Archives for category: Billionaires

Carol Burris knows every detail of the U.S. Department of Education’s new regulations for charter schools. She has studied them closely and written about what they mean. They are a reasonable effort to create accountability for the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars a year on charter schools. The federal Charter Schools Program began in 1994 as a $4 million annual fund to start new charter schools. In the nearly three decades since then, the program has grown (in response to the powerful charter lobby) to $440 million a year. The program, until now, has been unregulated. It has been riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse. As two well-documented reports (see here and here) by the Network for Public Education demonstrated, a large number of charters received federal funding but never opened or closed soon after opening. While the original intent of the program was to jumpstart small, teacher-led or mom-and-pop charters, the program grew into a slush fund for big charter chains, grifters, and slick, for-profit entrepreneurs.

The U.S. Department of Education wisely decided it was time to set some rules. Federal funding comes with rules.

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg knows none of this context. He recently wrote (or one of his aides wrote) an uninformed article in the Washington Post about the Department’s new regulations for the Federal Charter School Program. He falsely claimed that the regulations were a “victory” for the charter industry, even though the charter industry fought the regulations vigorously. Bloomberg’s article was a lame attempt to put a happy face on a major defeat for the charter lobbyists.

Carol Burris responded:

Michael Bloomberg embarrassed himself with his recent op-ed published in the Washington Post entitled “Charter School Change is a Victory for Children.” It would appear that given the efforts and funding that his organization put into blocking Charter School Program reforms, he now feels the need to take an unearned victory lap.

Bloomberg begins his op-ed by thanking the Biden Administration for listening to parents and editorialists—like himself. After participating in the month-long hate fest that claimed the President was “at war with charter schools,” he and his allies at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools are likely eager to creep out of the doghouse.

In addition to its heated rhetoric insulting the President and telling Secretary Cardona to back off, the charter lobby deliberately spread misinformation regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s then-proposed Charter School Program reforms. They falsely claimed that over-enrollment in district schools and cooperation with a public school district were prerequisites to obtaining CSP funding. Bloomberg used his influence to write op-eds that parroted the campaign of misinformation.

As I explained here in the Washington Post Answer Sheet, neither claim was valid. Now, Bloomberg once again twists the truth with three additional false narratives in his recent op-ed.

The first is as follows.

“The Department of Education’s original proposal could have prevented public charter schools with long wait lists from expanding or replicating if the district schools were under-enrolled.”

This was inaccurate when he first wrote it and is still untrue. Under-enrollment was an example of one of the ways charter schools could demonstrate need. Waiting lists, special missions, and other ways to show need were always allowed. This was clarified by the Department long before the final regulations were published.

The second false claim in his op-ed is:

“It [proposed regulations] would have prioritized funding for public charter schools that enter into formal contracts with district schools, making charters dependent on the good will and good faith of schools that may see them as competitors.”

Mr. Bloomberg better check again.

Priority 2 (charter/district cooperation) is still in the regulations as an invitational priority this year. Invitational is one of three levels of priority. The proposed regulations never stated which level priority 2 would have. The priority, by being retained, also opens the door for priority 2 to become a higher priority in the coming years.

And finally:

“And it would have restricted public charters from receiving early implementation funding that can be crucial to the process of opening a school. The proposal was amended to prevent those outcomes.”

The amendment he refers to (see below) was a change without distinction. Those implementation funds cannot be used; therefore, the original restriction, for all intents and purposes, is still intact.

This is the minor change between the proposed and final regulations, as explained by the Department here.

“We amended Assurance (f) to remove the requirement that applicants provide an assurance that they will not “use or provide” implementation funds for a charter school until after the eligible applicant has received an approved charter and secured a facility so that applicants are required only to provide an assurance that they will not “use” implementation funds prior to receiving an approved charter and securing a facility.”

If the schools cannot use the funds, whether or not they are “provided” is irrelevant.

