Archives for category: Walton Foundation

Now that North Carolina is controlled by an extremist governor and legislature intent on destroying public education, the Walton Family Foundation has increased its support for groups advocating for vouchers in that state.

Lindsay Wagner writes in NC Policy Watch:

“The Walton Family Foundation, known for supporting vouchers, charters, and other school privatization initiatives across the country, paid $710,000 to NC-based school voucher advocacy group Parents for Educational Freedom NC (PEFNC) in 2013, an increase of more than $100,000 over its 2012 contribution to the group.

“Parents for Educational Freedom NC has received large contributions from Walton since at least 2009. The Walton Family has paid PEFNC $275,000 in 2009, $525,000 in 2010, $625,000 in 2011 and $600,000 in 2012, according to the foundation’s website.

“Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom NC, has seen his own compensation increase considerably as the influx of Walton money has ramped up. In 2010, Allison received $107,889 for his work running the non-profit; in 2012, Allison reported an income of $156,582—a 45 percent pay increase in just two years.

“PEFNC has been the primary advocacy group responsible for bringing school vouchers to North Carolina.

“Last summer, lawmakers passed the Opportunity Scholarships program, a school voucher program that would enable taxpayer dollars to be funneled directly to private schools–$10 million in 2014-15 and $40 million in 2015-16, with the goal of expanding the program even further in the future.

“The law, passed as a part of the budget bill last summer, provides little in the way of accountability for private schools while reducing funds for public education at a time when schools are seeing sharp reductions in funding over a years-long period.”

Read the post to open the links to other articles about privatization.

- See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/04/03/walton-family-spends-big-on-school-vouchers-in-north-carolina/#sthash.wNEd4Eig.dpuf

The Walton Family Foundation released its list of grantees in the education world, and once again, the foundation put its huge resources into privatizing American public education.

The billions that hard-working families spend at Walmart are used to support privately managed charters and vouchers and to undermine democratic local control and traditional public schools.

Some of the biggest recipients of the Walton family’s largesse are Teach for America (nearly $20 million), which staffs non-union charters; KIPP charter schools ($8.8 million); the Charter Fund, Inc. ($14.5 million); The Children’s Scholarship Fund (which gives our school vouchers) $8.56 million; and the California Charter School Association, $5 million. Parent Revolution got almost $2 million, the Black Alliance for Educational Options got $1.3 million.

Read the list and see who favors the privatization of public schools. Aside from a few dollars tossed to the Bentonville, Arkansas, public schools, it is a rogues’ gallery of privatization and teacher-bashing.

The Walton Family Foundation helped to underwrite the attack ads against New York City’s progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, because he dared to turn down three charter school proposals. Two of the three schools did not exist, so no child was evicted. The third rejection was meant to stop the expansion of Eva Moskowitz’s charter school inside PS 149 in Harlem, which required the eviction of severely disabled students to make room for her desired new middle school. Apparently the theory of the billionaires is that students with high test scores deserve public space more than profoundly disabled students, who have lesser rights.

As a result of pressure by the billionaires, the legislature passed a budget that gutted mayoral control by saying that the mayor was not allowed to reject any charter approved by Bloomberg’s school board; that the mayor was not allowed to charge rent to charters, even though they had just won a lawsuit declaring that they could not be audited by the State Comptroller because they are not “a unit of the state”; giving charters the right to expand in any public school where they are now co-located, without regard to the needs of the children already enrolled in that school; and requiring that the city pay the rent of any charter that rents private space. So, with the help of the Walton Family Foundation, the charter schools, which are not public schools and are not subject to public audit, get free space and may kick public school students out of their buildings.

This was a shameful law, purchased by people of vast wealth. They are intent on busting unions, crushing the teaching profession, and harming one of our democratic institutions. Their maleficent influence is unchecked. The money they spend each year is meant to transfer public funds to private hands. They use their power to hurt the very people who have made them wealthy, destroying their communities at the same time.

The age of the robber barons is back.

