Weekly privatization report: Charter teachers join strike | The end of privatization?

Here’s our weekly analysis of privatization in the news and in communities nationwide, in order by state. Not a subscriber? Sign up here.

1) National/California: “What does the LA strike have to do with charters? Everything,” says the Network for Public Education. “The UTLA understands exactly what’s going on,” said Diane Ravitch after joining picketing teachers, parents and students. “Its President Alex Caputo-Pearl and his members understand that the billionaires bought the school board so they could expand the non-union charter presence. Charters now enroll 20% of the district’s children.”United Teachers of Los Angeles say “the district’s claims of a fiscal crisis are a smoke screen to justify their agenda to disinvest in public education in favor of the greater expansion of unregulated corporate charters that don’t serve all students.”

New York magazine reports that in addition to pay and other issues, the strike is “rooted in a long-running battle over the explosive growth of charter schools in L.A.,” and the Wall Street Journal has highlighted the polarizing role of Austin Beutner, the pro-charter head of the Los Angeles Unified School District. UTLA head Caputo-Pearl “said teachers are worried Mr. Beutner’s proposal to restructure the district, which LAUSD hasn’t presented publicly, will encourage the opening of more charter schools.” Charter schools in L.A. have been unaccountable (video), says teacher Judy Arteaga, and have drained resources from traditional, community public schools, as In the Public Interest reports.

The strike has been greeted by a massive outpouring of support from community groups, the labor movement, and progressive activist organizations, and is part of the wider national battle to support teachers and strengthen public education. The battle to rein in charter growth has also “sparked a revitalization” of the unions in recent years, Sarah Jaffee writes in The Nation. Jaffee points out that UTLA “is made up, overwhelmingly, of women as well and has more recently become majority teachers of color.” All of this activism across the country is turning the tide of public opinion against the charter school agenda of the billionaires, Jeff Bryant reports.

2) National: Writing for In These Times, Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest draws up the balance sheet and says “After 3 Decades, Privatization Has Been Proven a Failure. Let’s Bury It for Good.” After a generation of corporate-funded think tank propaganda pushing the privatization of public goods and services, the results are in. “When privatization policies are carried out, ‘innovation’ often simply means layoffs and decreased wages and benefits. And when it comes to saving money, the evidence is mixed at best. In many cases, privatization turns out to be far more costly.”

3) NationalImmigrant detainees are being gouged on necessities by private, for profit corporations such as the GEO Group, and are suing for relief. “Those basics can add up. Reuters viewed a copy of the center’s commissary price list. It shows detainees are charged $11.02 for a 4 oz. tube of Sensodyne toothpaste, available on Amazon.com for $5.20. Dove soap priced at $2.44 at the commissary is available for just over a dollar at Target. A 2.5 oz tube of Effergrip denture cream that sells for $4.99 at Walmart is $7.12 at the commissary. Fees are pricey too. Vioney Gutierrez, a former detainee at Geo Group’s Adelanto facility in California, said 10 percent of the money her family spent to fund her commissary account was consumed by fees.”

4) NationalCarol Burris of the Network for Public Education shares some thoughts on “National School Choice Week” in the Washington Post. “This week is National School Choice Week. Despite its image of a grass-roots celebration of every imaginable alternative to neighborhood public schools, the week is a carefully crafted public relations campaign designed to remind lawmakers of the financial muscle of its sponsors. Children, wrapped in bright yellow scarves, will dance and sing to inspire legislative and financial support for “choice.” Beneath all of the fanfare, however, is a push for policies designed to undermine most Americans’ first choice—neighborhood public schools.”

5) National: Despite a debt-laden balance sheet, outsourcer Waste Management’s stock price has jumped 14.8% in 6 months. “The company’s successful cost-reduction initiatives have helped it in accomplishing remarkable gross margin expansion and EBITDA growth over the quarters,” says Zacks Equity Research. But exactly which “cost-reduction initiatives” are boosting the company’s stock price (and presumably its directors earnings)? Good Jobs First’s very useful Violation Tracker records multiple WM workplace safety, labor relations, health and environmental violations over the past few years. When local governments outsource waste removal, are these practices such as these behind the glossy PowerPoint presentations on cost savings that company reps from the waste industry flaunt at city council meetings? [For best practices see LAANE’s report, Cleaning Up Waste and Recycling Management and Securing the Benefits: A Blueprint for Cities]

6) National: Democratic presidential hopeful Cory Booker is taking heat for his pro-charter school stance. “When Booker gave the keynote address at the ‘Project LIVE & Achieve’ Rally for Excellence today, he made it clear whose side he’s on. And it’s not parents, children or communities,” writes Gadfly’s Steven Singer.

