Archives for category: Koch Brothers

Maurice Cunningham wrote in the Tampa Bay Tribune about “Moms for Liberty.” It seems to be a Dark Money front for some familiar billionaires.

Is it Koch? DeVos? Waltons? Or another billionaire?

Andrew Van Wagner warns that the neoliberal experiment in Arizona is intended to atomize, indoctrinate, and control the population.

As he writes, if you can dumb people down, you can control them. If you can declare some topics unacceptable in the classroom, like racism, you can indoctrinate them.

Van Wagner writes:

“It’s part of the way of controlling and dumbing down the population, and that’s important.”

“Everyone should fight back against the effort to dumb people down and control people—it’s scary to think that the GOP is turning America into a country where people don’t have enough education to be able to resist the GOP’s legislative and cultural agenda.”

“So the new Arizona law is a fantastic and quintessential and perfect example of neoliberalism. The vision is—as I’ve written about previously—atomization for the general population and lots of society and organization and community for elites.”

“Everyone needs to fight back against the GOP’s attack on education. We can’t afford—in a pivotal period like this—to let the GOP impose atomization and indoctrination and control on the American population.”

What is happening to the America that we swore allegiance to every day in public school? what happened to the America that was “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”? How did we get a rogue Supreme Court that recklessly demolishes women’s rights, the separation of church and state, gun control, public safety, and efforts by government to prevent climate disasters? Who kidnapped the conservative Republican Party that believed in stability and tradition? From whence came the people who scorn the commonweal and ridicule Constitutional norms?

Former state legislator Jeanne Dietsch has an answer. Connect the dots by looking at what has happened to New Hampshire. The coup failed in Washington, D.C. on January 6, she writes. But it is moving forward in New Hampshire, with many of the same characters and all of the same goals.

If you read one post today, read this.

She writes:

During the last few weeks, US House leaders documented the nearly successful January 6 coup piece by piece, before our eyes. That personal power grab failed. Meanwhile, the steps clinching takeover of our government by radical reactionaries have nearly triumphed. A plan decades in the making. A plan nearly invisible to the ordinary public.


I can barely believe myself how this story weaves from Kansas to Concord to DC to the fields of southern Michigan over the course of six decades. It starts in Witchita. Koch Industries is the largest privately held company in the US, with over $115 billion in revenues, mostly fossil-fuel related. For many years, two of the founders’ sons, Charles and David Koch, each owned 42% of the company.


The younger, David, studied in the engineering department of MIT for 5 years, simultaneous with young John H. Sununu. Both finished their Master’s degrees in 1963.

1980: THE KOCHS SET THEIR GOALS


Seventeen years later, David Koch ran for Vice President of the US on the Libertarian ticket. The campaign was largely funded by Koch interests. The Libertarian platform of 1980, shown below, may look disturbingly familiar to those following news today.

Open her post to read the Koch Libertarian platform of 1980.

Libertarians demanded the abolition of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public schools, aid to children, the Post Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and more.

The infrastructure for achieving that platform was founded two years later. It was called the Federalist Society. It was a plan by a “small but influential group of law professors, lawyers, and judges.” Its goal?

To train members of their professions to believe in “originalism.” Originalists “strictly construe” the Constitution as they believed the Framers designed it way back in 1787. This matched David Koch’s 1980 platform. It would leave corporations free to do whatever profited them most without regard for social costs or regulations. Older Federalist Society members used their influence to advance their followers to higher judgeships.

SUNUNU FAMILY ROLES


Meanwhile, John Sununu became governor of New Hampshire, then Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush. In that role, John thwarted a plan for the US to join the international conference to address climate change in 1989. Actions like this, that benefitted Koch and the rest of the fossil-fuel industry, would become a hallmark of the Sununu family.


In 1993, an executive of Charles and David’s Koch Industries Michigan subsidiary, Guardian Industries, became a founding trustee of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy [JBC] in NH. Its mission was to advance many of the policies listed on David Koch’s platform of 1980. John Sununu, and later his son James, would chair the JBC board through today. Another of Sununu’s sons, Michael, would become a vocal climate denier and industry consultant. Still another, Senator John E. Sununu, would oppose the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003. But the Sununus were not coup leaders, just complicit.

