Archives for category: Betsy DeVos

Carol Burris has followed closely the development and passage of regulations written by the U.S. Department of Education for federally-funded charter schools. The regulations, she believes, are reasonable and intended to assure that charters funded by the federal government are held to standards of transparency, honesty, and accountability.

She was taken aback to learn that rightwing groups have filed suit to block the regulations. Apparently, those filing the suit think that charters should get federal money without any oversight.

She writes about it here.

Those who want a wild west of unregulated charter schools never give up. A right-wing legal defense firm called the Pacific Legal Foundation has teamed up with the Michigan charter lobby and The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation to stop the reasonable rules of the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the Department has no right to make rules regarding the program.

Here are other lawsuits in which Pacific Legal is engaging:

· Fighting minimum wages for those who wish to move up the ladder at Texas Wally Burgers and Dairy Queens.

· Fighting opportunities for businesses of color to get some competitive advantage in obtaining government contracts after years of discrimination.

· Fighting attempts by three competitive Boston schools to expand enrollment opportunities for under-represented students of color by allotting spots by zip code.

The two plaintiffs, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, have vested financial interests in charter growth. Fordham is an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio, taking 3% of all the taxpayer dollars that the charters receive for providing “oversight.”

The argument, in its essence, is that the Department does not have the right to set up new conditions beyond what is memorialized in ESSA. If that is so, then when De Vos permitted state entities to distribute money to charter schools from their CSP grants for purposes beyond the opening and expansion of charters during the pandemic, she would have been in violation, too. Here is New York’s redistribution request that was granted. CSP funds were used for a “pandemic response,” as Betsy De Vos approved, without Congress’s permission. If the charter lobby wins this frivolous lawsuit designed to bully the Department into kowtowing to charters, perhaps taxpayers should sue to claw all of the money De Vos distributed back from charter schools.

Finally, I wonder why organizations that claim they fight for charter schools to help low-income kids succeed would run to a law firm that fights minimum wages, reduces disadvantaged kids’ chances of getting into a competitive high school, and roll back opportunities for minority-owned businesses. Perhaps their agenda has nothing to do with children at all.

What is happening to the America that we swore allegiance to every day in public school? what happened to the America that was “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”? How did we get a rogue Supreme Court that recklessly demolishes women’s rights, the separation of church and state, gun control, public safety, and efforts by government to prevent climate disasters? Who kidnapped the conservative Republican Party that believed in stability and tradition? From whence came the people who scorn the commonweal and ridicule Constitutional norms?

Former state legislator Jeanne Dietsch has an answer. Connect the dots by looking at what has happened to New Hampshire. The coup failed in Washington, D.C. on January 6, she writes. But it is moving forward in New Hampshire, with many of the same characters and all of the same goals.

If you read one post today, read this.

She writes:

During the last few weeks, US House leaders documented the nearly successful January 6 coup piece by piece, before our eyes. That personal power grab failed. Meanwhile, the steps clinching takeover of our government by radical reactionaries have nearly triumphed. A plan decades in the making. A plan nearly invisible to the ordinary public.


I can barely believe myself how this story weaves from Kansas to Concord to DC to the fields of southern Michigan over the course of six decades. It starts in Witchita. Koch Industries is the largest privately held company in the US, with over $115 billion in revenues, mostly fossil-fuel related. For many years, two of the founders’ sons, Charles and David Koch, each owned 42% of the company.


The younger, David, studied in the engineering department of MIT for 5 years, simultaneous with young John H. Sununu. Both finished their Master’s degrees in 1963.

1980: THE KOCHS SET THEIR GOALS


Seventeen years later, David Koch ran for Vice President of the US on the Libertarian ticket. The campaign was largely funded by Koch interests. The Libertarian platform of 1980, shown below, may look disturbingly familiar to those following news today.

Open her post to read the Koch Libertarian platform of 1980.

Libertarians demanded the abolition of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public schools, aid to children, the Post Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and more.

The infrastructure for achieving that platform was founded two years later. It was called the Federalist Society. It was a plan by a “small but influential group of law professors, lawyers, and judges.” Its goal?

To train members of their professions to believe in “originalism.” Originalists “strictly construe” the Constitution as they believed the Framers designed it way back in 1787. This matched David Koch’s 1980 platform. It would leave corporations free to do whatever profited them most without regard for social costs or regulations. Older Federalist Society members used their influence to advance their followers to higher judgeships.

