Ken Derstine is a blogger in Philadelphia:

Divide and Conquer: The Philadelphia Story

By Ken Derstine

Everyone concerned about corporate education reform and the influence of various venture “philanthropists” in their drive to privatize public schools should be following the Democratic primary on May 19th for the next mayor of Philadelphia. Neoliberal and conservative financiers, in a drive to make Philadelphia public schools like the New Orleans school system, are investing millions of dollars in the mayoral race.

Most prominent is the Susquehanna Investment Group (SIG) that is funding state Senator Anthony Williams. SIG made an initial investment of $250,000 for television ads at the beginning of his campaign. In the final weeks of the campaign, they have boosted their funding to $800,000 per week.

The Susquehanna Investment Group makes no bones that their goal is the privatization of public schools in Philadelphia. For a full description of SIG see #Hedgepapers No. 11 – High Frequency Hucksters

The other major contender in the Philadelphia mayoral election is Democratic City Councilman James Kenney. Kenney has no problem with the expansion of charters as long as the state reimburses for their cost.

Williams backers, beside the outside financial interests investing millions in Williams campaign, include Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, and union leadership of sheet metal workers, laborers, operating engineers, and transit workers.

Kenney has been endorsed by much of the Democratic Party machine in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia local AFL-CIO leadership, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and a carpenters union, State Representative Dwight Evans and a coalition of African American leaders.

The splintering of Philadelphia’s labor movement is in marked contrast to 1973, when the PFT was on strike for 7 ½ weeks, the teachers union leadership and dozens of PFT members were jailed for contempt of court without bail, but the strike ended with a victory for the teachers as the city labor movement was preparing a general strike in support of the teachers.

On April 30th, Philadelphia political activist Helen Gym who is running on the Democratic ticket for a City Council-at-Large seat, criticized the Susquehanna billionaires for trying to buy Philadelphia’s election. Gym was viciously attacked at an April 30th rally by Antony Williams for “duplicity” and a personal attack was made on some of her supporters. Williams was joined in the attack by School Reform Commission member Bill Green. Green is a former Democratic City Councilman who was appointed by former Governor Corbett to the SRC. Rather than administer the beleaguered School District, he is taking sides in the mayoral election to promote his privatization agenda and his attack on Philadelphia teachers. See Bill Green’s Education Agenda: Hidden in Plan Sight | Defend Public Education

On May 3rd, Williams was endorsed by the Editorial Board of the Philadelphia Inquirer. They said the deciding factor was Kenney’s union support. Critics of the endorsement pointed out that the Inquirer is owned by Gerry Lenfest who is strongly pro-charter, a supporter of Teach for America, and corporate education reform as a whole. Reports are that the endorsement caused a lot of dissension on the staff at the Inquirer. Asked if she was concerned, Williams campaign spokeswomen Barbara Grant said in a statement “that Kenney and his allies will learn that both the Inquirer editorial board and voters don’t think that Kenney’s union supporters “need a seat in the mayor’s office.”

Both State Senator Williams and State Representative Evans support the Education Improvement Tax Credit Program. This program is a form of voucher that gives businesses a tax credit for providing scholarships for students to attend private or parochial schools in lieu of paying state taxes that would be going to public schools. This method of circumventing the Pennsylvania Constitutional mandate which says government cannot fund sectarian schools was pioneered by Florida Governor Jeb Bush after vouchers were declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court. Funding for Florida’s Corporate Income Tax Credit Scholarships program has risen dramatically since its inceptions.

Both Williams and Evans are on the board of the Black Alliance for Education Options. Its founder, former civil rights activist Howard Fuller, has been a promoter of vouchers and charters in low-income communities since August 24, 2000. Among its funders are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Institute for the Transformation of Learning, and the Walton Family Foundation.

On February 5, 2015, Fuller participated on a panel at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute during which he said, “We (BAEO) wouldn’t exist without John Walton and this is one of the reasons I love that man.” Fuller is indifferent to the fact that the money given to BAEO by the Walton Foundation comes from the low-wage exploitation of Walmart workers!

