Educate All Students, Support Public Education

August 15, 2012

August 14 Primary Election is Major Win for Public Education

Filed under: Elections,Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:47 pm

by Larry Miller

The August 14 Democratic primary election in Milwaukee was a victory for public education. Who lost? Democrats who support vouchers, the Republican Party and Tea Party activists.

At the center of this election was the seat in the 11th assembly district, a race between Mandela Barnes and Jason Fields. Jason Fields has been a longtime advocate for private school vouchers and other forms of privatization of public education. His work has not gone unnoticed by Gov. Scott Walker, who appointed Fields to the Governor’s education committee on reading.

Barnes addressed the issue of vouchers head on with Fields. Barnes did an old-fashioned grassroots, dialogue-at-doorsteps campaign to win landslide support of voters. Fields, on the other hand, relied on outside support in an attempt to hold his assembly seat.

To rally that support, in stepped the American Federation for Children (AFC). The American Federation for Children is an organization with roots in Milwaukee that promotes public school privatization through “voucher programs” and charter schools. It shares an address and leadership with its 501(c)(3) partner, Wisconsin’s Alliance for School Choice (ASC).

The AFC spent over $100,000 in radio ads and glossy brochures sent to Milwaukee voters’ homes in an attempt to sway votes.

AFC is chaired by Betsy DeVos, the billionaire wife of Amway founder Richard DeVos and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. She is a Tea Party advocate and ally of the Koch brothers. In recent years, she has funneled tens of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts and other right-wing initiatives.

AFC is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and is represented by former Rep. Scott Jensen on the ALEC “Education Task Force.” Jensen is the former Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker convicted in 2005 of three felonies for misuse of his office for political purposes, and banned from the state Capitol for five years. Jensen is one of the AFC’s registered lobbyists in Wisconsin.

Jensen has proposed bills to ALEC on behalf of AFC/ASC that were adopted as “model” legislation. For example, in March 2011, Jensen presented to the ALEC Education Task Force the “Education Savings Account Act,” which creates financial incentives for families to take their children out of the public school system and put them in for-profit primary and secondary schools.

This AFC strategy for the August 14 primary election was a total failure. For any Democrats who stroll to the other side, let this be some indication of what can happen in the future.

The results of this election have to be somewhat disheartening to State Sen. Lena Taylor, who endorsed many of those defeated. She is a strong voucher advocate who supported the attempt at mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools and continues to raise governance issues around Milwaukee public schools, including the possibility of creating a New Orleans-style “recovery district.” Most of public schooling in New Orleans has been turned over to private chartering companies with questionable policies and results.

We need to pay attention to who stayed silent on the interference by the American Federation for Children. Silence in the face of right wing power moves amounts to complicity.

Hopefully this election will slow down any future attempts to privatize public schools.



August 14, 2012

Article Shows Ryan Money Connection to Koch Brothers, Tea Party and Right-Wing

Filed under: Koch Brothers,Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 1:42 pm

Ryan Has Kept Close Ties to Donors on the Right

By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE August 13, 2012 NY Times

This month, as a handful of Republicans auditioned at town halls and on bus tours to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan joined a private conference call. For 20 minutes, he walked through his plan to cut government spending and bashed President Obama for weakening welfare work requirements.

His audience: Several hundred field organizers for Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-inspired group founded by the billionaire conservative philanthropists Charles and David Koch.

When Mr. Romney announced that Mr. Ryan would be his running mate, his campaign emphasized the congressman’s detailed knowledge of the federal budget and his chemistry with Mr. Romney. Less well-known are Mr. Ryan’s close ties to the donors and activists who have channeled Tea Party anger into a $400 million political machine, financed by a network of conservative and libertarian donors that now rivals, and occasionally challenges, the Republican establishment behind Mr. Romney.

Mr. Ryan is one of a very few elected officials who have attended the Kochs’ biannual conferences, where wealthy donors sit in on seminars on runaway government spending and the myths of climate change.