SUNUNU FAMILY ROLES


Meanwhile, John Sununu became governor of New Hampshire, then Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush. In that role, John thwarted a plan for the US to join the international conference to address climate change in 1989. Actions like this, that benefitted Koch and the rest of the fossil-fuel industry, would become a hallmark of the Sununu family.


In 1993, an executive of Charles and David’s Koch Industries Michigan subsidiary, Guardian Industries, became a founding trustee of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy [JBC] in NH. Its mission was to advance many of the policies listed on David Koch’s platform of 1980. John Sununu, and later his son James, would chair the JBC board through today. Another of Sununu’s sons, Michael, would become a vocal climate denier and industry consultant. Still another, Senator John E. Sununu, would oppose the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003. But the Sununus were not coup leaders, just complicit.

BUILDING INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE COUP


But let’s jump back to the Federalist Society. Its mission was succeeding. They were stacking the lower courts.?..Those justices hired young lawyers as clerks. From 1996-97, Thomas employed a Federalist Society clerk named John Eastman.


Twenty-three years later, Eastman would meet secretly with President Donald Trump. He would convince him that Vice President Pence could refuse to accept electoral college ballots on January 6. But back in 1999, Eastman became a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. “The mission of the Claremont Institute is to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life.”


Now we’re almost at the secret clubhouse of the coup. The Claremont Institute was run by a fellow regressive named Larry Arnn.(Photo below) In late 1999, Arnn was in the process of replacing the president of Hillsdale College because of a scandal that made national news. Hillsdale promotes conservative family values. Yet its leader was having an affair with his daughter-in-law. She committed suicide. Hillsdale was the central hub for Libertarian radicals so they needed a strong leader to pull them out of the mud.

Please read the rest of this fascinating post. There is one blatant error: she refers to “Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer” as Koch justices, but Breyer was a liberal justice appointed by Clinton. She must have meant the crackpot Alito.

The IDEA charter chain in Texas has gone through some strange ups and downs.

Its founder Tom Torkelson quit in 2020 with a golden parachute of $900,000 after a series of financial embarrassments (like trying to lease a private jet for $2 million a year and $400 box seats at the San Antonio Spurs basketball games for executives); the IDEA chief financial officer Wyatt Truscheit left at the same time.

A year later, the IDEA board fired its co-founder JoAnne Gama and another chief financial operator, Irma Munoz, “after a forensic review found “substantial evidence” that top leaders at the state’s largest charter network misused money and staff for personal gain.” Add to this brew that Betsy DeVos handed over $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program to help IDEA grow faster and replenish its ample resources

Well, with all this turmoil and financial questions, state officials conducted an audit of the flush charter chain.

But lo and behold, three years later, the charter chain hired the state auditor to be its new CEO!

IDEA Public Schools this week named as its lone finalist for superintendent a top Texas Education Agency official who oversaw an office that has been investigating the charter network over allegations former leaders had misused money and staff for personal gain.

The network’s board on Tuesday named Jeff Cottrill, who has served as TEA’s Deputy Commissioner for Governance and Accountability for the last three years, as the finalist, according a statement from IDEA. He is expected to begin serving as superintendent in June following a 21-day waiting period required by the state for superintendent appointments.

“Jeff is an education leader with tremendous gifts, heart and focus,” Collin Sewell, chair of the IDEA Board of Directors, said in the statement. “He is a veteran school administrator with valuable and diverse experience leading, overseeing, and improving school districts and charter schools throughout Texas.”

In response to an inquiry from the Houston Chronicle, the charter network on Thursday issued a statement saying Cottrill had “recused himself from matters involving IDEA at the Texas Education Agency.”

Cozy!

State Board of Education Rep. Georgina Cecilia Pérez, whose district includes 40 counties in West Texas, said the move “just stinks to high heaven.”

She questioned why the agency had not announced Cottrill’s recusal from the probe. Pérez also asked who currently is overseeing the IDEA investigation and whether the same investigators, who technically worked for Cottrill, would continue digging into a charter network that he now will lead.

Georgina Cecilia Perez is a member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

Colorado is a blue state where the privatizers have poured in millions of dollars to win school board seats. It’s the rare blue state that has gone all-in for privatization, led by Senator Michael Bennett (who served as Superintendent of Schools in Denver, although he was never an educator). Colorado’s Governor is Jared Polis, who is super-wealthy and founded two charter schools. Betsy DeVos hailed Denver as an exemplar of school choice.

