Archives for category: Corruption

Robert Hubbell writes a thoughtful, informative blog. I’m posting this as part of my personal project to understand the new face of white supremacy. White supremacy has always been there, simmering below the surface. Trump invited them to show their faces and step into the daylight. They did, and DeSantis is sending them signals that he wants to be their champion.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has set his anti-education sites on Florida’s state colleges. Through a series of political and legal maneuvers, he has ceded control over Florida’s state colleges to ultra-conservative culture warriors like Christopher Rufo. In short order, DeSantis has announced that he will rid Florida state colleges and universities of curricula not “rooted in Western tradition” or that “compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality.”

Amid the torrent of reporting on Ron DeSantis’s attack on critical race theory and intersectionality, the quiet part is often left unsaid. So let me say it: DeSantis’s educational agenda is code for racism and white supremacy. (Other parts of his agenda seek to erase the dignity and humanity of LGBTQ people.) DeSantis’s invocation of “Western tradition” is meant to suppress knowledge regarding the people (and contributions) of Asia, Africa, South America, Oceania, and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. See Talking Points Memo, DeSantis Makes 2024 Ambitions Clear As He Pours Gasoline On His ‘Woke’ Education Fire.

Given DeSantis’s generalized ignorance, his call to focus on “Western tradition” is a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to the discussion of unpleasant truths about America. For example, the enslavement of Black people was a “tradition” in North America for 246 years—and the abolition of that evil practice is relatively recent (155 years ago). So, a college course that honestly addresses the Western “traditions” of North America should include an examination that the role of slavery played in the economic, social, and political development of America.

But DeSantis isn’t stopping at converting Florida’s colleges and universities into re-education camps in the worst traditions of the USSR. He is seeking to up-end centuries of “Western tradition” embodied in the Constitution and the English common law: the requirement of a unanimous jury to impose capital punishment. DeSantis has floated the idea that a less-than-unanimous jury verdict can impose a sentence of death—an unconstitutional proposal designed to inflict the death penalty on more Black and Latino Americans. See Vox, Ron DeSantis wants to make it much easier for the state to kill people.

DeSantis is willing to do all this because he wants to capture Trump’s loyal base—which is the only hope that DeSantis has of becoming a credible candidate. As Trump becomes mired in criminal prosecutions, DeSantis will become emboldened and radicalized beyond his already extremist views. Doing so ignores the lessons of the 2022 midterms: persuadable Americans are done with Trump and his MAGA extremism. Like all military generals, Ron DeSantis is fighting the last war (the presidential election of 2020) and has failed to heed the tectonic shift that occurred in the midterms.

Governor Ron DeSantis hates the fact that there is a progressive public college called New College that openly teaches diversity, equity, inclusion, feminist studies, ethnic studies, and gay studies. That’s WOKE, and he vowed to crush anything WOKE.

He named 6 conservatives to the 13-member board, and the board of the state university system added another, meaning that Rightwingers are in charge. A hard-right board needs a hard-right president, and they got one.

Their first meeting was this afternoon, and they are expected to appoint former State Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran as the new president. From the following story, it appears that no one bothered to let the current president of the New College know that she was being shown the door.

DeSantis is showing how to stamp out ideas he doesn’t like, with power, not subtlety. Is he a fascist or is he pretending?

A new board of trustees at New College of Florida intends to name Richard Corcoran as its next President.

Corcoran, a former House Speaker, served as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first Education Commissioner.

Carlos Trujillo, president and founder of Continental Strategy, revealed the plans in a letter to clients and colleges.

“We are beyond excited to announce that one of our Partners, former Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, will be returning to higher education to serve as the Interim — and hopeful permanent — President of the New College of Florida, in Sarasota,” Trujillo wrote.

“This move comes as part of Gov. DeSantis ongoing work to refocus the university on providing the most value to its students and their parents.”

Corcoran was a founding partner for the consulting firm.

The news comes hours before the first board meeting since DeSantis appointed six new trustees on the 13-member board. The State University System Board of Governors also appointed a new trustee with a similar conservative think tank background.

Of note, work of Corcoran’s apparent hire comes before any news of current President Patricia Okker’s future with the school. Eddie Speir, co-founder of Inspiration Academy, wrote a blog post this weekend promising to call for Okker to be renamed as interim President and to terminate all faculty and staff before deciding who still fit in the new vision for the college.

While Florida’s Sunshine Law requires all decisions by the board to be made in publicly noticed meetings, Trujillo treats the matter like a done deal.

“The selection of Richard distinguishes our firm as a leader in innovation and strategic solutions for the clients we serve. We look forward to finding new synergies that can better serve our current clients and ensure their goals are made a reality,” his letter reads.

Christopher Mathias wrote at Huffington Post about a group called Dissident Homeschool that provides resources for parents who want to teach their children to be Nazis. Through research and inquiry, he found the names of the couple who administer the site. Many of the states enacting voucher plans include payments for homeschooling. If you live in one of those states, your tax dollars might be subsidizing the training of Nazis.

Please read the entire article. It’s too long to repost in its entirety. It is awful that parents would do this, and worse that it is subsidized by public funds in many state voucher plans.

Mathias writes:

On Nov. 5, 2021, a married couple calling themselves “Mr. and Mrs. Saxon” appeared on the neo-Nazi podcast “Achtung Amerikaner” to plug a new project: a social media channel dedicated to helping American parents home-school their children.

“We are so deeply invested into making sure that that child becomes a wonderful Nazi,” Mrs. Saxon told the podcast’s host. “And by home-schooling, we’re going to get that done.”

The Saxons said they launched the “Dissident Homeschool” channel on Telegram after years of searching for and developing “Nazi-approved material” for their own home-schooled children — material they were eager to share.

The Dissident Homeschool channel — which now has nearly 2,500 subscribers — is replete with this material, including ready-made lesson plans authored by the Saxons on various subjects, like Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee (a “grand role model for young, white men”) and Martin Luther King Jr. (“the antithesis of our civilization and our people”).

