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Weekly Privatization Report 6-4-2018

1) National: Debbie Nathan, who lives in Brownsville, Texas, on the Mexico border, and has been writing about the border and immigration for over three decades, writes in The Intercept about the “Hidden Horrors of ‘Zero Tolerance’—Mass Trials and Children Taken From Their Parents.” In a major piece on the Trump administration’s anti-asylum drive, The Nation’s John Washington cites a Houston Chronicle report saying ICE’s course of action is tantamount to a punitive “de-facto policy of family separation.” Mass trials and detentions are feeding more human beings into the bottom lines of private prison companies, with “immigration detention [being] driven by profit and politics, not public safety, write Rhonda Ríos Kravitz and Rita M. Cepeda of Step Up! in the Sacramento Bee. Victoria Law writes in In These Times that “Corporations Are Profiting From Immigrant Detainees’ Labor.” Protests were held in at least 30 cities on Friday against the family separation policy.

2) National: Grassroots Leadership reported live from the #KeepFamiliesTogether rally in #austin on Saturday. “@BethanyNCarson is here to talk about the fight to #ShutDownHutto. Hutto is a place that women end up after their children are ripped from their arms. We have the power to end it for good.”

3) National: The Essie Justice Group has published a powerful new report on the harm mass incarceration is causing to millions of women. “In order to better understand the impact of incarceration on gender equity, the authors of this report, a research team of 25 members of Essie Justice Group, and Essie Justice Group staff endeavored to explore the effects of the system of mass incarceration on women with incarcerated loved ones. Fourteen organizations joined our effort. Together we surveyed 2,281 women who answered 41 questions that focused on the experience of having an incarcerated loved one. Women in 46 states and Puerto Rico completed online or paper surveys, or attended a focus group session led by one of 12 national partners.” Women have repeatedly denounced abuses in private, for-profit prisons.

4) National: Kim Greene of the National Center for Learning Disabilities says CBS This Morning’s gushing coverage on Saturday of the elite $28,000 a year Basis charter school network asks far too few questions “especially about the student population of these schools and how they serve (or don’t serve) students with disabilities.” Basis Charter Schools Inc. was the subject of recent Arizona Republic reports asking whether it was using its publically-backed Arizona operation to raise funding for its expansion elsewhere, and shining a light on the Blocks, Basis’ founders. WRAL reported concerns that Basis is charging public school parents tuition by pressing them to pay “voluntary” contributions of “at least $1,500 per child each year.”

5) National: Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has shared “an important article by author Joanne Barkan about the history of the movement to privatize U.S. public schools, which is now at the heart of the national debate about the future of publicly funded education in this country.” The article is dedicated to Paul Booth. A version will be included in “The State, Business and Education,” edited by Gita Steiner-Khamsi and Alexandra Draxler (London: Edward Elgar Publishing, October 2018). “What follows is a survey of the controversial movement—where it came from, how it grew, and what it has delivered so far to a nation deeply divided by race and class.”

6) National: Jeff Bryant of the Education Opportunity Network warns that North Carolina’s new charter school plan should alarm the nation. “Charter schools already have a segregation problem. But a new law about to pass in North Carolina would direct even more taxpayer money into funding charter schools that by design, if not by intent, lead to more racial segregation of school children. This is not only an alarming development in the Old South, where schools made substantial progress on integration since the landmark Brown v. Board Supreme Court case made racially separate schools illegal in 1954. It’s also a wakeup call to the nation on how a campaign to re-segregate public schools is being carried out in the name of ‘school choice’ and ‘local control.’” (See below in legislative issues).

7) National: The always excellent In Justice Today national newsletter on criminal justice issues is now The Daily Appeal (@theappeal). Check out their first edition. This week they note a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) covered by The Crime Report’s David Krajicek on how prison commissaries are big business for private contractors. “Even in government-operated prisons, it is private commissary contractors that profit. Contrary to the myth that commissary is for luxuries, most purchases were food and hygiene products like additional toilet paper or shower sandals. In 2016, Massachusetts prison commissaries sold nearly a quarter of a million bars of soap, at a cost of $22 per person in prison. Over-the-counter remedies are another major expenditure, which prompts the question of why people in prison are required to pay for their own medication. Either they must rely on their meager earnings to do so or on their families—effectively forcing their loved ones to subsidize their incarceration.”

8) National: Conor P. Williams of the New America Foundation wrote an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times arguing that liberals would be more likely to embrace what he sees as good charter schools but for the ideological crusade in support of them that Betsy DeVos has waged. “In other words, the president and his education secretary are so disliked by liberals that some will automatically reject whatever they endorse.”