Our friend Jeanne Kaplan served two terms on the elected Denver School Board and is a passionate advocate for public schools and civil rights. She has observed the bipartisan consensus around the DeVos-ALEC agenda with despair.

In this post, she brings good news. The “reformers” (aka privatizers) encountered a setback in the state legislature.

She begins:

At 9:23 p.m. MDT on May 11, 2022 Education Reformers in Colorado suffered their first serious setback in the Colorado legislature. While SB 22-197, the so-called Innovation and Alternative Governance Bill passed both houses of the legislature, the resulting legislation was actually a defeat for reformers/privatizers in Colorado, a first such legislative stumble in many years. At the very least the adopted Bill placed a roadblock in the previously unobstructed march to privatization. At the most it was a sign of the weakening of privatization. We can only hope.

While education reformers/privatizers will try to convince you they got a victory in the fight for the soul of public education, that is not the truth. The Bill that passed and will likely be touted as a great success has little substance. In fact, one could say, “There is no THERE THERE,” for the final version neutered the original intent of the legislation and codified:

  • No third party governance with binding arbitration.
  • Retention of decision-making powers for duly elected school
  • An advisory non decision-making role for the State Board of Education should any disputes reach it.

After much ado SB 22-197 ended up being a nothing burger with very few of the original ingredients in place.

The Bill’s original purpose was to install an alternative, third governance model with binding arbitration for disputes between a school district (read DPS) and an Innovation Zone (read City Fund’s RootEd/Gates Family Foundation funded Denver Innovation Zone Schools.) Reformers took this inequitable, highly divisive idea very seriously. Simply put, they wanted special treatment for 12 (!) Innovation Zone schools. The Bill was sponsored by two Denver Democrats Senators, James Coleman and Chris Hansen, both of whom have been highly subsidized by various local and national reform organizations. In real time this bill was crafted specifically for for 12 out of about 1800 public schools in Colorado. After garnering no sponsorship in the House, Jen Bacon, Denver Democrat and former DPS school board member stepped in to co-sponsor the bill. With her leadership and knowledge of the importance of local control for school boards she was able steer the conference committee into producing a more palatable Bill. It must have been very awkward for Senator Chris Hansen to have to admit to his colleagues, the difference between his original bill and the one they were now voting on was the loss of binding arbitration. There were of course other changes but binding arbitration was the big one, for it would have undermined local school boards’ authority by allowing for the appointment of a “third party” to resolve disputes.

The privatizers are constantly on the hunt for new ways to undermine public schools. in this instance, they were thwarted. That’s good news.

Jonathan Chait writes for New York magazine, where his latest article appeared, opposing the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). CSP currently spends $440 million annually to underwrite new charter schools. Chait titled his article “Biden Abandons the Obama Legacy on Charter Schools,” but it might as well have been titled “Biden Abandons the Betsy DeVos Legacy on Charter Schools.”

Chait also attacked the Network for Public Education, which had issued two reports (see here and here) documenting the waste, fraud, and abuse in the CSP, based on the Education Department’s own data. NPE found that almost 40% of CSP funding went to charters that either never opened or closed within a few years of opening. In the life of the program, almost $1 billion had been wasted. In addition, NPE pointed out the scandals associated with some high-profile for-profit charter operators, as well as the use of CSP money to open white-flight charters.

This year, for the first time since the CSP was created nearly 30 years ago, the Department proposed to ban the funding of for-profit charter management organizations and of white-flight charters. The regulations also ask applicants for an impact analysis that describes what effect the new charter is likely to have on existing public schools and why the new charter is needed. These sensible reform proposals sent the charter lobbyists into frenzied opposition, claiming falsely that these regulations were meant to destroy all charter schools. This was nonsense because they would have no effect on the thousands of existing charters, only on applicants for new federal funding, that is, charters that do not yet exist.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, sharply denounced the lies and misrepresentations of the “trade organization” for the charter industry. But, despite her reproach, the charter industry still promotes dishonest diatribes about the Department’s efforts to reform the CSP.

Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, was incensed when she read Chait’s defense of the charter industry’s effort to protect the for-profit managers who have abused CSP funds and of the operators that have used CSP funding to provide white-flight charters.

She wrote the following response.