7) NationalCoreCivic is still operating during the government shutdown, but expects to be paid when it ends

8) National/TexasThe Trump/GOP 2017 tax law took a big bite out of Texas’ public bond issuance. “For Texas’ 2018 fiscal year, which began Sept. 1, 2017, and ended Aug. 31, debt issued by state agencies, colleges and universities dropped by 18.2% to $7.07 billion compared to $8.65 billion issued in fiscal year 2017, according to the Texas Bond Review Board’s recent report.” [Sub required]

9) California: Meanwhile, as the Los Angeles public school strike continues, another rather bitter strike is taking place at a charter school chain in the city—the Accelerated Schools—where parents and students are angrily demanding that the principal take action to end a strike by UTLA members. “‘Outraged parents are determined to have their voices heard and will be returning … to again attempt to deliver their petition in support of teachers’ demands,’ according to a statement by United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents The Accelerated Schools’ teachers. ‘The petition calls on (Johnathan) Williams and the charter school’s board of trustees to negotiate a fair contract for teachers and to end the bitter strike at the three schools.’”

10) CaliforniaA second executive at the Celerity charter school chain has been charged with making false statements to the FBI and with conspiracy to misappropriate and embezzle public funds. “In a 23-count indictment filed Thursday, a federal grand jury accused Grace Canada, 45, of participating in the scheme with Celerity’s founder, Vielka McFarlane, to unlawfully direct millions of public education dollars for outlays such as first-class plane tickets, fine dining, custom bikes and a Beverly Hills shopping excursion.” 

11) California: In an op-ed for the PBS Newshour website, Adriana Chavira says “Charter schools are draining LA’s public schools. That’s why I’m on strike.” She explains that “in addition to seeking lower class sizes, more counselors, nurses and librarians and a pay raise, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is asking that LAUSD stop approving charter schools, which have seen a 287 percent increase in the district’s boundaries since 2008. The loss of enrollment across the district means a $600 million loss from our public schools every year.”

12) Florida: After winning two lawsuits filed by public bodies last year, “the private owners of the Brightline passenger train project in Florida start 2019 facing two new legal challenges,” the Bond Buyer reports. Indian River County has “filed a notice in federal court that it planned to appeal the lawsuit it lost in December. It challenged $1.15 billion of private activity bonds allocated to the project as well as federal reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration. (…) On Wednesday, the county filed a new complaint in circuit court asking a judge to determine who is liable for funding railroad crossing improvements needed for the train.” [Sub required]

13) Idaho: Charter school officials in Chubbock are discussing moving into a former Sears location in a mall. The school uses a “blended learning” model (teachers plus online).“The school’s loan is being offered through Building Hope, an organization that provides low-interest funding to help charter schools move into their own facilities.”

14) IllinoisTia A. Ewing, top notch anchor/reporter for @FOX32News in Chicago, reports that“the @CTULocal1 is here to announce that some employees from @CICS_schools will strike February 5th if they don’t reach an agreement with management. Here’s a look at the outside world from Northtown Academy, one of @CICS_schools that will strike. The kids get so cold in some of these heatless classrooms that they sit in coats. Meanwhile, @CTULocal1 reports the charter schools have $36-mil in reserve funds.”

15) Illinois/National: Writing in Dissident Voice, Nazareth College Prof. Shawgi Tell puts the recent strike by charter school teachers in Chicago into broader perspective. “Striking charter school teachers in Chicago may have broken a certain threshold, sending an empowering message to other teachers, especially charter school teachers, that they do not have to be passive in the face of attacks on their rights and the rights of students. Charter school owners-operators must be held accountable for the havoc they are wreaking in the sphere of education.”

16) LouisianaExxonMobil is defeated in its bid to escape public school taxes in East Baton Rouge. “I am so happy. I hope this is the beginning of a new era of public funding and investing in my students,” said Mary Trigg, an art teacher at Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet School. “I’m excited that they will begin to have the resources they need for success. Yeah, democracy!” Good Jobs First says “This is HUGE: for 80 years in Louisiana, local govts had no say over subsidies granted by corp-friendly state board.”

17) Maryland: On Friday the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education met in Annapolis and completed its draft report. Meeting materials and a video can be seen here. But charter school advocates are angry, charging that the commission, chaired by William E. Kirwan, “disregarded the achievements of charter schools.”

