Maurice Cunningham is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who specializes in shining a bright light on Dark Money, the money insidiously inserted into political campaigns under false pretenses, where the donors try to hide their identity. In the instance described below, the identities of the donors are mostly known, so technically it is not Dark Money, but the purposes of the donors are hidden. The Waltons are part of the hard rightwing. They  oppose higher taxes, unions, or anything that might diminish their fortune of $150 billion. They advocate for vouchers and charters, never public schools. They employ one million low-wage workers. They have launched lawsuits to lower the property taxes of their Walmarts, which reduce state and local funding for public services. Their entry into Democratic politics is intended to boost conservative candidates who support their preference for low taxes on the richest. It’s actually a brilliant strategy, like DFER: the billionaires already own the Republican Party and benefit from its tax cuts and deregulation, time to use their money to gain influence in the Democratic Party too.

Cunningham writes:

Waltons Dive into Democratic Primaries Behind National Parents United

The Walton family, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, are trying to deal themselves in to Democratic primary politics. It isn’t any mystery why. Conservative billionaires feel gravely threatened by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Their vehicle is yet another new privatization front posing as a parents group, National Parents Union.

National Parents Union appears to be an umbrella for groups working in their states on privatization of public goods, primarily schools. It’s hard to tell since they haven’t published their membership list, just a claim that groups from all 50 states will meet in New Orleans. Since the headquarters is listed as Malden, MA and the co-founder is Massachusetts Parents United’s Keri Rodrigues Lorenzo, we can take that operation as representative. Here’s how I introduced Massachusetts Parents United: Old Win in an Empty Bottle last year: “Massachusetts Parents United claims to be ‘the independent voice of parents.’ But it’s entirely dependent on funding from the Walton Family’s (tax deductible) political operations.” Since then I’ve learned there are some other givers—two $100,000 checks in 2018, etc.— but the Waltons are still the chief underwriters, giving $366,000 in 2017 and $500,000 in 2018.

So we’ll await the list of member organizations but it is most likely they will be fronts for privatization interests funded by the Waltons, Eli Broad, and other billionaire privatizers. When I first wrote about NPU in Keri Rodrigues Goes Coastal with Plans for National Parents Union I wrote “Funding! There is nothing in it about who would be bankrolling this operation. There is a list of advisors (in formation) and wouldn’t some of them want to know who is funding such an ambitious proposal? Enough suspense: it will be the WalMart legatees.” In other words, this is the kind of faux Fortune 500 grassroots operation I wrote about in Massachusetts Parents United: Grassroots or AstroTurf?

The pitch Rodrigues made to the Waltons to fund NPU was calculated to activate the Walton check writing glands. It leaned heavily on positioning NPU as a voice in the Democratic Party primary season that would attack unions. Labor is anathema to the Waltons because it advocates for a livable wage and decent benefits (against the Wal-Mart business plan) and for public goods that require taxation of the rich and rich companies (see The Waltons: From Dark Money to Dark Store Theory, It’s All About Taxes).

To linger on the union question for a moment, how many corporations are big, powerful, and awful enough to get trashed by Human Rights Watch, as Wal-Mart was in Discounting Rights: Wal-Mart’s Violation of US Workers’ Rights to Freedom of Association.

One fascinating aspect of NPU’s corporate public debut has been its Right Wing Rollout. A PR firm sent out a press availability and in the past week NPU has been featured on SiriusXM Patriot (featuring Breitbart News Daily and Sean Hannity), the conservative Washington Examiner, and FoxNews. Not your typical progressive outlets but a good clue as to where the Waltons’ new operation has appeal.

In recent years the Waltons have also heavily backed Democrats for Education Reform, which has promoted itself as seeking school privatization as an “inside job” within the Democratic Party. There is evidence that younger Waltons are donating more to Democrats, as Leslie K. Finger and Sarah Reckhow wrote in Walmart Heirs Shift From Red to Purple: The Evolving Political Contributions of the Nation’s Richest Family. Partisan labels don’t matter as much as does the shared interest among the extremely wealthy to protect their incomes and wealth and to keep their public obligations (taxes) minimal, as Jeffrey A. Winters explains in Oligarchy.

So NPU is another extension of the Waltons effort to use various vehicles to protect the Waltons and increase what goes into their own bank accounts. This has already been evident during the Democratic primary season, as I wrote in Walton Family Political Front Disrupts Elizabeth Warren Speech. In that one I included a tweet by CNN’s Ryan Grim, who was covering the event: “So the nut of what happened tonight in ATL is that a pro-charter group funded by the Waltons protested a Warren speech about a pioneering union led by black women. And, bc it’s all so on the nose, Warren had been talking about corrupt systems are designed to exploit ppl in pain.”

At the end of the NPU media advisory there is this: “At the conclusion of the summit, delegates will vote in a straw poll assessing the education proposals and policies of the 2020 Presidential Candidates.” (bold in original). Bernie and Elizabeth, do not wait up late at night for a big puff of white smoke coming from the local Wal-Mart. This could be a big night for privatization champion Michael Bloomberg (any chance he’s among the NPU financial backers?).  I can’t wait for the endorsement advertisement.

