Weekly privatization report: How Amazon helps surveil immigrants, and more.

1) National: The Partnership for Working Families and its seven California affiliates are teaming up with Mijente to call attention to the significant role Amazon plays in ICE’s surveillance of immigrants and their families and communities. Heather Appel, the Partnership’s communications director, says “Amazon is a behemoth and these issues just add to many others with surveillance and privacy, spreading white nationalist paraphernalia, workers’ rights, displacement, environmental impact, and antitrust concerns that add up to a total picture of a major threat to democracy and communities of color. And yet 64 percent of American households are Prime members and Democrats in a recent survey named Amazon as their most trusted institution. The consumer campaign to hold Amazon accountable will not be easy—but it starts with us reaching out to our base and asking people to take action on this concrete demand.” [Toolkit; video]

2) National: The Denver Eagle commuter rail ‘public-private partnership’ has exploded into a welter of lawsuits and recriminations. “In an attempt to salvage their Denver Eagle commuter rail P3 concession, Fluor Enterprises recently sued the Regional Transit District (RTD), employing a local powerhouse law firm to squeeze their public partner into paying $80 million in costs and damages for delays on the $1.3-billion project. Attorneys at Kutak Rock also criticized the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for its role in delaying the first DBFOM transit project in the U.S. They probably wish now that they hadn’t. USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao is said to be angry about the aggressive claims made by Fluor’s attorneys in their characterization of the FRA as a major cause of delays and damages. Those bullets drew a regulatory bombshell from Robert C. Lauby, FRA’s Associate Administrator for Rail Safety, and its Chief Safety Officer.” Among other things (!), “FRA has issued an ‘individual liability warning letter’ to the person at RTD responsible for the agency’s first P3 project. The letter was addressed to Henry J. Stopplecamp, Assistant General Manager of Capital Programs at RTD.” [Public Works Financing, December 2018; sub required]

3) National: The New York Times featured a front page, in-depth story yesterday on the operations of Southwest Key Programs, which now houses more migrant children than any other in the nation, and on Juan Sanchez, its head. “Southwest Key has collected $1.7 billion in federal grants in the past decade, including $626 million in the past year alone. But as it has grown, tripling its revenue in three years, the organization has left a record of sloppy management and possible financial improprieties, according to dozens of interviews and an examination of documents. It has stockpiled tens of millions of taxpayer dollars with little government oversight and possibly engaged in self-dealing with top executives.”

4) National: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is pushing private Medicare Advantage plans, the New York Times reports. “But Richard S. Foster, who was for many years the nonpartisan chief actuary of the Medicare program, said the emails sounded ‘more like Medicare Advantage plan advertising than objective information from a public agency.’ ‘The statements made in the emails are generally accurate, but they are one-sided,’ Mr. Foster said. ‘The advantages of M.A. plans are emphasized, while the disadvantages are not mentioned.’ For example, he said, private plans generally require beneficiaries to use a defined network of health care providers or pay more for care outside the network. By contrast, in traditional Medicare, beneficiaries can go to any doctor who accepts Medicare, as most doctors do.”

5) National: As new reports emerge that the tent city in Tornillo, Texas, is growing by leaps and bounds and will stay in operation through at least January 2020, the HHS inspector general raises questions about sloppy staff vetting in the federal detention camp that could be endangering teen migrants. “A temporary, emergency detention camp that opened in the Texas desert in June for an overflow of migrant children shows no signs of closing. There are now more than 2,300 teens being held inside the tent city, some have been there for months. None of the 2,100 staff are going through rigorous FBI fingerprint background checks, according to a government watchdog memo published Tuesday. ‘Instead, Tornillo is using checks conducted by a private contractor that has access to less comprehensive data, thereby heightening the risk that an individual with a criminal history could have direct access to children,’ the memo says.” [HHS OIG Report]

6) National: Angelo Guisado, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, got a tour of ICE’s El Paso processing center: “They told me detainees were given colored shirts to indicate ‘risk’ level: blue low, orange medium, red ‘high risk.’ Had only seen blue/orange, when 50 red-shirted men walked in at the end. What made them ‘high risk’ you ask? Every single man was black.”

