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Weekly Privatization Report 2-26-2018

1) National: The Network for Public Education, a strong opponent of school privatization, will be joining with national organizations, schools, and communities on April 20, 2018, the anniversary of the Columbine Massacre for aNational Day of Action to Prevent Gun Violence in Schools. NPE “strongly opposes the arming of teachers and school personnel as the means to end gun violence in schools.”

2) National: Oral arguments will be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court today in the Janus case, which threatens to upend public sector unionism in the U.S. by defunding unions. AFSCME president Lee Saunders says the case was “engineered by anti-worker special interests to threaten the ability of public service workers, such as teachers, firefighters and corrections officers, to stand together in a union.” Saunders says “if facts, law and precedent matter, Janus v. AFSCME will be decided in their favor.” On Saturday, Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, delivered an address in Philadelphia at the Working People’s Day of Action, saying “the Janus case is nothing but a bald attempt by rich CEOS to use the highest court in the land to cut down our unions.” The Economic Policy Institute has reported that “Black women will be most affected by Janus.

The bond market is rooting for a defeat of the unions
. “The theory is that public employee unions, with less money coming in from dues or agency fees, would have less money to spend on supportive politicians, reducing their clout in state capitals and with local governments. ‘The first impact on the municipal market is it provides more latitude in public sector expenditures,’ Philip Fischer, head of municipal bond research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in an interview along with fellow municipal strategist Ian Rogow.” But could it be that a loss of influence by public sector unions and their public-spirited electeds, who have long been supportive of bond-financed public works, might slash into supply/issuance/activity and bite the bond market, and its transaction agents, where it hurts? And perhaps create even less “latitude”? Be careful what you wish for.

3) National: Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economic and Policy Research explains why “Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure,” noting the plan’s inversion of the ratio of federal to state/local money from 80% to only 20% of project funding. She writes, “Trump’s plan turns infrastructure investment on its head in another way as well. Traditionally, the selection of projects to be funded by the federal government emphasized benefits to the public. The administration’s plan weighs the ability to attract sources of funding outside the federal government at 70 percent when considering whether to support it; economic and social returns from the project count for just 5 percent. Federal funding will go to projects that are most attractive to private investors, rather than to those, like clean water, that meet the needs of communities.”

Appelbaum also looks at “public-private partnerships” and the role of private equity. “Absent strong guarantees of outsized earnings, PE infrastructure funds prefer to buy existing public assets, rather than invest in developing new infrastructure. This may explain the bizarre and unexpected proposals in President Trump’s budget to sell Dulles and Reagan National airports, the Baltimore–Washington and George Washington Parkways, the Tennessee Valley electric power assets, and so much more government-owned infrastructure.”

In an noteworthy overview of potential benefits Trump’s plan might offer to Wall Street, the Bond Buyer’s John Hallacy offers an additional rationale: that “the opportunities” for federal asset sales mentioned by Appelbaum would provide “quite a field day for investment bankers.”

4) National: The Democracy Forward Foundation (DFF) and Food & Water Watch are suing the Justice Department “for failing to turn over records that the group contends could shed light on the Trump administration’s dealings with private prison companies as it forms new policies on incarceration.” DFF is probing the Trump administration’scoordination with the private prison industry to actively increase the prison population and boost profits. [DFFF v. DOJ (Private Prisons) Complaint As Filed (2/20/18)]. Read more from Food & Water Watch in “We’re Suing Jared Kushner. Here’s Why. The public deserves to know the details of Trump’s shady infrastructure plan.”

5) NationalThe Guardian reported on Friday that fake ICE agents are extorting migrants and their families. “The South Texas Residential Family Center sits atop a former camp for oilfield workers in the remote, sloping scrubland of the Rio Grande Valley. It is managed by CoreCivic, a private prison company, and has the capacity to hold 2,400 immigrant detainees. Over the past five months, at least 11 families with relatives—all asylum-seeking mothers and children—detained at the facility have been extorted by impersonators who have demanded payment to stop their loved ones being deported. In total, the victims have paid more than $13,500, none of which has been recovered. (…) ‘Someone is leaking this information,’ [said Katy Murdza, an advocacy coordinator with the Cara Family Detention Project]. ‘The evidence we have points toward it being an employee at CBP, ICE or CoreCivic. It would be different if this were a one-off thing. But it’s clearly been systematic.’”

