Weekly privatization report: How school privatization allows discrimination, and more.

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

1) National/think tanks: The National Education Policy Center has released a new report on How School Privatization Opens the Door for Discrimination, by Julie F. Mead and Suzanne E. Eckes. “Our review of relevant laws indicates that voucher and charter school programs open the door to discrimination because of three phenomena. First, federal law defines discrimination differently in public and private spaces. Second, state legislatures have largely ignored the issue of non-discrimination while constructing voucher laws and have created charter laws that fail to comprehensively address non-discrimination. And third, because private and charter schools have been given authority to determine what programs to offer, they have the ability to attract some populations while excluding others.” For more background, listen to this interview of education historian and anti-privatization advocate Diane Ravitch by Pete Tucker. [Audio, about 12 minutes]

2) National: In the Public Interest’s Executive Director Donald Cohen warns us that privatization is part of the ongoing assault on democracy. “It couldn’t be clearer that the fundamental democratic right to have our voices — and votes — heard is under attack. Just this week, Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated legislature slashed early voting…in the middle of the night…during a lame duck session. Bottom line: there are politicians, conservative think tanks, and corporate funders who don’t want people to be able to vote. But we’ve learned through our work that there’s another — and perhaps deeper — threat to democracy spreading nationwide, and that is privatization. When corporations take control of public goods like water, transit, and schools, we give them the ability to make decisions that should be made democratically by us, the public.” 

3) National: A charter school chain, Education Corporation of America, has abruptly collapsed in dozens of locations nationwide, leaving roughly 20,000 students in the lurch and worried about their outstanding loans and sunk costs. Project on Predatory Student Lending Director Toby Merrill “says students can ask the U.S. Department of Education to cancel loans if a school closes.” MarketWatch reported yesterday that “just this week, Virginia College, one of ECA’s major subsidiaries, had its accreditation, a seal of approval required for a school to receive access to federal financial aid dollars, suspended. The school was accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a controversial gatekeeper that oversaw other for-profit colleges accused of misleading students. ‘Their shutdown can only be said to be caused by their own malfeasance,’” said Merrill. 

Adam Harris writes in The Atlantic that “all of this is happening to a student body not well equipped to weather major setbacks. Statistically, students at for-profit colleges are more likely to be low-income than those at other institutions, and are less likely to have the resources to draw on to be able to come up with a good Plan B. And so they’ll end this year a little older, maybe a little wiser, and with even fewer options than they had when they started.” 

4) National: Bianca Tylek of the Corrections Accountability Project talks to Eddie Conway, host of the Real News Network’s Rattling the Bars about stopping corporate exploitation in prisons. She discusses the large incarceration-for-profit companies such as CoreCivic and the Geo Group, but also telecoms companies such as Securus, GTL; Keefe, Union Supply, Aramark, and Sodexo in the food service sector; and Corizon, Correct Care Solutions (now part of Wellpath) and NaphCare in correctional health services. “So there’s certainly a lot of companies that are major players in this space where this is their unique and only space,” explains Tylek, “and then there are companies that we all utilize maybe on the daily and don’t recognize that a portion of their revenues comes from people who are incarcerated and their support networks.” [Part One Video, about 9 minutes; Part Two Video, about 10 minutes].

5) National: In its long-awaited report released last Tuesday, Trump’s postal service reform task force did not explicitly call for privatization (pp. 29-31), but the Washington Post warns that privatization may not be dead. “The report highlights private systems in Germany and New Zealand, leading Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA) to say that ‘the task force produced a report to support and continue the Trump Administration’s unpopular push towards privatizing the Postal Service.’ Connolly is the ranking Democrat and probably the next chairman of the House Government Operations Subcommittee with Postal Service oversight.” 

But the report did launch a frontal attack on postal workers’ rights, calling for “eliminating collective bargaining over compensation for USPS employees.” National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando said “NALC totally rejects this attack on hard-working American workers and we are confident that bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress will, too.” American Postal Workers Union President Mark Diamondstein said “No institution is better suited for the ecommerce revolution than the USPS. This is why some on Wall Street and their enablers on this task force want to position the Postal Service for sale to private interests. The recommendations of the task force are not in the public interest.” 