Wal-Mart’s workplace practices include “a vociferous anti-unionism, embedded gender discrimination, compulsive cost cutting, and near-comprehensive control over workers and the workplace.”—Prof. Thomas Jensen Adams

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money, not education.]

The New Yorker published a very interesting article about an organization that calls itself Patriotic Millionaires. They want to pay higher taxes because they believe that inequality is a blight on our society. The focus of the article is Abigail Disney, who developed a social conscience in college and has deepened her commitment to social and economic justice.


Abigail Disney remembers the moment, two decades ago, when she no longer wanted to fly on her family’s private plane. Disney is the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, who founded the Disney companywith his younger brother, Walt, in 1923, and her father was a longtime senior executive there. Abigail’s parents owned a Boeing 737, one of the largest private-aircraft models on the market, and they let her use it for family trips. For many years, when Abigail was raising her four children, she would take the plane to Ireland, to visit her mother’s castle. The plane “was like a flying playpen,” Abigail told me recently. “I’ve known the pilot since I was a teen-ager.” One day, when her children were older, she took an overnight flight from California to New York, where she lives. She was travelling alone, but there was a full staff on duty to cater to her needs. As she got into the queen-size bed and secured the safety belt that stretched across the mattress, preparing to sleep for the next few hours, an unpleasant feeling came over her. “I couldn’t help thinking about the carbon footprint of it, and all the fuel,” she said. “It just felt so wrong.”

It wasn’t the first time that Abigail, who inherited part of her grandfather’s fortune, had experienced discomfort about her wealth and how little she had done to deserve it. As a child, she would go with her grandfather to Disneyland, where she was treated as a special guest. “He loved taking us to the front of the line,” she said. She would hang her head as they marched past other families who had been waiting for rides in the hot sun. “I’d say, ‘Grandpa, they hate us,’ ” she recalled. “And he’d say, ‘I worked so hard all those years so you could go to the front of the line.’ ” As a young adult, Disney forged her own life in New York City, first as a mother and later as a documentary-film producer. She eventually stopped flying on the private plane, although it took a year or two. (“These things are hard to give up,” she told me.) And she started advocating for peace and women’s equality.

In 2011, she joined an organization called the Patriotic Millionaires, a group of wealthy Americans who are concerned about rising income inequality and who speak out in favor of policies traditionally considered to be antithetical to their economic interests. She began to make public appearances and videos in which she promoted higher taxes on the wealthy. She told me that she realized that the luxuries she and her family enjoyed were really a way of walling themselves off from the world, which made it easier to ignore certain economic realities. “Coming face to face with it feels fucking awful,” she said. “That’s why the wealthy have the private planes and the bottle service in the back and the limousines with the tinted windows.”

In March, 2018, she received a Facebook message from a custodian at Disneyland who was asking for help. He said that many workers there were barely able to survive on what they were paid, and that their union was fighting for a fifteen-dollar-an-hour minimum wage, without success. The local press had recently published several sensational reports about Disneyland, including a story about a sixty-one-year-old night janitor at the Disneyland Resort who had died, alone, in her car, where she had been living. That year, the Walt Disney Company had reported almost thirteen billion dollars in profit; the night janitor was estimated to have been earning thirteen or fourteen dollars an hour.

“I spent almost a month sitting on it, thinking, What can I do?” Abigail told me. She is a shareholder in the company but has never had a formal role there, and was wary of interfering in the family business. “It was hard for me to decide that I could take this on,” she said. To learn more about what was happening, she flew to Los Angeles and met with fifteen or so Disneyland employees at the Anaheim office of Workers United Local 50, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union that represents about seventy-five hundred food-service workers at Disney theme parks. “I have a healthy skepticism about the way that unions characterize things, so I was not inclined to simply accept whatever was told to me,” she said.

Abigail had told the union representatives that she didn’t want her visit to attract publicity, so some of the workers were summoned to the office without being told whom they were meeting. They sat in a circle and talked about their economic struggles. A full-time hair stylist named Rebekah Pedersen told Abigail that she, too, had often slept in her car. Abigail recalled that a thirty-year veteran of the park said that she had also recently been homeless for a time, and that some of the workers said that they were on food stamps. (A spokesperson for the company issued a statement saying, “We strongly disagree with this characterization of our employees and their experience at Disney.” The company also said, “Disney has made significant investments to expand the earning potential and upward mobility of our employees.”)

The president of Workers United Local 50, Chris Duarte, who attended the meeting, told me that he could see that Abigail wasstruggling to process what she was learning. “She didn’t want to trash her family name,” he said. “The company does a lot of good things. But to have this ugly thing in the closet—I know it bothered her.” Abigail spent the next few weeks working on an e-mail to Bob Iger, the company’s C.E.O. The Walt Disney Company is one of the largest and most profitable media businesses in the world, and in 2018 Iger, who that year announced a new streaming service and who had directed the company’s acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox’s film and TV assets, received almost sixty-six million dollars in total compensation. That was more than fourteen hundred times the median pay of a company employee. Although some in the business world say that Iger deserves his staggering salary because of the company’s financial success, Abigail found the pay ratio disturbing. “It is something that the whole country is engaged in—shaving every benefit off workers’ lives, making sure they are living as close to the bone as is humanly possible,” she said. (Iger has pointed out that his salary was unusually high in 2018 because of a one-time stock award that he was granted after the acquisition of 21st Century Fox and as part of an agreement that he would remain at Disney for three years. His annual compensation was $39.3 million. Disney has defended Iger’s compensation package, saying that he has “delivered exceptional value for the company, its shareholders and employees.”)

