Archives for category: Koch Brothers

Libby Stanford of Education Week reports on the sudden explosion of voucher legislation in Republican-controlled states. She quotes a spokesman for the Heritage Foundation, who says that school choice is expanding because of parent dissatisfaction with public schools.

But this acceleration is not a consequence of parental dissatisfaction, as the spokesman claims. It is the result of a well-organized, well-orchestrated, lavishly-funded campaign to defame public schools, led by the religious right and such organizations as the Koch network, the Heritage Foundation, The American Legislative Exchange Council, Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children, and the front groups they fund, such as Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Freedom. ALEC undoubtedly prepared model legislation and handed it out to their far-right allies in state legislatures.

None of these funders or their puppet groups are mentioned in the article. It is no accident that multiple red states are debating bills to enact vouchers for private and religious groups or that 75-80% of the voucher funding in every state will end up in the bank accounts of families whose children never attended public schools. The legislation should be characterized as a handout to families whose children never attended public school.

It doesn’t take much digging to understand that the crusade against “critical race theory” (which is taught in graduate classes in law and education, not in K-12), against any mention of homosexuality, against “dangerous” books in school libraries, against fictional children who need litter boxes in the classroom because they think they are cats or dogs—is absurd propaganda designed to discredit public schools and pave the way for public funding of religious schools, which freely discriminate against students and families and openly indoctrinate their students into their dogma.

Instead of identifying the Heritage Foundation as a major player in the war to destroy public education, Stanford quotes its spokesman, who spouts the line that school choice is the result of parent dissatisfaction. What she does not mention is that voucher supporters maneuver to avoid public referenda because they know the public is opposed to vouchers. Right wingers go to great lengths to avoid the word “vouchers” and to quash referenda, because they are afraid of the voters.

Students and teachers from East High School in Salt Lake City walk out of school to protest the HB15 voucher bill, on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Several years of pandemic restrictions and curriculum battles have emboldened longtime advocates of funneling public funds to private and religious schools in statehouses throughout the country.

Students and teachers from East High School in Salt Lake City walk out of school on Jan. 25, 2023, to protest legislation that would create private-school vouchers in the state. Several years of pandemic restrictions and curriculum battles have emboldened longtime advocates of funneling public funds to private and religious schools in statehouses throughout the country.

Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP

Stanford begins:

Emboldened by frustrations with pandemic-era policies and battles over what schools are teaching, conservative parents and politicians have accelerated a push for school choice policies that would funnel public funds into private schools.

Though school choice has been debated for decades, the movement is in a unique moment as advocates use parent concerns over COVID-era mask requirements; curriculum addressing race, gender, and sexuality; and library book content to bolster their argument that families should have more options outside of traditional public schools. And the school choice proposals states are considering—and, in some cases, have already passed—are more sweeping than previous iterations.

Already this year, lawmakers in at least 11 states—Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia—have introduced and, in some cases, passed school choice bills. Although they vary in scope, many of the bills would establish or expand private school voucher and education savings account programs that give families public funds to pay for tuition at private schools, cover the costs of homeschooling, or pay for other schooling expenses.

The resurgence of school choice action shouldn’t come as a surprise. During the 2022 midterm election cycle, 19 Republican gubernatorial candidates advocated for school choice, mostly in the form of vouchers and education savings accounts, on campaign websites. This year, seven governors so far have talked about school choice policies in their state of the state addresses, according to the Education Commission of the States.

The policies are a result of parents’ declining satisfaction with schools following the pandemic, said Jonathan Butcher, an education policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that advocates for school choice policies.

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

She writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cunningham, retired professor of political scientist, has written an exposé of the well-funded fake “parent groups” that spring up overnight to disrupt school board meetings and demand control of books, curriculim, and COVID protocols. Who is behind them? Read the latest report from the Network for Public Education: “Merchants of Deception: Parent Props and Their Funders.”

They show up shouting at school board meetings with endless complaints. The press interviews them as though they are some “regular moms” looking out for their children, but they are not. They are a well-funded facade for the Koch, Walton, and DeVos families to disrupt and destroy public education.

In our new report, author and academician Maurice Cunningham pulls back the veil on the players, tactics, and funders. This must-read report identifies the who, how, and why behind “Merchants of Deception: Parent Props and Their Funders.

Cunningham is author of the new book Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

Nancy MacLean, professor of history at Duke University, and Lisa Graves, board president of the Center for Media and Democracy, warn readers not to be fooled by billionaire Charles Koch’s efforts to rebrand himself as a nice guy who has mellowed, who no longer wants to fund divisive, hateful organizations. A nice guy.

The media fell for it. The new, nice Charles Koch.

MacLean and Graves write: Don’t believe it. Koch won’t stop until democracy is dead.

They write:

Koch, the single most influential billionaire shaping American political life, never changed course. And the head fake he pulled off in 2020 succeeded in securing for his vast donor network—and the hundreds of organizations they underwrite—the freedom to operate, virtually without scrutiny, over the two years since. In that time, far from ceasing their efforts to divide the country, they have ramped them up. Like a snake shedding its skin as it grows, Koch was merely rebranding—yet again after exposure—and grouping his numerous operations under a sunny new name: Stand Together.