In his recent column, “Biden Abandons the Obama Legacy on Charter Schools,” Jonathan Chait is perturbed that the U.S. Department of Education referred Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum to me for comment on an article he was writing about the Department’s proposed regulations for funding new charter schools. He then scolds Barnum for not disclosing that the Network for Public Education has received donations from unions. He calls Barnum’s story “neutral.” Chait’s source for this big scoop? The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Jonathan Chait then parrots the “wild exaggerations and misrepresentations” that Rosa De Lauro called out last week after expressing her support for CSP reforms during the Education Department’s 2023 budget hearing. The Appropriations Chairwoman noted that “this kind of information campaign is a familiar tactic for the trade organization [National Alliance for Public Charter Schools]. It does represent charter schools that are run by risky low-quality for-profit education management organizations.”

You know those “wild exaggerations.” I wrote about them here. Obviously, Chait did not read the mentioned Barnum piece, which was solid reporting, and he certainly did not read the proposed regulations carefully (which Representative DeLauro described in a letter to Secretary Miguel Cardona about the charter industry’s misrepresentations). Or he just chose to twist facts and truth.

Now let’s talk about what Jonathan Chait failed to disclose as he opposed the CSP regulation reforms, using the same misinformation that has appeared in other op-eds.

His wife worked for Center City Charter Schools as a grant writer when that charter chain received two grants from the Charter School Program (CSP), the program whose loose rules he is now defending. Download the 2019 database that you can find here and match the years of dispersion to the resume of Robin Chait. But the undisclosed conflict continues to this day. Since 2018, Robin Chait has worked for West Ed which evaluated the CSP during the Betsy De Vos era. And her employer, West Ed, once got its own $1.74 million grant from CSP.

But back to NPE funding. During some recent years we got modest donations from unions to bring teachers to our conferences. At our very beginning, we received start-up funds from the Chicago Teachers Union through a fiscal sponsor, Voices for Children. That ended in 2015. We will always be grateful to our friend, the late Karen Lewis, for that jump-start. Karen foresaw the growing attacks on public schools and teachers as an ominous trend and wanted to encourage allies to support a bedrock institution of our democracy.

We appreciate any tax-deductible donations we get. You won’t get favors, but you will always get a thank you. Our income comes from individual donations from our large number of supporters—educators, parents, family foundations, and other citizens who have a deep and abiding love for public schools.

This is not the first time Chait has been called out for not disclosing his wife’s connections with charters. But given the topic and her work in organizations connected with the Charter School Program, this is the worst omission yet. Shame on New York Magazine for not making him disclose and for letting him play fast and loose with the truth. And shame on Chait’s hypocritical critique of Barnum even as he hides the family connections with the program he defends.

NPR released a new poll showing that, despite the loud mouths attacking public schools, most parents like their public schools and teachers.

They like their schools despite the hundreds of millions, if not billions, invested in promoting school choice, charter schools, vouchers, and privatization.

This poll suggests that Democrats should go after people like Ron DeSantis and other politicians trying to harm a civic institution that most Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, appreciate.

Kerry McKeon recently received her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December of 2021. Her dissertation focused on neoliberal rhetoric and its use in advancing the privatization of public schools. It is titled Neoliberal Discourse and the U.S. Secretary of Education: Discursive Constructs of the Education Agenda (2017-2020).

She writes, in a summary:

Corporate reform of education has taken hold in the U.S., with neoliberal values regularly propagated and normalized—even among some public-school leaders. I witnessed this transition firsthand, beginning as a U.S. Senate aide, and then over decades as classroom teacher. In recent years, one voice has echoed above the rest, as a consequence of her privilege, power, and opportunity: former Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.Listening to her stump again and again for the privatization of public education while pursuing my doctorate in educational leadership and policy, I became fixated on her language choices. The right words can make or break a given argument, and as a teacher, I know that language is the portal to meaning-making. So, I set out to investigate her linguistic and rhetorical strategies, as she sought to drive her neoliberal agenda forward.

Using a corpus of twenty-eight DeVos speeches over her four years in office, I explored the ways she tried to influencethinking around public education in favor of privatization—and how she aimed to normalize and naturalize certain neoliberal beliefs, while minimizing, discrediting, and ignoring other problems and solutions. Given the strength of her platform as education secretary, her messages were often replicated and amplified, while other vital voices in the education community were muted.

While others have explored the causes and effects of neoliberalism’s incursion into public education, little research explores how strategic linguistic maneuvers can reshape American ideas about public education over time. To understand and unpack her persuasive strategy, I identified and mapped thelinguistic formulas and frameworks she used to influence audiences in favor of neoliberalism. When I dissected her speeches, I found neoliberal ideology layered throughout—in everything from her word choices to the personal stories she shared.