In the U.S., executive compensation has increased, on average, by nine hundred and forty per cent since 1978, according to one estimate; during the same period, worker pay has risen twelve per cent. Income inequality hasn’t been this extreme since the nineteen-twenties. A recent study by the economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that, as a result of cuts to estate and corporate taxes, as well as the 2017 G.O.P. tax bill, the four hundred richest Americans pay a lower over-all tax rate than any other group in the country. In a Times Op-Ed, Saez and Zucman wrote, “This is the tax system of a plutocracy.”

In Abigail’s message to Iger, she argued that the company would be damaged by reports that some employees were being paid so little. The press had been reporting rumors that Iger was thinking about running for President, and he had said in an interview that America was “gravely in need of optimism.” (Oprah Winfrey publicly told Iger that she would canvass for him in Iowa.) This was an opportunity, Abigail said, for him to set an example by offering more generous wages. She wrote, “You could become the leader of the most ethical multi-billion-dollar multi-national business the world has ever known.” Iger responded a few days later, thanking her for her e-mail. He said that he was proud that there hadn’t been any work stoppages during his tenure, and he suggested that she follow up with the human-resources department.

In June, 2018, a ballot initiative that proposed raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour was introduced in the city of Anaheim. It would apply to all employers in the city, the largest of which, by far, was Disneyland. In July, four months before the midterm elections, when the ballot measure was up for a vote, the company agreed to increase hourly wages to fifteen dollars for about ten thousand of Disneyland’s thirty thousand unionized workers, and to raise the wages of its nonunion workers as well. (The measure passed.) Still, Abigail felt dissatisfied. Earlier this year, after some public comments that she had made about Iger’s salary—she called it “insane”—were widely circulated, she decided to go further. On Easter, while taking a train to visit her college-age son, she posted twenty-two messages on Twitter criticizing the disparities at the company. “Let me [be] very clear,” the first one read. “I like Bob Iger. I do NOT speak for my family but only for myself. . . . But by any objective measure a pay ratio over a thousand is insane.” She went on, “What on earth would be wrong with shifting some of the profits—the fruits of these employees’ labor—to some folks other than those at the top?” Within two hours, she saw that her tweets had been viewed half a million times. “By that night, it was at three million,” she said. “And I thought, O.K., something’s happening.”

She began thinking about how to translate the viral moment into something more lasting. “It’s really easy to reduce someone like me to a crazy rich girl,” she said. “I needed to find a way to maintain my credibility and not seem like I had an axe to grind about Disney.” Since then, she has testified before Congress about worker pay, worked with activist groups fighting for more progressive economic policies, and given dozens of speeches and interviews. Abigail told me that she hopes that the C.E.O.s of other companies are paying attention. “Have you seen the movie ‘Caddyshack’?” she asked. “There’s a gopher, and he pops up every so often.” She added, “I’m the gopher. So I’ll continue to pop up periodically and be the bane of their existence, because I don’t want them to feel comfortable. They are participating in a social and economic process that is destroying actual human lives. And I’m just not going to go along with it. Especially not with my name attached.”

Disney is one of the highest-profile figures in the Patriotic Millionaires, which now has more than two hundred members in thirty-four states: technology entrepreneurs, software engineers, Wall Street investors, industrialists, and inheritors of family fortunes. Although Abigail is best known for her criticisms of the Disney company, the group’s mission was initially a simple idea endorsed by a half-dozen rich people: “Please raise our taxes.” The members now have the broader goal of pressuring their wealthy peers to confront what they believe are the destructive effects of trickle-down economics—the idea, which has driven U.S. policy decisions for several decades and has largely been debunked, that reducing taxes on businesses and the wealthy will benefit low- and middle-income workers. Members of the Patriotic Millionaires lobby lawmakers and affluent individuals to instead support policies that would, for instance, increase the minimum wage and raise taxes on corporations and the rich. “If you want to change social norms, you’ve got to be out there going public about your beliefs,” Eric Schoenberg, a former investment banker, said, during a breakfast that the group held in New York, in October.

Patriotic Millionaires was founded by Erica Payne, a political strategist who had worked on Bill Clinton’s inaugural committee and had served as the deputy national finance director for the Democratic National Committee before getting an M.B.A. from Wharton. She has long, dark hair and a gleaming smile, and she speaks at a high velocity. She was a cheerleading champion in high school, in North Carolina, and proudly displays a trophy from that era in the Patriotic Millionaires’ main office, in downtown Washington, D.C., just a few blocks from the White House. In 2010, Republican tax cuts were about to expire, and it had become clear that President Barack Obama was going to give in to lobbying pressure and extend the cuts, even for wealthy people. “I thought that was horrifying,” Payne told me. “As did two millionaires I was talking to.” Those millionaires were Guy Saperstein, a civil-rights lawyer, and David desJardins, an early employee at Google.

