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- The Intergovernmental Commission on Climate Change has released its sixth report on the state of the planet’s environment, which, among other things, raises an important question: Will climate science be public or private in the future?
- New members of West Virginia’s charter school approval board appointed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice include a basketball coach, real estate developer, and a board member and also a senior fellow at a “libertarian” think tank, among others.
- They said it out loud: “Join @LetsBuildP3s to make sure private equity has a place in the infrastructure bill.”
The Intergovernmental Commission on Climate Change has released its sixth report on the state of the planet’s environment, warning of dire consequences if humanity doesn’t rapidly achieve carbon neutrality. The report is based on climate science, but raises an important question (p. Chapter 12, page 121; PDF page 3264)—will climate science be public or private in the future? “There are on-going debates about the commercialization of climate services. Some argue that the commercialization of climate services is needed to meet the diverse needs of specific clients and to drive innovation in the field. Others argue that if climate services shift incentives for climate science away from the public interest towards profit-seeking, this will result in less publicly accessible and transparent climate information and more private knowledge (Keele, 2019; Tart et al., 2020).”
The Good News
1) National: Nine mayors from across the country have backed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call for Congress to approve both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, The Bond Buyer reports. “‘Mayors see first-hand the struggles of the people they serve, and know the profound impact these dollars will have on their daily lives,’ Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. ‘If passed, this reconciliation package will fuel the recovery of our cities and make possible long overdue investments to immediately improve the quality of life for millions of Americans.’” [Sub required]
2) National: The Labor Department says it will pump millions of dollars into improving state unemployment systems. “While the core of these challenges will need to be addressed through comprehensive UI reform, the department will start with the $2 billion allocated as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act, aimed specifically at addressing the most acute challenges states have faced over the last year.”
3) National: The Senate-approved infrastructure bill would lay the groundwork for raising federal wildland firefighter pay. “The Senate bill also would have the Agriculture and Interior Departments turn at least 1,000 seasonal firefighting jobs into full-time positions. And it would allow agencies to raise pay by $20,000 per year, or 50% of a job’s base salary, for positions that are particularly hard to fill in a certain area.”
4) New Jersey: New Jersey Policy Perspectives’ Louis DiPaolo reports that Fitch Ratings has “upgraded New Jersey’s credit outlook from ‘negative’ to ‘positive’ in response to the state’s improving finances and the full pension payment included in the latest state budget. This should serve as more proof that raising revenue through progressive tax policy is good for the state’s fiscal health. For context, New Jersey received 11 credit downgrades during the Christie administration—a record number of downgrades under any one governor in the nation’s history—as the state cut taxes and, as a result, fell behind on meeting the state’s pension payments.”
5) Think Tanks/National: Writing in Governing, historian Lindsay M. Chervinsky recounts the long history of mandated vaccines in the United States. “The United States has a long history of protecting the nation’s health through vaccines. It began with George Washington in 1777, less than one year after the U.S. declared independence from Great Britain. During the Revolutionary War, smallpox was the biggest threat to the Continental Army, threatening to inflict far more damage on the troops than the British forces. (…) Doctors in Massachusetts first deployed a crude vaccine in the 1720s, and leading figures, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Martha Washington, received the inoculation.”
6) California: In the wake of unsubstantiated claims by two trustees that the Newsela educational application teaches Critical Race Theory, the board of a Visalia charter school has abandoned the paid version of the program. “Greg Price, Visalia Unified Teachers Association president, also spoke in favor of Newsela, highlighting its value among special education classes. ‘I would challenge anyone to tell me how they think Newsela is used in a biased way, it is not,’ Price said. ‘I don’t know if the people in this room understand that our special education teachers use this… We trust our teachers to educate our students, shouldn’t we trust them to give fair and unbiased material to our students?’”