He is on first-name terms with prominent libertarians in the financial world, including hedge fund billionaires like Cliff Asness and Paul Singer, and spent his formative years immersed in the Republican Party’s supply-side wing, working for lawmakers and conservative policy advocates like Jack Kemp.

He has appeared for years at rallies, town hall meetings, and donor briefings for groups like the Club for Growth, which spends millions to defeat Republicans deemed squishy on taxes and spending, and Americans for Prosperity, a grass-roots group focused on economic and budget issues that is now trying to channel Tea Party energy into a permanent electoral force. Its fourth chapter was founded in Mr. Ryan’s home state, Wisconsin.

Now Mr. Ryan could provide Mr. Romney with a critical political and intellectual bridge to the rising conservative counterestablishment represented by the Kochs and their allies, who are planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and deploy thousands of volunteers to defeat Mr. Obama. Should Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan win in November, a constituency that has for years fulminated against the failure of Republicans to live up to their own principles could soon have a close — and powerful — friend in the White House.

“There’s three guys that we courted for president: Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, and Mike Pence,” said Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a national advocacy group closely allied with the Tea Party, who worked alongside Mr. Ryan when both were staff aides on the House Budget Committee. “Up until yesterday, there was a 100 percent commitment to fire Obama. There was not a lot of enthusiasm about Romney.” Mr. Daniels is the governor of Indiana, and Mr. Pence is a congressman from Indiana.

Mr. Kibbe added, “From a Tea Party perspective, the overwhelming response on all of our networks has been extremely positive.”

Mr. Ryan’s ties to that world began with a job at Empower America, a group founded by Mr. Kemp that ran “candidate schools” for aspiring conservatives and advocated for a flat tax and lower spending. As a rank-and-file congressman during the presidency of George W. Bush, Mr. Ryan advocated for the privatization of Social Security, helping push the idea toward the Republican mainstream and cementing his reputation as a conservative intellectual.

Privately, Mr. Ryan would later say, he was also stewing over what he and other conservatives viewed as the Bush administration’s fiscal profligacy and ideological drift, including the addition of a drug benefit to Medicare and, later, a bank bailout plan, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. (Mr. Ryan voted for both.)

That dissatisfaction was shared by the Kochs, who in the middle of the last decade began organizing conferences of like-minded donors and founded Americans for Prosperity.

Mr. Ryan, who became House budget chairman in 2006, began attending and speaking at Americans for Prosperity events. In 2008, the Wisconsin chapter gave Mr. Ryan its annual “Defender of the American Dream” award. Mr. Ryan also began attending the Kochs’ annual donor seminars. Last spring, Mr. Ryan was a speaker at a “Hands Off My Health Care” rally organized by Tea Party leaders outside the Capitol, drawing enthusiastic applause.

In Congress, he emerged as a skeptic of mainstream climate change theory — opposition to which has been a top priority of Koch-affiliated activists and research groups — and a reliable vote against energy efficiency standards, including a House vote to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.

The relationship helped Mr. Ryan’s campaign coffers as well as his career: the Koch Industries PAC has donated more than $100,000 to Mr. Ryan’s campaigns and his leadership PAC, more than has any other corporate PAC, according to a New York Times analysis of campaign records.

Mr. Ryan has also developed relationships with other people in the Koch orbit, like Mr. Asness, a libertarian-minded financier known for his open letters blasting Mr. Obama, and Kenneth Griffin, a Chicago hedge-fund executive: wealthy donors whose taste for number-crunching and policy minutiae match Mr. Ryan’s own.

Mr. Griffin and his wife, Anne, introduced Mr. Ryan to Chicago’s deep-pocketed Republican donor circle — he has raised more money there this campaign than any other city — and promoted his budget proposals, including arranging a speech last year at the Economic Club of Chicago.