7) National: The Sanders Institute held a panel discussion Friday on the U.S. “criminal injustice system.” Panelists include Nina Turner, Cornel West, Danny Glover, Cynthia Nixon and Gus Newport. [Video, about 55 minutes]

8) National: Beleaguered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seems in a hurry to jump start his agenda of hocking off public lands. On Wednesday, he met with a delegation from the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to push land privatization, ostensibly under the rubric of local control. “‘He still opposes transfer of lands but gave some hope, without promises being made, that he will consider [memorandums of understanding] with local government on land management,’ [Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-SC), the secretary of ALEC’s board of directors] wrote. MOUs with local governments are ‘functionally equivalent to transferring ownership,’ said Chris Saeger, director of the liberal environmental group Western Values Project. ‘It’s like leasing a house―they get the keys, but not the title, and if they break something we have to pay for it,’ he said in an email.”

9) National: Meanwhile, in other Zinke news, it appears DOI is bent on destroying its public records, according to the Western Values Project. “Interior is seeking permission from NARA to permanently destroy a range of records relating to oil and gas leases sales, legal matters, mineral exploration permits, and fish and wildlife surveys, among other issues. WVP’s comment asserts that extensive record keeping is essential to holding Interior accountable by ensuring they are doing the public’s work properly and legally. (…) Since the beginning of the Trump administration, Secretary Zinke’s Interior Department has only fulfilled 10.53 percent of FOIA requests that WVP submitted. 132 FOIA requests that WVP has submitted to Interior are still outstanding, including FOIA requests that are 18 months old, dating all the way to May 2017. The unfulfilled requests have forced WVP to sue the department, with multiple lawsuits still ongoing.”

10) National: In its final issue, Public Works Financing lays out the trouble with ‘public-private partnerships.’ Skanska, Granite, and AECOM are leaving the P3 business. “So, the upshot of all the churning in the P3 market seems to be that established P3 bidders in the U.S. will be more selective on bid pursuits, and smarter about cost and schedule estimates. And there always will be bidders for well-structured projects.” And in a column, Jeffrey Parker says it’s time for “a new PPP model,” and even admits that the P3 industry has engaged in “opening contractual holes that allow risks to be returned to public owners through the back door.” Who knew? [Public Works Financing, December 2018; sub required]

11) National: The IRS is hiring private debt collectors who are “improperly demanding payment from hurricane victims and squeezing some of the poorest Americans—all the while turning a profit far below industry standards.”

12) National: In addition to detaining asylum seekers in large private, for-profit facilities, ICE is also keeping them in local lockups. “Although he did not break the law, Damus has been locked up ever since, mostly in a county jail outside Cleveland that also houses immigrant detainees. He is not allowed outside for recreation and can speak to visitors only through a video monitor.”

13) National/Kentucky/Ohio: The New York Times has provided an update on the long saga of efforts to repair or replace the rusting, congested Brent Spence Bridge, a major artery over the Ohio River between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. Efforts to fix the bridge stalled under the Obama administration, with the then-president blaming then-Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, then Senate minority leaderfor failing to fund his jobs bill. Later efforts to devise a major deal to finance replacement through a ‘public private partnership’ arrangement between the two states also fell through (the tolling requirement was politically fatal). Then despite Trump’s putting the bridge in his budget and promising to replace it, nothing happened.  Most recently, with Trump’s infrastructure initiative in a months-long stall, the bridge is again “hanging in limbo,” as the Times puts it. “It hasn’t fallen down yet,” Paul Moore, a contractor and Trump supporter, said of the bridge.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the Trump administration is going to take another stab at an infrastructure initiative, though it needs to face the reality that “any deal likely will have to include a lot more federal cash to pass muster with Democratic-led House.” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.), a veteran lawmaker who is in line to take over as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the next Congress, says “there has to be real money, real investment. It needs to be done soon.” The WSJ reports “Mr. DeFazio, who briefed reporters on his plans the day after Democrats won the House majority in November, said he had delivered that message to Shahira Knight, the White House’s legislative-affairs chief. Ms. Knight agreed, he said, that a successful deal would have to include major new federal funding. A White House official confirmed that Mr. Trump is ‘open to more federal funding.’ ‘This isn’t going to get done without support from the president,’ Mr. DeFazio said.” [Sub required]

14) National: Route Fifty shares 10 stories of innovative efforts by state and local governments to serve the public, including building a program to help young men find work in St. Louis; and connecting people without internet access in Silicon Valley.

