Archives for category: Koch Brothers

James Harvey, leader of the National Superintendents Roundtable, reported that federal authorities will investigate violent threats made against school personnel and school boards in response to mask mandates. Stories in the Washington Post and elsewhere have demonstrated that some of the groups harassing educators and school boards about masking and “critical race theory” are funded by the Koch Network and other rightwing foundations and are intended to sow chaos and discredit public schools.

AP picks up Roundtable report on superintendents quitting
The Roundtable’s report on superintendents’ stress amidst the pandemic has received widespread attention. The Associated Press picked up the press release describing the report, which was initially distributed by Cision (PR Newswire). Within 48 hours of the distribution of the press release, Cision estimated that it had been distributed to 84 major outlets with a potential viewing audience of 122 million people. 
The outlets included Business Insider and AP, which in turn distributed the release to 963 different outlets, including C-SPAN, CBS News Radio, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Download the report at the link above. By all means share it with your colleagues and via your social media.
NSBA asks the Feds for help
It’s unprecedented. In the last week, the National School Boards Association (NSBA), the group that represents school boards and school board members around the country, asked the White House for federal assistance to investigate and stop threats against school boards by citizens incensed about school pandemic policies, such as mask mandates. The association likened the vitriol experienced by some of its members to a form of domestic terrorism.
According to a story filed by Carolyn Thompson of the Associated Press, “The request by the National School Boards Association demonstrates the level of unruliness that has engulfed local education meetings across the country during the pandemic, with board members regularly confronted and threatened by angry protesters.”
Justice Department to look into violent threats against school leaders
On October 4, Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week reportedthat the Justice Department agreed to have the FBI examine violent threats against school leaders, including board members and superintendents.
Ujifusa reports that the “FBI will work with federal attorneys, as well as state and local leaders, to discuss strategies for countering threats against teachers, principals, school board members and other educators.”“In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice announced plans to create a federal task force to address ‘the rise in criminal conduct towards school personnel,’ ” reported Ujifusa, “as school boards and other educators have faced anger and harassment in response to COVID-19 restrictions and other controversial issues in schools.”

Conservative groups are funding protests against “critical race theory.” Now we learn, thanks to investigative reporting by the Washington Post, that the rightwing libertarian Koch network is funding parent protests against mask mandates. Billionaire Charles Koch has blood on his hands by supporting and encouraging parent opposition to mask mandates in schools.

Isaac Stanley-Becker writes in the Post:

The letter sounds passionate and personal.
It is motivated, the author explains, by a desire to “speak up for what is best for my kids.” And it fervently conveys the author’s feelings to school leaders: “I do not believe little kids should be forced to wear masks, and I urge you to adopt a policy that allows parental choice on this matter for the upcoming school year.”

But the heartfelt appeal is not the product of a grass roots groundswell. Rather, it is a template drafted and circulated this week within a conservative network built on the scaffolding of the Koch fortune and the largesse of other GOP megadonors.

That makes the document, which was obtained by The Washington Post, the latest salvo in an inflamed debate over mask requirements in schools, which have become the epicenter of partisan battles over everything from gender identity to critical race theory. The political melee engulfing educators has complicated efforts to reopen schools safely during a new wave of the virus brought on by the highly transmissible delta variant.

The document offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a well-financed conservative campaign to undermine regulations that health authorities say are necessary to contain the coronavirus. The frustration of many parents who want a greater say is deeply felt, school superintendents say. But their anger is also being fueled by organized activists whose influence is ordinarily veiled.

Conservative groups are trying to throw public schools into turmoil and discredit them. We have yet to see them inveighing against vaccines for polio, smallpox, measles, etc. If children get COVID, are hospitalized, and worse, this is the result of their cynical effort to make Public schools unsafe and expose children to danger.

If only it were possible to hold them accountable for endangering other people’s children.

This is the letter that the conservative Independent Women’s Forum has circulated:

Dear _____: NAME is excited to be joining NAME OF SCHOOL this year. But I want to share my thoughts on a topic I feel strongly about: masks on kids. I do not believe little kids should be forced to wear masks, and I urge you to adopt a policy that allows parental choice on this matter for the upcoming school year. I know you have to make a lot of tough decisions and you can’t please everyone. I have a world of respect for you and I am aware that some in the community may not agree with my perspective. It’s my view that emotion and politics (from both sides!) have driven alot of policy choices during the pandemic at nearly every level of government… that’s too bad. I’ll try to be brief but here are a few points that summarize my reasons for not supporting mandatory masks for young children:

●It’s a great blessing that COVID doesn’t pose as serious a health risk to children as it does to adults. Critically, young kids do not significantly spread COVID either. Furthermore, now that the adults in our community (teachers, school staff, parents and family members) have had a chance to get vaccinated, the risk to adults of serious illness from COVID infection is even smaller.

A study out of the UK released last week proved—once again—what we’ve known for more than a year:Kids transmit the coronavirus at a much lower rate than do adults. Epidemiologist Shamez Ladhani, who led the study, found that children “aren’t taking [the virus] home and then transferring it to the community. These kids have very little capacity to infect household members.”