Payne wrote a short open letter, urging Obama to let the tax cuts expire, and Saperstein and desJardins signed it, as did forty-five other people who qualified for the tax cut, including the musician Moby and Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s. Payne called the group the Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, posted the letter online, and sent it out as a press release. It was immediately picked up by the media, Payne said, probably because “lots of wealthy people say they want to do good in the world but fewer of them want to specifically advance the things that would actually bring good in the world but that may cost them.” The letter got the attention of the White House, and Payne was invited to attend Obama’s 2012 Tax Day address.

She began approaching Democratic donors and businesspeople to pitch the idea of an organization focussed on three core beliefs: that if people work full time they should be paid enough to meet their basic needs; that regular people deserve as much political power as the wealthy; and that rich people and corporations should pay higher taxes. Payne speaks bluntly about these goals. People who support tax cuts for high earners and reductions to social programs are “very deliberately attempting to create a permanent underclass,” she said. “You want people to suffer and die earlier, because your greed is more important to you than another human being.”

Payne also runs the Agenda Project, a progressive political-advocacy organization that she founded in 2009 and which she describes as aiming to “dismantle the conservative premise and shove it into the dark recesses of the human psyche, where it belongs.” She has a knack for illustrating policy battles in ways that are both bizarre and memorable. In one of the Agenda Project’s ads, which she made during a Republican push to drastically cut Medicare, an actor who resembles Paul Ryan, the former House Speaker, wheels an elderly woman through an idyllic wooded park before steering the wheelchair to the edge of a cliff and pushing her off; other ads of Payne’s have targeted the Tea Party, Mitt Romney, and antiabortion activists. The videos are cheaply made, and a little crude, but they generate attention….

To qualify for the group, members must have an annual income of at least a million dollars, or assets worth more than five million dollars. That could include many families who would describe themselves as upper middle class—who, for instance, own homes in cities with hot real-estate markets. When I asked Payne how hard it was to persuade rich people to join, she said, “I think the last time I checked there were about three hundred and seventy-five thousand taxpayers in the country who make a million dollars a year in income”—there are now almost half a million—“and we have a couple hundred members.” She laughed. “If you ever needed a back-of-the-envelope calculation of how many of America’s élite are concerned about the basic well-being of their fellow-citizens, that should give you a rough estimate.” Members include Chuck Collins, the heir to the Oscar Mayer fortune; Roberta Kaplan, the civil-rights lawyer; Jeffrey Gural, the real-estate investor; and George Zimmer, the founder of Men’s Wearhouse.

It might seem disingenuous for people to try to change the rules after they have already amassed fortunes via the old, “rigged” system; some might also see their efforts as a way to generate flattering publicity or to alleviate feelings of guilt. But the group’s members say that they are concerned about the future of the nation. Some of them feel that severe inequality fuels corruption and has led to the election of Trump and other right-wing leaders across the world. Many of them believe that inaction on inequality could lead to the kinds of violent street protests recently seen in countries like Chile.

The group has produced TV ads and online videos and has sent members to speak at rallies; before important votes, it often targets members of Congress who are likely to be influenced by rich businesspeople in their districts. In New York State, the group has lobbied to close the carried-interest tax loophole, which shields the income of many hedge-fund and private-equity-fund managers, and it has advocated for a so-called pied-à-terre bracket, which would apply to people with part-time homes. Several members, including Molly Munger, the daughter of Charlie Munger, the longtime vice-chairman of Warren Buffett’s firm, Berkshire Hathaway, have spoken in favor of a wealth tax.

In February, Morris Pearl, a former executive at the asset-management firm BlackRock and the chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, wrote an article for the group’s Web site expressing support for Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax, which would impose a tariff of two per cent on fortunes greater than fifty million dollars and three per cent on those above a billion. (Warren recently doubled her proposed billion-plus tax rate, to six per cent.) The group helped develop a bill, introduced in the House of Representatives in November, that would impose a surtax on the country’s highest earners, and it is working on other legislation, including a bill that would raise the estate tax.

In July, the House passed another bill supported by the Millionaires, called the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the federal hourly minimum wage to fifteen dollars by 2025 and would eliminate a law that permits tipped workers to be paid as little as two dollars and thirteen cents an hour. Judy Conti, the government-affairs director of the National Employment Law Project, one of the groups with which the Millionaires pushed for the bill, told me that, before the legislation was introduced, two hundred and three House members had indicated that they would support it—fifteen votes short of the number needed for Democratic leadership to introduce it for a vote.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups argued that the bill would kill jobs. Many of the undecided members of Congress were moderate Democrats who supported raising the minimum wage but thought that fifteen dollars might be too high and worried about the consequences for small businesses in their states. The Patriotic Millionaires, working with several other organizations, made a list of around thirty undecided House members and identified those who might be especially receptive to business leaders who supported the bill. The group then contacted those members and their staffs. Conti said, of the Patriotic Millionaires, “They help us make the business case for the minimum wage and give moderate members a measure of the cover they need to vote yes. They will talk to members about how taking the high road is the best business strategy, how this is part of how we invest in our workers, that when we treat them better they work better for us—we have less turnover, higher productivity—and when workers in our community have more money in their pockets they spend it at our businesses.” The bill passed with thirteen more votes than it needed. When I asked her how impactful the group had been, she said, “When you’re looking for those last votes, it’s micro-targeting. If they can help deliver two members—and they helped deliver at least two members—they’re effective.”

