Archives for category: Billionaires

Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator from Rhode Island, gave a masterful presentation on the power of dark money at the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Please take 30 minutes and watch it. If we don’t put a stop to the power of dark money, we will lose our democracy.

Senator Whitehouse names names. He details the “Scheme,” the money trail, the big donors (where they can be identified) who are buying our democracy and choosing Supreme Court Justices.

Their three big legal goals right now: to overturn Roe v. Wade; to overturn the gay marriage decision; to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

The Republicans are rushing through Judge Barrett’s confirmation so that she can be a member of the Supreme Court when Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) is argued on November 10.

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.

The charter industry and the billionaires want to replace Scott Schmerelson with a charter employee. They want to buy control of the LAUSD school board.

Don’t let them! Stand with Scott, a veteran educator and a champion of public schools.

Tell the billionaires that the public schools of Los Angeles are not for sale!

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. 


Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, has been studying the spread of the fake “reform” efforts across the nation (aka the Destroy Public Education Movement).

In this post, he reviews the damage done by authoritarian education “leaders” who have robbed students and teachers of the joy of learning while attacking public schools. He names names.

He begins:

For more than two decades, bureaucratic style top down education “reform” has undermined improvement efforts by professional educators. For budding teachers, beginning in college with the study of education and their own personal experience as students, an innate need to better education develops. However, in the modern era, that teacher energy to improve education has been sapped by the desperate fight to save public education from “reformers,” to protect their profession from amateurs and to defend the children in their classrooms from profiteers. 

Genuine advancements in educational practices come from the classroom. Those edicts emanating from government offices or those lavishly financed and promoted by philanthropies are doomed to failure...

Sadly, every business and government sponsored education innovation for the past 40 years has resulted in harm to American schools. Standardized education, standardized testing, charter schools, school choice, vouchers, reading science, math and reading first, common core, value added measures to assess teachers and schools, mandatory third grade retention, computer based credit recovery, turnaround schools, turnaround districts, and more have been foisted on schools. None of these ideas percolated up from the classroom and all are doing harm.

Once again, control of the Los Angeles Unified School Distict school board is up for grabs, and once again the billionaires hope to buy control so they can expand the number of charter schools. The latest financial disclosures show that Reed Hastings of Netflix has contributed $925,000 to try to defeat veteran educator Scott Schmerelson. Billionaire Jim Walton of the Walmart family added another $300,000. The charter lobby is flush with money to buy TV ads and flyers that smear Schmerelson and use vicious anti-Semitic tropes in their attack ads. The charter lobby is angry at Schmerelson for two reasons: 1. He fights fearlessly for the 80% of students in public schools. 2. He released the explosive fact that 80% of Los Angeles’ charter schools have vacancies, not waiting lists. His opponent Marilyn Koziatek has no experience in the public schools; she holds an administrative job in a charter school.

Download the .pdf here.

Note: Sara Roos of Los Angeles (blogger Red Queen in LA) prepared the graph of political expenditures based on public records.

Dan Alexander, a senior editor at Forbes who covers Trump’s businessses, writes that Trump really is a billionaire. His net worth, he says, is about $2.5 billion. That’s after taking into account more than $1 billion in Trump debts.

That makes it even more scandalous that Trump employs every accounting trick to pay no taxes in most years (while deducting $70,000 for his hair stylist), and only $750 in two years when he actually paid something to the government.

Thomas Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, has been researching the tentacles of the Destroy Public Education movement in various cities.

In this post, he reviews the plutocrats’ lavish spending in California. It’s tapered of since 2018, he writes, but it’s still enough to outspend and overwhelm citizens who want to have a role in choosing their local school board.

The biggest battle in the state this year is the competition to control the board of the Los Angeles Unified School district. Ultican gives a succinct overview of the candidates, then examines the spending of the plutocrats.

The issue in L.A., again, is whether the plutocrats will win control so they can expand the charter sector or whether advocates of public education will overcome the money spent by the plutocrats and limit privatization.

Our blog poet on the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

Gates never gives without getting a tax break and never gives without strings attached.

That’s how you know it is not real philanthropy, but Billyanthropy.

“The Billyanthropist”

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you Common Core
And testing to the sky
I’d like to give you more

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you teacher VAMs
A lovely Chetty pie
And lots of charter scams

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you pseudo-science
And sellebrate the lie
With test and VAM reliance

Billyanthropist am I
Billyanthropy I do
Democracy I buy
Impose my will on you

Jan Resseger reviews here a new book that explains the full-blown triumph of plutocracy. Trump is the culmination, not the cause. Wealth and power are now concentrated, more than ever, in the hands of a small minority, and Trump has persuaded his followers that plutocracy works for them!