●We do not yet know enough about the potential downside of mask-wearing for young children. I think you could make a case for or against masking kids (which is why I support parents making the choice either way), but if masking is to be mandated, the onus is on those putting a mandate in place to show that masking passes a risk-benefit analysis. This area merits more study, but common sense tells us that covering the face can come with problems.

Masking kids is associated with: increases in anxiety and depression;decreases in communication and socialization skill development; increases in headaches, face rashes and redness, and impaired facial recognition; and increases in tooth decay.

The organization called “UnKoch My Campus” does a great job of tracking and exposing the influence of billionaire Charles Koch in schools and higher education. Join with them in calling attention to Koch’s Dark Money:

Essential Information C/O UnKoch My Campus (EIN 52-1299631)

Each year in October, UnKoch My Campus coordinates a National Day of Action that focuses on building public awareness of the impact of the Koch network within institutions of education and our broader democracy. This year, we will take collective action and reach out to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, requesting that he address the issue of dark money in education, all the way from Kindergarten through college. Our K-12 and Critical Race Theory reports have shown us the role dark money’s influence has in destabilizing our democracy, advancing climate denial, and prioritizing private profits over people and our planet.

Join us October 28th and 29th! We want to make sure Secretary Cardona knows about the impact of the Koch network and how they are leveraging our institutions of education to spread climate disinformation and destabilize our democracy.

Click the link below and we’ll do the work for you. Simply enter your information and we’ll add your name and return address to the postcard. SIGN UP FOR A POSTCARD BEFORE OCTOBER 15th.

In Solidarity,

Jasmine Banks, Executive Director SEND A POSTCARD

Maurice Cunningham is a political scientist with a deep interest in how Dark Money influences education policy. His motto is: “Dark Money never sleeps.” He is a master at following the money. He customarily blogs at a website called MassPoliticsProfs, but was kind enough to send me this post first.

He writes here about the groups pushing the attacks on critical race theory:

The Corporate Critical Race Theory Attack: Chaos is the Product

“The backlash” begins an opinion piece in Newsweek by Parents Defending Education outreach director Erika Sanzi, and these may be the most accurate two words published by those who are attacking “wokeness,” gender studies, and Critical Race Theory. The sad fact is that white backlash has a proven record of effectiveness in American politics and it is once again being employed in the service of right wing corporate interests. The end product desired has less to do with CRT than with spreading disruption, fear, and chaos across America’s most important democratic public institution, schools.

According to the Washington Post, as of June 24 CRT (a theory developed in law schools and not well known among most Americans) has exploded on Fox News. The term was heard on Fox only 132 times in 2020 but has been mentioned 1,860 times this year, escalating month by month. The narrative is that grassroots parents groups have discovered the threat CRT poses to their children in schools and have arisen organically across the country to form local parent groups, a movement noticed and captured by websites and the powerful Fox News. The truth is that of an oligarch-funded and coordinated campaign using time tested techniques.

Follow the Money

Over the past five years I’ve been following “education reform” groups created by billionaire investors with names like Families for Excellent Schools, Massachusetts Parents United, and National Parents Union which have presented diversity as their public face while attacking teachers. So when I saw the launch of Parents Defending Education on March 30 I took note because it follows a different path: white backlash aimed more at school boards, superintendents, and principals. The first thing to do when evaluating these groups is always, follow the money.

But as the financial backers of groups like PDE well know, public disclosure of funders will only come about nearly two years down the road, if then, in publicly available Form 990 tax returns for organizations with Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3)status as charitable organizations. PDE president Nicole Neily has refused to disclose the organization’s donors when asked by media outlets. It’s not just that she won’t. She can’t. Disclosure would likely reveal ties to radical right funders tied into the Koch network and similar underwriters. We know this thanks to work done by PRWatch and from Sourcewatch at the Center for Media and Democracy. They show that Neily is a political operative at Koch network funded operations like the Independent Women’s Forum, Franklin Center, and Speech First.

The Speech First association is instructive. Neily is founding president of that non-profit as well. Sourcewatch has identified some of its funders as the Bader Family Foundation for $30,000, Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund: $500,250, Judicial Education Project for $1,000,000, and National Philanthropic Trust: $500,000. The real check writers will probably never become known. Form 990s show that Neily is the sole employee, earning $161,000 in 2018 and $150,000 in 2019. Speech First brings lawsuits against universities for policies touching on race. For this, it paid the law firm Consovoy McMullen $950,000 in 2018, and to get the word out paid the Republican communications firm Creative Response Concepts $106,000. Boiled down, Speech First is a pass through that allows wealthy conservative donors to remain hidden while paying Consovoy McMullen to attack universities.

And who represents Parents Defending Education? Why, Consovoy McMullen. William Consovoy also represents Donald Trump and clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. The firm is conservative legal royalty. PDE did not hire it after an especially successful bake sale.

Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education, and Moms for Liberty

PDE launched its well-developed website featuring pages with links to its allies, most of which were branches of groups called No Left Turn in Education and Moms for Liberty. According to NBC, No Left Turn in Education was launched in 2020 when a parent from a Philadelphia suburb became enraged at her children’s school for teaching concepts of racism after the police murder of George Floyd. Elana Yaron Fishbein then sprang into action to attack wokeness and founded NLTE. In September she appeared on Fox’s Tucker Carlson program and the next day the group’s Facebook increased from about 200 followers to over 30,000 and there are now 30 chapters in 23 states.

But when I looked at local NLTE chapters’ Facebook pages linked to through the PDE site in April, I found sparse membership: Alabama, 7; Arkansas, 3; Delaware, 6; Iowa, 2; Idaho, 4; Indiana, 8; Michigan (Betsy DeVos home state), 13; Mississippi, 3; Montana, 2; North Dakota, 2; Massachusetts, 17; Hawaii, 1. All of the NLTE Facebook pages featured the same banner, a montage of diverse teens against a background of school lockers, each student smiling and engaged, not a pimple on their perfect teenage faces; probably models, most certainly not local students. As for Moms for Liberty, it too had sparse membership in its affiliates: Arizona, 17; Wright Co, Minnesota, 8; Corpus Christi Nueces, Texas, 70. Moms for Liberty’s creation story is similar to others in the anti-public education universe: “moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.” The story goes that two parents became upset with their local schools and started up a parents group. It happens. It’s a lot more unusual for the two grassroots moms to then book former Fox host Megyn Kelly for a fundraiser with tickets running from General Admission of $50 up to Presenting Sponsor for $20,000 with perks including a photo with Ms. Kelly and corporate logo on print and online marketing materials.

From Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education, Moms for Liberty and on to groups like National Parents Union, the creation stories are similar. A handful of disgruntled moms talk over their frustrations, determine to start their moms or parents group to seek change, and then in pour the millions of dollars; contracts are quickly signed with nationally recognized public relations firms and pollsters (one newly birthed charter school-tied group in Rhode Island immediately hired a Biden pollster); the head mom is booked on Fox or featured in national media outlets. Conservative outlets like The Federalist, Washington Times, Campus Fix, and most importantly Fox News amplify the misleading message.

How to Attack Educators in a Few Easy Steps

The tactics for going after K-12 educators did not spring up anew but have been adapted from successful attacks on college and university professors. Isaac Kamola has explained this in an important article titled Dear Administrators: To Protect Your Faculty from Right-Wing Attacks, Follow the Money. Kamola finds that groups like Campus Reform and Campus Fix, which pay conservative students as “reporters” to whistleblow on their professors, are funded by wealthy right wingers including Koch who wish to gain leverage over what is taught and researched at America’s universities. These attacks follow a common script. Something a professor says or writes in research, a lecture, or even on social media is grabbed and most often taken out of context; there is never an engagement with the actual intellectual product. (In Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, Anne Nelson shows that Campus Reform is tied into right wing clearing house organizations the Leadership Institute and Council for National Policy). The targets are often scholars of color, especially women, and their work focuses on race or inquiries into capitalism. The out of context remarks are then percolated through a right wing ecosystem which includes web sites funded by the same network and all the way up to Fox News. Results can be stark. After Campus Reform did a story on a speech by Princeton University professor Keenga-Yamahtta Taylor the piece was picked up by Fox; threats against Professor Taylor were so virulent she cancelled talks in Seattle and San Diego. After Campus Reform misrepresented remarks by Trinity College professor Johnny Williams the campus had to be shut down due to threats and Williams was unfairly placed on leave. So the radical right knows how to generate chaos. Parents Defending Education has refined the play book further.

PDE relies upon two modes of attack on schools (which may include charter as well as public schools). The first, often well covered in the media and with appearances on Fox, is individuals who inundate school districts with public records requests. The second involves anonymous attacks on school personnel, concealment guaranteed by guidance offered by PDE to assure their agents remain hidden.

NBC News reported on one now famous Fox-supported attack by an individual wielding public law requests. A Maine parent named Shawn McBreairty was disgruntled with his local schools and joined No Left Turn in Education. He has filed over 50 public records law request with his Maine school district, tying up education professionals serving the public for his individual crusade. In South Kingstown, RI a parent whose child is enrolled but not yet attending kindergarten in the town filed 200 public records law requests “seeking copies of middle and high school curricula, lists of all books related to gender available in the library and 10 years’ worth of harassment complaints and emails.” The district estimated it would take 300 hours to fulfill the request. Local officials were undoubtedly right in assessing the attack as an effort to disrupt public education and attack a public good. The Rhode Island parent was rewarded with an appearance on Fox. When districts try to resist the onslaught of requests, corporate spokespersons like PDE’s Sanzi are ready with pro-wrestling sincerity to whine—to Fox News—about the people’s right to know. These groups weaponize the very openness of government to undermine government.

In a forthcoming work, Kamola and co-author Ralph Wilson show how groups like Speech First use discovery in lawsuits to create a “nightmare for administrators and their general counsel.” PDE and allies are now using public records lawsnationwide to achieve the same goal against public school districts.