6) National: Food & Water Watch reports on how private, for-profit waters companies are profiting from the U.S. water infrastructure crisis. “Here are some numbers to start. In 2014, 64 percent of bottled water was, essentially, filtered tap water—up from 51.8 percent in 2009.  From 2010 to 2014, total federal funding for public water infrastructure fell from $6.9 billion to around $4.4 billion. In other words: as funding for safe public water fell 37 percent, bottled water companies were able to increase sales of what was basically just tap water under the guise that it was ‘safer.’ Even though the U.S. government requires stricter safety monitoring of tap water than for bottled water. When Congress doesn’t fund water infrastructure, Nestlé wins.” See their full report, “Take Back The Tap: The Big Business Hustle of Bottled Water.”

7) National: As Black Panther breaks box office records, Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Coogler, and Ta-Nehisi Coates arereportedly teaming up for a movie, Wrong Answer, about “the Atlanta public school cheating scandal in 2006. Coates, who’s also reimagined Wakanda for the Black Panther comics, is writing the film. Wrong Answer will be based in part on a New Yorker article about the Atlanta teachers who were in an untenable situation—the No Child Left Behind Act that was passed in 2001 threatened to shut down the Parks Middle School based on standardized test scores with no consideration for testing bias. The school’s principal told journalist Rachel Aviv that his school district was ‘increasingly “corporate,” with every school focused on the “bottom line,”’ putting additional pressure on teachers to pull up test scores despite there being no national standard.”

8) National: Michael Feinberg, a co-founder of the KIPP private charter school network, which was featured in the 2010 pro-charter film Waiting for Superman, was dismissed on Thursday after “after an investigation found credible a claim that he had sexually abused a student some two decades ago, according to a letter sent to the school community.”

9) National: Although the Trump infrastructure plan did not adopt the grandiose visions for “asset recycling” proposed by the privatization industry and its boosters last year, former DOT Build America Bureau executive director Martin Klepper sees some silver linings. “Although the plan fails to provide monetary incentives specifically targeted to promote PPPs, such as an incentivized asset recycling program similar to the one successfully implemented in Australia a few years ago, it does contain provisions to make asset recycling more attractive to local governments than it is today. The plan also recommends that certain federal infrastructure assets be privatised. And it would give local governments the flexibility to utilize PPPs in more situations than currently exist. Infrastructure funds, their investors and PPP developers will need to carefully evaluate these new opportunities.”

10) National/Texas: A class action lawsuit has been filed against CoreCivic for allegedly violating the federal Trafficking Victims and Protection Act by forcing labor on those in the T. Don Hutto Center in Taylor. “The plaintiffs in the suit are asking a federal judge to declare CoreCivic’s practices unlawful. They are also seeking damages and to be paid for their work at the rate required ‘under the minimum wage and overtime guarantees of the Fair Labor Standards Act.’”

11) National/Texas: Three Austin City Council members have sent a letter to ICE requesting visitation with Laura Monterros, who is being held in detention in Williamson County. “The council members from Austin are requesting access to the detainee after a Feb. 20 attempt by Council Member Greg Casar to visit with the woman was rebuffed by CoreCivic officials who run the site. Reportedly, the detention center’s operators expressed concerns Casar would later go to the media to describe what he might have seen at the facility, according to Grassroots Leadership advocates. The Williamson County detention center in Taylor, Texas, at 1001 Welch St. is far from the jurisdiction of Austin City Council members. But Williamson County officials have been silent on the issue of the woman’s plight. Many speculate a lucrative arrangement the county has with CoreCivic prevents them from taking any action on the matter or demand for an investigation.”

12) National: Pearson says it is in talks to sell its U.S. school courseware business.

13) California: East Bay public education advocate Assemblyman Tony Thurmond receives the endorsement of California Democrats in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, beating out former charter school executive Marshall Tuck.

14) California: Paramount Collegiate Academy, a charter school in Sacramento, was forced to close abruptly earlier this month. Parents react in a video: “You can’t just decide in a day to close a school.”

