Archives for category: Billionaires

Thomas Ultican, retired teacher of advanced math and physics, has been analyzing the depredations of the privatization movement, which dares to call itself a “reform” movement, thus debasing the plain meaning of reform.

In this post, he digs into the machinations of the billionaire privatizers and their plans to buy and privatize the public schools of Oakland, California. Their tentacles reach far, and they have paid for seats on the school board as well as a panoply of organizations, who have a common purpose.

They don’t care that they have failed and failed and failed to improve the education of the children of Oakland. Their goal is power, and they have always been able to pay people to do their bidding.

Ultican writes:

Community based schools run under the authority of an elected school board have served as the foundation for American democracy for two centuries. Feckless billionaires operating from hubris or theological commitment or a desire to avoid taxes or a pursuit of more wealth are sundering those foundations.

Will activists of good will be able to throw off the yoke of billionaire financed tyranny and defend their public schools in Oakland?

Amy Frogge is one of the heroes of my book SLAYING GOLIATH. A lawyer, she ran for the Metro Nashville school board with no foreknowledge of the privatization movement. She ran as a concerned citizen and a mother of children in the public schools of Nashville. The privatizers outspent her 5-1, but she won. When she got on the board, she realized that there was a sustained and well-funded campaign to replace public schools with charters. She became a truth-teller, motivated by her deep concern for the common good.

When she ran for re-election, she again faced a well-financed opponent, backed by Gates-funded Stand for Children and DFER. Frogge scored an overwhelming victory.

Amy Frogge is still fighting the fake reformers.

Every school board needs an Amy Frogge, who sees clearly and is not afraid to speak truth to power.

She recently wrote an open letter denouncing Eli Broad and his Broadies.

She wrote:

Dear Nashville (and others),

Please pay attention to those with whom you choose to align yourself on education issues. If you are supporting anyone funded or trained by California billionaire Eli Broad, you can bet you’ll end up on the wrong side of history.

Eli Broad created and funds a blog called Education Post. The folks who run it would like for you to believe they are just activists for low-income families and minority children- but in reality, they are dripping with dirty money. Education Post’s first CEO, Peter Cunningham, was paid $1 million for 2 1/2 years of blogging. Board member Chris Stewart, known online as “Citizen Stewart,” was paid $422,925 for 40 hours a week across 30 months as “outreach and external affairs director.” As author/blogger Mercedes Schneider concludes, “In ed reform, blogging pays juicy salaries.” (For the record, I have never earned a penny for any of my social media posts, of course.)

Paid Education Post leaders regularly try to infiltrate online Nashville education discussions (Nashville is a national target for charter expansion), and Education Post also pays local bloggers to write posts. Local bloggers Zack Barnes and Vesia Hawkins are both listed as network members on the Education Post blog.

Many of the big players in Tennessee were “trained” by Eli Broad through his Broad Superintendents Academy, which recruits business leaders with no background in education to be superintendents- with the purpose of privatizing schools (closing existing schools and opening more charter schools). The current Tennessee Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn, is a “Broadie.” Two former heads of Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District (a ploy to expand charter schools without local approval) were Broadies: Chris Barbic and Malika Anderson. Former superintendents Jim McIntyre (of Knoxville) and Shawn Joseph (of Nashville) were also affiliated with the Broad network. Shawn Joseph claimed both McIntyre and former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance, a member of Education Post’s network, as his mentors.

The school “reforms” pushed by Broadies all center around profit-making through public education: standardized testing (money for private test companies), computer learning (money for IT companies and cost-savings on hiring teachers), charter schools, vouchers, scripted curriculum that can be monetized, etc. Broadies typically see teachers as expendable and believe teaching can be mechanized.

Since charters and vouchers have become an increasingly unpopular cause, the latest angle is for Broadies to increase the number of (sometimes rigged) vendor contracts for programs and services, as well as consultants, with school districts. Former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance went to federal prison for rigging no-bid contracts in a kick-back scheme. In a similar scheme, his mentee (Nashville superintendent) Shawn Joseph was caught inflating no-bid contract prices (in violation of state law) for vendors connected with the recruiter and Broadies who placed him in Nashville through a rigged superintendent search. (See comments for further information.)

