Weekly privatization report: How charter schools relate to Oakland strike | Infrastructure privatization lobbying grows | and more

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

This week’s highlights:

  • Oakland teachers will go on strike this Thursday, fighting for smaller class sizes, more student support, living wages, and a halt to school closures. The growing cost of charter schools looms in the background.
  • An Australia-based toll road company has been heavily lobbying to bring in the “asset recycling” model when/if a new federal infrastructure initiative is hammered out.
  • More than two decades after military housing was privatized, the results are in. “This is disgusting,” says one Republican lawmaker.

Education

1) National/CaliforniaOakland educators will go on strike this Thursday, Feb. 21, to fight for the quality public schools that all 36,000 Oakland students deserve. At a news conference on Saturday “flanked by parents, students and teachers standing in solidarity, Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown announced that 3,000 Oakland educators will go on strike to fight for smaller class sizes, more support for students, living wages for educators and a halt to destructive school closures.”

See the fact finding report endorsing OEA’s bargaining position. “The district has for decades over-spent on administrative costs. It is now engaged in providing sweetheart deals to charter schools at the expense of OEA members (those who actually deliver quality instruction to OUSD students).” (p. 29). Furthermore, “OUSD is unique in its abdication to charter expansion at the expense of its own schools. One example of this is the district’s agreement to give the Lafayette site to KIPP Bridge Charter School nearly rent free for 40 years in exchange for KIPP building $9.9 million worth of new buildings. This scheme, by the OUSD School Board’s own design, will cost them over $750 million dollars in state revenue over the term of the agreement.” (p. 30)

United Teachers Los Angeles say “in Oakland schools are being closed right now. Black and Brown students are having their schools shut down. Also, the portfolio district model is alive in Oakland, as they have the largest charter school density in the state at 30%. #Red4Ed#Unite4OaklandKids#utlastrong

2) National/Ohio: Aaron Churchill of the pro-privatization Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which has been funded by Gates and right wing foundations such as Bradley, Randolph, William E. Simons, Walton, Searle, Arnold and Kovner foundations, launches an attack on “Bill Phillis, the retired assistant superintendent of education, a courtly gentleman who has warned about the fiscal dangers of charters for Ohio public schools for years and whose warnings have been prophetic. Bill Phillis is a hero of education in Ohio and in the nation. He is paid by no one to tell the truth.” Phillis has called for the repeal of Ohio’s disastrous HB 70, which snatched control of local schools from local boards of education.

3) National: The increased activism and militancy among educators, school service staff, community members and students in support of public education has stimulated an outpouring of discussion on effective organizing. Leo Casey of the Albert Shanker Institute offers his thoughts in “Teacher Insurgency: What Are The Strategic Challenges?” and Noah Karvelis, a Phoenix educator, weighs in with “You Need Rank and File to Win: How Arizona Teachers Built a Movement.”

4) NationalNetwork for Public Education Action has launched a 2020 Candidates Project that “will make sure that the issue of school privatization is not ignored. We will grade candidates on their positions regarding charter schools, vouchers, and high-stakes testing. We will grade them by how much they take from the billionaires who believe in the privatization of public schools and score each candidate on the company they keep. They can run for office but they can’t hide from the hard questions we will ask about school privatization.”

5) National/California: Hundreds of Teach for America alumni are criticizing its leadership for “suggesting members should cross the picket line during a potential teacher strike in Oakland, California, or risk losing thousands of dollars at the end of their service. (…) Teach for America is by default forcing its members to make a political decision without a choice, said Ismael Armendariz, first vice president of the Oakland Education Association, which represents about 3,000 teachers.” 

6) National: Dr. Keith Benson of the Camden (NJ) Education Association “analyzes the rise of Black leaders who represent the privatization movement and compares them to those who continue for a just and equitable public school system. Which side are you on?” asks Diane RavitchEssay

7) Arkansas: The state board of education has revoked the charter of Covenant Keepers College Preparatory School in Little Rock “after learning that unauthorized withdrawals from the school’s bank account had left the school’s sponsor without enough money to operate. (…) Shutting down a publicly funded charter school in midyear is rare but not unprecedented in Arkansas. The state previously shut down Urban Collegiate Charter School for Young Men in the middle of the year.” 

