Weekly privatization report: How running government “like a business” became bipartisan wisdom | and more

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

Just want the highlights? LA teachers not only won lower class sizes but also help in slowing the privatizationof the city’s schools. How the idea that running government “like a business” became bipartisan wisdom. Whether to privatize St. Louis’s airport will go to the ballot…sort of.

1) National/California: Los Angeles teachers win their strike against LAUSD for demands that included stopping the juggernaut of privatization targeting traditional community schools. The teachers, reports Jeff Bryant, “make the case that charter schools are an existential threat to public education.” As Bryant sees it, “the concessions teachers won that will likely have the most impact outside of LA are related to charter schools. The teachers forced the district leader to present to the school board a resolution calling on the state to cap the number of charter schools, and the teachers made the district give their union increased oversight of charter co-locations—a practice that allows charter operations to take possession of a portion of an existing public school campus.”

For details on the settlement and how it came about, listen to this interview of Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the LA teachers’ union, and Jane McAlevey, by Doug Henwood [Audio, at 6:00]. Henwood calls the strike result “a victory not just for them but for public schools and the very idea of a public sector.” 

Even the Los Angeles Times editorial board is grudgingly conceding on some of the key criticisms of charters that public school supporters have been pressing for many years. “So yes,” the editors say, “it’s time for a thorough state assessment of charter schools, including how successful they’ve been and what their impact has been on traditional public schools. The state has been generally lackadaisical about regulating charter schools and has altogether ignored the ways in which the budgets of school districts may have been harmed. There has also been tension between charters and traditional schools when they have been required to ‘co-locate’ on a single campus.” The LA Daily News has also covered the issue of the future of charters.

In Counterpunch, Glenn Sacks reports on “What We Won.” Sacks says “LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner’s plan to break up LAUSD into 32 separate entities and charterize it—while not part of these contract negotiations—has suffered a serious blow. Maybe even Beutner himself is seeing his thinking begin to evolve.” Time will tell whether this “portfolio model” has been put back in its box. A resolution on asking the state for a moratorium goes before the board tomorrow.

Eric Blanc, author of Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics, has also summarized the lessons of the strike in a piece in The Nation. “It would be hard to overstate the importance of this victory in the country’s second-largest school district,” writes Blanc. “Against considerable odds, Los Angeles teachers have dealt a major blow against the forces of privatization in the city and nationwide.” A crucial part of this, Blanc writes, is that the strike centered the politics of race: “The Los Angeles strike wasn’t just a teachers’ victory. It was also a tale of two competing antiracist visions—one upheld by privatizing billionaires and another pushed by working people.” 

2) National: The LA school strike produced a further breakthrough of privatization issues into the national broadcast and digital media, with questions on the impact of charter schools on public education entering the mix of coverage. The media still have a long way to go, however, as Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley points out in his dissection of Jonathan Chait’s approach to the issue in the course of his attack on Elizabeth Warren, in which he gets “corporate sellout” story “exactly backwards.” Differences among Democrats will likely continue to feature in this coverage as 2020 approaches.

3) National: In the Public Interest’s research director, Shar Habibi, joined Adam Simpson of Next System Podcast to discuss the issues of public ownership and privatization. They were joined by  Thomas Hanna, The Democracy Collaborative’s research director and author of Our Common Wealth: The Return of Public Ownership in the United States, and Cat Hobbs, founder and director of U.K.-based We Own It. 

Habibi says “the claim that the free market or private business is more efficient or innovative than government has been proven false time and time again. But I think it’s also worth mentioning that there has been this decades-long push for privatization that has gone hand in hand with slashing taxes and attacks on working people. (…) You have conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and public figures like Grover Norquist that are churning out antigovernment propaganda and popularizing the idea that government and the public sector should be limited. And they were really successful because unfortunately this idea of running government like a business is considered conventional and unfortunately in a lot of ways bipartisan wisdom.” [Audio, about 42 minutes].

4) National: The Hollywood Reporter has an interesting review of a new documentary film, The Infiltrators, which “tells a true story so inspiring it’s a wonder it isn’t better known: In 2012, undocumented teenage immigrants intentionally let themselves be caught and put into one of America’s for-profit detention centers, with a bold plan to get other detainees (and themselves) out. Six years later, with debates over immigration even more clouded by racism and specious logic, this is a necessary film; but rather than feeling like homework, watching it is a thrill. Theatrical distribs and streamers alike should take notice, and get this picture off the festival circuit as soon as possible.”