While the public records requests are designedly onerous and discouraging, at least educators can tell where the attacks are coming from. The second tactic promoted by PDE is much worse, to encourage anonymous attacks against educators.

Take a recent example involving the Boston suburb of Wellesley, Massachusetts. This was an anonymous complaint forwarded by PDE grumbling that Wellesley had violated civil rights laws by providing affinity rooms for students to process their emotions after anti-Asian attacks across the nation. Ms. Neily confessed she has no idea who submitted it to PDE or if anyone in Wellesley agrees with the complaint. This is a baked in design by PDE as we see from examining the operation’s website page that teaches How to Create “Woke At” Pages. It provides detailed instructions for how to set up “an anonymous, safe Instagram page.” First set up a Gmail account “that can’t be tied to you.” Gmail is recommended because the site creator will also need to set up “an anonymous Google Form . . . which allows you to receive anonymous tips” that shields the informant’s identity, even from the Woke At administrator. At all times “we recommend erring on the side of secrecy.”

The Woke At instructions encourage PDE’s local spies to check out social media pages of educators which may reveal woke attitudes. The Understanding Woke Jargon page catalogs terms like “social justice” or “antiracism” the group finds offensive. Questions to Ask School Officials offers gotcha questions that can be asked of woke school officials “with cameras rolling.”

Why the advice to always act with hidden identities? Because of the terrifying disposition of those “woke activists” who talk about “inclusion, equity, justice” but are really “divisive, toxic, and extreme.” PDE is one education organization that was absent on the day irony was taught, for it insists on secrecy while pretending it promotes transparency. Concealment is especially important “given how angry and retaliatory many woke activists get when criticized.” PDE understands that much of its audience consumes a heavy diet of Fox News. Research by Jeffrey M. Berry, James M. Glaser, and Deborah J. Schildkraut shows Fox’s “underlying strategy is to anger viewers by stoking their resentment of racial and ethnic minority groups” and building fear. For instance, after the images of George Floyd’s murder, which initially shocked even Sean Hannity, Fox repeatedly showed video of “rioting and looting by protestors, relying on film showing fires burning and Blacks running out of looted stores with stolen merchandise in their arms.” These images were repeatedly shown well beyond the first week, after which there was little new such behavior to report upon. But the coverage stokes ideas of lawlessness and fear.

Whether by an avalanche of public records requests or generating negative coverage from anonymous tipsters, PDE and its allies are in business to create disruption and chaos in public education.

Getting Results

As Kamola has shown with his work detailing the corporate backed assault on higher education, these tactics often work. They are now working at the K-12 level. Public records requests have tied up school boards and administrators. NBC reports that Washoe County, Nevada halted in person school board meetings “after residents filled a large auditorium and lobbed insults and threats of violence during the public comment portion.” When open meetings later convened in a smaller venue, many residents waited long hours in the hot sun to make their comments against CRT and anti-discrimination policies—including quite a fewwho do not even have students in the system. “During the most recent meeting, which lasted 11 hours, speakers railed at school board members, calling them Marxists, racists, Nazis and child abusers, among other epithets.” In Rockwood Illinois, the St. Louis Post dispatch reported, teachers called upon the school board and superintendent to protect them against “personal attacks and outright threats of violence.” In Camas, Washington, the state’s 2020 teacher of the year thanked the school board and administrators for defending her efforts to promote inclusion and access after some residents “railed against the school district’s ‘woke’ agenda, COVID-19 mask mandates, remote learning and racial justice and equity programs.”

After all, as No Left Turn Maine’s Shawn McBreairty said in an email to NBC News, “This is a war with the left, and in war, tactics and strategy can become blurry.”

As the corporate agitators behind all this understand, they are making public service exhausting and distasteful, a campaign to drive good community members away from serving. This isn’t an unfortunate byproduct. We’ve seen it at the university level. It’s intentional.

The Rise of the Right Wing Moms

In announcing PDE’s complaint against the Columbus, Ohio public schools for its willingness to address racism in the wake of the police shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, Ms. Neily acknowledged that no Columbus parent had complained, but that PDE was just a concerned group of parents. “We just all work from home,” Neily told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. “We’re all working moms.”

That sounds cozy and homey but Neily is a well-compensated veteran of numerous right wing organizations, including not only Speech First but the Cato Institute. Sourcewatch reports that “Nicole Neily has worked for many Koch-affiliated groups.” Ms. Sanzi has worked for billionaire funded school privatization groups, also bringing home a hefty paycheck. According to research from Mercedes Schneider the Education Post, an online publication originally funded by Eli Broad, paid Sanzi $121,000 in 2016 and $131,000 in 2017. She is also a “senior visiting fellow” at the Fordham Institute.

