Archives for category: ALEC

If you have a few minutes to do some research, you might wonder about the connections among these three links:

First is from the extreme rightwing group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded by DeVos, Charles Koch, and major corporations. ALEC has 2,000 members who are state legislators. They get a free trip every year to a posh resort, where ALEC gives them model legislation to introduce in their state to promote the libertarian, anti-regulation, anti-government agenda.

Second is an article in the conservative journal Education Next about “reimagining civic education for the digital age.” It promotes the organization iCivics, a digital platform to teach civics.

Third, read about the award by the Trump Administration’s National Endowment for the Humanities and Betsy DeVos’s U.S. Department of Education of $650,000 to the curriculum and advocacy group iCivics and several university partners, to design a “roadmap” to guide teachers, publishers, and state officials on how to create integrated history and civics content.

The Trump administration, we know, is very concerned about instilling patriotism. Here is their ALEC-approved program for teaching civics. Frankly, I had forgotten that the NEH still existed.

In this post, Bill Moyers conducts an important interview with investigative journalist Anne Nelson, who talks about her new book, SHADOW NETWORK: MEDIA, MONEY, AND THE SECRET HUB OF THE RADICAL RIGHT.

Read this and you will understand the dark forces that are undermining our democracy and our democratic institutions, including our public schools.

BILL MOYERS: Let me begin with the most current part of the story, which comes just a little bit after your book is published when the conservative movement is facing a very decisive encounter with the very forces it’s been trying to defeat now for 40 years. How do you think the shadow network reads the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? What are they making of it?

ANNE NELSON: Well, I think that they consider it a great triumph and a kind of culmination of 40 years of effort. And I demure a bit at the term conservative because this is, for me, the radical right. It is so far to the right of mainstream American public opinion that I feel that it’s in a different category both in terms of its ideology and its tactics. But they decided way back in the day of Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of the movement that they–

BILL MOYERS: In the early 1970s, right?

ANNE NELSON: We’re going back to the ’70s and even earlier, because he was active on the Barry Goldwater campaign. And he was frustrated time and again by moderates in the Republican Party and people who were willing to work with Democrats to advance policy and solutions to public problems. And he created organizations and tactics that he openly declared should destroy the regime, as he called it, which would be the U.S. government as we’ve known it for the last century.

BILL MOYERS: Paul Weyrich is the man I remember saying–

PAUL WEYRICH: I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populous goes down.

BILL MOYERS: He was essentially saying, as a newly anointed leader of the religious right, what their philosophy was. The fewer people vote, the better their chance.

ANNE NELSON: That’s right. And from the beginning, in terms of their electoral tactics, it has been a matter of weaponizing certain churches and pastors and really exerting tremendous pressure on them to use churches as instruments of a radical right ideology. And then using similar tactics to suppress votes for Democrats, especially in key battleground states.

BILL MOYERS: So that’s why you conclude in your book they were to the right of the Republican Party. They were not just an offshoot of the Republican Party. They were not just fundraisers for the Republican Party, but they were ideologically and organizationally taking the Republican Party far to the right.

ANNE NELSON: Absolutely, and somewhat to my surprise, I found that their prototype was the Southern Baptist Convention, where they decided that in order to move it to the right, they had to use questionable tactics to elevate their supporters to key positions of influence and purge the Southern Baptist Convention of moderates in the seminaries and in the colleges and among the pastors. And it was a fairly ruthless process, and once these tactics were developed, they applied it to the Republican Party. And you had the same kind of tactics going on of purging moderates, some of whom had been in office for years.

BILL MOYERS: I should point out to some of our younger listeners and readers that the Southern Baptist Convention at the time and still today was the largest Protestant denomination in America. You know, something like it eventually reached 16 and a half million members scattered throughout the South and the West. We’ll come back to them in a moment. What do you think about the NEW YORK TIMES’ assessment that Amy Coney Barrett represents a new conservativism rooted in faith. That’s how their headline described a three-page portrait of her life and career. Does that make sense to you?

ANNE NELSON: Not entirely, because as a conservative Catholic, she follows in the footsteps of others such as Brett Kavanaugh and Antonin Scalia. So that’s not very new. And what I look at in my book SHADOW NETWORK is how these interlocking organizations support each other. The book is about the Council for National Policy– a radical right-wing organization that is very secretive, and it brings together big donors like the DeVos family and oil interests from Texas and Oklahoma and political operatives. And, for example, members include the leadership of the Federalist Society. Well, Amy Coney Barrett was a member of the Federalist Society for a number of years and is still a speaker at their events. It includes the head of Hillsdale College, which is one of their campus partners. Amy Coney Barrett was commencement speaker for Hillsdale College this year. So, there are all of these organizations that have been turning their wheels to promote her really for several years going back. She appeared on previous lists of potential nominees for the Supreme Court, and I don’t believe she would have been included in those lists had she not confirmed to their traditional idea of an activist judge.