15) Arizona: A state lawmaker who is selling his charter school “will receive money from consulting work, rent and a loan to the chain beyond pocketing $13.9 million from the $56.9 million transaction itself. The Arizona Republic reports that Gilbert Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth will make $78,000 of interest by loaning the Benjamin Franklin school chain $2.8 million for operating cash and be paid $79,600 in rent and an unspecified amount for consulting work.” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman “says Farnsworth is legally pocketing the money but that it’s not right.”

16) California: The Los Angeles Black Worker Center has launched a citywide surveying effort in partnership with the Los Angeles Federation of Labor to demonstrate how important public sector jobs are to the African American community. “One public sector worker whose job deeply impacted her family is Tiffany Hall. When the City of Los Angeles hired Hall as a 911 Operator nearly a decade ago, she said it literally became a life saver. ‘When I first got hired, I had just given birth to my oldest child and my husband got laid off the day before,’ said Hall, now a mother of two who has since been promoted as a 911 Instructor, making $90,000 annually. ‘My husband was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2011, but my job provides us with the health insurance we need. And we’ve become debt free, all on one income.’”

17) California: BayView reports that “Blacks are fighting back against privatization and systemic racist attacks on San Francisco City workers.” Hearings were held last week at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on racial discrimination in city jobs. There is “growing privatization and outsourcing of public worker jobs to outside ‘non-profit’ agencies that have taken over more and more of the public work in the City. Even Salesforce has gotten in on the act and has captured many contracts of different agencies computer work in San Francisco that were formerly done by SF city workers. This outsourcing and privatization of public service jobs have more and more radically affected the providing of these services. In the Department of Public Health with a budget of over $2.1 billion, more and more outsourcing is taking place and African American workers who serve African American patients are being targeted for discrimination and retaliation,” BayView reports.

18) Colorado: Colorado Springs School District 11 has rejected plans to house a new charter school in an old Macy’s. “District administrators and members of the District Accountability Committee raised numerous concerns about the proposal at a Nov. 14 board meeting, including the governance model, finances, not providing transportation for students and the location being in close proximity to marijuana dispensaries and alcohol outlets such as a Hooters restaurant.”

19) Florida: For an idea of how critically important local newspapers areto keeping public officials—including school officials responsible for overseeing charter schools—accountable, check out this piece by Inweekly’s Duwayne Escobedo. “The final straw for the whistleblower, a Newpoint staff member, came almost a year later in March 2015 when former Florida Gov. Rick Scott awarded Newpoint High and Newpoint Academy checks for $11,392 and $15,861, respectively, for earning an ‘A’ from the state for students’ performances on state tests. That’s when the whistleblower approached Inweekly and former school board member Jeff Bergosh with a 22-page report of wrongdoing. A month later, the school district canceled the Newpoint school charters, and the action triggered a State Attorney Office investigation.”

20) Idaho/National: Eagle Pass redux? The recently reopened Eagle Pass Correctional Facility, just reactivated by the GEO Group in August, is again sending up warning signs. “Though the 549 Idaho inmates have only been at the Eagle Pass facility for a few months, complaints from some inmates and their families have begun to mount.” James Morningstar, who is under sentence to pay more than $10,000 in restitution and court fees, told the Idaho Press “‘I was earning $800 a month—they took that from me,’ he said in a phone interview from the facility. ‘Now I’m earning $48 a month. To me, that just ain’t right. That was my future.’ Yet his good behavior and promising future may be why he’s no longer at the work camp. The department needed well-behaved prisoners like him to send out of state.”