Billionaires like Eli Broad who fund school profiteering efforts like to hire/fund people of color to act as front-men for their efforts. This provides the appearance that the push for “school choice” (i.e., charters and vouchers) is grassroots. When these folks are questioned or caught in the midst of wrong-doing, they are able to cry racism. Meanwhile, everyone has their hands in the cookie jar of funding meant to serve children.

The ploys used in school profiteering are particularly nasty- the worst of dirty politics. The goal is usually to smear, humiliate, shame and discredit anyone who is an effective critic of the school privatization agenda. Lots of money is spent on PR for this purpose. (I’ve even been attacked on this Facebook page by a paid “social media specialist” for my opposition to charter schools.)

You’ll notice that the atmosphere tends to become particularly dysfunctional and circus-like when Broadies are in charge or involved. You’ll also notice that Broadies like to push the narrative that locally-elected school boards are too dysfunctional to lead (even when the Broadie in charge is causing all the dysfunction!). This is because Eli Broad and those affiliated with him want no public oversight of public education spending.

So- when you witness education conversations on social media, be sure to figure out who is funding those claiming to promote “school choice” or to advocate for children in poverty. Follow the money, y’all. Always!

More than 200 advocates of public education endorsed this open letter to Joe Biden, which was published on Valerie Strauss’s blog “The Answer Sheet” at the Washington Post.

They call on presumptive Democratic nominee Biden to reject the stale and failed policies of the past 20 years.

Their letter (our letter, since I signed it) begins with this preamble and then offers a list of specific proposals that together represent a fresh vision for American education:

Dear Vice President Biden:


As the Democratic Party presumptive nominee, you have the power to fight for the public schools and colleges and universities that our students deserve. We are concerned educators, public education advocates, union members, parents, and students, writing to request that you demonstrate your commitment to that agenda.


Over the past decade, politicians on both sides of the aisle have made devastating cuts to public education, while privatizing public schools, scapegoating educators, and providing massive tax breaks to corporations and the rich.

These attacks have resulted in a national teacher shortage and reduced educational opportunities for many of our students — especially students of color, those from low-income households, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities.


The public health and economic emergencies resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have only made public education more vulnerable. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of public education itself is at stake.

Read the list of sensible, research-based, intelligent policy proposals, which would inspire students and teachers and improve education for all students.

Please open and read.

Tweet with the hashtag #EducationIsAPublicGood and @JoeBiden

Democratic Congressional leaders wrote a stern letter to Betsy DeVos, rebuking her for turning coronavirus relief funds into cash for vouchers. They are acting in the belief that Congress decides how money is to be spent and defines who should receive federal funding.

Betsy DeVos really doesn’t care what Congressional leaders say or do. She considers herself superior to Congress because she is a billionaire. She buys senators and members of Congress. She thinks of them as the household help. They appropriate the money and she decides how to spend it. How dare they try to tell HER what to do!

Read the letter here.

People have many times asked me if I had some good ideas for the billionaires who have been foisting terrible ideas on our public schools. What could they do instead of screwing up the nation’s public schools?

Like they have nothing better to do than to make students and teachers miserable with endless testing, pricey consultants, and mounds of paperwork. Like their best idea is to eliminate elected school boards and let clueless entrepreneurs play with other people’s lives. Like their best/worst idea is to give hundreds of millions of dollars to a bunch of guys—who have already failed at “school reform”—so they can do some more “reforming” without any accountability for the disruption they cause.

Friends, the billionaires need a new idea!

I found it!

Here is a problem they can solve just by spending money. If they do this, they won’t break anything. They won’t hurt any children or break up any communities.

Please, Bill. Mark. Jeff. You can do this!

John Arnold! Laurene Powell Jobs! You too!

Be a hero, not a villain!

Pay attention! Make someone happy.

Robin Wright wrote this story for the New Yorker.