7) District of Columbia/Maryland: Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are requiring school staff to get COVID-19 vaccines or tests. But in DC, staffs at charter schools, which serve half the student body, will not be required to get vaccines or tests. “In D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced this week that all city employees and contractors—a category that includes public-school teachers—must be fully vaccinated by Sept. 19 or submit to weekly coronavirus tests. But the mayor said the order will not apply to teachers and staff at charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately operated institutions that educate nearly 50 percent of public school children in the city. Instead, Bowser wrote a letter to the more than 65 charter network leaders asking that they adopt her policy for the staff.”
The two largest national teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, have dropped their opposition to vaccine mandates, HuffPost reports.
8) Indiana: A charter school in Ellettsville, outside Bloomington, has opened the year with no mask mandate. “Seven Oaks, a public charter school, and Monroe County officials are in disagreement when it comes to interpreting what the county health order requires of schools. The health order requires all people in Monroe County, vaccinated or not, wear a face covering while indoors in a public space, with some exceptions, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
9) Massachusetts: Unionized staff at the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Chicopee are protesting for a second time “amid uncertainty over the coming school year after management’s decision to let go of over half of the school’s teachers this summer. (…) ‘There has been no communication from the school to families about the start date for the school year,’ teacher Carol Huben said in a phone interview Wednesday. ‘Teachers haven’t received explicit instruction about what subject they’re going to teach.’” Board of Trustees President Kevin Dumpson has previously denied any anti-union actions by the school. The teachers are in Holyoke-based UAW Local 2322. At a June protest one protester’s sign read “Paulo Freire was pro-union, stop union busting!”
10) New Hampshire: Seven charter schools are to receive $7.2 million from the first round of funds from the $46 million federal grant for charter schools. “The money awarded to schools was part of $10.1 million approved by legislators in December 2020. State legislators approved the grant spending in December. The rest of the money, nearly $2.9 million, is being used to administer the grant program, including to pay additional staff at the Department of Education.” Meanwhile, explaining budgeting for traditional New Hampshire public schools is just getting harder.
11) New York: New York City charter schools are coming up with a patchwork of COVID-19 safety rules as they reopen. “We’re literally figuring it out by the hour, by the day,” says Lester Long, executive director of Classical Charter Schools. “Now, as a slew of charters are already opening their doors or plan to do so this month, they are coming up with their own policies without a clear roadmap. The city has been slow to issue guidance, the state health department has declined to provide recommendations, and the federal government’s guidance doesn’t offer precise rules to follow in many situations. The result is a patchwork of policies that differ from school to school.”
12) North Carolina: The ACLU has praised the decision of a federal appeals court overturning the dress code of a charter school for being discriminatory toward girls and young women. The murky status of charter schools—whether they are public or private—apparently confused the court and inhibited them from reaching a firmer equal protection position. “The court said it cannot comprehensively determine if the charter school is considered a state actor in enforcing a dress code, and therefore cannot uphold the equal protection clause ruling, which guarantees equal protections under the law.”
People for the American Way has an explainer: “Specifically, it has long been recognized that the constitution’s equal protection clause applies only to state action or activity undertaken ‘under color of state law,’ not to purely private conduct. [Trump-appointed Fourth Circuit judge Marvin Quattlebaum] maintained that charter schools like CDS are only ‘nominally public schools,’ and should be treated like the private school in the Supreme Court’s Rendell-Baker decision. In that case, he maintained, the Court considered whether a private school that ‘functioned almost exclusively as a government contractor’ in educating special needs students referred to it by public schools should be considered as operating under color of state law when it fired certain employees. The Court said no, even though the government paid the tuition of the students it referred and the school was subject to some government regulations. Accordingly, Quattlebaum concluded, the ‘nominally public’ CDS was not acting under color of law when it enacted and enforced the discriminatory dress code.”
13) Oklahoma: The superintendent of a public charter school in Oklahoma City says that students and staff must begin wearing masks indoors, defying a new state law that prohibits such a mandate. “‘Among many reasons for requiring masks is that we have a number of immune-compromised students and staff who must be protected,’ Brewster wrote. ‘We even have several of our most precious ones, those on (individualized education plans) and the very youngest, who have very little personal protection against the virus. If this decision keeps a single member of our community from suffering serious health issues or death, it is worth it a thousand times over.’”
