Archives for category: Black Alliance for Educational Options

Twitter lit up this morning with news of a disruption of an Elizabeth Warren rally by charter school “parents” in matching T-shirts. Hovering in the background was Howard Fuller, whose Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) received millions during its lifetime of advocating for vouchers from billionaire foundations such as Bradley, Walton, and Gates.

Peter Greene has gathered the story of the funders of the “parent” disruption of the Warren rally. 

The usual billionaire-funded suspects. The disrupters came from Walton-funded organizations, representatives of DFER, and other pro-charter groups, whose purpose was to embarrass Warren for having the audacity to propose a massive increase in funding for poor kids and kids with disabilities and a cutoff of Betsy DeVos’s slush fund for corporate charters known as the federal Charter Schools Program (which currently spends $440 million annually).

He writes:

As [Ryan] Grim [of The Intercept] tweeted, “A group funded by some of the richest people in the world, the Waltons, just disrupted an @ewarren speech on the 1881 Atlanta washerwoman strike. Can’t make this stuff up.” It’s not a new game; charter advocates have often loaded up parents and students, made them some t-shirts, and deployed them as citizen lobbyists.

There’s a lot of money and power behind the charter school movement. Expect more of these shenanigans if Warren continues to lead the Democratic pack. The charter industry is not gong to let her go without a fight.

 

 

Mercedes Schneider brings us up to date on the disruption caused by charters in Baton Rouge, most of which are failing schools. 

Apex Collegiate Charter School in Baton Rouge notified parents it is closing. Yet its website announces that it is accepting applications for next year. It has been open three years, and it has an F rating from the state. Two other charter schools in the city are closing, and a third is fighting the revocation of its charter. Local district officials are worried that the costs of the charters is eroding the fiscal stability of the district.

The East Baton Rouge School Board rejected Apex’s proposal in 2015 but the charter was approved by the state board.

“Note that concerns raised surrounding Apex Collegiate’s rejection by EBRSB include chartering goals too lofty to reasonably achieve as well as the reality that most EBR charter schools are graded as D or F schools. According to the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS) “find a charter” search engine (which has not been updated using 2017-18 school letter grades but appears to use 2016-17 data), there are 27 charter schools located in East Baton Rouge; 4 have no grade listed (including Apex Collegiate). Of the remaining 23 charter schools, 14 are graded D, and one is graded F.

“Apex Collegiate may have had lofty goals, but it seems that such goals do not apparently include maintaining an updated website.

“As of April 14, 2019, the Apex Collegiate website includes no information for the public regarding its May 2019 closure. On the contrary, it advertises, “We are now enrolling for the 2019-20 school year. If your child will be entering the 6th, 7th or 8th grade, please Apply now!

“The application (misinformation in itself) includes the following misinformation for parents: “We will grow by one grade level every year until we are a full 6-12 school.””

The CEO of Apex was previously the state director of Howard Fuller’s Black Alliance for Educational Options, funded by rightwing billionaires to promote school choice among black communities, especially in the South.

Mercedes Schneider employs her well-honed skills as a forensic analyst of reform organizations to dissect the history and recent demise of Black Alliance for Educational Options.

You will not be surprised to know that Betsy DeVos appears in the story that Schneider wrote.

Howard Fuller recently decided to close down the organization Black Alliance for Educational Options, which received funding from billionaires to promote charters and vouchers to African Americans. BAEO was funded initially by the rar-right Bradley Foundation, then added millions from the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and others, all to sell privatization to people who need good public schools, good healthcare, and good jobs, not free markets.

Now, Fuller tells ace education journalist Alan Borsuk that a $15-an-hour minimum wage would mean more to kids in central cities than better curriculum (or, may we assume, School Choice).

The billionaires got good return on investment. BAEO lined up support among key blacks to pass charter legislation in Alabama, Mississippi, and D.C.

But Fuller has second thoughts. The damage is done. Will he now repudiate the conservatives who pumped millions into BAEO to perpetuate the hoax that privatization is “the civil rights issue of our time”?

“One force behind his changing views: A deeper understanding of the life circumstances of young people and the difficulties a school has in changing the trajectory of their lives.”

Nice.

Will he reach out to the Walton Family, whose Walmart stores employ more than one million people, and persuade them about the importance of paying $15 an hour and giving them enough hours of employment to support their families?

Will he tell the powerful Bradley Foundation? The Gates Foundation, whose idea of fighting poverty is to promote the Common Core Standards?

Fuller was a bitter critic of trachers’ unions. Has he figured out that union jobs are a godsend for Black and Hispanic workers, providing better pay than non-union jobs and a measure of job security. Fuller appeared in “Waiting for Superman” harshly criticizing public schools, teachers, and unions.