For example, DeVos repeatedly expressed disdain for the federal government’s role in education, and advocated more power to individuals and to the private sector. Even with a D.C. officeaddress, she regularly attacked all things “Washington,” including education-advocacy groups, teachers’ unions, and other experts in education policymaking. She also lambasted the elusively defined “elites,” ranging from Democratic political donors to university scholars. While distancing herself from present-day government structures, she averred a near-mythical allegiance to the U.S. Constitution and founding fathers—arguing that current federal oversight in education violates the founders’ intent for the role of government.

Likewise, DeVos expressed economic values that criticize government spending and regulation, while promoting the private sector, marketplace competition, and the rights of the taxpayer. Her economic values were articulated through keywords that celebrate the free market: innovation, results, metrics, efficiency, prosperity—all while presuming that all free-market participantsare equally capable to prosper. In doing so, she disregarded stark and obvious social inequalities that make the market an unequal space.

DeVos eschewed virtually all discussions of inequity, except when it helped her make arguments for school reform or choice. In fact, she regularly employed keywords such as opportunity, choice, freedom and options, and downplayed language relating to economic, racial, or social injustices. DeVos also decentered and discounted teachers and teacher-led classrooms, advocating instead for increased use of classroom technology, including the much-touted personalized learning (technology-enabled learning that is moving schools to a greater reliance on data, data systems and other technology products).

Over and over, DeVos proposed radical change to public schools by rooting educational values in a marketplace reality. In order to do this, she distanced herself from public schools through “othering.” She described public schools as flawed, failing monopolies, consistently underperforming, and failing to innovate. At the same time, she glorified all manner of non-public schools—charter schools, magnet schools, online schools—regardless of their records, eschewing the results and metrics she so strongly promoted elsewhere. And she often plugged a skills-based curriculum with a jobs focus. DeVos sought to create a market of education choices and so-called freedom by depicting families as customers and education as a product, while paying no mind to how communities or the democratic purposes of education may be compromised by a commoditized education system. Rarely did she speak of the important role teachers play in advancing education, and ignored any equalizing effects of education on child poverty. Indeed, she asserted, without evidence, that school-choice fixes all problems with public schools and even went as far as to say that public schools are un-American when choice isn’t an option.

In my exploration of her speeches, I identified a pattern of strategies—a framework—which I call tiered operations for ideological impact that is rooted in how we think and process information. I found that DeVos’s neoliberal ideological language is evident on three levels in her speeches: the micro, the meso, and the macro.

On the micro-level, I found that her word choices delivered a constellation of concepts to the listener. By repeating a set of neoliberal keywords, the scene is set. DeVos aligns educational values with market values, including the belief that school systems should provide “profit opportunities” for capitalists, and the primary outcome of education is to produce employees with skills employable in the free market. She continues by dividing people and things into divisive categories like good or bad, friends or enemies. Just like a novelist focuses on character development, DeVos instructs her audience on who to love and who to fear. In her narrative, the public school system is a disaster. Her anointed heroes want to dismantle the system, while her anointed villains wish to protect it. DeVos is creative with word-formation, whereby two or more words are combined to create a word cluster. These blends are sometimes charged, seeking to provoke audience anxiety or anger. For example, her phrase “the shrill voices of the education lobby” may trigger the sensation of high pitched voices or scraping chalk on a blackboard). Conversely, the blends are sometimes intended to inspire (so-called, hooray words) and thereby assist in the marketing of her ideas to her audience. In both cases, the word clusters impact the way the brain processes information by blending two concepts into a new, unified concept.

On the meso-level, she uses topics to organize her individual speeches, selecting which topics are included or left out, which topics are foregrounded or backgrounded. Through her argumentation strategy, she asserts that opponents of school choice are attacking core American values such as freedom, patriotism, and human rights. By promoting such a polarized perspective, DeVos flattens the complexity of issues, to offer a simpler version of the world in line with her own perspectives. The process of limiting audience attention to a smaller focus is known as windowing. In the current discursive climate, where individuals are exposed to huge amounts of information every day, windowing is one way to manage information overload and guide an audience to embrace a particular worldview.

On the macro-level, DeVos uses her speeches to align with the cultural climate of the current historical moment. Of particular note are ways DeVos engages in relentless “othering.” She depicts a society divided between patriots who value educational freedom and choice, and a corrupt elite who value public education in the form of community schools. Her biased and misleading claims contribute to a crisis of confidence in education. She promotespublic education as a commodity to be bought and sold in a competitive marketplace, rather than as a collective common good. She elevates choice, while humanitarian discourse is undervalued. In the process, she damages the reputation of public education, contributing to the erosion of America’s commitment to public schools an equalizing institution.

