Weekly privatization report: Skirt rule slashed at NC charter school | Private prison exec compensation released | 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

  • A North Carolina charter school’s requirement that girls wear skirts has been struck downby a federal judge.
  • Two state-level bills that would loosen rules on “public-private partnerships” in Connecticut have run into resistance.
  • Over the past three years, the private prison corporation GEO Group has paid its executive officers $45,558,172. Meanwhile, in Scotland it’s getting blowbackfor paying asylum seekers just £1 an hour in wages

EDUCATION

1) National: As Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calls for $5 billion in tax credits to promote school privatizationand, as a new report by the Network for Public Education documents, the federal government has wasted millions on charter schools, she tries to zero out federal support for the Special Olympics. Rolling Stone called DeVos’ idea “cartoonishly evil.” The ensuing uproar caused Trump to climb down on Special Olympics defunding. 

In a committee hearing, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) offered a devastating takedown of Trump’s record on predatory for-profit colleges and on his education budget proposals—including on the failed compliance of contractors. The report by NPE’s Carol Burris and Jeff Bryant says “hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars have been awarded to charter schools that never opened or opened and then shut down. In some cases, schools have received federal funding even before securing their charter.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one of several Democrats running for president, tweeted, “We are living under an administration with no humanity.” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) tweeted “Our country needs an Administration that supports public education, not privatization. We need a Secretary of Education who actually has experience in education. We need a president who stands with teachers, has their backs and respects their work.”

2) National/North CarolinaAre charter schools exempt from sex discrimination bans? A federal judge says no. A charter school’s requirement that girls wear skirts has been struck down by Judge Malcolm Howard in the Eastern District of North Carolina as unconstitutional for discriminating against females. “The school has also previously defended its dress code from a legal standpoint on the basis that as a charter school it does not have to comply with the federal Title IX rule against sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funds.”

3) CaliforniaA plan to locate a charter school in the same space as a traditional public school in Carson is driving up tension in the community. More than 90 community members, educators, parents and students turned out on Thursday for an emergency meeting in opposition to the plan. “‘Co-locating will just deplete resources from the existing campus,’ said Albert Ramirez of L.A. Alliance for a New Economy and Reclaim Our Schools L.A.[Catskill schoolteacher Elizabeth Untalan] added that the school makes use of all of its rooms. ‘We’re a thriving school and our resources are needed to serve the needs of our students,’ she said, noting that most of them are at-risk students. ‘We have three computer labs, a science lab and a counseling room and parent center. We have one empty classroom but that is utilized for enrichment. ‘All of the rooms,’ she added, ‘are being used.’ The growth of charter schools—there are now nearly 3,000 in California—were among the issues in last year’s LAUSD teachers’ strike. A co-location proposal was defeated a year ago by opponents at North Hollywood High School in Van Nuys.”

4) CaliforniaA charter school is suing two Santa Barbara County school districts to try and get more money. “Teachers and district leaders in the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District are trying to stay hopeful in the midst of litigation and potential bankruptcy. Olive Grove Charter Schools is asking the district for more than $400,000 for this school year. ‘We’ve inquired of both Olive Grove and the California Department of Education and have not received the level of detail that we asked for, so it is our hope through the discovery process as we go to court, we’ll have access to those records to verify those attendance records and hopefully have something we believe will be a little more accurate,’ explained Superintendent Scott Cory.”

5) California: LA Times correspondent Anna M. Phillips assesses the prospects of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s efforts to rein in charter schools. “How far Newsom will go to tighten regulation of charters remains to be seen, however—and there’s reason to be cautious in predicting legislative support. For 27 years, the teachers union and pro-charter advocates have been fighting a custody battle over California’s public schoolchildren and the state funding that follows them. Although the California Teachers Assn. and the California Charter Schools Assn. insist that they are willing to negotiate with each other, there has been scant evidence of cooperation. Both organizations have spent millions to sway public opinion far beyond Sacramento. In charter-packed L.A. and Oakland, school board elections have become proxy wars.” Newsom “has requested a new task force to study the fiscal impact of charter schools on school districts. It’s supposed to report back in July.” 