14) South Carolina: A prominent Mt. Pleasant charter school is facing possible closure “over $1.8 million in questionable spending and its ties to side ventures by the for-profit business that runs it.” The Post and Courier reports that “the institute is seeking documentation justifying the $1.8 million in spending, as well as an explanation for why a separate nonprofit was created in Florida in the school’s name. The institute also wants to know why payroll for 10 Oceanside employees appears to have been transferred to an investment company that provided visas to Chinese investors.”
15) Texas: The Huntsville Item reports that Sam Houston State University’s charter school and degree course changes have been approved by the Texas State University System Board of Regents. “A contract for Student Financial Planning Services with Oracle America, Inc. was approved. The service will assist SHSU in meeting its goals in providing students with finance-related services enabling access to higher education.”
16) West Virginia: New members of the charter school approval board appointed by Republican Governor Jim Justice include a school basketball coach, a real estate developer, the owner of a public relations firm, and a board member and also a senior fellow at a “libertarian” think tank (pro-charter school, “right to work”) affiliated with the Koch-funded State Policy Network.
17) Wisconsin: A national charter school corporation, National Heritage Academies, is proposing a 45,000 square-foot charter school in Village of Waukesha. “In addition to providing a formal site plan and other documents, the company will need to have part of the property rezoned to allow a school to be constructed there. The property is currently zoned R-1 Single-Family Residence, but village land-use maps call for the area to be developed commercially someday. A public hearing on a comprehensive plan amendment could happen by November, according to village staff.”
18) Think Tanks/National: UnKoch My Campus and Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) have released a reportdetailing how the “Koch Network,” one of a number of pro-corporate networks and interests promoting school privatization, is “methodically” infiltrating public schools. “All public institutions are a threat to the Koch network’s free market economic agenda,’ the report states. ‘In their assault on public education, the network has taken actions to increasingly privatize and corporatize K-12 institutions.’”
19) National: The physical and social infrastructure bills hang in the balance as weeks of possible Congressional stalemate loom on the horizon. So-called Democratic moderates, the progressive caucus, and Republicans of various hues are each threatening to pull one or both of the bills down if they don’t get their way. But “U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told lawmakers Sunday that she had asked a House committee to advance both a $1 trillion infrastructure plan and a $3.5 trillion spending package together, an apparent effort to patch up divisions that had threatened to stall President Joe Biden’s legislative priorities.”
Here’s a summary of what’s in the physical infrastructure bill and a summary of the reconciliation bill.
20) National: What’s in the infrastructure bill on water projects? AP has an explainer of how the $8.3 billion would be spent on water storage, water recycling, drought planning, desalination, dam safety, and rural water provision. See also Food & Water Watch’s Stopping The Privatization of A Public Right.
21) National: The infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last week contains a provision for expanded private activity bond authority, but fails to utilize public municipal bonds. “‘We applaud the Senate for taking robust action in addressing our nations faltering infrastructure,’ Bond Dealers of America said in a statement. ‘However we remain disappointed that the Senate negotiators failed to further utilize municipal bonds in the final plan.’ Senate approval now shifts action to the House, which will have to pass the bill, but probably will want to make some changes to it. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has said he believes the bipartisan Senate bill should be conferenced with the legislative text his committee passed previously.” [Sub required]
22) National: Nick Cornett, the Republican former mayor of Oklahoma City and co-chair of the pro-privatization “Let’s Build Infrastructure” corporate-backed PR campaign, says “Join @LetsBuildP3s to make sure private equity has a place in the infrastructure bill.”
23) Maryland: Despite major opposition among Maryland citizens and in the face of an outpouring of environmental and public interest criticism, Comptroller Peter Franchot has caved in to the privatization industry and joined with Republican Governor Larry Hogan to approve a predevelopment agreement for a so-called public-private partnership to allow Transurban and Macquarie (see #25 below), two Australian global privatization behemoths, to build toll lanes for Interstate 270 and parts of the Capital Beltway.
