Archives for category: Privatization

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.







The latest poll shows that most Hoosiers want a new governor. 54% want a new governor. Less than a third say they want to re-elect Pence.

Two issues loom over Pence. One was his early support (and then retraction) for a bill that would have allowed people to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation (it was only when major corporations threatened to leave Indiana that Pence changed his views on the bill). The other is education, where Pence has continued hhis predecessor Mitch Daniels’ agenda of privatizing public education.

Go, Hoosiers! Get a new governor who cares about children, public schools, and the future of Indiana and the nation!

Matthew Pulver, writing at, describes Jeb Bush’s dangerous belief in privatization and free markets in education.

It is not so much a belief as an ideology, one that is impervious to evidence. The many studies showing thAt privately managed charters do not get higher test scores than public schools do not register with Jeb. The numbers of charters that open with grand promises and soon lose their doors with big debts does not affect his belief system. He is a zealot for school choice, period.

Not even the failure of the charter school he founded in Liberty City, a poor black neighborhood, dampens his passion for charters and vouchers.

Writes Pulver:

“There’s nothing else as large in all of society. Not the military—nothing—is bigger.”

“That’s how Randy Best, Jeb Bush’s business partner, sees public education, as an untapped market where untold billions are to be made when kids and their families become educational customers. Touting his impressive assault on public education while Florida governor in yesterday’s announcement of his 2016 candidacy, Bush may become the loudest proponent yet of turning public education into a for-profit enterprise.

“Before getting into Bush’s record and financial interests in for-profit education, a full understanding of the dystopian horrors of for-profit, privatized education is necessary. Bush offers it with a handful of Milton Friedman-esque catchwords and focus-grouped slogans, and it may be that the proposals sound innocuous and vaguely innovative until the slightest scrutiny is applied to the ideas — at which point, it’s difficult to imagine much worse than public education turned into a for-profit market. Because the most basic and collectively understood truisms about markets, when applied to children, take on a horrifying character.”

It should be noted that Bush’s partner, Randy Best, was one of the biggest beneficiaries of Reading First, the ill-fated program enacted as part of NCLB but eventually discontinued because of sweetheart deals and conflicts of interest. Best, an entrepreneur, not an educator, created a commercial reading company (Voyager Learning), which he later sold for $360 million. Best admits that he can’t read, that he is acutely dyslexic. But he knows how to make money.

Our frequent commentator Laura H. Chapman, whose wise analyses so frequently inform all of us, has done some research on the billionaire class. I would add that her second category of schools, public in name only (PINO), includes for-profit charters.



Many of the billionaires in Forbes 2015 list claim to be self-made and to come from a low to moderate income family. Those are self-reports with no backup data worthy of mention by Forbes.



According to the Forbes 2015 list of the wealthiest people in the world, The United States has 536 billionaires worth $2.6 trillion.



In 2014 Warren Buffet made $14.5 billion.



Among the wealthiest in the US, 23 % of the billionaires claim to have been raised in a household that was “poor,” 17% in a “working class” family. Here are some of the top billionaires and major source of wealth.



Bill Gates, Microsoft, $ 79.2 billion…
Warren Buffet, Berkshire Hathaway, $72.7 billion…
Larry Ellis, Oracle, 54.3 billion…
Charles Koch, Diversified, $42.9 billion…G. Davis Koch, Diversified, $42.9 billion… Christy Walton, Walmart $41.7 billion…Jim Walton, Walmart $40.6 billion…Alice Walton, Walmart $39.4 billion… S. Robert Walton, Walmart $39.1 billion…
Michael Bloomberg, Bloomberg, $35.5 billion…Jeff Bezos, Amazon, $34.8 billion…Mark Zuckenberg, Facebook, $33.4 million….Sheldon Adelson, Casinos, $31.4 billion…Larry Page, Google, $29.7 billion…Sergey Brin, Google, $29.2 billion…
Forrest Mars, Jr., Candy, $26.6 billion….Jacquelin Mars Candy, $26.6 billion….John Mars, Candy, $26.6 billion….
George Soros, Hedge funds, $24.2 billion…Carl Icahn, Investments, $23.5 billion…Steve Ballmer, Microsoft, $21.5 billion… Phil Knight, Nike, $21.5 billion… Len Blavatnik, Diversified, $20.2 billion…Charles Ergen, Dish Network, $20.1 billion…Lauren Powell Jobs, Apple & Disney, $19.5 billion…Michael Dell, Dell, $19.2 billion…



So far as I know, only a few analytical studies have been done on the interconnections among grants flowing into K-12 education and the major foundations, many set up by billionaires. Here are some recent findings.