I do not know who penned this op-ed for Mr. Bloomberg. But I do know this. His buddies at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, likely with his financial support, spent a king’s ransom trying to get the U.S. Department of Education to scrap or delay the regulations. In the process, they alienated members of Congress, especially powerful House Appropriations Chair Rosa De Lauro, as well as members of the Department. Their campaign was relentless, nasty, and very expensive.

But in the world of Michael Bloomberg, the truth is flexible, and he can use the influence derived from his fortune to put in print whatever “truth” suits his purpose.

However, those of us who have followed this carefully know the deal. As charter devotee, Jeanne Allen tweeted to the National Alliance’s Nina Rees, who was also trying to claim victory, “You should probably read thoroughly the final CSP #charterschool rules. All 135 pages. Not only did nothing really change, but the explanations make it worse than it was to start.”

The Washington Post reports that Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema signed on to the “Inflation Reduction Act”—which provides funding for climate change/health care. Her demand? She blocked taxes on the wealthiest and on corporations that pay nothing. Why is she a Democrat?

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said she would “move forward” on a revised version of Senate Democrats’ health care, climate and deficit-reduction package, after party leaders agreed to scale back some of their original tax proposals.
The new approach — along with other changes to the proposal known as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 — satisfied Sinema’s chief concerns and helped set in motion a plan to approve it as soon as this weekend.

In a statement, Sinema said Democrats had “agreed to remove” a key tax targeting wealthy investors and had made changes to a second provision that aims to impose a new minimum tax on corporations that currently pay nothing to the U.S. government. From here, Sinema said she would await a final review from the chamber’s parliamentarian — a critical step in the process that allows Democrats to move their spending bill — at which point she would “move forward.”

The Economic Policy Institute is one of the very few think tanks in Washington, D.C. that cares about the status of working people. When one of its reports gets attention, critics are fast to point out that it is funded by unions. The same critics are silent when a think tank is funded by one or more billionaires, who like low taxes.


The value of the federal minimum wage has reached its lowest point in 66 years, according to an EPI analysis of recently released Consumer Price Index (CPI) data. Accounting for price increases in June, the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is now worth less than at any point since February 1956. At that time, the federal minimum wage was 75 cents per hour, or $7.19 in June 2022 dollars.

We are currently in the longest period without a minimum wage increase since Congress established the federal minimum wage in 1938.

As shown in the chart below, a worker paid the current $7.25 federal minimum wage earns 27.4% less in inflation-adjusted terms than what their counterpart was paid in July 2009 when the minimum wage was last increased. They earn 40.2% less than a minimum wage worker in February 1968, the historical high point of the minimum wage’s value.

After the longest period in history without an increase, the federal minimum wage today is worth 27% less than 13 years ago—and 40% less than in 1968

Real value of the minimum wage (adjusted for inflation)

Note: All values in June 2022 dollars, adjusted using the CPI-U in 2022 chained to the CPI-U-RS (1978–2021) and CPI-U-X1 (1967–1977) and CPI-U (1966 and before).

Source: Fair Labor Standards Act and amendments.

Economic Policy Institute

Please watch CNN at 11 PM tonight EST for a rerun of their powerful program about two Texas billionaires who want to replace public schools with religious schools.

The program is: DEEP IN THE POCKETS OF TEXAS.

Please post your comments here.

In case you missed it, asi did, CNN will rerun its special about the two billionaires who are trying to buy control of Texas—this Friday night.

Ed Lavandera, one of the producers, tweeted:

So many of you have asked how to re-watch #DeepInThePocketsofTexas on @CNN, the program will re-air this Friday night July 29th, 11pmET/10pmCT.

CNN posted an important article about two billionaires in Texas who are spending heavily to push state politics to the extreme right fringes on social issues. Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks despise gays, love guns, and preach a version of Christianity that is suffused with hate, not love or charity or kindness. Above all, they aim to destroy public education, which they see as the root of America’s cultural decline.

If you read one article today, make it this one. It explains the drive for vouchers for religious schools. What Dunn and Wilks want is not “choice,” but indoctrination into their selfish, bumigored world view.