This is another area where patterns are not immediately visible but things become more clear years down the road when Form 990s become available. What we see is that following the emergence of these organizations with their tales of concerned moms banding together is that the moms are actually political operatives or communications professionals being well paid. Take for example Keri Rodrigues, “mom-in-chief” of the Walton backed Massachusetts Parents United. One of the several creation stories is that Ms. Rodrigues (always identified as a former union organizer) and a few other mothers gathered in their local library and decided to start a parents group. Actually, Ms. Rodrigues had been state director for Families for Excellent Schools, which ran a losing ballot campaign to increase charter schools in Massachusetts in 2016. She is also a communications professional, having been a radio host. MPU and an affiliate paid Ms. Rodrigues over $388,000 in 2017-2018. But the mom-in-chief story has had some penetration.

When the CDC announced reopening guidelines for schools in May 2021 Ms. Rodrigues, now also of Walton and Koch backed National Parents Union, appeared on Fox News to accuse teachers unions of undue influence. The host accused “teachers unions of basically writing the guidelines” a claim that Ms. Rodrigues enthusiastically agreed with. There was no basis for that claim other than that the unions, like over fifty other advocacy groups, had offered comments to the CDC. But it was blown up by Republican senators from a letter provided by a Republican dark money group. And then on to Fox and the eagerMs. Rodrigues.

Thus we shouldn’t be too surprised by a recent Media Matters study that showed that a number of the concerned parents featured on Fox News criticizing CRT are actually Republican political operatives. Quisha King, an African American woman billed by Fox News as an “everyday American” who is “Northeast Florida co-chair of Moms for Liberty” and “mom of two daughters” is also a GOP political consultant who worked for the Republican National Committee in 2020. Though Fox News billed Ms. Neily as a parent fighting against CRT in schools, Media Matters added that she “has spent her entire career working in and for libertarian and conservative political advocacy organizations and think tanks . . . .” PDE senior fellow Elizabeth Schultz was noted by Fox’s Dana Perino as a former Fairfax County, Virginia school board member. But she is also a former Trump appointee to the Department of Education, under Betsy DeVos. Before being defeated for re-election to the school board Schultz was known for opposing “‘expanding the school system’s sex-education curriculum to include lessons on gender identity and transgender issues’ and supporting armed teachers in classrooms.”

Charles Koch’s Pincer Movement

Far right groups like Parents Defending Education are new born but billionaire funded corporate education reform groups like Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union have been around a bit longer. Families for Excellent Schools was successful in New York until its 2016 Massachusetts charter school campaign was badly beaten, its dark money donors were ordered to be disclosed by the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance, and its CEO was fired after #MeToo allegations surfaced. These groups often present themselves as leaning liberal, non-partisan but vaguely Democratic, featuring spokespersons who are women of color, and advocating for their privatization policies as being pro-civil rights. National Parents Union even released a statement defending Critical Race Theory on May 21, but it seems to have dropped the topic since. Why then would Charles Koch, a likely source of support for the right wing groups, also be funding National Parents Union?

But he is, through his Charles Koch Institute, which is partnered with the Walton Family Foundation in a joint venture called the Vela Education Fund. Vela dropped $700,000 on NPU to promote home schooling. NPU then spread Vela funds around in grants for home schooling. As Casey Parks explained in The New Yorker these foundations “advocate ‘school choice’—rerouting money and families away from traditional public schools through such means as charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, and vouchers, which allow public-education dollars to be put toward private-school tuition.” NPU had been launched by the Walton Family Foundation to help in the Waltons quest to undermine teachers unions. Recognizing the opportunity presented by closed schools Vela formed and wrote the $700,000 check even though NPUhad been in business only a few months. Vela has pursued other such opportunities including funding the far right Home School Legal Defense Association.

Coincidentally or not in 2017 the civil rights-proclaiming Ms. Rodrigues and the radical right Ms. Sanzi were partners in another venture named Planet Mom, which featured a podcast and proposed radio show. In her paid position at Education Post Ms. Sanzi wrote of Ms. Rodrigues “I consider her a partner in this work. And a friend.” It’s a small planet, after all.

The point is not Critical Race Theory, or charter schools, virtual schools, or home schools. The point is to undermine public education, keep taxes low, spread doubt of the efficacy of public goods, and demolish institutions like unions and local school communities that make demands on the Waltons and Kochs of the nation. It is, as Nancy MacLean has said, to put democracy in chains. Diverse-presenting National Parents Union and white backlash Parents Defending Education serve the same cause.

Whither We Are Tending and What to Do About It

I hope my colleagues in academia continue to speak out about the intellectual contributions of Critical Race Theory and the fine efforts of K-12 educators to provide the kind of schooling all our students need—open and honest about the nation’s race and history and our ongoing challenges, including corporate promoted white backlash.

On the other hand, don’t expect any engagement from Nicole Neily or the anti-CRT bard Christopher Rufo, who has helped spike this ridiculous campaign. In a triumphant appearance at the Claremont Institute, Rufo described his annoyance at scholars trying to bait him into a discussion of what CRT really means and proclaimed “I don’t give a shit about this stuff.” (Nine minute mark)

As Isaac Kamola has urged, start with follow the money and pursue that relentlessly. There’s a reason groups like PDE and NPU can’t come clean about their funding sources and amounts and that reason is that they know the public is suspicious of the Kochs and Waltons of the world and what’s more, the public and America’s billionaires are on a different page on policy issues.