In 2010, the top 15 grant makers for K-12 education (based on IRS filings) were: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Robertson Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Broad Foundation, GE Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, Communities Foundation of Texas, and Ford Foundation.



In 2010, the top “convergent grantees”–beneficiaries of multiple funders were:

Charter School Growth Fund $46 million, 6 funders;
Teach for America, $44.5 million, 13 funders;
KIPP, $24 million, 9 funders;
D.C. Public Education Fund, $22 million, 5 funders (set up for merit pay) ;
New Schools Venture Fund, $18 million, 10 funders.



The researchers noted a dramatic increase in convergent grant making between the first year they studied, 2000, and the last, 2010. The increase was not only in dollars but also in the proportion groups that received funds from two or more foundations. As one example, funding for traditional public schools dropped from 16% of grant dollars in 2000 to 8% in 2010 while charter school funding rose from about 3% in 2000 to 16% in 2010.



Source: Reckhow, S & Snyder, J. W. (2014, May). The expanding role of philanthropy in education politics. Education researcher, 43, 4, pp.186-195. Or see Sarah Reckhow, (2013). Follow the money, How foundations dollars change public school politics. NNY: Harvard Education Press.



Plenty of money is around, and it is increasingly used to create a tripartate system of education.

One is truly public, tax-supported with governance by democratically elected school boards.

One is public in name only, tax subsidized, but with governance that is not fully public or democratically determined.

The third is private education, including for-profit-by-design education.

No praying in schools! But no ban on praying outside school for the survival of public education in Molwaukee, now in the hostile hands of Scott Walker and the Wisconsin legislature.


Members of Milwaukee’s faith community and public school supporters will hold a prayer vigil for public schools this Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The event is organized by the Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH).

After a brief prayer vigil at Bethesda Baptist Church, participants will walk to Hopkins-Lloyd Community School, where community and faith leaders will share information with participants about the proposed public school takeover plan that is being advanced by Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

What: Prayer vigil for public schools

Who: Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) parents, students, educators, community members, Schools and Communities United

When: Thursday, June 11, 2015 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Bethesda Baptist Church, 2909 N. 20th St., and Hopkins-Lloyd Community School, 1503 W. Hopkins St.

The Leona Group, a for-profit charter corporation that runs the schools of Highland Park, Michigan, will not offer high school classes next year. It will also end its contract one year early. And enrollment in the schools has dropped by 40% since the for-profit takeover. It is just not that profitable to offer high school.


Leona is closing the only high school in the district, and students were stunned.


Hannah, a rising junior, said the students were shocked and upset. “A lot of us couldn’t believe that they’d close the only high school in Highland Park,” she told the World Socialist Web Site. “We thought they couldn’t do that, because where would we go? But the superintendent called us all down to a meeting in the lunchroom and said she had done everything humanly possible to try to keep the school open.

“It’s really crazy. I am going to miss this school.”

A community meeting has been scheduled for Monday, June 8, for parents and students scrambling to find new schools. They will be assigned to the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) system and reportedly will be offered enrollment at DPS schools, a range of other charter operations, as well as slots in the so-called “failing school district” run by the state’s Education Achievement Authority.

Displaced students, facing the hardship of much longer commutes, will be given bus passes. This hardly compensates for the potentially drastic increase in commute times. For a student to take a bus from the current high school, Highland Park Renaissance, to the closest DPS high school, Pershing, would require three buses. Wait times in the city are beyond onerous in the former “Motor City” where buses can be hours late. A single bus ride could take students to Cass Tech High School; however, that school has a very selective application process.

Hannah said she would be spending her senior year at the Detroit Public Service Academy. DPSA is another Leona Group-run charter school, whose students are called “cadets” and specialize in police, military and emergency responder skills.

