Archives for category: Privatization

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, wrote a stunning expose of for-profit charter operators in Ohio. It was published in Valerie Strauss’s blog The Answer Sheet.

Burris writes:

Buckeye Preparatory Academy opened its doors in September 2014, promising “rigorous academic standards” for the 117 students who enrolled. It was started by the for-profit management charter company the Cambridge Education Group, founded by Marcus May. In 2017, three years after Buckeye opened, Cambridge tried to sever all ties with May, who was indicted and later convicted of racketeering and fraud in connection with the charter schools he ran. Buckeye never received a grade from the Ohio Department of Education better than an F during its four-year existence. At the end of 2017, Buckeye Prep was more than $1 million in debt.

That enormous deficit, which equaled nearly all of the tax dollars the school took in, was due, in large part, to the astronomical management costs charged by Cambridge.

According to the 2018 audit, the for-profit took 18 percent of all revenue received by the charter to manage the school. Cambridge also collected $93,398 in overhead fees, pulling a total of $383,505 from the $1.26 million in operating aid that the school received. As debt accrued, Cambridge was charging the school 5 percent interest on money the school owed.

An additional $41,490 went out the door to the authorizing sponsor of the school, Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, whose related for-profit organization, Kent Properties, LLC, was the school’s landlord, receiving $162,000 a year in rental costs.

At the end of the school’s audit, an addendum said that the management of Buckeye Prep was transferred from Cambridge to another for-profit, ACCEL Schools of Ohio, LLC.

On the surface, that transfer might appear to be a lifeline for the students who attended Buckeye Prep. But the small charter school at 1414 Gault St. in Columbus was — and would continue to be — a big moneymaker for for-profit operators and their partners.

The orphanage with no orphans

Some states, such as New Jersey, have only one state entity that authorizes charter schools. In Ohio, there are 20 active authorizers, called sponsors. Sponsors provide oversight, deciding whether a school opens and, later, whether its charter is renewed.

For Buckeye Prep’s sponsor, the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation (BCHF), charter sponsorship is a lucrative business. According to BCHF’s 2017 audit, the foundation, involved with low-income housing, received over $3.1 million for sponsorship and services provided to 50 charter schools that year. Its related for-profit corporation owned the Buckeye Prep building and collected more than $162,000 in building and furniture lease payments during 2017, its final year.

[Biden promised to end federal funding of for-profit charter schools. A new report explains how they operate.]

As the failing school approached the date for charter renewal, its new operator, ACCEL, chose a sponsor that already managed many of its schools — St. Aloysius Orphanage. Despite its name, St. Al’s, as it is called, has not provided a home for orphans since the 1970s. It is a mental health service provider that also sponsors charter schools.

Compared with its other funding streams, charter school sponsorship provides the most income — over $3.6 million in 2019. However, while St. Aloysius collects the fees, it does none of the work. Instead, it hired a for-profit corporation, Charter School Specialists, paying out $2.3 million a year to the for-profit.

The relationship between sponsor and for-profit was so tight that in 2020, the state auditor had to remind schools that their sponsor was St. Aloysius, not Charter Schools Specialists, after several listed the for-profit as their sponsor.

In 2019, the Cleveland Transformation Alliance recommended — to no avail — that St. Al’s no longer sponsor charter schools based on its record of keeping failing schools open. Two years earlier, the same committee raised conflict of interest concerns because some school treasurers were employed by both the charter board and Charter Schools Specialists. That conflict of interest while overseeing the expenditure of millions of dollars in public funds was allowed to continue. In 2021, eight school treasurers were employees of the for-profit overseer and the charter schools’ boards, including Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy, according to information obtained from the Ohio Education Department.

For-profit operators run more than 62 percent of the schools sponsored by St. Aloysius; many of them are other ACCEL schools.

ACCEL schools

In 2014, the online for-profit charter chain K12 Inc. announced a new, yet-to-be-named company financed by Safanad Limited, a Dubai investment company. Pansophic Learning was launched later that year as the Safanad/K12 joint venture. The name of its American-based charter school company is ACCEL Schools.

The CEO of both Pansophic and ACCEL is Ron Packard, formerly of K12 Inc., now known as Stride. Packard’s background is in finance, and he compounded the revenue of K12 by 80 percent — (a far higher percentage than its 2019-2020 graduation rate of 56.3 percent).

ACCEL’s primary strategy is to pluck schools from established for-profit chains that failed or are folding, including Mosaica, White Hat Management, and I CAN Schools.

With no shortage of failing charter schools to buy, ACCEL’s growth has been fast-paced. It now manages 73 charter schools (brick and mortar or online) in Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington, and it is attempting to open schools in West Virginia.
[Yes, charter schools can be bought and sold]
Global School Properties, located at the same address as ACCEL and Pansophic in Virginia, is the real estate arm of ACCEL, which allows it to acquire properties and then basically rent their own buildings to themselves — with public funds — through the schools they manage.

ACCEL’s largest portfolio is in Ohio. Forty-six schools list ACCEL as their operator. However, we also found an additional 17 schools run by a superintendent with an ACCEL email address, all but two under the Constellation Schools brand. And in 2018, ACCEL bought out White Hat’s failing online charter school, OHDELA, resulting in a total of 64 schools in that state.

ACCEL and Capital Collegiate Prep

When ACCEL took over Buckeye Prep in 2018, it operated the school as Buckeye for one year — before shutting it down to put another in its place. The for-profit needed to find a board to act as the nonprofit face for the new for-profit-run school. ACCEL’s then vice president, Mark Comaduci, introduced community member Leslie Eaves to Amy Goodson and Carlena Hart, attorneys for Buckeye Prep, via email. Eaves was told to form a board, for which she served as president. She found three educators — Malcolm Cash, Renita Porter and Said Adam — and forensic accountant Rhonda Whitfield.

By January 2019, the new board was formed. In June 2019, Buckeye voluntarily requested contract nonrenewal (see closed community schools). The following day, July 1, Kent School, LLC, sold the school building to Global School Properties for $1,380,635, records show. St. Al’s would be the new sponsor, and the school would now be called Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy (CCPA).

From the start, the relationship between the charter school’s board and ACCEL was rocky. Unlike many of the boards recruited by for-profit operators, this board included seasoned educators who took their duties of governance seriously. According to emails between Eaves and ACCEL officials, including Ron Packard, the first problems arose with the terms of the management and lease agreements between the school and ACCEL.

Buckeye’s lease agreement was for $12,500 a month or 10.5 percent of state funds received, whichever was greater. ACCEL wanted to increase the lease by $5,500 a month, according to internal emails. In the end, the agreement was for 14 percent of revenue — state funding as well as additional federal entitlements if the grant application was prepared by ACCEL.

In 2020, the school that served only 135 students paid ACCEL’s related real estate company $145,006 in rent, with ACCEL projecting a rent payment of $319,840 for the very same building in 2025. At that rate, ACCEL would recoup what it paid in six years — precisely the length of the school’s charter. If the charter failed and closed, ACCEL would walk away with a million-dollar-plus building largely paid for by the taxpayers of Ohio.

The management contract charges the charter school 15 percent of all revenue received, with a few exceptions. But that is not where payments would end. A read of the management contract clarifies that ACCEL was in charge of, and would be compensated for, all of the school’s day-to-day operations — from the curriculum to student records to all personnel services.

The school was allowed to go into unlimited debt on which it would pay interest to ACCEL, making it nearly impossible for the school to leave the for-profit management company in the future. Financial records from 2020 show the school operating at a loss of over $420,000, with a 2021 projected loss of over $845,000.

