August 3, 2015

The White House is trying to introduce Wall Street to rural America. . .It’s a strategy that America’s cities have long embraced: Attracting private capital to finance public goods, because the government doesn’t have the cash up front to get them built. In rural areas, however, the USDA — which, if it were a bank, would rank among the nation’s largest — has customarily taken care of those needs through a liberal sprinkling of grants and loans. There’s less money for that kind of thing to go around these days, and in the absence of a large-scale federal infrastructure program, the backlog of needed upgrades and new facilities is immense. Start-up businesses, meanwhile, have a hard time getting off the ground without access to the kind of capital available in big cities on the coasts. So the federal government is asking private sector types to step into the breach, and trying to ease their way.  Washington Post (blog)

JIM HIGHTOWER: ‘Proud partners’ corporatize our parks. . . To his credit, Obama has proposed a 2016 “Centennial Budget” for Park Service, mitigating years of destructive underfunding and calling for $1 billion to address the backlog. Good for him. But that still leaves a $10 billion shortfall, and the sour duo of Sen. Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner will oppose even that increase for the maintenance of these invaluable public assets. Hidebound by their twisted corporate ideology, they dismiss public parks as government intrusion into the private realms of Disneyland and SeaWorld. So, while we Americans celebrate the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service, Washington is literally stripping “service” out of the National Park Service. And, by refusing to fund essential upkeep year after year, America’s so-called “leaders” are guaranteeing that this invaluable national asset – deemed America’s “best idea” by novelist and historian Wallace Stegner – will fall into acute disrepair. The only solution, they say, is to commercialize, industrialize and privatize our parks, converting these jewels of the common good into just another corporate cash cow. Stillwater News Press

Donald Cohen: Save Your Public Library! Earlier this month, in yet another win for local control, leaders in one central Florida county rejected a proposal from a for-profit library management company to take over their public library. The company, Library Systems & Services (or LSSI), operates at least 80 public libraries across the country, but Marion County joins a growing list of municipalities who realized that LSSI’s claim to do more with less while still making a profit was a greater fiction than even Stephen King’s best stories.   Huffington Post

The Company You Keep: Why Is Jeb Bush Cozy With a Discredited Charter School Mill?  In his time since leaving the Florida Governor mansion, Mr. Bush’s nonprofit, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, pushed public policies that offer the educational equivalent of spoiled milk. These policies also happened to benefit one of his foundation’s donors, Herndon, Virginia based K12 Inc., a pedagogically controversial virtual charter school management company. Founded in 2000, the for-profit company on the New York Stock Exchange operates virtual public charter schools that enroll more than 130,000 students around the United States. The company has contributed between $85,000-$175,000 to Mr. Bush’s foundation since 2011. Observer

KS: Great Plains Faces Invisible Water Crisis. . . Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon dismissed the aqueduct as a “harebrained” scheme that would divert river water needed for barge traffic and municipal use. But in western Kansas, it doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. . . . Fervent support for the project speaks to the urgency felt by Scott, Peterson and other farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods and communities depend on irrigation. They’re hoping to convince the federal government to kick in funds for the aqueduct. And they’re looking into the possibility of building it through a public-private partnership, like a toll road. Farming cooperatives in California and Colorado have expressed interest in the project, they say, and want to explore extending it farther west. Times Record           

KS: Why teachers can’t hotfoot it out of Kansas fast enough. . . According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Kansas Board of Education decided in July to allow six school systems — including two of the largest in the state — to hire unlicensed teachers to ease the shortage. (Let the irony sink in for a minute.) Specifically, the newspaper reported: The measure will waive the state’s licensure regulations for a group of districts called the Coalition of Innovative Districts, a program that the Legislature established in 2013 based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council. (Yes, ALEC, an organization that writes “model legislation” on a variety of topics that conservative legislators use in states to make new laws that promote privatization, strikes again. Under this legislation, districts can ignore most laws and regulations — including union contracts — that other public schools in a state must follow.) Washington Post (blog)

IL: Emanuel defends privatization guidelines. Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday defended his proposal to add more steps before public assets can be privatized, saying it will help protect Chicagoans from another deal like the despised parking meter lease, even as critics argued the changes don’t go far enough. Emanuel introduced an ordinance calling for public meetings, an independent financial review and an explanation of the benefits of proposed big-ticket privatizations before a City Council vote. Though the plan surfaced as Emanuel desperately seeks new sources of revenue to deal with the city’s pension holes and budget shortfall, the mayor said he is not considering any plans to privatize or lease city services or assets. Chicago Tribune

TN: Haslam chief of staff: Not privatizing TN prison system. Staffing shortages, schedule changes and safety concerns aren’t a signal that the state of Tennessee is moving to privatize its prison system, said Mark Cate, outgoing chief of staff to Gov. Bill Haslam. Cate, whose last day as chief of staff was Friday, said the state was “absolutely not” going to shift control of Tennessee prisons to a private company. The Tennessean

MI: No Accountability? 30 Percent of Detroit’s Charter Schools Have Closed. A 1994 law introduced public charter schools to the state of Michigan. Since that time, about 30 percent of the charters that have opened their doors within the city of Detroit have been forced to close by their authorizers. Over that period, 72 of the taxpayer-funded schools — otherwise known as “public school academies” — have been authorized in the city, including a few overseen by the Detroit school district itself. Of these 72 schools, 22 were later closed due to financial, academic or enrollment issues. Michigan Capitol Confidential