6) California: Anna Phillips also did a deep dive on how a couple worked charter school regulations to make millions. “The Parkers have cast themselves as selfless philanthropists, telling the California Board of Education that they have ‘devoted all of our lives to the education of other people’s children, committed many millions of our own dollars directly to that particular purpose, with no gain directly to us.’ But the couple have, in fact, made millions from their charter schools. Financial records show the Parkers’ schools have paid more than $800,000 annually to rent buildings the couple own. The charters have contracted out services to the Parkers’ nonprofits and companies and paid Clark Parker generous consulting fees, all with taxpayer money, a Times investigation found.”

7) District of Columbia: Writing in the Washington Post, Chioma Oruh and LaJoy Johnson-Law say parents must know how D.C.’s charter schools spend public money. “That’s why the D.C. Council must seriously consider the bill proposed in mid-March by council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) that would hold charter schools to the same level of transparency as traditional, neighborhood schools. As parents of children in the D.C. public school system, we find the lack of transparency deeply troubling. We want our children to learn by example, and silencing parent and public voices betrays democracy. When we don’t know how money is being spent and what is and what isn’t being prioritized, we can’t advocate alongside teachers and administrators for our children.”

8) Florida: Last week Pastors for Florida Children held a prayer rally and press conference arguing against private school vouchers and for a “pro-student budget” and for full funding of public schools.  They are demanding that Florida legislators “say NO to the forces of privatization and charterization.” See Pastor Charles Foster Johnson’s address to the Network for Public Education in October 2017. [Video, about 42 minutes]

9) Florida: After reports of a violent threat going unaddressed by administrators, parents are demanding answers from a Hillsborough County charter school. “ABC Action News reporter Ryan Smith confirmed that school officials neglected to alert law enforcement or parents about the incident. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office only learned about it the next day when the school resource officer notified them. Investigators then uncovered that [a] student made violent threats, something parents say principal Marisa Martinez denied in an email, text, and voice message sent out on March 13.”

10) Georgia: Diane Ravitch points us to Tom Ultican’s explanation of how the Atlanta school board came to vote for privatization by adopting a “System of Excellent Schools.’” Ultican says “that is Atlanta’s euphemistic name for the portfolio district model which systematically ends democratic governance of public schools. The portfolio model was a response to John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s 1990 book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, which claimed that poor academic performance was ‘one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.’” The model has been pushed on Atlanta by a number of what he calls “compradors” from other cities funded by organization such as the Walton Family Foundation. See also Ultican’s “A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement.”

11) IllinoisA pro-charter school group has thrown big money into Chicago aldermanic races. “The Action Independent Committee of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools spent less than $30,000 on materials supporting only two aldermanic campaigns in 2015. This year, that spending has jumped to more than $800,000 for nine candidates.”

12) Indiana: Dylan Peers McCoy of Chalkbeat explains how a state law that forces school districts to sell unused properties to charter school operators for a dollar could cost Indianapolis Public Schools $6-8 million. “A bill making its way through the state legislature would change the $1 law — potentially giving the district an easier route to selling the property, but one in which charter schools would still be able to use the building. (…) At the same time the district is lobbying lawmakers to change the rules governing the sale of school buildings generally, it is also soliciting feedback from the community about the future use of this building in particular. At the meeting Tuesday, it sought input from residents on the use of the site, and it has posted a survey on its website.” 

13) KansasTwo charter schools in Kansas City have announced they are closing at the end of the academic year, pitching children, parents, teachers and staffers into uncertainty. “The Kansas City Neighborhood Academy, sponsored by the Kansas City Public School District, is closing due to low enrollment. Meanwhile, Pathway Academy, sponsored by the Missouri Charter Public School Commission, is closing due to low student performance and declining enrollment.”

14) NevadaLawmakers have introduced a bill to eradicate the charter school initiative launched by Republicans in 2015. “SB 321, sponsored by four Democratic senators, would abolish the Achievement School District, which allows charter operators to either take over existing underperforming public schools or open as nearby competition to them. (…) Clark County School District Trustee Linda Young said no schools in Historic West Las Vegas want charter schools. ‘Teachers in potentially targeted schools were uncertain about their job status, so many put in transfer requests and left these schools,’ she said. ‘It was chaotic.’”