6) National: How many people are locked up in the United States? Here’s a useful chart breaking it down, courtesy of the Prison Policy Initiative

7) National: Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum reports that the charter industry can count on a new national network of school board members in 10 cities to promote the “portfolio model,” “a strategy focused on expanding charter schools as well as giving district schools more autonomy. (…) School Board Partners says it wants to create a ‘national community’ of board members and will offer coaching and consulting services. Emails obtained by Chalkbeat indicate the group is targeting board members in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Stockton.” 

8) National: Writing in In These Times, David Dayen reports JPMorgan Chase Made a Secret $159.5 Million Deal To Finance a Private Prison. “Activist groups such as Make the Road New York have condemned JPMorgan’s financial entanglement with private prisons for years, arguing that the company’s professed commitment to human rights doesn’t fit with bringing a profit motive into locking up prisoners. Today, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change and other groups protested Jamie Dimon at a Goldman Sachs investment conference in Manhattan. ‘When will you stop being a backer of hate?’ yelled one immigrant advocate at Dimon as he sat onstage in the Conrad Hotel ballroom. A banner unfurled in the lobby read ‘Jamie Dimon Loves Private Prisons.’”

9) National: Should contract management training for public officials be stepped up in the U.S.? After recent experiences with public service contractor disasters, this is being done in Britain. Cabinet Office minister David Lidington recently told the Business Services Association that “we are professionalizing our contract management through accreditation of all government contract managers and from today an estimated 30,000 civil servants across central government will have access to new online contract management training.”

10) National: Former TV personality Roland Martin is going on a 10-city speaking tour promoting charter schools, the Donors Capital and Koch-funded California Policy Center says. Martin has been sharply criticized from within the Black community for pushing school privatization.

11) National: Major accounting firms have announced that the Pentagon has flunked its audit. “Its financial records were riddled with so many bookkeeping deficiencies, irregularities, and errors that a reliable audit was simply impossible.” The Nation reports an investigation it has conducted “has uncovered an explanation for the Pentagon’s foot-dragging: For decades, the DoD’s leaders and accountants have been perpetrating a gigantic, unconstitutional accounting fraud, deliberately cooking the books to mislead the Congress and drive the DoD’s budgets ever higher, regardless of military necessity.” 

Nevertheless, William Hartung reports that the arms industry is calling for the Pentagon budget to be increased even more over the coming five years. So how much money that could be used for public services is being lost through contractor fraud at the Pentagon? Potentially a great deal, says Daniel Van Schooten of the Project on Government Oversight. “Because the violations did occur, and went unaddressed for years, an independent investigator concluded the agency’s problems were so systemic and serious that they—the Pentagon’s contract managers, who handle about $5 trillion in contracts—couldn’t be trusted to issue or administer contracts of their own.”

12) Colorado: More headaches are plaguing Denver’s rail ‘public private partnerships.’ “The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is threatening to shut down the Regional Transportation District of Denver’s (RTD) University of Colorado A-Line to Denver International Airport if the agency doesn’t come up with a plan to fix ongoing problems within a year. Among the issues are crossing gates that don’t work properly, according to the FRA. RTD and Denver Transit Partners used new wireless gate-control technology that would meet new federal standards, but FRA officials say it still isn’t working properly, Colorado Public Radio (CPR) reported last week.”

On top of that, the lawyers are costing taxpayers a lot of money. The private partners for the A-line have sued the public Regional Transportation District. “RTD has hired lawyers in Colorado and Minnesota. It cost Next 25 cents per page to print the lawsuit documents from the judicial library in downtown Denver, but how much lawyers are charging to write what’s on those 25 cent pages is not known. We asked RTD how much it is spending on legal costs but were not given an answer.”

13) Florida/National: Badass Teachers Association says “Here’s what Chartwells Foods is passing off as a school lunch here in Panama City, Florida.” They say “this is what privatization leads to, because all these companies care about is profit. They care nothing for the health & well-being of the kids.” Meanwhile, Trump is rolling back standards for school lunches even further

14) GeorgiaDeKalb may keep its troubled private ambulance provider, American Medical Response (AMR) around for another six months, despite widespread concern about the company’s services. “County officials ultimately plan to rebid the emergency transport services contract, but that process is in the early stages and won’t be completed until July at the earliest.” The city of Dunwoody in May “declared an ‘EMS crisis’ after video surfaced of an AMR emergency medical technician punching a handcuffed, 17-year-old patient. (…) In August, AMR agreed to pay DeKalb $600,000 to resolve lingering fines for failing to uphold provisions of the contract. The county has hired a consultant to study emergency transport services and come up with recommendations that could help with the selection of a vendor in 2019. Williams said he hopes a decision will be made by July.” 

