Educate All Students, Support Public Education

April 30, 2014

Wisconsin leads U.S. in black male incarceration

Filed under: General,New Jim Crow — millerlf @ 9:20 am

America lives with the deep shame of slavery and Jim Crow apartheid. There should also be deep shame with the realization of what black men in America face today. This is a “new Jim Crow.”

A detailed analysis of state corrections records by the UWM Employment and Training Institute shows incarceration rates at epidemic levels for African American males in Milwaukee County. Over half of black men in their 30s in the county have been incarcerated in state prisons (1990-2012). Statewide, 49% of black men in their 30s have already served time in state prison.

Wisconsin’s prison population has more than tripled since 1990, fueled by increased government funding for drug enforcement (rather than treatment), investments in prison construction, three-strikes rules, mandatory minimum sentence laws, truth-in-sentencing replacing judicial discretion in setting punishments, concentrated policing in minority communities, and state incarceration for minor probation and supervision violations. Particularly impacted were African American males with 40% of black male prisoners showing drug offenses.
Given the high levels of racial and economic segregation in Milwaukee County, two-thirds of the county’s incarcerated black men came from 6 zip codes in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee.
A third of the 26,222 men incarcerated had only non-violent offenses.
Another 27,874 men (non-offenders) have driver’s license violations, mostly for failure to pay fines and civil forfeitures, preventing them from legally driving.

View the UWM Employment and Training Institute analysis at:

Wisconsin leads in Incarceration2014

Income Inequality in Milwaukee Among Working Families Unacceptable

Filed under: Inequality,Wisconsin Class Warfare — millerlf @ 9:08 am

Report on income inequality among employed families
The annual ETI analysis of state income tax data showed 12 to 1 differences in family income by Milwaukee County neighborhood in 2012. Working-age married and single families in inner city zip code 53206 had average incomes of $20,260 while families in the “North Shore” suburban zip code 53217 had income averaging $253,082.
Educational opportunity and achievement gaps between children of wealth and children of poverty are profoundly influenced by these extreme differences in family resources. The tax data also showed a $17 million reduction in state earned income tax credit support for “working poor” families in the county after the 2011 state legislation cut EIC supports for families with more than one child.

To see the full report go to:

Income inequality in MilwOther2014

April 28, 2014

Report on School Privatization in Milwaukee

Filed under: Charter Schools,Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:53 am

Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
By Gordon Lafer | April 24, 2014
During the past year, Wisconsin state legislators debated a series of bills aimed at closing low-performing public schools and replacing them with privately run charter schools. These proposals were particularly targeted at Milwaukee, the state’s largest and poorest school district.

Ultimately, the only legislation enacted was a bill that modestly increases school reporting requirements, without stipulating consequences for low performance. Nevertheless, the more ambitious proposals will likely remain at the core of Wisconsin’s debates over education policy, and legislative leaders have made clear their desire to revisit them in next year’s session. To help inform these deliberations, this report addresses the most comprehensive set of reforms put forward in the 2013–2014 legislative session.

Backers of these reforms are particularly enamored of a new type of charter school represented by the Rocketship chain of schools—a low-budget operation that relies on young and inexperienced teachers rather than more veteran and expensive faculty, that reduces the curriculum to a near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and that replaces teachers with online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of the day. Rocketship proposes that its model—dubbed “blended learning” for its combination of in-person and computerized instruction—can cut costs while raising low-income students’ test scores (Rocketship Education 2011).

The call for public schools to be replaced by such tech-heavy, teacher-light operations comes from some of the most powerful actors in local and national politics: the major corporate lobbies, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). It is these groups, rather than parents or community organizations, that provided the impetus for legislators to consider proposals for mass school closure and privatization in Milwaukee.

In advocating school privatization, MMAC, allied corporate lobbies, and corporate-funded think tanks claim to be acting out of social altruism, motivated by the tragedy of poor children whose needs are unmet in the public school system. Yet—as is detailed later in this report—these same organizations have traditionally opposed what are typically considered two of the fundamental building blocks for improving education, particularly for poor children: adequate school funding and effective anti-poverty policies.