CNN’s investigative team writes:

Gun owners allowed to carry handguns without permits or training. Parents of transgender children facing investigation by state officials. Women forced to drive hours out-of-state to access abortion.

This is Texas now: While the Lone Star State has long been a bastion of Republican politics, new laws and policies have taken Texas further to the right in recent years than it has been in decades.

Elected officials and political observers in the state say a major factor in the transformation can be traced back to West Texas. Two billionaire oil and fracking magnates from the region, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, have quietly bankrolled some of Texas’ most far-right political candidates — helping reshape the state’s Republican Party in their worldview…

Critics, and even some former associates, say that Dunn and Wilks demand loyalty from the candidates they back, punishing even deeply conservative legislators who cross them by bankrolling primary challengers. Kel Seliger, a longtime Republican state senator from Amarillo who has clashed with the billionaires, said their influence has made Austin feel a little like Moscow.

“It is a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple,” Seliger said. “Really, really wealthy people who are willing to spend a lot of money to get policy made the way they want it — and they get it…”

Former associates of Dunn and Wilks who spoke to CNN said the billionaires are both especially focused on education issues, and their ultimate goal is to replace public education with private, Christian schooling. Wilks is a pastor at the church his father founded, and Dunn preaches at the church his family attends. In their sermons, they paint a picture of a nation under siege from liberal ideas…

Dunn and Wilks have been less successful in the 2022 primary elections than in past years: Almost all of the GOP legislative incumbents opposed by Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee primarily funded by the duo, won their primaries this spring, and the group spent millions of dollars supporting a far-right opponent to Gov. Greg Abbott who lost by a wide margin.

But experts say the billionaires’ recent struggles are in part a symptom of their past success: Many of the candidates they’re challenging from the right, from Abbott down, have embraced more and more conservative positions, on issues from transgender rights to guns to voting.

“They dragged all the moderate candidates to the hard right in order to keep from losing,” said Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper who’s covered 18 sessions of the Texas legislature…

People who’ve worked with Wilks and Dunn say they share an ultimate goal: replacing much of public education in Texas with private Christian schools. Now, educators and students are feeling the impact of that conservative ideology on the state’s school system.

Dorothy Burton, a former GOP activist and religious scholar, joined Farris Wilks on a 2015 Christian speaking tour organized by his brother-in-law and said she spoke at events he attended. She described the fracking magnate as “very quiet” but approachable: “You would look at him and you would never think that he was a billionaire,” she said.

But Burton said that after a year of hearing Wilks’ ideology on the speaking circuit, she became disillusioned by the single-mindedness of his conservatism.

“The goal is to tear up, tear down public education to nothing and rebuild it,” she said of Wilks. “And rebuild it the way God intended education to be.”

In sermons, Dunn and Wilks have advocated for religious influence in schooling. “When the Bible plainly teaches one thing and our culture teaches another, what do our children need to know what to do?” Wilks asks in one sermon from 2013.

Dunn, Wilks and the groups and politicians they both fund have been raising alarms about liberal ideas in the classroom, targeting teachers and school administrators they see as too progressive. The billionaires have especially focused on critical race theory, in what critics see as an attempt to use it as a scapegoat to break voters’ trust in public schooling.

In the summer of 2020, James Whitfield, the first Black principal of the mostly White Colleyville Heritage High School in the Dallas suburbs, penned a heartfelt, early-morning email in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, encouraging his school to “not grow weary in the battle against systemic racism.”

The backlash came months later. Stetson Clark, a former school board candidate whose campaign had been backed by a group that received its largest donations from Dunn and organizations he funded, accused Whitfield during a school board meeting last year of “encouraging all members of our community to become revolutionaries” and “encouraging the destruction and disruption of our district.” The board placed Whitfield on leave, and later voted not to renew his contract. He agreed to resign after coming to a settlement with the district. Clark did not respond to a request for comment.

Whitfield said he saw the rhetoric pushed by Dunn and Wilks as a major cause of his being pushed out.