15) MarylandThe Baltimore Ravens NFL team has announced they and their players are donating $200,000 to the Baltimore public schools to go toward maintenance of the heating system at Lakewood Elementary School. Baltimore public school students have often suffered in the winter cold because of the dilapidated condition of school heating systems and what critics say is chronic underfunding. “Safety Anthony Levine, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, long snapper Morgan Cox, linebacker Matthew Judon and other Ravens helped fund the installation of a new HVAC system in the school.”

16) Michigan: In addition to the widely reported anti-democratic chicanery of Gov. Rick Snyder (R) with regard to the minimum wage, paid sick leave, gerrymandering, and campaign finance, Snyder and his friends in the legislature have also used their dwindling time in office to ram through a horrible ‘public-private partnership’ deal that will force the Mackinac Bridge Authority to buy electricity from the private, for-profit, energy company Enbridge for the next century. “In fact, the entire scheme was drafted so clandestinely that then-MBA Chair Bill Gnodtke and I, then-Vice Chair and a current member, were told of the plan mere hours before the announcement. To date, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, a statutorily autonomous entity, has never authorized the governor, a state agency, or anyone to negotiate on its behalf in this matter.”

17) MissouriWill the public get to vote on St. Louis airport privatization? “St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer says voters should have a say at the polls before privatization happens. Spencer says the airport is the city’s biggest asset and the management should not be changed in such a fundamental way without a vote of the people. She’s introduced legislation to give residents a chance to vote on the issue before it takes effect. At present, the consultants are being paid by a private organization called Grow Missouri, receiving as much as $800,000 a month.”

18) New Mexico: GEO Group’s Western Region Vice President Paul Laird just penned an op-ed defending the use of for-profit prisons in the state. He was responding to a piece by Robert Weiner and Jared Schwartz in The Santa Fe New Mexican, who said “43.1 percent of the people incarcerated in New Mexico are imprisoned in private prisons, according to the Sentencing Project. That’s a higher percentage than in any other state. (…) In service to their bottom line, private prisons often pressure governments to increase incarceration. Private-prison corporations worked with the pro-privatization American Legislative Exchange Council while it tried to pass ‘mandatory-minimum sentences, three-strikes laws, and truth-in-sentencing,’ policies that increase prison populations. CoreCivic and Geo Group, the two private-prison companies in New Mexico, donated nearly $33,000 to New Mexico politicians during the last year and a half alone. They gave $5,500 to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, the person who oversees the criminal-justice system.”

19) Pennsylvania: Teachers in the Environmental Charter School in Pittsburgh have voted overwhelmingly to form a collective bargaining unit through the American Federation of Teachers. “Teachers want a voice in some of the decision-making processes at the school, such as curriculum development and leadership reviews, along with the securities and protections a union could provide. (…) Randi Weingarten, president for the American Federation of Teachers, said her union now has chapters representing teachers at 227 charter schools nationwide. She tweeted this week from the picket line alongside hundreds of teachers from Chicago’s Acero Schools, who were the nation’s first teachers from a charter school network to go on strike Tuesday.”

20) Pennsylvania: The much-touted Rapid Bridge Replacement Program, a ‘public-private partnership’ between the state government and Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners, is behind schedule. “Instead of 558 small bridges being replaced by the end of the year, more than three dozen now are expected to be finished and open by the end of March, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said. Another six bridges in the program that haven’t been started yet won’t be finished until later in the year.”

21) Tennessee: The Shelby County school board has voted to close a charter school. “Kids were regressing at City University Boys Preparatory,” said Brad Leon, the district’s chief of strategy and performance management. “Students were getting further and further behind.” On the last round of state tests, “12 percent of students at the school scored at grade level in English and 9 percent scored at grade level in math.”

22) TexasA major battle has once again erupted in Houston over school privatization. “Houston Independent School District (HISD) is under threat of having its democratically elected board of trustees replaced with appointed managers…. again. Only this time instead of getting established charter schools to take over four failing schools — Wheatley High School, Kashmere High School, Henry Middle School and Highland Heights Elementary School—it looks like the City of Houston has created their own non-profit to be in the ring to take over the four failing schools. It’s called Coalition for Educational Excellence and Equity in Houston, and it has some questionable board members.”  The Houston Chronicle says “the well-heeled group, however, has few personal ties to the largely impoverished neighborhoods under consideration for partnerships. None of its members have been educators. The fast-approaching February 2019 deadline also gives the coalition little time to build trust in its vision.”