15) New Jersey: In a thoroughgoing five part series, North Jersey Record reporters Jean Rimbach and Abbott Koloff investigated how millions of tax dollars have disappeared into NJ’s flawed charter school experiment. “‘We’re putting a lot of public dollars into the acquisition of assets for private hands,’ said Bruce Baker, a Rutgers University professor and a nationally recognized expert on education financing. ‘All of these crazy, funky, convoluted relationships and kind of specially crafted, third-party organizations are really all a function of just bad policy. We left these organizations to come up with a way to gain access to properties and to retrofit and renovate urban facilities in expensive areas,’ he added. ‘And it costs a lot of money, so they had to get creative.’ What that means is that millions of your tax dollars are being siphoned off by private interests to pay for buildings—often without your knowledge—that you don’t own.” 

16) New Jersey: Residents and school staff spoke out strongly at a public meeting last week against plans by the Middletown Public School District to outsource its paraprofessional staff. “One such paraprofessional, Kristen, has worked at New Monmouth Elementary School for 15 years, said the District could just as easily solve their staffing problem with its own paraprofessionals, if they were willing to offer them better pay. ‘We were told that if we came in to fill that need, that we would be paid at (the lower substitute teacher pay) rate,’ Kristen said. ‘That was a mistake. I will not work for $7 an hour less than what I should be getting. We got a lot of good people here, trained people, that will fill your spots. Pay us our rate. Solve it (meaning your problem) by paying us what we deserve.’”

17) Louisiana: A public charter school board is hiring an outside investigator to look into allegations of grade-fixing and falsifying of public board records. “The charter school organization is already under fire for how it handled allegations of grade-fixing at one of its three schools, Kennedy High School. At a contentious public board meeting Thursday night, the board heard from the whistleblower who said he was fired for reporting manual grade changes lifting F’s to D’s for some students and not others in classes for a teacher who was no longer at Kennedy.”

18) Tennessee/National: Education secretary Betsy DeVos is to join pro-privatization Gov. Bill Lee (R) for a discussion on education policy at a charter school today. The visit comes “as Lee pushes an education savings account program for Tennessee, more money for charter school facilities and a new way for charter schools to seek authorization to open. One of the most controversial pieces of legislation before the Tennessee General Assembly this year is Lee’s proposal to create an education savings account program. The House Education Committee approved the plan last week. The proposal would set aside $75 million over the next three years to begin the education savings accounts.” 

19) Wisconsin: A new report shows that voucher and charter schools will reduce aid to public schools by nearly $193 million. “Pope released the report as legislators prepare to begin revising Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget. The plan calls for capping voucher enrollment in 2021 and eliminating an income tax deduction for private school tuition.” For more on the impact of voucher programs on Wisconsin communities, see this piece by Jane Parish Yang, James Bowman, and Nancy Jones in USA Today. 

20) International: In February 2019 the Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of states to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education were adopted in Côte d’Ivoire following a three-year participatory consultation and drafting process. You can read about them here.

INFRASTRUCTURE

21) Connecticut: Two bills by Gov. Lamont (D) that would loosen rules on “public-private partnerships” have run into resistance. “Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO [and executive director of AFSCME Council 4], criticized the measure for proposing to eliminate the limit of public-private partnerships. Current law limits it to five projects between Oct. 1, 2011, and Jan. 1, 2020. He criticized the measure for removing limits on types of projects that can be considered. They currently extend to early child care, health and housing facilities and transportation projects. Lamont’s bill also would transfer authorization for new projects to the governor from the legislature, which Luciano criticized. He said the legislature “took careful and deliberate steps” to enact policies that are transparent and subject to oversight of state contracting and procurement following then-Gov. John Rowland’s criminal conviction for accepting gifts from contractors and business executives.” 

22) Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto vows to support a ban on water privatization, including ‘public-private partnerships.’ @LaurenLJacobs of the Partnership for Working Families says “VICTORY: @PghUNITED and its partners have beat back the forces of privatization. They show how #wemakethiscity for the needs and hopes of residents. Thank you to Mayor @billpeduto for defending Pittsburgh’s public goods. @P4WF.”