Joanne Barkan has written several important articles for Dissent magazine on the role of big foundations in shaping education policy. She spoke at the Network for Public Education conference in Austin on March 1-2 about how to criticize the role of big philanthropies in reforming our schools. She prepared this draft of her remarks:

How to Criticize “Big Philanthropy” Effectively

by Joanne Barkan

Criticizing philanthropy of any kind is tricky. To most people, a negative appraisal sounds off-base or churlish—just another instance of “No good deed goes unpunished.” Criticizing the immense private foundations that finance and shape the market-model “reform” of public education in the United States produces the same reaction. “You’re going after Bill Gates?” I’ve been asked incredulously. “Leave him alone. He’s doing great work in Africa.”

Actually, the Gates Foundation’s work in Africa has serious critics, but suppose, for the sake of argument, that the foundation does much good there. Or suppose that Bloomberg Philanthropies announces tomorrow that it will spend $1 billion over the next five years to promote gun control in the United States. Would those of us who oppose market-model ed-reform but support mosquito nets for Africa and gun control here still criticize the mega-foundations? Would we criticize them in the same way?

There are at least three approaches to criticizing the role of big philanthropy in ed-reform. Understanding how they differ makes for a more effective analysis and stronger arguments.

The first approach focuses on the failure of specific policies pushed by the foundations and the harm they do to teaching and learning. For example, an exposé of using value added modeling to measure the effectiveness of individual teachers would deal with the inherent unreliability of the calculations, the nonsensical use of faulty formulas to measure growth in learning, and the negative consequences of rating teachers with such a flawed tool.

The second approach examines how big philanthropy’s ed-reform activity undermines the democratic control of public education, an institution that is central to a functioning democracy. The questions to ask are these: Has the public’s voice in the governance of public education been strengthened or weakened? Are politicians more or less responsive? Is the press more or less free to inform them?

This approach pinpoints certain types of foundation activity: paying the salaries of high-level personnel to do ed reform work within government departments; making grants to education departments dependent on specific politicians remaining in office; promoting mayoral control and state control of school districts instead of control by elected school boards; financing scores of ed reform nonprofits to implement and advocate for the foundations’ pet policies—activity that has undermined the autonomy and creativity of the nonprofit sector in education; funding (thus influencing) the national professional associations of government officials, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, the United states Conference of Mayors, and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices; and funding media coverage of education.

The third approach examines large private foundations as peculiar and problematic institutions in a democracy. This approach considers big philanthropy in general and uses ed reform as one example of how mega-foundations undermine democratic governance  and civil society. The objections to wealthy private corporations dedicated to doing good (as they see it) have remained the same since the early twentieth-century when the first mega-foundations were created: they intervene in public life but aren’t accountable to the public; they are privately governed but publicly subsidized by being tax exempt; and in a country where money translates into political power, they reinforce the problem of plutocracy—the exercise of power derived from wealth.

Of course, all three approaches to criticizing big philanthropy can be part of the same discussion, but the distinctions help to create a more coherent point of view. They make answering the inevitable challenges easier. Here are some of those challenges and possible responses. Not everyone will agree with the responses. Consider them feasible options.

Challenge: You seem to believe that ed-reform philanthropy is some sort of nefarious conspiracy. Here we go again with conspiracy theories.

Response: By definition conspiracies are secret and illegal. The ed-reform movement isn’t a conspiracy. When people or organizations work together politically in a democracy, it’s a coalition or movement. This is true even when—as is the case with the ed-reform movement—huge amounts of money are being spent by mega-foundations and private meetings take place.

 

Challenge: You wrongly depict the ed-reform movement and the foundations involved as homogeneous with everyone marching in lockstep. The movement is actually very heterogeneous and rife with disagreements.

Response: Coalitions and movements are rarely, if ever, completely homogeneous. Yet their members agree generally on basic principles and goals. That’s how they make progress. The ed-reform movement is no different. The most significant policy difference among ed-reform foundations is on vouchers—the per-pupil funding that parents can move from a district public school to a private school, often including religious schools. Some foundations, for example, Walton, support vouchers; others, for example, Gates and Broad, do not.

Challenge: You constantly impugn the motives of the mega-foundations. Do you really think Melinda Gates or Eli Broad wants to hurt children?

Response: Of course, the philanthropists aim to do good, but they define “good.” It makes no sense to question their motives. The directors of the Walton Foundation believe that school vouchers will improve education. By supporting vouchers, they believe they are doing good. But when philanthropists enter the public policy fray, they—like everyone else—legitimately become fair game for criticism of their positions and activity. Tax-exemptions shouldn’t create sacred cows.