8) California: Clare Crawford of In the Public Interest shares a parent’s note about her daughter’s “traumatic year in third grade at Thrive” charter school. The parent, Deb Zehr, “joined me in Sacramento last week to testify at a meeting of the California Department of Education’s Advisory Commission on Charter Schools (ACCS), which was deciding whether to recommend renewal of the Thrive charter schools. (…) Deb’s and Suraya’s experiences are all the more important to raise up as California begins the hard but necessary work of rethinking the role of charter schools in public education.”

9) CaliforniaThe Moreno Valley school board has unanimously rejected  plans for a charter school that proponents said would boost minority student achievement and immerse them in the arts and sciences. “Board members said the proposal lacked a robust plan for special education students and English learners, and wasn’t fiscally sound.”

10) California:  “Charter schools are undermining public education,” writes Angelo Douvos, a retired teacher who taught history and government at San Rafael High School for 28 years. “The charter school movement has been growing rapidly at a time of deep division and unprecedented inequality in our nation. Faith in government action is being undermined. The force for privatization—in schools, the post office, the VA, etc.—is being pushed by corporations and is contributing to a loss of a sense of community. Our public schools are a bulwark of democracy: everyone is included. They should not be weakened by our handing over hard-earned taxpayer dollars to charter schools. Prop. 39 should be repealed.”

11) California: The Palo Alto Weekly shares video of a debate over charter school expansion in the Ravenswood City School District. The district is mandated under Prop 39 to make space available for KIPP students, but teachers and parents are concerned about major disruption to one of their middle schools that is just getting off the ground.

12) District of Columbia: As the DC Council weighs Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s choice for schools chancellor, Dr. Lewis Ferebee, Gayle Cosby, a former Indianapolis Public Schools board member, asks them to consider the record. “The IPS board hired Dr. Ferebee in the summer of 2013. He seemed to be a true advocate of public education, judging by his 2009 dissertation finding that school choice was ineffective and his previous public school work history in North Carolina. However, it wasn’t long before the IPS board was introduced to the term ‘portfolio model’ — a transformation proposal brought to us by Lewis Ferebee and his newfound Indianapolis corporate backers.”

13) District of ColumbiaThe city’s charter school board is struggling with issues of transparency. “After the unexpected announcement that D.C.’s only unionized charter school is closing this June, teachers, activists and other members of the community are making transparency a top issue. The D.C. Public Charter School Board says it’s responding to public feedback, noting that officials are proposing new measures to increase transparency in the city later this month. Critics of the board, however, say the current proposal doesn’t go far enough, leaving out key issues like open meetings and public records.”

14) IllinoisThe Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has suspended its two-week strike at four Chicago International Charter School campuses. “The pending four year deal includes pay raises, class size limits, one week of paid parental leave and shorter work schedules. CICS will also pay for a seven percent chunk of teachers’ required pension contributions. Educators will receive an average 35 percent pay raise over the course of the deal, according to the Chicago Teachers Union, and affected CICS employees will have their salaries meet or exceed rates seen at traditional Chicago Public Schools.” CICS campuses “are operated by five independent ‘school management organizations’ that use taxpayer dollars to finance their day-to-day operations. Striking educators at the four affected campuses have been bargaining with the Civitas Education Partners firm.”

15) Indiana: The Indiana House is grappling with a conflict over a proposed provision prohibiting charter schools from expelling LGBTQ students. “Under the bill, which would add numerous provisions to the state’s existing charter school laws, a school corporation would be required to sell a vacant building to a charter or neighboring school corporation for $1. (…) Charter schools currently can’t expel or suspend a student on the basis of disability, race, color, gender, national origin, religion or ancestry. That provision is still in Behning’s bill. In an amendment, Forestal attempted to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the classifications. The amendment was rejected, 63-32. Forestal is a graduate of Roncalli High School, which has been rocked by the suspension of a female guidance counselor who is married to a woman and by the suspension of a priest, who was a chaplain at Roncalli, over allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.” 

16) Massachusetts: Although the state board of education has given permission for Alma Del Mar charter school charter school to expand, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell is still concerned that this will drain needed resources from the public schools. [Video, about 2 minutes]

17) New Orleans: Safety concerns are mounting as reports emerge of subcontractors driving buses without some charter schools’ knowledge. “Not only must local governments regulate the 18 different school bus companies holding contracts with 90 charter schools in the New Orleans metro area, but there are also dozens of additional bus companies operating as subcontractors, providing buses and drivers for public charter schools. These subcontractors drive regular routes for the schools with their own buses and drivers—information that, in at least some cases, appears to not be reported to the charters schools or the public entities that run them.”