Conflicts between the board and ACCEL ignite
The change in school management came with a wave of staff turnover, with just two teachers opting to stick with the new school, where many of the students were behaviorally challenged. ACCEL hired new and inexperienced teachers, and for the first two months, according to former board treasurer Whitfield, the campus didn’t have any pencils or paper in the classrooms. The situation was so dire that an organization that had performed an independent review of the charter school donated paper and pencils.

To get a grasp on student progress, the board authorized the use of I-Ready Assessment. However, ACCEL preferred to use its own assessment product called “Dr. Carr’s Scrimmages” to measure student progress. Carr, who became a vice president of ACCEL, previously worked for the defunct for-profit charter chain Mosaica. Student progress, and lack thereof, was discussed at length during the board meeting of February 2021, which can be found here.

The school’s principal, a former real estate agent, seemed unsure as to why the Scrimmages were being used. I-Ready results showed that most sixth-grade students were performing at two to three years below grade level in reading and math. That led to a discussion as to whether, given the poor progress made by sixth-graders, the school should expand to grade 7 or focus instead on expanding its kindergarten program. Board members expressed worry regarding a seventh-grade addition.

But the principal and the ACCEL superintendent, Ashley Ferguson argued in favor of adding a grade as being in the best interest of students and the school. Ferguson added, “We need to be up by 200 kids to eliminate our deficit. Two kindergartens would not do it.” [ Ferguson, a vice president of ACCEL Schools, attended board meetings as ACCEL’s “superintendent,” even though Shannon Metcalf is listed as superintendent on the state website.]

Board members resign

To get a better understanding of the school’s day-to-day operations, the board hired Tisha Brady in 2020 to serve as a compliance officer. What Brady observed appalled her.

Brady, a former lobbyist for School Choice Ohio and longtime supporter of charter schools, has soured on charter management organizations running schools. During a December 2021 interview with me [ Carol Burris, the author of this post], Brady expressed her concerns regarding where Ohio’s charter schools were going. “[For-profit management] is absolutely not in line with the supposed principles of school choice programs,” she said. “This is simply a cash grab using disadvantaged students as ATMs to launder public funds into the pockets of a private corporation.”

Meanwhile, the concerns of the board grew. It was difficult for the board to get a handle on expenditures and purchases, even with Brady’s assistance. During the June 14, 2021, meeting, the board objected to the $53,000 spent by ACCEL for smartboards for the school. During classroom visits, board members noticed that the smartboards were generic dry erase boards. The meeting minutes noted a prior concern regarding a large expenditure for a curriculum that was missing, as well as a refrigerator that was removed by a vendor. Eaves, the board president, objected to the lack of inventory control of school purchases, according to the minutes.

When Brady and Whitfield entered the school to inventory the items and see how they were being used, they both said, an ACCEL teacher assaulted Whitfield with a cart. Whitfield filed a complaint with the police department and the professional conduct division of the Ohio Department of Education, as well as with ACCEL.

“My concern was for the students in the classroom. I worried about what the kids had witnessed,” Whitfield said. Whitfield resigned from the board a month later. Eaves had previously resigned in October. The school’s website now lists only four board members, still including Whitfield, who is gone — a violation of law that requires five board members, which ironically St. Al’s had used to put the board on probation in the past.

Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy expands

Despite worry over student performance, a slim majority of the board decided to add the seventh grade. According to Whitfield and Brady, one teacher teaches all subjects on a rotating basis and out of certification. But, those seventh-graders, no matter how poorly prepared, increased the head count, which in turn increased ACCEL’s fees for both rent and management. The school goes further into debt, and ACCEL collects interest.

And so, it will continue until the school’s charter is up in 2025. ACCEL could walk away from the failing school, sell the building to another for-profit, and move on to another failing school.
Right now, nearly half of all charter schools in Ohio are run by for-profits. Most of these charter schools are located in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States. The state of Ohio has known about the cycle of for-profits repeatedly preying on failing charter schools for years.

There is more: Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy, which was no more than the retread of a failing school, received a $250,000 Federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) implementation grant.
Half of all of the grants distributed by Ohio from its 2015 CSP State Entities grant were given to schools run by Ron Packard’s ACCEL.

The article contains many links to sources. To see them all, open the article.

Gary Rubinstein has been following the sad career of Tennessee’s Achievement School District for a decade. The ASD was created with $100 million in Race to the Top funding, a portion of the $500 million won by the state in Arne Duncan’s competition.

The ASD was launched in 2012, when advocates of privatization earnestly believed that charter schools performed miracles. The mere act of turning a low-scoring public school over to a private operator would free the school from regulation and bad teachers and inevitably produce high test scores. Over the years, this assumption has been proven untrue, and the ASD is a leading example of great promises that produced failure.

Gary has tracked the failure of the ASD to transform low-scoring public schools into high-performing charter schools. The irony, as he notes in this overview, is that many states have copied the Tennessee ASD despite its failure to achieve its goals.

Gary writes:

The mission of the ASD was to take schools in the bottom 5% and within 5 years ‘catapult’ them into the top 25%. They started with six schools and over a period of about five years expanded into around 30 schools. The plan was to turn the schools over to charter operators and then after the schools had been successfully catapulted, they would return to the original school district.

After five years, it was clear that at least five of the original six school were still in the bottom 5%. The other one had maybe risen into the bottom 10%. Barbic resigned, Huffman resigned, the ASD changed their mission to something a lot more vague.

Now, ten years after the takeover of the original 6 schools, we learn from Chalkbeat, TN that some of those original 6 schools are returning to their district. I’ve been tracking those six schools for the past 10 years: Brick Church College Prep, Cornerstone Prep — Lester Campus, Corning Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Humes Preparatory Academy — Upper School, and Westside Achievement Middle School. Year after year, despite having been turned into charter schools, these schools barely budged in the rankings. One of the six, Humes, was already closed down and now, as reported by Chalkbeat, TN, two of them, Frayser and Corning are being returned to their districts even though they did not improve. Ironically, eight years ago Frayser was hailed as a miracle success story proving the effectiveness of the ASD.

There is no reason to celebrate the failure of a school, especially one enrolling vulnerable children. But there is every reason to point to the P.T. Barnum School of Charter School Propaganda. in did not achieve its goals. It disrupted the lives of children, parents, and teachers.

How shallow are the promoters of these grand plans that tear apart communities, then move on to another gig.

The North Carolina Supreme Court dealt a legal blow to charter schools. It ruled that they are not immune from civil suits, as public schools are. This punches a hole in the charter industry’s claim that they are ”public schools” but under private management.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled on Friday that nonprofit charter schools can’t avoid facing civil fraud claims alleging mismanagement of taxpayer money by arguing they are immune from such lawsuits like a state agency.

The justices reversed a 2019 Court of Appeals decision that had dismissed claims against Kinston Charter Academy, which closed abruptly to 190 students and their teachers in 2013. A 2016 lawsuit by then-Attorney General Roy Cooper sought financial damages for the state and monetary penalties against the academy, its CEO and the chair of its board

Kinston Charter Academy and leaders were accused by Cooper’s office of violating the state’s False Claims Act and deceptive trade laws. State attorneys allege the school provided a bogus upgraded enrollment estimate to state education officials that meant receiving additional funds, even as leaders knew the school would not last the 2013-14 school year.

Academy CEO Ozie Hall and his wife, board leader Demyra McDonald-Hall, unsuccessfully sought to get the lawsuit dismissed by a Wake County trial judge. They in turn asked the Court of Appeals to step in, saying the academy was protected from liability under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which exempts state government from most lawsuits unless an agency consents to be sued.

A three-judge panel of the intermediate appeals court agreed with the academy, saying it was entitled to such immunity and that it didn’t fit the definition of a “person” who is the target of state litigation under the False Claims Act.

Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV, writing the lone opinion for the Supreme Court, emphasized that the General Assembly declined to describe charter schools as agencies of the state in the law authorizing them in the 1990s, but rather entities that “operate independently of existing schools….”

“The obvious purpose of the False Claims Act is to ensure that public funds are spent in the manner for which they were intended instead of being misappropriated, misspent or misused,” he wrote, while reversing most of the Court of Appeals decisions. The Supreme Court did uphold the Court of Appeals ruling that Ozie Hall cannot be dismissed from the complaint for now on claims that he was immune as a public official. The case, which now returns to Wake County court, has not gone to trial.

The academy, which had struggled financially for years, enrolled barely half of the 366 students that it had estimated it would enroll in fall 2013, contributing to an overpayment by the state of more than $344,000, Friday’s opinion reads. The lawsuit also alleged students were misled into thinking the school would remain open.

Donald Cohen is the executive director of “In the Public Interest” and co-author of an important new book The Privatization of Everything. He titled this column, which originally appeared in the Washington Post.

He writes:

Reforming public education with market-based reform is “like using a hammer to cook an omelet”

Trying to fix public education with market-based reform is like using a hammer to cook an omelet. It’s just the wrong tool.

That’s one of the main points in The Privatization of Everything, a new book that I co-authored with Allen Mikaelian, which explains why market rules don’t apply to every single aspect of human activity—including education.

The recent announcement by former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg that he’s investing $750 million to expand student enrollment in charter schools was a harsh reminder that the decades-long experiment with market-based education reform isn’t working. Charter schools have been in existence for decades, but they haven’t proved to be the panacea their supporters claimed.

To the contrary, many communities see charter schools (and voucher programs) as harming district schools that educate most American schoolchildren.

That’s why what a growing number of public schools are doing to actually improve educational outcomes—and create strong ties among families, students, educators, and communities along the way—is so promising and refreshing.

Over the past few years, public schools from places as diverse as the suburbs of Tampa and Los Angeles have been implementing what’s called the “community school” approach.

Community schools bring together local nonprofits, businesses and public services to offer a range of support and opportunities to students, families and nearby residents. Their goal is to support the entirety of a student’s well-being to ensure they are healthy, safe and in a better position to learn.

These benefits then extend to the surrounding community—which has been especially crucial during the pandemic.

Like, Florida’s Gibsonton Elementary, which organized an effort to have the local government install new streetlights near campus, immediately increasing attendance—which, among other things, helped improve test scores.

And Texas’s Reagan High School, which doubled enrollment, increased graduation rates, and avoided closure by launching mobile health clinics and parenting classes, changing its approach to discipline, and expanding after-school activities.

And so many more community schools around the country.

Many of these schools are succeeding because the community school approach treats public education as the public good that it is. Like with coronavirus vaccines and other public health measures, no child should be excluded—there should be no winners and losers.

In his recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg concludes, “We need a new, stronger model of public education that is based on evidence, centered on children, and built around achievement, excellence and accountability for all.” I agree.

Read the full version of this article in the Washington Post.

You can buy The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back at your local independent bookstore or from Bookshop.org.

Stay in touch,

Donald Cohen
Executive Director
In the Public Interest

Paul Bowers was the education reporter at the Charleston Post and Courier. He wrote this post at my request. A reader alerted me to the billionaire-driven attack on public schools in Charleston, and I had the good fortune to find the journalist who knew the story.

Paul Bowers writes:

Every few years, South Carolina becomes a battleground for school privatization. It looks like 2022 is going to be one of those years.

Back in the 2000s, the New York real estate investor Howard Rich backed a series of South Carolina candidates pushing school vouchers, which would funnel public education funds into private schools. More recently, we have seen efforts by Gov. Henry McMaster and the state legislature to create a Tennessee-style “turnaround district,” to deregulate for-profit online charter schools via authorizer shopping, and to divert federal COVID-19 relief funds from public schools to private schools. Teachers and parents have had to fight these advances tooth and nail and have so far kept most of the damage at bay.

Lately it seems like the tip of the spear for privatization efforts in South Carolina is the Charleston County School District, a starkly segregated and unequal district anchored by a world-renowned tourist destination. The Charleston County School Board is scheduled to vote Jan. 10 on a proposal called “Reimagine Schools” that would allow a private third party to make decisions at 23 predominantly Black schools. I thought now would be a good moment to revisit the history of school board power struggles and dark-money campaigns in Charleston County.

The pressure to privatize the governance of public schools often comes from two of South Carolina’s billionaires, the chemical manufacturer CEO Anita Zucker and the debt collection agency CEO Ben Navarro. Sometimes working in tandem, sometimes independently, Zucker and Navarro tend to promote more charter schools and private takeovers of public schools.

Zucker and her advocacy organization, the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, were involved in a 2015-2016 effort to create a “turnaround district” at the state level, modeled after failed efforts in Tennessee, Louisiana, and Michigan. The proposal involved lumping the state’s lowest-performing schools into a new district and bringing in third-party operators to manage them. Similar bills were introduced in Georgia and North Carolina around the same time, but the idea never received serious discussion in the South Carolina Statehouse.

Navarro is best known nationally for his failed 2018 bid to buy the Carolina Panthers NFL team. In the financial world, he is known for his Sherman Financial Group, a privately owned firm that filed more lawsuits against defaulted credit-card debtors than others in the industry during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a recent Wall Street Journal investigation.

In the arena of education, Navarro is known for his private Meeting Street Schools, which are sometimes lauded as a model for improving the test scores of low-income students from at-risk communities. Since 2014, Meeting Street Schools has entered unique public-private partnerships with South Carolina public school districts, starting with the takeover of two elementary schools in North Charleston.

With a boost of private funding, the schools invest in wraparound services for students and their families, offer additional psychological support, place two teachers in each classroom, and operate on an extended school day and academic calendar. Those practices have a proven track record of success, but most schools in South Carolina lack the funding to carry them out.

Meeting Street Schools also heavily recruit staff from Teach for America and KIPP, and they preach the trendy mid-2010s gospel of “grit” – in fact, the disciplinary model is so gritty that one Meeting Street-run elementary school suspended one-quarter of its students in a single school year. Before opening the schools under new management, Navarro sought and received a special exemption from the state’s employment protections for teachers. As a result, Meeting Street principals can hire and fire teachers at will.

Navarro is also closely associated with the Charleston Coalition for Kids, a dark-money group that emerged in 2018 and immediately outspent all other donors combined on advertising for a slate of school board candidates. Much of the Coalition’s funding and spending is hidden from public view thanks to state election law and the group’s nonprofit status, but FCC records reveal it spent at least $235,000 on TV commercials alone in the run-up to the 2018 school board election – four-and-a-half times what all of the candidates combined raised for their own campaigns. (Local activists estimated the Coalition’s spending on Facebook ads, billboards, and other media might have cost additional hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

The Coalition spent big on the school board election again in 2020, investing $306,000 on TV commercials, including attack ads against two Black incumbents. Today 6 of the 9 sitting Charleston County School Board members have received backing from the Coalition.

A number of national organizations have taken an interest in Charleston school politics as well, including 50CAN (formerly StudentsFirst) and the Broad Foundation.

After failing to create a statewide turnaround district in 2016, the 50CAN affiliate SouthCarolinaCAN shifted its focus to the local level – specifically to Charleston County. When I interviewed then-Executive Director Bradford Swann in December 2016, he said his organization would be focused on “grassroots organizing” via a 5-month fellowship program for parents.

The result was Charleston RISE, a parent advocacy group that also operates a parent help hotline. Billboards advertising its services have appeared all over the county, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Charleston RISE trainees were among the founding members of the Charleston Coalition for Kids when it launched in 2018. Some RISE members said they helped vet school board candidates for the Coalition.