In August, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reported that Koch-funded organizations spent over $1.1 billion in the 2020 election cycle. At the same time his book claiming to have changed course was in press, Koch spent almost 50 percent more than the record amount the Koch network had raised in the 2016 cycle: $750 million. Koch did not endorse Trump, though his spending buoyed the top of the ticket and helped maintain a GOP Senate majority to secure Koch-backed policies and judicial nominees embraced by Trump.

One of these organizations, Koch’s Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization, claimed it was involved in more than 270 races in the 2020 election, reaching almost 60 million voters with door-knocking, phone calls, postcards, digital ads, and more. AFP also played heavily in the battle for U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, in January 2021—even as Koch was still getting favorable coverage for his supposed withdrawal from divisive electoral politics. AFP Action, the super PAC arm, alone raised and spent $60 million nationwide in that election cycle.

Meanwhile, other key organizing enterprises, think tanks, litigation outfits, campus centers, and more that were previously backed by the Koch network continue operating today, sometimes under new names, and with expanded funding. These include endeavors we consider unethical, only some of which we have the space to highlight here.

Take, for example, Koch’s longest running quest: enchaining democracy by rigging the rules of governance to free corporations from customary oversight and to prevent the will of the vast majority of Americans from securing federal, state, and local policies to improve their lives. With the connivance of Trump, the generalship of Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo, and the well-funded campaigning of Leo’s Judicial Crisis Network, the arch-right billionaire succeeded in capturing a supermajority in the U.S. Supreme Court. Koch had told his allied billionaire backers that this was one of his top priorities for the Trump Administration—along with the dramatic tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that he also secured.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island, a climate hero and senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, exposes how they did it in a recently published book, The Scheme: How the Right Wing Used Dark Money to Capture the Supreme Court. The long effort to reshape the judicial system, going back to the notorious Lewis Powell Memo of 1971, culminated in the Trump Administration’s appointment of more than 230 “business-friendly” federal judges, including three Supreme Court Justices, in a project overseen by longtime Koch allies Leo and Donald McGahn, who served as Trump’s legal counsel until 2018. The 6-3 stacked court is already delivering bombshell decisions for the coalition that put it in power, from undermining our options for mitigating devastating climate change and limiting the power of agencies to regulate corporations, to revoking people’s Constitutional freedom to decide whether and when to bear children. The current court term with the Koch-backed faction in control is expected to soon overthrow affirmative action and other hard-won reforms.

The Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) also continues its long campaign to shackle democracy on behalf of its corporate backers. Passing voter ID restrictions that make it harder for Americans to exercise their right to vote became a top ALEC priority after the United States elected its first Black President, Barack Obama. That measure was first voted on at an ALEC task force meeting co-chaired by the National Rifle Association in 2009.

ALEC is one of the nation’s leading promoters of charter schools, vouchers, and anti-union legislation. You can learn more about ALEC by reading Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution.

Please open the link and read the article. Learn about the “new” Charles Koch, same as the old one.

If you are looking for a good read, read Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, which provides the context for understanding the links between the Koch brothers, Milton Friedman, and free-market economics. Suffice it to say that one of their goals was to privatize Social Security. Still working on that.

Josh Cowen is a veteran voucher researcher, having worked in the field for more than 20 years. He is a professor of education policy at Michigan State University. After two decades as a researcher, he concluded that vouchers are a disaster for the children who use them.

Today, he writes an inside guide to voucher research. All pro-voucher research is actually disguised advocacy for vouchers, especially if it funded or produced by the organizations listed here.

I hope you will share this post with your friends on social media, post blogs about it, and get it into the hands of journalists. The public deserves transparency.

Josh Cowen writes:


The entire base of evidence to support school vouchers comes from a small, interconnected and insular group of research-activists with direct ties to Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch, the Waltons and other privatization financers.

If you stopped reading this post right now, that’s the take-home message right there: the case for vouchers relies entirely on data and evidence contributed by what amounts to industry-funded research and advocacy on behalf of the cause.

But if you’re a journalist, an educator, or just a committed public school supporter (thank you!) and you want the links and the details, read on.

WHO’S WHO IN THE VOUCHER RESEARCH/ADVOCACY WORLD?

If you’re a professional journalist either in the education space or a broader policy/politics issue, you’ve probably heard of some of these people and certainly their institutions before. But you’re busy, you’ve got deadlines to meet and editors to approve your copy, and it’s not always easy to connect some of the important dots in this area.

But they need to be connected. The single most difficult task I’ve found in my writing on school vouchers has been to explain to journalists how the question of whether vouchers “work” for kids is not some obscure academic ivory-tower debate in which both sides have a nuanced, complicated and reasonably well-founded point.

There is credible research on one side—that vouchers are largely a negative force for student outcomes—and politically oriented reports on the other. That’s it.

So the next time you see a press release, or are given a quote, or talk off record to a voucher supporter saying that vouchers work, try this little exercise and see what you find for yourself:

STEP 1: DOES THE RESEARCH COME FROM ONE OF THE FOLLOWING ORGANIZATIONS?

• American Federation for Children: the 501(c)(4) advocacy organization co-founded by Betsy DeVos to lobby for vouchers. DeVos was so close to this group she had to recuse herself as Secretary of Education from contact with the group in her first year in government.