Beginning in the early eighties, the remnants of the post-F.D.R. era of social democracy gave way to the age of Ronald Reagan, which brought deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the promise that free-market capitalism would lead to widespread prosperity. In spite of ample evidence that the new system wasn’t working as anticipated, this ideology has dominated economic policymaking ever since. Sean Wilentz, a historian at Princeton, told me, “We live in a world where supply-side economics, which was always a fraud, became a religion.”

After the recession of 2008-09, the Occupy Wall Street protest movement focussed public attention on the financial industry and its influence on government. The anthropologist David Graeber, one of the movement’s early organizers, helped popularize the term “the ninety-nine per cent” to describe everyone who wasn’t among the wealthiest “one per cent,” a tiny group that controls forty per cent of the nation’s wealth. In 2014, the French economist Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-first Century,” based on a decade of research into the distribution of wealth, became a surprise best-seller. Piketty argued that, without aggressive taxation, the very wealthy would continue to pull further ahead of everyone else. Abigail Disney told me that, although she didn’t get through all eight hundred and sixteen pages of the book, she “certainly got the gist of it, and the gist of it was really important.”

That year, the entrepreneur Nick Hanauer, one of the first investors in Amazon, gave a ted talk called “Beware, Fellow Plutocrats, the Pitchforks Are Coming.” After describing his multiple homes, his yacht, and his private plane, Hanauer argued that the U.S. was at risk of becoming a neo-feudalist rentier society similar to France before the Revolution. In an essay in Politico, he wrote, “Revolutions, like bankruptcies, come gradually, and then suddenly. One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there’s no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand.”

In the past few years, many economists, including Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, as well as Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, of M.I.T., have tried to demonstrate that extreme inequality can be reversed. In the lead-up to the 2020 elections, pundits and politicians on the left and right have been asking how best to fix capitalism. In January, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson spent fifteen minutes criticizing free-market capitalism as a system that exploits average people. Polls indicate that the number of Americans who support some form of socialism has risen dramatically. In March, during an interview on “Morning Joe,” the former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who was running for President as a business-friendly Democrat, refused to call himself a capitalist.

More business leaders have begun to say that inequality has reached dangerous levels. In April, Ray Dalio, the founder of the hundred-and-sixty-billion-dollar hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, posted a lengthy essay on LinkedIn in which he wrote that American workers in the bottom sixty per cent of earners have had no income growth, after adjusting for inflation, since 1980, while the incomes of the top ten per cent have doubled and those of the top one per cent have tripled. One graphic ranked wealthy countries in terms of the likelihood that a child born into the lowest economic quartile would move into the top quartile; the U.S. was second to last, ahead of only China. Dalio warned that, if capitalism wasn’t drastically changed, the U.S. would have “great conflict and some form of revolution that will hurt everyone….”

For its first nine years, the Patriotic Millionaires operated out of Washington and New York. This year, the group expanded to the West Coast, in part to attract more members from the technology industry. Kelsea-Marie Pym, the group’s executive director, pointed out that California has been at the forefront of implementing the kinds of economic policies that the group wants to see enacted nationally. “Our goal is to begin to challenge the wealthy to understand that inequality is at such a destabilizing level right now that, by sitting on the sidelines, you’re effectively adding to the problem,” Pym said…

I asked her [Disney] how she felt about the pledge that billionaires such as Buffett and Bill Gates had signed, promising to donate at least half of their fortunes to philanthropic causes. “I’ve given away much more than fifty per cent of my net worth, and I don’t intend to stop,” she said. “And, frankly, if you’re a billionaire and only want to give away half of your fortune, something is wrong with you.” Disney is wary of the idea that the generosity of individual rich people can solve society’s problems. Anand Giridharadas, the author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” has argued that much philanthropy does far more to boost the reputations of the donors than it does to help create a more just society. Such gifts also tend to come with generous tax breaks, meaning that taxpayers are underwriting the donations that get hedge-fund moguls’ names put on wings of art museums and hospitals. Instead, Disney wants to convince more people that systemic change is needed. “I get messages like ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, you’ve never worked a day in your life!’ ” she told me. “And I’m, like, You’re making my point! I’ve never worked a day in my life, and look at me! I’m sitting here in total comfort. You can work all your life and you will never find yourself where I am today.” She said that she doesn’t blame people for being resentful: “I will always be sort of an alien anthropologist looking at poverty from my very rarefied air.”

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, is a specialist in the Destroy Public Education movement.

In this post, he describes the effort underway to take over the Providence public schools, a tactic that has not worked anywhere else.

He begins:

November 1, 2019, Angélica Infante-Green, Rhode Island’s new Commissioner of Education, announced the state was taking over Providence Public Schools. A neoliberal Democratic governor, a like minded mayor and the chamber of commerce appear to be instituting a school privatization agenda.