Currently the Charleston County School Board is deciding how to spend its share of the COVID-19 recovery funds provided under the American Recovery Act’s ESSER III program. Multiple local nonprofits submitted proposals on how to spend the money, but only one has gotten a public hearing.

On Monday January 10, the school board will vote on a proposal called Reimagine Schools that would target 23 low-performing schools in low-income and majority-Black parts of the county. Leaning on a “Schools of Innovation” law recently expanded by the state legislature, the proposal would authorize a takeover of individual schools by an unidentified “Innovation Management Organization.” The Schools of Innovation law also allows a school to hire up to 25% of its teachers in certain subject areas without a state teaching license.

The organization that proposed the Reimagine Schools plan is the Coastal Community Foundation, a relative newcomer to school board lobbying. The foundation and its CEO, Darrin Goss Sr., have promoted the Meeting Street Schools public-private partnership model as a way of getting around “bureaucratic” regulations. (Complicating matters further, the Coastal Community Foundation also administers an investigative fund and Education Lab for the local daily newspaper, The Post and Courier.)

The 9-member school board gave the Reimagine Schools proposal initial approval by a 6-3 vote in December without holding any community input sessions about it. All 6 members who voted to approve for the proposal had been endorsed by the Charleston Coalition for Kids.

Whatever the Charleston County School Board decides, the privatization push will continue in parallel at the state level. The state superintendent of education post is up for grabs this fall, and the first candidate to announce her run was Ellen Weaver, a charter school advocate with the conservative Palmetto Promise Institute. A central proposal in her platform is the creation of an Education Scholarship Account, a modified private school voucher program.

Sound familiar? If at first they don’t succeed, they give it a new name and try again.

***

Paul Bowers is a parent of 3 public school children in North Charleston, South Carolina. He was The Post and Courier’s education reporter from 2016-2019 and was part of a team that won the 2018 Eddie Prize from the Education Writers Association. Find him on Twitter at @Paul_Bowers and read his work at brutalsouth.substack.com.

Stephen Dyer is a former state legislator in Ohio and an expert on school finance. In the latest post on his blog, 10th Period, he shows why the arguments for vouchers are a fraud. Vouchers are sold as a salvation for Black and Hispanic students, yet they mostly subsidize white children escaping desegregated schools. And while they are sold with the promise of improving student performance, the voucher schools are in fact inferior to public schools. They are not the schools that rich parents pay for; most voucher schools are low-quality religious schools with unqualified teachers.

Dyer begins:

Now that a group of 100 school districts have formally sued the state over the EdChoice Voucher program, it’s time for voucher proponents to trot out their favorite canard — vouchers give students of color opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. And to oppose vouchers is to oppose opportunities for students of color.

Total crock.

The reason this canard is so pernicious is simple: It’s not true, and in fact, the opposite is true. Vouchers are disproportionately distributed to white students, leading to greater overall segregation in public school districts and communities of color with substantially fewer state resources to educate students in those communities.

This is the stat that voucher proponents love to quote, and it’s what Greg Lawson (a guy I actually like personally, despite our profound policy differences on this and nearly every issue) from the Buckeye Institute articulated in the Dispatch story yesterday:

“Greg Lawson of the Buckeye Institute said the data on who takes vouchers varies from school to school, but overall more minority students use EdChoice. 

Ohio is about 82% white, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. But 50% of the students who take an EdChoice scholarship identify as white or non-Hispanic, according to the Ohio Department of Education. 

‘The choice is there for everybody regardless of what demographic box they check,’ Lawson said.”

What Greg and others “forget” is that EdChoice doesn’t apply to every school district in the state. In fact, according to data from last school year, only 164 of Ohio’s 613 school districts lost any state funding to the EdChoice Voucher transfer last year — a $164 million deduction from districts’ state aid. However, 95% of that funding came from just 38 school districts. Want to take a gander at the demographic makeup of those 38 districts? You guessed it. Overwhelmingly non-white. How overwhelmingly?

Try 68% non-white.

Sounds a whole lot different from the 82% white stat Greg mentioned, doesn’t it? In fact, of those 38 districts, only Wilmington was close to the 82% white stat.

Why would he try to repeat the 82% stat when only 1 district in the entire state that loses substantial state aid to EdChoice fits that description?

Because if only 50% of the voucher recipients are non-white, yet the communities from which the students come are almost 70% non-white, it kinda kills the whole “giving people of color an opportunity” argument.

Yeah….

Seems that for more than 20 years now, legislators have known that vouchers are disproportionately going to white students, yet they have done nothing to address this. 

Someone might want to ask them about that.

Oh yeah. One more thing. It was interesting to read that not even the outrageously histrionic Aaron Baer mentioned in the Dispatch the whole original argument for the voucher program to begin with: it provides better options for kids in “failing” public schools. 

That’s because we now know, thanks to more than a decade of comparative testing, that vouchers actually harm student achievement.

Even the Fordham Institute — an avowed voucher proponent — agreed in 2016 when it found that vouchers actually reduced student achievement. This was affirmed in 2020 when the Cincinnati Enquirer looked at test scores of voucher recipients and compared those scores with scores of students in the communities in which the private school resided. The paper found that 88% of the time, the public school students outperformed the private school students.

To voucher proponents now what matters now is the choice, not the outcomes from that choice apparently.

So let me bottom line this program: it leads to more racial segregation, deprives communities of color much needed state educational aid and provides less successful student outcomes. 

But hey, let’s throw hundreds of millions more of our tax dollars at this thing

Last week, I posted my thoughts on “Who Demoralized the Nation’s Teachers?” I sought to identify the people and organizations that spread the lie that America’s public schools were “broken” and that public school teachers were the cause. The critics slandered teachers repeatedly, claiming that teachers were dragging down student test scores. They said that today’s teachers were not bright enough; they said teachers had low SAT scores; and they were no longer “the best and the brightest.”

The “corporate reform” movement (the disruption movement) was driven in large part by the “reformers'” belief that public schools were obsolete and their teachers were the bottom of the barrel. So the “reformers” promoted school choice, especially charter schools, and Teach for America, to provide the labor supply for charter schools. TFA promised to bring smart college graduates for at least two years to staff public schools and charter schools, replacing the public school teachers whom TFA believed had low expectations. TFA would have high expectations, and these newcomers with their high SAT scores would turn around the nation’s schools. The “reformers” also promoted the spurious, ineffective and harmful idea that teachers could be evaluated by the test scores of their students, although this method repeatedly, consistently showed that those who taught affluent children were excellent, while those who taught children with special needs or limited-English proficiency or high poverty were unsatisfactory. “Value-added” methodology ranked teachers by the income and background of their students’ families, not by the teachers’ effectiveness.

All of these claims were propaganda that was skillfully utilized by people who wanted to privatize the funding of public education, eliminate unions, and crush the teaching profession.

The response to the post was immediate and sizable. Some thought the list of names and groups I posted was dated, others thought it needed additions. The comments of readers were so interesting that I present them here as a supplement to my original post. My list identified No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core as causes of demoralization that tied teachers to a standards-and-testing regime that reduced their autonomy as professionals. One reader said that the real beginning of the war on teachers was the Reagan-era report called “A Nation at Risk,” which asserted that American public schools were mired in mediocrity and needed dramatic changes. I agree that the “Nation at Risk” report launched the era of public-school bashing. But it was NCLB and the other “solutions” that launched teacher-bashing, blaming teachers for low test scores and judging teachers by their test scores. It should be noted that the crest of “reform” was 2010, when “Waiting for Superman” was released, Common Core was put into place, value-added test scores for teachers were published, and “reformers” like Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and other became media stars, with their constant teacher-bashing. For what it’s worth, the National Assessment of Educational Progress flatlined from 2010 onwards. Test score gains, which were supposedly the point of all this “reform” activity, were non-existent on the nation’s most consequential test (no stakes attached).