BUILDING INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE COUP


But let’s jump back to the Federalist Society. Its mission was succeeding. They were stacking the lower courts.?..Those justices hired young lawyers as clerks. From 1996-97, Thomas employed a Federalist Society clerk named John Eastman.


Twenty-three years later, Eastman would meet secretly with President Donald Trump. He would convince him that Vice President Pence could refuse to accept electoral college ballots on January 6. But back in 1999, Eastman became a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. “The mission of the Claremont Institute is to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life.”


Now we’re almost at the secret clubhouse of the coup. The Claremont Institute was run by a fellow regressive named Larry Arnn.(Photo below) In late 1999, Arnn was in the process of replacing the president of Hillsdale College because of a scandal that made national news. Hillsdale promotes conservative family values. Yet its leader was having an affair with his daughter-in-law. She committed suicide. Hillsdale was the central hub for Libertarian radicals so they needed a strong leader to pull them out of the mud.

Please read the rest of this fascinating post. There is one blatant error: she refers to “Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer” as Koch justices, but Breyer was a liberal justice appointed by Clinton. She must have meant the crackpot Alito.

Maurice Cunningham is a political scientist who recently retired from the University of Massachusetts. He recently published Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

When he learned that the U.S. Department of Education had included the National Parents Union on its list of parent organizations advising the Department, he wrote the following letter to Secretary Cardona:

June 28, 2022

Secretary Miguel Cardona
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Cardona,

The Department of Education has made a significant error in including the National Parents Union among the groups invited to participate in the National Parents and Families Engagement Council. NPU does not represent parents and has few if any parent organizations as members. It is a front operation for the policy preferences of wealthy individuals who wish to transform American education to meet their ideological preferences, political goals, to keep their own taxes low, and to profit off what Rupert Murdoch has termed a $500 billion market.

I am very familiar with National Parents Union. As a recently retired professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021) I have been researching groups like NPU since 2015 and continue to do so.

Since NPU is related to a group I was already following named Massachusetts Parents United (the leader of both groups is Keri Rodrigues) I took note when a concept paper for the new group surfaced in April 2019, appealing to the Walton Family Foundation for funding (WFF is the primary sponsor of MPU, over $2.2 million from 2017 through 2020). The concept paper listed three goals. First, to impact the 2020 Democratic Party nominating process. Second, to support “dozens of organizations (that) are building strong pockets of parent power.” Third, “to take on the unions in the national and regional media, and eventually on the ground in advocacy fights.”

National Parents Union does not now and never has published a list of its member parent organizations. However I researched this question for my book based upon organizations NPU was claiming as participants to its January 2020 founding convention, primarily in claims made on Twitter and other social media. On its website NPU was claiming to be “a network of highly effective parent organizations and grassroots activists.” I collected seventy organizations or activists that seemed to be part of an organization. I created categories for different types of organizations and was able to categorize 64 of the 70 organizations. Only four of them even purported to represent parents. There were 15 charter school organizations and nine charter school trade organizations. There were another 15organizations I categorized as education options/choice, groups which present as helping navigate among different schools but which are designed to funnel students to charter schools. That makes 39 organizations tied in to the charter schools industry. There are nineteen organizations I identified as “civic” and some I could further identify, for instance civic/Latinx, civic/civil rights, civic/autism, etc. Within the civic groups that could be identified, there were four I categorized as civic/parents.

I was able to locate primary state locations for 53 of the 70 organizations. Of those I could place in states, there are 22 states represented plus the District of Columbia. The Massachusetts parent organization was MPU, the Walton operation. The Minnesota parent organization incorporated about the same time as NPU did. The other two parent organizations were also doubtful.

NPU’s arrival was announced in a January 2020 story in U.S. News and World Report, heralding “Two Latina mothers from opposite sides of the country” starting a parents group to “disrupt” education. One founder, Alma Marquez of California, disappeared from the organization about 8 months later. Ms. Rodrigues, known in her days as a radio host in the heavily Portuguese city of Fall River as the “pint-sized Portuguese pundit” remains.

