Please read this report and send it to everyone who cares about the future of public education in the United States. Send it to your friends, your school board, your legislators, your editorial boards, and to anyone else who needs to know about the money that is committed to demolishing public schools and turning the money over to private hands.
Common Cause has released an important new report about the dramatic increase in funding and lobbying by groups in New York State committed to privatization of public schools. The report contrasts the political spending of the privatizers to the political spending of the unions, and it is a fascinating contrast.
The report is titled: “Polishing the Apple: Examining Political Spending in New York to Influence Educational Policy.”
The report rejects the term “reformers” and uses the term “privatizers.” It explains here (p. 3):
We use the terms pro-privatization and privatizer to describe PACs and coalitions whose central mission is “education reform”—increasing funding and support for alternatives to standard public education, market-based educational programs, decentralizing control of education policy from government, advancing charter schools, supporting private schools, and private school tax credits. Examples of the groups we identified and analyzed as pro-privatization are Students First, Democrats for Education Reform/Education Reform Now, the Foundation/Coalition for Opportunity in Education, and Families for Excellent Schools. When we describe union spending, we include funding from unions such as New York State United teachers (NYSUT) and United Federation of Teachers (UFT), public school teachers, school board leaders, school administrators and other public school employees. Their primary policy goals have related to education budget allocations, teacher evaluations, protecting teacher tenure, testing regimes, mayoral control of schools and, more recently, education investment tax credits.
The report points out that 2014 was a watershed year. It was the first year in which the spending by privatizers exceeded spending by unions by over $16.8 million. (p. 4).
Before 2014, privatizer contributions averaged $3.9 million annually; in 2014, privatizers’ campaign contributions “jumped to $11.2 million.”
The top three recipients of privatizer campaign contributions were: the New York Senate Republican Housekeeping account ($5.06 million); Cuomo-Hochul 2014 ($3.06 million), and The Independence Party Housekeeping account ($1.2 million).
The top three recipients of union campaign contributions were: the New York State Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee ($916,600), the Working Families Party ($874,550), and the NYS Senate Republican Campaign Committee ($772,387).
Where the money comes from:
“Pro-privatization campaign contributions totaled $46.1 million raised through 5,700 contributions from less than 400 wealthy individuals, associated organizations, and PACs. The top five individual pro-privatization political campaign contributors were Michael Bloomberg ($9.2 million), James Simons ($3 million), Paul Singer ($2.2 million), Daniel Loeb ($1.9 million), and David Koch ($1.6 million).”
“Union campaign contributions totaled $87.6 million raised through at least 75,000 contributions to Union PACS from well over 18,000 individuals, associated organizations and PACs. Union assert that dues are separate and not used on political spending. The top five union PAC contributors were: New York State United Teachers ($56.1 million), American Federation of Teachers / United Federation of Teachers ($22.8 million), National Education Association ($443,000), Buffalo Teachers Federation ($269,000), and Say Yes To Education ($242,000)….”
The pro-privatization bills introduced in New York are based on bills developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council as part of its national education agenda.
o The major pro-privatization donors in New York are also political contributors to education privatization efforts in other states.
o Pro-privatization lobbying includes “dark money” contributed through c4 advocacy organizations and foundations.
The top 2 recipients of contributions from privatizers (Senate Republicans and Gov. Cuomo) have introduced more extreme versions of education tax credits than those in other states.
o New York’s proposed bills would advantage affluent tax payers and scholarship recipients over low and middle class New Yorkers.
o It would be difficult for everyday New Yorkers to access credits due to unique procedural requirements and application timing.
o New York’s proposals have unusually high income eligibility for scholarships: $500,000 family income limit in Senate bill is almost 400% higher than highest income limit in other states.
o There would be no caps on private school tuition costs, which in New York can top $40,000 annually.
o New York versions of proposed education tax credit programs lack oversight and accountability measures enacted in states such as Arizona, Florida and Georgia, or even those contained in ALEC model bills.
The report gives a brief history of the privatization movement, then says this:
The current trend of market-based education proposals can be seen as interrelated to the ideology and policy goals that contributed to the pre-2008 deregulations of the financial industry and to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. Using a long term, multi-pronged strategy, the self-styled “education reform” organizations (whose boards are populated by the very hedge fund executives who have dominated Super PAC contributions since the Citizens United decision) are framing this issue. They have used their wealth to access and infiltrate the policy landscape on almost every front except one: the teachers’ unions. 13 In an increasingly polarized debate, these camps are battling for ideological control of the future of education policy at all levels of government.
Seeing Gold in the Schools
Adoption of federal programs, such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 and the Common Core State Standards Initiative contained in the Race to the Top Fund (RTTT) (2010), pushed states—using threats to funding as incentive—to establish standards akin to a corporation’s bottom line and employ the burgeoning field of “big data” to determine who was reaching benchmarks or not.
The push to look at education benchmarks in a “bottom line” fashion bolstered a rapidly growing market for nonprofit and for-profit test publishing, test analysis, test preparation, student data management and— for schools who failed to make adequate yearly progress—tutoring, interventions, and alternative school options. Hundreds of new for-profit and nonprofit organizations, from test prep to consulting to charter schools, have opened in the past ten years to meet the demands that NCLB and Race to the Top created. This wave of market-based educational interests has been financed by powerful national foundations and wealthy private investors who, as discussed below, are major political contributors across the country, including in New York. These “venture philanthropists” have been positioning themselves on several fronts: funding research institutions, reframing the national debate in the media, positioning sympathetic leaders into educational regulatory bodies, and lobbying policymakers to enact their desired educational policies.
The Role of the American Legislative Exchange Council
Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), some of the nation’s largest companies invest millions of dollars each year to pass state laws putting corporate and private interests ahead of the interests of ordinary Americans. ALEC’s membership includes some 2,000 state legislators, corporate executives and lobbyists. ALEC brings together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to vote as equals on model bills, behind closed doors and without any public input, that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line. These model bills are then introduced in state legislatures across the country. ALEC and its member corporations often pay for legislators to go to lavish resorts to participate in ALEC meetings. Among ALEC’s legislative portfolio are bills to privatize public schools and prisons, weaken voting rights, eviscerate environmental protections and cripple public worker unions.
Common Cause has filed a “whistleblower” complaint against ALEC with the Internal Revenue Service, accusing the group of violating its tax-exempt status by operating as a lobby while claiming to be a charity.
The group’s tax exemption allows its corporate supporters to take tax deductions on millions spent each year to support ALEC’s activities, in effect providing a taxpayer subsidy for its lobbying.
Addressing the market demand created by NCLB and Race to the Top, ALEC’s Education Task Force has issued 29 model bills dealing with K-12 education since February, 2013,16 including The Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act,17 and the Parental Choice Scholarship Accountability Act,18 which provide models for state scholarship tax credit programs. ALEC model bills appear to have been the basis for education bills introduced in New York.