- This is a must read.
Joanne Barkan has written a remarkable article that closely examines Bill Gates’ determination to force charter schools on the people of Washington State.
This is is a story that you should read and understand. The people of the state voted against charters three times. But Gates was not to be denied. In 2012, he put together a huge pot of millions to overwhelm the citizens’ groups, parents, and educators who opposed his will. This vote passed by the tiniest of margins. Gates then put on his philanthropic hat and rushed a group of charters to open, so as to establish new facts on the ground.
When the high court of the state ruled against public funding for privately managed charters, Gates started an end run around the court. He was not to be denied. Barkan shows how little corporate reformers think of democracy and how much they prefer mayoral control and other mechanisms to eliminate civic engagement.
Defenders of of corporate reform like to say that they must counter the vast sums spent by teachers’ unions. Barkan exposes the lie:
“Education-reform philanthropists justify their massive political spending as a necessary counterweight to the teachers unions;8 yet, the philanthropists can, and consistently do, far outspend the unions. In 2004, Paul Allen had a net worth of $21 billion, Bill Gates had a net worth of $46.6 billion, and John T. Walton (who died in 2005) had a net worth of $20 billion.9 Donald Fisher’s net worth was $1.3 billion in 2005.10 In 2015, Allen had a net worth of $17.8 billion, Gates had a net worth of $76 billion, and Doris Fisher (Donald Fisher’s widow and a charter school donor) had a net worth of $2.9 billion.11 And the unions? According to the 2015 reports filed with the Office of Labor-Management Standards, the National Education Association had $388.8 million in total receipts; the American Federation of Teachers had $327.6 million in total receipts.12 As political rivals, the education-reform philanthropists and the teachers unions have never competed on a level playing field….
“The Washington charter saga highlights the workings of charitable plutocracy. Multibillionaire philanthropists use their personal wealth, their tax-exempt private foundations, and their high-profile identities as philanthropists to mold public policy to a degree not possible for other citizens. They exert this excessive influence without public input or accountability. As for the charitable donors who are trying to reshape public education according to their favorite theories or ideological preferences, they are intervening with too heavy a hand in a critical institution that belongs to the public and requires democratic control. But in any public domain, the philanthropist’s will and democratic control are often at odds.
“Voters, their elected representatives, grass-roots activists, civic groups, unions, public opinion—all can thwart an uber-philanthropist’s effort to impose his or her vision of the common good on everyone else. Democracy can be a nuisance for the multibillionaire—a fact of life that Bill Gates has often lamented….
“Questioning the work of megaphilanthropists is a tricky business. Many readers of this article will be fuming in this way: Would you rather let children remain illiterate, or allow generous people to use their wealth to give them schools? Would you rather send more money to our bumbling government, or let visionary philanthropists solve society’s problems? Here is a counterquestion: Would you rather have self-appointed social engineers—whose sole qualification is vast wealth—shape public policy according to their personal views, or try to repair American democracy?”