18) Ohio: Jim Siegel of the Columbus Dispatch asks “are charter school building leases fleecing Ohio taxpayers?” The answer seems to be yes. “For-profit management companies are receiving rents from the Ohio charter schools they operate that are significantly higher than rents of comparable buildings in the same area, according to a report released by former state auditor Dave Yost.Cincinnati charter school Orion Academy paid $867,000 more to lease its facilities in 2016 than what was paid for comparable buildings in the area, according to a recent state auditor’s report. In 2015, Cleveland-based Harvard Avenue Performance Academy paid about $516,000 above market value for its facilities. That taxpayer money went to subsidiaries of the schools’ for-profit management companies, National Heritage Academies and Imagine Schools. Imagine became non-profit in mid-2015, and the numbers account for only one year of multiyear leases.” 

19) New Mexico: The chancellor of a now-closed charter school in Española is facing a second lawsuit in less than a year alleging sexual misconduct. “At the beginning of the girl’s eighth-grade year, when she was 13, the suit says, Jaramillo sexually assaulted her, leaving her ‘extremely traumatized.’”

20) Tennessee: A Shelby County charter school may be forced to close by the school board “after allegations that teachers falsified records and left students to teach themselves.” WREG reports that “the office of charter schools says a whistleblower who came forward in June exposed a series of disturbing problems at Gateway, with allegations from unqualified teachers running classrooms, to grade-fixing. In one geometry class, every single student was given the same grade—a 92. Then, every student failed the year-end test. ‘The reason this was so difficult to catch is the school was falsifying its records,’” said Bradley Leon, chief of strategy and performance management for Shelby County Schools. The school board seems to have dropped the ball.

21) Texas: The Longview News-Journal has an informative Q and A on what happens to public school teachers at Longview ISD who are working at the new charter schools. “The answer about whether teachers would have to re-apply for their jobs actually could vary by district, although Longview ISD spokeswoman Elizabeth Ross told me LISD teachers would not have to re-apply or re-interview for their jobs or to stay at their campuses, in regards to the charter schools. When I asked the Texas Education Agency about this issue, a spokeswoman there told me it’s a ‘local decision,’ and pointed to guiding language on the agency’s website, which says, ‘The partner (that would be the organization running the charter schools) has the sole authority to select, reassign, or terminate administration or teaching staff.’”

22) International: The Financial Times reports that competition in the government outsourcing sector in the U.K. is seriously weakening, “with close to one quarter of public sector contracts, ranging from security to welfare services, awarded to sole bidders in 2018. The proportion of public sector contracts awarded without a competitive tender rose from 15 per cent in 2016 to 22 per cent in 2017 and then 23 per cent in 2018, according to research by the Financial Times and OpenOpps, a consultancy that advises on government outsourcing.” [Sub required]

23) International/Revolving door news: The resignation of World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and his rapid hiring by a major infrastructure privatization company, Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), is attracting widespread criticism and commentary. Writing in Public Finance International, Maria Jose Romero and Cecilia Gondard of the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) say it “highlights the potential conflict of interest implied in Kim’s support for private finance, and for infrastructure finance in particular, and exposes the way in which corporate players take an ever greater role in public policy formation. Under Kim’s presidency, the World Bank’s approach to development finance changed.”

Patrick Bond, a prominent political economist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, has taken a deeper look at the implications of Kim’s move from the World Bank to Global Infrastructure Partners. “More generally, Kim’s rule will be remembered for a new level of World Bank huckstering. He worked with the worst financial-speculative characters—like the Trump family—to promote the Public-Private Pilfering (PPP) model of ‘privatised profits, socialised losses.’” 

24) Think tanks: Veteran privatization analyst Prof. Elliott Sclar of Columbia University and two of his colleagues—Michael Snidal and David Kassel—have written a report on the successes and drawbacks of Massachusetts’ landmark 25-year old Pacheco Law, which mandates due diligence before outsourcing public services. They conclude that “idealized notions of textbook competitive markets are often contrasted with stereotypes of inefficient public bureaucracies to make the case for outsourcing and diminishing the ability of public managers to provide the vital public sector that allows democracy to flourish. What is needed is not an unvetted belief system that pits the public sector vs the private sector with one inherently better than the other but effective legislation and policies that ensure decisions using taxpayer dollars are guided by organizational commonsense and actual operation. Unproven generalizations about the cost effectiveness of privatization must be challenged. Improving public sector productivity must become central to the agenda of sustaining progressive democracy.” 