Even with Ms. Marquez gone it is difficult to sort out NPU’s real leadership. At the January 2020 meeting Ms. Marquez was elected to a three year term as secretary-treasurer. She was a director in filings with the Massachusetts Secretary of State but left by March 2021. In March 2021 the National Parents Union website listed three board members: Peter Cunningham, Bibb Hubbard, and Dan Weisberg. But NPU registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation with the Secretary of State in Massachusetts where its annual report filed November 1, 2020 showed two directors: Keri Rodrigues and Tim Langan. The Secretary filings listed Ms. Rodrigues as president and clerk and Tim Langan as treasurer (he was chief operating officer on the website). In January 2020 Gerard Robinson was also listed as a founding director, but he left a year later. Ms. Hubbard is also gone and filings with the Secretary have been updated but still do not match the website.

Of the founding directors and officers, Mr. Cunningham, Ms. Hubbard, Mr. Weisberg, Ms. Marquez, and Ms. Rodrigues all were communications professionals or had significant experience in public relations. Ms. Rodrigues, always billed as a parent activist, has been a communications professional for nearly a quarter of a century, since commencing her career with CBS Radio in 1998 while completing her 2000 BS in Broadcast, Telecommunications, and Media Management from Temple University. Since 2014 she has been executive vice president – strategy and communications for Democrats for EducationReform in Boston, state director of Families for Excellent Schools, president of the IRC 501(c)(4) Massachusetts Parent Action and 501(c)(3) Massachusetts Parents United, and president of IRC 501(c)(3) National Parents Union. Corporate records indicate that she and Mr. Langan (to whom she is engaged) are the principals of the Estrella Group LLC, a political consultant firm. Across the two state and one national organizations they paid themselves over $626,000 in 2020—an atypical income for working parents.

NPU has a page where one can “find your delegate.” Delegate suggests that someone has been chosen by others to represent them. But I cannot find where NPU explains what their delegates do and it appears that delegates are not chosen by parents (or the mostly non-existent parent organizations) but from the top down, by NPU itself. For example in Massachusetts—the corporate headquarters of NPU and MPU—when NPU wanted to find a state “delegate” it advertised for someone to become “an official Massachusetts delegate” on Twitter!* (* indicates material in Addendum).

No, National Parents Union is not about parents at all.

To understand NPU, follow the money. The Walton Family Foundation funneled $400,000 to NPU in 2020 through MPU.The Vela Education Fund, a joint venture of the Walton Family Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute, invested $700,000.The CEO of Vela is an oil and gas executive from Koch’s corporate holdings. Other donors include the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and The City Fund, which receives funding from the Waltons, the Hastings Fund, and the Arnold Foundation. Reed Hastings has called for the abolition of school boards. John Arnold is most well-known for his campaign to gut workers’ pension plans.

Most parents have taken tickets at the high school football game or baked goods to be sold at intermission of the school play. Not many have started a little parents’ organization that collected $1,481,110 in its first year. NPU paid out $400,461 in grants and had a payroll of $634,273. In October 2021 the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced a grant of $1,500,000 to support NPU—an organization that had not existed less than two years before. Also in 2021 the Silicon Valley Community Foundation donated $1,500,000 to NPU. SVCF is a donor advised fund, a pass through that protects the identity of the ultimate check writer. It’s deep dark money—the true source of the $1,500,000 will never be known. But it isn’t parents.

Small wonder then that since its inception NPU has retained the services of top conservative and Walton Family pollster Echelon Insights and the international communications firm Mercury LLC. Just like any other infant parents group.

NPU affects a different posture than recently founded “parents” operations that have attacked Critical Race Theory and LGBTQ youth. NPU purports to speak up for people of color (as did Families for Excellent Schools, which was driven by the Waltons and wealthy Wall Streeters). Scratch the surface though and NPU’s billionaire-driven agenda appears. NPU has been happy to surf on the turmoil created by right wing attack groups with its own “Disrupt the Status Quo—School Board Edition” campaign, and after the victory of Glenn Youngkin in Virginiaoffered by tweet to work with Leader Kevin McCarthy and the House Republicans on a Parents Bill of Rights. Ms. Rodrigueshas appeared at a forum organized by Betsy Devos’s American Federation for Children and just recently on a panel with Governor Youngkin’s Secretary of Education. In a Twitter exchange with a friendly journalist who was doubting the level of “School Board Chaos” being created by right wing groups, she responded “Depends on the type of chaos we are talking about.”*

That remark may help illuminate a paradox of the recently contrived “parents” movement: why is Charles Koch funding both the “progressive” NPU and the white backlash Parents Defending Education? And the answer is that both groups are designed to create chaos in the public education system. Chaos is the product.