Has he figured out that he helped to shred the route to the middle-class for many of the families and children he claims to care about? Has he noticed how many of the thriving charter chains are run by wealthy white men?

Was he cynically used? Was he duped? Was he a willing collaborator? On reflection, does he think that children and parents of color benefitted or were harmed when their local schools were taken over by corporate charter chains?

Howard Fuller is a smart man. I hope he speaks out and explains more about his decision to close BAEO. I welcome a submission to this blog.

The rightwing-funded Black Alliance for Educational Options is closing its doors. It was launched by Howard Fuller, who was superintendent of Milwaukee public schools in 2000. Fuller was radicalized by his inability to change the system and formed an alliance with the far-right Bradley Foundation, which funded vouchers and wanted to privatize public education. Over the years, BAEO has been funded by white conservative foundations including the Walton Foundation.

BAEO Sought to persuade African Americans that school choice, charters, and vouchers, and privatization were in their interest.

Southern legislatures, controlled by conservative white men, liked BAEO’s ideas.

Education Week credits BAEO with getting Alabama and Mississippi to pass charter laws, and Louisiana and D.C. to pass voucher legislation.

White segregationists embrace school choice readily, as they have wanted it since 1954. Fuller pushed on an open door. Now southern states can fund segregated schools and do it with a clear conscience. Sort of.

Fuller no doubt was following his conscience, but it would be better if he had done it without all that rightwing money.

In the era of Trump and DeVos, it is difficult to play the role of a progressive when their agenda and yours are the same. Especially when the NAACP is speaking out against charters and privatization.

In a related story, the former chairman of the BAEO board Kevin Chavous has been named president of K12 Inc.s Academics, Policy, and Schools. K12 Inc. was founded by junk bond king Michael Milken and his brother Lowell and is the nation’s largest virtual online charter corporation. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Its schools have been notable for high attrition rates, low test scores, and low graduation rates. The NCAA withdrew accreditation from two dozen K12 schools a few years ago because of their poor quality. This is a choice strongly supported by DeVos. K12 Inc. is also known for paying lavish compensation, desite its poor academic results.

It is very instructive to scan the long list of organizations that are funded by the Walton Family Foundation. Some will surprise you. Some will not. Here is what we know about this foundation. The Walton Family (beneficiaries of Walmart) is the richest family in America. There are many billionaires in the family. Like Betsy DeVos, they don’t like public education. They don’t like regulation. They love the free market. They don’t like unions. Individual family members have spent millions on political campaigns to support charters and vouchers. The Foundation also supports charters and school choice.

In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation spent $179 million on K-12 education grants. They are in the midst of a pledge to spend $1 billion to open more charters, and they have targeted certain cities for their beneficence (Atlanta, Boston, Camden, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, New York, Oakland, San Antonio and Washington, D.C.) Their goal is to undermine public education by creating a competitive marketplace of choices. They and DeVos are on the same page.

I suggest you scan the list to see which organizations have their hand out for funding from one of the nation’s most anti-public school, anti-union, rightwing foundations.

Here are a few of their grantees:

Black Alliance for Education Options (BAEO), run by Howard Fuller to spread the gospel of school choice: $2.78 million

Brookings Institution (no doubt, to buy the annual report that grades cities on school choice): $242,000

California Charter Schools Association: $5 million

Center for American Progress (theoretically a “centrist Democratic” think tank): $500,000

Charter Fund, Inc. (never heard of this one): $14 million

Chiefs for Change (Jeb Bush’s group): $500,000

College Board (to push Common Core?): $225,000

Colorado League of Charter Schools: $1,050,000

Editorial Projects in Education (Education Week): $70,000

Education Reform Now: $4.2 million

Education Trust, Inc. (supposed a “left-leaning advocacy group”): $359,000

Education Writers Association: $175,000

Educators for Excellence (anti-union teachers, usually from TFA): $925,000

Families for Excellent Schools (hedge fund managers who lobby for charter schools in New York City and Massachusetts): $6.4 million

Foundation for Excellence in Education (Jeb Bush’s organization): $3 million

High Tech High Graduate School of Education (this one stumped me; how can a high school run a graduate school of education?): $780,000

KIPP Foundation: $6.9 million

Leadership for Education Equity Foundation (this is TFA’s political organization that trains TFA to run for office): $5 million

Massachusetts Charter Public School Association (this funding preceded the referendum where the citizens of Massachusetts voted “no mas” to new charters): $850,000

National Public Radio: $1.1 million

National Urban League: $300,000

Pahara Institute: $832,000

Parent Revolution: $500,000

Relay Graduate School of Education (that pseudo-grad school with no professors, just charter teachers): $1 million

Schools That Can Milwaukee (Tough luck, the Working Families Party just swept the school board): $1.6 million

StudentsFirst Institute: $2.8 million

Teach for America (to supply scabs): $8 million

The New York Times: $350,000

Thomas B. Fordham Institute: $700,000

Urban Institute (supposedly an independent think tank in D.C.): $350,000

To be fair, in another part of the grants report, called Special Projects, the Walton Family Foundation donated $112,404 to the Bentonville Public Schools and $25,000 to the Bentonville Public Schools Foundation, in the town where the Waltons are located. Compare that to the $179 million for charters and choice, and you get the picture of what matters most.