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND IMMIGRATION

23) National: Two dozen migrants held at an ICE-contracted facility run for profit by LaSalle Corrections have continued a hunger strike “to protest their detention as many wait for asylum claims to be processed in the U.S. Immigrant advocates told The Associated Press that 150 people began the strike last week, but government officials say only 24 have consistently denied food. The strikers at River Correctional Center in Ferriday, La., say they are upset over being denied bond and the lack of attention they say their cases get.” LaSalle is facing a lawsuit in Texas over its role in the death of an inmate and use of excessive force.

24) National: The GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies, has released its proxy statement covering the year 2018. George Zoley, GEO’s CEO and board chair, was paid total compensation of $6,963,460. His compensation over the past three years was $21,804,114. Compensation of the top five officers, including Zoley, was $14,600,315 in 2018 (total of comp figures p. 36). Over the past three years, the officers were paid $45,558,172.

The GEO Group is being targeted for “paying asylum seekers in Scotland just £1 an hour in wages,” and in the U.S., “a Daily Beast investigation found that in 2018 alone, for-profit immigration detention was a nearly $1 billion industry underwritten by taxpayers and beset by problems that include suicide, minimal oversight, and what immigration advocates say uncomfortably resembles slave labor.”

25) National: The REITs are feeling the heat, and hinting they are looking at coming elections. A interesting note can be found in Highlands REIT, Inc.’s new 10-K for 2018. The company leases a Hudson, Colorado correctional facility to GEO Group expiring in 2020. (see p. 27). Highlands notes “public resistance to privatization of correctional facilities could negatively impact our tenants at such facilities, which could have an adverse impact on our business, financial condition or results of operations. The management and operation of correctional facilities by private entities has not achieved complete acceptance by either government agencies or the public. (…) In addition, the movement toward privatization of such facilities has encountered resistance from groups, such as labor unions, that believe that correctional facilities should only be operated by governmental agencies. Changes in governing political parties could also result in significant changes to previously established views of privatization. Increased public resistance to the privatization of correctional facility could have a material adverse effect on our tenants who operate in this industry, which could adversely impact the value of our correctional facility asset, our ability to re-lease such asset upon expiration of the existing lease term and our results of operations.” (pp. 11-12). A similar statement can be found in CoreCivic’s recently released 10-K (p. 33).

26) National: Are real estate tax incentives (e.g., for REITs such as the GEO Group and CoreCivic) skewed to incentivize the wrong types of real estate by feeding “a growing problem in real estate: too many too-big houses”?

27) California: A bill, AB32, has been introduced that would put an end to private prisons in the state. “Existing law establishes the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and sets forth its powers and duties regarding the administration of correctional facilities and the care and custody of inmates. Existing law, until January 1, 2020, authorizes the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to enter into one or more agreements with private entities to obtain secure housing capacity in the state or in another state, upon terms and conditions deemed necessary and appropriate to the secretary. Existing law, until January 1, 2020, authorizes the secretary to enter into agreements for the transfer of prisoners to, or placement of prisoners in, community correctional centers, and to enter into contracts to provide housing, sustenance, and supervision for inmates placed in community correctional centers. This bill, on or after January 1, 2020, would prohibit the department from entering into or renewing a contract with a private, for-profit prison to incarcerate state prison inmates. The bill would also prohibit, after January 1, 2028, a state prison inmate or other person under the jurisdiction of the department from being incarcerated in a private, for-profit prison facility.” The bill is now in the Committee for Public Safety, which voted 6-0 to approve it in an initial action. 

28) Idaho: The state is looking to negotiate a new contract with a private, for-profit prison companies, but its bad experiences in the past are complicating the picture. The current contract is with GEO Group, pays $69.95 per inmate per day. “In a series of reports, BW/Idaho Press also uncovered a string of concerns at the GEO-owned Eagle Pass Correctional Facility in Texas, where the majority of Idaho’s out-of-state inmates remain. Those included leaking roofs, inadequate visitation facilities, a long list of health concerns and, in early January, the death of an Idaho inmate. Following the Jan. 6 death of inmate Kim Taylor, a post-mortem investigation into the incident concluded that ‘medical response is where the problem lies,’ and that ‘there appears to be a deficit in critical thinking skills’ in that area at the Eagle Pass facility.