Readers also blamed demoralization on teachers’ loss of autonomy, caused by federal laws and the testing imposed by them, and by the weakness of principals and administrators who did not protect teachers from the anti-education climate caused by NCLB, RTTT, ESSA, and the test-and-punish mindset that gripped the minds of the nation’s legislators and school leaders.

Readers said that my list left off important names of those responsible for demoralizing the nation’s teachers.

Here are readers’ additions, paraphrased by me:

Michelle Rhee, who was pictured on the cover of TIME magazine as the person who knew “How to Fix American Education” and lionized in a story by Amanda Ripley. Rhee was shown holding a broom, preparing to sweep “bad teachers” and “bad principals” out of the schools. During her brief tenure as Chancellor of D.C., she fired scores of teachers and added to her ruthless reputation by firing a principal on national television. For doing so, she was the Queen of “education reform” in the eyes of the national media until USA Today broke a major cheating scandal in the D.C. schools.

Joel Klein, antitrust lawyer who was chosen by Mayor Bloomberg to become the Chancellor of the New York City public schools, where he closed scores of schools because of their low test scores, embraced test-based evaluation of schools and teachers, and opened hundreds of small specialized schools and charter schools. He frequently derided teachers and blamed them for lagging test scores. He frequently reorganized the entire, vast school system, surrounding himself with aides with Business School graduates and Wall Street credentials. Under his leadership, NYC was the epitome of corporate reform, which inherently disrespected career educators.

Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, billionaire funder of charter schools and of candidates running for state or local offices who supported privatization of public schools. He claimed that under his leadership, the test-score gap between different racial gaps had been cut in half or even closed, but it wasn’t true. He stated his desire to fire teachers who couldn’t “produce” high test scores, while doubling the size of the classes of teachers who could. His huge public relations staff circulated the story of a “New York City Miracle,” but it didn’t exist and evaporated as soon as he left office.

Reed Hastings, billionaire funder of charter schools and founder of Netflix. He expressed the wish that all school boards would be eliminated. The charter school was his ideal, managed privately without public oversight.

John King, charter school leader who was appointed New York Commissioner of Education. He was a cheerleader for the Common Core and high-stakes testing. He made parents so angry by his policies that he stopped appearing at public events. He was named U.S. Secretary of Education, following Arne Duncan, in the last year of the Obama administration and continued to advocate for the same ill-fated policies as Duncan.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education despised public schools, unions, and teachers. She never had a good word to say about public schools. She wanted every student to attend religious schools at public expense.

Eli Broad and the “academy” he created to train superintendents with his ideas about top-down management and the alleged value of closing schools with low test scores

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which writes model legislation for privatizing public schools by opening charters and vouchers and lowering standards for teachers and crushing unions. More than 2,000 rightwing state legislators belong to ALEC and get their ideas directly from ALEC about privatization and other ways to crush public schools and their teachers.

Rupert Murdoch, the media, Time, Newsweek, NY Times, Washington Post for their hostility towards public schools and their warm, breathless reporting about charter schools and Teach for America. The Washington Post editorialist is a devotee of charter schools and loved Michelle Rhee’s cut-throat style. TIME ran two cover stories endorsing the “reform” movement; the one featuring Michelle Rhee, and the other referring to one of every four public school teachers as a “rotten apple.” The second cover lauded the idea that teachers were the cause of low test scores, and one of every four should be weeded out. Newsweek also had a Rhee cover, and another that declared in a sentence repeated on a chalkboard, “We Must Fire Bad Teachers,” as though the public schools were overrun with miscreant teachers.

David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core, which undermined the autonomy of teachers and ironically removed teachers’ focus on content and replaced it with empty skills. The Common Core valued “informational text” over literature and urged teachers to reduce time spent teaching literature.

Margaret Raymond, of the Walton-funded CREDO, which evaluates charter schools.

Hanna Skandera, who was Secretary of Education in New Mexico and tried to import the Florida model of testing, accountability, and choice to New Mexico. That state has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation, and the Florida model didn’t make any difference.

Governors who bashed teachers and public schools, like Chris Christie of New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Gregg Abbott of Texas

“Researchers” like those from the Fordham Institute, who saw nothing good in public schools or their teaching

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who turned Denver into a model of “reform,” with everything DFER wanted: charter schools and high-stakes testing.

Poorly behaving students and parents who won’t hold kids accountable for bad behavior

Campbell Brown and the 74

The U.S. Department of Education, for foisting terrible ideas on the nation’s schools and teachers, and state education departments and state superintendents for going along with these bad ideas. Not one state chief stood up and said, “We won’t do what is clearly wrong for our students and their teachers.”

The two big national unions, for going along with these bad ideas instead of fighting them tooth and nail.

And now I will quote readers’ comments exactly as they wrote them, without identifying their authors (they know who they are):

*Rightwing organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, (AEI), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Heritage Foundation, even the allegedly Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) for publishing white papers masquerading as education research that promotes privatization.

*Wall St moguls who invented Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) to gamble on & profit from preK student test scores.

*Rogues Gallery. One body blow after another. A systematic 💦 water boarding with no respite. And then we add the Broad Foundation who sent Broad-trained “leadership” so drunk on arrogance and ignorance that the term “School Yard Bully” just doesn’t capture it.
Operating with the Imprimatur and thin veneer of venture capital, plutocratic philanthropy, these haughty thugs devastated every good program they laid eyes on. Sinking their claws instinctively into the intelligent, effective and cultured faculty FIRST.A well orchestrated, heavily scripted Saturday Night Massacre.

*Congress and the Presidents set the stage, but the US Department of Education was instrumental in making it all happen. They effectively implemented a coherent program to attack, smear and otherwise demoralize teachers. And make no mistake, it was quite purposeful

*This list is incomplete without members of Democrats for Education Reform. Add in Senator Ted Kennedy, whose role in the passage of No Child Left Behind was critical. Same for then Congressman and future Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who noted (bragged!) in his recent autobiography that he was essential in keeping President George W. Bush on track with NCLB.

*Let’s not forget Senate Chair Patty Murray. She has been an important player in keeping the worse of Ed Reform legislation alive.

*You have presented a rogue’s gallery of failed “reformers” that have worked against the common good. In addition to those mentioned, there has also been an ancillary group of promoters and enablers that have undermined public education including billionaire think tanks, foundations and members of both political parties. These people continue to spread lies and misinformation, and no amount of facts or research is able to diminish the drive to privatize. While so called reformers often hide behind an ideological shield, they are mostly about the greedy pursuit of appropriating the education that belongs to the people and transferring its billions in value into the pockets of the already wealthy. So called education reform is class warfare.

*The Clintons, whose 1994 reauthorization of ESEA set the stage for NCLB

*Don’t forget the so called ‘liberal’ media, publications such as the New York Times and the Boston Globe who have published pro charter piece after pro charter piece, while simultaneously dumping all over public schools

*I’d like to include a cast of editorialists like George Will, Bill Rhoden, and many others, who have parroted the plutocratic-backed Ed Reform line. Armstrong Williams would certainly be part of this.