“They want to disrupt and destroy public schools, because they would much rather have schools that are faith-based,” Whitfield said. “We know what has happened over the course of history in our country, and if we can’t teach that, then what do you want me to do?”

Meanwhile, the legislature has also been taking on the discussion of race in classrooms, passing a bill last year that bans schools from making teachers “discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” The legislation was designed to keep critical race theory out of the classroom, according to Abbott, who signed the bill into law.

Some of the co-authors and sponsors of the bill and previous versions of the legislation received significant funding from Dunn and Wilks.

The billionaires “want to destroy the public school system as we know it and, in its place, see more home-schooling and more private Christian schools,” said Deuell, the former senator.

By the power of their money, these two billionaires are reshaping public policy in Texas to make it as narrow-minded and bigoted as they are. Their reactionary vision will indoctrinate students and crush the freedom to teach and the freedom to learn.

If you live in Texas, vote for Beto O’Rourke for Governor, Mike Collier for Lt. Governor, and for legislators who support public schools.

Maurice Cunningham wrote in the Tampa Bay Tribune about “Moms for Liberty.” It seems to be a Dark Money front for some familiar billionaires.

Is it Koch? DeVos? Waltons? Or another billionaire?

Andrew Van Wagner warns that the neoliberal experiment in Arizona is intended to atomize, indoctrinate, and control the population.

As he writes, if you can dumb people down, you can control them. If you can declare some topics unacceptable in the classroom, like racism, you can indoctrinate them.

Van Wagner writes:

“It’s part of the way of controlling and dumbing down the population, and that’s important.”

“Everyone should fight back against the effort to dumb people down and control people—it’s scary to think that the GOP is turning America into a country where people don’t have enough education to be able to resist the GOP’s legislative and cultural agenda.”

“So the new Arizona law is a fantastic and quintessential and perfect example of neoliberalism. The vision is—as I’ve written about previously—atomization for the general population and lots of society and organization and community for elites.”

“Everyone needs to fight back against the GOP’s attack on education. We can’t afford—in a pivotal period like this—to let the GOP impose atomization and indoctrination and control on the American population.”

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.

Nora De La Cour is a high school social worker and former teacher in Massachusetts. She writes frequently about the attacks on public schools. In this brilliant article, which appeared in Jacobin, she shows how the privatizatizers have exploited the culture wars to promote their own agenda. They are not interested in better education or students. Their agenda is to destroy the public square.

In a nutshell: “A billionaire-backed network of free-market fundamentalists is ginning up controversy over “wokeness” in American schools with an ulterior motive: to demolish public education.”

Please open the link to read the article in full.

She begins:

In a Massachusetts school district neighboring the one where I work, four parents, backed by a conservative Christian organization, are suing the school committee and multiple district employees for calling students by their preferred names and pronouns without informing home. Because one of the defendants is a counselor, some of my counselor peers in the area are now on guard, afraid we could become the targets of litigation if we allow students to broach sensitive topics in our presence.

Setting aside the very real harm that kids and educators are exposed to as a result of the Right’s eagerness to linkacknowledgement of gay and trans people to sexual predation, there’s another problem here. It’s incredibly difficult to teach or counsel someone if you can’t call them what they wish to be called. Addressing students by their chosen names is a basic sign of respect that says, “I see you and I’m here to work with you.” If you need to call home to get permission first — potentially outing kids to their parents and inviting distressing blowback — you might miss the chance to form the human connection that undergirds collaborative scholarship.

Pandemic school closures reminded us that the social aspects of schooling are among the most vital for young people’s development and for society at large. Specific facts and figures (the what of school learning) can be easily forgotten and recalled with a few keystrokes. But the ability to establish a base level of trust with heterogeneous others in order to solve shared problems (the how of school learning) is absolutely essential for both a fulfilling personal life and engagement in the public square. It’s critical that educators be allowed to build that trust without fear of reprisal.