Larry Lee reports here about the departure of StudentsFirst and the Black Alliance for Educational Options from Alabama.

They set up camp in Alabama to advocate for charters and vouchers. Not to advocate for children, but to advocate for alternatives to public schools.

They met with some success. The appeal of charters and vouchers in the Deep South is a restoration of segregation, while claiming it is “all about the children.”

They left. They packed their bags and went away. They had no roots in Alabama. They didn’t stay to advocate for the children.

Jeff Bryant, a crack investigative journalist, writes on Bill Moyers’ blog about the big money that has chained many Democrats to the charter school industry, putting them in the bizarre position of defending privatization of public education.

Bryant cites evidence that the two big funders of political campaigns in California’s recent primaries were Big Oil and the Charter Industry.

The same dynamic is playing out in other states, where Big Money is buying Democratic candidates on the charter issue.


In California and beyond, charter-school advocates also team up with big finance to influence Democratic Party candidates in state and local elections.

According to a report from the Center for Media and Democracy, an organization calling itself Democrats for Education Reform has been effective in a number of states at getting Democratic candidates to team up with traditionally Republican-leaning financial interests to defeat any attempts to question rapid expansions of unregulated charter schools.

According to the CMD study, DEFR is a PAC “co-founded by hedge fund managers” to funnel “dark money” into “expenditures, like mass mailings or ads supporting particular politicians, that were ‘independent’ and not to be coordinated with the candidates’ campaigns.” The organization and its parent entity also have ties to FOX’s Rupert Murdoch and Charles and David Koch.

Colorado is another state where local elections often pit Democrat versus Democrat in campaigns where the interests of big money oppose progressive candidates who question the need to expand charter schools and exempt them from transparency laws.

In Tennessee also, the interests of right-wing organizations such as Americans for Prosperity often overlap with Democratic government officials intent on expanding charter schools.

Even in traditionally liberal states such as Massachusetts, progressive Democrats assailing the state’s conservative Republican governor for his push to “privatize” education with more charter schools are opposed by DEFR and other big money interests who declare support for charters, because these schools have had the backing of the Obama administration and, well, it’s about “kids.”

Will the public be hoaxed again by the Big Money interests?

As Matt Taibbi explains in Rolling Stone, this year’s presidential primary had the unusual turn of events where “the all-powerful Democratic Party ended up having to dig in for a furious rally to stave off a quirky Vermont socialist almost completely lacking big-dollar donors or institutional support.”

Taibbi sees many convincing signs that “[p]eople are sick of being thought of as faraway annoyances who only get whatever policy scraps are left over after pols have finished servicing the donors they hang out with.”

Clearly there are enough voters in the Democratic Party base who feel this way to convince some of their party’s candidates and current officials to challenge the wide leeway the charter school industry wants. So maybe more Democratic candidates who’ve tapped charter-school money will have some explaining to do.

The New York Times wrote  about the control of the mass media by billionaires, an issue that should concern us all. Not only do they own the media, some use it to promote their financial self-interest and political ideology.

 

This is is not an entirely new phenomenon, the story notes, mentioning William Randolph Hearst as an example. But Hearst co-existed with thousands of community newspapers. In this age of concentrated ownership of the media, a handful of moguls own the news.

 

Jim Rutenberg, the reporter, points out an ominous development. Billionaire Peter Thiel bankrolled a lawsuit by wrestler Hulk Hoganagainst Gawker.com, a gossip website, as payback for Gawker’s report that he was gay. Hogan won $140 million, which, if upheld on appeal, would put Gawker out of business.

 

This is an ingenious way to stifle dissent. If a billionaire doesn’t like a website, he or she can sue it into bankruptcy.

Mercedes Schneider, high school teacher, debates Common Core with a state representative and a representative of the pro-voucher group Black Alliance for Educational Options. Mercedes explains who BAEO is, then engages in 6 minutes of debate in which the two men were pro-Common Core and Mercedes was critical. Does 2 vs. 1 sound unbalanced? At least there was some disagreement. A few days ago, there was a well-publicized forum on Common Core that included Merryl Tisch, chair of the Board of Regents; John King, state commissioner; Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers; Carmen Farina, Chancellor of the New York City public schools; and one or two others. Every member of the panel supported Common Core. Some debate.