This report evaluates the “blended learning” model of education exemplified by Rocketship and seeks to understand how the “school accountability” legislation debated during the most recent legislative session would likely affect Milwaukee schools. This briefing paper also explains how such proposals might fit within the broader economic agenda of both local and national corporate lobbies. Above all, the report questions why an educational model deemed substandard for more privileged suburban children is being so vigorously promoted—perhaps even forced—on poor children in Milwaukee.

Upon examination, it appears that charter privatization proposals are driven more by financial and ideological grounds than by sound pedagogy:
• National research shows that charter schools, on average, perform no better than public schools. There is thus no basis for believing that replacing traditional public schools in Milwaukee with privately run charters will result in improved education.

• The “blended learning” model of education exemplified by the Rocketship chain of charter schools—often promoted by charter boosters—is predicated on paying minimal attention to anything but math and literacy, and even those subjects are taught by inexperienced teachers carrying out data-driven lesson plans relentlessly focused on test preparation. But evidence from Wisconsin, the country, and the world shows that students receive a better education from experienced teachers offering a broad curriculum that emphasizes curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking, as well as getting the right answers on standardized tests.

• Blended-learning schools such as Rocketship are supported by investment banks, hedge funds, and venture capital firms that, in turn, aim to profit from both the construction and, especially, the digital software assigned to students. To fund the growth of such operations, money earmarked for Milwaukee students is diverted to national headquarters and other cities where the company seeks to expand. Furthermore, the very curricular model that Rocketship employs is shaped not simply by what is good for kids but also, in part, by what will generate profits for investors and fuel the company’s ambitious growth plans.

• The proposed “school accountability” bill that Wisconsin State Senate Education Committee Chair Luther Olsen drafted in January 2014—which embodies the most ambitious version of corporate-backed school reform—measures school achievement in ways that are skewed against poor cities and that exempt charter schools from equal accountability. Such a bill would likely result in shutting a growing number of public schools and concentrating the city’s neediest students in a shrinking public system that is denied the resources to serve them. Eventually, this would bankrupt the public school district.

• Some of the best options for school improvement are outlawed in Sen. Olsen’s draft bill. For instance, Milwaukee’s award-winning ALBA (Academia de Lenguajes y Bellas Artes) school is a publicly run charter school that outperformed every privately run charter in the city. Yet under the proposed legislation, this school would be banned from opening more campuses, while privately run schools with much worse performance would be encouraged to expand.

• To truly improve education in Milwaukee, we must start with the assumption that poor children are no less deserving of a quality education than rich children. As such, the schools that privileged suburban parents demand for their children should be the yardstick we use to measure the adequacy of education in the city. This means subjecting all schools—whether public, charter, or voucher—to the same standards of accountability, including measurements that account for the economic and disability challenges their students face, and that recognize the value of a broad curriculum and experienced teachers who are qualified to develop the full range of each child’s capacities.
Are charter schools better than public schools?
To see the full report go to:


Right-wing Voucher Supporters Train Potential Political Candidates

Filed under: American Federation for Children — millerlf @ 8:52 am

American Federation for Children, MMAC and Democrats for Education Reform provide candidate training
By Lisa Kaiser Shepard Express

That’s what former Republican Assembly speaker turned voucher school lobbyist Scott Jensen instructed potential candidates in a day-long training session on April 12.
Jensen was responding to a question posed about whether candidates should accept checks from a donor with a checkered past. Jensen advised that the potential public embarrassment was worth it. That donation could purchase ad time, flyers, whatever a candidate needed to push him- or herself across the finish line, Jensen said.

Oh the irony.

Voucher Candidate School
Jensen spoke to roughly 30 potential voucher candidates—and a few progressive ringers—at a training session sponsored by the pro-voucher, Washington D.C.-based American Federation for Children (AFC), the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

Jensen said that AFC had been offering candidate training in Milwaukee for the past three years and also trains candidates around the country.