These are corporate generated right wing attacks. Say it. Name names.

Come awake to the threat. Recognize what this is and that isn’t just about wokeness or even education but something else Koch and the Waltons can’t say out loud: to destroy the capacity of people to coalesce together and fight for a better life for themselves, a project that offends oligarchs ideologically and threatens their power and pocketbooks. They focus on educationbecause schools have been a fertile locale for white backlash but also a source of great progress, because teachers unions are a barrier to them, and because local community organizations defy them.

That means that teachers unions, school boards, superintendents, principals, lunch workers, school bus drivers, custodians, business, parents and students—everyone who serves their local school community—have to recognize that they need to fight together against this assault. In other words, join together to take action—exactly what the Waltons, Kochs, and other radical right billionaires fear.

And stand up for a real education for all our children, not the white(wash) backlash being promoted by phony AstroTurf fronts like Parents Defending Education. Remember, fronts are fronting for someone and in this case, fronting for radical right billionaires.

Money never sleeps. Follow the money.

Maurice T. Cunningham is recently retired as an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a union member. He is the author of the book Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization, forthcoming in 2022.

Tom Ultican tells the sad story of the Johns Hopkins University Education Policy Institute, which was once known for unbiased scholarship.

As he recounts the politicization of the Institute, he explains the upside of joining forces with privatizers, disrupters, standardized testing zealots, allies of Relay “Graduate School” of Education and the charter industry. The Institute is now the recipient of millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation, Charles Koch, the Walton family, and other very rich luminaries of the philanthropic world.

In one of JHU’s consequential reports, it was commissioned to study the high-poverty Providence, RI, school district. Only weeks later, they turned in a gloomy assessment that set the stage for a state takeover. Then-Governor Gina Raimondo hired ex-TFA Angelica Infante-Greene, who never been a principal or a superintendent, as State Commissioner of Education. She, in turn, hired a new superintendent and deputy superintendent for Providence, who were both fired after the deputy was caught forcibly massaging boys’ toes.

Infante-Greene has now been inducted into Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change (which had previously designated by Chiefs as a future leader.)

Is it worth mentioning that the outcomes of state takeovers have been dismal?

When I started the new blog format, I said I would repost blogs from others only in rare instances. This is one of those rare instances. Peter Greene has written a devastating analysis of the oligarchs’ plans to attack public school teachers and defund public schools in Arizona. You need to read this story. The privatizers’ game plan is on full display, in all its ugliness. It’s a reverse Robin Hood scheme, which will steal from everyone so as to reward the rich.

Here are a few excerpts from the exceptionally vicious legislation that has been filed:

Arizona has lost its damn mind, this week passing some of the stupidest, most aggressively anti-public ed laws anywhere, including an absolutely insane law requiring teachers to file lesson plans a year in advance.

Arizona has always been a strong contender for most anti-public education state in the county. They’ve had trouble convincing teachers to work there for years (at one point they were recruiting in the Phillipines), using the one two punch of low salaries along with rock-bottom spending on classrooms (this is the state wherethe house GOP leader contended that teachers were just working second jobs so they could buy boats). In the meantime, they have done their best to foster charter profiteering and set up vouchers at the expense of public ed. Did I mention that Arizona is the Koch home base?

There was no reason to be surprised when Arizona’s teachers rose up in revolt. Governor Ducey made noises about recognizing the problem, but he’s been trying to slap teaches around ever since. Arizona legislators have come after teachers and public schools before, but this week is really something special.

This week Ducey issued an executive order requiring all schools to return o in-person learning by March 15, with exceptions only for the counties (there are three) with high transmission–there, the middle and high schools can stay remote. No other exceptions, no consideration for local concerns, issues, situations, etc. 

But now for the legal highlights of the week.

SB1058 is the one I mentioned above. In this bill, every school (charters get hit with this foolishness, too) must, by July 1 of each year, post, where parents can see it, all lesson plans, materials, activities, textbooks, videos, online stuff. Parents in Arizona already have the right to review all materials, so nthis is just a next step. “It should be reasonably easy to access the information.” This bill passed the Senate on Tuesday.

This is more than just an unnecessary burden on teachers. It’s more than just a way to legislate bad teaching (if you already know what you’re doing in class on a particular Tuesday five months from now, you are not doing a great job teaching). It also makes each teacher’s lesson planning–their professional intellectual property–open to the public. Starting a charter school but you don’t know a damn thing about teaching? Just log on and lift your curriculum, scope, sequence, plans, etc from any actual teacher…

All of this comes on the heels of a massive voucher expansion in Arizona, worth noting because it was one more example of the state’s GOP working in direct defiance of Arizona voters, who decisively rejected voucher expansion just two years ago. 
It’s an ugly frustrating mess. What exactly is your next move if you’re in a state where the reaction to “If you keep this up, you’ll destroy public schools” is “Good.”Jeb Bush is a big fan of Arizona’s work, mostly because it so closely follows his own playbook in Florida. It all points to an ugly future in which the wealthy can buy the education they want and not have to pay taxes to educate Those People’s Children. 