• Cato Institute: A Right-wing advocacy think tank co-founded by Charles Koch (although Koch later sued for lack of direct control of the group).

• EdChoice: Formerly the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, named for conservative economist who first proposed vouchers. Enough said.

• ExcelInEd: The advocacy group founded by Jeb Bush to expand vouchers and other conservative education priorities from the model Bush developed while he was governor of Florida.

• Goldwater Institute: A self-described libertarian think tank in Arizona that is chiefly oriented toward litigation on behalf of a number of different conservative policy priorities—most recently school vouchers.

• Harvard University Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG): A research center at Harvard run by Professor Paul Peterson, also of the Hoover Institution, and the father of modern-day pro-voucher research.

• Heritage Foundation: the most influential Right-wingthink tank in the country, devoted in part to privatizing schools and exploiting culture wars. Also directly tied to voter suppression efforts, per deep reporting by The New Yorker.

• University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform: A university-based doctoral training department responsible for producing nearly all of the currently active voucher research-advocates working at the institutions above today. This department was founded by a $10 million gift from the Walton Family Foundation in the early 2000s.

STEP 2: IS THE AUTHOR, CO-AUTHOR OR SOURCE FOR BACKGROUND OR ATTRIBUTION ONE OF THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE?

The Original Voucher Research-Advocates

Jay P. Greene Currently Senior Fellow at Heritage, former founding head of the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, received his PhD under Paul E. Peterson.

Paul E. Peterson Currently Professor at both Harvard and the conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford University, and the primary intellectual force behind the original positive voucher studies of the late 1990s.

Their Students, Colleagues and Acolytes

Lindsay Burke Currently at the Heritage Foundation and a member of GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin’s transition team.

Corey DeAngelis Currently Research Director for DeVos’s American Federation for Children group. But so much more: a regular Fox News contributor and active campaigner with far-Right governors like Kari Lake in Arizona and Kim Reynolds in Iowa.

Greg Forster Currently at EdChoice and a co-blogger with Jay Greene.

Matthew Ladner Currently at ALEC, EdChoice, Goldwater, and the Charles Koch Institute.

Martin Lueken Currently a research director at EdChoiceand former PhD student of Jay Greene and Patrick Wolf at University of Arkansas.

Mike McShane Currently a research director at EdChoiceand former PhD student of Jay Greene and Patrick Wolf at University of Arkansas.

Neil McCluskey Currently “Director of Education Freedom” at the Cato Institute and a member of the editorial board for the Journal of School Choice—a publication edited by Robert Maranto of the University of Arkansas.

Patrick Wolf Currently interim-head of the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, former colleague of Jay Greene and a former PhD student of Paul Peterson.

Not all of these organizations or individuals occupy the same problematic position. For example, I happen to make a point of reading everything McShane publishes, for example, because I respect his writing and the way he talks about the world even though I fundamentally disagree with his conclusions.

And the University of Arkansas group also includes a robust and insightful group of researchers examining the needs of teachers in the Ozarks and other high-poverty areas. I’m a great admirer of Professor Gema Zamarro and her students, who are doing some very important work on the role that the COVID0-19 pandemic played in teacher workforce conditions.

For that matter, some of what we know about the devasting effects of vouchers in Louisiana actually comes from Patrick Wolf’s reports. I’ve written with him myself on studies like one showing how critical strong oversight is to voucher program performance. Wolf is in fact the only person on the list abovewith a long and commendable history of publishing negative voucher impacts in top academic journals. The point here is not to disparage the individuals but to judge the insular and self-citing base of research that supports vouchers.

The point here is to be critical consumers of this line of research. Think of it this way: no news editor would release a story on an explosive topic going on the say so of a single source. At minimum that editor would require two and usually more sources. The problem for voucher advocacy research is that it is usually the only source for positive voucher impacts available. And it’s been that way for a decade or more.

What’s the take home point? It’s this: not all voucher advocates publish exclusively pro-voucher studies, but all pro-voucher studies come almost exclusively from pro-voucher advocates.

STEP 3: WHO FUNDED THE WORK YOU’RE READING OR THE SOURCE YOU’RE CITING?

One or more of the following funders—the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Kern Family Foundation, the Koch Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation—funded the original studies supporting school vouchers.

The Bradley and Koch Foundations—along with Heritage—are directly involved in Big Lie, election denialism, and voter-suppression funding, as reported by Jane Mayer of the New Yorker in painstaking detail last summer.

The next time you read a report, or talk to a source for attribution, ask first about their funding sources. If they decline to provide those sources, consider declining to report their results or their viewpoint. It is common for philanthropists to request non-disclosure of their donations—that is their right. But it is your right as a reporter, and certainly the right of your readers, to decline to print their material.

Transparency is just the name of the game for credible research. You can see my own research funding right here. You can see that I once upon a time also received grant funding from the Walton Foundation. And from Bloomberg, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. My only current active funding comes from the U.S. Department of Education Institute for Education Sciences—awarded to my research team while Betsy DeVos was education secretary!