Challenge: Private foundations spend perhaps $1.5 or $2 billion annually on K-12 education in the United States. That’s minuscule compared to the more than $525 billion http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_205.asp that government spends every year. You exaggerate the influence that private foundations exert with their drop-in-the-bucket donations.

Response: Government spending on public education goes to basic and fixed expenses. Most states and urban school districts can’t cover their costs—they run deficits and/or cut outlays. Sociologists have shown that discretionary spending—spending beyond what covers ordinary running costs—is where policy is shaped and changed. The mega-foundations use their grants as leverage: they give money to grantees who agree to adopt the foundations’ pet policies. Resource-starved states and school districts feel compelled to say yes to millions of dollars even when many strings are attached or they consider the policies unwise.

Challenge: Private foundations don’t weaken democracy. They add another voice to the democratic debate. This increases pluralism and actually strengthens democracy.

Response: Money translates too easily into political power in the United States, and the country is becoming increasingly plutocratic. Mega-foundations exacerbate this tendency. In the realm of public education policy, they have too much influence, and this undermines democracy.

Joanne Barkan’s writing on philanthropy, private foundations, and public education reform has appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Quarterly, the Washington Post, Dissent magazine, and other publications. Many of her articles can be found at http://www.dissentmagazine.org/author/joannebarkan.

Half a century ago, as the civil rights movement grew in strength and intensity, “school choice” was understood to e a synonym for segregation. Leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fought for a democratic and equitable public school system. But, oh, how times have changed. Now there are organizations led by African Americans who want vouchers and charters to escape the public schools. No matter that such schools promote segregation. These 21st century leaders want school choice.

Why?

Julian Vasquez Heilig explains here how billionaires have co-opted minority groups to join their campaign to fight unions, fight teachers, and demand privatization.

The answer will not surprise you.

“Under the mantra of civil rights, billionaires such as Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the Koch Brothers and the powerful corporate-funded lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are using venture philanthropy and the political process to press for school reforms in the United States.

“The ongoing Vergara law case in California in which nine students are suing the state over teacher tenure laws, is backed by Student Matters, a non-profit that has received donations from the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation, run by the Walton family that founded supermarket chain Wal-Mart.

“The driver behind the case is a campaign to loosen labour rules in order to make it easier to fire “bad” teachers, under the argument that their presence discriminates against disadvantaged children. Opponents of the case argue that it is a blatant attempt to change the conversation from the realities of California’s divestment in education — the state is 46th in the nation in spending per student in 2010-11, and 50th in the number of students per teacher.

“What these organisations and other others such as the the Koch brothers, Bradley Foundation, Heritage Foundation, Students First and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education – all supposedly supporters of school reform – have as a common denominator is a vision of a profit-based market approach to education.

“School vouchers are one of the primary education reform policy approaches pressed by the billionaires and the business lobby. Voucher programs, which provide public funding for students to attend private schools, have become more popular in the US in the past several decades.”

He adds:

“….these special interests are supporting vouchers and other neoliberal reforms contrary to the interests of students of colour. In doing so they will shift the US education system to maximise corporate profits, while limiting democratic control of public schools.

“These same billionaire “reformers” have co-opted the equity discourse by offering a carrot to minority groups. This can sometimes be in the form of millions of dollars as in the case of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. But all this hides the inequity that profit-based approaches to education foment.”

David Safier is a journalist and friend of public education in Arizona. In this post, he explains how the usual assortment of corporate reformers amd make-believe Democrats have descended on Arizona to push vouchers.

First, they donated handsomely to the campaign of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthaler, who uses his platform to promote the destruction of public education.

Now they are spreading campaign contributions to wispy-washy Democrats, hoping to divert more money away from public schools.

At some point, public education collapses, and Arizona has a pure choice system, with hyper-segregation.

And with it, the end of an essential democratic institution.

Is this what the plutocrats want?

Yes.

Paul Thomas here critiques Jay Greene’s claim that schools of choice should not be subject to the same regime of standardized testing as public schools.

