Weekly privatization report: Public education attacked in Florida | Indianapolis leaves private prison behind | 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

EDUCATION

1) National/Florida: In perhaps the most audacious move to expand school voucher programs in the country, Florida Republicans have introduced two bills that would channel hundreds of millions of dollars into private religious and charter schools. The money “would be diverted to private schools—an idea that Jeb Bush championed when he was governor, only to have it stall in the courts. But with a much more conservative state Supreme Court and a Legislature dominated by fellow Republicans, there is little to stop [Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)] from completing Bush’s mission.” 

State Sen. Perry E. Thurston Jr. (D) says the school privatization policy “flies in the face of our state’s constitution and common sense.” Americans United for Separation of Church and State has sent a letter to the heads of the Senate committee considering one of the bills (SB 7070), saying, “In addition to the fact that voucher programs simply don’t work, vouchers should be rejected because they violate the Florida Constitution. Public funds should fund public schools, not private, mostly religious, schools.”

The Tampa Bay Times has offered a dozen reasons why the proposed voucher laws are “absolutely the wrong approach.” South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Randy Schultz says “Republicans want to turbocharge [the] privatization of Florida public schools,” and points out that “the Legislature allows voucher schools to play by different rules. For starters, the roughly 1,800 voucher schools don’t need to hire certified teachers. They don’t need even a high school diploma. (…) Last October, the Orlando Sentinel published “Schools Without Rules,” its examination of voucher schools. The report underscored the lack of accountability. Example: State law limits how many voucher schools regulators can visit each year. In 2015, the state visited just 27. Only four complied with the few rules that apply.” The plans has long been in the works, says Schultz. “Last year, then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he wanted to ‘voucherize the entire system’ of public schools. Now Corcoran is commissioner of education.”

The Florida Education Association Action Center points out that “the bill has at least one more stop before it goes to the full Senate for a vote. At some point SB 7070 will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee; as soon as we have a date we’ll let you know.” Last week’s subcommittee hearings, during which public education supporters forcefully spoke out, can be viewed here (video, about 2 hours). 

Pastors for Florida Children will be participating in a rally, organizational lunch, and information session in Tallahassee tomorrow to oppose the privatization of public education through vouchers. Diane Ravitch says, “Florida Parents: Recruit you pastor, your priest, your rabbi, your minister, to save public schools from DeSantis, Jeb, DeVos.” 

2) NationalIn the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler calls for limiting charter school growth. Writing in the Palm Beach Post, Mohler says growth needs to be curtailed “because they’re draining funds from already-starved public school districts. In cities such as Chicago and Oakland, Calif., they’re even beginning to threaten the existence of neighborhood schools, which, unlike charter schools, are guaranteed to all students by right. We should listen to the teachers who’ve been saying this loud and clear in recent months, from Los Angeles to West Virginia. Nationwide, funding for public education is drying up, especially in the wake of the Great Recession. Total state and local K-12 funding per student is still well below what it was before 2008.”

3) Arizona: Basis Charter schools, which less than a year ago was the subject of gushing coverage by CBS amid allegations it was using its publically-backed Arizona operation to raise funding for its expansion elsewhereis nearly $44 million in the red, says a think tank. “If a school or school system fails to show meaningful improvement by the end of the year, it could face consequences as serious as losing its charter, depending on the case, [Charles Tack, the executive director of the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools] said. [Jim Hall], the Phoenix-based charter watchdog’s founder, said his report and the 2018 audit should be wake-up calls for BASIS administrators.” See the reports by Arizonans for Charter School Accountability.

4) California: East Palo Alto is a microcosm of multiple crises caused by charter school growth. “Over the past four years, Ravenswood has lost more than 1,000 students — nearly one-third of its enrollment—faced fiscal insolvency, discussed closing a school to make room for the growing Kipp and is without a permanent superintendent — all issues that are intertwined with, though not exclusively related to, charter-school growth in East Palo Alto. The district—whose enrollment in its neighborhood schools this year was 2,395 students—is also losing students to other schools, both private and public, including through the longtime Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP). Students also are moving out of the area when their families can no longer keep up with the cost of living in East Palo Alto.” 

