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Weekly Privatization Report 5-14-2018

1) National/California: In the Public Interest has put some hard numbers on how much charter schools are costing traditional public school systems and how they are damaging community schools. In a new report, Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts, Prof. Gordon Lafer measures how much charter schools are costing three California school districts.

“Charter schools cost Oakland Unified $57.3 million per year. That’s $1,500 less in funding for each student that attends a neighborhood school. For San Diego Unified, the annual cost of charter schools is $65.9 million. In East Side Union, the net impact of charter schools amounts to a loss of $19.3 million per year. Here’s how it works. When a student leaves a neighborhood school for a charter school, all the funding for that student leaves with them but all the costs do not. This leads to cuts in core services like counseling, libraries, and special education, and increased class sizes at neighborhood public schools.”

In the Public Interest recommends that public officials at both the local and state levels should be empowered to take fiscal and educational impacts on neighborhood schools into account when deciding whether to authorize a new charter school. For more, see howmuchcharterscost.org, watch the explainer video, and join our charter schools update list.

2) National: Campaign for America’s Future associate fellow Jeff Bryant, pointing to two new reports, says that charter schools are threatening the future of public education. “The [In the Public Interest] California study, written by political economist and University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer, looks at three large public-school systems in the Golden State and concludes the annual costs to the three districts run upwards of $142 million. (…) The North Carolina study, written by Duke University economics professor Helen Ladd and University of Rochester professor John Singleton, finds evidence that charter schools come with ‘fiscal externalities,’ or additional costs to the budgets of public schools.”

3) National: The New York Times reports the Trump administration is unwinding an office in the U.S. Department of Education that was tracking fraud at for-profit colleges. “The unwinding of the team has effectively killed investigations into possibly fraudulent activities at several large for-profit colleges where top hires of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, had previously worked.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) says in response that “Secretary DeVos has filled the department with for-profit college hacks who only care about making sham schools rich and shutting down investigations into fraud.”

4) National: From Matthew Koehler, bad news on public lands: “Yesterday, @SecretaryZinke‘s @BLMNational let Lone Rock Resources cut down these 400 year old trees on America’s #publiclands in #Oregon so that the private timber company can build a road to log a few acres of plantation. Sad.”

5) National: As Aramark reports bumper profits (on revenue of $3.94 billion for the quarter), it also faced accusations of low wages and poor working conditions in the first quarter, along with a report of abuse of a pregnant employee. The company recently reached agreement with employees at USC after protests, and is poised to lose its food services contract with the Michigan Department of Corrections after poor performance. Aramark’s board of directors includes executives from CVS, Lowe’s, and Cardinal Health.

6) National: Black Agenda Radio interviews Brother Dee of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, on the upcoming August 21-September 9 national prisoners strike over issues including work without wages behind bars “and a rollback of repressive prison laws and practices that ‘have been designed to dehumanize us as well as make us feel hopeless,’ said Akin Yele, of Unheard Voices OTCJ.”

7) National: Prison Legal News’ Steve Horn reports on the major wage ratio gap between executives and employees at private, for-profit prisons. The companies are “required to include wage ratio details under Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, SEC filings for private prison firms The GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) reveal their top executives are paid dozens of times more per year than the median pay of the companies’ employees.”

8) National: Some interesting fireworks at the American Water Works annual general meeting in New Jersey on Friday, as activist shareholders tell executives some home truths. Introducing a shareholders resolution on privatization, Abigail Shaw of NorthStar Asset Management in Boston said

“I am here to present Resolution #4 regarding our company’s responses to the human right to water. Our company states that human rights are constitutionally protected and do not constitute a material risk for us. However, this is simply untrue. The U.S. was one of the few countries that abstained in the United Nations vote to recognize access to water as a human right, and 49 out of our 50 states offer no protection of this right. In fact, water quality, affordability and availability are a problem for our country. According to a study last year, water is already unaffordable for 1 in 10 U.S. households, a share that is forecast to triple to more than 30% within 5 years, forcing some families to choose between water bills and other necessities.

“Our company says that it supports the United Nations’ declaration of access to clean water and sanitation as a human right. However, various nonprofit organizations and news outlets have logged allegations at our company for issues, such as setting out-of-reach rates, providing contaminated water to customers and forcing water privatization upon communities.