Essentially, her discursive strategies amount to a cognitive suppression of certain humanitarian, social-justice values.Furthermore, DeVos participated in populist, anti-elite, and anti-establishment discourses by positioning the privatization of education as a grassroots effort to overthrow an oppressive system. In addition, she embraces an anti-expert and anti-intellectual worldview, as she attacks education advocates, teachers, local leaders, while elevating the education outsider: the education entrepreneur. These post-truth discourses characteristically appeal to emotion and partisanship over reason and rationality. DeVos may also be furthering anti-democratic work by disparaging others in the democratic process, including public schools and teachers’ unions.

Some might highlight that DeVos’s legislative accomplishments were few. Yet, ideological acceptance almost always comes before policy change. Thus, her impact may reveal itself in time. While she failed to meaningfully impact federal law in favor of neoliberalism, she succeeded in further normalizing ideas that continue to be taken up by Republican-led state legislatures. She succeeded in shifting the federal discussion on education from matters of equity and inclusion, to delivering a manifesto on the importance of flexibility, choice, and opportunity. Increasingly, Americans are more focused on individual educational needs than the needs of the larger community. She also reframed the shortcomings of public schools as an existential threat. By invoking a narrative of crisis and a politics of fear, she commands an increased power of persuasion and betrays the possibility of pursuing more practical, modest, and cooperative modes of change.

Neoliberal political and cultural values that currently inform education policy creation can be identified and decoded, by deconstructing and analyzing the political speech of prominent actors like former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. A close look at her speeches revealed various cognitive triggers that attempt to persuade audiences. DeVos’s political speech contributes to a symphony of powerful voices in the education-policy community, whose messages are replicated and amplified, while other vital voices in the education community are muted. Public education advocates would do well to learn more about the rhetorical strategies through which neoliberal ideology is promoted

The federal Charter Schools Program was launched in 1994 with a few million dollars, when the Clinton administration decided to offer funding for start-ups. At the time, there were few charter schools. In the early, idealistic days, charter enthusiasts asserted that charters would set lofty goals and close their doors if they didn’t meet them. They were sure that charters would be far better than public schools because they were free to hire and fire teachers.

Right-wingers jumped on the charter bandwagon as a way to undermine public schools and to bust teachers’ unions. In short order, a gaggle of billionaires decided that charter schools would succeed because they operated with minimal or no regulation, like a business.

What no one knew back in 1994 was that the charter industry would grow to be politically powerful, with its own lobbyists. No one knew that the “most successful” charter schools were those that excluded the students who might pull down their test scores. No one knew that for-profit entrepreneurs would set up or manage charter chains and make huge profits, mainly by their real estate deals. No one knew that one of the largest charter chains would be run by a Turkish imam. No one knew that charter schools would develop a very old-fashioned militaristic discipline that prescribed every detail of a student’s life in school. No one knew that the little program of 1994 would grow to $440 million a year, with much of it bestowed on deep-pocketed chains that had no need of federal money to expand. No one knew that charter schools would become a favorite recipient of big money from Wall Street hedge-fund managers and billionaires like Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, John Arnold, Betsy DeVos, Reed Hastings, and many other billionaires and multi-millionaires. No one anticipated that by 2022, there would be 3.3 million students in more than 7,400 charter schools.

Perhaps most important, no one expected that charter schools, on average, would perform no better than public schools. And in many districts and states, such as Ohio, Nevada, and Texas, charter schools perform far worse than the public schools.

School choice has been a segregationist goal ever since the Brown Decision of 1954, when southern states created segregation academies and voucher plans to help white students escape from racial integration. It should be no surprise, then, to see that the same states that are passing laws to restrict discussion of racism, to ban teaching about sexuality and gender, and to censor books abut these topics are the same states that demand more charter schools. Coincidence? Not likely. These are culture war issues that rile the Republican base.

How strange then, given this background, that the Washington Post published an editorial opposing the Department of Education’s sensible and modest effort to impose new regulations on new charter schools that seek federal funding. The education editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao very likely wrote this editorial, since she has that beat. Armao was a cheerleader for Michelle Rhee when she was chancellor of the D.C. schools and imposed a reign of terror on the district’s professional staff, based on flawed theories of reform and leadership.

