What if we had no government services and everything we used to get from government was run by private corporations? McDonald’s could be running the welfare system, Target the public schools and Walmart our mass transportation networks. What would be wrong with that?
According to Donald Cohen, director of the nonprofit research and action group In the Public Interest, there’s a long list of problems we face when private companies take over government services. For one, it’s hard to find out how much money is being paid to the company’s employees and corporate heads. And, once a formerly public system is taken over by a private company, there’s often no way that voters can set standards for those salaries, the quality of the work done or the cost of services to the public. Right now if you don’t like McDonald’s corporate policies, you can pick another restaurant. But when private companies take over government services,
As the saying goes, it takes a village. And when corporations spend vast resources to gain control of public services, it takes a village of smart, savvy and nimble people and organizations to beat them back. That’s exactly what happened in Arizona this week.
Last Friday, Arizona House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh snuck $900,000 into the state budget earmarked for GEO Group, the nation’s second largest private prison company. That amount was above and beyond the $45 million GEO already rakes in from Arizona taxpayers. Interestingly, the Arizona Department of Corrections did not request the increase. According to the Arizona Republic, GEO’s lobbyists worked directly with Kavanagh, who, when asked to justify the earmark, said simply that GEO “wants to get more money.”
Private prison critics quickly sprang into action. The American Friends Service Committee and Human Rights Center helped lead a strong coalition that included the American Civil Liberties Union,
The nomination of Californian Ted Mitchell to the number two position at the U.S. Department of Education is the latest indication that proponents of school privatization are continuing to gain influence over the Obama administration’s education policy.
“He represents the quintessence of the privatization movement,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, tells Capital & Main. “This is a signal the Obama administration is committed to moving forward aggressively with transferring public funds to private hands.”
In education “privatization” refers to the contracting out of traditional public education services to for-profit companies or to charter schools that are set up as nonprofit organizations. In many ways, the Mitchell nomination reflects the ongoing battle being fought in Washington and in school districts across the country. It’s a battle that pits the views of teachers, their unions and community groups against a movement that is backed by wealthy philanthropists and corporations.
We all know the political shorthand: “red” states vote conservative while “blue” states vote progressive. But these days the deep red hue of Idaho, Arizona and Texas isn’t just a reflection of their political leanings; it’s all the red flags voters are raising about private prisons in those states.
In 1997, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) took over the Idaho Correctional Center. Predictably, the facility was soon plagued with rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity and contract fraud committed by CCA. One former inmate said the facility was so violent that it was commonly referred to as “gladiator school.” What’s more, in 2012 the Associated Press showed that taxpayers didn’t even get the savings they were promised.
This month, tired of the bad headlines, Idaho Governor Butch Otter – a strong proponent of outsourcing – announced that the state is taking back control of the privately run prison.
When future taxpayers look back to the moment they started taking back control of their schools, roads and services, they will look to 2013. From coast to coast, taxpayers rejected reckless outsourcing schemes. They held for-profit corporations accountable. And they said “no deal!” to CEOs who would put profits ahead of public health and safety.
These victories don’t always appear in the national media. But taken together they represent a real shift. Working together, I’m sure we will have many more in 2014.
Connecticut: Opponents of education privatization defeated three Bridgeport school board members who supported pro-charter schools superintendent Paul Vallas.
Idaho: Corrections Corporation of America left the state “after more than a decade marked by scandal and lawsuits surrounding its operation of the state’s largest prison.” Upon hearing the news, Spokesman Review columnist Shawn Vestal wrote,