But it was Mr. Ryan’s aggressive promotion of his budget plan that has cemented his place the counterestablishment’s rising star. Mr. Ryan’s plan, viewed warily in its early form by other Republican leaders on the Hill, became an organizing document for the Tea Party’s Beltway wing, particularly the dozens of Tea Party-inspired freshman lawmakers who arrived on Capitol Hill after the 2010 elections. Many of them came to rely on Mr. Ryan for counsel on whether to accept budget compromises with Mr. Obama.

Outside political groups and research organizations praised Mr. Ryan’s plan, one of the few comprehensive conservative budget proposals detailed enough to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, as rigorous and credible.

“Paul was one of the first guys that we looked at and said, ‘Hey, that young guy could be the guy,’ ” said Tim Phillips, Americans for Prosperity’s president. “And when he put out the budget and defended it, that’s when they said, ‘He could go all the way.’ ”

Officials with several outside groups that had been skeptical of Mr. Romney in the past said that the selection of Mr. Ryan had assuaged some of their doubts.

More important, they said, Mr. Ryan would fire up their grass-roots members, some of whom had doubted Mr. Romney’s commitment to cutting the size of government. Last week, before the announcement, Americans for Prosperity announced that it had begun its largest ever ad campaign against Mr. Obama, a $25 million broadside in 11 battleground states.

And on Monday, Romney officials said that the campaign had raised millions of dollars in the wake of Mr. Ryan’s selection, not only from grass-roots small donors, but from the many big donors who rank among his fans.

Griff Palmer contributed reporting.

August 8, 2012

August 14 Election: Crucial to Milwaukee’s Future

Filed under: Elections,Public Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:38 pm

By Larry Miller

There are crucial elections occurring on August 14. Private school vouchers are a central issue facing the candidates. While the Republican Party stands firmly behind voucher privatization, too many Democrats stand with them.

I hear Democrats say this or that person is good on most issues, just not vouchers. We can no longer say that vouchers and privatization of public education is a secondary or side issue. Just as Republicans have abandoned any real demand for jobs in Milwaukee’s communities of color, so have too many Democrats. We have also seen both sides of the aisle silent on the discriminatory criminal justice and incarceration policies that mainly affect African-American men.

I determined my support on these issues; voucher school privatization, jobs for poor communities in Milwaukee and the fight to end the new Jim Crow policies of incarceration of black men under the guise of the “war on drugs.”

I give my support to Mandela Barnes and Nikiya Harris. They will be new voices in the state legislature not afraid to address these life-and-death issues.

An important determinant for me in these crucial elections has been the involvement of the American Federation for Children (AFC). This Michigan-based right-wing organization is pro-voucher and has the support of the Tea Party and the Koch brothers. The AFC actively opposes the election of Mandela Barnes and the Nikiya Harris, along with Sandy Pasch (another candidate I support.)

Opposition by the AFC is a clear indication of who to vote for on issues of school privatization, jobs for the black community, discriminatory criminal justice issues, healthcare and much more. There has been silence by some Democrats in response to the AFC’s opportunist falsehoods and fabrications.

Please vote August 14. Your vote matters.

In putting forward these endorsements, I in no way represent the MPS board of directors or any of its members, including MPS school Board President Michael Bonds who has maintained neutrality in these Senate and Assembly races.

August 4, 2012

Right-Wing Alert: “American Federation for Children” Funding Democrats for Education Privatization

Filed under: American Federation for Children,Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:18 pm

The American Federation for Children (AFC), led by Betty DeVos, is spending money on Milwaukee’s present legislative races. The American Federation for Children spent $1.5 million helping Republicans during this year’s recall elections. That includes some $900,000 that it spent to help Scott Walker fend off Tom Barrett’s challenge.

The American Federation for Children was highlighted for its support of Jason Fields in a July 25th article by Daniel Bice in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel titled “Recent GOP Backers Weigh In For Democrat.” (See

Who is the American Federation for Children?

The American Federation for Children (AFC) is an organization with roots in Milwaukee that promotes public school privatization through “voucher programs.” It shares an address and leadership with its 501(c)(3) partner Alliance for School Choice (ASC).