5) California: Tens of thousands of public sector workers in the University of California system struck last week, aiming at a fair contract and pushing back against privatization. Writing in Jacobin, Meagan Day says “while pickets, protests, and strikes by workers in the university system haven’t gotten much attention in the past, it’s possible that residents in these cities and throughout California will take special notice this time. Hopefully more than a few will see the connections between the national teachers’ strike wave and the fightback by university workers. Both are responses to unfair working conditions that spring from same sources: austerity and privatization in public education.” Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who joined the picket line in Los Angeles, said “I wish I could tell you that here at the university it is unique that the entity is trying to privatize and outsource jobs.”

6) Florida: 1,500 school staff in Hillsborough are fighting back against outsourcing. But columnist Joe Henderson says “outsourcing these services could cause many more problems than it solves. (…) The district has gone down this subcontracting road before, most recently with substitute teachers. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Kelly Services, which won that contract, had sent teachers into classrooms who fell asleep on the job, berated or struck students, and made inappropriate and sometimes vulgar comments. Sub teachers parachute in for a day or two and can bounce from school to school. It’s a paycheck, not an allegiance. It’s different with custodians. They are at a school every day. They are another set of eyes and ears that can stop a problem before it escalates out of control. They are part of the family. They feel more attachment to a school than someone sent in from the outside to do a gig.” 

7) Florida: Florida House member Anna Eskamani (D) raises the issue ofstructurally unsound and unsafe charter school facilities. “Today, the Florida Building Code requires traditional public schools to meet certain safety standards, but some other schools that accept taxpayer dollars don’t need to adhere to these requirements. This means that some private schools and some charter schools are offering kids unsafe playgrounds, deficient air conditioning systems and equipment prone to electrical and mechanical malfunctions. The potential risks are of course further exposed during a natural disaster.  (…)  This is particularly startling given that Florida is one of the five states most likely to be hit by a natural disaster. Despite the risks, there is currently no law in Florida to ensure that the schools our children attend every day are structurally sound. This has to change, and we plan on doing so through the Students’ Bill of Rights.”

8) Indiana: An Indianapolis charter school announced on Thursday that it will be closing after years of poor performance and dwindling enrollment. “Lighthouse East is part of Lighthouse Academies, a network of public charter schools in New York, Indiana and Arkansas. Another Indianapolis location, Lighthouse South, will remain open. The group also has schools in East Chicago and Gary.” 

9) Massachusetts: Community members in New Bedford gathered outside H.A. Kempton School to protest an agreement between the school district and a charter school operator. “The New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools and the group’s co-chair, Ricardo Rosa, were responsible for the Saturday gathering, as well as the sea of red shirts that many of the demonstrators—including one canine—donned, which read ‘working to strengthen our public schools.’ In the eyes of Rosa and many of his peers, the Alma del Mar takeover of the Kempton School building is a blatant play at weakening those same public schools that the group aims to protect. At the rally, people held signs that read messages like ‘democracy dismissed’ and ‘charter schools, saving the poor by serving the rich.’”

10) Massachusetts: In a narrow vote, the Worcester school committee has decided to look into outsourcing school bus services. “School officials appear to be split, however, on whether transitioning to a self-run system will be possible once that contract with Durham ends next year. Superintendent Maureen Binienda has said she is not in favor of going that route, arguing it would distract from the district’s other work and create new and potentially burdensome liabilities for the school system. But a report put out by her administration earlier this month also said the district could save $36 million over 10 years by running its own busing service.” 

11) North Carolina: Two Wake County state senators are calling for a moratorium on charter school approvals. “North Carolina continues to approve new charter schools with little oversight into how they’re using tax dollars and whether they’re actually serving students and the local community. Senate Bill 247 would address those concerns, Sens. Dan Blue, D-Wake, and Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, said Wednesday, by halting any new or revised charters until a legislative committee could study the performance of existing charter schools.” 