*Going back even further into the origins of this madness, I would add to Diane’s excellent rogues gallery those unknown bureaucrats in state departments of education who replaced broad, general frameworks/overall strategic objectives with bullet lists of almost entirely content-free “standards” that served as the archetype of the Common [sic] Core [sic] based on the absurd theory that we should “teach skills” independent of content, all of which led, ironically, to trivialization of and aimlessnessness in ELA pedagogy and curricula and to a whole generation of young English teachers who themselves NOW KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING OF THE CONTENT OF THEIR SUBJECT, typified by the English teacher who told one of the parents who regularly contributes comments to this blog, “I’m an English teacher, so I don’t teach content.” So, today, instead of teaching, say, Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as part of a coherent and cumulative unit on common structures and techniques and genres of poetry, one gets idiotic test-practice exercises on “inferencing” and “finding the main idea,” with any random piece of writing as the “text.”

*It’s driven by how teachers have been treated the past 4-5 years, especially during the pandemic. Teachers are first responders. We should have been on the list of first-to-be-vaccinated. Schools should have strict mask and vaccine mandates. Teachers are professional educators. We should not be told what and how to teach by ignorant, conspiracy-driven MAGA parents. Public education is a cornerstone of democracy, and we teachers are motivated by a sense of civic duty. We are demoralized by attempts to destroy public education, led by anti-education bible-thumping “leaders” like Betsy DeVos and (in my home state) Frank Edelblut. Public education is being dismantled by gleeful right-wingers, while naive, well-intentioned moderates wring their hands and do little to defend it. It’s tiring to be under constant attack on the front lines, with no support. That’s why teachers are leaving today.

*One tiny example of a routine phenomenon. Teachers got the message pretty clearly: They were at the bottom of the pecking order. The absolute bottom. Micromanaged and undercut at every turn.Excellent points. The heavy handed top-down, bureaucratic demands for “data,” basically serve one goal, to justify the existence of administration.Don’t forget the voracious appetite of publishing companies…We had a district administrator prance around in our “professional; development days” tell use could not read novels or other picture books to the students…ONLY USE PEARSON.”And then 7 or so years later, the district made us THROW OUT every book from Pearson, and they bought new crap curriculum…that program was written by testing industry, not educators, I think it was “Benchmark,” real junk.

*I’d like to mention how I often lose my student teachers when they see the edTPA requirement. They switch majors, and the teaching pool gets even smaller.

*After Skamdera in NM came the TFA VAM sweetheart Christopher Ruszkowski. At least he had 3 years in a classroom, Skammy had none, but the Florida model, you know?

*Children’s behavior is in large part in response to the drill and kill curriculum and endless testing and teaching to the test that has been driving public education since NCLB and the back-to-basics movement that ushered it in. No room for creativity, no room for self expression, no room for innovation. Highly scripted Curriculum like Open Court turned children into little automatons, barking their answers like well trained dogs and turned teachers into task masters. It was a drive to dummy down the curriculum for fear of teaching too much free thinking. And a drive to turn teachers into testing machines and teacher technicians, easily replaced by anyone who can walk in a classroom and pick up the manual. Only it doesn’t work. It was and is developmentally inappropriate and the resulting rebellion in the classrooms if proof of that. No wonder teachers are leaving in droves!

*Under threat of closure of the MA school board in the mid 1800s, Horace Mann turned to the cheapest labor he could find, literate northern females, and deployed the Protestant ethic “teacher as a calling” trope to institute state free-riding on teachers (as opposed to the free-riding of which teachers are accused). Everything in this piece is correct except for the “almost” in the final paragraph. There’s no “almost” about it … free-riding on teachers is an operational feature of a system imported from Prussia, designed to produce cheap, obedient labor by underpaying women. As of 2012, teachers would need to make around 1/3 higher salaries to be paid on the same level as their professional peers. Everyone mentioned in the article is simply this generation’s enactment of the long-standing, systemic class war that preys on gender and race to continue and exacerbate inequity. While naming the current situation is very important, we also need to discuss, address, and shift these deep issues.

*It’s the boiled frog effect over the last 50 years that began as a response to mini-courses, sixties curriculum, obsession over college attendance, professors and teachers walking out to protest with their students, Viet Nam… and the Civil Rights Act. Since 1964, Intentional segregation influenced Local, state, and federal decision making on transportation, health care, insurance, zoning, housing, education funding, hiring, and more. When whites fled the cities and insured two sides of the tracks in towns and two systems evolved, quick fixes became that accumulation of bad decisions and leadership – and slowly, slowly, deterioration became acceptable.

*The list is not dated. It’s illustrative of the accumulation of negativity, quick-fix seeking, acronym-filled, snake-oil salesmen, desperate mayors and governors, obsession with rankings, publisher fixation on common core, NCLB votes hidden under the shadow of 9/11, and keep-everyone-happy state and national professional organizations.

*At the end of 2021 it is far right and left of politics and their rhetoric like CRT and homophobic slurs. So much for especially the “Christian Right.” In their god’s (yes lower case since not The Lord Jesus Christ’s New Testament words of love) name they exclude instead of include to share the good news/word.

*Data, data, data. Yesterday, I commented that I feel sympathetic toward the anti-CRT petitioners. I do. They’re not bad people. They’re just afraid of changing social rules. Their actions are demoralizing, but not dehumanizing. Wealthy corporations and individuals on the other hand , through their untaxed foundations, gave carrots to governments the world over to give the stick to education so that greater profits could be made through privatization and data monetizing. I was once called a 2. I was once labeled the color grey. I was numbered, dehumanized by test score data in an attempt to make education like Uber or Yelp. Not just demoralized, dehumanized. It’s not just who but what dehumanized teachers. It was the wrongheaded idea that education can be measured and sold by the unit. That idea was insidious. The marketing ploy to make my students into consumers who consider their efforts junk unless they are labeled with the right number or dashboard color was insidious. I have no sympathy for the investor class. They are not people with whom I disagree about social issues; they are hostile, corporate takeover wolves out to tear the flesh of the formerly middle and deeply impoverished classes for profit. Not one of the investors in education “reform” or any of their revolving door bureaucrats is any friend of mine. The list of who is long. The list of what is short.

*Jonah Edelman (Founder, Stand on Children); brother Josh Edelman (Gates Foundation: Empowering-?!–Effective Teaching; SEED Charter Schools); Charles & David Koch. Pear$on Publishing monopoly&, of course, ALEC (interfering in our business for FIFTY long years!)

Tom Ultican has written extensively about the greed and politics behind privatization. In this post, he reviews an important new book about the dangers of privatization by Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian. I urge you to buy the book.

Ultican writes:

Ronald Reagan claimed the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” The new book, The Privatization of Everything, documents the widespread theft of the commons facilitated by Reagan’s anti-government philosophy. His remark echoed a claim from the “laissez-faire cheerleader” Friedrich Hayek that government has us all on the “road to serfdom” (Privatization 120). Sherrilyn Ifill, the former Director-Council of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund observed,

“What we’re seeing in our country today: the rhetoric, the hate, the ignorance, the coarseness, the vulgarity, the cruelty, the greed, the fear is the result of decades of poor citizenship development. It is a reflection of the fully privatized notion of citizenship, a feral conflict for the scraps left by oligarchs (Privatization 13).”

Libertarian politicians like former speaker of the house Paul Ryan and Senators Ron Johnson and Rand Paul claim Hayek and writer-philosopher Ayn Rand as their guiding lights. In a 2012 article, Politico reported“…, to bring new staffers up to speed, Ryan gives them copies of Hayek’s classic “Road to Serfdom” and Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” — books he says inspires his political philosophy.” Politico also stated,

“But Hayek and Rand were violently opposed to each other’s ideas. It is virtually impossible to hold them in the same brain. When the termagant Rand met Hayek, she screamed across the room, ‘Compromiser!’ and reviled him as an ‘abysmal fool,’ an “ass” and a ‘totally, complete, vicious bastard.’”  (Termagant: a violent, turbulent, or brawling woman.)