Public education supporters are rallying to speak at tomorrow’s public session of the City Council meeting, and at the Houston ISD meeting on Thursday. They will canvass the community next Saturday.

23) Virginia: The Washington Post has published an in-depth investigative report card on the privately-operated toll lanes on I-66, and offers mixed reviews. “Would most people in the corridor say their commutes have improved? I don’t think so,” said Loudoun County Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run). “This tolling system has just made driving impossible and not affordable.” But Virginia Deputy Transportation Secretary Nick Donohue says “I don’t think you are going to see us declare outright success, but we are seeing positive indicators.”

24) WashingtonSeattle EMTs may go on strike as contract talks with their private, for-profit employer, American Medical Response (AMR), break down. “Union members are seeking better pay and health insurance, said EMT John Moore. Teamsters Local 763 represents about 450 EMTs and paramedics, according to the union. ‘All we’re looking for is just the ability to live and coexist and do our jobs,’ Moore said, citing increasing costs of living in Seattle that he said are pushing EMTs to live farther from the city. ‘People can’t call this a career.’ According to the union, wages for AMR EMTs in Seattle start at $15.54 an hour. In its latest offer, AMR would have increased starting pay to $17 an hour, Brown said. But the union argues that pay would still be just above Seattle’s minimum wage, which is set to increase to $16 for large employers in January.” 

25) Wisconsin: Republican lawmakers have moved to privatize the legal advice they get to defend their laws if they’re challenged in court. “Josh Kaul, the incoming Democratic attorney general, would have less say. The bills would also prevent Mr. Kaul and Mr. Evers from withdrawing the state from a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. Democrats, who focused on health care coverage during their campaigns, promised on the campaign trail that the state would, on their watch, withdraw from the suit.”

26) International: Veteran journalist Diana Johnstone, analyzing the recent waves of protest in France, points to public dissatisfaction with the creeping privatization of the public health sector as a factor. “A significant and recurring complaint concerned the matter of health care. France has long had the best public health program in the world, but this is being steadily undermined to meet the primary need of capital: profit. In the past few years, there has been a growing government campaign to encourage, and finally to oblige people to subscribe to a ‘mutuelle,’ that is, a private health insurance, ostensibly to fill ‘the gaps’ not covered by France’s universal health coverage. The ‘gaps’ can be the 15% that is not covered for ordinary illnesses (grave illnesses are covered 100%), or for medicines taken off the ‘covered’ list, or for dental work, among other things. The ‘gaps’ to fill keep expanding, along with the cost of subscribing to the mutuelle. In reality, this program, sold to the public as modernizing improvement, is a gradual move toward privatization of health care. It is a sneaky method of opening the whole field of public health to international financial capital investment. This gambit has not fooled ordinary people and is high on the list of complaints by the Gilets Jaunes.”

Although the protests began in response to President Macron’s hike in gas taxes (which he said was part of his climate agenda), which the right wing has seized on to trash the movement for carbon reduction and action on climate change, Naomi Klein says “Neoliberal climate action passes on the costs to working people, offers them no better jobs or services + lets big polluters off the hook. People see it as a class war, because it is.” The protesters have demanded an “immediate stop to privatization and the recovery of public property: highways, airports, parking facilities, the national railways…”

27) InternationalThe Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) may be maintaining a much larger investment in the GEO Group than originally reported by the Guardian and Documented. “The most recent regulatory filings show the CPPIB has added to its holdings in Geo Group by 90,000 shares since June – an increase of nearly 50% – bringing the total investment value to $6.1m. It is not known if the fund still holds the shares; the investment board did not respond to multiple requests for comment. (…) ‘I’m very surprised to hear that number is significantly higher than we had previously thought,’ said Emma Pullman of SumOfUs, an advocacy group that started one of two online petitions calling on the fund to divest its holdings. Between them, the two petitions have received more than 45,000 signatures.”

Correction: Last week we mistakenly said CPPIB is a union pension fund. It’s actually controlled by the Canada government, which appoints the directors in consultation with provincial governments. The labour movement doesn’t even have joint trusteeship of the plan. 

