Archives for category: Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos traveled to Kentucky to sell her used goods (schmattes is the Yiddish term): charter schools and vouchers.

For DeVos, a pandemic is the perfect time to push school privatization. Day in, day out, for 30 years or so, DeVos has been promoting charters and vouchers.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – School choice supporters should “insist” that state and federal policymakers back measures like public charter schools and scholarship tax credits amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Monday…

“I know in all of the years that I have advocated for state-level policy empower parents, never before have we had an environment like we have today, and so I believe that now is the time to raise voices more loudly than ever before and to insist on policy changes that need to take place….”

David Patterson, communications director for the Kentucky Education Association, said DeVos should focus on helping public school districts weather the COVID-19 pandemic, which has “spiked to its highest peak ever” in the state.

“Instead, she drops in for a day to push a political agenda that has been proven disastrous in states and school systems all across the country,” Patterson said in a statement. “Betsy DeVos has a habit of visiting Kentucky and discussing education without ever actually meeting with the public educators who teach 88 percent of all K-12 students across the commonwealth.”

Never before has the United States had a Secretary of Education who despises public schools.

When Kentucky had a Republican Governor, Matt Bevin, DeVos showed up to sell privatization. Bevin got a charter law passed, but he couldn’t get funding. Vouchers went nowhere.

Now Kentucky has a Democratic Governor, Andy Beshear, who was elected by teachers and public school parents.

Sorry, Betsy, time is running out. Your merchandise is old. It’s not innovative. Its time stamp is dated and past due. Go back to Michigan.

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.]

A few days ago, I spoke to a statewide group of public education advocates in Texas, brought together by my friends at Pastors for Texas Children.

For some reason, Texas is ground-zero for the charter industry right now. Betsy DeVos has given over $250 million to the IDEA charter chain (the one that wanted to lease a private jet for its executives, and she recently gave $100 million to the State Commissioner Mike Morath to expand charter schools. Morath was in business; he was never an educator. Businessmen like competition; educators know that competition belongs on the sports field and is not a way to improve schools.

I did my due diligence comparing charter schools to public schools in Texas and this is what I found: charter schools have lower test scores than public schools; charter schools have lower graduation rates than public schools; charter school graduates enter college with lower GPAs than public schools; charters have no effect on test scores and a negative effect on earnings after school. All of these articles and studies were published on my blog.

So, why, I wondered are billionaires like John Walton, Tim Dunn, the Waltons, and DeVos expanding this low-performing sector? What smart businessman would continue to pour money into a failing enterprise?

Public schools are better than charter schools by every measure, but they are underfunded. The Legislature cut the school budget by $5.4 billion in 2011 and has still not restored that funding, even though enrollment has grown.

If competition worked, Milwaukee and Detroit would be the best districts in the nation. Milwaukee has had vouchers and charters for more than 20 years. Sadly, all three sectors perform about the same, and Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing districts in the nation.

I asked the Texas audience whether it would make sense to fund two or three different police or fire departments in the same community. Would that improve their performance? Of course not! It would be a duplication and triplication and would be wasteful. I remembered that in the early 19th century, New York City had multiple fire departments. They would race to the scene of the fire, then fight each other for the right to fight the fire while the buildings burned down.

The Pastors for Texas Children turned these thoughts into a delightful article.

Public schools are a public service. They should be properly funded because they are creating the future. The teachers of Texas and every other state are developing their future leaders and citizens. They are heroes and should be respected and professionally compensated.

Derek Black, Jack Schneider, and Jennifer Berkshire wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the future of public education is on the ballot on November 3 (for the record, I got a credit for doing some minor editing).

Should Trump be re-elected, you can count on him and Betsy DeVos to continue their brazen assault on public schools and to continue their demand to transfer public funds to private and religious schools as well as to pour hundreds of millions of federal dollars into charter school expansion. Draining public dollars away from public school has been Betsy DeVos’s life work and she would have four more years to staff the U.S. Department of Education with likeminded ideologues who hate public schools.

The authors write:

When Trump selected Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, many took it as a sign that he wasn’t serious. After all, DeVos seemed to know little about public schools. But that was a product of her extremism. Over the last four years, she has been crystal clear that her primary interest in the public education system lies in dismantling it. For evidence, look no further than her proposed Education Freedom Scholarships plan, which would redirect $5 billion in taxpayer dollars to private schools.