18) Oklahoma: As Oklahoma communities continue to be divided over charter schools, Rev. Clark Frailey of Pastors for Oklahoma Kids outlines “The Moral Argument Against Privatization of Public Schools.” Frailey writes, “today profiteering flies under the radar by being marketed as ‘school choice.” This movement in part diverts public assets and resources into private pockets. But the cost is a loss of the common good of education for all children.”

19) OregonThe Portland School Board is preparing to revoke its sponsorship of Trillium Public Charter School. “‘Trillium Charter School has had poor or inconsistent performance for the past three years,’ a February document from the PPS charter schools office said. Trillium was required to submit a school improvement plan to PPS based on poor achievement in math. It has not met the targets for improvement. The school was supposed to bring the number of kids in grades three through five passing state tests from 10 percent to 40 percent and in grades six through eight from 18 percent to 40 percent. A public hearing will be held tomorrow. 

20) Pennsylvania: The Upper Darby School District has unanimously rejected an application for a charter school. “A school district charter review team concluded that it could not recommend the school board to approve the charter application based on “vague and unclear statements about the educational programming,” outdated rules and laws in areas such as special education and state standards, lack of special education and English language-learning services for students, and other areas of contention. (…) Public comment portions during the meetings were filled with statements against the school saying it would be a financial drain on the district and that the arts program in Upper Darby schools was far superior than what a charter school could provide.”

21) TexasAn intense battle is taking place over a plan to turn some nonprofit preschool classrooms into charter campuses that work within the Dallas Independent School District. Trustee Joyce Foreman “was concerned that participating in such deals would encourage students to attend charter schools not affiliated with DISD after pre-K. For example, she noted that Mi Escuelita Preschool works with a charter operator to make it easier for children to enroll.” Other trustees are “worried that an in-district charter for pre-K is a crack in the door for more wide-scale privatization.” Trustee Audrey Pinkerton said “I’m telling you, there is a fundamental shift here … The fact of the matter is, we are legally ceding control of these schools to an outside operator.” [Video] The board is expected to vote on a policy for in-district charters and on 10 potential partnerships at its February 28 meeting.

22) Texas: Beaumont Independent School District will be holding a community meeting with charter school operators tonight to discuss its partnership with Responsive Education Solutions, Inc. “This is the fourth community meeting regarding the BISD partnership with two charters to improve the performance of three district schools who have failed to meet Texas Education Agency standards for four consecutive years.”

23) West Virginia: One year after their historic victory, West Virginia educators will be going on strike again — this time to stop a pro-privatization, anti-union bill.

Infrastructure

24) NationalTransurban, the Australia-based toll road company, has been heavily lobbying public infrastructure advocate Peter DeFazio (D) and other lawmakers to bring in the “asset recycling” model when a new infrastructure initiative is hammered out. But they’re not getting anywhere: “‘I was pleased when [Mr. Trump] upped the ante last year from $US1 trillion to $US1.5 trillion, but unfortunately follow-through from his staff, the DJ Gribbin plan, was actually to reduce investment in transportation and then sell everything off through what’s called asset recycling, privatizing,’ he said. Nobody on either side of the aisle thought ‘that was a good idea . . . it was a thought piece that went into the wastebasket,’” DeFazio said. He called ‘public-private partnerships’ a “tool,” but said “they’re not going to get us there. We need a federal government making substantial investments in a national transportation system, not state by state.” 

25) National: Interested in keeping up and going deep on major infrastructure projects in the U.S. as renewed debate on public vs. private unfolds? Check out FHWA’s comprehensive new website, produced by Battelle and the University of Maryland. Ever see a scatter plot of performance metrics?

26) Think tanks/internationalKFW Group, a German government-owned development bank, has produced a one-pager on human rights and infrastructure. “The tension between improving infrastructure and ensuring human rights poses a challenge here.”