12) North Carolina: Wilmington parents are calling for the resignation of the head of a charter school, citing mismanagement. “Speaking during the comment period, parents alleged Getz is ‘grossly under-qualified’ for her position as Head of Schools, and her leadership concerns them. Donovan Davis, a parent of a former CPA student, told WECT he and his wife withdrew their son after they say he was verbally abused and physically threatened. ‘Many incidences happened that were not addressed that put my children’s safety at risk,’ he said. ‘So with eight weeks left in the school year, my wife and I couldn’t take it anymore.’” 

13) Pennsylvania: Taxpayers are on the hook for a charter school fiasco in Philadelphia. “One of the city’s charter-school operators has moved money from one account to another without explanation: no loan agreements, no signatures — “a shell game,” in the words of a Philadelphia School District auditor. Now the School District is shelling out money to try to pull two charters from Aspira—whose school bills are paid by the district—in a legal fight that could end up costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. ‘It’s really the district paying for both sides, which is kind of insane,’ said Temple University law professor Susan DeJarnatt. ‘Welcome to Pennsylvania charter school law,’ said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. ‘It’s unbelievable.’”

14) Pennsylvania: Amid pushback from parents and staff, the Southmoreland School Board has voted to outsource employees for the district’s autistic program to ESS Support Services, LLC, “at a discounted rate to the school district of $16.50 per hour per employee.” The Herald-Standard reports that “Stephanie Bann, one of the para-professionals who has been the aide for one special needs student for the last two years, said she knows the needs of that child almost as well as she knows the needs of her own children. ‘These kids will be losing a person they trust,’ she said, adding that she has worked for this company before and their wages and high cost for insurance makes taking a job with them not feasible. ‘I figured out after taxes and insurances are taken out of my pay check, I will be bringing home just $190 a week,’ Bann said, adding that she gets a life sustaining medicine that costs $250 a month and the insurance from the new company would pay just $25 of that cost. ‘I can’t work for over 40-hours a week and make less than $200 a week with terrible insurance,’ she said. ‘I’m telling you that 99 percent of us will not be staying. You cannot force us to work for an outside company.’”

15) Pennsylvania: The Kiski Area School District wants to outsource management of its food services department. The contract must be approved by the state education department. “Administration of that department is the only change, [Business Manager Peggy Gillespie] said. ‘What we are talking about is contracting the administration of the food-service fund,’ Gillespie said. ‘We are not talking about contracting for secretarial services or (new) food service employees.’”

16) Tennessee: House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart has called a proposed charter school commission a “crazy charter rubber-stamp authorizer,” The Daily Memphian reports. “‘The State Board of Education has not, to the great disappointment of charter zealots, rubber-stamped every appeal, and so now the administration plans to create a pro-charter board designed to proliferate charters in every county in this state,’ Stewart said. He contends the charter legislation poses ‘danger’ to every school board in the state because even though charter schools may take a portion of students from traditional public schools, the local school system still keeps the overhead cost of running each school.”

17) TennesseeBeverly Miller, Assistant Director of Schools for Administration of the Greeneville City Schools says, “The $75 MILLION that @GovBillLee is spending on the privatization of PUBLIC education would sure go a long way to help FUND existing schools and programs.”

18) Texas: As the May 4 school board elections in Fort Worth approach, school cafeteria workers are worried about a potential food service outsourcing contract. “The United Educators Association, which represents about 25,000 teachers and school employees, raised the issue with candidates recently. At least one school board member has questioned the effort on social media in recent days. ‘I spoke at Saturday’s LULAC meeting at Nueva Leon about FWISD’s proposed outsourcing of our breakfast and lunch services to a private company,’ Ann Sutherland stated on a Facebook post. ‘I don’t know why Dr. Scribner is supporting this, as it would not only weaken our control of our children’s nutrition but also affect out 800 cafeteria workers, most of whom are Hispanic women.’” 