“Our company is accused of spending millions of dollars fighting ballot initiative to retain control of water utilities and then in at least 1 case of $1.3 million passing those costs on to customers. As the largest publicly traded U.S. water utility and given our commitment to the human right to water, it is crucial that our company illustrate a deep understanding of this right and assess our performance on this issue in an unbiased manner. Shareholders, please vote for Resolution #4.”

Introducing another resolution, Kate Monahan of Friends Fiduciary Corporation in Philadelphia, said “I hereby move Item 5, the shareholder proposal asking our company to provide a report on its federal and state lobbying, including indirect funding of lobbying through trade associations in support for the American Legislative Exchange Council. Lobbying transparency is in the best interest of American Water and its shareholders.” [American Water Works Company Inc. Annual Shareholders Meeting transcript, May 11, 2018, CQ FD Disclosure; sub required].

9) National/Maine: James Wood, a Maine veteran, says “we do not need more [VA] privatization. While the system does have problems, as any institution its size would, the answer is not privatization, but to fix the system. To send us outside rather than fixing it is another classic case of sweeping the problem under the rug. It will only lower our service until it is unsupportable. (…) We have a unique and caring community here at VA Togus.”

10) Arizona: Is taxpayer money being used to back the expansion of a private charter school operator in DC and Texas? “The rapid expansion has plunged Basis into debt, raising concerns from critics and the state Charter Board, which could put the brakes on new Basis classrooms in Arizona. Charter school watchdogs say Basis could put its Arizona operations at risk to get loans to expand elsewhere, and Charter Board staff is not recommending Basis’ planned expansion in Mesa and Flagstaff because Basis has not met state financial expectations. (…) Basis, which last year received about $84 million in state money to operate its Arizona schools, secured loans for its out-of-state schools by pledging as collateral future tax dollars and its Arizona campuses.”

Building facilities in other states with taxpayer backing is not the only alleged issue dogging Basis. “Essentially, Basis Charter Schools, a tax-exempt non-profit corporation, gets to operate like a private company while using the public’s money. And the founders—among others affiliated with the operation—have done very well. As Harris so succinctly pointed out: As Scottsdale parents were receiving yet another solicitation for donations to pay teachers, the Blocks made a $1.68 million down payment on an $8.4 million condominium in New York City, property records show. Their Manhattan home is in a 60-story building with ‘breathtaking panoramas’ of the city, an infinity pool, and an indoor/outdoor theater, according to a sales brochure. It is located near two private Basis schools controlled by the Blocks. Tuition at those schools is more than $30,000 a year.”

11) Arizona: Is the Basis charter school network skirting a ban on charging public school parents tuition by pressing them to pay “voluntary” contributions of “at least $1,500 per child each year”? WRAL reports that “Department of Education spokesman Stefan Swiat said he did not know of any other public charter or district school that makes such donations requests.” Julie Erfle, a former Basis parent, ‘said the school calls the giving “voluntary,” but makes ‘a big push for parents to donate.’”

12) California: Waste Management sues Carson over what it claims was an unfair bidding outcome. The city says the suit is frivolous and baseless. “Carson Mayor Al Robles told the Daily Breeze that Waste Management  (…) has chosen to ‘stomp its feet, kick and scream, throw a tantrum and otherwise behave in an unseemly manner’ (…) Meanwhile, public complaints have grown as the City of Los Angeles revamped its waste hauling system in recent months, and citizens attempted a referendum to end it. Waste Management is one of the companies involved in the multi-zone, supposedly more efficient system that has broken down into complaints of lapsed service and higher fees. To avoid this, Carson officials have scheduled three public meetings over the coming month.”

13) California: Oasis charter school in Alisal is refusing to surrender its charter despite a request by the district. If the school doesn’t return its charter, the district will revoke it. “In a letter sent to [Oasis Charter School Executive Director Juanita Perea] and Oasis President Augustine Nevarez in late April, the Alisal Union School District said they had lost confidence in the school’s leadership and governance through a preliminary review of the allegations. Perea stressed that there is no abuse of children and said there are no health risks present at the school. A misappropriation of funds for fraud are not an issue either, said Perea.”

14) California: Oakland’s plan to sell city-owned land to a private developer so a charter school can be put on it draws criticism from education and affordable housing activists who say it reflects the city’s lack of transparency when deciding how to use public property. “The buyer, an Idaho-based company called Pacific West Communities, Inc. plans to construct a new school campus on the site for the Aspire charter organization’s ERES Academy, a K-8th grade school. The campus was approved by the city planning commission last month.”