There are copywork assignments available for parents to print out, so that their children can learn cursive by writing out quotes from Adolf Hitler. There are recommended reading lists with bits of advice like “do not give them Jewish media content,” and there are tips for ensuring that home-schooling parents are in “full compliance with the law” so that “the state” doesn’t interfere.

The Saxons also frequently update their followers on their progress home-schooling their own children. In one since-deleted post to Telegram, they posted an audio message of their kids shouting “Sieg Heil” — the German phrase for “hail victory” that was used by the Nazis.

Over the past year, the Dissident Homeschool channel has become a community for like-minded fascists who see home schooling as integral to whites wresting control of America. The Saxons created this community while hiding behind a fake last name, but HuffPost has reviewed evidence indicating they are Logan and Katja Lawrence of Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Logan, until earlier this week, worked for his family’s insurance company while Katja taught the kids at home.

The Anonymous Comrades Collective, a group of anti-fascist researchers, first uncovered evidence suggesting the Lawrences are behind Dissident Homeschool. HuffPost has verified the collective’s research.

The Lawrences did not respond to repeated requests for comment made via phone calls, text messages and emails. A HuffPost reporter also left a message in the Dissident Homeschool channel asking Mr. and Mrs. Saxon for comment about the Anonymous Comrades Collective’s research. That message was immediately deleted by the channel’s administrators, who then disabled the channel’s comment and chat functions.

A short time later, Katja Lawrence deleted her Facebook page.

Although the Lawrences will now surely face some public scorn and accountability, it’s likely their neo-Nazi curriculum is legal. A concerted, decades-long campaign by right-wing Christian groups to deregulate home schooling has afforded parents wide latitude in how they teach their kids — even if that means indoctrinating them with explicit fascism.

Meanwhile major right-wing figures are increasingly promoting home schooling as a way to save children from alleged “wokeness” — or liberal ideas about race and gender — in public and private schools. As extreme as the Dissident Homeschool channel is, the propaganda it shares targeting the American education system is just a more explicit and crass articulation of talking points made by Fox News hosts or by major figures in the Republican Party.

“Without homeschooling our children,” Mrs. Saxon once wrote, “our children are left defenseless to the schools and the Gay Afro Zionist scum that run them….”

Nazi Groomers

A post from Dissident Homeschool, a channel on Telegram where neo-Nazis learn to indoctrinate their children.

Mr. and Mrs. Saxon appeared to be thrilled to see their Dissident Homeschool channel gain a larger following. When the channel reached 1,000 subscribers, Mrs. Saxon posted a Nazi-era photo from Germany of uniformed schoolchildren throwing up fascist salutes. “It fills my heart with joy to know there is such a strong base of homeschoolers and homeschool-interested national socialists,” she wrote to mark the occasion. “Hail victory.”

Mrs. Saxon does the bulk of the posting in Dissident Homeschool, and developed extensive lesson plans that other neo-Nazi parents could use for their children. These lesson plans — about Christopher Columbus, the history of Thanksgiving and German Appreciation Day, as well as a “math assignment” about “crime statistics” that is meant to teach kids which “demographics to be cautious around” — are deeply racist.

One lesson plan about Martin Luther King Jr. tells parents to teach their kids that the revered civil rights leader was “a degenerate anti-white criminal whose life’s work was to make it impossible for white communities to protect their own way of life and keep their people safe from black crime.”

“Typically speaking,” Mrs. Saxon wrote in a post, “whites build societies whereas blacks destroy them.”

Included in the lesson plan is a copywork assignment for parents to print out, so that their kids can practice cursive while writing out a racist quote by George Lincoln Rockwell, the infamous American neo-Nazi.

This is one of Peter Greene’s finest posts. He explains the real reason that Republicans have fallen in love with vouchers. They want to eliminate public schools and in time shift the financial burden of schools to parents, not taxpayers. One of the loudest voucher advocates, who got his doctorate from the University of Walton….the University of Arkansas’s so-called Department of Educational Reform, where they teach the doctrine of school choice, posted a photograph of himself and a woman whom I assume was his wife at a funeral, celebrating the death of public schools. When we go high, they go low.

Greene writes:

The new wave of voucher bills being rammed through red state legislatures all demonstrate a truth about school voucher policies– vouchers are not about choice. They’re about peeling people away from the public school system in order to defund and dismantle that system.

What makes me think so? Here it is. Sometimes it’s not about what people say, but about what they don’t say.

If the concern were really and truly choice for every student, then voucher fans would be addressing some of the real obstacles to school choice.This door doesn’t lead where they told you it would.

For one, they would be addressing discriminatory and exclusionary policies. Yet when have we ever heard a voucher supporter say, “These discriminatory policies have to stop. LGBTQ+ students deserve just as much school choice as any other students.”

The closest thing we ever get is “Well, then they can start an LGBTQ-friendly school of their own.” Yet when that happens, pro-voucher politicians target that school with terms like “perversion.” And of course in some states, such a school can never happen because talking about LGBTQ students or Black history has been outlawed. And voucher laws are written to hold the private school right to discriminate as it wishes inviolable.

If someone were serious about voucher based choice, they would also address cost. Vouchers are typically far too small to pay for tuition to top schools in the state. If voucher supporters were really interested in making sure that, as Jeb Bush says, “each and every…student can access the education of their choice,” there would be a robust discussion about how to bridge the gap between meager vouchers and expensive schools.

Yet we never hear voucher advocates saying, “We need to find the way to fully fund vouchers so that they provide a real choice to students.” Choice advocates like to point at the inequity of the public system–parent choice is limited by their ability to buy an expensive house in a wealthy neighborhood. But the current crop of voucher programs doesn’t change that a bit–a voucher offers little to change the fact that how much “freedom” you get depends on how wealthy you are.