“BW/Idaho Press also reported that in the existing agreement, The GEO Group had been selecting those deemed ‘low maintenance’ Idaho inmates. A number those offenders, who had also been productive employees via the Idaho Correctional Industries program when they were housed in Idaho, lost opportunities when they were transferred to Texas. ‘It was a bit of a slap in the face to go from doing something meaningful to this nonsense,’ one inmate who had been transferred to the GEO facility told BW/Idaho Press. ‘There were guys working in the dog-training program in the Idaho facility, guys building furniture at the Idaho facility and now, they’re here doing next to nothing.’” 

29) Nevada: A bill seeking to ban private prisons has passed a legislative hurdle. AB183  requires that “the core correctional services at each such prison or jail must be performed only by employees of the State or a local government, as applicable, and not by a private entity.” An additional section tightens up rules for outsourcing where necessary, for sending inmates out of state, and requires a report back on its performance to the Director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau for transmittal to the 38 Legislative Commission. 

The bill is sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, “who told lawmakers earlier this month the state has no private-run prisons at the moment. She says the state once did and experienced ‘negative consequences.’ Several Republican lawmakers voted against the measure. The same committee on Friday passed a separate measure that would ban forced human microchipping.”

PUBLIC SERVICES

30) National: A very content-rich panel discussion on VA privatization vs. a single payer system was held at the University of Washington a couple of weeks ago. Panelists included Suzanne Gordon, author of Wounds of Warand a Senior Policy Fellow at the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute. [Video, about an hour and 40 minutes].         

31) Colorado: Greeley is caught up in both a transition of outsourced trash collection from Northern Colorado Disposal to Waste Management, and in a crisis over recycling. “They used to pay us for it, and then they quit paying us for it, and now they charge us for it,” Bunting said. The Greeley Tribune urges public officials to stop avoiding the issue.

32) New JerseyCape May County is bringing its recycling program in-house. “The capital budget for the year contains $400,000 for the purchase of two trucks and other heavy equipment. Manpower and equipment would be allocated to an in-house process that the city believes is more economical than outsourcing in a recycling industry roiled by change.” 

33) International: As Australia comes to grips with the failure of ‘public-private partnerships’ in its hospital sector, academic researchers say profit-seeking is “distorting” patient-health service provider relations. “Our main objection to investor-owned care is not that it wastes taxpayers’ money, nor even that it causes modest decrements in quality. The most serious problem with such care is that it embodies a new value system that severs the communal roots and Samaritan traditions of hospitals, makes doctors and nurses the instruments of investors, and views patients as commodities.”

OTHER

34) NationalWe now have a number for how much it would cost to have effective public oversight of aircraft safety instead of just leaving it to the manufacturers themselves. “The F.A.A. would need 10,000 more employees and $1.8 billion for its certification offices.” Industry still thinks the present system is fine, the New York Times reports: “A Boeing official cautioned against drawing any definite conclusions until more is known. ‘In general, the process has worked and continues to work, and we see no reason to overhaul the process,’ this official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the investigations.” 

But Amit Narang, the regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, says corporate self-regulation is failing, and New York magazine had a long piece yesterday on how the “Boeing crashes highlight the high costs of cheap government.” Phil Mattera of Good Jobs First says, “The idea that corporations should be allowed to oversee themselves is unwise in general but particularly wrong-headed when it comes to a company like Boeing. (…) Shamed into action, the FAA is now behaving more like a real regulator again. Yet this too is part of the typical scenario: when outrage about a deadly incident escalates, an agency acts tough. But this rarely lasts. Once the uproar dies down, the regulators return to their comfortable relationship with the regulated, and the public is once again put at risk.”

35) Hawaii: Religious exemptions against vaccination in private and charter schools vary, the Tribune-Herald reports. “At Connections New Century Public Charter School, 14 percent of its 349 students requested a religious exemption and 0.3 percent have a medical exemption. Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School, which has 339 students, has a religious exemption rate of 13.3 percent, and Malamalama Waldorf School/Kinderhale, a private school with a student enrollment of 95, has 46.3 percent religious exemption rate.”