rex Sinquefield is going to push for a statewide referendum for a city-county merger. And, of course, there’s also the privatization of city-owned and -operated St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Some say that those are the city’s two lobbying priorities going forward. Aboussie and his two team members seem prime to support this effort.”

21) New Jersey: Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert has asked Gov. Murphy’s administration to review a decision by the state Department of Education allowing the Princeton Charter School to add more students, and she urged a “freeze” on future enrollment growth at the school. “The school district was upset because adding more students would mean an additional $1.16 million each year it would have to provide Princeton Charter. The district has had a frosty relationship with the Charter School, which gets most of its funding in local tax dollars.”

22) New Mexico: A charter school in Moriarty is raffling off guns to raise money.

23) North Carolina: Durham Public Schools Superintendent Pascal Mubenga warns that if charter schools continue to siphon off students from traditional public schools, the school system will resegregate itself. “DPS’ enrollment is currently about 82 percent black and Hispanic and 18 percent white. Many schools are already nearly completely black and Hispanic, as white parents have chosen charter schools and private schools to educate their children.”

24) International: The collapse of the enormous outsourcing company Carillion, whose tentacles stretched to every major area of public service contracting, continues to reverberate throughout Britain and Canada. The scandal is the most serious blow yet to the reigning Thatcherite orthodoxy on privatization, which has dominated public policy under both Conservative and Labour governments for nearly four decades. It has also vindicated longstanding warnings by the labor movement about profiteering and mismanagement, and their case that ideological bias rather than sound public policy is driving privatization and outsourcing. Although it hasn’t received as much attention in the U.S. as it has in Britain and Canada, the scandal raises critical questions about how rigorous public oversight and control of ‘public private partnerships’ and outsourcing contracts and corporations is here, and how sound the privatization industry’s arguments are that it is more efficient.

Thousands of Carillion employees have either lost their jobs or been left wondering how long the government will continue to backstop them. The crisis was the subject of heated parliamentary debate last week, with Teresa May’s government struggling on multiple fronts to defend the idea of public services contracting, launch a convincing investigation of what happened, take credible steps to deal with what is widely seen as compensation-gouging by the company’s directors, the perception of sweetheart contracts extended to a struggling company, continuing doubtsabout official and company conflicts of interest, and about the impact of still-undetermined huge taxpayer losses—not least over underfunded pensions that have now come onto its books. But some hedge funds are sitting pretty, having cashed in on all the disaster.

25) International: Carillion’s collapse is also affecting the British criminal justice system, raising questions about the for-profit model in that sector too. Joe Sim, a Professor of Criminology at Liverpool John Moores University, writes that “less discussed has been the company’s role in exacerbating the current prison crisis. In late 2017, the Prison Inspectorate’s report on Wormwood Scrubs pointed to the seriously dilapidated state of the prison and highlighted the failure of Carillion to provide the services for which it was contracted.” He asks, “what mechanisms of accountability were in place for ensuring that Carillion delivered these services? Very little, if any, by the looks of it. (…) For many, linking profit maximization to criminal justice is morally offensive.”

Questions are also being raised about the role of private, for profit companies in probation services and arrest warrant outsourcing, and about how outsourcing and austerity has driven up the cost of courts administration. “Outsourcing and temporary staff costs rocketed over period when Ministry of Justice suffered deep cuts. The courts service spent £50m last year on agency and contract staff, a more than tenfold rise since 2010 when it spent £3m, while courts have been closing at an unprecedented rate. The annual cost of temporary staff has rocketed over a period when the Ministry of Justice has suffered the deepest cuts of any Whitehall department and closed more than 220 courts across England and Wales.”

Legislative Issues

1) National: While the government shutdown has abruptly halted any plans to move forward on infrastructure, when the shutdown is resolved we can expect the heavy lobbying to resume. On Thursday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced its support for a 25 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax and a program heavily reliant on ‘public private partnerships.’ The first item looks like a non-starter in Congress, and the latter is reportedly getting a thumbs-down from Trump, at least at this point. Reuters had a bit of expected detail on the plan last week. Senators Cornyn (R-TX) and Warner (D-VA) introduced a bill to expand private activity bonds (PABs) on the day the Chamber had its press conference, and The Bond Buyer sees PABs as the financing mechanism for infrastructure through ‘public private partnerships.’ [Sub required]

But the financing piece of the Trump plan is getting very bad reviews from local officials. For example, Mark Stodola, president of the National League of Cities, “expressed concern that the Trump administration may want to reduce the traditional 80% federal share for local infrastructure projects. Transportation and Infrastructure experts briefed on his plan have said he plans to propose a 20% federal share, with state and local governments to pick up the rest.” [Sub required] Lopping 60% off the traditional formula is sure to raise lots of hackles.

2) New Hampshire: Legislation has been introduced to target conflicts of interest on charter school boards. “Currently, nothing prohibits a charter school employee from sitting on the school’s board of trustees. That’s in stark contrast to what’s allowed at traditional public schools, where state law has strict prohibitions against someone who works in a district serving on its school board. A salaried employee of one school district can’t even sit on the school board of another district if the two districts are in the same school administrative unit.” The bill has six Republican sponsors and two Democrats. [House Bill 1480]

3) Kentucky: A new bill aims to repeal the Kentucky charter school law. Eight Democratic representatives filed a bill with the Kentucky General Assembly “to repeal the 2017 law in its entirety. ‘It was a bad bill and it should not have passed,’ said Rep. Attica Scott, a Louisville Democrat and the bill’s primary sponsor. ‘I believe we have to stand up and fight back.’ Gov. Matt Bevin signed the charter school law last March, adding Kentucky to the list of 44 states and Washington, D.C., to allow the publicly funded but independently managed schools. But no charters have opened yet, as legislators still need finalize dozens of regulations for the law and agree on a way to permanently fund the schools — an objective that’s become increasingly complicated as the state’s public schools brace for millions in state-level cuts.” Republicans control the governor’s office and both legislative chambers.

 

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