It has been done. But when Croydon, NH set up a school choice program, a voucher-like system that bore the full cost of sending a student to the school of their choice, local libertarians tried to shut it down because they wanted lower taxes.

Voucher fans love the idea of school choice; they just don’t want to actually pay for it.

If these folks were serious about school choice via vouchers, we would have calls for oversight and accountability. It would make a choice system that much more attractive for parents to know that all the available options have been vetted and screened and will be held to some standards, just like shopping in a grocery store where you can rest easy in near-certainty that whatever you pick, it’s not going to actually poison your family.

And yet not only do voucher fans not call for oversight and accountability, but they actively block it with language that hammers home that nobody can tell vendors what to do or how to do it.

Voucherphiles like to call their system child-centered, but in fact it is vendor-centered, with “protections” for the service providers written into the law, and protections for the students non-existent. Parents are left to navigate an unregulated system of asymmetrical information that favors the businesses– not the families.

Please open the link and finish the post. And while you are at it, subscribe to Peter’s wonderful blog.

Jan Resseger looks behind the daily news and ties together fast-moving events in the red states. The sudden proliferation of voucher programs is no accident, she writes, nor is it a response to public demands. It is a carefully crafted, well-funded strategy to defund public schools, to smash teachers’ unions, and to implement a rightwing ideology that does not benefit students or improve education.

She writes:

This week in Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds signed an Education Savings Account, universal voucher program into law. And last week in Utah, the same kind of voucher plan took the first step toward adoption when it was passed by Utah’s House of Representatives.

The Des Moines Register reports on Iowa’s new vouchers. The program will “phase in over three years and eventually allow all Iowa families to use up to $7,598 a year in an ‘education savings account’ for private school tuition. If any money is left over after tuition and fees, families could use the funds for specific educational expenses, including textbooks, tutoring, standardized testing fees, online education programs and vocational and life skills training. The $7,598 per private school student is the same amount of funding the state provides to public school students and is expected to rise in future years… The bill allows the Iowa Department of Education to contract with a third party to administer the education savings accounts, but the state has not yet issued a request for proposals from companies seeking to manage the funds.”

It would appear that the Iowa Legislature tried to calm the fears of the public school community by promising that, “Public school districts would also receive an additional $1,205 in funding for students receiving education savings accounts who live within the public school district’s boundaries.” But despite that promise, a drop in overall public school funding is expected: “By the fourth year, the (Legislative Services) agency estimates public school districts will receive $49.8 million in new per-student funds for private school students within the public district’s boundaries. The agency also expects a net decrease of $46 million in public school funding as a result of more students attending private schools.”

It is hard to keep track of all the states that now have school vouchers or are considering voucher programs and to know which states have the latest flavor of vouchers—Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Most ESA programs, unlike Iowa’s, don’t even require that families use the vouchers at private schools. In most places, ESA’s can be used for educational programs, for educational tools and materials like books and computers, and for homeschooling. In some states families can use the money for so-called micro-schools in which families come together and hire a teacher to work with children in someone’s home.

Why is there so much so much legislative activity about expanding vouchers? Several factors are important to consider, and many of them were the subject of economist Gordon Lafer’s analysis in The One-Percent Solution. Lafer’s book focused on the public policy that flowed from state legislatures after the Tea Party wave election in 2010, but his observations are still on point as we begin 2023. Lafer enumerates all the reasons why far-right ideologues and big corporate moneyed interests seek to undermine and privatize public schools: “At first glance, it may seem odd that corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation for Independent Business, or Americans for Prosperity would care to get involved in an issue as far removed from commercial activity as school reform. In fact, they have each made this a top legislative priority… The campaign to transform public education brings together multiple strands of the agenda… The teachers’ union is the single biggest labor organization in most states—thus for both anti-union ideologues and Republican strategists, undermining teachers’ unions is of central importance. Education is one of the largest components of public budgets, and in many communities the school system is the single largest employer—thus the goals of cutting budgets, enabling new tax cuts for the wealthy, shrinking the government, and lowering wage and benefit standards in the public sector all coalesce around the school system… There are always firms that aim to profit from the privatization of public services, but the sums involved in K-12 education are an order of magnitude larger than any other service, and have generated an intensity of corporate legislative engagement unmatched by any other branch of government. Finally, the notion that one’s kids have a right to a decent education represents the most substantive right to which Americans believe we are entitled, simply by dint of residence… (F)or those interested in lowering citizens’ expectations of what we have a right to demand from government, there is no more central fight than around public education. In all these ways, then, school reform presents something like the perfect crystallization of the corporate legislative agenda.” (The One-Percent Solution, pp 128-129)

It is hard for public school advocates to mobilize nationally against the expansion of vouchers. Voucher battles are fought state by state because public education and the funding of public education is a state-by-state issue. Advocates are likely to focus on public education legislation in their own state and not to pay attention to what’s happening elsewhere. And citizens are not likely to pay much attention to what is happening in the legislature. Once again, Gordon Lafer identifies the problem: “(M)any of the factors that strengthen corporate political influence are magnified in the states. First, far fewer people pay attention to state government, implying wider latitude for well-funded organized interests… Apart from labor unions and a handful of progressive activists, the corporate agenda… encounters little public resistance at the state level because hardly anyone knows about or understands the issues… So, too, corporate lobbies’ financial advantage is magnified in the states. Citizens United marked a sea change in state as well as federal politics.” (The One Percent Solution, pp. 34-36)

Christopher Lubienski, a professor of education policy at Indiana University who has studied the impact of school privatization and the politics around privatizing public schools, recently published a reminder that school privatization is driven by the power of the corporate agenda. Expansion of vouchers has never been an expression of voters’ overall preference: “School choice is continuing to expand across the United states…. But these successes often come in spite of overwhelming voter opposition to school choice programs… According to the pro-voucher organization EdChoice.org, the U.S. has over 75 publicly funded private school choice programs, including vouchers, and education savings accounts, as well as another 45 charter school programs. But all of these programs have been implemented by legislators, not the electorate… In fact, voters have been allowed to weigh in on school choice programs only nine times since 2000, and they almost always reject them, often by overwhelming margins. Only twice did school choice programs pass through the ballot box. In 2012, Georgia voters empowered their legislature with the ability to create charter schools. That same year… Washington voters passed a charter school referendum.”