INFRASTRUCTURE

19) National/Colorado: The Bond Buyer reports that “an element of risk” has surfaced in the Denver Airport ‘public-private partnership’ deal. “A potential 10-month delay in the $650 million redevelopment of Denver International Airport’s main terminal highlights some of the key risks of a public-private partnership.” Denver issued $2.3 billion of bonds for the project, and the ratings of these bonds may be in jeopardy. “If the project is unable to receive adequate schedule relief and cost compensation from the City and County of Denver, and its liquidity cannot support delays in construction or cost overruns, it could lead to a rating downgrade,” says an S&P lead analyst. [Sub required]

The Denver problem has called into question the supposedly superior ability of P3 consortia vs. public officials to manage construction risk, which has become a reflexive assumption among many P3 boosters.

20) National: On April 15, the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board staff will give its annual update, including on ‘public-private partnerships’ implementation. Register by April 10. At the GAO office, 441 G St NW, Washington, DC, 8:30 – 12:15.

21) Florida: Virgin Trains USA is asking for even more Private Activity Bonds to be offered to finance its planned South Florida to Miami higher-speed passenger train. The company is facing opposition “primarily from government leaders and private citizens in Indian River County. At the FDFC meeting in Orlando on March 6, they challenged the company’s financial and ridership projections and sought to warn state officials that if the company were to financially fail the state of Florida might be put in a position to consider a bailout.”

22) Illinois: State lawmakers are considering a bill that “would force municipalities to get approval from voters before selling public assets like water and wastewater treatment plants to private companies.” The bill is HB2392. Cole Lauterbach of the Illinois News Network reports that “the bill would be effective immediately upon enactment into law. If Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the bill before the city of Alton can complete the pending sale of its wastewater treatment plant to Illinois American Water in June, the municipality could be forced to put it on hold and seek approval from local residents and residents in neighboring municipalities that use the public wastewater system.” 

State Rep. John Connor (D-Crest Hill), sponsor of the bill, said “five years ago, private water companies pushed a bill that let them increase rates on their own customers to buy more public water systems. (…) Last year, they extended that bill another 10 years. And who’s paying for them to buy these public water systems?  You are, if you are on a private water system. I just think that in a democracy they should get permission from most of the people affected first.” The consumer advocacy group Citizens Utility Board also supports the legislation. 

23) Indiana: Indiana American Water customers could see their rates climb nearly 8 percent. “The settlement parties included the company, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, the Indiana Community Action Association, industrial customers, municipal governments and Sullivan-Vigo Water Corp. ‘It provides a reasonable balance needed for safe, dependable water and fair rates to cover the costs,’ said Bill Fine, Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor.” 

24) Kentucky: As the Louisville city council looks to raise some fast cash by privatizing its parking facilities, Joe Sonka of Insider Louisville cautions that “other cities show potential risks.” Sonka writes, “over the past decade, some cities facing a budget crisis found such quick cash too good to pass up but didn’t quite get what they expected. The face of ‘What Not To Do’ when it comes to parking privatization no doubt belongs to Chicago, which in 2008 made a deal that currently lives in political infamy. In Chicago’s deal, it sold all of the city’s parking meters to a foreign company in a 75-year deal, landing a $1.2 billion lump sum to go toward a massive budget shortfall related to rising public pension obligations. However, the city quickly burned through that money, while the company more than doubled parking rates and kept 100 percent of that revenue.”

25) Missouri: Several public meetings were held to discuss St. Louis airport privatization. This thread contains some materials and video from citizens at the January 27 meeting. For more check out Sunshine in STL 24-7, @GerryConnolly88.