Do I believe those organizations swayed my earlier research? Of course not. And the advocates above would say the same thing. But I don’t get to decide what to think and neither do they. That’s for the reader to judge, and that can’t happen without full transparency.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

This all may seem like inside baseball. A bunch of current and former voucher researchers arguing about who’s who and what’s what. A bunch of annoying and self-centered PhDs.

But in some sense that’s the entire point.

Whether an educator, reporter, researcher, policymaker or just avid reader of Diane’s blog here, you would be hard-pressed—if not find it absolutely impossible—to find a single study of voucher participant effects (how vouchers impact outcomes) that did not come from one of the few organizations or few individuals listed above, or a handful of others with direct ties to Greene, Peterson, or Arkansas.

That’s a problem, because what that means is that hundreds of millions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of school children are being affected every day by the advocacy of a small group of people. In many cases advocacy disguised as objective and credible research.

As a counter point, consider this humble list of studies showing far more nuance and at times outright negative results from voucher programs. To create that list, I made a simple rule: no studies from organizations listed in Step 1 above. Notice the variety of names and the diversity of venues and outlets. That’s what a credible research base looks like.

A LITMUS TEST: IS THE PRO-VOUCHER EVIDENCE I’M READING POLITICAL/IDEOLOGICAL?

If at this point you’re still not convinced that the entire structure of pro-voucher research amounts to industry-funded research—think the Sacklers funding research on oxycontin’s addictive properties, or ExxonMobil funding research on fossil fuel environmental effects—there is also this:

Many of the organizations and individuals noted above also contribute to other areas of politically engaged conservative education reform.

Consider that Greene alone has published in the last 12 months studies arguing against the provision of gender-affirming care, against “wokeness”, and against Diversity, Equity and Inclusionoffices in both K12 and higher education.

Greene even put right in print for you to see that these culture war issues are useful to Right wing activists pushing the privatization of schooling.

In other words, pro-voucher research exists right alongside—and is often published by—the same people and organizations pushing other far-Right education outcomes. You need to know that to have a full picture of what voucher research truly says.

Pro-voucher research is pro-voucher advocacy, and pro-voucher advocacy is part of the larger effort to undermine public education, undermine a more humane approach to tolerating difference and diversity in our schools, and in many cases undermine free embrace of democracy itself.

We have been following the activities of various rightwing groups that purport to represent parents. Many if not all are funded by Dark Money, meaning their funders are anonymous. “Parents Defending Education” is now active in Massachusetts, suing districts for events related to race, gender, and sexual orientation. As the article notes, PDE has a staff of 13, some with a Koch background, and is represented by a Trump-connected lawyer. The goal of such groups is to undermine public confidence in public schools and in the judgment of professional educators. The ultimate goal is to heighten the teacher shortage and encourage privatization of schools.

The Boston Globe story begins:

An increasingly active right-leaning non-profit called Parents Defending Education filed a federal civil rights complaint against Newton North High School last month, alleging that a student-led theater production broke the law by limiting auditions to people of color only.


The same group sued Wellesley Public Schools last year for alleged illegal discrimination when Wellesley High School hosted a forum for Asian students and students of color to discuss a mass shooting at an Asian massage parlor in Atlanta. The teacher who organized the session wrote that it was “not for students who identify only as White.”


So far, the national group has identified 43 “incidents” in which they say Massachusetts schools inappropriately – or even illegally – taught students about race, sexual orientation or gender, setting school districts across the Commonwealth on edge that they might be sued next.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before in all my years here,” said Wellesley School Superintendent David Lussier, who settled the lawsuit with the organization in February. “They try to go after superintendents and get people fired.”


Parents Defending Education did not return repeated requests for comment, but supporters say the group offers a vital counterweight to an education system steeped in liberal values.


“I think it’s good because, for a long time, education has been very one-sided,” said Jennifer McWilliams, a consultant to Parents Defending Education who runs her own advocacy group in Indiana. “Schools have decided that they need to teach children morals, values, attitude and worldview over academics.”


The two-year-old organization, based in Washington D.C., urges parents across the country to report incidents in which they believe schools are dividing students on racial lines or inappropriately teaching students about sex or gender roles. The group states on its website that education must be based on “scholarship and facts” and says ethnic studies divides “children into oppressor and ‘oppressed’ groups,” while teaching white students “guilt and shame.”

And the organization has a sizable, well-connected staff to promote their agenda. Parents Defending Education’s website lists 13 staff members including Nicole Neily, former president of an organization affiliated with the Koch Brothers called Speech First and Aimee Viana, a former Trump Administration appointee.


Schools have long been battlegrounds in the nation’s culture wars, but experts say Parents Defending Education marks something new: an attempt to nationalize the agenda. The group has been promoting conservative values across the country, enlisting local groups with names like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education along the way.


“We see increased coordination, national coordination among groups of all political stripes and partisan stripes, thanks to social media,” said Meira Levinson, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “The right more than the left seems to have mastered techniques of developing language that then can be replicated in legislation, or policy across different municipalities and state governments.”

For Massachusetts educators facing criticism from Parents Defending Education, it suddenly feels like the group is everywhere. The group criticized Brookline schools in April after teachers organized a walkout to protest a Florida measure opponents have characterized as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
In June, the organization condemned Milton for teaching a lesson about the country’s first openly gay politician Harvey Milk and the importance of the letters LGBTQ.