The Maryland Board of Public Works voted 2-1 to approve the private financing deal. Treasurer Nancy Kopp, a Democrat, voted against the deal, saying “there was not enough information about environmental impacts and why the state needed to use a public-private partnership instead of traditional financing.”
State Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat who spoke against the plan, “noted that the board was moving ahead with a public-private partnership, just as the U.S. Senate this week approved a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure bill. ‘We know that this is a historic opportunity to get federal funding, so why would we want to engage with a private partnership with someone else getting the profits, soaking our constituents, when we could get a piece of that for roads, bridges and mass transit from the bill that passed 69 to 30 last night?’ Kagan said.” Franchot is apparently contemplating a run for governor.
24) New York: The Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has approved a PPP agreement with JFK Millennium Partners to build Terminal 6 at JFK International Airport. “Originally set to break ground in 2020, the US$3.9bn terminal will connect to JetBlue’s Terminal 5, creating an anchor on the north side of the New York airport. The full cost of the build will be met by JMP, a private consortium consisting of: JetBlue Airways; Vantage Airport Group; American Triple I; and RXR Realty. The Board also authorized US$130m in Port Authority capital funding to build enabling infrastructure for the new Terminal 6 project, including airside improvements and utility enhancements such as electrical support for the project.”
25) International: Australia’s Macquarie has bought a £1billion majority stake in Southern Water, reentering a sector that has witnessed major privatization scandals over the last few years. The move comes “just weeks after the UK water company was fined a record £90m for deliberately dumping billions of litres of raw sewage in rivers and the sea. Southern Water, which supplies water and treats sewage for 4.7m people in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, had been under financial stress and is among the most indebted companies in the sector. (…) Macquarie is one of the world’s biggest infrastructure investors, with stakes in Cadent, the gas distribution network, and KCOM, a fibre telecoms business in the UK. It was the largest investor in Thames Water, Britain’s biggest water company, between 2006 and 2017 and was widely criticised for extracting millions of pounds in dividends as the utility struggled with leakages and pollution failures.” [Sub required]
The Guardian, citing the regulator (Ofwat), notes that Macquarie used “complicated corporate structures and financial arrangements” to “load Thames with debt to pay hefty dividends and no tax.”
26) Think Tanks: Richard White, Professor of American History at Stanford University, offers some words of caution about previous surges of infrastructure building. “Many of these projects did not end well. The problem wasn’t that the country didn’t need infrastructure – it did. And the troubles weren’t the result of technical failures: By and large, Americans successfully built what they intended, and much of what they built still stands. The real problems arose before anyone lifted a shovel of earth or raised a hammer. These problems stem from how hard it is to think ahead, and they are easy to ignore in the face of excitement about new spending, new construction and increased employment.”
Jeff Stein and Michael Laris of the Washington Post have mapped out how the physical infrastructure bill could take years to transform the U.S. “Major public works projects often have to go through a lengthy process—from federal agency to locality to private builder—and may not result in new usable infrastructure for years.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
27) National: The Biden administration “is violating the terms of a longstanding court settlement that requires certain protections for migrant children in government custody, lawyers said in a motion” last week. “The filing described ‘shockingly deplorable’ conditions at two emergency shelters set up in Texas to handle the surge of children crossing the southern border.
Unaccompanied children from Central America were processed by Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande into Roma, Texas, last month.” The lawsuit is the first time the Biden administration has been taken to court for its failure to comply with the Flores Settlement Agreement. More than a dozen children testified on the makeshift camps, which lack child welfare licenses, as opposed to regular HHS camps.”
28) National: Quartz ’Annalisa Merelli says prisons are where America most needs vaccine mandates. “There are two ways to reduce the risk of infections in correction facilities: mass decarceration, and vaccination. Because of the high risk of contagion in overcrowded prisons, mass decarceration has been advocated by public health experts since the beginning of the pandemic, and has shown not to pose risks for the community, says Reinhart. During the early months, patchwork decarceration efforts have taken place across the country, and the higher release rates have not been associated with higher arrests, which can be used as a proxy for higher crime, he says. As decarceration orders lag, vaccinations are all the more essential. Yet corrections employees are refusing them at a much higher rate than the general population.