5) National: The Hill reports that “the Trump administration has been illegally holding unaccompanied migrant children in unlicensed facilities in violation of a federal agreement designed to protect them, attorneys say.” A lead attorney, Peter Schey, “said he is preparing to file a motion in the coming days, alleging numerous violations of the Flores agreement from the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS). ‘I don’t think they’re ignorant of this, they know they’re violating federal law,’ Schey said of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees the facilities for detained migrant children.” 

6) Alabama: The Birmingham Business Journal is reflecting on the possibility that privatization of the VA “could shift billions of dollars from government-run hospitals to private health care providers. It’s a change that could lead to added patient volumes at Birmingham area hospitals, depending on how the policy unfolds.” But there “are also concerns that privatizing some aspects of the VA and creating more choices could have negative implications for VA hospitals around the nation. The larger overall issue, according to Horton, is there is no funding for this program. So, in effect, you are taking the same finite pool of VA dollars and extending that to go outside the system for private care. However, this will be paid for by the VA, taking dollars away that are going to the existing VA facilities.” [Sub required]

7) Arizona: KJZZ’s intrepid reporter Jimmy Jenkins interviews a whistleblower about the nightmarish conditions at a prison where he worked for Corizon. “Jose Vallejo worked for Corizon Health in the Arizona Department of Corrections for two years from December 2016 to December 2018. He alleges the company is violating state regulations, purposefully misleading state auditors, and putting patient lives at risk. (…) ‘You have nurses crying in the middle of their shift — it’s horrible,’ he said. Despite Corizon’s contract with the state guaranteeing 90 percent staffing fulfillment, Vallejo claims his unit was usually only 50 percent staffed with health care personnel. He says the turnover was like nothing he has ever seen.” 

8) Arizona/Think Tanks: The Grand Canyon Institute’s George Cunningham and Curt Cardine have followed up a warning about what the institute sees as dangerous levels of debt in the state’s charter school system by suggesting steps to fix the problem. “Arizona’s charter schools hold $2.56 billion in debt and long-term commitments while depreciated property and assets are valued at $1.4 billion. (…) Charter schools in Arizona control 7 percent of educational real estate assets while holding 33 percent of all school debt and long-term commitments.” Among their recommendations: “Adopt the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general with regard to conducting business with related parties and use IRS standards to identify and categorize related-party transactions.” In 2017 an institute report found that the state’s charter schools use taxpayer money for questionable financial transactions.

9) California: While the LA Unified strike has ended, the bitter strike by teachers at South LA’s Accelerated Schools charter school continues. “‘While the LAUSD strike that had over 30,000 folks out on the street fighting for basic common sense demands, while that strike is over, the strike here at Accelerated is not, and we’re gonna put every bit of our power and influence here to support the educators, the parents, the students,’ UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said Thursday. ‘We’re going to make sure that Accelerated wins this strike.’ It is the first charter school strike in California history, according to UTLA.” Negotiations have been going on for almost two years.

10) California: Education historian and public schools advocate Diane Ravitch is supporting Jackie Goldberg in her race for a spot on the school board. “The race for the empty seat on the LAUSD board is important for Los Angeles, but it is also important for California and for the nation,” Ravitch writes. “If Jackie wins this seat, her voice and her experience and knowledge will command a Quisling board. Jackie Goldberg is a dynamo. She taught for many years, then won a seat on the Los Angeles school board.”

11) CaliforniaAntelope Valley Union High School District has turned down a charter school petition. “According to the [district] staff report, the proposed charter school presented an unsound educational program for the students. ‘Overall descriptions of the educational program, curriculum, and assessments in the Petition are generic, underdeveloped, and outdated,’ the staff report said.”

12) ColoradoUnless the state intervenes, Denver teachers will go out on strike. But “the district asked the Department of Labor and Employment to step in and mediate. The intervention could delay a strike for up to 180 days.” Fox31 reports “that process could take up to 24 days—up to 10 days for the union to respond and up to 14 days for the state to decide—but a decision could come faster than that depending on how long the union and the state take to act.”

As in Los Angeles, a key cause of the dispute is “the backdrop of bad education reform,” Forbes reports. “Back in 2005, the district hired Michael Bennet, who had no background in education, but was the mayor’s chief of staff with a background in turning around failing companies for an investment firm. Bennet brought in other outsiders to form a community group (A+ Denver) along with some other education philanthropists to ‘pressure’ the district. The preferred model was a portfolio model.” The Denver Labor Federation says “teachers strike to protect their livelihoods, the needs of their students and more broadly, the idea of public education.”

13) District of Columbia: AFT President Randi Weingarten denounces the decision of Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy to close its middle schools and consolidate its two high schools on one campus. “Cesar Chavez would be appalled that management at the school that proudly bears his name has treated children, their parents and their educators with such utter contempt,” says Weingarten. “These are children, and their education is not a business to be run on a profit margin. The first priority should always be children and families—but Chavez management, by these actions, has put them dead last. Parents were not informed. Teachers were not consulted. The community was not engaged. Many found out via inquiries from reporters—the administration didn’t even have the honor or decency to convey the news directly.”