Thomas warns about the numerous academics and “think tanks” that are financed by interested parties and thus do not offer disinterested advice. Greene is a strong advocate of charters and vouchers; his “Department of Educational Reform” at the University of Arkansas is subsidized by the Walton Family Foundation, which promotes alternatives to public education.

Thomas concludes:

“If standardized test data are harmful for determining educational quality, student achievement, and teacher impact, let’s end the inordinate weight of standardized testing, period. And let’s acknowledge that the past thirty years of high-stakes accountability has misrepresented the quality of public schools and likely inaccurately increased public support for school choice.

“If charter schools are a compelling option because they allow schools relief from burdensome bureaucracy, just relieve all public schools from that bureaucracy and then no need for the charter school shuffle.

“Neither of the above will be embraced, however, by school choice advocates because they are not seeking education reform; they are seeking a privatized education system.”

Last week, Slate published an article about a large Texas-based charter chain that teaches creationism in its science classes. A spokesman for the chain, Responsive Education Solutions defended the practice.

“According to the article in Slate, students in Responsive Education Solutions charter schools get a different spin on biogy and history, to accord with religious dogma. “

Zack Kopplin wrote:

“When public-school students enrolled in Texas’ largest charter program open their biology workbooks, they will read that the fossil record is “sketchy.” That evolution is “dogma” and an “unproved theory” with no experimental basis. They will be told that leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth. These are all lies.

“The more than 17,000 students in the Responsive Education Solutions charter system will learn in their history classes that some residents of the Philippines were “pagans in various levels of civilization.” They’ll read in a history textbook that feminism forced women to turn to the government as a “surrogate husband.”

“Responsive Ed has a secular veneer and is funded by public money, but it has been connected from its inception to the creationist movement and to far-right fundamentalists who seek to undermine the separation of church and state.”

Now the chain has plans to open additional charter schools in Arkansas, as reported by Max Brantley of the “Arkansas Times,” a writer in that state who continues to defy its most powerful family. The new charters, it appears, will facilitate the resegregation of Little Rock. Not what you expect to hear on the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Twenty-five new charter schools will open in Phoenix, targeting low-income Latino students. The project is funded mainly by the Walton Foundation. The schools will rely on Teach for America recruits.

The story in the NY Times notes that charter schools in Arizona get more public funding than public schools and charter schools get lower test scores.

This is privatization for the sake of privatization, taking advantage of a chance to break public education with low-wage workers and promises.

Seth Sandronsky, a journalist in Sacramento, reports here on some extraordinary events in that city that should raise eyebrows. Maybe even some hackles.

Read Sandronsky to learn about State Senator Ron Calderon, his brother Thomas Calderon, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, ALEC, the Walton Family Foundation, Pearson, Connections Academy, the Sacramento Bee, and various other characters eager to reform our schools.

I would summarize, but this web is too tangled for me.

Since some readers had trouble opening the link, here is how the story begins:

Papering Over Public K-12 School Reform

By Seth Sandronsky

Private interests are busy paying for political favors from lawmakers at the state Capitol in California, writes Dan Morain, a columnist with The Sacramento Bee: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/11/13/5905448/dan-morain-the-investigation-into.html
According to him, what we know about Sen. Ron Calderon, a pro-business Democrat representing Montebello, and snared in an FBI sting operation recently, is just the tip of the dollars-and-politics iceberg.

The good senator has ample company, Morain continues. He mentions other actors and forces in the fetid pay-to-play of California state politics.

Yet his column omits the donor role of a leading public K-12 school reform group under the state Capitol dome. What is going on?
Al Jazeera America’s Oct. 31 unveiling of an FBI affidavit that alleges Sen. Calderon’s multiple alleged wrongdoings includes his brother Thomas Calderon’s meeting with star education reformer Michelle Rhee’s lobbyists. Her StudentsFirst group operates from a national headquarters in Sacramento.

The affidavit alleges that StudentsFirst lobbyists met with Sen. Calderon’s brother on Feb. 20. On Feb. 21, Sen. Calderon introduced a teacher-reform measure, Senate Bill 441 that Rhee’s group supports: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/sen/sb_0401-0450/sb_441_cfa_20130423_084911_sen_comm.html

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Rhee’s husband and never a classroom teacher, backed Sen. Calderon’s SB 441, which failed to pass out of committee. The mayor’s education non-profit, Stand Up for Great Schools, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the big-box retailer, also supported SB 441, which teacher unions opposed.