In the following editorial, she makes no effort to offer two sides of the charter issue (yes, there are two, maybe three or four sides). She writes a polemic that might have been cribbed from the press releases of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the amply endowed lobbyist for the industry. She gives no evidence that she has ever heard of the high closure rate (nearly 40%) of the charters that received federal funds from the Charter Schools Program. She seems unaware of the scores of scandals associated with the charter industry, or the number of charter founders who have been convicted of embezzlement. She doesn’t care about banning for-profit management from future grants. She thinks it’s just fine to set up new charters in communities where they are not needed or wanted. She seems unaware that the new regulations will not affect the 7,000 charters now in existence. Charters can still get start-up funding from Michael Bloomberg, the Waltons, or other privatizers. New charters can still be opened by for-profit entrepreneurs like Academica, but not with federal funds.

Here is the editorial, an echo of press releases written by Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (Rees previously worked at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, served as education advisor to Vice-President Dick Cheney, and worked for financier Michael Milken).

The editorial’s title is: “The Biden Administration’s Sneak Attack on Charter Schools.”

Advocates for public charter schools breathed easier last month when Congress approved $440 million for a program that helps pay for charter school start-up expenses. Unfortunately, their relief was short-lived. The Biden administration the next day proposed new rules for the program that discourage charter schools from applying for grants, a move that seems designed to squelch charter growth.


On March 11, a day after the funding passed, the Education Department issued 13 pages of proposed rules governing the 28-year-old federal Charter Schools Program, which funnels funds through state agencies to help charters with start-up expenses such as staff and technology. “Not a charter school fan” was Mr. Biden’s comment about these independent public schools during his 2020 presidential campaign, and the proposed requirements clearly reflect that antipathy.


The Biden administration claims that the proposed rules would ensure fiscal oversight and encourage collaboration between traditional public schools and charter schools. But the overwhelming view within the diverse charter school community is that the proposed rules would add onerous requirements that would be difficult, if not impossible, to meet and would scare off would-be applicants. Those most hurt would be single-site schools and schools led by rural, Black and Latino educators.


Consider, for example, the requirement that would-be applicants provide proof of community demand for charters, which hinged on whether there is over-enrollment in existing traditional public schools. Enrollment is down in many big-city school districts, which would mean likely rejection for any nonprofit seeking to open up a charter. “Traditional schools may be under-enrolled, but parents are looking for more than just a seat for their child. They want high quality seats,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.Hence the long waiting lists for charter school spots in cities with empty classrooms in traditional schools. Also problematic is the requirement that charters get a commitment of collaboration from a traditional public school. That’s like getting Walmart to promise to partner with the five-and-dime down the street.

The Biden administration surprised the charter school community by what charter advocates called a sneak attack. There was no consultation — as is generally the case with stakeholders when regulations are being drafted — and the public comment period before the rules become final ends April 14.The norm is generally at least two months.

The proposed changes, according to a spokesperson for the Education Department, are intended to better align the Charter Schools Program with the Biden-Harris administration’s priorities. “Not a charter fan,” Mr. Biden said, and so bureaucratic rulemaking is being used to sabotage a valuable program that has helped charters give parents school choice.

If you disagree with this editorial, as I do, please send a comment thanking the Department of Education for proposing to regulate a program that has spun out of control and urging them to approve the regulations. Give your reasons.

If you think that charter schools have no need for federal funding when so many billionaires open their wallets for them, if you think that your community has enough charter schools, if you think that public schools must be strengthened and improved, if you want to stop federal funding of for-profit entrepreneurs, if you are tired of funding schools that never open, please write to support the U.S. Department of Education’s reasonable proposal to regulate the federal Charter Schools Program.

The latest from Michigan, where Betsy DeVos is leading a campaign for vouchers:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

News from For MI Kids, For Our Schools

***MEDIA ADVISORY***

March 15, 2022

Contact: Sam Inglot, 616-916-0574, sam@progressmichigan.org

New Coalition Forms to Stop DeVos Voucher Proposal

For MI Kids, For Our Schools launches campaign to oppose DeVos voucher effort to take hundreds of millions of dollars away from public schools

MICHIGAN – On Wednesday, March 16 at 1 p.m. EST, a coalition of organizations will announce the launch of the For MI Kids, For Our Schools ballot question committee (For MI Kids, for short) during a Zoom press call. For MI Kids is focused on defeating the DeVos-backed “Let MI Kids Learn” voucher proposal that would rip hundreds of millions of dollars away from public schools across Michigan. 