But Diane Ravitch says Williams’ argument doesn’t hold water. “Even though [Hiawatha] is segregated and non-union, writes Williams, liberals should love it because it is good for Hispanic children. But liberals are critical of charters, and Williams doesn’t understand why. (…) Now why in the world would the leader of the state union reject a non-union school? Shouldn’t all schools be non-union?” Ravitch continues, “The New America Foundation has a long list of big donors. The biggest is Eric Schmidt ($4 Million), former CEO of Google. The second biggest is the Gates Foundation. What Williams forgets to mention is that the biggest funder of charter schools is the far-right Walton Family Foundation, the far-right Anschutz Foundation, the far-right Koch Brothers, the Heritage Foundation, plus ALEC, plus every red state Governor and Legislature. The Waltons funded one of every four charters in Minnesota. This article is fundamentally dishonest.”

9) National: Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest talks to Eugene Puryear about the new audit of the disastrous Chicago parking meters privatization deal. [Audio, at 36:30]. See Mohler’s new analysis in Medium of why the Chicago deal is a cautionary tale for cities trying to lure Amazon. “The city’s parking meter system raked in $134.2 million in 2017, none of which found its way to residents,” he writes. But “under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago has closed half its mental health clinics in the name of saving money. In February, the city’s Board of Education voted to close four South Side public high schools for lack of funds. (Though it’s important to note that the mayor recently found enough funding for a new police training academy.) Meanwhile, Chicago is offering $2.25 billion in tax incentives and infrastructure to Amazon to locate its second headquarters in the area. Like Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, needs another break.”

10) National: The Appeal, a nonprofit criminal justice publication providing critical news and commentary on local criminal justice systems has launched a new podcast hosted by Adam H. Johnson, media analyst at FAIR.org and host of the Citations Needed podcast. “Each week we will feature in-depth interviews with those covering, working in, and most affected by the American criminal justice system. From lawyers to activists to reporters to the formerly incarcerated, The Appeal podcast will shine a light on—and help radically rethink—the largest prison state in the world.”

11) National: Eleanor Bader looks at how the defunding of public housing is a prelude to privatization. “A national push toward privatization has led to the loss of more than 250,000 units of public housing over the past two decades, a trend housing activists say is unlikely to reverse in the foreseeable future.”

12) National: Scott Tucker says that the recent racist incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks and others like it are fed by a lack of public lavatories, which used to be far more prevalent. “Sure, there is the issue of tax dollars and public funding. God forbid we should flush our hard-earned money down a public toilet. Public bathrooms would require real public funding and workers with living wages. If we want the dirty, despised and even dangerous jobs done for the public good, then the public must be good enough to pay for jobs well done.”

13) National: The Associated Press is reporting on a “subterranean” battle going on among Democratic gubernatorial contenders in California, New York, and Colorado over charter schools. “The most public split comes in Colorado, where two Democrats with deep roots in education policy have come under attack by the state’s biggest teachers union on behalf of the state’s former treasurer, Cary Kennedy. (…) Still, there’s a limit to the depth of the divide. Democratic candidates in all the races have embraced the cause of teachers who walked out this spring for better pay and more school funding, as well as urged an infusion of public money into education. And the split has largely been drowned out by debate over things like guns and the response to Donald Trump.”

14) National: The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board has issued revised financial reporting standards for the leasing of federal buildings. “It provides a comprehensive set of lease accounting standards to recognize federal lease activities in the reporting entity’s [general purpose federal financial reports] and includes appropriate disclosures.”

15) California: In a major victory for library staffers and the whole community, Santa Clarita is set to take back full control of its library system from Library Systems & Services, Inc. on July 1. Thirty new positions will be filled. “A City Council agenda report said the net cost estimate to operate the library in-house at the same staffing level as the LSSI contract, is $3,388,409, for estimated first-year savings of $393,931. The move looks to save the city about $400,000 in what would be the city’s first fiscal year of operations.”

16) Connecticut: A charter school accused of defrauding taxpayers of $1.6 million is set to close. “The State Department of Education recently voted unanimously to begin the process of revoking the charter of the Path Academy and its charter management company (CMO), Our Piece of the Pie. In addition to opening up unauthorized schools in satellite cities, department officials say Path Academy and its CMO ignored excessive absenteeism and billed taxpayers for 128 phantom students.” Sheila Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association, says “the state cannot allow these shocking practices to continue. Our children and their education—as well as state dollars—require protection from fraud and fiscal abuse.”

17) Florida: The Corrections Accountability Project reports that “Florida prisons plan to cut in-person visitation in half… right as they roll out a new video alternative run by JPay. This private company generates revenue from every video call, and some plan to fight back.” The Miami Heraldcovered a press conference outside of the Governor’s Mansion on Thursday by the Campaign for Prison Reform. “But the families are pushing back. In addition to boycotting the video visitation program used at the kiosks, the families of the 97,000 inmates will also boycott the JPay program used to transfer money to inmate accounts set up by the Florida Department of Corrections. Rather than letting JPay profit off cash transfers and purchases, families will now send money to the accounts using wire and bank transfers and circumvent the programs, Thompson said. ‘That’s going to hurt in the groin, where it should,’ she said.”