“The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, which represents nearly 100,000 correction workers has encouraged its members to get vaccinated. Regarding mandatory vaccines, the organization’s president Lee Saunders said in a statement that the issue would be addressed through bargaining.”
29) National: Writing in Politico, Anita Kumar reports that President Biden “railed against Trump’s immigration policies, but now defends them in courts.” And Angelika Albaladejo, writing in Newsweek and Capital & Main, explains how a private prison company profits from Biden’s broken immigration pledge. “To understand why the president’s promises and actions aren’t matching up, Capital & Main interviewed a dozen policy experts, analyzed recent government spending plans and looked back at past attempts to shrink detention.”
30) National/Pennsylvania: In what human rights activists call a partial victory, there are no more ICE detainees in York county prison. The county “ended its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Thursday, terminating a decades long practice in which the federal agency rented out bed space in the local jail to detain immigrant men going through an immigration proceeding. Immigration advocates initially cheered the decision, saying they hoped it was a step toward their larger goal of ending ICE detention. In reality, many detainees have been sent to other detention centers, in some cases across state lines and farther from their families.”
31) Kentucky: Worth Rises and Louisville council member Bill Hollander are still battling to pressure the city to include free jail phone calls into a renegotiated contract with Securus. “Shout out to @BillHollander who is trying to get Louisville, KY to free jail calls. Together we’ve been asking county staff to engage us so we can help inform negotiations with Securus. It’s been a month of weekly follow ups and still no call… Shame.”
32) National: The results of the national census are being released. Which services are impacted by the census? “The results of the census help determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding, including grants and support to states, counties and communities are spent every year for the next decade. It helps communities get its fair share for schools, hospitals, roads, and public works. (…) The results also inform how federal funding is allocated to more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, block grant programs for community mental health services, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.”
33) National: What are the gaps in our public health infrastructure and the data we have to assess them? The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed numerous problems. Molly Murray, senior manager with the health information technology project at the Pew Charitable Trusts, reports that “even before COVID-19, research showed that individuals’ phone numbers were missing over 40% of the time in reports of lab results, meaning public health officials were left to track down the information they needed to conduct contact-tracing. Even now, many COVID-19 vaccine reports lack data on individuals’ race and ethnicity. The CDC reported having that information in 58% of the reports they received—which makes it harder to understand how the virus is affecting different communities and to allocate resources accordingly.”
34) National: Veteran public administration expert Donald Kettl takes exception to the view that government is better when anyone can be fired anytime. “If there’s a basic argument about fixing government, it’s a familiar refrain that we hear time and again: that we should run it more like a private business. Except, that is, when public-sector reformers figure they can make private business better by requiring it to run more like government. Nowhere is this battle shaping up more than in the world of human capital, the collection of rules and processes that shape how governments hire, motivate, pay and fire workers. For many years, reformers, especially from the right, have been chipping away at traditional civil service systems, particularly in state governments, by arguing that government would work far better if it followed the flexibility that private-sector managers have.” But “the evidence for the benefits of at-will employment in the states is decidedly mixed.”
35) National/Minnesota: A private Canadian oil company, Enbridge, is funding public police who have violently responded to protests of its Line 3 pipeline. “Since its creation in 2020, $327,000 of the Enbridge fund has gone to the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, located 180 miles north of Minneapolis, for security patrols of pipeline property, the Reformer noted. This amounted to around 7 percent of the department’s salary and overtime budget for the year.”
36) National: Reports about what Public Citizen calls “DeJoy’s Post Office Corruption” keep piling up. Now the Washington Post reports that “Postmaster General Louis DeJoy purchased up to $305,000 in bonds from an investment firm whose managing partner also chairs the U.S. Postal Service’s governing board, the independent body responsible for evaluating DeJoy’s performance.” But USPS says the bonds are not a conflict of interest.