East Bay Express’s Darwin BondGraham reports, “‘The city should not be selling land to a private school, that’s what a charter school is,’ said Mike Hutchinson, an education activist who unsuccessfully ran for the school board two years ago. Hutchinson said the city’s financial assistance in assembling land for the charter school to rapidly grow will undermine nearby district-run public schools, which could see their students siphoned off. ‘This school is going to be placed two blocks away from our Cesar Chavez campus, two blocks away from International Community School and Think College Now, and the field that this city invested money in,’ said Hutchinson, referring to a publicly funded sports field.”

15) California: The Fresno Unified Board Members voted last Wednesday not to renew the charter of Kepler Neighborhood School in downtown Fresno, citing underperformance. “The building is owned by Kepler and what will happen with it all depends on what final decision on the appeal. Both the school and the district will work with parents on options on where to send their students for the next school year.”

16) California: SEIU 1021 San Francisco General Hospital workers and community members rallied last Tuesday “to protest the privatization of San Francisco healthcare system, the systemic racism at SFCC and the removal of SEIU 1021 member Cheryl Thornton from the Potrero Hill Health Center.” [Video, about 20 minutes]

17) Colorado: Charter school students are demanding the removal of the name of a former Mayor from its name. “History Colorado has shown 9NEWS a Ku Klux Klan roster from the 1920s. Newspapers around that time write about Stapleton promising to work with the Klan.”

18) Florida: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine promises to take on charter operators if he’s elected. “When I started in business they teach you this one golden rule. You know what that rule is? You don’t invest in your competition,” Levine said. “Right now we have a cottage industry of charter schools. We have all these folks in Tallahassee—this one’s a lawyer who represents a charter school, this one’s a consultant for charter schools, this one gets campaign cash from a charter school … What I plan to do …is to take money that we’re putting in someone else’s business and actually put it in our business, which is called the public school.”

19) Kentucky: The state’s charter school chief, Earl Simms, is resigning May 25, less than a year after taking his post. Simms denies that his departure has anything to do with Gov. Bevin’s appointment of several new state school board members. “The board of all-Bevin appointees that same day hired charter school proponent Wayne D. Lewis Jr. as an interim Commissioner. Lewis said he will apply for the permanent Commissioner post.” Kentucky lawmakers have not provided funding for the state’s charter school program.

20) Louisiana: Harney charter school’s board president lived high on the hog while “97 percent of students” in his school “are considered economically disadvantaged.” Rev. Charles Southall III “spent $1,514 at restaurants in New Orleans and Baton Rouge in six months starting in July 2016. That’s $250 a month at establishments such as Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Cheesecake Bistro by Copeland’s and Le Pavillon hotel—all funded by the school.”

21) Massachusetts: Charter school advocates have not given up their effort to expand the state charter school cap following their defeats at the ballot box and in the state’s highest court. “School districts are reimbursed the cost of hosting charter schools—which totaled $80.5 million in the current year—but critics say the money never fully compensates the districts. The teachers’ union estimates the funding fell short by more than $72 million in fiscal 2018.”

22) Massachusetts: Edwin Andrews of Malden writes in a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe that “using phone calls to family members from inmates as a profit opportunity is the culmination of decades of Republican policy extolling the virtues of privatization. What we are seeing is one more burden placed on the poor and vulnerable, disproportionately felt by racial and ethnic minorities. Rather than increasing barriers between prisoners and their families, we should be promoting their healthy reintegration into society, since most of the incarcerated will return to their neighborhoods and families.”

23) New Jersey: Plainfield’s superintendent of public schools is opposing the application of a charter school, “claiming that its addition would create a financial hardship for his district.” In a letter to the state department of education, Ronald Bolandi “said the new charter school would financially affect Plainfield schools representing a loss of $10,000 for every student who leaves the district for a total of $2.4 million the first year. The application for Vocational Technical Regional Charter High School proposes an expansion to service 450 students, which, at $10,000 per student, would create the loss of $4.5 million as well as 60 teachers to the Plainfield School District, according to Bolandi.”

Superintendent Bolandi says “There are five existing charter schools in the District, which takes approximately $25 million from our current expenses budget. With the loss of state aid over the years and the continuing growth of charter schools, Plainfield will never stop the bleeding and be able to provide a quality education for the students that remain. Furthermore, budget reductions due to the losses I’ve stated have already impacted services including reductions in reading instruction, guidance services, library services, world language instruction, after school and summer [programs among many other cuts which target our at-risk student population.”