Unmaking public education is a long-standing goal of libertarians and the religious right. Conservative economist Milton Friedman conceived of private school vouchers in 1955, and four decades later was still making the case for “a transition from a government to a market system.” As they see it, public education is a tax burden on the wealthy, an obstacle to religious instruction, and a hotbed for unionism. Rather than a public system controlled by democratic values, they’d prefer a private one governed by the free market. If they had their way, schools would operate like a welfare program for the poor while the rich would get the best education money could buy. The result would be entrenched inequality and even more concentrated segregation than now exists.

This extreme view has never caught on, largely because public education is a bedrock American institution. Many states created public education systems before the nation even existed. Massachusetts, for instance, was educating children in public schools long before tea was dumped in Boston Harbor. In 1787, the federal government explicitly mandated that the center plot of land in every new town in the territories — land that would become states like Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois — be reserved for schools, and that other plots be used to support those schools. After the Civil War, Congress doubled down on that commitment, requiring readmitted Confederate states, and all new states, to guarantee access to public education in their constitutions. In each of these foundational periods, leaders positioned public education at the very center of our democratic project.

The founders and their successors recognized that public education is essential to citizens’ ability to govern themselves, not to mention protect themselves from charlatans and demagogues. Public education is the surest guarantee of individual liberty, the founders understood — no less essential than a well-trained army to the survival of the nation. That’s why they recognized that the education of American citizens couldn’t be left to chance...

We are here to sound an alarm to Republicans and Democrats. The future of our nation’s public schools is at stake. And insofar as that is the case, the democracy envisioned by our founders — one with universal, tax-supported schooling at its core — hangs in the balance.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who is often called a Koch puppet because the Koch network donated heavily to his elections, denounced Proposition 208, which would increase taxes to raise teachers’ salaries. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stood by his side, presumably pleased with his attack on higher wages for the state’s teachers. He made his remarks while visiting a charter school and lauding charter schools for innovation.

Gov. Doug Ducey delivered a scathing rebuke of Proposition 208, the Invest in Education Act, while visiting a school on Thursday with U.S Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The proposal on November’s ballot would add a 3.5% surcharge on income tax for individuals with taxable income of $250,000 or more or couples making $500,000 or more. The revenue would go largely to raising school staff salaries.

“It would make us the equivalent of Bernie Sanders’ Vermont, or New York state or Washington, D.C.,” he said in response to a question about U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of the measure. 

Sanders, I-Vt., endorsed Proposition 208 in a news release on Thursday morning. 

“Let’s address the decades of cuts to education funding in Arizona and invest in our schools, teachers, and kids,” he wrote in a statement. 

A poll released Thursday showed that the measure is in the lead among registered voters.

Ducey is opposed to new taxes which he says will harm small businesses and be bad for the economy.

Proponents of Invest in Ed say that the average tax increase for someone who earns from $250,000-$500,000 a year would be $120.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee, a third-party state entity that analyzes the financial impact of ballot propositions, estimates that Proposition 208 would raise $827 million for education, about $100 million less than Invest in Ed’s initial estimate.

The measure would send the money to the following areas: 

  • 50% of the money would go to hiring and raising the salaries of teachers and other certified employees, such as counselors and nurses. 
  • 25% would go to hiring and increasing the salaries of student support staff, including classroom aides and bus drivers.
  • 12% would go to career and technical education programs. 
  • 10% would go to programs dedicated to retaining and mentoring teachers. 
  • 3% would go to scholarships for the Arizona Teachers Academy, which waives college tuition for teachers-in-training who commit to work in Arizona schools after graduation.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the PAC called American Federation for Children, started by Betsy DeVos, is supporting pro-charter Republican candidates in Missouri. We frequently get comments from charter advocates who insist that charters are progressive but it is hard to sustain that idea when the money to expand them comes from plutocrats like DeVos and the Waltons.

JEFFERSON CITY — A political action committee supporting state Sen. Andrew Koenig accepted $50,000 last week from a Washington, D.C., group that supports expanding charter schools, according to state ethics commission records.