Who are the far-right advocacy groups and think tanks powerfully promoting Education Savings Account vouchers? They include the usual suspects: the American Legislative Exchange Council and a state- by-state group of think tanks that are ALEC’s partners in the State Policy Network, EdChoice, the Goldwater Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Institute for Justice, which provides two model laws—“Education Savings Account Act: Publicly Funded,” and “Education Savings Account Act: Tax-Credit Funded“—so that state legislators can merely adapt a canned statute to their own state’s particular needs. SourceWatch reports corporate funding streams for these and other far-right think tanks that promote vouchers—funding from the Koch Brothers, the Bradley Foundation, and investments from the Donor’s Capital Fund, a powerful investor of corporate dark money since the 2010, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United.

In the past two years, the campaign to undermine public schooling and promote the expansion of vouchers has developed a new strategy to convince parents that their children in public schools are being brainwashed by critical race theory and surrounded by discussion of gender and sexual orientation. In a new report published by the Network for Public Education this week, political scientist Maurice Cunningham traces the money behind what may appear to be a spontaneous emergence of parents’ groups—Parents Defending Education, Moms for Liberty, and No Left Turn in Education. Cunningham points to clues that these are not local grassroots groups of parents; their websites, for example, betray a big investment in communications. And while, for example, the founders of Parents Defending Education (PDE) claim to be a bunch of working moms, Cunningham explains: “PDE took in $3,178,272 in contributions and grants in 2021… Donor’s Trust, a dark money donor associated with the Koch network donated $20,250 to PDE in 2021. The Achelis & Bodman Foundation which funds voucher and charter school programs and targets public education, contributed $25,000. Searle Freedom Trust, another right-wing donor with ties to Donors Trust, contributed $250,000 in 2021. We don’t know all the names on the checks, but we do know that those checks had to be pretty large, that the attorneys and consultants sit at the hierarchy of right-wing operatives, and that the board members and staffers are connected to the highest levels of conservative donors including the Koch network.”

The same people who are promoting vouchers are working to scare parents with the huge, culture war campaign driven by identifiable funders and a mass of dark money supporting an education marketplace and undermining parents’ confidence in public schools. But as Christopher Lubienski, the scholar who has studied the effect of the privatization of public education reminds us, expanding vouchers has not improved the outcomes for our children: “(R)ecent research is repeatedly showing that… vouchers are not a good investment. Although publicly funded vouchers may be propping up some private schools that might otherwise go out of business, they are not really helping the people they purport to help. In fact… study after study shows that students using vouchers are falling behind where they would have been if they had remained in public schools. Thus, policymakers might think twice about defying voters on initiatives that actually cause harm to children.”

The political theorist Benjamin Barber warns that school choice does not really provide freedom for families: “We are seduced into thinking that the right to choose from a menu is the essence of liberty, but with respect to relevant outcomes the real power, and hence the real freedom, is in the determination of what is on the menu. The powerful are those who set the agenda, not those who choose from the alternatives it offers. We select menu items privately, but we can assure meaningful menu choices only through public decision-making.” (Consumed, p. 139)

Crooks & Liars found this story from Tennessee in Law & Crime about the principal of a Christian school who has been arrested twice for allegations of sex with minors.

This is of interest because Governor Bill Lee has made it a priority to bring charter schools and vouchers to his state, which would reduce public oversight of school employees. In the case of vouchers,there are typically no state regulations for certification or background checks.

Law&Crime reports:

A 47-year-old principal at a Christian private school in Tennessee was arrested for the second time in less than a year over allegations that he engaged in illegal sexual activity with multiple minors. Jason Kennedy was taken into custody last week and charged with four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child, one count of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of solicitation of a minor to observe sexual conduct, records reviewed by Law&Crime show.

Kennedy was the principal and a teacher at Liberty Christian School when he was initially arrested in August and charged with two counts of sexual assault by an authority figure and one count of solicitation of a minor.

Brittney Branham, a 28-year-old secretary and homeschool coordinator at Liberty, was also arrested in August and charged with one count of solicitation of a minor in connection with the same series of incidents that allegedly took place inside Kennedy’s home, where Branham was also a resident, according to a report from Knoxville NBC affiliate WBIR-TV.

It really is better for all if teachers and principals are educated, certified, and subject to background checks.

Numerous states controlled by Republicans want to “let the money follow the child” to any place, without regulation or oversight or accountability. This is not in the best interest of children, society, or education.

Independent researchers have demonstrated repeatedly that charter schools in Texas do not get better academic outcomes than public schools. The average charter school ranks below the average public school. Yet charter schools continue to proliferate, for two reasons: one, the governor, lieutenant governor and legislature firmly believe that the private sector is better than anything public; two, charter schools are a honey pot for entrepreneurs, who see a chance to get public money with minimal accountability or oversight.

Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer reported in 2016:

We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings. No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express-News. The business community in San Antonio has been very supportive of turning public money over to private-managed charter schools.

Just over two years ago, Universal Academy, a Texas charter school with two campuses in the Dallas area, made a surprising move.

In November 2020, a nonprofit foundation formed to support the school bought a luxury horse ranch and equestrian center from former ExxonMobil Chairman Rex Tillerson. The 12-building complex features a show barn “designed with Normandy-style cathedral ceilings,” a 120,000 square foot climate-controlled riding arena and a viewing pavilion with kitchen and bathrooms.

RELATED: IDEA Public Schools signed $15M lease for luxury jet despite being under state investigation

Last summer the Texas Education Agency granted Universal Academy permission to create a new elementary campus on the horse property’s manicured grounds. It will offer students riding lessons, according to a brochure, for $9,500.