18) Florida: Volusia County’s school board will stick with its lawsuit against the state over House Bill 7069 involving charter schools. “Among those areas the districts believes are unconstitutional are the controversial Schools of Hope provision, which essentially bypasses local school boards’ abilities to approve or deny a charter school application from a designated School of Hope in an underserved area; charter school agreements and application processes being standardized and mandated by the state; and the highly contested segment on diverting local ad valorem taxes, levied in the form of discretionary capital outlay funds.”

19) Iowa: Greg Cusack, a retired benefits administrator for the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System and former member of the Iowa House, says there is a critical need for hard data to assess the Medicaid privatization program in the state. “The purpose behind getting this much-needed hard data,” Cusack says, “is not to fix blame or to engage in pointless ideological battles; rather, it is because elected officials—and the citizens who select them—have a moral obligation to ensure that some of the most hurting among us are receiving the health care that they were promised.”

Cusack’s argument was backed up byan editorial yesterday in the Sioux City Journal, which supported privatization but is frustrated by the lack of transparency. “We supported the new approach proposed by Branstad in order to save Iowa taxpayers money. Is privatization, in fact, producing cost savings? If so, how much? In our view, Iowans deserve better answers to those good questions than what they have gotten so far.”

20) Massachusetts: The individual versus the polity? Democrats for Education Reform is taking aim at the Supreme Judicial Courtfor ruling that the education clause of the Massachusetts Constitution does not provide students a right to attend public charter schools. DFER objects in particular to the court’s position that by providing adequate public education the state has satisfied its constitutional obligations. “As the court frames it, the Commonwealth’s requirement to provide an adequate education extends to the polity, rather than to individuals. To make a successful claim under the education clause, wrote Justice Kimberly Budd for the unanimous court, plaintiffs must fulfill two requirements: they must show both that ‘they have been deprived of an adequate education’ and that the Commonwealth has ‘failed to fulfill [its] constitutionally prescribed duty to educate.’”

21) New York: The fight against privatization of Westchester County Airport is not over. There will be three public hearings this month to discuss the issue. Westchester County Executive George Latimer has begun a process to revisit whether privatizing Westchester County Airport is a good idea. “Latimer, at a press conference at the County Office Building in White Plains on May 16, said he was launching a multi-faceted plan that will include submitting an airport master plan to the Federal Aviation Administration. To avoid losing a $1.38 million grant, and to avoid jeopardizing future FAA grants, Latimer said the county will be submitting a master plan authored by the Astorino Administration without prejudice. However, it would begin immediately working on a supplement to that master plan that would incorporate additional public input and a full County Board of Legislators (BOL) review.”

22) New York: Want to play an arcade game about privatization? MTA Country, a new satiric game from Everyday Arcade lets players navigate the crumbling New York City transit system while racing against privatization. “You may not want to play through all the way to the end—it is a bit of a one-note game—but (spoiler alert) once you collect all of the golden letter prizes on the track, they spell out ‘Privatize.’ This unlocks the fabled hyperloop, a reference to the high-speed transit project being developed by Elon Musk and other tech giants, and a general obliviousness toward normal people’s transportation problems.”

23) New Hampshire: AFSCME reports that a plan to privatize the jobs of 100 Nashua, New Hampshire, School District custodial workers has been defeated. “Members of AFSCME Local 365 (AFSCME Council 93) finally won the battle against privatization of Nashua School Custodian services. Faced with the threat of politicians putting corporate interests before quality public services, members successfully mobilized to elect Nashua School Board members who understand the value and commitment of public service workers. Following that victory, the board voted 6-1 in late February to negotiate a new contract with AFSCME members, whose contract had expired in 2016.”

24) Oregon: Austerity can be dangerous to public health. “Above all else, Polson blamed the [water toxicity] problem on the city’s budgetary priorities—specifically what she deemed neglect of its parks and resources. ‘I think this was a disaster waiting to happen because of the city’s policy of do as little as possible.’”

25) South Carolina: The DP Cooper charter school has “reverted back to an elementary school.”South Carolina Department of Education, Chief Communications Officer Ryan Brown “said because charter schools are more lenient than public schools, not all teachers are required to be certified. Therefore, all the employees will go into a pool and the best candidates will be chosen from that pool for the 2018-19 school year.”