BILL MOYERS: They knew what they were looking for.

ANNE NELSON: And I should add that one of the most powerful components in the Council for National Policy is the anti-abortion movement. Organizations such as the Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America and other interests, which are anti-environmentalist interests from the fossil fuels industry. So, I think that we’ve seen a roadmap of what to expect moving forward.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me, who does make up the Council for National Policy?

ANNE NELSON: So, the Council for National Policy has traditionally been around 400 members. From the beginning, it’s included people with big money, a lot of them from the Texas and Oklahoma oil industries, but also the DeVos family of Michigan from the Amway fortune, and Betsy DeVos, of course. So, it has the big money to pay for things. It’s got the leaders of so-called grassroots organizations. Now, I say so-called, because they do not spring from the grassroots the way that you would expect from the name. They are organized with a great deal of money from the top down. So, for example, the National Rifle Association– their leadership is part of the CNP. They get money from the donors, they organize their millions of members, and you combine these with the strategists and the media owners. And I spend a lot of time in my book talking about the power of fundamentalist and conservative radio in swing states. Things that people on the East Coast overlook to a terrible degree. And the same thing with fundamentalist broadcasting, which has really several of these broadcasters — the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Trinity Broadcasting Network have really turned into outlets replicating the messaging from this organization. So, you have them interlocking and interacting and each supporting each other’s function. And I should explain something here, which is that they represent historically a white, Protestant, I’m sorry, but male-dominated patriarchy–

BILL MOYERS: No, that’s okay.

ANNE NELSON: And I have to say that demographically its time has passed. The United States has become more diverse religiously, ethnically, and racially. And they recognize that their core positions are not supported by the majority of Americans. So, they went to the limit, pulled out all the stops to get Trump elected by a tiny margin, but they doubt that they can do that again. The signs are not good. What they can do is make their hold on the federal courts concrete through the Supreme Court, and therefore, get majorities in cases like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and their political activation of the churches with tax-exempt status. And further their hold on power through the courts.

BILL MOYERS: So which part of the shadow network do you think chose, mentored, and groomed Amy Coney Barrett for this moment?

ANNE NELSON: Well, I have to speculate here. But I would see a fairly straight line from her position to Leonard Leo’s. Now, Leonard Leo is a very conservative Catholic. He was the operational figure of the Federalist Society for a number of years, and recently he shifted from that position to an even more activist position. Amy Coney Barrett was already a member of the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society has a pipeline through the lower federal courts, which she benefited from. So, in terms of this Catholic interaction they would be quite close to each other. Another key figure is Carrie Severino, who is from the Judicial Crisis Network, which was co-founded by Leonard Leo. And again, very right-wing Catholics who have tended to be overlooked while people focus on the fundamentalist Protestants. But Ralph Reed, who has been somebody who’s been active with the fundamentalist politicization for decades declared openly years ago that the next step to their campaign was to enlist the Catholic vote. And they’ve been aggressively doing that in recent years.

BILL MOYERS: And then there’s Don McGahn who was for three years Donald Trump’s chief White House counsel, graduate of Notre Dame, admirer of Amy Coney Barrett, who was scouting himself for recruits to bring up, train, groom, and put into the mix for potential Supreme Court justices. And I read that he was highly enthusiastic about her, had talked to Leo and that they had you had both these White House and legal forces behind her, knowing that she was one of them.

[The interview continues. I urge you to open the link and read it in full to understand the secret network that is currently running the federal government and selecting justices for the Supreme Court.]

I have posted many times about the corruption embedded in the for-profit virtual charter industry. The founder of Pennsylvania’s largest virtual charter school was sentenced to prison for misappropriating $8 million. The single biggest scam in U.S. history involved an online charter chain in California called A3, whose owners managed to make $50 million in state funding disappear. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) in Ohio collected $1 billion over its nearly two decades, its owner paid his companies for supplying services, he made generous gifts to elected officials, but ECOT declared bankruptcy in 2018 to avoid repaying the state for phantom students. The stories of corruption, embezzlement, and scamming go on and on.

Therefore I was delighted to find this excellent summary by journalist Florina Rodov, who gathers many of the scandals and research reports in one place to demonstrate the woeful failure of virtual charters. As she points out, the virtual charter industry has beefed up its already massive marketing budget to take advantage of the pandemic and try to gather market share.