“Who the hell wants to go into this profession anymore if this is going to be the type of community that we’re serving and the type of pressure that we’re going to experience,” Wellesley Educators Association President Kyle Gekopi said. “It’s really been forcing a lot of people to question their choices.”


Most recently, Parents Defending Education filed a federal civil rights complaint on Oct. 4 against Newton North High School.


The group alleged to the United States Department of Education that the school violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Both are meant to protect people from discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. That protection extends to white students, they say.


Parents Defending Education claims the school’s student-led production, “Lost and Found: Stories of People of Color by People of Color,” restricted auditions to only students of color. The show, which organizers described as “a no-cut, cabaret-style show for students of color,” was meant to “provide a safe community space for students of color to express themselves through the performing arts.”


But Newton Public Schools put out a statement stressing that “no one is turned away or excluded from participating” in the play.


Educators far beyond Newton are nervously watching the case unfold. Brian Fitzgerald, president of the Plymouth County Education Association, said Parents Defending Education remind him of activists in past decades who have fought to curtail sex education, making it difficult to teach students about health.


“My fear is that they’re going to impact the ability of a student to learn,” Fitzgerald said.

Arizona voters blocked vouchers in 2018 by a 2-1 margin. The Koch-DeVos machine came back with an even bigger voucher proposal this year. Save Our Schols Arizona, a grassroots group of volunteers once more gathered signatures to compel a state referendum to block vouchers. The billionaires hate democracy and will try to stop the referendum.

The Arizona Republic reported:

A school voucher program scheduled to become law Saturday is on hold after public-school advocates gathered enough citizen signatures to temporarily block the controversial program.

On Friday, the Save Our Schools movement submitted 141,714 signatures to the Arizona secretary of state as volunteers concluded a drive to refer the voucher program to the 2024 ballot for voters to decide.

The law, authorized by the GOP majority in the Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, would be the first universal voucher program in the nation, using taxpayer dollars for private education efforts.

It would expand the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program to every Arizona schoolchild, providing an estimated $7,000 of taxpayer money per child for a range of educational services, from private school tuition to tutors to support for parents who opt to teach their children at home…

Raquel Mamani, an educator and parent, celebrated the petition drive, saying it puts on hold “the anti-public education, anti-parent, anti-student agenda forced into our state by extremists.”

Volunteers gathered signatures from all 15 counties in 80 days, a sign of widespread support, said Nicky Indicavitch, outreach director for Save Our Schools Arizona.

“Arizonans want top quality, fully funded public schools in every neighborhood,” she said.

This is the second time in five years public-school proponents have taken to the streets to block voucher expansion. In 2017, a similar referendum drive sent an expansion of the ESA program to ballot, where voters in 2018 rejected it by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

Friday’s filing had echoes of the 2017 effort, but both supporters and opponents of the ESA program expect a more robust, heavily funded fight this time around.

The American Federation for Children [the DeVos organization] has signaled its support for the expanded program, and a “decline to sign” movement that tried to discourage people from signing the referendum petitions said it has proof of illegal signature efforts…

After the universal expansion passed in June, the state started taking preliminary applications. Data released last month showed 6,500 families had applied in just two weeks. Of those families, about 75% indicated they did not have a child previously in public school.

Those early findings solidified opposition from public-school advocates, who argued that the numbers showed the beneficiaries were likely people already paying private tuition and looking to cash in on a hefty state subsidy.

Peter Greene is a retired teacher in Pennsylvania; he stepped down after nearly 40 years in the classroom and has been a prolific writer ever since, stepped in the wisdom of practie.

He is disgusted with Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro’s decision to support school vouchers.

Shapiro has joined forces with the GOP. How curious that Shapiro has thrown himself in the same boat with Greg Abbot, Ron DeSantis, Doug Ducy, and every other anti-public school governor.

Greene writes that Shapiro’s website touts his support for vouchers:

Josh favors adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania.

The Lifeline Scholarship bill is a GOP education savings account bill–a super-voucher bill– currently sitting in the appropriations committee in the House; the Senate has passed their version. Not just charters. Not just traditional vouchers. But nice shiny, super vouchers. Take a bunch of money from public schools (based on state average cost-per-pupil, not local numbers, so that many districts will lose more money than they would have spent on the students). Handed as a pile of money/debit card which can be spent on any number of education-adjacent expenses.

The state will audit the families at least once every two years. The bill contains the usual non-interference clause, meaning that the money can be spent at a private discriminatory school, and no one will be checking to see if the school is actually educating the student. The bill is only old-school in that it uses the old foot-in-the-door technique of saying that this is just to rescue students from “failing” public schools (but includes no provisions to determine if the child has been moved to a failing private school).

Choicers are ecstatic…

You know a great way to make sure that zip code, ethnicity, and class don’t determine a child’s educational quality? It’s not to give some of them voucher money that may or may not get a few students to a better education.

It’s to fully fund and support all the schools in all the zip codes.

Boy, would I love to vote for a governor who supported that for a plan.

But no–we now have a choice of two guys who are barely different on education. Mastriano would gut spending completely while implementing vouchers, while Shapiro would just slice open a public education vein.