She begins:

For ten years Jacob Hacker, the Yale political scientist, and Paul Pierson, the Berkeley political scientist, have been tracking exploding economic inequality in the United States. In this summer’s book, Let Them Eat Tweets, Hacker and Pierson explicitly identify our government as a plutocracy. And they track how politicians (with the help of right-wing media) shape a populist, racist, gun-toting, religious fundamentalist story line to distract the public from a government that exclusively serves the wealthy. In a new article published in the Columbia Journalism Review, Journalism’s Gates Keepers, Tim Schwab examines our plutocracy from a different point of view: How is the mainstream media, the institution most of us look to for objective news, shaped increasingly by philanthropists stepping in to fill the funding gaps as newspapers go broke and news organizations consolidate?

In their 2010 classic, Winner-Take-All Politics, Hacker and Pierson present “three big clues” pointing to the tilt of our economy to winner-take-all: “(1) Hyperconcentration of Income… The first clue is that the gains of the winner-take-all economy, befitting its name, have been extraordinarily concentrated. Though economic gaps have grown across the board, the big action is at the top, especially the very top… (2) Sustained Hyperconcentration… The shift of income toward the top has been sustained increasingly steadily (and, by historical standards, extremely rapidly) since 1980… (3) Limited Benefits for the Nonrich… In an era in which those at the top reaped massive gains, the economy stopped working for middle-and working-class Americans.” Winner-Take-All Politics, pp. 15-19) (emphasis in the original)

Hacker and Pierson’s second book in the recent decade, the 2016 American Amnesia explores America’s loss of faith in government, our massive forgetting about the role of government regulation and balance in a capitalist economy: “(T)he institution that bears the greatest credit often gets short shrift: that combination of government dexterity and market nimbleness known as the mixed economy. The improvement of health, standards of living, and so much else we take for granted occurred when and where government overcame market failures, invested in the advance of science, safeguarded and supported the smooth functioning of markets, and ensured that economic gains became social gains.” (American Amnesia, p. 69)

In their new Let Them Eat Tweets, Hacker and Pierson no longer avoid the label. They now call America a full blown plutocracy: “This is not a book about Donald Trump. Instead, it is about an immense shift that preceded Trump’s rise, has profoundly shaped his political party and its priorities, and poses a threat to our democracy that is certain to outlast his presidency. That shift is the rise of plutocracy—government of, by, and for the rich. Runaway inequality has remade American politics, reorienting power and policy toward corporations and the super-rich (particularly the most conservative among them)… The rise of plutocracy is the story of post-1980 American politics. Over the last forty years, the wealthiest Americans and the biggest financial and corporate interests have amassed wealth on a scale unimaginable to prior generations and without parallel in other western democracies. The richest 0.1 percent of Americans now have roughly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined. They have used that wealth—and the connections and influence that come with it—to construct a set of political organizations that are also distinctive in historical and cross-national perspective. What makes them distinctive is not just the scope of their influence, especially on the right and far right. It is also the degree to which the plutocrats, the biggest winners in our winner-take-all economy, pursue aims at odds with the broader interests of American society.” (Let Them Eat Tweets, pp. 1-2)…

But there is another hidden element of the power of plutocrats. Philanthropies led by the wealthy make charitable gifts which subtly shape news reporting itself. And the subject here is not merely Fox and Breitbart and the other right-wing outlets. Tim Schwab’s important report from the Columbia Journalism Review is about one of America’s powerful plutocrats, Bill Gates. Schwab explores, “a larger trend—and ethical issue—with billionaire philanthropists’ bankrolling the news. The Broad Foundation, whose philanthropic agenda includes promoting charter schools, at one point funded part of the LA Times’ reporting on education. Charles Koch has made charitable donations to journalistic institutions such as the Poynter Institute, as well as to news outlets such as the Daily Caller, that support his conservative politics. And the Rockefeller Foundation funds Vox’s Future Perfect, a reporting project that examines the world ‘through the lens of effective altruism’—often looking at philanthropy. As philanthropists increasingly fill in the funding gaps at news organizations—a role that is almost certain to expand in the media downturn following the coronavirus pandemic—an unexamined worry is how this will affect the ways newsrooms report on their benefactors.”

Those of us who have been following public education policy over two decades know that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested in policy itself—funding think tanks like the Center on Reinventing Public Education—which brought us “portfolio school reform” charter school expansion—which led to Chicago’s Renaissance 2010— which led to Arne Duncan’s bringing that strategy into federal policy in Race to the Top. We know that the Gates Foundation funded what ended up as an expensive and failed small high schools initiative, and, after that failed—an experiment with evaluating teachers by their students’ standardized test scores—and later experimenting with incentive bonuses for teachers who quickly “produce” higher student scores. We remember that the Gates Foundation brought us the now fading Common Core. And we remember that Arne Duncan filled his department with staff hired directly from the Gates Foundation.

I urge you to read it all. It’s important!