14) Florida: A Bradenton charter school bookkeeper is suspected of stealing more than $340,000 from the school and its management firm, the sheriff’s office says. “Through her attorney, Tapia has admitted to writing 47 fraudulent checks and stealing at least $225,000 from the school, [school principal Armando Viota-Garcia] told investigators. Viota-Garcia suspects Tapia stole an additional $25,000, and wrote as many as 80 fraudulent checks, but as of the September report, he had not yet verified that.”

15) Maryland:@CrnchyMama report that “here in MD @GovLarryHogan has just made a new push for charters here. Read the feedback on your Facebook page about that announcement, Larry. Your supporters on this issue are vastly outnumbered by the rest of your constituents.”

16) Massachusetts: Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera is asking the state to block a charter school from opening. Rivera alleges “the people who would run it are out-of-towners and the top rental agent for a landlord—Riverwalk owner Sal Lupoli—would earn as much as $1.1 million annually leasing space to the school.”

17) Massachusetts: After month of controversy over charter schools, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education and Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford have reached a compromise. “Under the agreement Riley and Mitchell have struck, the charter will start a new 450-seat K-8 charter that will serve a specific neighborhood and enroll its students through the district’s regular student assignment system.”

18) MississippiThe bill is finally coming due from one of the biggest corruption scandals involving private, for-profit prison corporations. “Attorney General Jim Hood has settled all eleven lawsuits filed against government contractors involved in the Chris Epps bribery case for a total of $26.6 million. The contractors involved used consultants as a means to secure contracts with former Department of Corrections commissioner Chris Epps, Hood said. (…) Major corrections contractors, including Management and Training Corp., GEO Group and Global Tel Link, were part of the settlements. One firm, correctional health care provider Health Assurance, LLC went bankrupt over the course of proceedings.”Several of the contractors sued by the attorney general’s office, including Global Tel Link, stillhold contracts with the Department of Corrections.Global Tel-Link Corporation, which provides telephone services for inmates, made a profit of $750,000 and will pay the state $2.5 million, Hood said.

19) Missouri: The issue of whether Lambert International Airport should be privatized could be on the ballot, at least indirectly. It may hinge on a March 5 election pitting Lewis Reed, the Board of Aldermen president who in June cast a deciding vote to allow it, against two anti-privatization challengers,Jamilah Nasheed, a state senator, and Megan Green, a city alderwoman. “‘Privatization works well for shareholders. It doesn’t work well for consumers or workers,’ Green said. She said if elected president, she would likely direct her representative on a city panel studying privatization ‘to vote no on anything.’ The panel must approve key steps, such as issuing a request for qualifications and proposals to potential private operators, scheduled for the coming months.” [Sub required]

20) New York: “Say our names, not our test scores. Say our names, not our test scores,” say protesting students at one of Eva Moskowitz’ Success Academy charter schools. “While @SuccessCharters may claim to prepare kids for college,” writes Network for Public Education executive director Carol Burris, “this is preparation for the army or prison. Compliance above all.”

21) Tennessee: Gateway University Charter School, the troubled charter school that is reportedly under investigation for giving students fraudulent grades, has been dealt a new blow as Shelby County School leaders “gave the school one of the lowest scores in the district. It was the lowest performing charter school,” and recommended it be closed. “I think the school board is making a great decision only because you don’t want those kids to be left behind and we have to remember those kids were once Shelby County School children,” education consultant Eric Dunn said.

22) Vermont: The Vermont Digger takes us inside the CoreCivic prison holding Vermont inmates 1,366 miles away. “Elliot Russell, another Vermont inmate at the Mississippi facility, says he doesn’t eat any of three meals a day prepared by the staff here. Instead, he said, he opts to use a microwave he shares with another 120 prisoners in his housing unit to heat up his own food he purchases from the commissary. ‘The food is terrible here,’ Russell said. ‘It’s better when you make it yourself most of the time.’” Perhaps the media should up their game on covering food quality in both public and private prisons.

23) Wisconsin: The Milwaukee public schools are facing a tough decision on their future relationship with charter schools. The MPS board is weighing whether to renew its contract and building leases with the Carmen Schools of Science and Technology charter network. “Pulaski High School students enter the school building at 7:30 a.m. through a weapons scan,” Pulaski teacher David Eppelsheimer says. “At 7:45, it is very clear that Carmen students are not subject to any scan whatsoever … if we have one school in the building that scans, everybody should scan.”