In late March, an elegant four-year-old tiger named Nadia, at the Bronx Zoo, developed a dry cough and lost her appetite. The zoo had been closed for eleven days because of the coronavirus pandemic, and no employee had symptoms of the new coronavirus sweeping across New York. Out of an abundance of caution, the veterinary staff tested Nadia in April, as her problems persisted. It was not a simple swab. The zoo had to anesthetize the two-hundred-pound cat and take samples from her nose, throat, and respiratory tract, then ship them off to veterinary labs at Cornell University and the University of Illinois. Nadia is also no ordinary tiger. Malayan tigers are among the world’s most endangered animals; with fewer than two hundred and fifty left in the wild, they are threatened with extinction because of human poaching and loss of habitat. Nadia was born at the Bronx Zoo, as part of its Malayan-tiger breeding program. Her covid-19 test came back positive. By the end of April, seven other big cats—four more tigers, in addition to three lions who live in a separate exhibit—also tested positive, through samples of their feces. The zoo concluded that they had all been exposed to a human, probably a zoo employee, who was asymptomatic. The news about Nadia stunned staff at more than two hundred accredited U.S. zoos (not including animal “exhibitors,” like Joe Exotic, of “Tiger King” fame) and more than ten thousand zoos around the world. Within twenty-four hours, many introduced stricter handling protocols, more protective gear, and social distancing between humans and zoo animals—not just tigers but also other animals now believed to be vulnerable to covid-19, from great apes to ferrets and even skunks.

But Nadia’s test result six weeks ago was only the beginning of an unprecedented series of crises—some existential—faced by zoological parks dedicated to the study and survival of thousands of the Earth’s other animal species. Unlike entertainment centers, movie theatres, or sports stadiums, zoos can’t simply shut their doors or tell staff to work from home. Zoos still have to feed and care for animals—nearly a million, from six thousand species (a thousand of them endangered or threatened) in the United States alone—at a time in which revenues have plummeted to nothing, Dan Ashe, the president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, told me. In the United States, at least eighty per cent of zoos and aquariums accredited by the A.Z.A. are closed, which means no ticket sales, no merchandise bought for the kids, no stroller rentals, and no food sales, all of which contribute to both zoo programs and long-term conservation worldwide.

“The amount of losses through the whole zoological community is staggering,” Steven Monfort, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., told me. “Most of us are trying to figure out how to get to the spring of 2021 and hope that there’s a vaccine or something so that visitation by then will be more normal.” With new social-distancing rules, most zoos expect to reopen eventually, but, at least initially, at roughly a quarter capacity—producing only a quarter of income, at best. “All of us have plans, but we don’t know how well those plans will work,” Monfort added.

Most U.S. zoos have laid off or furloughed up to half of their staffs, according to several zoos. In Portland, the Oregon Zoo has laid off a quarter of its staff, in addition to two hundred part-time employees. Sixty per cent of its revenue comes from ticket sales, but zoos generally operate on a seasonal basis, so, for nine months of the year, costs have long exceeded revenues. “If we can’t open, we will just run out of money by the end of September,” Sheri Horiszny, the Oregon Zoo’s deputy director, told me. “We won’t be able to operate as we have—possibly ever, and certainly for the immediate future.” The problem is global, she said. “Ninety per cent of the zoos on the planet were closed. Virtually all are now strapped—some are devastated.”

In northern Germany, the shuttered Neumünster Zoo has a wrenching contingency plan for its seven hundred animals if funding or the food-supply chain fail to help the facility survive. “If—and this is really the worst, worst case of all—if I no longer have any money to buy feed, or if it should happen that my feed supplier is no longer able to supply due to new restrictions, then I would slaughter animals to feed other animals,” Verena Kaspari told the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur last month. The zoo made a list of which animals it would euthanize first, she said. The zoo is noted for its panda twins, penguins, and seals. The last to go, Kaspari said, would be Vitus, a snowy polar bear that stands twelve feet tall.