As a “parent” group NPU is mostly distinguished by a lack of parents. It will produce polling information but as you understand interest group polling is going to show what the interest group wants you to see. NPU has had substantial media success—with the New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, and Fox—but it’s worth asking yourself: how do two moms on opposite coasts afford Mercury LLC to run communications?

DOE should be working with real parents, not billionaire directed right wing fronts masquerading as parents. If the department wishes to hear the viewpoints of the Waltons, Gates, Koch et al., heavens knows they have access to key policy makers. DOE should not permit them to sneak in the door masquerading as parents.

Sincerely,

 

Maurice T. Cunningham

 

 

Nora De La Cour is a high school social worker and former teacher in Massachusetts. She writes frequently about the attacks on public schools. In this brilliant article, which appeared in Jacobin, she shows how the privatizatizers have exploited the culture wars to promote their own agenda. They are not interested in better education or students. Their agenda is to destroy the public square.

In a nutshell: “A billionaire-backed network of free-market fundamentalists is ginning up controversy over “wokeness” in American schools with an ulterior motive: to demolish public education.”

Please open the link to read the article in full.

She begins:

In a Massachusetts school district neighboring the one where I work, four parents, backed by a conservative Christian organization, are suing the school committee and multiple district employees for calling students by their preferred names and pronouns without informing home. Because one of the defendants is a counselor, some of my counselor peers in the area are now on guard, afraid we could become the targets of litigation if we allow students to broach sensitive topics in our presence.

Setting aside the very real harm that kids and educators are exposed to as a result of the Right’s eagerness to linkacknowledgement of gay and trans people to sexual predation, there’s another problem here. It’s incredibly difficult to teach or counsel someone if you can’t call them what they wish to be called. Addressing students by their chosen names is a basic sign of respect that says, “I see you and I’m here to work with you.” If you need to call home to get permission first — potentially outing kids to their parents and inviting distressing blowback — you might miss the chance to form the human connection that undergirds collaborative scholarship.

Pandemic school closures reminded us that the social aspects of schooling are among the most vital for young people’s development and for society at large. Specific facts and figures (the what of school learning) can be easily forgotten and recalled with a few keystrokes. But the ability to establish a base level of trust with heterogeneous others in order to solve shared problems (the how of school learning) is absolutely essential for both a fulfilling personal life and engagement in the public square. It’s critical that educators be allowed to build that trust without fear of reprisal.

The Koch-backed parents’ rightsmovement aims to make that trust impossible. By pitting parents against schools, libertarian billionaires and Republican strategists intend to motivate voters in the short term and fully privatize K-12 education in the long term. As Christopher Rufo, the self-styled architect of the so-called war on critical race theory (CRT), has argued, “To create universal school choice [i.e., privatization], you really need to operate from a premise of universal school distrust.” Those poweringthe campaign against classroom “wokeness” are trying to hinder our ability to establish common ground from which to defend our last remaining public goods.

The illiberalism that dominates the Right can best be understood as the advanced stage of a long billionaire-funded plot to undo democracy in order to relieve capitalists of any constraints the rest of us might wish to place on them. This understanding clarifies why classrooms, the training grounds for democratic participation, are primary targets of radical right activism. If liberals are to have any hope of countering this coordinated attack, they need to remember the collective, public value of education.

Laying Siege to the Common Good

It makes sense to focus on the reactionary nature of all of this: the commitment to American exceptionalism animating the so-called CRT bans, the fresh fixation on classical education rife with chauvinist dog whistles, and the shockingly overt bigotry of the anti-LGBT “grooming” discourse. Ron DeSantis’s Florida, as some have observed, is looking more and more like Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. But while these efforts to reverse cultural change are incredibly alarming, we come up short when we try to understand what’s happening purely in terms of identity-based hatred. Intolerance has always been a feature of American politics. Why does it suddenly seem so viciously well-organized?…

Despite attention-grabbing campaigns to terrify them, a majority of public school parents remain satisfied with their children’s schooling. And massive amounts of outside funding notwithstanding, local parents’ rights candidates have in numerous cases failedto deliver decisive wins for the privatization movement. As in segregated Virginia, US families are not quite prepared to sign away their children’s right to publicly funded, democratically controlled schools. It’s the perfect time, in other words, for those looking to contest the radical right to offer a full-throated defense of public education and all public goods.