The coalition that makes up For MI Kids includes: 482Forward, American Federation of Teachers Michigan, K-12 Alliance of Michigan, Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators, Michigan Education Association, Michigan Education Justice Coalition, Michigan Parent Teacher Association, and the Middle Cities Education Association.

WHO: For MI Kids, For Our Schools

Casandra Ulbrich, PhD, who serves as the president of the State Board of Education

Andrew Brodie, Superintendent, Flat Rock Community Schools and MASA Board President

Arlyssa Heard, a Detroit schools special education parent, 482Forward education organizer

Twanda Bailey, a retired educator from Detroit with 30 years of teaching experience

Owen Goslin, a Cheboygan schools parent

Rick Catherman, a retired educator from South Haven with 30 years of teaching experience

WHAT: Zoom Press Call

Members of the media are asked to RSVP in advance. Contact sam@progressmichigan.org if you run into any issues.

WHEN: Wednesday, March 16 @ 1 p.m. EST

WHY: For MI Kids, For Our Schools is a ballot committee opposing the Let MI Kids Learn voucher proposal because it would take hundreds of millions of dollars away from public schools, hurting every public school across Michigan during a historic teacher shortage. The coalition is made up of parents, educators, support staff, administrators, and community-minded folks who love our public schools and want to see them improve and thrive so every student can get a great education.

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Betsy DeVos is not going away. She is leading a campaign for vouchers in Michigan that is certain to defund public schools. DeVos and her husband Richard DeVos sponsored a voucher referendum in 2000, which voters overwhelmingly rejected by 69-31.

Twenty-two years later, she is promoting a plan that would bypass the Governor and the public. Under Michigan law, the Governor can’t veto it, and the public can’t repeal it. No state referendum has ever gone well for voucher advocates. To avoid Governor Whitmer’s veto and a public referendum, Republicans have designed a plan to bypass both.

Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an avid and longtime proponent of school choice, headlined a virtual kick-off Wednesday for a GOP-supported ballot measure opponents argue would suck funds out of public schools.

“I trust parents and I believe in students. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a shared value in Lansing,” DeVos told parents and supporters during the “Let MI Kids Learn” Facebook livestream Wednesday morning.

“I’ve been told what many of you have been told over the years: ‘Sit down, go away. This isn’t your role. You’re not the expert, we’re the experts. Leave it to us,’” said DeVos, a former Michigan GOP chair who ran the U.S. Education Department under former President Donald Trump. “Well, I happen to believe that the best expert for a child is that child’s family. … It’s why I believe that we have to change the power structure in education and give students and families more control.”

DeVos joined a panel of pro-school choice parents during the virtual event to launch the Let MI Kids Learn initiative. The ballot initiative was unveiled by Republicans in November to create a school voucher-style system that would use public tax dollars to fund private education.

Opponents argue the plan violates the Michigan Constitution. In 1970, voters passed the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits public money from going to private schools. And opponents to these bills say they violate that constitutional amendment.

The DeVos family already had given the measure $350,000, plus $25,000 from the DeVos-backed Great Lakes Education Project, the Detroit News reports. Other big donors include Get Families Back to Work, which has the same address as the Republican Governors Association, and gave $800,000. The State Government Leadership Fund, an offshoot of the Republican State Leadership Committee, also contributed $475,000.

The initiative came after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed voucher-style education bills earlier that month that would have given tax credits to Michiganders who contributed to a scholarship program for non-public schools.

But now, since the Let MI Kids Learn ballot drive has been approved by the state Board of Canvassers, supporters — including the powerful right-wing DeVos family — can begin drumming up support and collecting signatures.

If the group successfully collects 340,000 signatures, the GOP-controlled Legislature will be able to vote the petition into law instead of voters deciding in November. Whitmer’s signature is not needed for this to happen, nor can the Democratic governor veto the measure.

“I’m more fired up now than ever. … It’s hard to believe anyone would oppose this opportunity,” DeVos said Wednesday.

Democrats and groups like AFT Michigan — a union which represents 35,000 educators and healthcare providers in schools across the state — oppose the measure and others like it, arguing they redirect public dollars from already-struggling public schools to fund tuition for private educations.

The Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools (MiPASS) also opposes the initiative. Members released a statement Wednesday blasting DeVos for “exploiting the pandemic to push her charter school agenda.”