In fairness to Shapiro, his site says he’s going to fully fund education, too, which would be kind of like putting a hose in one side of your swimming pool while chopping a gaping hole in the base on the other side. It’s not a great plan. If he means it, which now, who’s to say.

Shapiro’s position is awful. It would align him with just about any GOP candidate in any other state, and the only reason it isn’t a disqualifier in this state is because insurrectionist Doug Mastriano is so spectacularly, so uniquely terrible, so ground-breakingly awful. Mastriano is still a terrible, terrible choice.

Voucher fans were sad because they could see their hopes and dreams going down in flames with Mastriano, but now they can rest assured that whoever wins, they will get a governor who supports an education program that any right wing Republican would love. For those of us who support public education, it is brutally disappointing.

In Arizona, Save Our Schools Arizona and other parent groups are gathering signatures to force a referendum on the legislature’s plan to unleash a universal voucher plan. Parents and teachers overwhelmingly defeated a voucher proposal in 2018, but the salaries Koch-sponsored forces are pushing an even bigger voucher plan than before. In their proposal, every student in the state would be eligible for a voucher.

The Grand Canyon Institute has assembled the facts about the proposal. The greatest beneficiaries would be families whose children already attend private schools and parents affluent enough to pay for the cost of private high school.

Max Goshert, Assistant Research Director of the Grand Canyon Institute, writes:

Phoenix, Arizona – 2022 was a blockbuster year for Arizona policy. Along with a record budget and a billion-dollar investment in water, Arizona passed the largest private school scholarship program in the country. Previously, only families who met certain conditions, such as having a student with a disability, a parent who served in the military, a student who attended a D or F school, a student who lives on a Native American reservation, or a sibling of one of these students, could participate in the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.

HB 2853 establishes universal eligibility for the ESA program, meaning that any student attending grades K-12 can receive a scholarship, which is estimated to average $6,966 in FY23 (certain circumstances, like disability status, can change the scholarship size). Unlike the 2017 expansion, which capped participation at 30,000 recipients, there is no limit on the number of students who can participate in the program.

Naturally, the polemic public debate resulting from the seismic shift in education has spawned a gamut of predictions on what the impact of this expansion will be. In an attempt to foster conversation that is grounded in fact, we address several questions about the ESA program by diving into the data.

How will the ESA expansion impact academic outcomes?

As with any policy that impacts education, the most important feature of the ESA expansion is how it impacts the quality of education that students receive. While the literature on the academic outcomes of participation in voucher programs is mixed, with some research reporting significant positive effects, several recent studies have found negative impacts on student achievement, especially in math, for statewide voucher programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana (Mills and Wolf, p.8). This is likely due to the rapid expansion of these voucher programs from smaller populations to the entire state, overwhelming existing private school infrastructure (p.43).

Arizona’s expansion is the largest in the country, with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) estimating that 36,078 public school students will begin participating in the ESA program. While some families may choose to homeschool given their new ESA eligibility, most will likely elect to attend a private school. Given that there are currently 59,171 private school students, Arizona private schools will see a 39% rise in demand, a tremendous increase in a short period of time that threatens to overwhelm existing facilities. Consequentially, Arizona will likely see a similar decline in academic outcomes due to the inadequate supply of private schools.

What are the accountability requirements for ESAs?

While ESA participants are required to use a portion of the program funding in reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science, there are no minimum standards of academic achievement, such as reading or math proficiency. Private schools are not required to be accountable for the academic outcomes of their students. This contrasts sharply with Louisiana’s voucher program, where private schools must apply to become voucher recipients and undergo site visits, financial audits, and health and safety assessments from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Abdulkadiroglu et al, p. 4). Private schools must maintain eligibility by administering annual state achievement tests to voucher recipients along with financial audits.

Who benefits the most from ESA expansion?

Of the 9,710 applicants to the ESA program for SY2023, approximately 77% do not have a history of attending an Arizona public school. Effectively, these ESAs serve not to enable those attending public school to attend private school, but as a public subsidy for families that already had the means to pay for private schools or homeschooling. This is in line with a 2018 study by the Grand Canyon Institute which found that, while enrollment in the private school sector has been relatively flat, private school subsidies from Arizona’s General Fund have increased 50-fold from $3 million in SY2000 to $141 million in SY2016. As with other private school subsidies, the beneficiaries are largely those who are already attending private schools, not those attending public schools who would otherwise attend privates.

What are the limitations on ESA expenses?

ESA funding can be used to pay private school tuition, curriculum, homeschooling, and other educational expenses. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) maintains a comprehensive list of approved spending categories and ESA allowable items. However, because state statute on allowable items is broad, parents are able to use ESA dollars for expenses with questionable educational benefit. Uptown Jungle Peoria, an indoor playground, recently attracted attention when they advertised that they would accept ESA money, an expenditure that ADE confirmed was appropriate. Parents may also use ESA dollars to purchase Lego kits, lawn darts, and croquet sets. ADE staff oversee ESA expenditures to ensure that they fall under program guidelines, yet allowable purchases that are more recreational may come at the expense of academic experience.

How much will the ESA expansion cost taxpayers?