28) International: G4S, a for-profit prison company active in the USA, “has belatedly sought to prevent the release of medical records of inmates who say they were tortured” in one of the company’s South African prisons.

29) International: The embattled British government outsourcing giant Interserve is in rescue talks, hardly a year after its major competitor Carillion collapsed, bringing chaos to public services. “The heavily indebted group, which employs 75,000 staff worldwide, said on Sunday night that the talks with lenders would probably leave shareholders nursing big losses as the company drifts into the hands of the banks that have loaned it more than £600m. The Labour party called for a temporary ban on Interserve bidding for public contracts while the discussions take place.”

30) International: The Bretton Woods Project reports that the IMF and World Bank’s support for privatization has been condemned by UN expert Philip Alston. Alston notes the inconsistencies in the IMF’s position on ‘public-private partnerships.’ “Awkwardly for the IMF, these [pro-PPP] findings were published just days after the IMF released a note warning against PPPs, emphasizing that, ‘while in the short term, PPPs may appear cheaper than traditional public investment, over time they can turn out to be more expensive and undermine fiscal sustainability.’” 

31) Think Tanks: For the wonks: A useful outline on risk allocation and compensation events in DBFOM ‘public-private partnerships’ by Patrick Miller of the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels.

Legislative Issues

1) National: “Over my dead body will we provide another nickel for these folks to do what they’re doing,” says Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in response to a $190 million request from the Trump administration for more money to operate immigration detention centers.“DeLauro and other House Democrats have called on the administration to close temporary ‘tent cities’ like the one in Tornillo, Texas.”

2) NationalKeith Wattley, the founder and executive director of UnCommon Law, says that the proposed crime bill is seriously flawed, as it will only affect a small portion of prisoners and “is likely to benefit private prison companies more than the incarcerated population, as it seems primed to increase the use of electronic monitoring systems created by private corporations to track, surveil and control those who have been released from prison and are in home-detention and post-release transitional programs. Indeed, one of those corporations, GEO Group, proudly bills itself as ‘a complete electronic monitoring solutions provider’ and already has 30,000 ‘participants’ in its programs.”

3) National: It looks as if Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his right wing ally Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) will successfully strangle the criminal justice reform bill. The bipartisan bill has major support in the Senate but is being bottled up in committee by Mc Connell, who won’t give it floor time. The New York Times is blaming Trump for his feckless approach to the bill, which it was felt could only succeed with his strong backing. Trump “has reportedly phoned the Senate leader to ask him to take up the bill. But those involved with the reform push say they’ve seen little sign that Mr. Trump is exerting himself or willing to burn any political capital on this issue. The president has been unable even to rouse himself for a Twitter tirade, issuing only a single, cheery tweet on the topic in the weeks since his endorsement.” 

4) National: The incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) says that Democrats are willing to work with President Trump on an infrastructure package, even if a deal on transportation would give the GOP president a win. DeFazio said that Democrats will “have plenty of other places to campaign against the president.” DeFazio was speaking at the “Summit on Infrastructure and Transportation” last Wednesday hosted by The Atlantic. [Video, about three and a half hours] 

5) National: With a new congress about to sweep into DC, Keron Blair and Jay Travis of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) say it’s time for a new focus on public education aimed at full funding of Title I and IDEA, investment in school infrastructure and technology, investment in community schools, and bringing an end to the teacher shortage by increasing wages for educators. 

6) MichiganLeonie Haimson warns of an “Attempted GOP coup! Bill proposed in MI would create a commission mostly appointed by GOP that could close & privatize public schools. decisions would prevail regardless of policies of new Governor, elected MI Bd of Ed or MI Dept of Ed.” 

7) Puerto Rico: In an early sign of the anti-privatization sentiment that will flow through the U.S. Congress as a result of the sweeping victory of the Democratic Party in the recent elections, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-NM), the incoming chair of House Natural Resources Committee, wants to strip powers from the Financial Oversight and Management Board of hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico, wants a federal inspector general for the PREPA electrical utility, and opposes privatization. “That must be clarified as well. I am not in favor of privatization because of the idea of privatizing. The protection of workers and their pensions is essential. The electricity network and day-to-day employment must remain public,” said Grijalva. He also thinks the Cofina creditor settlement is too generous.