Sales prices aren’t public in Texas, but the 100-acre property had been listed for $12 million when Tillerson, who also served as secretary of state under former President Donald Trump, bought it in 2009. Because of the foundation’s nonprofit status and its plans to offer equine therapy, the parcel has been removed from the tax rolls.

School board President Janice Blackmon said Universal hopes to use the facility to start a 4H chapter and Western-style horsemanship training, among other programs that take advantage of its rural location. “We’re trying to broaden the students and connect them to their Texas roots,” she said.

Splashy purchases like the horse arena are receiving increasing public scrutiny as charter schools continue to expand aggressively across Texas. Under state law, charter schools are public schools — just owned and managed privately, unlike traditional school districts.

An analysis by Hearst Newspapers found cases in which charter schools collected valuable real estate at great cost to taxpayers but with a tenuous connection to student learning. In others, administrators own the school facilities and have collected millions from charging rent to the same schools they run.

In Houston, the superintendent and founder of Diversity, Roots and Wings Academy, or DRAW, owns or controls four facilities used by the school, allowing him to bill millions to schools he oversees. DRAW’s most recent financial report shows signed lease agreements to pay Fernando Donatti, the superintendent, and his companies more than $6.5 million through 2031.

In an email, superintendent Donetti at DRAW said the property transactions were ethical, in the best interest of DRAW’s students and properly reported to state regulators. He said his school was “lucky” he was able to purchase the property because of challenges charters can face finding proper facilities.

Also in the Houston area, at ComQuest Academy Charter High School, the superintendent and her husband also own the company to which the school pays rent.

And Accelerated Learning Academy, a charter school based in Houston, is still trying to get a tax exemption on one of the two condominiums it bought just over a decade ago in upscale neighborhoods in Houston and Dallas. The school claims it has used the condos for storage, despite a nearby 9,600 square foot facility.

The battles between school districts and charter networks have become increasingly pitched, as they are locked in a zero-sum battle for public dollars.

Last year in Houston, about 45,000 students transferred from the ISD to charter schools, resulting in a loss to the district of a minimum of $276 million. That figure includes only the basic allotment received by the districts, excluding special education funding or other allotments.

In San Antonio, the two largest school districts are Northside ISD and North East ISD. More than 12,000 Northside students transferred to charter schools in the 2021-2022 school year, as did just under 8,000 from North East ISD. That means Northside lost at least $75 million, while North East lost $50 million, using the same basic allotment figures.

Each side cries foul about the other’s perceived advantages: charters are able to operate with less government and public scrutiny, while school districts benefit from zoning boards and can lean on a local tax base for financing.

Georgina Perez, who served on the State Board of Education from 2017 until this year, noted arrangements such as these would never be permitted at traditional school districts.

“If it can’t be done in (school districts), they probably had a good reason to disallow it,” she said. “So why can it be done with privately managed charter franchises?”

Lawmaker: ‘Sunshine’ is best cure

The largest charter network in Texas was a catalyst for the increased public scrutiny of charter school spending.

IDEA Public Schools faces state investigation for its spending habits, including purchases of luxury boxes at San Antonio Spurs games, lavish travel expenditures for executives, the acquisition of a boutique hotel in Cameron County for more than $1 million, plans to buy a $15 million private jet and other allegations of irresponsible or improper use of funds. The allegations date back to 2015 and led to the departure of top executives — including CEO and founder Tom Torkelson, who received a $900,000 severance payment.

Over the years lawmakers have steadily tightened rules for charter governance. A 2013 bill included provisions to strengthen nepotism rules; a 2021 law outlawed large severance payments. That bill was sponsored by Rep. Terry Canales, a South Texas Democrat whose district has some of the highest rates of charter school enrollment in the state.

“There’s a lot of work to be done for the people of Texas when it comes to charter schools,” Canales said. “Sunshine is the best cure for corruption. And the reality is it seems to be sanctioned corruption in charter schools.”

Considering the increased scrutiny, “It’s a myth that charter schools today are unregulated,” said Joe Hoffer, a San Antonio attorney who works on behalf of many charter schools. “Every session, more and more laws get passed.” If anything, he said, charter schools often have to jump through more regulatory hoops than local schools.

Yet acquiring property remains a gray area.

Charter schools that can’t purchase their own property typically must lease it and pay taxes. A 2021 state law authored by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, a San Antonio Democrat who operates a charter, made such arrangements tax-free. But the Texas Supreme Court later blocked parts of the law, and it has been applied differently by counties across the state.

It’s unusual for school districts to lease their facilities; typically they are publicly owned or constructed. Local school districts are governed by nonpartisan elected boards, and when the board decides to purchase real estate, it must notify the public of the contract and voters can petition the district to block it. If a project requires bonding or new taxes, it must be put on the ballot.

At charters, by comparison, the governing board is appointed, not elected, so it does not answer to local voters. The main public scrutiny comes later, when the information about the sale must be disclosed in annual required filings with the Texas Education Agency.

The state education agency has the authority to review charter real estate transactions and sometimes does. In Dallas, Golden Rule Charter School is under state investigation for a real estate deal and possible nepotism. The school declined to release details because the investigation is pending.

But such reviews are often cursory, if they happen at all.

When charters report a real estate transaction to the education agency, Hoffer said, they typically just receive a letter back saying it has been recorded, with a clause reminding the schools that state regulators have the authority to return for an audit or demand the deal be re-done.

Critics say it isn’t enough. “The problem that a lot of us have had with charters is that they are considered public schools and they are taxpayer-funded, but they don’t have taxpayer scrutiny,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat and former trustee at Eanes ISD. “It’s a real lack of accountability.”

Some deals benefit administrators

According to its website, Horizon Montessori Public School operates four campuses in the Rio Grande Valley, one on Sugar Cane Drive in Weslaco. Until recently, records show, the property and its two commercial buildings were owned by Superintendent Alim Ansari.