As Trevor Aaronson of Al Jazeera America reports: “Ronald Calderon’s push for the education bill came after Rhee’s organization provided critical financial support to the political campaign of his nephew Ian Calderon. In May 2012, state records show, StudentsFirst funneled $378,196 through a political action committee to Ian Calderon’s successful campaign for the California Assembly”:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/31/national-educationreformadvocatesoughtcalderonasinfluence.html

Rhee’s donation to Ian Calderon represents just over eight percent of StudentsFirst $4.6 million of donations to its 501(c)(4) nonprofit. That figure comes from its Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service, for the tax year ending July 31, 2011.
Operating in 34 states now, the IRS allows 501(c)(4) groups to engage in political activity such as lobbying: “Seeking legislation germane to the organization’s programs (as) a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes.” Oh, and the donor names to StudentsFirst’s 501(c)(4) are secret.

One of the states where StudentsFirst operates is Tennessee. There, Rhee’s ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, is a GOP governor’s appointed state head of public schools.

StudentsFirst’s political donations have swayed lawmakers to evaluate teachers based on their pupils’ standardized test scores: http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/tncode/ This policy fits with American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation for education reform.

Back in the Golden State, SB 441 was a bid to amend the state Education Code. Accordingly, Sen. Calderon’s bill would have potentially changed the education of 6 million kids attending California’s public K-12 schools.

Comparing ALEC’s “Teacher Evaluations and Licensing Act,” part of its “Indiana Education Reform Package,” approved at the 2011 ALEC yearly meeting: http://www.alec.org/model-legislation/indiana-education-reform-package/ ( “chapter 3″ of an omnibus bill) with Sen. Calderon’s SB 441, one sees similar phrases and words. As we know, ALEC is pushing forward across the U.S. with public K-12 school reform bills, using language that corporate lobbyists write and lawmakers vote on.

We turn to Connections Academy, a for-profit online learning enterprise that began in Houston, Texas. Once upon a time, this company co-led ALEC’s education task force.

Enter Pearson, Inc., a $7 billion publicly traded, global firm that profits shareholders through certifying teachers, grading standardized tests, publishing textbooks and providing digital curriculum on iPads. Pearson Connections in August 2011. Connections left ALEC soon after, said Brandon Pinette of Pearson in an email.

However, the state bills that Connections, the second largest online school company nationwide to K12 Inc., supported on ALEC’s education task force are still operative, said Rebekah Wilce, a researcher and reporter for the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy. K12 Inc., the biggest cyber school firm and formerly owned by Kaplan, Inc., the giant test preparation company, remains a member of the ALEC education task force, according to her.

Meanwhile, The Sacramento Bee financially backs Mayor Johnson’s nonprofit St. HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Excellence ) Development Company: http://www.sthope.org/fund-1.html. Johnson’s nonprofit, with help from the local school board and billionaire philanthropists such as Eli Broad, converted Sacramento High School to a nonunion charter school after pupils’ scores on high-stakes standardized tests fell in 2003.

Read the whole post, which is fascinating.

PS: Dan Morain, the columnist mentioned in first paragraph, was just named editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee.

Joanne Barkan has an excellent essay in Dissent magazine that explains how foundations founded by plutocrats use their wealth and political power to damage democracy.

She uses the example of public education to demonstrate how a small number of large foundations have captured control of public policy, taking it out of the hands of voters and parents to impose their will and get what they want.

She offers the examples of the AstroTurf groups created by the Gates Foundation; these are groups that pretend to represent local, grassroots groups but in fact carry out the wishes of the plutocrats.

Then there is the example of grants offered to districts that ar contingent on certain officials remaining in office.

Then there is TE example of the “parent trigger,” which manipulates parents to hand over their public school to a private corporation.

And another example is the practice of the Broad Foundation, which underwrites the salary of certain public officials to ensure that it gets its way.

She asks a god question: why are these plutocrats allowed to get tax breaks as they impose their control over and subvert a democratic institution?

This is a subject that deserves a book-length treatment. With her meticulous research skills and her understanding of the political dynamics involved, Joanne Barkan is just the one to do it.

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