In Canada, two playful pandas at the Calgary Zoo—Da Mao and Er Shun—are being sent back to China. The zoo’s star attractions, they are the victims of another aspect of the pandemic: the disruption of food supplies. The zoo was able to stockpile and freeze fish for the penguins, horse meat for the large cats, and protein biscuits for the primates. But each panda eats eighty-eight pounds of fresh bamboo every day. Calgary used to get its fresh bamboo flown in from China, but then flights from China to Calgary stopped. The only remaining route was a weekly flight from China to Toronto, but the bamboo wasn’t fresh by the time it reached Calgary. The zoo started importing bamboo from California, but then flights stopped from there, as well. The zoo then tried trucking bamboo from the West Coast of the U.S. to Calgary, in central Canada, but the trucks stopped in Vancouver first, and, by the time they arrived in Calgary, the bamboo was spoiled. The zoo then hired a courier company to pick up the bamboo from Vancouver. But access to the airport took three days—and more shipments of the bamboo spoiled. Finally, the zoo began trucking in bamboo from Victoria, a region near Vancouver, but bamboo is not an indigenous plant, so the region couldn’t supply the quantity needed.

“Every ten days, there was a curveball,” Clément Lanthier, the C.E.O. and president of the Calgary Zoo, told me. “These are very precious animals. I can’t take the risk of having to tell my staff that the pandas could starve because bamboo won’t get here until tomorrow or next week. So it’s time for the pandas to go back home.” The pair arrived in Calgary only two years ago—after six years of planning and a twenty-one-million-dollar investment.

The food challenge is staggering for zoos everywhere. “People’s perceptions of zoos is that we just pick up poop,” Horiszny, from the Oregon Zoo, told me. The Portland zoo made changes early on when it realized food was an issue for the entire planet. “But imagine if you have a dinner party with six to ten guests, and one is lactose intolerant, another has a gluten allergy, and a third is philosophically vegetarian,” she said. “We have two thousand ‘guests’ from two hundred and twenty species with different dietary needs. So every day we have a challenge meeting those needs.”

The cost of animal care can also be staggering. In 2018, the San Diego Zoo and its sister Safari Park spent more than two hundred million dollars on operations to feed and care for its animals. The Oregon Zoo budgets more than a quarter million dollars just to care for Chendra, its Asian elephant, for six months. The zoo has an innovative program to save the Oregon silverspot butterfly from extinction. But it costs a hundred and twenty-six thousand dollars for nine months—for a horticulturist to tend to the thousands of violet plants in a greenhouse that provide food for twelve hundred silverspot caterpillars. A human also needs to keep the caterpillars clean, watered, and fed until they become adults and can be released, the zoo’s director, Don Moore, told me. “Yes, it’s very expensive to feed animals!” he e-mailed. Zoos also have heavy medical costs, from artificial insemination of endangered pandas to providing medication and surgery for ill or aging animals. Ashe, the A.Z.A. president, noted that veterinarians provide twenty-four-hour care to the animals at zoo facilities. “They get better health care than you or I do,” he said.

The National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., is losing more than a million dollars a month that it has no chance of recouping. Like other zoos, it launched a covid-19 emergency-response campaign for donations. “But there’s no way, no philanthropic answer, that will fill the bucket of needs,” Monfort told me. “The question is what happens in the longer run.” The Washington zoo also manages long-term research programs in twenty-five countries, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In 2018, American zoos, in total, contributed more than two hundred and thirty million dollars for field conservation worldwide—funds generated largely off ticket sales. “Without revenue coming in, it is challenging our members to find ways to keep up that commitment to conservation. We fear the bottom will fall out of that in 2020,” Ashe told me. “This dormant period is going to have a real impact on conservation in the field for animals,” ranging from elephants and giraffes to rhinos, manatees, orangutans, gorillas, and condors.

Zoos that qualify as small businesses—with fewer than five hundred employees—have applied for federal aid through the Payroll Protection Program. At least sixty per cent of the members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have won aid, Ashe told me. The current program covers payroll and other expenditures, but not animal care—and only for two months, through mid-June. Larger zoos—in San Diego, St. Louis, and the Audubon Zoo, in New Orleans—do not qualify. Others, in Cleveland and Little Rock, and the National Zoo, don’t qualify because of their ties to the government. Horiszny, of the Oregon Zoo, predicted that some zoos will never recover. “Virtually all are now strapped, some are devastated,” she said. “In natural disasters, some of those animals were sent to other zoos. Now there is nowhere to send an animal. Everyone’s in trouble.”