One detail that I found fascinating was the link to executive compensation for K12 Inc., the for-profit virtual chain that has the largest enrollment in the nation. The top five executives receive a total of $28 million in compensation. Beats teaching!

She begins:

“Instead of going to school every morning, what if school could come to you?” an ad asks enticingly, promising students “online personalized learning” tailored to their specific needs. It’s one of hundreds of active Facebook ads run by K12 Inc., the largest for-profit virtual charter school provider in the United States. As public schools rose to the challenge of educating students online during the pandemic, corporations like K12 Inc., whose stock price has been climbing since mid-March, were licking their chops at the prospect of moving kids online permanently. Though virtual charter schools perform dismally academically and are plagued by scandal, the goal is for them to replace traditional brick-and-mortar public schools in an effort to privatize education. While this would harm students, it would most egregiously damage Black and Latino children, who’ve already been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, due to structural inequities such as lack of access to computers and internet service, as well as inconsistent health care and crowded housing.

The article has many important links and I urge you to read it in full. The virtual charter industry has the full-throated support of Betsy DeVos, who lied about their results at her confirmation hearings in 2017, claiming they had 100% graduation rates, when their graduation rates are abysmal.

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics in California, writes frequently about school “reform,” aka school choice, as a substitute for adequate funding.

In this post, he explains the fraud of school choice and why billionaires and rightwing zealots promote it. To read it in full,as well as his kinks, open the full post.

He begins:

Birthed in the bowels of the 1950’s segregationist south, school choice has never been about improving education. It is about white supremacy, profiting off taxpayers, cutting taxes, selling market based solutions and financing religion. School choice ideology has a long dark history of dealing significant harm to public education.

Market Based Ideology

Milton Friedman first recommended school vouchers in a 1955 essay. In 2006, he was asked by a conservative group of legislators what he envisioned back then. PRWatch reports that he said, “It had nothing whatsoever to do with helping ‘indigent’ children; no, he explained to thunderous applause, vouchers were all about ‘abolishing the public school system.”’ [Emphasis added]

Market based ideologues are convinced that business is the superior model for school management. Starting with the infamous Regan era polemic, “A Nation at Risk,” the claim that “private business management is superior” has been a consistent theory of education reform promoted by corporate leaders like IBM’s Louis Gerstner, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Wal-Mart’s Walton family, Bloomberg LP’s founder, Michael Bloomberg and SunAmerica’s Eli Broad. It is a central tenet of both neoliberal and libertarian philosophy.

Charles Koch and his late brother David have spent lavishly promoting their libertarian beliefs. Inspired by Friedman’s doyen, Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek, the brothers agreed that public education must be abolished.

To this and other ends like defeating climate change legislation, the Kochs created the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This lobbying organization has contributing members from throughout corporate America. ALEC writes model legislation and financially supports state politicians who promote their libertarian principles.

Like the Walton family and Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch promotes private school vouchers.

Floridians, and everyone else, want to know the answer to this question. Some believe that keeping schools open during a pandemic will destroy them; some fear that opening them during a pandemic will destroy them. Take your pick.

Thanks to Peter Greene, I discovered a Florida blog called Accountabaloney, written by two savvy Floridians who are fed-up with their state’s absurd education policies. Sue and Suzette, welcome!

They write here about a podcast by Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, questioning whether Betsy DeVos’s newfound enthusiasm for opening real public schools is another front in her war to destroy them.

Listening to the “In the Weeds” podcast, they realized that another con was happening:

Some will read the title and dismiss it as a conspiracy theory. That is exactly what we used to hear if we equated “ed reform” with privatization five or so years ago, when the education reformers were still hiding their desire to privatize public education. In Florida, they now make few attempts to conceal their mission. We hope you will read this summary, subscribe at Patreon, listen to the entire “In the Weeds” segment, and draw your own conclusions. Will the Covid pandemic be used fundamentally alter public education in Florida?…

Keep in mind, the Commissioner Corcoran is a strong proponent of “school choice” and privatization, pushing as both a legislator and as the commissioner for the expansion of charter schools and private school voucher programs. Shortly after he was appointed as commissioner, he was reported saying his goal was to move 2/3rd of Florida’s 2.7 million public school students into private options, envisioning a system where most students attended charter and private schools.