But Democrats, by and large, have been unwilling to mount that, scarcely standing up even against the horrific attacks on kids, families, and educators that we are seeing across the United States. And when you look at their record on education, it’s pretty clear why: for the past three decades of education reform, Democrats have ignored the social role that schools play in preparing children for engagement in the public square. Alongside Republicans, they have enabled the privatization of public schools. They have also privatized the ideaof schooling down to the individual level. In the view of the Democratic establishment, the sole remit of schools should be to boost “human capital.” Guided by this view, they have yoked the vision of education ever closer to the needs of employers — a kind of corporate indoctrination eerily similar to the “woke” indoctrination Rufo and his cohort tell tales about.

But Bill Clinton’s assertion that “what you earn depends on what you learn” has proven to be a dangerous oversimplification: Americans are more educated than ever before, and yet economic insecurity is rampant and rising. When public schooling is only justifiable insofar as it increases individual earning power, the case for it is wholly dependent on its utility to capitalist markets. Without acknowledging the higher collective purpose that education serves, we won’t be able to defend public schools ordemocratic governance.

Democracy or Capitalism

“Republican politicians and their strategists,” Nancy MacLean told Jacobin,

have seen . . . culture-war tactics help Jair Bolsonaro get elected in Brazil and Viktor Orbán get reelected in Hungary this spring. And, lo, the CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Committee) is traveling to Hungary . . . to learn from Orbán how to use the tools of democracy to rig the rules to achieve autocracy.

The long plot is reaching maturity.

The Right’s appeals to “the family” resonate in part because our oligarchic political system leaves families in the cold, allowing child poverty to soar even as parents spend long and exhausting hours working outside the home. Any effort to save our commons and restore a sense of public spiritedness must include a material response to the significant challenges that parents face.

We need to work fast to reclaim the places where we give one another the benefit of the doubt and collaborate in spite of our differences. Democrats can still enter the battlefield and expose the Right’s deceitful efforts to turn the public against itself. As MacLean argues, the movement Buchanan authored wants to save capitalism from democracy. We can counter it if we are willing to fight to save democracy — beginning with schools — from capitalism.

Thank goodness for independent media! Oklahoma Watch published an investigative report that detailed a secret slush fund that supplements the salary of the state Secretary of Education.

(This story was produced in partnership with the Oklahoma nonprofit newsroom The Frontier.)

Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed legislation that would have required cabinet members to file public reports to disclose their finances.

If Stitt had signed the bill last month, Oklahomans would learn that Secretary of Education Ryan Walters makes at least $120,000 a year as executive director of a nonprofit organization that keeps its donors secret. Walters is also paid about $40,000 a year by the state, according to state payroll data.

The nonprofit, Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, has refused to disclose its largest donors.

But a joint investigation by The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch has found that much of the organization’s funds come from national school privatization and charter school expansion advocates, including the Walton Family Foundation and an education group founded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch.

As Secretary of Education, Walters serves as Stitt’s top advisor on public education policy and is the governor’s liaison for dozens of state boards and programs.

Walters’ outside employment with a nonprofit funded by advocacy groups could be a conflict of interest, said Delaney Marsco, senior attorney for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit group that focuses on government transparency and accountability.

“If you are responsible for making decisions in a certain area of the government and you are being paid by an outside organization that has an interest in that, that absolutely can be a conflict of interest,” Marsco said. “If you are a public servant, your duty is to the public, and anything that kind of calls that into question, even raises the appearance of a conflict of interest, is a problem.”

Under Walters’ leadership, Every Kid Counts Oklahoma was the public face of Stitt’s program that distributed $1,500 grants to families in 2020 funded with $8 million in federal coronavirus relief money. The money was intended to buy tutoring and educational supplies. But a lack of safeguards allowed parents to use some of the funds to buy TVs, gaming consoles and home appliances, an investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found. Emails and other recordsshow that Walters helped secure the no-bid contract with a Florida company to distribute the money. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has opened an audit into how the state used those funds.

Walters, who declined multiple interview requests, is now running for state superintendent, an elected position overseeing the state Department of Education and a budget of over $3 billion. Unlike in federal elections, candidates for state office in Oklahoma are not required to fill out financial disclosures until after they are elected.