The pandemic has affected the behavior of animals, as well. Many species have demonstrated the same kinds of loneliness that people have. “It’s fair to say animals miss people as much as people miss animals,” Ashe, the A.Z.A. president, said. In zoos, humans offer a form of sensory stimulus to other species. Without them, the penguins, pandas, elephants, chimpanzees, and even camels and meerkats seem a little bored. “The variety of smells that come through the zoo every day are enrichment for them. Their day is less interesting or varied without us.” Some species—particularly elephants and great apes—notice the absence of humans. “They have strong bonds and enjoy interacting with guests and showing off,” Monfort, from the National Zoo, said. “When guests are not there, some tend to act a little needy.”

In Calgary, the normally nonchalant camels have been wandering up to the moat to interact with the few people still on site, while the gorillas come to the window when anyone passes by. “I walked by the meerkats in the Savannah building yesterday, and they ran right up to me,” Lanthier said. Chloe, the chimp matron at the Oregon Zoo, was so famous for kissing visitors (through a window) that the park hosted a kissing-booth party for her last year, when she turned fifty. She has been so lonely during the pandemic that keepers for other animals have been urged to call on her. “She was really craving attention,” Horiszny said. “The chimps, like us, are not experiencing life as usual.”

Last week, the Kansas City Zoo arranged for its three penguins to take a field trip to the local Nelson-Atkins Art Museum for a “morning of fine art and culture.” “We’re always looking for ways to enrich their lives and stimulate their days,” Randy Wisthoff, the zoo director, said, in a video posted on the museum’s Web site and the zoo’s Facebook page. “The penguins absolutely loved it.” The museum’s executive director, Julián Zugazagoitia, noted that the three Humboldt penguins “seemed to react much better to Caravaggio than to Monet.”

In Chicago, a Rockhopper penguin named Wellington has become an Internet sensation after the Shedd Aquarium posted videos of him hopping around other exhibits at the zoo. He now has his own hashtag, #whereswellington. He had a particularly winsome encounter, through a window, with a white beluga whale. They seemed fascinated with each other. The Chicago aquarium also let the sea lions roam around its administration offices. Zoos in Denver and Portland have let their pink flamingos wander along pathways where people once strolled. The Toronto Zoo took llamas and a donkey on an excursion to visit the polar bears.

In Hong Kong, Ying Ying and Le Le, the two pandas at the Ocean Park Zoo, have become more productive—literally—during the pandemic. After a decade together, they used the serenity of the shuttered zoo to finally mate for the first time, in March. Female pandas are fertile only once a year, and only for three days, a major reason for the species decline. The pandas having sex was such a breakthrough for conservation—and for the quarantined public—that the park put out a press release. A panda cub would be a rare bit of good news well beyond Hong Kong during this otherwise deadly global pandemic.

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, publicly questioned Betsy DeVos’s guidance to states to include private schools when distributing federal funding of coronavirus relief. DeVos says the money should be divided according to enrollment. Alexander says it was supposed to follow the Title I funding and go to the neediest students, who are not in private schools.

Politico Morning Education reports:

ALEXANDER, DEVOS PART WAYS ON STIMULUS GUIDANCE: DeVos is now getting pushback from Alexander for controversial guidance calling on school districts to distribute stimulus funds to private school students more expansively than they would under regular federal education aid through Title I.

— Her policy says schools should spend money on services for private school students based on the total number of all students enrolled, rather than poverty levels.

— “My sense was that the money should have been distributed in the same way we distribute Title I money,” Alexander told reporters on Thursday. “I think that’s what most of Congress was expecting.”

— DeVos defended her interpretation of the law when asked by POLITICO during a video conference to respond to Alexander’s comments. “In our implementation of Congress’ action under the CARES Act, we have indicated it’s our interpretation that it is meant literally for all students and that includes students, no matter where they’re learning,” she said.