Seriously, if you want to place bets on which state will be first to destroy its public schools, you wouldn’t be wrong to bet on Arizona. It is a wholly-owned Koch franchise.

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Maurice Cunningham is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who specializes in unmasking the influence of billionaires’ dark money. “Dark money” is money that is contributed with the expectation that the donors’ name will not be disclosed. I wrote about the role of Cunningham in exposing the dark money behind the 2016 effort to pass a referendum to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts; his exposes alerted voters to the vast sums spent by out-of-state billionaires like the Waltons and Michael Bloomberg to buy education policy in Massachusetts.

As he demonstrates in this article, the Waltons–who cumulatively are worth about $200 billion–are still funding pro-charter, anti-union groups in Massachusetts, still pushing their anti-public school agenda. The Waltons’ vehicle of choice is the “Massachusetts Parents United” group, which claims to be just a lot of concerned moms while collecting millions each year from the Waltons and other oligarchs.

The leader of the Walton-funded parent group is collecting, according to tax records, nearly $400,000 a year. Not a bad gig.

Cunningham reviews a story in Commonwealth Magazine that compares funding for Massachusetts Parents United with funding for the state’s teachers union.

But there are crucial differences, Cunningham writes:

Stories like this tend to equate spending on organizations like MPU with the unions. They’re not comparable. Union funding comes from members’ dues. The unions are democratically organized. My local voted out an incumbent last year, as have other teachers’ unions. MTA term limits its president (a good thing, as Barbara Madeloni was far tougher than her surrender-prone predecessor Paul Toner). There is no democracy to MPU. The Waltons are from Arkansas and probably couldn’t find Chicopee or Tewksbury on a map; never mind getting Alice Walton to pronounce Worcester or Gloucester. The Waltons just write checks and measure ROI–return on investment. MTA and Massachusetts Federation of Teachers members live here. Want to hold the Waltons accountable for the vast changes to Massachusetts education policy they seek through MPU? Good luck with that.

If you’ve gotten this far let me say a few words about why I care about this stuff. We simply do not have a functioning democracy when the vast wealth of a few oligarchs sets the policy agenda and gains influence by showering money on upbeat sounding fronts like Families for Excellent Schools and Massachusetts Parents United. Nor do we have a functioning democracy when the true power—the men and women behind the curtain—remain unknown to the public and uncovered by the media. In Dark Money, Jane Mayer talks about “weaponizing philanthropy.” In Just Giving, Rob Reich points out the “plutocratic bias” enjoyed by the foundations. (Hey, did I mention all these public policy altering contributions by oligarchs are a valuable tax deduction to them? Yes, you’re subsidizing them to change your state’s policy. Never give a sucker an even break). Huge investments in policy change and hidden money threaten rule by the people.

And that’s what MPU is—a tax deductible front for oligarchs weaponizing their philanthropy in a campaign to privatize public goods. The Waltons, Koch, and other oligarchs don’t want us to peek behind the curtain. It is our democratic obligation to tear that curtain down.

Jim Swanson and John Graham, both CEOs in Arizona, wrote a stern warning against the legislature’s proposed voucher expansion, which would make almost all students in the state eligible for public funding to spend in a private or religious school. One of the authors is on the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools. Arizona is a state that likes low taxes; it does not fund its public schools adequately or equitably. Under the leadership of Governor Doug Ducey (who promised the Koch brothers a few years ago that he would drive taxes down as low as he could), the state is offering choice instead of adequate funding to its schools. Arizona has consistently underfunded its public schools and pretends to “reform” them by offering charters and vouchers.

They wrote:

The current, aggressive push to expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) does nothing to address the systemic education challenges we face in Arizona.

It is a dangerous attack on our public education systems and our state’s economic future. As a business community, our priority is to ensure that all students have access to a top-quality school that meets students’ needs and interests.

Arizona leaders should focus on effectively funding public education and supporting innovative programs that improve academic outcomes.

The time is now. Public education is the single most powerful economic development tool we have as a state.

ESAs were originally designed to serve a small population of students – they were never meant to replace public education or to serve all students.

A full expansion of ESAs is nothing more than a boutique scheme to address a non-existent need for private school subsidies.

While being marketed as a solution for low-income students and students of color – the students whom data tells us need the most wide-scale, institutional support – SB1452 is the most offensive of the private school voucher bills proposed this session. The bill would make roughly 700,000 Arizona students eligible for ESAs – a 280% increase in a single move. This is nothing more than a bold attempt to privatize education.

There’s a lot wrong with this bill, but the worst is the fact that rather than focus on supporting low-income students of color, many of whom are already eligible, SB1452 will make many more middle- and high-income white students eligible for taxpayer-subsidized vouchers, exploiting the impoverished communities in favor of further subsidizing the tiny fraction (as few as approximately 5%) of Arizona families choosing to home-school, private and parochial schools.