37) Colorado/Think Tanks: A study by the Urban Institute claims that a Denver program has helped the homeless while saving money. “The program, which provides what’s known as permanent supportive housing, has housed over 280 struggling people since 2016 and reduced city spending on police, jail, ambulance and detox services. (…) The housing piece of the Denver program was paid for with federal and state housing vouchers. The other services were paid for by Medicaid and a contract called a social impact bond. Under the contract, private investors lent the city $8.6 million, with the understanding that the city would repay the money only if program participants stayed housed for at least a year and spent at least 20% fewer days in jail. If participants spent more time in housing, and less time in jail, investors would get additional money. Denver ended up saving so much money on emergency services that it repaid investors $9.6 million.”
For an assessment of the possible risks surrounding so-called social impact bonds see In the Public Interest’s report, A Guide to Evaluating Pay for Success Programs and Social Impact Bonds.
38) Massachusetts: “On a hot June afternoon,” WGBH reports, “about 100 protesters representing local boards of health and other public health organizations stood on the steps of the Massachusetts State House to protest what they see as the privatization of public health. (…) Whether dealing with vaccination sites, COVID testing, contact tracing, wastewater analysis, community outreach or a range of other urgent services, the Baker administration’s default approach during the pandemic was to grant contracts to outside companies and organizations, rather than relying on local boards of public health to provide the services. (…) Many in Massachusetts’ public health world are looking back at a state pandemic response that largely left them out in favor of large private contractors. And now they’re looking to the state and federal government to ensure that local health systems get the resources they need to respond the next time the state faces a public health crisis.”
39) Nebraska: AFSCME reports that “the Nebraska Association of Public Employees (AFSCME Local 61) hasn’t just survived the pandemic. NAPE has thrived. A member-led organizing plan started in 2018 was backed by a commitment to robust contract enforcement and strong member participation in the negotiating process. The result? NAPE members have attracted waves their co-workers who have joined the union.”
40) National/Think Tanks: In a must-read article on the racist history of the word “taxpayer” and why it should be dropped from usage, Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest says “[conservatives, when they talk about ‘takers,’ are] not talking about billionaires like Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person whose corporation Amazon uses loopholes to pay little to no taxes. They’re talking about the homeless Black teenager. The immigrant farmworker. The single mother on food stamps and Medicaid. The depressed twentysomething living with their parents trying to figure out what to do next. (…) As Raúl Carrillo and Jesse Myerson write, ‘Although most of us pay taxes of some kind, every time we say “taxpayer money” we prolong the illusion that society depends on certain kinds of people so we can have nice things.’”
41) National: Billions of dollars are being wasted on nonsensical bidding wars between state and local governments over public subsidies to private industry, reports Governing. “If history is any guide, ever-increasing tax breaks and other economic development incentives will likely lead to slower — not faster — growth. Given that state and local governments have already been wasting $95 billion every year in an economic race to the bottom, more subsidies will just dig the hole deeper.” To keep up to date on the issue follow Good Jobs First’s Subsidy News. This week, they report that Disney may get $570 million in tax breaks for its new campus.
42) National/International: Writing in Jacobin, Ekaitz Cancela and Stuart Medina say “consultancy capitalism” is allowing private firms to control public funds. “What these contracts each have in common is that they have been granted to the Big Four professional services firms: Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Since the start of the pandemic, these companies have been charged with administering the reforms needed to alleviate the effects of the crisis—filling in for the civil service in directing how public money is spent. (…) We have moved from policy capture to an overt privatization of policymaking. While this has appeared in the guise of a return to ‘Keynesianism,’ in reality this ideological turn looks like the foretaste of a new austerity era, arriving in the Orwellian name of digital modernization and green development.”
43) National: Republicans across the country are trying to criminalize voter registration efforts, says Matt Vasilogambros of Pew’s Stateline. “Among the deluge of new voting restrictions passed by GOP lawmakers across the country this year are laws in three states that target nonprofit groups’ voter registration efforts. While Republican lawmakers and state officials say these measures are aimed at securing the election system, the measures threaten to criminalize or undermine longstanding voter outreach programs.”
Photo by Berkeley Lab.