All power over schools in the state is held by the governor and mayors. Citizens do not have the right vote for local school leaders and school system leaders are subordinates of mayors. This structural weakness in Rhode Island has left public education vulnerable to the whims of a governor or mayor that does not respect professional educators and public education. [CORRECTION: A READER POINTED OUT THAT PROVIDENCE HAS AN APPOINTED SCHOOL BOARD, BUT OTHER LOCAL BOARDS ARE ELECTED.]

Governor Gina Raimondo holds the non-distinction of being the least popular governor in the nation, with a favorability rating of only 36%.

Gina attended private school while growing up in Providence. She studied economics at Harvard and sociology at Oxford University. Following Oxford she earned a juris doctorate from Yale Law..

Raimondo worked in Massachusetts at the venture capital firm Village Ventures which was backed by Bain Capital before she ran for to be Rhode Island State Treasurer in 2010. A puff piece in News Week describes how Gina defeated labor union opposition to roll back pension funds. The piece states, “The changes she persuaded the Democrat-controlled Legislature to pass over union opposition will save about $3 billion by delaying retirement, suspending cost-of-living increases and offering workers 401(k)-type savings plans.”

Her neoliberal pension reform plan matches the thinking of Charles Koch and the Cato Institute. The corporate supported American Legislative Exchange Council provides legal templates for reforming pension funds that look very much likeRaimondo’s Rhode Island pension reforms…

Raimondo is all in for charter schools. She especially admires Achievement First, a no-excuses charter chain based in Connecticut.

Raimondo selected a new state commissioner of education in the spring of 2019,

Angélica Infante-Green, who trained under Joel Klien and Michael Bloomberg in New York City. Infante-Green is a former Teach for America Corp member who began her career in New York City.

According to Angélica’s LinkedIn page, she taught at PS 4M, CS 77X, and South Park High School between 1994 and 1998. All of her administrative experience appears to revolve around bilingual education. She has never been a superintendent or a principal, which makes her an odd choice to lead Rhode Island’s schools.

However, she was in the first cohort of future chiefs at Jeb Bush’s Chief’s for Change. Their official comment on Angélica’s hiring came from Chief’s for Change Board member Pedro Martinez. He said, “We applaud Gov. Gina Raimondo for selecting a commissioner with a deep commitment to creating and expanding opportunities for all students.” Martinez is the Broad trained administrator who is instituting the billionaire financed portfolio model of education reform in San Antonio, Texas; a model that posits disruption as good and democracy as a hindrance.

Researchers from John Hopkins University conducted a review of Providence Public Schools. Their report begins,

“In May 2019, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy led a review of the Providence Public School District (PPSD). We did so at the invitation of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner, Ms. Angélica Infante-Green, with the support of Governor Gina Raimondo and Mayor Jorge Elorza. The Partnership for Rhode Island funded the review.”

Infante-Green officially assumed her position on April 29 and in May she already had arranged for corporate money to finance a study of PPSD.

The corporate money came from The Partnership for Rhode Island, a group of leading CEO’s in the state. The Governor and the Mayor supported the new Commissioner of Education’s invitation for the study to be done. When the report was released, media, politicians and business executive started vehemently denouncing PPSD as a dysfunctional failure….

An amazing fact:

The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned in May and presented in June and by July 19th Mayor Elorza officially petitioned the state to takeover PPSD.

What kind of a study is commissioned in May and presented in June?



The Los Angeles County Board of Education has denied renewal to a troubled charter school in the Inglewood school district.

The school has a long history of self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and a mixed academic record. This charter demonstrates that even “non-profits” can be very profitable to its owners.

The California Charter Schools Association is on high alert because of a change in state  law that allows local districts to weigh in on the future of charter schools, especially their fiscal impact on public schools and whether they duplicate what the public schools are already doing.

The Los Angeles County Board of Education voted Tuesday to close an Inglewood charter school with a lengthy history of financial problems and mixed academic performance that illustrated flaws in California’s oversight system.

The board’s unanimous decision marks the third time it has attempted to shut down a charter school run by Today’s Fresh Start, a nonprofit started by a wealthy couple, Clark and Jeanette Parker of Beverly Hills. The group currently operates two charters on three campuses in Los Angeles, Compton and Inglewood.

A Times investigation published last year found that although the Parkers have portrayed themselves as philanthropists, they have made millions from their charter schools.

The schools paid more than $800,000 annually to rent buildings the couple own, financial documents showed. They contracted out services to the Parkers’ nonprofits and companies and paid Clark Parker generous consulting fees, all with taxpayer money.

The couple spent tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists and campaign contributions to many of the people responsible for regulating their schools, including school board members and state elected officials.

The Parkers have denied any wrongdoing, calling the claims against them baseless and manufactured by opponents of their schools.

The board’s Tuesday vote, which affects only the Inglewood charter, leaves the future of the school, its staff and its more than 400 students in doubt.

Jeanette Parker declined to comment following the decision.

Under current California law, Today’s Fresh Start can appeal the county’s decision to the State Board of Education. A possible appeal would most likely be heard before July, when a new law takes effect that significantly limits the state board’s power to approve charter schools that have been rejected elsewhere.

Decisions like the county board’s vote to close Today’s Fresh Start are rare. Los Angeles County is home to more than 350 charter schools, most of which are routinely renewed every five years by the local school districts where they are located. Only six schools appealed renewal denials to the county in 2017-18 — the last time appeals were heard — and three were denied.