— DeVos later said that public schools should work with their private counterparts to understand student needs and to help provide services, such as tutoring or teacher professional development for teachers.

Indiana’s superintendent Jennifer McCormick has announced that she will ignore the DeVos guidance. Tennessee, however, will divert money from needy public schools and give it to private schools with advantaged students.

As DeVos’s response shows, she doesn’t care what Congressional leaders think, not even when they are members of the Republican party. She does what she wants, without regard to Congressional intent or authorization or rebuke. She was born a billionaire, she is privileged, and she is spoiled. She is a hardened ideologue. She doesn’t care about helping poor kids as much as she cares about funding private schools. She doesn’t care about the law. She, like Trump, thinks she is above it.

Naomi Klein coined the iconic book Shock Doctrine, about the way that the powerful elites use emergencies to expand their power because of the crisis. New Orleans was one of her prime examples of “disaster capitalism,” where the devastation of a giant hurricane created an opportunity to break the teachers union and privatize the public school system.

In this brilliant essay, published in The Intercept, Klein describes the many ways in which the plutocrats of the tech industry are turning the pandemic into a gold mine for themselves and planning a dystopian future for the rest of us.

Please read this provocative and frightening essay, which has numerous links to support her argument.

What she details is not just a threat to our privacy and our institutions but to our democracy and our freedom.

It is no coincidence, she writes, that Governor Andrew Cuomo is enlisting a team of tech billionaires to reimagine the future of the Empire State. They know exactly what they want, and it’s up to us to stop them.

She writes:

It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the “Screen New Deal.” Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.

Anuja Sonalker, CEO of Steer Tech, a Maryland-based company selling self-parking technology, recently summed up the new virus-personalized pitch. “There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology,” she said. “Humans are biohazards, machines are not.”

It’s a future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal spaces but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor’s offices, our gyms, and, if determined by the state, our jails. Of course, for many of us, those same homes were already turning into our never-off workplaces and our primary entertainment venues before the pandemic, and surveillance incarceration “in the community” was already booming. But in the future under hasty construction, all of these trends are poised for a warp-speed acceleration.

This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen “shared” on a mediated platform. It’s a future that employs far fewer teachers, doctors, and drivers. It accepts no cash or credit cards (under guise of virus control) and has skeletal mass transit and far less live art. It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence” but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploition. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable, and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because, pre-Covid, this precise app-driven, gig-fueled future was being sold to us in the name of convenience, frictionlessness, and personalization. But many of us had concerns. About the security, quality, and inequity of telehealth and online classrooms. About driverless cars mowing down pedestrians and drones smashing packages (and people). About location tracking and cash-free commerce obliterating our privacy and entrenching racial and gender discrimination. About unscrupulous social media platforms poisoning our information ecology and our kids’ mental health. About “smart cities” filled with sensors supplanting local government. About the good jobs these technologies wiped out. About the bad jobs they mass produced.

And most of all, we had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication — eschewing all responsibility for the wreckage left behind in the fields they now dominate, whether media, retail, or transportation.

That was the ancient past known as February. Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic, and this warmed-over dystopia is going through a rush-job rebranding. Now, against a harrowing backdrop of mass death, it is being sold to us on the dubious promise that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.

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

He writes:

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

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

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

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

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

In 1994, the Clinton administration started a small federal program and funded it with $4.5 million to help launch new charter schools. At the time, charter schools were a new idea, and there were not many of them. The first charter school had opened in Minnesota in 1991, and six states passed laws authorizing charters in 1992. In 1994, the idea was too new to have produced results or research. So Congress allocated a measly $4.5 million.

In the 26 years since the federal Charter Schools Program started, the charter idea has burgeoned into an industry with state charter school associations, lobbyists in D.C. and in state capitols, and support from numerous foundations, billionaires, corporations, and Wall Street. There is considerable research about charters as well as controversy surrounding their methods of selecting and retaining or excluding students. Charters now enroll 6% of the nation’s students.

Two things are clear:

1. The charter sector today is very well funded by billionaire patrons such as the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe abroad Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and Netflix founder Reed Hastings. It has no need of federal funding.