Including the contribution to Koenig, the American Federation for Children, formerly chaired by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has poured $670,000 into Missouri races this year after legislators have continued to block efforts to allow more charter school options in the state.

By comparison, the group spent $200,000 in Missouri in all of 2018, the year of the last general election.

While proponents view charters as innovative alternatives to public schools, critics say the operations drain money from local districts. The issue is one of the most hotly contested in the Legislature, with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats scuttling recent expansion efforts.

Koenig is locked in a tight reelection race against state Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, in a legislative district that includes all or parts of Ballwin, Chesterfield, Kirkwood, Sunset Hills, Valley Park and other municipalities.

The 15th Senate District also includes some of the highest-rated public school districts in the state, covering all or parts of the Kirkwood, Lindbergh, Valley Park, Rockwood, Parkway, Mehlville and Hancock Place school districts.

Currently, charter schools only operate in St. Louis and Kansas City. A proposal this year would have allowed the schools to operate in any charter county — St. Louis, Jefferson, St. Charles and Jackson counties — or in any city with more than 30,000 residents.

Nebraska is one of the few states that has thus far managed to keep the privatizers out. That makes it a tempting target. Here is a message by one of the state’s strong advocates for public schools.

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As you know, Stand For Schools is dedicated to advancing public education in Nebraska. Our work involves not only advocating for evidence-based policies that would help schools serve all students better, but also being vigilant for and responsive to efforts to privatize our state’s public schools. 

Because Nebraska is one of only three states wise enough to avoid charter schools, private school vouchers, or scholarship tax credits, our state is viewed as prey by corporate reformers and proponents of school privatization. We have been aware of this target on the backs of Nebraska’s children and families for years, but something new and profoundly troubling has come to light this week. 

The American Federation For Children (AFC), an organization founded and largely funded by Betsy DeVos, is attempting to directly influence Nebraska elections.

Campaign filings reveal that William Oberndorf, a billionaire hedge fund manager from California, has donated $125,000 to Nebraska Federation for Children, and the organization is spending $25,000 in each of two legislative races in Nebraska

For decades, Oberndorf has spent huge sums of his fortune to influence elections and education policy across the country. Oberndorf succeeded Betsy DeVos as AFC board chair, so while he is not new to the school privatization agenda, his political campaign contributions are new to Nebraska.

Oberndorf was notably a board member of and major investor in Voyager, a computer software and hardware company masquerading as literacy curriculum, which not only produced negative academic outcomes but also cost taxpayers billions during the No Child Left Behind era – all while lining the pockets of Oberndorf and others. Government investigators would later find the entire organization was “very close to a criminal enterprise,” with referrals made to the Department of Justice.

Oberndorf’s large contribution caught our attention, but he is hardly the first out-of-state billionaire attempting to advance his agenda in Nebraska–a state where voters and nonpartisan legislators have rejected school privatization time and again.

Over the last few years, we have listened intently to testimony given at our State Capitol by paid fellows flown into the state by AFC. We read the editorial published in the Lincoln Journal Star earlier this year penned by a lawyer from another Koch-funded group, Institute For Justice. We have seen more than one nonprofit pop up in our state – one which failed to disclose their donors in a timely manner as required by federal law and another, Invest In Kids Nebraska, that is the local arm of AFC. And every year, we watch the governor host a rally on the steps of our Capitol coordinated and funded by National School Choice Week, which is itself an enormous web of dark money, special interests, and corporate lobbyists. 

The evidence is clear: School privatization does not benefit students or low-income families; it benefits wealthy privatizers like William Oberndorf. 

Nebraskans deserve to know about the presence of out of state money in our democracy and the attempted interference on education policy by special interests that will directly impact our schools and communities.

We are a state widely known and revered for our unicameral legislature. Our Second House is supposed to be the people of Nebraska and our best interests – not people like Californian William Oberndorf and his financial interests. Nebraska has some of the most lax campaign finance laws in the country, and that needs to change.

As always, Stand For Schools remains committed to advancing public education in Nebraska, and that means doing our part to inform the people of our state about threats to our public schools. We are a nonpartisan nonprofit that does not endorse any political candidate – but we believe Nebraskans deserve to know the truth about who is spending money in our elections. 