In their recommendation to close the school, consultants hired by the county voiced concern about students’ stagnant performance on the state’s standardized English language arts tests and said the school hadn’t met the necessary academic criteria to be renewed. On both English and math tests, students’ scores increased between 2015 and 2017 and spiked upward in 2018 before declining last year. The overall picture, they wrote, was “troubling.”

The consultants also raised questions about the nonprofit’s management and fiscal practices, adding that many of their concerns had surfaced more than a decade ago when the county board last tried to close one of the organization’s schools.

“It should be noted that concerns regarding conflicts of interest and self-dealing were significant bases for revocation 12 years ago,” the report stated. “Those concerns regarding conflicts of interest and self-dealing have continued to follow [Today’s Fresh Start] to this day.”


Gary Rubinstein is the Myth-Buster of the Resistance. He has achieved this eminent position because of his intolerance for hype, propaganda, and lies.

In this post, he bust the myth that low-income charter school graduates have a dramatically higher college graduation rate than low-income public school graduates.

In fact, he shows, charter school graduates have the same college graduation rate as their mothers!

Education Reform propaganda at The74 would try to make you believe that while low income students generally graduate from college at a rate of about 9%, charter school graduates complete college at a rate of 3 to 5 times that.

The main flaw in any comparison between the college graduation rates of charter school graduates to low-income students, in general, is that the charter school students do not represent a random sampling of the general population of low-income students.

In The Alumni, Richard Whitmire says that charter schools that have 5 times the expected college completion rate are ones that only counted their students who persisted until 12th grade in their charter schools.  Since for some charter schools, this only represents about 25% of the students who started in that charter school, this even more of a biased sample.  But, Whitmire explains, the one network that has the most valid way of doing a fair comparison is the famed KIPP network.  Since KIPP counts, in their data, any students who enrolled in KIPP, even if they left soon after starting.  And he says that KIPP students, including ones who didn’t persist at KIPP, graduate college 3 times the expected rate.

Reform supporting billionaire John Arnold commissioned Mathematica, a data analysis company, to study the college enrollment and college persistence of KIPP students.  Instead of comparing KIPP students to the general population, they compared KIPP students to students who had applied to the KIPP lottery but did not get into KIPP through the lottery.  This is a much more valid way of measuring the impact of KIPP.  The big takeaway, as I wrote about in my previous post, was that students who applied to KIPP, whether or not they got into KIPP, had a college persistence rate of about 3 times the general low-income population and that students who applied but didn’t get into KIPP had about the same college persistence as students who applied and did get into KIPP.  So students to apply to the KIPP lottery are the ones who, on average, were much more likely to persist in college — something that Whitmire never mentions in The Alumni.

But this Mathematica report includes some other relevant data that I didn’t pick up on when I wrote the last post.  Fortunately there was a discussion among some readers who commented on the last post which pointed this out.

In 2018 the National Center For Education Statistics published a report called ‘First-Generation Students College Access, Persistence, and Postbachelor’s Outcomes.’  In it they say that about 70% of students who have a parent who completed college also complete college compared to about 35% of students who do not have a parent who completed college.  This confirms what most people would expect for so many reasons and this is why we celebrate when students are the first in their family to graduate college.  It means that the descendants of those students will also be more likely to go to college…

At this point, Gary displays a graph from the Mathematica study.

Notice that last line.  It says that of the students entering the lottery about 27% of them had mothers who finished college.  This makes the fact that about 30% of the students in the study (which includes students who got into KIPP and also students who did not get into KIPP) have persisted in college through four semesters even less surprising.


Steve Hinnefeld is a veteran reporter on Indiana education.

In this post, he describes the shift from a simplistic A-F rating system (the one devised by Jeb Bush) to the federal rating system, which includes more factors.

The problem with both ratings systems is that they accurately measure student income.

The highest rated schools have students with the highest income.

The lowest rated schools have students with the lowest income.

So if teachers choose to teach the neediest students, they will be teaching in a “failing” school, no matter how dedicated they are.

If teachers land a job in an affluent suburb, they can consider themselves successful.

He writes:

For example, at schools that exceeded expectations, the overall rate of students who qualified by family income for free and reduced-price school meals was 17.6%, compared to the state average of about 48%. At schools that did not meet expectations, the free-and-reduced meal rate was 74.2%. The correlation between poverty and federal ratings held for charter schools as it did for public schools.

What worthless junk!


The far-right Goldwater Institute has filed a lawsuit claiming that the state has no right to regulate how parents spend their voucher money, the money that is paid by taxpayers. Goldwater says that if the parents misspent the money, it should be refunded to parents so they can try again. The Goldwater Institute, along with the DeVos family and Charles Koch, have sponsored efforts to expand the voucher program to cover all students in the state. They began with the “camel’s nose” under the tent, offering vouchers for students with disabilities (who abandon their federally-protected rights when they go to private schools); then added students in foster care; then added students in “failing” public schools; then students on reservations; then students from military families. They won’t be satisfied until every student in the state gets a voucher to leave public schools for a private school.