21)Illinois/National: Barring a last minute deal, charter school teachers may make history tomorrow by going on strike in Chicago. “What makes the potential Acero strike different is that, unlike at traditional public schools, where 70 percent of teachers are in a union, just 11 percent of charter school teachers are unionized. Across the country, 781 of the roughly 6,900 charter schools (11 percent) had collective bargaining agreements with teachers unions, according to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. In Chicago, educators at more than a quarter of charter schools—34 of the city’s 128 campuses—have unionized.”

22) Illinois: Unions and Democrats are showing their muscle as the Senate passes SB 203 guaranteeing prevailing wage rates on public works. The legislation had previously been vetoed by ex-Republic governor Bruce Rauner.

23) Iowa: The outgoing state auditor’s conclusion that privatizing Medicaid saves money is dismissed by critics. “Democrats, who have heavily criticized the move to privately managed care, weren’t swayed by the audit’s findings. ‘The partial review of the Medicaid privatization disaster by the departing state auditor is a big pile of excuses with no good answers for Iowa taxpayers who are being ripped off,’ State Sen. Pam Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat who requested the audit, said in a statement.” The auditor’s position “will be filled in January by Democrat Rob Sand, a former state prosecutor who campaigned on a promise to investigate the true costs of the shift to private Medicaid management. On Monday, Sand vowed to continue looking into the issue. He mocked Mosiman’s report for failing to consider whether the Medicaid management companies were paying their bills or leading to better care for Iowans.”

24) Louisiana: The Jefferson County school board runoff elections have turned nasty, and could set the tone for the next four years in the state’s largest district. For the candidates’ views on charter schools, see here.

25) Massachusetts: Members of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools made impassioned pleas in favor of their public schools and against proposed charter school expansion requests from Alma del Mar and Global Learning Charter Public School. “Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teacher Association, said she was in a small group that had mothers with kids who attend Alma del Mar and the public schools. The one thing they had in common was the passion for their child’s education, she said. “We care deeply about the education of students,” Najimy said. The core of the problem is a lack of funding, she said. After the small group portion, a couple of students took to the podium to vouch for their public school education.”

26) Michigan: ChalkBeat looks at the human costs and causes of the sudden closure of a Detroit charter school. “The lurching suddenness of the closure stunned educators and parents, triggering a chorus of outrage that would spread across the city. But, in truth, there was nothing sudden about what happened at Delta Prep. A review of hundreds of pages of documents, and interviews with key leaders involved in the school since its creation, show that the forces arrayed against every school in Detroit had pushed Delta Prep’s chances of survival to nothing within a year of its opening, if not before.” Ron Rizzo, president of the office of charter schools at Ferris State University, said “if we don’t learn from this one, shame on us.”

27) Nevada: The State Public Charter School Authority Board accuses its former executive director of being untruthful. “The five-page letter to the Interim Finance Committee — unanimously approved by the board Friday—largely paints Gavin as an executive director who failed to share pertinent information with board members.” The board’s action “comes less than a month after Gavin submitted his resignation to Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), who appointed him to the position.” The board is hunting for a new executive director.

28) Ohio/West Virginia: The Wheeling Intelligencer says the Ohio charter school scandal needs to be further investigated. “Last week, [Ohio] state Auditor David Yost released a report on the episode. He concluded his office could not determine whether ‘malicious intent’ or mistakes were to blame. More needs to be known about what happened—and about other missteps, either intentional or inadvertent—that allowed some charter schools to continue reaping taxpayer dollars while not sowing the seeds of knowledge adequately among students.”

In another editorial, the Youngstown Vindicator says “if any other industry slopping at the public trough had as many complaints against it as the charter school industry in Ohio, a major grand jury investigation would have been launched long ago. But not only have the charter schools, which have sucked up billions in public dollars, escaped independent scrutiny, they continue to be protected by Republicans in state government. Indeed, Ohioans who are paying the tab for this failed experiment in non-public school education, seem disturbingly nonchalant when it comes to holding public officials’ feet to the fire.”