Criminal justice and immigration

27) National: In the cliff edge budget negotiations over funding immigrant detention beds—and thereby padding the bottom lines of for-profit prison companies such as GEO Group and CoreCivic—Democrats yielded on the issue of a cap of the number of beds, but the battle is not over yet, the Washington Post reports. Immigrant rights advocate Frank Sharry of America’s Voice “conceded that the failure to get detention bed caps is a ‘real setback.’ But he also noted that in six months, Democrats can renew the battle for caps, now that ‘a lot of lawmakers understand that ICE is detaining many more people than Congress funds. We live to fight another day.’”

The New York Times reports that “on its face, the agreement authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to fund about 40,000 beds for detainees, many of them in facilities run by for-profit companies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement near the border in Texas, Arizona and California. In background briefings, House Democratic aides described the language as a “glide path” from the current level of 49,000 detention beds back to Obama-era levels of 35,000 or fewer. But a summary of the provisions drafted by Senate Republican staff members placed the average number of beds funded under the deal at a much higher number –45,274, including 2,500 for families. And that could rise to as many as 58,500 beds, Republican aides asserted in internal communications, because federal cabinet departments have latitude in how they use funds. Under the complex funding formula in the agreement, the Department of Homeland Security would have “reprogramming authority” to transfer as much as $750 million from other programs into detention.”

For one inside account of how the deal over ICE beds came together, see this piece in The Hill.

28) National/TexasTeachers Against Child Detention hosted a Teach-In For Freedom in El Paso, Texas on Sunday “to call on the U.S. government to end the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families. Teachers from every state are delivering a short lesson on a range of topics including the harm immigrant kids experience when separated from their families, why they have fled from their home countries and how Americans can welcome them legally and contribute to their ongoing care and integration.” Among their many demands, TACD says “using a national emergency declared by the President of the United States to avoid compliance with the Flores settlement is morally reprehensible and has been defined as an executive overreach by lawmakers.” [See the all-day video, about 8 hours]

29) National/Texas: David Dayen recounts how Texas Activists Thought They’d Kicked ICE Out of Their County. Then a Secret Deal Happened. “But Hutto remains open, thanks to a quiet agreement between ICE and CoreCivic. The county, and the city of Taylor where the detention center resides, have been indifferent while detainees continue to be locked up. And activists are appalled. ‘We’ve been fighting for a long time, and we thought we were finally going to shut the place down after a decade,’ says Bethany Carson, immigration policy researcher and organizer with the Austin-based organization Grassroots Leadership, which has led efforts to close Hutto.” Grassroots Leadership vows “the fight won’t stop until T. Don Hutto is closed and all the detention centers across the US are shut down.”

30) Kansas: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly says the state was “hoodwinked” into “hiring a private company to build a new prison based on a promise that the new lockup would require significantly less staff and the savings could be used to pay for the project.” Under the deal cut under former Gov. Sam Brownback (R), “Kansas is buying the new, 2,432-bed prison over 20 years through a lease with its contractor, Tennessee-based CoreCivic Inc., the nation’s largest private prison company. The total cost is about $360 million, but Brownback’s administration calculated that savings in staffing costs would cover lease payments.”

31) Michigan/National@NWDCResistance reports “Victory in #Michigan! Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is canceling a plan to sell state land to a company trying to build a private immigrant detention center in Michigan.” The Michigan Advance reports Whitmer is using her authority to halt the sale of a former state prison in Ionia, where the Farmville, Virginia-based private company Immigration Centers of America (ICA) has proposed constructing a roughly $35 million detention facility.” Immigration Centers of America was in the news last year when The Washington Post reported a heated confrontation erupted at an Arlington town hall over payments a state lawmaker received from ICA

Public services

32) National: Robert L. Nolan, a former chief of staff at the VA Hospital in Martinez, California, writes in a letter to the editor of the New York Times that “The Trump administration has been less than candid in denying its intent to privatize the entire V.A. health system, a goal promoted by the Koch billionaires. Congress should intervene now with legislation to preserve and protect V.A. health care standards and accessibility, and roll back plans for private outside care.” For the details on how VA privatization is being pushed by Trump, see Suzanne Gordon’s piece in the American Prospect, Inside the Administration’s Plan to Push Millions of Veterans into Private-Sector Health Care.