AFC is chaired by Betsy DeVos, the billionaire wife of Amway founder Richard DeVos and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. In recent years, she has funneled tens of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts and other right-wing initiatives.

AFC is an ALEC member and is represented by former Rep. Jensen on the ALEC Education Task Force. Jensen is the former Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker convicted in 2005 of three felonies for misuse of his office for political purposes, and banned from the state Capitol for five years (the charges were later reduced on appeal). Jensen is one of AFC’s registered lobbyists in Wisconsin.

Jensen has proposed bills to ALEC on behalf of AFC/ASC that were adopted as “model” legislation. For example, in March 2011, Jensen presented to the ALEC Education Task Force the “Education Savings Account Act,” which creates financial incentives for families to take their children out of the public school system and put them in for-profit primary and secondary schools.

AFC was a “Trustee” level sponsor of ALEC’s 2011 Annual Conference – which, according to data from 2010, equated to a $5,000 payment to ALEC.

(Following is an AlterNet blog article that gives some history of Betty DeVos, her family and their right-wing agenda.)

The DeVos Family: Meet the Super-Wealthy Right-Wingers Working With the Religious Right to Kill Public Education

By Rachel Tabachnick, AlterNet
Posted in 2011 and Printed on July 19, 2012

Since the 2010 elections, voucher bills have popped up in legislatures around the nation. From Pennsylvania to Indiana to Florida, state governments across the country have introduced bills that would take money from public schools and use it to send students to private and religious institutions.

Vouchers have always been a staple of the right-wing agenda. Like previous efforts, this most recent push for vouchers is led by a network of conservative think tanks, PACs, Religious Right groups and wealthy conservative donors. But “school choice,” as they euphemistically paint vouchers, is merely a means to an end. Their ultimate goal is the total elimination of our public education system.

The decades-long campaign to end public education is propelled by the super-wealthy, right-wing DeVos family. Betsy Prince DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince, founder of the notorious private military contractor Blackwater USA,  and wife of Dick DeVos, son of the co-founder of Amway, the multi-tiered home products business.

By now, you’ve surely heard of the Koch brothers, whose behind-the-scenes financing of right-wing causes has been widely documented in the past year. The DeVoses have remained largely under the radar, despite the fact that their stealth assault on America’s schools has the potential to do away with public education as we know it.

August 3, 2012

Photos of Voucher School Buildings and Playgrounds: Are They Safe for Children?

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:52 am

Do children deserve playgrounds? “Maybe,” says Milwaukee’s Common Council

(See Photos Below)

By Barbara Miner Aug. 2, 2012 (Barbara Miner’s blog is part of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Purple Wisconsin project. Miner is an award-winning journalist and photographer.)

I thought that asking whether the children of Milwaukee deserve school playgrounds would be a slam-dunk question — sort of like asking whether it would be cool for the Brewers to win the World Series.

But I was apparently wrong. A pro-voucher group complained about a proposed ordinance requiring that all new elementary schools in Milwaukee have playgrounds. Such a measure would “significantly limit parent’s educational choices” and would “restrict education reform,” School Choice Wisconsin argued.

It would look bad to outright oppose playgrounds. The voucher group called for Milwaukee’s Common Council to “pause” and give the ordinance “a complete review.”

Last week the Common Council did what School Choice Wisconsin wanted. With a 14-1 vote it put the ordinance on hold, with Ald. Tony Zielinski the only “no” vote.

School Choice Wisconsin includes some heavy hitters. Tim Sheehy of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is on its board, and the board chair is Andrew Neumann, head of the voucher HOPE Christian Schools and son of GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mark Neumann. Long-time voucher proponent Howard Fuller is a former board member.

The proposal will now go back to committee. The soonest it will come up again is in September, thus allowing another round of new voucher and charter schools to open without playgrounds. (MPS is not planning any new school buildings, so the ordinance primarily speaks to concerns about voucher and charter schools.)