29) Oklahoma: Leaders of the state’s largest virtual charter school have been spreading the campaign cash around, Oklahomawatch.org reports. “Epic’s two leaders singlehandedly outspent the political action committee for the largest teachers union, Oklahoma Education Association, which has 35,000 members across the state.”

30) Washington: ifiberone.com is running a series of articles on the charter school sector in Washington state. “‘I think one of the ways that the Washington charter school sector sets itself apart is it’s one of the most highly regulated charter school organizations in the country,” said [Rick Wray]. ‘They’ve learned from other people’s mistakes. One tenant [sic] is you’ve got to be a non-profit organization to operate as an individual charter school or as a network of charter schools. Which is different than some states where they’re allowed to be governed by for-profit charter school management companies. That’s absolutely not acceptable here in Washington.’”

In a recent 63-page report, the Washington state auditor’s office found “mixed results” when it evaluated the accountability of the state’s charter schools during the 2017-2018 school year.

31) International: “Privatization is theft,” says the newly installed President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “The model does not seek to meet the needs of the people, or to avoid violence and conflict; it seeks neither to govern openly nor honestly. It seeks to monopolize the bureaucratic apparatus and transfer public goods to private hands, making claims that this will somehow bring about prosperity. The result: monstrous economic and social inequality.” [Video, 1 minute]

32) International: Outrage grows as a union public pension fund, the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), refuses to divest from the private, for profit prison industry. “‘The CPP is often unresponsive to public pressure, kind of an impenetrable fortress,’ said Emma Pullman, lead campaign manager at Sum of Us, a Vancouver-based non-profit that is one of the organizing forces behind the protests. ‘These meetings gave us the perfect opportunity to bring this issue to light.’” Tamara, a Vancouver mother who works with pension funds and investments and attended a meeting last week with CPPIB, says “it’s disgusting to me that an organization that all Canadian citizens contribute to is invested in this ugly, deplorable practice of detaining immigrants in the U.S. How do you engage with a company that violates human rights standards like that?”

Legislative Issues

1) National: Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) say it’s time to move on sustainable infrastructure. The members of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition say “our country and our global economy are at a turning point, and any old infrastructure plan simply will not do. We need a plan to establish American leadership and prosperity for the next century. And for that, we need a plan built around sustainability and resilience. While serving to spur economic growth and increase our security, a smart infrastructure plan that takes the long-view must advance serious solutions to climate change.”

2) National: Charter school supporter Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has been elected Democratic House caucus chair. “Over the years, Jeffries has become one of DFER’s top candidates. In 2012, when Jeffries announced that he would run for Congress, the group rallied behind him, elevating him to its so-called DFER Hot List. No other Democrat received more in direct DFER contributions that cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.”

3) Georgia: Michele Neely, International Charter School of Atlanta’s development and communications manager, urges lawmakers “to fully fund House Bill 430. The bill was passed during the 2017-18 legislative session and would annually provide every charter school authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission with $100,000 to assist with facility needs.”

4) Illinois: The state senate has removed a Senate bill that would have changed the sunset date on a previous legislation involving the privatization of public water systems. Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) “said he shared some of his colleagues’ deep concerns about the measure. ‘I think we need to be extremely cautious when we’re allowing the privatization of public services without robust public oversight, particularly with a service as vital to our communities as clean drinking water,’ Guzzardi said. ‘We’ve seen across the state and the country the tremendously negative effects of privatizing municipal water system.’ Guzzardi argued that while the bill may appear to only change the sunset date, he found it prudent to ‘pump the breaks on privatizing municipal water systems,’ suggesting a delay on the measure. He urged a no vote.”

5) New York: New York City lawmakers are moving to block Amazon-style secret deals. Legislation will be introduced in the New York City Council to prevent city officials signing non-disclosure agreements like the ones used in talks with Amazon.com Inc. over its new headquarters. “Amazon conducted its HQ2 search process like ‘a Hunger Games of cities against each other for the benefit of the world’s richest man,’ Lander said. New York’s mayor and governor yielded to the company’s demands to ‘throw away the city’s land use process’ for the project ‘because it was inconvenient’ for Amazon, he added.”