Greater Phoenix Leadership, Southern Arizona Leadership Council and Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance, representing more than 200 CEOs across Arizona, have made it clear that they are against the expansion of vouchers in Arizona and have voiced support for our public education systems, from early childhood to higher education. Business leaders and voters are like-minded – we have consistently come together for public education with a focus on equity and access. Instead of proposing unsustainable ways to make 70% of students eligible for private school vouchers, we need to make the public schools better, stronger and more successful.

What our state needs is crystal clear – an equitable, fully funded, high-quality public education system that serves all students across Arizona, no matter the zip code or income level. We have fallen too far behind and the only way we catch up – the only way we move the needle and bring Arizona to a competitive, robust and morally conscionable state – is to focus on the public education funding formula. Programs like private school vouchers have a long history of excluding and segregating our communities rather than including and supporting them. ESAs don’t get us where we need to be.

We need to put our heads together – across the business, education and political realms – and finally execute big changes to the funding formula and other mechanisms that have proven inefficient and worse, inequitable. Now is the time to focus on what moves all our students forward – working together to properly fund the schools serving 95% of Arizona students.

Question: Will the legislature listen to Arizona business leaders or to Charles Koch and Betsy DeVos?

If you have not read Duke Professor Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, you should. I reviewed it for the New York Review of Books here. It describes in great detail how the Koch brothers created an academic foundation for their extremist libertarian views. In this paper, MacLean goes into new detail about the workings of the Koch network and its efforts to undermine democracy. The Koch network knows that it does not have popular support so it has developed ways to “work around” the will of the majority. Currently, its major project is to block any effort to confront climate change.

The paper is titled “Since We Are Greatly Outnumbered: Why and How the Koch Network Uses Disinformation to Thwart Democracy.” The essay appears in a publication called The Disinformation Age, published by Cambridge University Press.

Thanks to “Unkoch My Campus” for bringing this paper to a large audience.

Christopher Leonard, the author of Kochland, wrote an opinion article for The New York Times in which he explains that the big winner in the nomination and likely confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is Charles Koch. Koch has invested for decades in his libertarian project of freeing corporations from regulations and mandates. Koch is also a major supporter of school vouchers. Barrett was recommended to Trump by the conservative Federalist Society, which Koch funds.

Leonard begins:

Charles Koch has activated his political network to support Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, and to tip the scales on her nomination battle in the U.S. Senate. While much of the commentary about Judge Barrett’s nomination has focused on the real prospect that Roe v. Wade may be undermined or overturned, Mr. Koch has other concerns. Judge Barrett’s nomination is the latest battleground in his decades-long war to reshape American society in a way that ensures that corporations can operate with untrammeled freedom. It may be a pivotal one.

Since the early 1970s, Mr. Koch has sought to dismantle most federal regulatory institutions, and the federal courts have been central to that battle. In 1974, Mr. Koch gave a blistering speech to a libertarian think tank, called the Institute for Humane Studies, in which he outlined his vision of the American regulatory state, and the strategy he would employ over the ensuing decades to realize that vision. On the list of government interventions he condemned were “confiscatory taxation, wage and price controls, commodity allocations programs, trade barriers, restrictions on foreign investments, so-called equal opportunity requirements, safety and health regulations, land use controls, licensing laws, outright government ownership of businesses and industries.” As if that list were not exhaustive enough, he added “… and many more interventions.” In short, Charles Koch believes that an unregulated free market is the only sustainable structure for human society.

To achieve his goal, Mr. Koch has built an influence network with three arms: a phalanx of lobbyists; a constellation of think tanks and university programs; and Americans For Prosperity, a grass-roots army of political activists. And shaping the U.S. judiciary has been part of Mr. Koch’s strategy from the beginning. In that 1974 speech, he recommended strategy of “strategically planned litigation” to test the regulatory authority of government agencies. Such lawsuits could make their way to the Supreme Court, where justices could set precedent. In the 1990s, he focused on lower-level judges, funding a legal institute that paid for judges to attend junkets at a Utah ski resort and Florida beachfront properties; the judges attended seminars on the importance of market forces in society and were warned against consideration of “junk science” — like specific methods to measure the effects of pollution — that plaintiffs used to prove corporate malfeasance.

Mr. Koch also sought to influence the judiciary at the federal level. Between 1997 and 2017, the Koch brothers gave more than $6 million to the Federalist Society, a nonprofit institute that recruits libertarian and conservative judges for the federal judiciary, according to a tally by the activist group Greenpeace.

Mr. Koch’s efforts on the Supreme Court intensified after Donald Trump’s election, when a Republican-controlled Senate opened the way to install judges who could tip the court’s ideological balance. Americans for Prosperity undertook national campaigns to support President Trump’s previous Supreme Court nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. A.F.P. said the Kavanaugh campaign alone — fliers, digital ads and staff for phone banking and door knocking — ran into “seven figures.” Now, Americans for Prosperity is doing the same for Judge Barrett. A.F.P. activists are pressuring U.S. senators in several states, with a particular eye toward vulnerable Democrats like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. The group is also working in Alaska, where Republican Lisa Murkowski has given mixed signals about whether she is willing to vote on Judge Barrett’s nomination before the next president is elected.