Please open the link and read on.

Dana Milbank wrote about the companies that have stopped making money in Russia to protest its invasion of Ukraine and its ruthless attacks on civilian targets. And those who didn’t.

Milbank said that all of us can help Ukraine by refusing to patronize the businesses still operating in Russia. Zelensky asked this of us when he spoke to Congress yesterday.

Milbank writes:

Zelensky made another ask on Wednesday morning, and it’s something all Americans can help with. We can stop buying the products of businesses that continue to fund Vladimir Putin’s war machine, even after its full horrors — indiscriminately targeting civilians, murdering children — are obvious to the world.

“All American companies must leave Russia. … Leave their market immediately, because it is flooded with our blood,” the young leader said, asking lawmakers “to make sure that the Russians do not receive a single penny that they use to destroy our people in Ukraine, the destruction of our country, the destruction of Europe. … Peace is more important than income.”

Most American companies get that. Some 400 U.S. and other multinational firms have pulled out of Russia, either permanently or temporarily, according to Yale’s Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who has kept the authoritative list of corporate actions in Russia. Oil companies (BP, Shell, ExxonMobil) and tech companies (Dell, IBM, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter) led the way, and many others (McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola) eventually followed…

Those who want to stop Russia’s murderous attack against Ukraine should stop investing in or buying the products of these companies.

Koch Industries, whose owners gave to right-wing causes for years, is now financing Putin’s war. The people who make Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Quilted Northern toilet paper, Vanity Fair napkins and Georgia-Pacific lumber are abetting the spilling of Ukrainians’ blood.

Like Reebok shoes? They’re being used to stomp on Ukraine. Authentic Brands Group, which also owns Aeropostale, Eddie Bauer, Brooks Brothers and Nine West, among others, is in the hall of shame.

The source of his information about the companies that closed their doors and those who didn’t was a list compiled by Jeffrey Donnenfeld at Yale University. Check it out.

The worst malefactor is Koch Industries. The father of the Koch brothers did business with Stalin and Hitler in the 1930s. It’s business.

The Koch Foundation has made gifts to over 300 institutions of higher education. These gifts are restricted, given to create an “institute” or “center” where libertarian ideas can be promoted on campus. In one such center, a speaker was invited to lecture on “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.”

Universities should be open fora where different ideas can be debated, but it’s absurd to have a center devoted to only one point of view.

Fortunately a group called UnKoch My Campus has made a mission of exposing Koch money and its purposes.

I received this message recently:

At the beginning of February, Brown University faculty members voted to postpone the creation of a new Koch-funded center, the Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). This push could not have happened without grassroots organizing efforts spearheaded by Students Against Koch Influence (SAKI). The faculty now intends to adopt a more robust gift and grant acceptance policy ahead of the next vote on the PPE center.

With growing awareness of the ways in which Charles Koch buys influence over hiring, research, and curriculum in higher education to achieve these goals, a call to protect against such donor interference in academia is growing. We built power with SAKI students to ensure we enacted a cohesive strategy to employ a rigorous pressure campaign at Brown University. We’ve also provided the resources to take campaigns like this to the next level, like our Model Funding Policies for higher ed institutions.

The move to kick Koch-funded research programs off of campuses across the nation is already underway and we’re hot on the Koch network’s trail. Join us for our national network call on Tuesday, March 15th at 5 pm EST. Representatives from SAKI will join us to discuss organizing tactics they used and how they plan to adopt a more robust gift and grant acceptance policy at their university. You are not going to want to miss this call.

David Sirota, investigative journalist, former speechwriter for Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and writer of the hit film “Don’t Look Up,” recently launched a blog called The Daily Poster. It’s well worth your time to read and to support The Daily Poster.

This important post by Walker Bragman and Alex Kotch documents the Koch money behind the campaign to get schools open, regardless of the risks, and to eliminate mask mandates. The goal of Charles Koch and others on the right was to get the economy back to normal.

Here is an excerpt:

The updated CDC guidance signals the Democratic party’s shift from beating the virus to surrendering to it as a fact of life — including in schools. The new approach was likely shaped by a number of factors, including declining COVID numbers, concerns about far-reaching public COVID fatigue, and the fact that many of those now most at risk of severe disease have refused to get vaccinated for non-medical reasons.