After calling for the campus closures of Florida’s public schools in response to the pandemic in March, at the April 1st State Board of Education meeting, Commissioner Corcoran praised Florida Virtual School (FLVS) for re-allocating $4.3 million of its reserve funding to purchase the servers necessary to expand its capacity be capable of serving the entire Florida student population (2.72 million). He suggested that, should the closures remain necessary, FLVS could serve the entire state’s virtual needs…

Shortly after his inauguration, Governor Ron DeSantis redefined public education saying “if it’s public dollars, it’s public education,” an idea celebrated by DeVos.

I’m so glad to read this post. Florida is very likely the worst, most corrupt state in the nation when it comes to education policy.

In this post, Tom Ultican takes a close look at the takeover and privatization of the Indianapolis school district, funded by billionaires and managed by a well-funded group called The Mind Trust (which, of course, claims to be deeply concerned about “civil rights,” while stripping parents of color of their right to elect a school board that represents them). By Ultican’s reckoning, nearly 64% of the students in Indianapolis now attend privately managed schools.

He writes:

With the introduction of Innovation schools in 2015, Indianapolis Public Schools quickly became the second most privatized taxpayer supported schools system in America. It has zoomed past Detroit and Washington DC in the privatization sweepstakes to only trail the poster child for disaster capitalism, New Orleans. The right wing billionaire funded organization, The Mind Trust, has played a major role in this outcome.

He provides a handy list of the major funders of this betrayal of the public trust. Leading the charge is the Lilly Endowment, with a donation of $22.7 million, followed by the City Fund (Reed Hastings and John Arnold) at $18 million. And there are other familiar names, well known in the disruption industry.

Ultican traces the history of the disruption/privatization industry in Indianapolis and finds that its origins can be traced to the far-right extremists of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch brothers. You will not be surprised to learn that Teach for America and TNTP (the organization founded by Michelle Rhee) are integral to the privatization of Indianapolis’s schools. And Relay “Graduate School of Education” (the one with no real faculty or campuses or professors or researchers or library) is also in the mix.

Ultican reviews the sorry situation in Indianapolis, where disrupters have pulled the wool over the eyes of the public and the media with their dazzling sums of money, and he speculates about why billionaires are so devoted to undermining public schools and the teaching profession:

Why are billionaires spending so much to undermine professionalism in public education? It is probably not altruism. More likely, they want to reduce the biggest cost associated with education; teacher’s salaries. In the antebellum south, plantation owners preached anti-tax ideology because they owned the most and paid the most. Today’s billionaires aren’t much different. Most of them won’t put their children in public schools and really don’t value high quality public education. It seems the big motivation is to reduce tax burdens and simultaneously create new education industries.

In this powerful post, NBCT teacher Stuart Egan describes the calculated attack on democracy and social justice in North Carolina.

The state was once considered one of the most enlightened in the South. It is now one of the most regressive, taken down by the Tea Party, by a legislature dominated by ALEC, and by politicians determined to destroy opportunity for people of color and poor people.

Egan provides a timeline of North Carolina’s descent, which accelerated after the Tea Party capture of the General Assembly in 2010. Behind the scenes, big money pushed ALEC bills.

Egan writes:

That timeline is filled with actions that are calculated, highly crafted, delicately executed, and driven by dogma deliberately done to hurt public education and communities that rely on public schools. Each occurred before the May 16th, 2018 march in Raleigh.

Citizens United, you may remember, allowed for corporations and other entities to donate to political candidates. It gave rise to PACs and SUPERPACs. It’s why you now see an incredible amount of money in political races donated by people who have a vested interest in a race or candidate but cannot vote in that race.

HB17 was the legislation produced in a special session in December of 2016 right before Roy Cooper took office. It was a power grab that granted the incoming state superintendent, Mark Johnson, the most power any state super had ever had. Johnson might be the most unqualified person to ever hold the job. What ensued was a lawsuit between Johnson and the State Board of Education that lasted for 18 months. Ultimately, it cemented Johnson’s role as a puppet and led to DPI’s reorganization and reduction of personnel.

The Innovative School District is an educational reform that allows the state to select “poor” performing schools to be taken over by an out-of-state entity. In three years, it has only one school under its umbrella, but has gone through multiple leaders.

And then there was the Voter ID law, racially driven gerrymandered political maps, and the abolishment of automatically paycheck deductions for groups like NCAE. (Yes, the Voter ID law and the gerrymandered districting has been overruled, but we still as a state have not had an election cycle since both were overturned.)

It used to not be this way, but after the Great Recession of 2008 and the rise of a new wing of the Republican Party, a noticeable shift occurred in North Carolina politics. Decades ago, public education was championed by both Democrats and Republicans alike. Think of governors like Holshousher and Martin and you will see a commitment to funding public education like NC saw with Sanford, Hunt, and Easley. The governor’s office and the General Assembly were often in different hands politically speaking, but on the issue of public education, they stood much more united than it is today.

