Jonathan Pelto wrote this guest post. A former state legislator, he blogs about politics and education in Connecticut at “Wait, What?” –which can be found at jonathanpelto.com. I think the title of his blog refers to the fact that what is happening these days is often unbelievable.
During the 2012 election cycle, we saw the corporate “education reform” lobby begin to play their hand when it comes to the notion of local control of public education. Their approach is a simple one. If you don’t agree with our position, we’ll simply change the rules or work to defeat your local elected board of education.
As far as the corporate education reformers are concerned, the end justifies the means and if the cost of getting what you want requires destroying our nation’s age-old commitment to local control of education, so be it.
And we certainly aren’t talking about local parents banding together to ensure that their voices are heard. We are talking about billionaires and millionaires and the major education reform companies, organizations and foundations dumping tens of millions of dollars into state and local efforts to elect handpicked accomplices or even, where necessary, changing the rules to make it easier to open charter schools and dismantle the core elements of a broad-based public education system.
Take for example the political involvement of education reformer and New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Mayor Bloomberg has been a very busy guy. Not only is he the Chief Executive Officer of New York City where he is leading a successful effort to privatize much of that city’s public education system, but he has become a leading example of this “my way or the highway” approach to destroying local public education.
In Bloomberg’s case there was his $20,000 check for Residents for a Better Bridgeport, a political action committee seeking to do away with the democratically-elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the local pro-education reform mayor. There was also the $75,000 check to California Charter Schools Association Independent Expenditure Committee, and on the same day in October, Bloomberg wrote a check for $10,000 to Neighbors for School Board 2012 (Oakland). The three “education reform” candidates that the group was supporting in Oakland also received checks from Bloomberg for the maximum allowable amount.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg dropped a check to Education Voters of Idaho for $200,000 to defend a set of reform proposals and $80,000 to Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, reformer Tony Bennett, who has now moved his destructive activities to the State of Florida.
In state after state, the super-rich, corporate executives and education reform entities spent millions to influence local elections. When the final reports were filed in Bridgeport, the corporate education reform industry and its supporters spent more than $560,000, a state record, in their effort to take away the right of local citizens to elect their own board of education. In that case, they failed, but they are already moving forward on efforts to undermine what’s left of the democratically-elected board.
In “So You Wanna Buy a School Board Seat…,” fellow pro-public education blogger, Edushyster, wrote about the situation in Minneapolis, Minnesota while another pro-public education blogger Jersey Jazzman wrote “How To Buy a School Board Race 3000 Miles Away,” about the same thing happening in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
In Minnesota, the push to elect a pro-charter school, TFA alumnus came from Teach for America and 50CAN, a national charter school lobbying group, as well as, other corporate executives. 50CAN was set up by Connecticut resident and education reform activists Jonathan Sackler, a corporate director of Purdue Pharma. The present Chairman of 50CAN is Mathew Kramer, the President of Teach for America.
It will come as no surprise, but Sackler, with a check for $50,000, was also the largest donor to the Bridgeport effort that is mentioned above.
And in New Jersey, Jersey Jazzman asked, “Why would California multi-millionaires be interested in a school board race in the small city of Perth Amboy, NJ?
It seems absurd, and yet it’s true: four wealthy Californians and one wealthy Coloradan – heavy hitters in the tech, financial, and health care sectors – have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a slate of candidates running for the school board in Perth Amboy, a city of 50,000 with a majority Hispanic population.
From Connecticut to California and New Jersey to Idaho, the story is the same. The charter school industry is spending record amounts to lobby government officials and buy local boards of education.
But their tactics are very clear. Backing up their lobbying effort is a broader strategy to change the rules and change the players as a way of ensuring they can build their charter schools and further privatize America’s public education system.
If General Eisenhower were alive today, it wouldn’t simply be the military-industrial complex he’d be warning us about, it would be the even more devious and dangerous education-industrial complex.
Keep your eyes open and don’t be surprised to find these corporate reformers playing their politics with your local boards of education