33) California: San Jose finds that it pays to put in the hard work renegotiating public service contracts when they’re up for renewal. “Oakland-based California Waste Solutions has agreed to a charge of $13.15 per household, much lower than its previous request for a 60 percent hike in fees. This could bring a savings of over $58 million in a 15-year period, according to the city. (…)T he city has considered allowing its contract with CWS to expire following numerous fines and customer complaints about service problems, but staff met with the company five times between Jan. 23 and Feb. 8 to settle on the terms regarding pricing, services and customer satisfaction.”

34) National/District of Columbia: Public transit vs. private cars and Ubers on roads? The Federal Transit Administration is threatening to withhold $1.6 billion in funding for the Washington, D.C., region if Metro restores late-night service, The Washington Post reported. But don’t worry, Uber and Lyft won’t suffer since Metro has a plan that would subsidize Uber and Lyft fares to fill the late-night service gap.

35) Iowa: Two Democratic lawmaker have proposed legislation that “would return thousands of Iowans living with severe, complex and permanent disabilities back to a state-managed Medicaid program and make other changes to the program privatized three years ago.”

36) MinnesotaSt. Paul’s East Side residents say Waste Management has been unresponsive. “Beginning Jan. 30, the national trash hauler skipped pickups on her street, Cottage Avenue East, for three weeks in a row. Rather than complete full collection Wednesday, drivers exited their vehicles to take pictures of overflowing trash carts and lids that couldn’t fully close. Some they emptied. Some they didn’t. Now, residents are bracing for financial penalties.” Ward 6 City Council member Kassim Busuri says “I’ve had the same problem myself, where the trash was not picked up for going on three weeks. It bothers me to see a garbage hauler not fulfilling their obligation in the contract. There’s a section in the contract where we can charge the haulers for every collection they miss. I’m looking into that.”

37) International: From Nova Scotia, the story about a union that fought privatization and won. “Last summer Shirley Peck, a cleaner at CFB Greenwood, a military base in rural Nova Scotia, was told that she was to be laid off, and that her well paying job would be contracted out. She was devastated. (…) Not this time though. The Public Service Alliance of Canada, and its component Union of National Defence Employees (UNDE) fought back, and won.” 

Other

38) National: More than two decades after military housing was privatized, the results are in. “‘This is disgusting:’ Lawmakers blast companies overseeing military homes racked by toxic dangers.” By now 99% of housing is privately-run, “widening the accountability gap between families and commanders. Corvias, which stands to make $1 billion, said it was ‘sorry’ the way the privatization model eroded quality for profits.” But Corvias is looking for new horizons, according to The Bond Buyer, and sees graduate student housing as “ripe for P3 activity.” BB reports “Corvias, an East Greenwich, Rhode Island, P3 contractor for higher education and government institutions nationwide, announced a 40-year agreement with the University of Notre Dame. The partnership, according to Corvias founder John Picerne, will enable the university to offer cost-effective housing for married and parenting students and their families.” [Sub required]

The Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee and Personnel Subcommittee held a joint hearing on the current condition of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative last week. (Video, about 3 hours).

39) National: The government shutdown seems to have created an opening for the right wing Heritage Foundation to renew its push to privatize TSA jobs at airports. “Among the considerations once an airport has applied for the program: The cost of private screeners cannot be greater than what it would be if the TSA remained at the airport. If approved, the TSA—not the airport—selects, pays and manages the contractor. Private contractors are required to follow the same rules and procedures as their TSA counterparts but are given some leeway to determine how they staff checkpoints.”

40) National: Peter Tyler of Government Executive shines a light on the important role of federal agency inspectors general. A key problem: often there is no follow-up on issues they flag. IG’s have attempted to remedy this by upping their game on public information, but more needs to be done. “Over the past several weeks alone, government watchdogs have reported on important issues ranging from military cybersecurity problemsto a lack of accountability at contractor-run immigration detention centersthat puts children at risk.”

41) MissouriThe push to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport has moved to the state legislature. “A new bill before the state legislature would allow St. Louis residents to vote on whether to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport. State Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, has introduced the bill after the city’s Board of Aldermen rejected a citywide vote. Although he prefers allowing the city to make its own decisions, Franks, an opponent of privatization, said a state intervention may be the best way to ensure residents get a say in the matter.” Franks says “give the people a vote.”

42) North Carolina: State lawmakers are examining the possibility of privatizing liquor sales.

43) Revolving Door News: The company that ex-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has joined is evaluating a privatization of Kosovo Telecom and wants to bring LNG to Bermuda, Barron’s reports.