2. Some charters get high test scores (and are accused of skimming to get the “best” students), some get the worst scores in their states, and most get scores about the same as public schools with similar demographics. In the one all-charter district in the nation, New Orleans, about half the schools are rated D or F by the state. Although the charter industry sings their praises, it’s clear that charters have no secret sauce to lift up every child.

Yet despite the fact that charters have a huge number of financial angels with very deep pockets, despite the fact that they do not solve the deep-seated problems of American education, despite their spotty academic record, funding for the Federal Charter Schools Program has grown to $440 million per year.

Under Betsy DeVos, the CSP has become her personal slush fund to help The expansion of large corporate charter chains, like KIPP and IDEA. The original idea that the federal funds would launch entrepreneurial start-ups is long forgotten.

About two weeks ago, DeVos released the latest CSP funds and again favored the big corporate charter chains, which have many millions in reserve and long lists of billionaire patrons.

DeVos handed out the first $200 million to her favorite chain, IDEA, which has no financial need. IDEA won $72 million, having previously received more than $200 million from DeVos. IDEA, you may recall, is known for its lavish spending. Its board approved the lease of a private jet for nearly $2 million a year, but had to cancel the lease because of adverse publicity in Texas, where the chain is based. Its CEO hired a private jet to take him to meet with DeVos in Florida; he was the only passenger. The chain’s executives,lacking their own jet, are allowed to fly first class with their families, not exactly like public school employees on official travel.

The second biggest winner was Mater Academy, which won $57 million. It is affiliated with the for-profit (and very rich) Florida for-profit chain Academica.

The Network for Public Education published two reports about the CSP in 2019, documenting that the program is shot through with waste, fraud, and abuse. About 40% of the charters funded by CSP either never opened or closed not long after opening. The loss of federal funds was $1 billion. The first report—Asleep at the Wheel— is here. The second report—Still Asleep at the Wheel—is here.

Tom Ultican reviewed the two NPE reports and recounted Betsy DeVos’s unsurprising hostile response to them. Why would she relinquish control over $440 million, which helps corporate chains that divert money from public schools and advances DeVos’s long-term goal of wrecking the foundations of public education?

It is ironic that the Trump administration in its now forgotten budget for the coming year proposed to eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program by folding it and 28 other federal programs into a bloc grant to the states. At the same time, Trump and DeVos proposed The creation of a multi-billion dollar voucher program. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives made clear that these proposals were Dead on Arrival. Nonetheless, the charter lobbyists were shocked to discover that charter schools are just a stepping-stone to vouchers for DeVos.

The blog started today with an account of the paltry amounts of money that our leading edu-philanthropists are contributing to alleviate the suffering of students and families during this crisis and to help public schools through the crisis.

By contrast, some principals and teachers in the Oakland Education Association have agreed to give half or all of their stimulus checks to the families of undocumented workers, who will receive nothing. In proportion to their wealth, the teachers and principals are about a million times more generous than the billionaires.

The educators at the Oakland Unified School District launched the Stimulus Pledge campaign Thursday in response to the enormous stress and despair they say they are witnessing among immigrant parents who have lost all income under shelter-in-place orders, but are left out of unemployment insurance and many other benefits.

“We are in contact with our families every day and what we are hearing is heartbreaking,” said Anita Iverson-Comelo, a principal at Bridges Academy at Melrose, in East Oakland. “We feel like we have to do something.”

At least eight teachers at Bridges Academy, including some making less than $50,000 per year, have pledged all or part of their stimulus checks, said Iverson-Comelo. She and six other principals, whose higher salaries might disqualify them from the coronavirus federal cash aid, also plan to donate.

Many families have no income at all and rely for food on the district’s “grab and go” food program. They sure could use some help from Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or Reed Hastings or Jeff Bezos.

Speaking of billionaires, Robert Reich said on Twitter that Jeff Bezos has increased his net worth by $24 billion during the crisis but still won’t give Amazon workers paid sick leave.

Feeding the hungry is not on the billionaires’ agenda. It’s not innovative. It’s not a game-changer.

It’s an act of love.