24) New Mexico: Following steps by state officials to close a charter school for grade and performance issues, the Cariños de los Niños Charter School board votes for its closure. “Parents were also unhappy with the number of teachers at the school. ‘I honestly believe, too, that there’s a second reason why some parents have left and that’s because we didn’t have the staff that we needed in our lower grades,’ [Vice Principal Bernice Life] said. ‘We had a vacancy in third and fourth, actually in the elementary-level English component and parents found a school where there was a teacher.’”

25) North Carolina: Charter school teachers are pushing back against the assault on public education, saying “We won’t be a Trojan Horse for dismantling public schools.” In an op-ed for the Durham Herald-Sun, Taylor Schmidt and Morgan Carney write “as a charter school, we play into a system that has strayed from the original goals. The charter school system has been turned into a Trojan horse that severely underfunds our state’s public schools, creates competition for resources, resegregates our schools, and provides blinders to cover the increasing privatization of North Carolina’s educational institutions through for-profit charter schools. The mission of our school, and the original mission of charter schools, forbid us from staying silent on these issues.”

26) Rhode Island: The charter school industry has formed a political advocacy arm—a 501(c)4—to intervene in General Assembly races this year. “The Rhode Island League of Charter Schools Advocacy Fund was formed April 30, according to a filing with the R.I. secretary of state’s office. The league represents 18 charter schools around the state, including the successful International Charter School, Highlander Charter School and the Paul Cuffee Schools. ‘We will be supporting candidates that support charter schools and our issues,’ Keith Oliveira, the league’s executive director, told Eyewitness News. ‘We might also be engaged in issue advocacy as well.’”

27) Tennessee: David Dayen takes a close look at efforts by the Republican-controlled state legislature and Gov. Haslam (R) to pave the way for a massive outsourcing of facilities services. Haslam fired University of Tennessee-Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport the week before last, just after lawmakers purged the board of trustees. “This is an attempt to install new leadership more consolidated to the corporate and extremist political agenda of Haslam and the legislature in Nashville,” said Thomas Walker of United Campus Workers, the lead union for facilities employees at Tennessee colleges. “Davenport was an advocate for students, staff, and faculty.”

28) International: The Public Service Alliance of Canada and its component, the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE), are cautiously celebrating the successful outcome of their campaign to protect airports from privatization. “It was recently made public that the government has decided to shelve a report that explores the further privatization of Canada’s airports. ‘We are pleased that the federal government has confirmed that they will not be proceeding with a plan to sell off Canada’s airports at this time,’ said Robyn Benson, PSAC National President. ‘Canadians would not benefit from a private, for-profit, airport infrastructure system. Costs would rise for passengers, and the quality of service would diminish just so a few investors can make a profit.’”

29) International: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has produced a useful guide to privatization. “Privatization has many names. This guide cuts through the language that privatization promoters hide behind, to show what’s really at stake for our public services. It also lists some of the key privatization pushers, as well as the processes that governments and employers use to pave the way for privatization.”

30) Think Tanks: Toronto teacher, union member, and activist Bob Farkas takes a critical look at “pension fund activism” in a review of  David Webber, The Rise of the Working-Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018). “Webber’s book is not wholly ignorant of the contradictions of workers’ pension funds investing in privatization. It acknowledges that ‘the pension funds of some firefighters, police officers, prison guards, teachers, public engineers, and custodians are directly funding . . . companies that privatize public services, directly undercutting these public workers’ own wages and benefits.’ But in a common maneuver, Webber takes this as evidence that unions haven’t done enough to intervene to steer pension funds toward more acceptable outcomes. At this point, the argument becomes self-reinforcing: evidence of the weakness of this approach is merely justification for doubling down on this strategy.”

Legislative Issues

1) New York: A Sullivan County ex-teacher is pressing the county legislature for support to open a charter school in Monticello by August 2019. “Grahamsville resident Kenneth Walter urged legislators during public comment to do their due diligence and questioned if there are enough students in the area to support a charter school. ‘You need to do your homework,’ Walter said.”

2) North Carolina: Mint Hill officials are supporting House Bill 514, which would allow Matthews and Mint Hill to create their own charter school, with preference given to students in the two towns. Mayor Ted Biggers “says there is still a fear in the community that [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools] could at some point bus large numbers of Mint Hill students to other areas in their efforts to diversify schools.

 

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