Ayn Rand’s problem with Hayek was that he was not really the “laissez-faire cheerleader” he was purported to be. He certainly opposed many of the ideas emanating from Franklyn Roosevelt’s New Deal believing they would lead to worse problems than the ones being addressed. Fundamentally his thinking was shaped by a fear of communism. However, unlike today’s libertarians, he was not opposed to all government programs or interventions and that is what stirred Ayn Rand’s fury.

Robert Nielsen’s 2012 review of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom observes,

“He also calls for social insurance in case of sickness and accident, as well as government assistance after a natural disaster. ‘But there is no incompatibility in principle between the state providing greater security in this way and preservation of individual freedom.’ I think most advocates of Hayek have not read this passage and don’t realise he is not an extremist arguing against all forms of government. Let me repeat this, Hayek is arguing there is a good case for the government to get involved in healthcare, either in the form of universal healthcare or government insurance.”

John Maynard Keynes is thought of as the liberal economist whose theories guided President Roosevelt as he grappled with the great depression. Hayek’s and Keynes’s economic theories were in some ways polar opposites. However, Hayek came to London to work at the School of Economics where he and Keynes who was 16-years his senior became friends. They exchanged several letters concerning Hayek’s works in which Keynes found some agreement.

Chet Yarbrough’s audio book review of The Road to Serfdom states,

“Contrary to a wide perception that John Maynard Keynes (a liberal economist in today’s parlance) denigrated ‘The Road to Serfdom’; Keynes, in fact, praised it.”

“Though Keynes praised ‘The Road to Serfdom’, he did not think Hayek’s economic’ liberalism practical; i.e. Keynes infers that Hayek could not practically draw a line between a safety net for the poor, uninsured-sick, and unemployed (which Hayek endorsed) while denying government intervention in a competitive, laissez-faire economy.”

It is disingenuous to cite the theories of Friedrich Hayek as the justification for privatizing government functions and the commons.

The Privatization of Everything

The Privatization of Everything co-author Donald Cohen is the founder and executive director of In The Public Interest. Co-author Allen Mikaelian is the bestselling author of Metal of Honor and a doctoral fellow in history at American University. Besides the authors’ individual work, the team at In The Public Interest contributed significantly to the book with research and documentation.

Of their intention in writing the book, the authors state,

“Our approach is both idealistic and practical. We want readers to see the lofty values and big ideas behind the creation of public goods, and we want readers to feel empowered to question those values and introduce new ones. We want to help change the conversation, so we can stop talking about ‘government monopolies’ and return to talking about public control over public goods (Privatization 19).

They detail several cases showing the downside of the government being forced to give control over to private business. In this era of human-activity-induced climate change, what has been happening at the National Weather Service (NWS) is instructive.

In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy believed that the US and the Soviet Union could find a field of cooperation in supporting the World Meteorological Organization. As a result, 193 countries and territories all agreed to provide “essential data” on a “free and unrestricted basis.” “Each day, global observations add up to twenty terabytes of data, which is processed by a supercomputer running 77 trillion calculations per second (Privatization 267).”

The book notes, “In the 1990s, at about the same time that forecasting got consistently good, private interests and free-market absolutists started insisting that the NWS and related agencies were ‘competing’ with private enterprise.” Barry Myers, head of AccuWeather was loudly accusing the government of running a “monopoly.” He went to the extreme of calling for the government to get out of the weather predicting business which made no sense since AccuWeather is completely dependent on NWS predictions. (Privatization 268)

After a killer tornado in 2011, NWS employees proposed a smart-phone app to better inform the public. The author’s report, “… this ultimately took a backseat to Myers’s insistence that his AccuWeather apps shouldn’t face ‘unfair’ competition (Privatization 270).” To this day, NWS has no smartphone app.

Weather forecasts are pretty good for up to a week but after that as time passes they become more and more useless. The models for predicting the weather are highly dependent on the preceding day and the farther you get from accurate data for that day the more error invades the predictions. NWS restricts its predictions to a one-week time-frame but AccuWeather and the Weather Channel in order to attract customers provide meaningless 2-week up to 90-days predictions. (Privatization 272)

Extreme weather events are life threatening. The authors state,

“The NWS’s mission includes saving lives. The business model of corporations like AccuWeather includes saving lives of paying customers only (Privatization 273).”

There are many episodes like NWS detailed. In the section on private prisons, we read about such atrocities as the Idaho correctional facility known as the “Gladiator School” (Privatization 140). When detailing the privatization of water we are informed of Nestles CEO, Peter Brabeck stating how extreme it was to believe that “as a human being you should have a right to water (Privatization 54).”

Privatizing Public Education Stabs Democracy in the Heart

The First Public School in America

Boston Latin School was founded April 23, 1635. America’s first public school only accepted boys for their curriculum centered on humanities including the study of Latin and Greek. Its more famous revolutionary-era students were Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin. These revolutionary thinkers who gave America democracy were educated in a public school and would latter agree that free public schools were necessary to a functioning democracy.

When Betsy DeVos was calling for vouchers and charter schools, she was implicitly demanding public dollars support religious schools that would not accept transgender students or homosexual teachers. She wanted schools free to teach a doctrine of science denial and religious bigotry. “Freedom of choice in this case meant the freedom to discriminate, with the blessing of public funds (Privatization 210).”

One of the several disturbing stories about the menace of privatizing schools comes from Reynolds Lake Oconee, Georgia. Wealthy real estate developer Mercer Reynolds III made a charter school the center of his community development. The charter school application called for 80% of the children to come from Reynolds properties. The other 12% would go to students in nearby wealthy white communities and the remaining 8% would go to countywide residents. (Privatization 211-212)

With a mix of taxpayer and private funding, Reynolds built an impressive school. It had a piano lab with 25 pianos, a pond and offered 17 AP classes. The school is 73% white. The nearby public school that is 68% black and would never dream of a piano lab has seen the Reynolds school continually siphon off more of their students. They have been forced into laying-off staff and tightening budgets. (Privatization 212)

Cohen and Mikaelian concluded,

“This was a clear-cut case of rich whites diverting money from struggling black families in order to further push them to the margins. And they used the ideas of school choice and free market to justify it.

As the book makes clear, every time a public good is privatized the public loses some of their democratic rights over that lost good. This is a powerful book that everyone should read. In the last chapter the authors call out to us,

“We can’t let private interests sell us public goods as consumers, because the free market can’t avoid creating exclusions. School choice quickly devolves into segregation. Public parks and highways are divided into general versus premium services. In the midst of a notional health crisis, ventilators go to the highest bidder.”

The people of Chile are expunging the last traces of the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet. They elected Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old member of the Chilean Congress and a former student activist, as President of Chile. The election was expected to be close but Boric won by a 56-44% margin.

Boric was engaged in national protests over the past decade against inequality. A decade ago, he led protests against Chile’s privatized education system. He will be the youngest person ever elected to the Presidency of Chile. His election is a decisive rejection of the policies of the dictator Pinochet. His rival defended Pinochet and ran on a law-and-order platform and a pledge to cut taxes and social spending.

An Army General, Pinochet seized control of the government by a coup d’etat. He imposed a reign of terror, and thousands of his opponents were murdered, imprisoned, tortured, or disappeared. Pinochet called on Milton Friedman and the libertarian “Chicago Boys” to rewrite Chile’s Constitution. They baked the primacy of the free market and neoliberalism into the new Constitution. Pinochet’s regime cut social benefits, privatized social security and many government functions, reduced benefits, and introduced vouchers and for-profit schools. The economy grew, but so did inequality. Pinochet ruled from 1973-1990.

Protests against the nation’s privatized and deeply unequal education system rocked the nation a decade ago. Many Chileans were barely subsisting because of cuts to social security. More protests broke out in 2019 against the country’s entrenched inequality and corruption. Boric was active in all those protests.