15) Colorado: Aurora budget talks devolve into a charter school spat. “Union-backed members who were sworn in in November pressed the superintendent and staff to talk about how charter schools would impact the district’s long-term finances. “What I’ve always said is that charter schools have a negative impact on our financial model,” Munn said. Veteran board member Dan Jorgensen asked Munn to clarify his statement. ‘I don’t say necessarily it’s negative to the district, I say it’s negative to our financial model,’ Munn said. ‘I just think that’s a fact.’”

16) Colorado: The executive director of the state’s largest alternative education program has been placed on paid administrative leave as an internal investigation unfolds.

17) California: Crunch time is near for the Los Angeles City Council as it has to decide on how to proceed on the LAX “people mover” PPP. The LINXS consortium has already begun some preliminary work under an Early Works Agreement. “The PPP procurement now moves to the city council, which will review plans in April and vote on its approval. [The Los Angeles World Airports’ Board of Airport Commissioners] said it will present a 30-year contract valued at $4.5 billion for the consortium to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the automated people mover, a project which includes an elevated 2.25 mile-guideway, six train stations, and a moving walkway.”

18) Florida: A charter school outfit out of Indiana is set to take over the operation of seven of Hillsborough County’s lowest-performing schools if the schools do not improve to at least a C by the end of this academic year. “The cash-strapped district plans to sign a one-year contract with Phalen Leadership Academies for a total of $2.2 million. Spokesperson Tanya Arja said it would go into effect July 1 for the schools that do not improve; those that do will be removed. Two additional one-year renewals would also be on the table, bringing the grand total to more than $6.5 million for three years.”

19) Indiana: The Environmental Defense Fund supports American Water’s steps toward replacing lead pipes in its Indiana systems. American Water is the largest private water utility in the country. Chemicals Policy Director Tom Neltner says “none of its competitors have articulated a similar commitment.”

20) Maryland/National: Loyola University associate dean of education, Rob Helfenbein, talks to the Real Newsabout how corporate-backed forces have long targeted troubled school systems for privatization, and about what works best in charter school regulations, which are under attack across the country. [Video, about 18 minutes]

21) Massachusetts: A Dorchester charter school may be placed on probation over financial mismanagement and declining test scores. “My recommendation to place the school on probation with conditions is based on my concerns about recurring poor governance practices and new evidence revealing a lack of financial oversight and mismanagement of the charter school by the board of trustees,” Acting State Education Commissioner Jeff Wulfson wrote in a February 16 letter to the board.

22) Minnesota: The Iron Range Construction Alliance (IRCA) is fighting to make sure that workers for outside contractors get paid the prevailing wage. “Members are active in the construction industry across the Iron Range. They are involved in all kinds of construction work including buildings, roads, and bridges.” Ralston says “we want to level the playing field when it comes to hiring and wages. We don’t want to see outside contractors or laborers coming in from all over and being paid less than our prevailing wage dictates. We want to see our local workers getting these jobs at a fair wage to keep our local economy healthy.”

23) New York: Public radio rides to the rescue of three key online outlets for local news. WNYC, a New York public radio station, said Friday it will take over The GothamistLAist and DCist. “Andi McDaniel, chief content officer of WAMU in Washington, said it felt ‘like such a natural fit’ for the station to acquire DCist. ‘The kind of community and neighborhood-level reporting that DCist does, and its beloved status locally, just aligned naturally with what our mission is,’ McDaniel said on WAMU’s website. It is not known how large the donations from the two anonymous sources were.” The websites were abruptly shut down late last year by billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, after employees voted to unionize.

24) Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia School Reform Commission has denied the applications of six proposed charter schools and permitted only one. The applicants that were denied can resubmit their applications to the SRC or appeal the decision to the state. It seems that years of battles for transparency in charter school approval processes have borne fruit: “The district’s Charter School Office compiled a comprehensive evaluation report for the applications based on the applicants’ testimony and submitted proposals. The reports provided a detailed analysis of the applicants’ expected budgets, finances, facilities, academic plans and the communities they seek to serve, among other things. The schools’ evaluation reports can be found on the district’s website.”