But the end of school masking is also in part due to a campaign by right-wing business interests, including the dark money network of oil billionaire Charles Koch, to keep the country open for the sake of maintaining corporate profits. These interests have been meddling in the education debate, first pushing to reopen schools and then fighting in-school safety measures, even as COVID case numbers were rising and children were ending up in hospitals. For nearly two years, these groups have been promoting questionable science and creating wedges between parents, teachers, and administrators in order to get America back to work — even at the risk of the nation’s children.

“Tapping Into The Full Productive Capacity Of The Workforce”

When the pandemic first hit the U.S. in the spring of 2020, Koch-affiliated groups saw an opportunity to reassess American education, moving away from public schools to private and homeschool alternatives. Koch and his brother David, who died in 2019, had spent decades fighting teachers’ unions, pushing school privatization, and attacking state education funding.

On March 13, 2020, Yes Every Kid — a front group founded by the Koch network in 2019 as part of a larger effort to shape K-12 education in the states — launched a #LearnEverywhere campaign promoting remote learning and homeschooling. Three days later, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank co-founded and heavilysubsidized by Koch, published a commentary declaring that the U.S. could “tap into” charter, private, and homeschooling “if brick-and-mortar schooling is substantially disrupted.”

The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing nonprofit heavily funded by the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute, also published articles in March 2020 in favor of using public school funds to pay parents to homeschool their kids. Heritage senior policy analyst Jonathan Butcher wrote a policy brief for the Koch-founded-and-funded Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank based at George Mason University, calling to funnel state funds into for-profit charter school companiesproviding virtual learning.

The message was blasted out by other groups in Koch’s orbit, including his flagship political advocacy outfit, Americans For Prosperity (AFP); the Independent Women’s Forum, a dark money group bankrolled by Koch organizations and the heirs to the Walmart fortune; and the State Policy Network, a web of libertarian state-based policy organizations.

But within a few months, the school narrative out of Koch world began to shift, coinciding with growing concerns about labor shortages and changing workplace dynamics caused by nationwide school closures. According to Education Week, a staggering 55.1 million students were impacted by the closures at their peak.

The closures meant a loss of childcare for many parents, which contributed to plummeting labor force participation early in the pandemic. An April 2020 guide to school reopenings from the consultancy McKinsey & Co., whose clients include many of the world’s largest companies, estimated that 27 million Americans were dependent upon childcare in order to work.

“Where a significant proportion of workers rely on schools for childcare, reopening schools (at least for younger children) might be a prerequisite to tapping into the full productive capacity of the workforce,” the report noted.

The tight labor market changed the relationship between employers and their workers, who began demanding moreflexibility and better work-life balance. Companies were forced to respond by raising wages — albeit inadequately — in order to attract workers.

Enterprises like Koch’s were eager to force a return to the old paradigm. These interests had already begun employing the same think tanks and quasi-academic networks they had pioneered a decade before promoting the anti-government Tea Party movement to fuel and legitimize attacks on pandemic safety measures, so they could force a return to normalcy and boost corporate profits.

Now, these interests began to use the same playbook to try to force schools back to normal.

“Keeping Children At Home Might Expose Them To Considerable Risks”

The very groups that had celebrated remote learning as an opportunity for public school alternatives began demanding that schools reopen, citing concerns about learning loss as well as student mental health. These groups downplayed the risks of the virus and slammed teachers’ unions for holding up the return to normalcy.

In May 2020, two months after the World Health Organization declared COVID a global pandemic, the Hoover Institution, a right-wing think tank based at Stanford University that has received substantial backing from Koch over the years, held a virtual conference at which senior fellow Eric Hanushek argued that remote learning was causing learning loss among low-resourced students and damaging “teacher accountability” through the elimination of standardized testing.

The Koch-backed reopening push kicked into high gear after President Donald Trump, facing reelection and a slowing labor market recovery, tweeted in early July 2020, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN” in the fall.

The Koch-affiliated right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI), meanwhile, published a “blueprint” for reopening schools, citing the need to get parents back to work. The State Policy Network and its affiliates also started pushing for school reopening.