The Arizona Republic reports:

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, has filed suit against the state Department of Education contending it doesn’t have the authority to enforce rules governing Arizona’s school voucher program.

The suit — which was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court and names the state attorney general as a defendant — alleges the Department of Education didn’t follow the state’s rule-making process when it created the ESA handbook, a set of rules that outlines the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. The ESA program grants parents money to send their children to private school.

The suit also contends the Department of Education does not have the authority to require that parents who have misspent ESA money reimburse the state for those funds. It is demanding the Department of Education instead put that misspent money back into parents’ accounts. 

Finally, the lawsuit claims the department has no right to make funding conditional on parents filing expense reports to document how they spent the taxpayer money. It calls the quarterly reports “cumbersome and time-consuming” and says as a result payments to participants are often late, breaching their contract and causing them to miss payments to private schools.

Under the ESA program, parents receive 90% of the state funding that would otherwise go to their local public school districts. Children in six categories, such as those with special needs, in foster care, from failing schools and others, are allowed to enroll in the program. 

The voucher money, loaded on debit cards, is intended to cover specific education expenses such as private- or religious-school tuition, home-school expenses and education-related therapies.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Arizona, which has opposed expansion of the ESA program, said the suit is really about stripping power from Kathy Hoffman, the Democratic superintendent of public instruction elected in 2018.

“They (Goldwater) don’t want her having any say over it,” Penich-Thacker said. 

Parents have complained about the expense reports for years but Goldwater only now filed suit, Penich-Thacker said. 

Last year, two bills in the Arizona Legislature would have stripped oversight of the ESA program from Hoffman and given it to the Treasurer’s Office, which is overseen by Republican Kimberly Yee.

“Suddenly, this is when the school choice community is up in arms,” Penich-Thacker said. “Parents are saying this is happening since day one, but it took the election of 2018 for anything to actually become a problem.” 

The Goldwater Institute has been involved in shaping the ESA program since before the voucher program became law in 2011. 

The think tank was instrumental in writing the legislation that created the program. It was also deeply involved in the numerous expansions of the law, which were often copied from model legislation written by special interests.

It was a big backer of the universal voucher expansion that would have allowed all 1.1 million Arizona public school students to use public money to go to private school. The number of students receiving the funds would have been capped at 30,000. Voters overturned the voucher law in November 2018 by a vote of 65% to 35%.

Goldwater also has wielded an “iron-like grip level of influence” behind the scenes with the Department of Education, attempting to dictate how the program should be implemented and acting as if it retained ownership of the program.

Jersey Jazzman, aka New Jersey teacher Mark Weber, analyzes the false promises of choice advocates.

He demonstrates their repeated claims that charters and vouchers will give poor kids “the same choices” as rich kids.

This is nonsense.

Wealthy Right-wingers have been trying to destroy public education for decades. This is their latest hoax.

The private schools where rich families send their children cost between $35,000-$60,000. A voucher is seldom equal to the cost of public school tuition. Its promoters tout vouchers as a money-saver. In North Carolina, for example, a voucher is worth less than $5,000. What kind of schooling does that pay for? A school with uncertified teachers, and a Bible Belt curriculum.

That’s not the same schooling that rich kids get.

Charter schools? The day-lilies of American education. The big corporate chains administer tough discipline. Kids are punished if their shirt tail isn’t tucked in. They get demerits if they talk in the hall. Kids sit in front of computers for half the day. This is not what rich kids get.

The New York Daily News reports that lobbyists for billionaires who support charter schools had a cozy meeting with Democrats in the State Senate. 

Even though pro-public education progressives swept control of the State Senate away from the charter-crazy Republicans in the State Senate, the lobbyists know that money is still green, no matter who is in power.

Jeffrey Cook-McCormac, a lobbyist working under Dan Loeb, one of the state’s most prolific political bundlers and once a pariah among Dems for racist comments made about now-Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), can be heard on the tape praising Democrats for not taking steps to scale back charters.

“I just want to say that I think a lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief on how you governed in your first few months in the majority,” Cook-McCormac told an audience that included Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) as well as Sens. Brian Benjamin (D-Manhattan) and Jim Gaughran (D-Long Island)…

The comments came in the wake of a legislative session in which Dems, in control of both chambers for the first time in years, were bolstered by a slate of progressive members who are either openly wary of charters or the moneyed interests behind them….

Cook-McCormac’s presence at the Nov. 4 fundraiser at the swanky Midtown outpost Aquavit was especially surprising to some Dems considering his boss’ past comments about Stewart-Cousins.

In 2017, Loeb came under fire for a Facebook post saying that the Senate Democratic Leader had done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.”

Lawmakers, including Benjamin, staged protests outside of Success Academy charter schools at the time, calling for the billionaire founder of the Third Point hedge fund to be fired from his position as chairman of the board for the city’s largest charter-school operator. Loeb later apologized.

While Dems accepting cash from charter proponents isn’t new, some were stunned by the chumminess on display.

So, to be clear, billionaire Dan Loeb implies that State Senator Stewart-Cousins–now the majority leader– is worse than the Ku Klux Klan.

But that is no reason not to take Loeb’s money, right?


Join your friends, allies, and other members of the Resistance in Philadelphia, March 28-29.

Now is the time to register!