The state takeover of the Philadelphia School District in 2001 grew out of a civil rights lawsuit in1998 in which the city of Philadelphia charged that Pennsylvania funding practices discriminated against non-white students. In retaliation, the legislature passed Act 46 that set up a School Reform Commission that eventually took over the School District in 2001. The city withdrew the lawsuit when it was given two of the five seats on the SRC. The architect of the Act 46 was Philadelphia Representative Dwight Evans who was chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

Both PA Representative Dwight Evans and PA Senator Anthony Williams are on the board of the Black Alliance for Education Options. On the BAEO website it says:

“In Pennsylvania, the support and leadership of BAEO board members Representative Dwight Evans and Senator Anthony Williams were crucial to the creation, protection, and expansion of the tax credit and charter programs. They were also instrumental in passing the law that led to the state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia, which has led to an increase in quality educational options for poor families.”

Like Williams, Evans has tried to start charters schools while he voted on education legislation as a Philadelphia Representative in Harrisburg. In 2011 he came into conflict with Broad Foundation board member Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman over which charter company should take ownership of Martin Luther King High School. The clash led to a chain of events that lead to Ackerman’s resignation as Superintendent.

Early this year a pro-charter, anti-public school political organization descended on Philadelphia. Philly School Choice has appeared to counter-protest rallies of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and to organize parents with children in charter schools to speak at SRC meetings in support of charter expansion. It does not reveal its funding sources, but it’s leader, Bob Bowden, is well known in right-wing libertarian, corporate privatization circles.

On August 30, 2014 Bob Bowden interviewed Senator Anthony Williams about his agenda. State Senator Anthony Williams Discusses School Choice with Bob Bowden | Change the Game (video)

Many of the American civil rights leaders of the ‘60’s, like Howard Fuller, have followed in the footsteps of Booker T. Washington, and made their peace with the 1%. They promote a corporate education reform that undermines the civil rights gains of the ‘60’s. National leadership of groups like the National Urban League and NAACP have sold out for a price to the 1% and joined the promotion of the privatization of public schools. The Broad Foundation has trained urban superintendents, many from minority communities, to turn urban school districts over to private interests. (See “Who is Eli Broad and why is he trying to destroy public education?”)

The National Urban League has received $5,286,017 from Gates over the last few years.

Gates Foundation Awarded Grants

Put other organizations, like BAEO, NAACP, AFT, etc., in the search window to see what they have received from the Gates Foundation.

The infusion of corporate and hedge fund money into all levels of government for the purpose of privatizing public education is a grave danger to democratic rights in the United States. Recently twenty-five civil rights groups joined Arne Duncan and endorsed the continuation of standardized testing in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA). This is a direct response to the burgeoning Opt Out movement where parents are saying they do not want their children to be used in the national social experiment being undertaken by corporate education reform.

As part of her collaboration with corporate education reform, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers has endorsed the call for annual testing in ESEA. On a panel at the recent conference of the Network for Public Education, Weingarten said of standardized testing (47:04 in the video):

“We are fighting for a reset to get rid of high stakes. The civil rights community and the President of the United States of America is fighting very hard to have annual tests for one purpose. They have seen in states for years that if they didn’t have them that states would ignore children. They agree with us now that they have been misused, but they fought very hard in the last few months to actually have annual tests as opposed to grade span (in ESEA).”

A few days after the NPE conference, Weingarten spoke in support of Common Core at event sponsored by supporters of Common Core.

It is not necessary to torture children with standardized testing in order to see if a school needs funding. All you need to do is look at the income level of families in a school and you will know what funding is needed to meet the needs of students at that school. In addition to testing company profits, standardized testing is used by corporate education reformers to decide which public schoolsshould be “turned around” to charters to advance a privatization agenda.

Based on the experience of the oppressive conditions in many urban areas, the explosion in Baltimore against police repression to those fighting the oppression is causing many youth to reject the social and political forms that have been holding them down. The fragmentation of the Democratic Party in Philadelphia is a harbinger of great changes coming nationally. Nature abhors a vacuum. A political party with a program that meets the needs of the 99% needs to be built out of the struggles on which the youth have embarked so we do not descend into a social disaster.