24) International: A major new in-depth report on the shortcomings of ‘public-private partnerships’ (PPPs) around the world has been produced by a collaborative effort of nongovernment organizations. History RePPPeated: How Public Private Partnerships Are Failing is available on the website of Eurodad. “This report gives an in-depth, evidence-based analysis of the impact of 10 PPP projects that have taken place across four continents, in both developed and developing countries. These case studies build on research conducted by civil society experts in recent years and have been written by the people who often work with and around the communities affected by these projects. (…) Although we do not intend to generalize our conclusions in the vast and complex universe of PPPs, these 10 cases illustrate the most common problems encountered by PPPs. Therefore, they challenge the capacity of PPPs to deliver results in the public interest.”

25) International: Public Services International’s General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli invites us to meet the corporations who sue governments to undermine progressive change. “An analysis by Public Services International reveals that over forty World Economic Forum Industry Partners have used Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions to sue states for policies or decisions they don’t like. Among the most egregious examples include ISDS cases brought against environmental protections, public health measures and attempts to make electricity more affordable.” 

26) Think Tanks: Thomas W. Ross, president of the Volcker Alliance, worries that the government shutdown may have permanently damaged the future of public service. “One of my greatest concerns over the shutdown is that it could deter talented people, especially young people, from pursuing public service. We are already facing a public workforce crisis as federal, state and local governments will see a doubling of the percent of their workforce that is eligible to retire in the next five years. Meanwhile, only 7 percent of the federal workforce is under the age of 30 compared to nearly 25 percent in the private sector.”

Legislative Issues

1) Arizona: After years of dragging their feet, Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ducey are making noises like they’re ready to seriously engage with the issue of charter school reform and oversight. But the Arizona Republic’s E.J. Montini has set a bar for Ducey: “Then urge the Republicans who control the Legislature not to kill those four Democratic bills meant to reform the charter school system, but to allow them to go through a rigorous legislative hearing process. There should be reports and witnesses and expert testimony and debate and input from outsiders and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. And in the end the bills should be brought to a vote. ‘I’m here as governor of all the people to work with all of you on good ideas,’ Ducey said. OK then, do that.”

2) Indiana: After 10 years of poor performance virtual charter schools are likely to get some regulation in the home state of privatizers Mike Pence and Stephen Goldsmith. “If House Bill 1172 is signed into law, it would require virtual charters to be overseen by statewide authorizers, such as Ball State…. In the past, virtual charters have been overseen by traditional school communities like Daleville Community Schools, which authorized a school that graduated just 2.2 percent of its students in the 2017-18 school year, according to the state’s Department of Education website.”

3) Maryland: Erek Barron (D), Marc Korman (D), and Sara Love (D) of the House of Delegates have introduced a bill that would prohibit a correctional unit, with certain exceptions, from contracting with a private contractor or vendor for the ownership, operation, or management of state and local correctional and detention facilities; and prohibit a correctional unit from being reimbursed in an amount greater than a certain per diem rate under a certain detention agreement for the detention of certain persons. [MD HB224 bill text]. A hearing on the bill will be held February 5, 2019 at 2pm.

4) New Jersey: Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and Senator Sandra Cunningham have introduced the “Liberty State Park Protection Act,” to establish an advisory committee and requirements for state Department of Environmental Protection action protecting the site from privatization and inappropriate development. [A-4903 and S-3357].

5) Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia Inquirer has asked several experts how they would reform the state’s 1997 charter school law. “While there are several things that need to be changed about the current charter law, nothing is more important than more state oversight to monitor students’ achievement levels in our charter schools (and all schools). However, it is not clear how the state holds charter schools accountable for student outcomes. While financial solvency is important, it should not be the sole issue that warrants accountability from the state.”

6) TexasThe Texas American Federation of Teachers is calling on lawmakers to put a moratorium on charter school expansion in the state and “a fight is brewing,” the San Antonio Business Journal reports. “‘We’ve seen unbridled expansion of charter schools—particularly the networks or chains—which are taking millions of dollars out of our true public schools while they multiply by the dozens each year in our major cities,’ AFT President Louis Malfaro said. ‘The result is a segregated system of schools with one side— the charters—allowed to discriminate against high-needs kids.’ The Texas AFT has a list of reforms it wants legislative leaders to consider, including better informing local school districts when new charter campuses are planned in their areas.” It says “charter schools receive $1,000 more per pupil on average than their public counterparts, with the discrepancy greater in certain districts.” The AFT’s demand has “drawn harsh opposition from the Texas Charter Schools Association, which said there are not enough charter campuses to meet demand. The association is seeking state funding to build more charter school classrooms.” [Sub required].