Initial estimates from the JLBC are that taxpayers will spend $33 million in FY23, $65 million in FY24, and $125 million in FY25 from empowerment scholarships. With 77% of the 9,710 enrollees this school year coming from outside of the public system, the cost of these students will likely be around $52 million, very close to the JLBC estimate. As participation in the ESA program proliferates due to public awareness in the coming years, the burden of the program on the General Fund will rise substantially.

How will the ESA expansion impact school choice?

Arizona currently has 2,391 public schools and 448 private schools. The estimated award for FY23 of $6,966 covers the entire average cost of private elementary schools ($6,710), but only about a third of the cost of private secondary schools ($18,590). Consequentially, families will have to pay around $12,000 per student out of their own pocket once they reach high school, a financial barrier that will be too burdensome for those who rely on ESAs to pay for private school tuition. The families that experience the greatest expansion of school choice are those who are wealthy enough to pay the difference in tuition at the secondary education level.

The impact of school choice by the ESA expansion is further limited by the lack of public accountability of private schools, creating a vacuum of information on academic outcomes. With little means to determine how well private schools educate their students, parents must rely more on marketing and word-of-mouth, impairing their ability to make well-informed decisions for school choice.

HB 2853 is scheduled to go into effect on September 24 however that date could be put on hold if an initiative successfully gathers sufficient signatures to refer the issue to the November 2024 ballot.

For more information, contact:
Max Goshert, Assistant Research Director
mgoshert@azgci.org, 602.595.1025, Ext. 12

The Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in Arizona through evidence-based, independent, objective, nonpartisan research. GCI makes a good faith effort to ensure that findings are reliable, accurate, and based on reputable sources. While publications reflect the view of the institute, they may not reflect the view of individual members of the board.

Maurice Cunningham, a retired professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, is a specialist on the subject of Dark Money. That’s money given to a group or campaign where the donor’s name is hidden. His most recent book is Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

Cunningham was instrumental in the defeat of a referendum in Massachusetts in 2016 to expand the number of charter schools. Early polling showed it would pass easily. But Cunningham dug into the funders and discovered that the proposition was funded by billionaires, including the Waltons and Bloomberg. He learned of an astroturf parent group called the National Parents Union, funded by the Waltons to promote charters and pretend there was a huge parent demand for them. The proposition was overwhelmingly defeated.

Imagine his surprise when he learned recently that the U.S. Department of Education was creating a Nation Parents & Families Council, and the National Parents Union was a member. He wrote to Secretary Miguel Cardona to express his concern that NPU was a Walton-funded astroturf group whose goal was to discredit public schools and promote charter schools.

He received a boilerplate response from the U.S. Department of Education’s communications office, dismissing his concerns.

Maurice T. Cunningham Maurice.Cunningham153@gmail.com


Dear Mr. Cunningham,
August 1, 2022


Thank you for your email to Secretary Miguel Cardona regarding National Parents Union (NPU) representation on the Department of Education’s (the Department) National Parents & Families Engagement Council (the Council). Your letter has been forwarded to the Office of Communications and Outreach and I am pleased to respond.
The Department acknowledges your concern and appreciates the in-depth information shared from your research regarding NPU. The Council is an opportunity for the Department to listen, learn and engage families and caregivers and will be a channel for parents and families to constructively participate in their children’s education. The goal of the Council is to be reflective of the diversity of the country and our public schools and the Department is open and accepting of all parent voices.
Again, thank you for your concern regarding organizations participating on the Council. Please know that the Department’s commitment to all parents, and their crucial role in their children’s education, is unwavering. The Secretary and staff here at the Department will continue to not just listen to parents but seek out their counsel and feedback because a school community works best when parents and educators are working together.
Sincerely,
/S/
Kelly Leon
Press Secretary, Office of Communications and Outreach, Delegated the Authority to Perform the
Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Communications and Outreach

Undeterred, Cunningham wrote another letter, going into greater detail.

MAURICE T. CUNNINGHAM, PhD, JD

August 16, 2022

The Honorable Miguel Cardona

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

Ms. Kelly Leon, Press Secretary, Office of Communications and Outreach

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

Dear Secretary Cardona and Ms. Leon:

I am in receipt of Ms. Leon’s August 1, 2022 reply to my letter to Secretary Cardona of June 28, 2022 in which I detail some of my research showing that National Parents Union does not belong on the Department of Education’s National Parents and Families Engagement Council. Ms. Leon’s response, which simply recites boilerplate about the council seeking to solicit the views of parent, is disappointing and inadequate. National Parents Union is not a parents’ organization at all. That’s the point.

I would have thought that an organization like NPU that was founded in 2020 and almost immediately received $700,000 in funding from the Vela Education Fund, a joint venture of the Charles Koch Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, might elicit DOE’s curiosity as to NPU’s authenticity. The WFF and individual Walton family members have been involved in school privatization efforts for years. WalMart, the company inherited by the family, is one of the most virulently anti-labor corporations in the world. As the labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein writes, WFF is “the single largest source of funding for the ‘school choice’ movement and a powerful advocate of charter schools and voucher initiatives.” The Waltons’ support for privatization is an entirely ideological project, based on a desire to enhance the social and cultural value of a free market in which government is weak while public goods like . . . education . . . are the fodder for entrepreneurial transformation. . . . Since public schools are by far the most pervasive of public institutions, and highly unionized to boot, this “$700-plus-billion-a-year industry”—John Walton’s phrase—has been a good place to start.