The Koch-backed parents’ rightsmovement aims to make that trust impossible. By pitting parents against schools, libertarian billionaires and Republican strategists intend to motivate voters in the short term and fully privatize K-12 education in the long term. As Christopher Rufo, the self-styled architect of the so-called war on critical race theory (CRT), has argued, “To create universal school choice [i.e., privatization], you really need to operate from a premise of universal school distrust.” Those poweringthe campaign against classroom “wokeness” are trying to hinder our ability to establish common ground from which to defend our last remaining public goods.

The illiberalism that dominates the Right can best be understood as the advanced stage of a long billionaire-funded plot to undo democracy in order to relieve capitalists of any constraints the rest of us might wish to place on them. This understanding clarifies why classrooms, the training grounds for democratic participation, are primary targets of radical right activism. If liberals are to have any hope of countering this coordinated attack, they need to remember the collective, public value of education.

Laying Siege to the Common Good

It makes sense to focus on the reactionary nature of all of this: the commitment to American exceptionalism animating the so-called CRT bans, the fresh fixation on classical education rife with chauvinist dog whistles, and the shockingly overt bigotry of the anti-LGBT “grooming” discourse. Ron DeSantis’s Florida, as some have observed, is looking more and more like Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. But while these efforts to reverse cultural change are incredibly alarming, we come up short when we try to understand what’s happening purely in terms of identity-based hatred. Intolerance has always been a feature of American politics. Why does it suddenly seem so viciously well-organized?…

Despite attention-grabbing campaigns to terrify them, a majority of public school parents remain satisfied with their children’s schooling. And massive amounts of outside funding notwithstanding, local parents’ rights candidates have in numerous cases failedto deliver decisive wins for the privatization movement. As in segregated Virginia, US families are not quite prepared to sign away their children’s right to publicly funded, democratically controlled schools. It’s the perfect time, in other words, for those looking to contest the radical right to offer a full-throated defense of public education and all public goods.

But Democrats, by and large, have been unwilling to mount that, scarcely standing up even against the horrific attacks on kids, families, and educators that we are seeing across the United States. And when you look at their record on education, it’s pretty clear why: for the past three decades of education reform, Democrats have ignored the social role that schools play in preparing children for engagement in the public square. Alongside Republicans, they have enabled the privatization of public schools. They have also privatized the ideaof schooling down to the individual level. In the view of the Democratic establishment, the sole remit of schools should be to boost “human capital.” Guided by this view, they have yoked the vision of education ever closer to the needs of employers — a kind of corporate indoctrination eerily similar to the “woke” indoctrination Rufo and his cohort tell tales about.

But Bill Clinton’s assertion that “what you earn depends on what you learn” has proven to be a dangerous oversimplification: Americans are more educated than ever before, and yet economic insecurity is rampant and rising. When public schooling is only justifiable insofar as it increases individual earning power, the case for it is wholly dependent on its utility to capitalist markets. Without acknowledging the higher collective purpose that education serves, we won’t be able to defend public schools ordemocratic governance.

Democracy or Capitalism

“Republican politicians and their strategists,” Nancy MacLean told Jacobin,

have seen . . . culture-war tactics help Jair Bolsonaro get elected in Brazil and Viktor Orbán get reelected in Hungary this spring. And, lo, the CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Committee) is traveling to Hungary . . . to learn from Orbán how to use the tools of democracy to rig the rules to achieve autocracy.

The long plot is reaching maturity.

The Right’s appeals to “the family” resonate in part because our oligarchic political system leaves families in the cold, allowing child poverty to soar even as parents spend long and exhausting hours working outside the home. Any effort to save our commons and restore a sense of public spiritedness must include a material response to the significant challenges that parents face.

We need to work fast to reclaim the places where we give one another the benefit of the doubt and collaborate in spite of our differences. Democrats can still enter the battlefield and expose the Right’s deceitful efforts to turn the public against itself. As MacLean argues, the movement Buchanan authored wants to save capitalism from democracy. We can counter it if we are willing to fight to save democracy — beginning with schools — from capitalism.