Hidalgo County appraisal records show Ansari also apparently lived in a 4,800-square-foot home at the back of the 2.85-acre parcel, a portion of which was granted a homestead limitation on its taxes.

In addition to serving as Ansari’s home, records from the Texas Education Agency show that between 2015 and 2020, the superintendent leased his Weslaco property to Horizon for classroom and office space, collecting $118,000 a year in rent during the period. In 2020, Ansari-the-landlord signed a new five-year contract with his school for the property, for $168,000 annually, according to education agency records.

A home can be seen on the same piece of property as the Horizon Montessori Public School on Sugarcane Drive in Weslaco on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. The home belonged to the superintendent of the public charter school who leased his Weslaco property to Horizon for classroom and office space, collecting $118,000 a year in rent from 2015-2020. State and local records show Ansari sold the campus and residence last June. The buyer was a nonprofit organization called South Texas Educational Technologies, which according to its tax records conducts business as Horizon Montessori. Ansari is its chairman. State and local records show the foundation purchased the property from Ansari for $1.9 million, or more than twice the $840,000 at which Hidalgo County appraised it. Records show the foundation used a private appraiser to value the parcel.James Hord/Contributor

State and local records show Ansari sold the campus and residence last June. The buyer was a nonprofit organization called South Texas Educational Technologies, which conducts business as Horizon Montessori, according to its tax records. Ansari is its chairman.

State and local records show Ansari’s foundation purchased the property from Ansari for $1.9 million — or more than twice the $840,000 at which Hidalgo County appraised it. The foundation used a private appraiser to value the parcel.

Ansari did not respond to multiple phone and email messages. James Hayes, a CPA who sits on Horizon’s board and who also is paid $48,000 a year by the charter for accounting services, declined to comment.

Related-party arrangements are rare among modern charters, said Hoffer, the attorney who represents some of them. In some cases, he said, new schools might be forced to make such deals temporarily because they did not have the creditworthiness to borrow money to purchase facilities.

Pioneer Technology and Arts Academy, which has several campuses in the Dallas area, paid about $5 million in rent in the 2021 fiscal year to two companies, one a nonprofit and one a for-profit. Records show Superintendent Shubham Pandey has stakes in both.

Just under $3.5 million went to the nonprofit controlled by two board members of Pioneer, including Pandey. Another $1,296,418 went to Pandey’s for-profit business, PNC Partners, with more than $3 million total reported in the previous three years.

In an email, Pandey said that Pioneer’s goal all along was to transfer the school buildings from his for-profit ownership to a nonprofit. Three campuses were taken over by the nonprofit in 2019, while three others were transferred last year. Future campuses will be owned by the nonprofit, he said, and he no longer collects rent checks from the school.

But the nonprofit did not exist when Pioneer was given its charter, and its initial application did not mention future plans to transfer assets to a nonprofit.

At ComQuest Academy Charter High School, the Houston-area charter, Superintendent Tanis Stanfield and her husband, Glenn, said they don’t earn a profit from the rent it pays their company, Peachwood Station LLC

Peachwood collected $91,000 in rent in 2021. Documents also say the company provided an additional $117,000-worth of rent for free.

Tanis Stanfield said the couple followed the law and provided the needed space at a steep discount to the school she ran. “State charter funding for facilities was not available for the campus acquisition,” the superintendent wrote in an email.

School-owned condos?

In 2017, the Chronicle reported on Accelerated Learning Academy’s purchase of a 1,119-square-foot condo unit in the 22-story Cosmopolitan, a glassy high rise near Memorial Park, for $427,000. The school then bought a 1,340-square-foot condo in downtown Dallas’s Metropolitan Club the same year, appraisal records show.

The school claimed both of the residential units were needed for storage space. The Dallas Appraisal District accepted that explanation, though the school already had a 9,600-square-foot, nearly empty campus in nearby Lancaster, and granted the condo a full property tax exemption. Records show Accelerated sold the condo in 2021.

The Cosmopolitan condominium building at 1600 Post Oak Blvd where Accelerated Learning Academy purchased a 1,119-square-foot condo unit, claiming they needed the space for storage, photographed Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Houston.

Harris County appraisal officials have been more skeptical about the school’s use of the unit for educational purposes: “Personally, I cannot imagine that the state of Texas would allow the use of state funds to purchase this property,” the agency’s exemptions coordinator wrote in 2013, noting the Cosmopolitan’s deed restrictions prohibited condos from being used for businesses.

Accelerated has continued to seek a tax exemption. The appraisal district’s 2018 field inspection showed some plastic totes scattered throughout the unit.

“Very nice condo with granite and hardwoods,” the inspector noted. The exemption was again denied because the property did “not meet the tests prescribed by the tax code.” Records show Accelerated paid about $9,000 in property taxes on the unit last year.

Another example is the A.W. Brown Leadership Academy, which has two campuses in the Dallas area that serve about 1,000 students. Property records show it owns eight properties, several worth millions that have sat unused — even as taxpayer money has gone to repay the loans used to buy them.

Records show A.W. Brown’s real estate holdings include nearly 50,000 of commercial office space purchased with bonds in 2017. Appraised at more than $4 million, the property has been tax-free since 2018 and is vacant. Taxpayers pay for the bonds. A.W. Brown spokesman Charles Roberts said the school is still deciding how to use it.

The charter also owns a 3,400-square-foot house with an in-ground pool on 6 acres in Duncanville, identified as an office and valued at $630,000, plus 99 acres next to it, valued at more than $4 million by the appraisal district. Those were purchased more than a decade ago from professional basketball player Larry Demetric Johnson, records show.

The school has paid no taxes on either since 2014, according to appraisal records. In the fall of 2022, the school announced its plan to turn the more-than 100 acres of land into a community garden and farm for students “to learn more about agriculture and entrepreneurship,” said Roberts, the school spokesman.