Charles Koch came to K-12 privatization only in recent years, announcing his intentions in a 2018 Koch Seminar in which another Koch network member ($100,000 required simply to attend) called K-12 privatization “low-hanging fruit.” As reported by the Washington Post’s James Hohmann, “Making a long-term play, the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and his like-minded friends on the right are increasingly focused on melding the minds of the next generation by making massive, targeted investments in both K-12 and higher education.” The Koch network “dreamed . . . of breaking the teachers unions.” Charles Koch, skeptical for years about impacting K-12, had a Koch Industries vice-president named Meredith Olson investigate, and her strategic scheme spurred him on.

Meredith Olson is also important because by June 2019 Koch and WFF (both members of Stand Together) were announcing matching $5 million investments in a joint venture named “4.0”to “transform America’s education system” in their corporate image. Ms. Olson was K-12 Initiative Vice President at Stand Together. More importantly for considering the legitimacy of NPU, Ms. Olson is CEO and a board member of Vela Education Foundation. As her LinkedIn page shows, Ms. Olson is an oil and gas executive. She has no background in or understanding of education. She would have been responsible for the $700,000grant Vela made in August 2020 to NPU—an eight month old organization with no track record in grants administration.

Charles Koch’s “interest” in education was discussed on the podcast “Have You Heard” by Christopher Leonard, author of the best-selling Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America. Leonard described Charles Koch, like the Waltons, as an ideological libertarian. Leonard confirmed Koch’s intense anti-unionism and continued: “when you have public education … one of the biggest problems for the libertarians is that it’s funded through taxes. . . they see taxation truly as a form of of (sic) theft and robbery.” An extensive remark by Leonard is worth your careful consideration:

Know what the blueprint is. The Koch influence machine is multifaceted and complex and I am just telling you in a very honest way, there’s a huge difference between the marketing materials produced by Americans for Prosperity (Koch’s political organization, a parallel to NPU) and the behind the scenes actual politicalphilosophy. There’s a huge difference. And here’s the actual political philosophy. Government is bad. Public education must be destroyed for the good of all American citizens in this view.

So the ultimate goal is to dismantle the public education system entirely and replace it with a privately run education system, which the operatives in this group believe in a sincere way is better for everybody. Now, whether you agree with that or not as the big question, but we cannot have any doubt, there’s going to be a lot of glossy marketing materials about opportunity, innovation, efficiency. At its core though the the (sic) network seeks to dismantle the public education system because they see it as destructive. So that is what’s the actual aim of this group. And don’t let them tell you anything different.

One person who is not fooled by the Koch network’s PR machine is Charles Siler and that is because he was once part of it as a lobbyist and communications expert for the Goldwater Institute and Foundation for Government Accountability. Siler describes his former bosses: “Their ideal is a world with as minimal public infrastructure and investment as possible. They want the weakest and leanest government possible in order to protect the interests of a few wealthy individuals and families . . .” Siler describes one public relations technique as the “human shield.” Privatizers front a vulnerable and politically sympathetic population to protect them from progressive criticisms. They also understand that public schools are enormously popular. Thus, their proxies employ a steady drumbeat of messaging about “failing schools.” The goals are the same: destroy unions, strangle public schools, and privatizeeducation.

National Parents Union is a vehicle for the plans of the Waltons and Charles Koch. It presents as representing parents of color in search of a better life for their children, right out of the playbook Siler describes. The NPU team is drawn from alumni of the failed Families for Excellent Schools/Great Schools Massachusetts operations in New York and Massachusetts and as I explain in Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization FES was in reality the surrogate for Boston hedge funders and yes, the Waltons. NPU has used the Vela money to fund homeschooling pods that weaken public schools. At nearly every media opportunity, NPU spokespersons parrot the “failing schools” script.

Is there any conceivable reason to believe that National Parents Union is the blessed exception to the Waltons’ and Charles Koch’s laser-like focus on destroying public education? As Siler and Leonard teach us, DOE must ignore the elaborate marketing blitz that NPU can deploy and recognize NPU for what it is: an agent of wealthy libertarians with a wildly different and unpopular prescription for what is good for parents and children.

I understand that the council is on hold pending litigation brought by among others Parents Defending Education. As I explained in my letter of June 28, PDE is also a franchise in Charles Koch’s attack on public education. It is in alliance with Moms for Liberty, created by the right wing directorate Council for National Policy; and with Fight for Schools and Families, also a plaintiff in the litigation and headed by a former Trump administration and Republican Party communications executive. Should PDE prevail in its lawsuit and gain a seat on the council that would give Koch two seats on it. Even Betsy DeVos would blush.

The Department of Education should rescind its offer to National Parents Union to join the National Parents and Families Engagement Council.

Respectfully submitted,

Maurice T. Cunningham

Associate Professor (retired)

Department of Political Science

University of Massachusetts at Boston

cc: The Honorable Martin J. Walsh

Secretary of Labor

You can see the writing on the wall. All the astroturf parent groups will demand a place at the table. They fought masking, they fought vaccines, now they fight teaching about racism and gender, and they demand gag orders and book banning.

Will Secretary Cardona invite them to join his Council?