Last year, Chileans expressed their demand for change by voting for a rewrite of the national constitution, the one written by the “Chicago Boys” and implemented by Pinochet.

The BBC reported:

Once the most stable economy in Latin America, Chile has one of the world’s largest income gaps, with 1% of the population owning 25% of the country’s wealth, according to the United Nations.

Mr Boric has promised to address this inequality by expanding social rights and reforming Chile’s pension and healthcare systems, as well as reducing the work week from 45 to 40 hours, and boosting green investment.

“We know there continues to be justice for the rich, and justice for the poor, and we no longer will permit that the poor keep paying the price of Chile’s inequality,” he said.

The president-elect also promised to block a controversial proposed mining project which he said would destroy communities and the national environment.

Chile’s currency, the peso, plunged to a record low against the US dollar after Mr Boric’s victory. Stock markets fell by 10%, with mining stocks performing particularly badly.

Investors are worried stability and profits will suffer as a result of higher taxes and tighter government regulation of business.

In a profile of Gabriel Boric, the BBC described his message:

When Mr Boric won the candidacy of his leftist bloc to run for president, he made a bold pledge. “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave,” he said. “Do not be afraid of the youth changing this country.”

And so he ran on a platform promising radical reforms to the free-market economic model imposed by former dictator Gen Augusto Pinochet. One that, he says, is the root of the country’s deep inequality, imbalances that came to the surface during protests in 2019 that triggered an official redraft of the constitution.

After a polarising campaign, Mr Boric defeated far-right rival José Antonio Kast in the second round of the presidential election by a surprising large margin, ushering in a new chapter in the country’s political history.

“We are a generation that emerged in public life demanding our rights be respected as rights and not treated like consumer goods or a business,” Mr Boric said in his victory speech to thousands of supporters, most of them young people…

Mr Boric, who says he is an avid reader of poetry and history, describes himself as a moderate socialist. He has abandoned the long hair of his activist days, and jackets now often cover his tattoos on both arms.

He has also softened some of his views while keeping his promises to overhaul the pension system, expand social services including universal health insurance, increase taxes for big companies and wealthy individuals, and create a greener economy.

His resounding win in the run-off vote of the presidential election, after trailing Mr Kast in the first round, came after he secured support beyond his base in the capital, Santiago, and attracted voters in rural areas. A supporter of same-sex marriage and abortion rights, he was also backed by huge numbers of women.

In his victory speech, when he was joined by his girlfriend, he promised to be a “president for all Chileans”, saying: “Today hope trumped fear”.

Karen Francisco is editorial page editor of The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. Before that, she was a member of the editorial board. After 40 years in journalism, she is retiring.

Francisco has been a stalwart supporter of public schools and an eloquent critic of privatization.

Indiana was once a state known for its devotion to its public schools, which are the heart of their communities.

Karen Francisco upheld that proud tradition when she exposed entrepreneurs, grifters, religious groups eager for public funding, and other looters of public funding.

Although it is a small gesture, I add Karen Francisco to the blog’s Honor Roll.

I met her when I visited Fort Wayne about ten years ago, and we sat down for a long and animated conversation about the invasion of Indiana by privatizers intent on ripping off taxpayers and communities. My dear friends, retired teachers Phyllis Bush and Donna Roof, first brought us together.

In her last editorial, she urged readers not to fall for the extremists running for office, but to vote for “the quiet and thoughtful voices” that want to bring people together.

Indianans will miss her.

All of us who believe that public schools belong to the public will miss her too!

In April, when I was scheduled to have open heart surgery, I asked a number of friends to write something original for the blog to keep it alive in my absence.

Karen Francisco wrote this one, which I scheduled on the day of my surgery, April 8, called “Why I Fight to Save Public Schools.”

Why I fight to save public schools

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor, The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette

There’s an episode of “The Twilight Zone” in which an airplane passenger looks out the window to see a monster dismantling the aircraft engine. His terror escalates when he realizes he’s the only one who can see it happening.

There have been many occasions over the past two decades where I have felt like William Shatner’s character in that classic episode: Why don’t people realize public education is being dismantled in front of their own eyes?  

That’s my motivation for fighting for public schools.  People must understand what’s at risk.

It was as a parent that I had my first glimpse of the destruction underway. On a back-to-school night in September of 2000, I listened as a middle school math teacher complained that he would not be introducing any new material until the state’s standardized tests were administered.  He had been instructed by the administration to spend the first six weeks of the school year reviewing fifth-grade math lessons to bolster performance on the tests.  I instantly knew why my then-sixth-grader was, for the first time ever, complaining he was bored in school.

As an opinion journalist, I have opportunities other parents don’t have to question elected officials. When our editorial board met the next week with the Indiana superintendent of public instruction, I recounted how my children were spending so much time reviewing past lessons, and I asked Dr. Suellen Reed why so much emphasis was being placed on standardized testing.  

She launched into the accountability talking points I could eventually recite by heart. It was my first clue that not everyone saw the damage I sensed was beginning to occur. A costly scheme to label public schools with failing grades would help convince taxpayers and parents that children from low-income households needed vouchers to escape those schools. 

To her credit, Reed would be among the first of Indiana’s elected officials to acknowledge where high-stakes testing was headed, but her resistance cost her the position she held for four terms.  The governor wanted a superintendent supportive of his privatization agenda, so he tapped Tony Bennett, an affable high school basketball coach with a newly earned superintendent’s license. Together, they pushed through massive charter school expansion and a voucher school program. When he signed the bill, Gov. Mitch Daniels literally gave it a kiss.

I am fortunate to work for a publisher who is a strong supporter of public education, so our editorial pages became a persistent voice challenging Indiana’s unbridled rush to privatization, and I was eager to write editorials and bylined columns about what was happening all around us. The governor’s press secretary called my editor to complain after I served on a panel at a public education advocacy event. On a visit to our newsroom, Bennett told me he thought of me as one of those angry parents screaming at the coach from the stands. 

Unfortunately, our editorial voice was about as effective as one of those basketball parents. The vast majority of our readers and area lawmakers were either supportive of the far-ranging privatization effort or silent.  It would have been easy to give in to the complaints from some readers that our editorial board was wrong to oppose school vouchers, if not for the voices of educators and academics.  

“The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” by the esteemed proprietor of this blog, was a revelation. I had the opportunity to interview Diane about the book and later to meet with her when she delivered a lecture at our regional university campus. Her address energized a growing community of ed reform critics. including Phyllis Bush, a retired Fort Wayne teacher who galvanized a group of educators under the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. In West Lafayette, Indiana, Superintendent Rocky Killion teamed with Steve Klink, a staunch public education supporter, to produce  “Rise Above the Mark,” a 2014 documentary that was an early warning cry about the growing obsession with testing and its detrimental effects on education. The Indiana Coalition for Public Education joined the fight. Its board now includes three of the four former Indiana state superintendents, with Bennett being the exception.

I wish I could say Indiana has seen some success in fighting off the privatization monster, but that’s far from the truth. More than $1 billion has now flowed to private and parochial schools through the voucher program, with no accountability.  A scandal involving a virtual charter school cost taxpayers at least $85 million, with seemingly no concern from lawmakers or taxpayers. In the current legislative session, the Republican supermajority is throwing everything at school choice: income limits that make vouchers available to wealthy families, ESAs, full funding for online-only schools and more.

There was a time when newspaper editorial boards could move mountains. As my industry has withered, that is no longer the case. But I’m taking heart this year in a growing number of voices questioning the support of private and parochial schools at the expense of Indiana public schools. It seems like there are now many of us aware of the destruction and determined to stop the monster before it sends public education crashing to the ground.