Stand For Schools is a nonprofit dedicated to advancing public education in Nebraska by advocating for evidence-based policies to close the opportunity gap and ensure schools have the resources they need to serve all students better – no matter their race, ethnicity, nationality, citizen status, language, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or
special need. You can find our organization’s Form 990 here. 

Paul Dorr is a little-known figure who has led numerous successful campaigns against bond issues in rural America over the past 25 years. He opposes public education. He believes that all education should be centered in religion and the church. Dorr is also active in opposing abortion and supporting gun rights. He burns books that he does not approve of.

A viral Facebook video offers some clues. It shows Paul Dorr, father of Aaron, Ben and Chris Dorr, burning books he checked out from a local library. 

It turns out the elder Dorr educated his 11 children at home, and took them along to protest outside abortion clinics as part of Operation Rescue.

Like his sons, Paul Dorr is active in politics. He’s developed a reputation as a fierce opponent of public schooling and works as a hired gun to help defeat school bond referendums across the Midwest.

But as Paul Dorr says, his reason for attacking public schools is “almost always not my client’s reason.” His clients may simply want to keep property taxes low.

But Paul Dorr’s plan is to eliminate public education entirely – to see the public education system “one day be gone, and restore education back into the hands of families, the parents and the Christians.”

This article describes his efforts to defeat a school bond issue in Worthington, Minnesota, intended to build a new high school.

Paul Dorr is:

a vehement opponent of public schools and supporter of religious-centric home-schooling who’s led campaigns that have helped defeat scores of bond issues in nine states — mostly in the upper Midwest — for the past 25 years. “Public education is a sin against God,” he has said. 

In the election season three years ago, Dorr was working as the communications consultant for a group called the Worthington Citizens For Progress Committee. It had created the flier. 

Dorr would eventually sharpen the anti-school-bond group tactics with a Facebook page, website, videos and memes to target local businesses, politicians and media. 

The material accused the school district of exaggerating the harm if the bond didn’t pass. It claimed the school board was mismanaging money and was incompetent, even deaf. The committee encouraged people not to eat at restaurants where school bond information was displayed and wrote critically about business leaders who supported the new school.

Dorr, who doesn’t live in Worthington — or in Minnesota, for that matter — was deploying tools of attack that seemed more fitting for political combat on a national stage, not a school bond vote in the American countryside. People were stunned.

Two months after the first signs of Dorr at King Turkey Day, the district lost its referendum vote — the first of four failed attempts between the fall of 2016 and the winter of 2019 to raise taxes for a new school.

Congress again gave $440 million to the wasteful and unnecessary federal Charter Schools Program, enabling Secretary DeVos sole discretion over where she wants to plant new charter schools, whether or not the community wants them.

DeVos just handed out $131 million to start new charters. The largest amount went to Texas, which is under heavy siege by national charter chains.

As studies by the Network for Public Education revealed, nearly 40% of the charter schools subsidized by the CSP either never opened or closed soon after opening, a waste of $1 billion in taxpayer money.

The federal Charter Schools Program is a massive boondoggle for the charter industry and a personal slush fund for DeVos. She has given many millions to corporate charter chains so that they can compete with and undermine public schools that are democratically controlled.

In a time of fiscal crisis, why is the federal government paying for a separate system of privately managed schools instead of helping public schools?

David R. Taylor is a veteran teacher and blogger. He asks the important question of what to expect the consequences to be for public education if Trump is re-elected.

Very likely, it means four more years of Betsy DeVos and her crusade to destroy public education and shower federal money on charter schools, private schools, and religious schools.

Taylor reviews some of her worst actions, such as favoring predatory lenders and favoring for-profit colleges that rip off students. Such as, abandoning the kids who need her most by downplaying civil rights complaints and stripping transgender students of any protections. Such as, trying to starve her own department of funding.

Between the return of DeVos and a voucher-loving majority on the Supreme Court, public schools are in for a rough ride. We can’t change the composition of the Supreme Court (unless there is a genuine effort to expand it and add balance), but we can vote to make sure Betsy goes back to Michigan and her ten yachts.