“It’s not that I want to do that kind of work,” she explained, “I want to do culinary arts, but they’ll have other subjects too. The DPSA will provide buses right at the CVS to get you to the school. If your parents can’t take you to a further school, you need to do what you have to, to get an education.”


It’s all about the kids. The state of Michigan has washed its hands of responsibility or accountability for public education.

State Representative Tim Kelly, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, called for the dissolution of the Detroit public schools. This is a sign of abdication of responsibility by those on control.

“The state has controlled DPS for much of the last 15 years. It has been run by governor-appointed emergency managers since 2009, and was under state control from 1999 until 2005.”

Kelly admits the state has “some” culpability, but nonetheless wants to eliminate public educationin Detroit, which the citizens of that city have not controlled for 15 years.

Republicans are talking about turnong Detroit into an all-charter district, but as the newspaper points out, charters in Detroit do not outperform the maligned public schools. Some are talking vouchers, but there is no reason to believe that they would be any better.

In short, the same people at the top who have sliced and fixed the schools of Detroit for 15 years are now throwing up their hands and saying, “Let’s abandon the state’s obligation to educate the children of Detroit and instead hand them over to the private sector.”

This is not a solution, it is a retreat from the state’s responsibilty. Why is it that state takeovers and suspension of democracy seem to be concentrated in black districts?

At the Network for Public Education conference in April, Jitu Brown of Journey for Justice described these takeovers as “the new colonialism.”

As Peter Greene explains, Nevada has decided to forego all the half-measures and subterfuges about vouchers. No more insincere rhetoric about vouchers (or “opportunity scholarships”) for poor kids, kids” trapped in failing schools,” or kids with disabilities.

Nevada wants vouchers for everyone.

Greene writes:

“Nevada has made its bid for a gold medal in the race to the bottom of the barrel for public education. The state’s GOP legislature, with help from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (a name that belongs in Orwellian annals right next to “Peacekeeper Missile”), has created an all-state voucher system.

“This is the full deal….Next fall every single student in Nevada gets a taxpayer-funded voucher to spend at the school whose marketing most appeals to that student’s parents.”

The backers of the bill believe that competition is the answer. Peter Greene explains that competition produces winners and losers, not equal educational opportunity.

Anyone looking for the fruits of competition might consider the television industry. Newton Minow, then chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told the leaders of the broadcast industry that television was “a vast wasteland.” He dared them to spend a day glued to their own television sets. Now, there are hundreds more channels to choose from, but Minow could give the same speech with equal conviction.

To destroy public education in pursuit of competition is just plain ignorant or mean-spirited. There is no evidence to support this policy. It won’t improve education. It won’t increase equity. It won’t inspire excellence. It will lead to greater inequality and greater segregation. It is bad for our democracy.

Greene writes:

“Nevada was already well-positioned for the Race to the Bottom prize, consistently ranking among the bottom ten states for education funding. With this bold step, they have insured that even that little bit of money will be spent in the most inefficient, wasteful manner possible. Not only will they be duplicating services (can you run two households with the same money it takes to run one?), but by draining funds away from public schools, they can guarantee that those public schools will struggle with fewer resources than ever.”

The question frequently arises: Why do so many billionaires support the privatization of public education? Surely, they don’t care about making a profit as they are already billionaires. Here is one possible answer, as reader Randal Hendee posted this comment on the blog about the motives of the billionaires who support “reform”:



There’s a lot of evidence that reducing the cost of public education is one of the main goals of people like Gates, Broad, and the Waltons. They’re playing a long game that they hope will result in lower taxes for big property owners and for the wealthy in general. At the same time, they see profit in “reform” because even with relatively lower tax revenues, a new cohort of children enrolls every year. Once the opportunists tap into that public revenue stream (through privately operated charters, educational technology, data mining, real estate deals, and so on), the cash cow will keep on giving. Or so they hope.


The Walton family fortune is based mainly on cost reduction (that and inventory control via technology and breakneck expansion). The Walton billionaires are billionaires because Walmart learned how to squeeze both suppliers and employees. In the process they put thousands of local merchants out of business. The Waltons are trying to undermine American institutions such as public schools and labor unions. To imagine that these efforts have nothing to do with cost reduction doesn’t square with company history. (If you want to know more about how the family stays so rich, google “Walton tax avoidance.”)