Going further, In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler says that libertarian and neoliberal privatization advocates don’t take into account “the hidden — and most damaging — cost of privatization: loss of public, democratic control. Charter schools are run by private boards unaccountable to parents. Public-private partnerships often take decision-making power away from the public. Contractors try to hide what they pay workers as ‘trade secrets.’”

25) Revolving door newsThe head of Georgia’s charter school authorizing agency has left her job to head up a charter school advocacy group. “Bonnie Holliday, the longtime executive director of the State Charter Schools Commission, became executive vice president for policy and external relations at the Georgia Charter Schools Association, statements from both the Commission and the Association say.”

Legislative Issues

1) National: The House Oversight Committee has demanded that the Health and Human Services departmentturn over documents on the Trump Administration’s child-separation policy. The move came a day after the Health and Human Services department’s inspector general reported that the U.S. government separated thousands more immigrant children from a parent or guardian than it previously reported, and that the total number of family separations is “unknown.”Lee Gelernt, lead attorney and deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, says “this policy was a cruel disaster from the start. This report reaffirms that the government never had a clear picture of how many children it ripped from their parents. We will be back in court over this latest revelation.”

2) National: A bill to expand tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds for infrastructure has been reintroduced in the Senate after languishing in the last Congress. The bill would also “establish a new federal infrastructure tax credit to encourage public-private partnerships.” [Sub required; see The Move America Act (S.146)]

3) California/National: Whatever the outcome of negotiations between LAUSD and UTLA to conclude a new contract to end the Los Angeles teachers strike, funding issues for the district’s schools will be affected by legislative action at the state and federal levels. As Bill Raden of Capital & Main and Jennifer Medina of the New York Times point out, the provisions of the anti-tax Proposition 13 at the state level are impairing the ability of the state to help fund Los Angeles’ chronically underfunded schools. 

Raden writes, “In fact, all the money for the education justice investments demanded by teachers could already be on the way. Backers of the Proposition 13 split-roll tax reform initiative that will be on the 2020 ballot estimate it will pump $1.4 billion more annually into Los Angeles County K-12 schools and community colleges. Other potential revenue ideas include persuading the new U.S. Congress to fully fund federal Title I and IDEA supplemental funding for children living in poverty and students with disabilities, which could conservatively bring LAUSD as much as $400 million.”

“The district could also begin collecting the $2 million each year in additional oversight fees allowed under the law from under-enrolled charter schools co-located on public school campuses, or, as former board member Tokofsky has urged, aggressively pursue developer fees owed the district out of billions of dollars in new construction. And Sacramento could close the carried interest income tax loophole, which would bring LAUSD a share of the estimated $1 billion that would pour into state coffers. But, as the union has been arguing, a contract cannot be bargained on future promises.”

4) California: Mark Friedman, a 13-year veteran of the California Teachers Association, says the charter school movement financed by billionaires such as Eli Broad and Bill Gates is “out to destroy public education.” To make his case, Friedman looks at why a unionized charter school, Green Dot, was so successful—then succumbed to the billionaire model. “Due to the dedication of the teachers (now 650) Green Dot succeeded and has become one of the top charter school companies in the country. The reason? It is union. And it is union power at that first school and then others that ensured the best possible education for students. Well, over the years administration adopted a business model. They abandoned the mission of small classrooms, teacher and parent control. CEO was paid over $300,000, while AMU [Asociación de Maestros Unidos] fought him for a 2% pay raise and a cap on class size of 33.”

5) New Mexico: Diane Ravitch reports that after a boom under Republican Governor Martinez, charter schools are finally facing some control and accountability. “Since the election of Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, the glory days of privatization are numbered. The Democrats who control the legislature plan to cap charter growth and eliminate the funding that favors charters. This is good news for the underfunded public schools, where the rate of poverty is nearly the lowest in the nation, close behind Mississippi.” 

6) Texas: Prof. Julian Vasquez Heilig of Sacramento State, who is the California NAACP Education Chair, warns that Republican lawmakers are trying to take over the Houston Independent School District to charterize it. “Other than the situation in Los Angeles USD. I believe that Houston is currently our most pressing urban district situation. The Republicans in Texas Legislature would like to take over the democratically-elected majority minority school board and turn Houston ISD into a charter district. I have a special place in my heart for Houston ISD as my career began there,” he writes. A takeover would amount to “the loss of its democratic representation.”