In response to questions from Hearst, Roberts said the charter would be starting “an internal audit of facility purchases.” He declined to comment further.

edward.mckinley@chron.com

eric.dexheimer@chron.com

Thom Hartmann looks back to the Ronald Reagan presidency to explain how Republicans seized the strategy of tax cuts and spending to counter the Democrats’ winning formula of social welfare spending. Now Republicans are threatening to force the federal government to default on the national debt, which would plunge the global economy into chaos, unless Democrats make deep cuts in social programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Hartmann writes:

The media refers to it as a debate around the debt ceiling, but it’s actually far simpler than that. And entirely political.

Back in November, a few weeks after House Republicans won the election and seized control of that body, I wrote to you warning that the House Republicans would try the same scam that Ronald Reagan first rolled out in the 1980s. I wrapped the article up with the “hope that Democratic politicians and our media will, finally, call the GOP out on Wanniski’s and Reagan’s Two Santa Clauses scam.”

So far, no soap. I haven’t heard a single mention of Two Santas in the mainstream media, and I’ll bet you haven’t, either. That’s the bad news.

The good news — perhaps — is that the scam has lost its sting after working so well for them for 42 years. President Biden and House Democrats are standing firm, saying they have no intention of negotiating around the debt ceiling with terrorists threatening to destroy our economy.

But even if it’s the last gasp of this scam, it appears House Republicans plan to go out with a bang. So let’s quickly review how Two Santas works.

Back in 1976 the Republican Party was a smoking ruin. Nixon had resigned after being busted for lying about his “secret plan to end the Vietnam War,” his involvement in the Watergate burglary, and his taking bribes from Jimmy Hoffa and the Milk Lobby. He only avoided prosecution because Gerald Ford pardoned him. 

His first Vice President, Spiro Agnew, had also resigned to avoid prosecution for taking bribes.

Newspaper and television editorialists were openly speculating the GOP might implode. The Party hadn’t held the House of Representatives for more than two consecutive years since 1930(and wouldn’t until 1994), Jerry Ford had ended the War the year before in a national humiliation, the unemployment rate was over 7 percent, as was inflation after hovering around 11 percent the year before.

The Republican Party had little to offer the American people beyond anti-communism, their mainstay since the 1950s.

Americans knew it was Democrats who’d brought them Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, subsidized college, the right to unionize, antipoverty programs, and sent men to the moon. And they knew Republicans had opposed the “big government spending” associated with every single one of them.

But one man — a Republican strategist and editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal named Jude Wanniski — thought he saw a way out. It was, he argued, a strategy that could eventually bring about a permanent Republican governing majority.

In a WSJ op-ed that year, Wanniski pointed outthat Americans thought of Democrats as the “Party of Santa” and Republicans as, essentially, Scrooge. Republicans, he noted, hadn’t even proposed a tax cut in 22 years!

The solution, Wanniski proposed, was for Republicans to start pushing tax cuts whenever the GOP held the White House. This would establish their Santa bona fides, particularly if Democrats objected. It would flip the script so Democrats would fill the role of Scrooge.

To make it even easier for Republicans to cut taxes, Wanniski invented and publicized a new economic theory called Supply-Side Economics. When taxes went down, he said, government revenue would magically go up!

Four years later, when Reagan came into the White House with the election of 1980, he picked up Wanniski’s strategy and doubled down on it. (In the primary of 1980, he’d even run on it: his primary opponent, George Herbert Walker Bush, derided it as “Voodoo Economics.”)

Reagan not only cut taxes on the rich: he also radically increased government spending, goosing the economy into a sugar high while throwing the nation deeply into debt.

Citing Supply-Side Economics, in eight short years Reagan ran up greater deficits than every president from George Washington to Jerry Ford combined, taking our national debt from around $800 billion all the way up to around $2.6 trillion when he left office.

By 1992, when Bill Clinton won the presidency, Reagan and Bush’s debt had climbed to over $4.2 trillion, giving Republicans a chance to double down on Two Santas. Bill Clinton would be their test case.

House Republicans loudly demanded that Clinton “do something!” about the national debt, waving the debt ceiling like a cudgel. Over the next eight years they repeatedly wielded the debt ceiling, shutting down the government twice. The battles lifted Newt Gingrich to the speakership. 

Clinton caved, making massive cuts to the social safety net to get a balanced budget, a gut-shot to the Democratic Santa programs.

By the end of the Clinton presidency the formula was set. When Republicans held the White House, they’d spend like drunken Santas and cut taxes to the bone to drive up the national debt.

When Democrats come into the presidency, Republicans would use the debt ceiling to force them to cut their own social programs and shoot the Democratic Santa. 

As I noted last November, when Clinton shot Santa Claus the result was an explosion of Republican wins across the country as GOP politicians campaigned on a “Republican Santa” platform of supply-side tax cuts and pork-rich spending increases.

Democrats had controlled the House of Representatives in almost every single year since the Republican Great Depression of the 1930s, but with Newt Gingrich rigorously enforcing Wanniski’s Two Santa Claus strategy, they used the debt ceiling as a weapon.

State after state turned red and the Republican Party rose to take over, in less than a decade, every single lever of power in the federal government from the Supreme Court to the White House.

Looking at the wreckage of the Democratic Party all around Clinton in 1999Wanniski wrote a gloating memo that said, in part:

“We of course should be indebted to Art Laffer for all time for his Curve… But as the primary political theoretician of the supply-side camp, I began arguing for the ‘Two Santa Claus Theory’ in 1974. If the Democrats are going to play Santa Claus by promoting more spending, the Republicans can never beat them by promoting less spending. They have to promise tax cuts…”

Ed Crane, then-president of the Koch-funded Libertarian CATO Institute, noted in a memo that year:

“When Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich, Vin Weber, Connie Mack and the rest discovered Jude Wanniski and Art Laffer, they thought they’d died and gone to heaven. In supply-side economics they found a philosophy that gave them a free pass out of the debate over the proper role of government. … That’s why you rarely, if ever, heard Kemp or Gingrich call for spending cuts, much less the elimination of programs and departments.”