Two days after Trump’s tweet, Yes Every Kid published a playbook for reopening schools. Soon after that, Hoover senior fellow Scott Atlas, a radiologist who Trump would soon tap as his senior COVID advisor, called for reopening schools in an interview published that same day. Atlas argued that schools were an “essential business” and that the risk COVID presented to anyone under the age of 18 was incredibly low.

A few days later, the Heritage Foundation joined in, claiming in an online article that in-person learning was possibly “one of the safest activities the nation can restart,” and that “keeping children at home might expose them to considerable risks to their educational progress, their mental health, their nutrition, and alarmingly, even their safety and welfare…”

The drumbeat to return to in-person schooling continued throughout the summer and into the fall. Koch’s flagship group, AFP, put out an online recruiting call for people to reach out to Kansas state legislators and urge them to give school districts and schools the “flexibility” to reopen. A week later, the Mercatus Center published a policy brief warning of “educational scarring” if schools remain closed. Mercatus would later start funding the work of Brown University economics professor and parenting blogger Emily Oster after she began publishing controversial research and articlessupporting school reopenings and downplaying concerns about children and COVID.

On August 12, 2020, the Independent Women’s Forum called on schools to reopen across the country, citing detrimental impacts on student learning and mental well-being. And in October 2020, Hoover’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes released a study estimating that in spring 2020, students lost 57 to 183 days of learning in reading and 136 to 232 days of learning in math.

Big industry groups also fought school closures, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s premier corporate lobby group. In September 2021, Chamber executive vice president and chief policy officer Neil Bradley said that “we have to have the schools fully reopen” in order to help solve the labor shortage.

“The Dangers Of Masks”

As schools started reopening under the new Democratic administration, Koch-affiliated groups adopted a harder line. In the lead-up to the 2021 state elections, the organizations began opposing in-school mask requirements for students and teachers in addition to closures…

Meanwhile, Koch groups and their affiliates have also quietly worked to support grassroots efforts to end mask mandates.

The Maine Policy Institute put up a petition on its website opposing mask mandates in schools, arguing that “many parents are uncomfortable with their children being required to wear masks in schools” and that “families deserve a choice.” The Federalisthelped promote a lawsuit against Indiana state officials over school mitigation measures brought by parents who erroneously claimed COVID wasn’t infectious in children.

The Koch network also has ties to the shadowy nonprofit Parents Defending Education (PDE). Founded in early 2021, PDE promotes private schooling and combats liberal “indoctrination” in public schools around the country, often by ginning up anger at school boards. The nonprofit’s vice president, Astra Nomani, as well as its director of outreach, Erika Sanzi, have been vocal critics of school mask mandates, and the organization keeps a directory of conservative parents groups that support ending such mandates and other conservative causes….

Please open the link and read the full article. Before reading it, I was unaware of this well-funded, well-coordinated campaign. I was also unaware that the work of Professor Emily Oster at Brown University was funded by the Koch-related Mercatus Institute as well as the Walton Family Foundation, and the Arnold Foundation.

It is a mystery of our times why so many billionaires have assumed the power to meddle in education. Gates, Waltons, Bloomberg, Koch, DeVos, Rock, and many more like to play the role of education minister. I have an almost complete list of the billionaires who dabble in education in my book “Slaying Goliath.” I say “almost” because after the book was published, I found more billionaires who were messing up schools, like Tim Dunn in Texas and the Albertsons in Idaho. I am sure I missed others.

The Charles Koch Foundation announced that it is funding a competition for “new models” of education.

Launched on January 25, The Catalyze Challenge will bring together leading philanthropies and nonprofits to support a grant challenge that will generate new models focused on empowering learners to discover their aptitudes and develop new skills toward a more fulfilling career pathway. Consistent with its efforts to remove barriers facing learners across the country, the Charles Koch Foundation is proud to partner with the Catalyze Challenge. Brennan Brown, the foundation’s director of partnership development, will serve as an adviser.

The Catalyze Challenge will provide funding for education entrepreneurs to develop and scale learner-centric, career-connected models and experiences. The contest is managed by Common Group. Funders include the Walton Family Foundation, the American Student Assistance, the Charter School Growth Fund, and Arnold Ventures.

We know that Charles Koch has one overriding goal: to privatize education and cut costs by passing them on to families. If anyone can decipher the bromides behind hisCatalyze Challenge, give it a try.