That unification is not there anymore. And it wasn’t caused by public education or its advocates. It was planted, fed, fostered, and championed by those who came to power after the Great Recession. These are not Eisenhower Republicans or Reagan Republicans; they are ALEC Republicans whose sole purpose is to politicize all things and try and privatize as many public goods as possible. And on a state level, nothing is more of a public good than public schools.

They have been very adept at combining racial and social issues with public education to make it hard not only to compartmentalize each through legislation, but easy to exploit how much social and racial issues are tied to public education without people thinking they are interlinked. Laws and mandates like HB2, the Voter ID Law, the gerrymandered districts, and the attempted judicial system overhaul have as much to do with the health of public schools as any other factor.

When you keep people from being able to vote, you affect public education. When you keep people below the poverty line, you affect public education. When you gerrymander districts along racial lines, you affect public education. You cannot separate them exclusively. And we have lawmakers in power who know that very well. It’s why when you advocate for public schools, you must be aware of social and racial issues and be willing to fight along those lines.

Public school advocacy that was “successful” before 2008 will not work as effectively in 2020. No ALEC aligned politician who is in a right to work state that outlaws collective bargaining is going to “work with” advocacy groups like NCAE.

For NCAE and other groups to truly advocate for public schools, they must fight for issues outside of school rooms that affect the very students, teachers, and staff who come into those school rooms.

By every measure, North Carolina has regressed and opposed equity and democracy.

For example, “Now name the only state in the country with the lowest legal minimum wage, no collective bargaining rights, no Medicaid expansion, loosely regulated voucher and charter school expansion, and a school performance grading system that measures achievement over growth. North Carolina.“

The legislators who have passed regressive laws are not interested in dialogue or reason. They knew exactly what they were doing. They don’t negotiate. They don’t listen. They must be voted out of office.

 

This is a very engaging video interview of Tom Ultican, an expert on corporate education reform, explaining the federal takeover of public schools via No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Ultican goes into detail about the corporate assault on public schools in the Dallas Independent School District. He names names, starting with the misguided superintendency of Mike Miles, a Broadie who managed to drive out large numbers of experienced teachers. He identifies the funders of corporate funders, both billionaires and the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

He gives a concise analysis of the money behind the “portfolio model,” charters, and privatization in Texas and Dallas.

Perhaps you have been confused by the proliferation of organizations that claim to be all about fixing schools and teachers. Perhaps you can’t figure out who is who in the galaxy of billionaire-funded world of fake reformers.

Buy this reference book! It names names! It is the glossary you have been waiting for!

EDSPEAK AND DOUBLETALK: A Glossary to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling.

It was written by Nancy Bailey and me. It is published by Teachers College Press. Not only does it have a definitive deconstruction of reform blarney and baloney, but it will be continuously updated online as the billionaires spin out new AstroTurf groups and impose new fads and terrible ideas on the schools and the teaching profession.

Confession: Nancy and I have never met face to face. We met by reading each other’s commentaries about the fraudulent language now current in education. We emailed. I invited her to help me rewrite “Edspeak,” a now dated and obsolete glossary that I had published in 2006. She threw herself and her deep classroom experience into the task. I was the beneficiary of her wisdom and her keen eye for phoniness.

All of the royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to the Network for Public Education. Nancy and I look forward to meeting at the NPE conference in Philadelphia in late March.

Politico reports that Betsy DeVos thanked her ideological bedfellow, ALEC, for its help in framing proposals to defund public schools (aka vouchers, opportunity scholarships, tax credits, education savings accounts, a rose by any other name, etc.).

ALEC is the far-right extremist libertarian organization that hates public schools, gun control, unions, environmental regulations, and anything else that infringes on the right of corporations to pursue profits without regard to consequences. ALEC is also a strong supporter of charter schools.

 

DEVOS IS SCHEDULED TO THANK ALEC FOR EDUCATION FREEDOM SCHOLARSHIP SUPPORT in a speech to the council’s conference in Arizona today, the Education Department said. The proposal, which has found little traction in Congress, would create a new $5 billion federal tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations to pay for students to attend private schools or expand their public education options.

DeVos is a longtime friend to ALEC’s group of conservative state legislators. The secretary’s addressed the group’s conferences before, and drawn protests with a push for local control of education issues.

Arizona unionists have planned extended protests at ALEC’s conference, and have been aware that DeVos would be visiting.