It is unclear how much the proposal will be sliced and diced and watered down before it returns to the council. Or, in a worst-case scenario, it could get buried, never to rise again. It wouldn’t be the first time that the word “committee” was merely a euphemism for “cemetery.”

Not trusting School Choice Wisconsin’s word that playgrounds would set back reform, I looked at the playground space (or lack thereof) at some of the proposed and existing voucher schools in Milwaukee. It was depressing.

Photos #1 and #2 below show the “playground” that will be shared by Carter’s Christian Academy and Imani Academy, two schools across the street from each other on 35th Street just north of Villard Avenue. Carter’s Christian Academy, a K-8 school, had 135 voucher students last year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Imani, which has applied as a voucher school for the fall, will serve students up to fourth grade. Photo #3 is a side view of Carter’s Christian Academy.




It could be worse, however. Some voucher schools have no playgrounds.

The photos below are of some voucher schools without playgrounds. The school buildings come up to the sidewalk and are only a few feet from the street. The photos are of the back and/or side that are not along the sidewalk.

Photo #4 is of a new voucher school due to open in the fall, the Academy of Excellence at 12th and Pierce Street on the South Side. The academy is located in the third floor of a building used primarily by Blackhawk Antiques Market.

Photo #5 is from the Clara Mohammed School on MLKing Drive and Wright Street. The school served 225 students last year, according to the DPI. The DPI also lists a second address for the coming school year at 20th and Vliet Street.

Photos #6 and #7 are the front and back of Calvary’s Christian Academy, a K4-5 school on Burleigh Street just east of Holton Avenue. The school is next to a hardware store and, in the back, abuts on the alley.

Photo #8 is from the Ceria M. Travis Academy on Wisconsin Avenue near 27th Street. The K-12 school served 703 students last year, according to the DPI. The DPI lists a second address for the coming school year, at a former Catholic school on the north side.






The proposed ordinance requiring playgrounds at all new schools in the City of Milwaukee — charter, voucher and MPS — had unanimously passed the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee. But a week before the Common Council meeting, School Choice Wisconsin complained.

In addition to saying that the ordinance restricted parental choice and hampered education reform, the voucher advocacy group said that the policy is “impractical” and “will be difficult to implement in an urban environment like Milwaukee.”

What’s next? Complaints that cities don’t have room for parks and green space?

School Choice Wisconsin also complained that the ordinance would require “large amounts of play space to be set aside.” Large, however, is a relative term.

Based on state standards for child care centers, the proposal called for 75 square feet of outdoor play space for each child using the playground at any time. Overall, the playground was to accommodate at least a third of the children at a school.

Yes, 75 square feet per child can seem a lot. Until you do the math.

Assume a school of 200 students, which means a playground that can accommodate about 65 children. In terms of space, that would mean a playground roughly the size needed for a high school basketball court.

If anything, the requirement should be even stricter. Imagine having 65 14-year-old boys on a basketball court, after they were cooped up in a classroom all morning. Sure, they might have space for yoga or calisthenics or military drills, but certainly not for kickball or dodgeball or even just running around.

What’s more, the state’s child care regulation is for centers serving children seven years old or younger. The regulations also recognize that children need more space as they grow older, so it sets a lower standard for very young children.

Is School Choice Wisconsin arguing that adolescent boys and girls need less space than children at daycare?

More troubling: why did the Common Council do the bidding of School Choice Wisconsin and table the ordinance?

Granted, many private and charter schools in Milwaukee have good playgrounds. But the point of public policy is to not only encourage the best, but also to guard against the worst.

Perhaps a decent ordinance will pass in September. Let’s hope so. Unfortunately, it will be too late for the hundreds of young children who will go to new voucher and charter schools this fall.

Part 2, coming Monday August 6: Who is School Choice Wisconsin?

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This blog is cross-posted at my blog, “View from the Heartland: Honoring the Wisconsin tradition of common decency and progressive politics.” At the blog,, you can also sign up for email notifications.

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