Two Santa Clauses had fully seized the GOP mainstream.

Never again would Republicans worry about the debt or deficit when they were in office, and they knew well how to scream hysterically about it and hook in the economically naïve media as soon as Democrats again took power….

Please open the link and read the rest of the article.

Linda Lyon is a retired naval officer and past president of the Arizona School Boards Asociatuon, as well as her local school board. Her blog is called Restore Reason, and she writes here about the struggle to save public schools from antagonists who prefer to save money and who are antagonistic to anything that serves the public good.

She writes:

Those of you’ve who’ve been around awhile will remember lobbyist Grover Norquist, who founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985. This was during the Reagan years, when government was seen as a drag on the free market. Norquist is probably best known for this quote in 2001: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub”

It has been obvious for many years that Arizona Republican lawmakers want to drown our district schools since the budget for K-12 education makes up almost 44% of the state budget. But then, the predominant responsibilities of the AZ state government are to provide for the public safety and public education, so…it stands to figure that education would comprise a large portion of the budget.

If you’ve listened to the AZ Republican lawmaker talking points over the last few years, you’d tend to believe that public education has been showered with funding. The truth however is quite another story. In fact, adjusting for inflation, K-12 funding per public school student hasn’t increased in 21 years and leaves us still 48th in the nation. In 2001, districts were provided $8,824 per student and now, only $8,770. The high-water mark in 2007 of $10,182 per student was under Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano. This was actually $1,412 more than in 2022.

You see, pretty much all the GOP has been doing over the last few years is to reinstate funding they took away to begin with. And to add insult to injury, they’ve been chipping away at the amount available to district schools by continuous expansion of privatization options.

Guess you’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the battle over vouchers (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) during the past decade. ESAs were enacted in 2011 and GOP lawmakers have been steadily expanding these vouchers over the years. In 2022, (I’m really cutting to the chase here), they were finally successful in enacting a universal expansion. Not only are students no longer required to have previously attended a district school to qualify for a voucher, but there are no guardrails or cap and no transparency or accountability for private schools. And, only two months into the new law, AZ DOE had received nearly 30,000 filings for the vouchers, totaling an immediate hit to the state fund of $210M. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee only budgeted $33M for the program for the 2022-23 school year, but some now estimate the bill could approach as much as $500M.

Student Tuition Organizations (STOs) are another vehicle to poke holes in the district funding life raft. They allow tax payers to take a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their state taxes when they give to an approved STO which provides scholarship funding to children attending grades K-12 at qualified private schools in Arizona. These STOs basically serve as a pass-through for tax credit donations to private schools while keeping 10 percent for themselves. STOs have also seen tremendous expansion over the years with the individual tax credit amount now at $1,306 which is over six times that which taxpayers can give to district schools. There are also two types of tax credits corporations can take and the combined cap for those is now up to $141M.

Just introduced last week by Representative Livingston, is HB 2014 which seeks to expand the aggregate dollar amount of STO tax credits from $6M in 2021-22 to $10M in 2022-23, to $15M in 2023-24, and to $20M in 2024-25. It also would eliminate the need for recipients of a corporate, low-income scholarship to have attended a district school prior to receiving the scholarship. Keep in mind that removing the requirement to have first attended a district school prior to receiving STO or ESA monies, accommodates students already in private school or being homeschooled, at their parent’s expense. In fact, that was the case for 80% of the filings for the universal expansion last year. And, when a student taking an ESA or STO scholarship was never in a district school, there is zero reduction in cost to that district school and ultimately, taxpayers.

These schemes are chipping away at the foundation of our district (community) schools so that eventually, they can be “drowned in the bathtub”. This is not by accident, but rather, by design. There are those in the Legislature, who do not believe in equal opportunity to learn and thrive, but rather, in survival of the fittest. And, they are hell-bent on deciding who the “fittest” are. Privatizing public education primarily serves those who “have” at the expense of those who “have not”. This continued war on public education will continue to weaken our communities and our democracy as it solidifies power and influence with those at the very top.

Want to fight back? Go to SOSArizona.org.

Think of the most extreme, most vitriolic, least responsible members of the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives. Think of the ones who defended the insurrection. Think of those who encouraged the effort to overturn our government. Speaker Kevin McCarthy just put them on the most important committee in the House, the one that will conduct investigations for the next two years.

Hunter Biden’s laptop! Hunter Biden’s Laptop! Jewish space lasers! QAnon! Pedophiles! The entire Biden family (unlike the Trump family) enriching themselves on your dime (please don’t bring up the $2 billion that the Saudis gave Jared Kushner after Biden took office!) Hunter Biden’s laptop! The hundreds of classified documents that Trump fought to hold onto for over a year, first claiming they were planted by the FBI, then claiming they were his personal property, and the small number of documents that Biden immediately turned over! Trump good, Biden bad! Laptop!

The New York Times reported:

WASHINGTON — They were deeply involved in President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. They have come to the defense of people being prosecuted for participating in the deadly storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Some have called for violence against their political enemies online, embraced conspiracy theories or associated with white supremacists.

Several of the most extreme Republicans in Congress and those most closely allied with Mr. Trump have landed seats on the Oversight and Accountability Committee, the main investigative organ in the House. From that perch, they are poised to shape inquiries into the Biden administration and to serve as agents of Mr. Trump in litigating his grievances as he plots his re-election campaign.

Their appointments are the latest evidence that the new Republican majority is driven by a hard-right faction that has modeled itself in Mr. Trump’s image, shares his penchant for dealing in incendiary statements and misinformation, and is bent on using its newfound power to exact revenge on Democrats and President Biden.

Many of the panel’s new Republican members — including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania — are among Mr. Trump’s most devoted allies in Congress. Their appointments underscore that, while the former president may be a shrunken presence in the current political landscape, he still exerts much control over the base of his party.