26) New JerseyAmerican Water Works has signed a Community Investment Agreement with Mayor Frank Moran and the City of Camden. “This agreement will help establish a comprehensive plan of community education and outreach, job training programs and hiring initiatives to benefit residents, business, and organizations throughout the city,” the company reported. 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND IMMIGRATION

27) National: The real estate press is tracking CoreCivic’s maneuvers as the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) “faces image concerns.” But National Real Estate Investor still notes that “while CoreCivic has undertaken ways to diversify its portfolio, the REIT isn’t taking its eye off its main revenue source—corrections and detention facilities that it owns or manages. CoreCivic posted nearly $1.84 billion in revenue in 2018, up from almost $1.77 billion in 2017. More than 90 percent of last year’s revenue came from what the REIT dubs its ‘safety’ business, made up of corrections and detention facilities.”

28) National: Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest follows the tracks of a secretive industry that is turning Trump’s immigration crackdown into a global cash cow. “The federal government spends over $8 million every day on immigrant detention, much of which goes to private prison corporations to operate detention centers. That money also goes to paying for services, like food and health care — which is where private equity firms come in. An increasingly complex web of firms and investors now own companies providing these services. American Securities owns Global Tel Link, which provides phones for detention centers in California and New Mexico. H.I.G. Capital owns Wellpath, which provides health care in three detention centers.”

29) National: Private prison stocks are reeling from big banks’ decisions to stop providing financing, Derek Seidman of LittleSis’ Eyes on the Ties reports. “One striking thing about Moody’s comment is its implicit acknowledgment of the role of activist pressure in shaping JPMorgan’s decision.”

30) National: CoreCivic boss Damon Hininger cashed in some chips on March 1, before the JPMorgan decision to cut financing ties to private prison companies.

31) National: “The chain reaction in big banks stepping away from private prison companies is doing major damage to Geo Group and CoreCivic,” says Javier H. Valdes of Make the Road New York. “Immigrant communities and our allies are going to continue to pressure all banks to withdraw from this morally bankrupt industry, which has a tragic record of violating the rights of our loved ones.”

32) National/California: After months of speculation, the feds have announced that GEO Group’s Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield will stay open for at least another year, but without a local government buy-in. “Even though the GEO Group and ICE found a way to create a new contract, some question the legality of it. ‘That’s sort of what we’ve been trying to figure out, how they were able to enter into this direct contract the way that they did,’ says Liz Martinez, director of advocacy and communications at Freedom for Immigrants, a Los Angeles-based organization focused on ending immigration detention. The group also helped draft SB-29.” 

33) California: Jackie Lacey, the Los Angeles County district attorney, writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that “private prisons are archaic and cruel. California needs to stop using them.” Lacey says “GEO Group and CoreCivic are also key partners in President Trump’s inhumane immigration agenda, as both operate detention centers throughout the country. Our state is unfortunately one of the top revenue-producing states for both companies, and state lawmakers should do everything they can to divorce California from this toxic relationship. That shouldn’t be terribly difficult.” 

34) California: The California Public Employees Retirement System cut its holdings in CoreCivic by 5.8% during the fourth quarter of 2018. 

35) Hawaii: Governor Ige (D) has given a green light for his staff to start talking privatization of prisons and building a new detention center on O’ahu.

36) IndianaIndianapolis is ditching CoreCivic and will take a new jail and prison complex in-house, Bloomberg reports. “When the city heads to Wall Street Thursday to borrow $610 million to build a jail and criminal justice complex on the site of an old coking factory, it’s betting it can better house criminals and rehabilitate them on its own. That means CoreCivic Inc., which has run a Marion County jail for two decades, will lose the contract when the new one opens.” Zach Adamson, vice president of the council that oversees the consolidated government of Indianapolis and Marion County, says “the idea that there would be profit to be made through the imprisonment of our neighbors is something that’s abhorrent to a number of people—many of our constituents cannot process that. Criminal justice is not getting better as long as our primary concern is looking to cut corners and save costs.”

37) Kansas/National: Madison Pauley of Mother Jones explains why “Kansas is locked into a deal that has proven millions of dollars more expensive than it had planned—and that promises to breathe new life into CoreCivic and the troubled private prison industry.” 