26) Texas: Are Austin taxpayers going to have to pony up for a major league soccer stadium? “The staff report states that the city would typically request the developer to pay for infrastructure costs, “but the sharing of those costs can be negotiated through a public-private partnership”

27) International: Alexander Saeedy reports in The Nation on “How Greece’s Busiest Port Reveals the Perils of Privatization.” He writes, “the dockworkers of Piraeus say they and their families have seen little of the alleged gains brought by COSCO. As Piraeus Port Authority boasts of widening profit margins and increasing maritime traffic, wages for dockworkers haven’t budged since they were slashed from 1500 euros ($1,750) per month to 600 euros after the financial crisis. Beyond that, COSCO now hires few dockworkers as full-time employees, and tends to enlist unskilled laborers for complex container unloading. COSCO also primarily remunerates people on an ad hoc basis as subcontractors, leaving dockworkers and their families entirely dependent on the ebb and flow of traffic into Piraeus. It also means their traditional retirement benefits have disappeared.” A blockade of the cargo terminal run by China’s Cosco at Piraeus by disgruntled port workers was lifted on Saturday“after the strike was declared illegal by a Piraeus court following an appeal by the companies who supply the workforce to Piraeus Container Terminal.”

28) International: Airlines take aim at Australia’s airport privatization model. “Two decades after airports in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth were sold to pension funds and infrastructure investors, they are reporting the highest margins in the world, data from trade group Airlines for Australia & New Zealand (A4ANZ) shows. A key factor—and one the airlines are trying to change—is that the government cannot regulate fees or even intervene in disputes over them.” Priveen Raj Naidu, CEO of Singapore-based consultancy Reapra Aviation Partners, says “in Australia it was a free for all. There is no baseline. This is where the government needs to get involved.”

29) Think Tanks: For continuing coverage of the private, for-profit prison and immigration detention industry, follow Muckrock’s Private Prison Project.

Legislative Issues

1) National: Peter Greene slams Betsy DeVos for using the same strategy to do an end-run around Congress’ authority over federal education policythat conservatives once denounced Arne Duncan for doing. With education legislation deadlocked in a dispute between a House draft “that gives for-profits and religious institutions free rein” and a Senate majority that would never pass such a bill, DeVos is “trying to legislate from a department in the executive branch” to achieve the same goals. “All of this is consistent with DeVosian goals of privatizing, monetizing, and generally de-schoolifying education. So there’s no news there. She wants it to be easier to make money selling education-flavored products to post-high school students.”

2) National: As Congress returns this week, prison reform legislation remains stuck in a tug-of-warbetween the House and Senate, with Sens. Cornyn and Grassley at loggerheads over how far the legislation should go. “Grassley (Iowa) and Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat, have introduced broad criminal justice reform legislation that would pair prison reforms to changes in sentencing, including reductions in mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses while increasing mandatory minimums for other offenses.” Attorney General Sessions and Sen. Cornyn are dead set against it. The private, for-profit prison industry would certainly take a hit to its bottom line if any extensive sentencing reduction policy goes into effect.

Meanwhile any prison reform initiative could run into administrative complications, as the head of the federal Bureau of Prisons, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mark Inch, has quietly resigned after only nine months in the position. Former NYC police and corrections commissioner (and BOP inmate) Bernard Kerik says “word on the street was that his departure stemmed from frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions excluding him from major staffing, policy and budget decisions in his own agency.” So a new battle is shaping up over who will head up BOP and what administration policy will be. Kerik says “the next BOP director must be an agent for change. The president wants it, Mr. Kushner is moving the ball and, for the first time in decades, the administration has an opportunity to change the BOP for the better with the right person in charge. However, the attorney general and Justice Department must be on the same page as the president.” Stay tuned.

3) North Carolina: The state Senate has advanced a controversial charter school bill that critics say will foster racial segregation(see above). “The legislation allows these predominantly white, affluent towns to split from the majority-black Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system and carve out their own charter schools that favors children in their communities.” A final vote is scheduled for today then it would go to the House. For more see Clint Smith’s 2016 New Yorker article, “The Desegregation and Resegregation of Charlotte’s Schools.”

4) Pennsylvania: State auditor Eugene DePasquale’s scathing audit of Aspira Inc.-managed charter schools in Philadelphia has led to a call for legislative action and a new bill. State Rep. James Roebuck has introduced H.B. 1199, which “looks to address conflicts of interest in tax-funded payments for charter school leases. The auditor general’s office previously identified millions of dollars in questionable lease reimbursement to charter schools. ‘The findings by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale mirror what I’ve been saying all along, that charter schools lack financial accountability,’ said Roebuck, Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee. ‘The legislation I introduced last year would specifically address the core problems found in this report while protecting taxpayer dollars.’” Roebuck also introduced H.R. 578 “that calls for the State Board of Education to conduct a comprehensive study, evaluating the successes and failures of charter school entities over the past 20 years.”

 

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