25) Puerto Rico: In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler gives an on-the-ground account of the fight against the charter school privatization of Puerto Rico’s schools. He finds the island’s public school teachers “both angry and optimistic,” and encapsulates the case against charters: “The first: despite the rhetoric about ‘choice’ and ‘local control,’ charter schools actually take control from families and communities. Instead of elected school boards, they are managed by private groups with little guidance or regulation. (…) Second, charter schools tend to pull revenues away from public school districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs. (…) The third reason is, as the ‘school choice’ rhetoric goes, charter schools do in fact ‘disrupt’ students and teachers. They can close up shop at any time during the school year and often do. (…) Reason number four: charter schools tend to avoid taking students with the highest special needs, which leaves the most expensive kids with local public schools. (…) Finally, what’s this really about? It’s about states like Florida, Ohio, and Michigan, where charter schools are nearly bankrupting public school districts, exporting their worst ideas, like online, ‘virtual’ schools. It’s about the Trump-Betsy DeVos privatization plan coming to an island in desperate need of real help, not more market forces proven to have failed elsewhere.”

26) Puerto Rico: Citigroup, which helped drive Puerto Rico into debt, will now profit from privatization on the island. “Citigroup Global Markets Inc., or Citi, will be the main investment bank consultant in the restructuring and privatization of PREPA, the Washington-appointed Fiscal Control Board—the body now overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances—announced recently.”

27) Virginia: Private contractors for snow removal are costing the City of Richmond a huge amount of money, according to a new report from the Department of Public Works. “The total payment to outside contractors was triple the $391,000 that the city spent to pay its own workers and operate its own trucks to clear 41 main snow routes and 19 secondary routes, according to the Jan. 25 report to City Council’s Governmental Operations Committee.”

28) West Virginia: Public school teachers have walked off their jobs to fight against chronically low pay and underfunded benefits. Data from the National Education Association show that in 2016, West Virginia ranked 48th in average teacher salaries. “I don’t think people recognize how dire it is, and how it directly impacts students’ learning,” said Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia. “Teacher vacancies are increasing. There are classrooms with no teacher of record. … We’ve actually been educating teachers at our universities in West Virginia and they’re not staying here.” Allyson Perry, president of the Marion County Education Association, said “we’ve always been aware of these issues, but everything piled on top one another with the changes to PEIA that were so draconian, with no raise for years, plus a threat on seniority, plus threats on public education with charter school vouchers.”

29) International/National: The privatization of fisheries has set up legal, legislative, and policy clashes between commercial interests on the one hand and First Nations and other communities on the other in Canada and Alaska.Rachel Donkersloot of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council  asks “How do we stem the outmigration of rights to our fisheries wrt privatization & ITQs [Individual Fishing Quotas]? Establish rights that are imbedded in communities & clear policy decisions that support access & entry.”

Legislative Issues

1) National/California: Julia Brownley, U.S. Representative from California’s 26th District, says “The Koch brothers are driving effort to privatize VA & using fake vets organization, CVA, as a front to do it. This is about their anti-gov’t ideology, not better serving our vets. We need strong VA & access to community care, not privatization. I stand w/ our VSOs in opposition.”

2) National: A Trump administration Treasury Department official, John Cross, is urging the bond lawyers to support the president’s Private Activity Bond proposals. “The proposal requires that legislative changes be made by Congress in order to be implemented, Cross said, with Treasury only able to implement regulatory changes such as change-of-use provisions that would preserve the tax-exempt status of these PABs when bond-financed projects are purchased by private service providers or leased by private parties.” [Sub required]

3) Kansas: Questions about possible influence peddling in negotiations over a CoreCivic contract have led to a legislative proposal to close a loophole in state lobbying laws. “Current law requires legislative lobbyists to register with the state and report their expenses. But there are no such requirements for those peddling influence in the executive and judicial branches of state government. On Wednesday, members of the Senate voted 40-0 to pass a bill that would change that.”

4) Kentucky: A state board of education member is pushing lawmakers to fund charter schools. “With rollout of charter schools in Kentucky this year becoming increasingly unlikely, a member of the state’s board of education is pushing back on lawmakers for not taking action to fund them past June 30. (…) Gov. Matt Bevin did not include a funding formula for charters in his proposed two-year budget, and several Republican lawmakers have indicated they don’t support passing a law to fund them in a tight budget year, the AP reported.”

 

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