38) New York: The U.S. Bureau of Prisons is looking at a possible deal with the GEO Group  to extend the company’s contract to operate a private detention facility in New York City. “A request for proposals suggests that a new contract will be for an initial two-year period with four, two-year options to extend. The new contract could potentially be for a 1o-year period. The RFP stipulates that the USMS as well as other federal agencies including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Prisons and The Department of Homeland Security could possibly house detainees in the facility.”

39) Revolving door news/Florida/NationalThe Tampa Bay Times scores former Florida Senate president Joe Negron for “cashing in” on a new deal with the GEO Group as its general counsel. “What is unusual about Negron is that this example is so egregious. (…)Negron’s consistent support of legislation and appropriations benefiting the company and his quick hiring after leaving the Legislature deserves further scrutiny. Even if this is just business as usual, it undermines public confidence in the Florida Legislature and fuels the perception that too many elected officials are more interested in their private gain than the public good.” 

PUBLIC SERVICES

40) National: The Veterans Administration is gearing up for a massive shift of health care to the private sector, the Washington Post reports, “but Democrats are fighting back.” But Jasper Craven writes in The Nation that although “the right is hell-bent on dismantling the most progressive agency in government,” and organized labor has pushed back against efforts to defund the VA, “few lawmakers have backed them up.”

41) Alaska: More than 100 people rallied last week on the Capitol steps in Juneau protesting the governor’s plan to shut down ferry service and introduce privatization, which would serious cut back on access for isolated communities. “DOT received one response to the original RFP, and we had heard from interested parties that a longer time frame and a larger budget was needed in order to provide for a more in-depth study,” Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ Southcoast regional spokeswoman Aurah Landau said. 

42) Florida: Donald Turner, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1701, says the decision to not privatize SCAT was a good one. “The unanimous decision and the debate that preceded it affirmed what we have been saying all along, that there are no savings or benefits to be realized by contracting to companies that will profit off our system.” 

43) New Jersey: Is Dunkin (formerly Dunkin Donuts) running the train stations in New Jersey?

OTHER

44) National: Donald Shaw reports in Sludge that government contractors are making political contributions despite a longstanding ban. “In the 2018 election cycle, at least seven companies that had active contracts with the federal government made donations to PACs despite such contributions being illegal under the Federal Election Campaign Act.” 

45) Maryland: BaltimoreBrew reports that the longtime chief of the University of Maryland Medical System built a hospital empire out of privatization. “Forty years later, it’s a changed world. Removed from Maryland’s public university orbit and privatized as a 501(c)(3) corporation, the University of Maryland System has exploded into a chain of 14 hospitals.” 

46) MichiganThe Eternal Angler reports on two bills that he says will lead to the widespread privatization of Michigan’s lakes. [Video, 27 minutes] 

47) New York: Joseph Grosso, a librarian and writer in New York City, reports that the goal of shared prosperity and reality of gentrification are running into one another as one of New York City’s most massive development projects unfolds. “Still can any argument be made that what New York, with its burgeoning homeless population and housing crisis, needed, especially on MTA property the city could have fought hard for, was a Neiman Marcus and waterfront hotel? As for all the office space, the New School’s research reveals that 90 percent of Hudson Yard’s office tenants are transfers from Midtown being lured by lucrative tax breaks. There’s an assortment of hedge-funds and private equity: Blackrock, managing $5.98 trillion, will write off $25 million in state tax breaks by adding 700 jobs at Hudson Yards. SAP, KKR, Wells Fargo, and L’Oreal USA are moving in, in line for $5.5million in tax breaks, as are CNN and Warner Media- these from another Related project Time Warner Center.” 

48) Think tanks: Writing in Jacobin, Samuel Stein analyzes gentrification and argues that it is a feature, not a bug, of capitalist urban planning. The piece accompanies the launch of Stein’s new book, Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State. See also the new study of gentrification released last week by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.