While Eli Broad is said to favor higher taxes for the rich, cost reduction is a big part of the Broad efforts. Broad wants fewer schools, larger class sizes, more charters. Charter expansion is one of his big goals, and of course many charter teachers work in sweatshop conditions for relatively low pay. Some of this cost saving is diverted to marketing and high administrative salaries. But the long term idea is to spend less on schools, not more. Presumably, free market incentives will spur “higher achievement.”*


Here’s what Bill Gates said about education and technology (and cost reduction) at the 2013 Davos Conference:


“Well, we’re taking the Internet revolution and we’re applying it in more areas. So, for example, in education the idea that not only are the best lectures online, but you can interact with people, talk to other students, that we ought to be able to deliver education that’s higher quality but dramatically lower cost. There’s a lot of excitement about that.


“MOOC means Massively Online Open Courseware and a lot of good pioneers that are learning and making that stuff better and better. The [Gates] Foundation is the biggest funder of that activity ’cause we see so much promise and the increasing price of education just doesn’t work. You know, a lot of our unemployment is because kids aren’t well educated enough. If you’re a college graduate, unemployment is very low. We’ve got to increase access to education, but letting the price go up won’t allow that.”


Anytime you hear someone say, “You can’t solve the problem by throwing money at it,” that person wants to reduce the cost of (that is, underfund) public schools, particularly the ones in poor urban neighborhoods and areas of rural poverty. Gates often used to preface his education remarks by stating that we spend way more than we used to but have little to show for it. He never took inflation into account, nor did he mention special education mandates.


Sure, the “reformers” want to “transform” public education by destroying it, but cost reduction is built into their overall scheme.



*Note: Eli Broad publicly supported Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to raise taxes for education, but he simultaneously funded a “dark money” effort to fight the same proposition.

Patrick Walsh, a teacher and blogger in New York City, reviewed Mercedes Schneider’s “Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.” I missed the review when it first appeared last fall, so am reporting it to you now because it remains timely. Walsh says it is one of the three most important books to read about “reform” today.


He writes that if the “reformers” succeed,


“…the U.S. public school system, the backbone of American public life, could well be but a memory in another 10 years. The noble art of teaching, which has sustained civilization since the days of Socrates, could well be reduced to a temp job or, at best, a micromanaged performance both scripted and judged by an international corporation like Pearson—which has, over the past decade, evolved from publishing textbooks to producing curriculum, making and grading tests, and in some states is involved in teacher certification—or worse.


Who are these people? How did they amass such power over a “public” institution of such magnitude?


In “A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education,” Mercedes K. Schneider sets out to answer those questions. She does so with fierce intelligence, wit, an ocean of unearthed facts, and a vengeance. Schneider, who in very short order has established herself as one of the nation’s most profound and prolific education bloggers, has taught for 19 years in many grades in four states and is currently teaching high school English in St. Tammany Parish, La.


You can sense her pride in her profession in every word she writes, as well as her righteous rage toward those who would defile it. Schneider is also a Ph.D. in applied statistics and research methods, which, for people who like to bury information and obscure reality with numbers, makes her a force to be reckoned with….


The book is as much a modern day bestiary as a chronicle. With the exception of former TV anchorwoman Campbell Brown, recently catapulted to privatization super-stardom, Schneider misses no person and no organization of note. They are all there, all the names conscientious teachers have heard of but whose stories were rendered as hagiographies or remained hidden as a hedge fund. Until now. Here are the stories of economists like Eric Hanushek; the entrepreneurs David Coleman and Eva Moskowitz; the professional think tank thinkers like Chester Finn and Hess; the hedge fund manager messiahs Whitney Tilson and his Democrats for Education Reform (DFER); the “radicals” like Rhee and Wendy Kopp; and, above and beneath all, the limitless coffers of the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations. And, of course, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Schneider shows again and again how they are all linked. Brilliant at uncovering the incestuous forces fueling the entire privatization campaign, she discovers the same few names popping up all over the terrain.


Walsh says that “A Chronicle of Echoes” is “an extraordinary achievement.” Dream this: Imagine if every education reporter in the mainstream media read this book.



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