Billed as a bipartisan gathering, speakers included Jensen, former Sen. Lena Taylor staffer turned WNOV host Sherwin Hughes, MMAC lobbyist Steve Baas, Godfrey & Kahn attorney Jodi Jensen, AFC’s Brian Pleva, Sheree Dallas Branch of ABRAZO Multicultural Communications & Marketing, and Democratic campaign consultant Zak Williams.

Lobbyist Katy Venskus, of Rocketship Education, which will be opening its second charter school in Milwaukee in 2015, had been scheduled to speak but had to cancel.
Jensen spoke in her place about campaign financing, and gave as well his regularly scheduled talk on campaign strategy and messaging.

Jensen was once one of the most powerful men in Wisconsin. But he was charged in 2002 with misconduct in public office for allegedly using state resources and state workers to help Republican candidates in the 1998 and 2000 elections.
While other legislative leaders ensnared in the caucus scandal took plea agreements, Jensen headed to court.
In March 2006, the same month he resigned from office, Jensen was convicted of three felonies and a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 15 months in prison and 45 months of extended supervision and was banned from the Capitol for five years.
He served no time while he appealed his case. After much legal wrangling, his conviction was overturned and he was granted a new trial.

The Legislature, however, was there to bail him out. In 2007, the bill that created the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board included a requirement that elected officials must be tried in their home counties—in Jensen’s case, Waukesha County.
In 2010, the conservative state Supreme Court overturned two lower court decisions and ruled that Jensen’s new trial should be held in Waukesha County. Later that year, Jensen agreed to a plea deal with Republican Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel—now running for attorney general—in which his felony charges were dismissed. He pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of misconduct in office and he was required to pay a $5,000 fine and reimburse the state $67,174 for legal fees.

Jensen Is Barred from Running for Office
That misdemeanor conviction bars Jensen from running for public office.
But that hasn’t deterred him from helping others run for office and be heavily involved in politics.
Almost immediately after settling his case, Jensen registered as a lobbyist for American Federation for Children in 2011. He also set up a consulting firm, Chartwell Strategic Advisors, and serves as a senior advisor to AFC.
American Federation for Children is sponsored by the DeVos family of Michigan, major backers of conservative causes around the country and big donors to Republican Gov. Scott Walker. AFC has a long history in Wisconsin elections at all levels and supports voucher candidates for office. According to an analysis by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, AFC has dumped an estimated $4.4 million on phony issue ads in Wisconsin elections since 2010. And the DeVos family gave Walker $250,000 during the recalls.
Last year, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, American Federation for Children spent an estimated $45,000 to get Jessie Rodriguez elected as a Republican in Assembly District 69 in southern Milwaukee County. And it donated $30,000 in 2011 and in 2012 to the Oak Creek-based Hispanics for School Choice, a voucher advocacy group controlled by Rodriguez’ brother-in-law, Zeus, the president of St. Anthony School, and her husband, Aaron, a blogger.

John Doe Investigation Not Fully Discussed
In addition to American Federation for Children, Jensen also has been involved in the Jobs First Coalition, which has sponsored pro-Republican ads and materials since 2009. It spent an estimated $53,000 on the Rodriguez race last fall.
The Jobs First Coalition gave $445,000 to the Jensen-connected American Federation for Children in 2010 and 2011; it received $425,000 from the Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011. It also sent money back to Wisconsin Club for Growth for issue advocacy.
Wisconsin Club for Growth is one of the two dozen groups that were subpoenaed as part of the John Doe 2 investigation into alleged illegal coordination between Walker’s campaign and independent special interest groups during the 2011 and 2012 elections.
Jensen discussed the Doe investigation in passing in his talk on campaign finance.
Jensen told the group that in general candidates can speak to independent groups but can’t develop strategy or messaging in coordination with them.
“Give them the same information you’d give anyone else,” Jensen said.
He instructed candidates not to talk to members of outside groups after an endorsement is made.
“Don’t get into conversations with them,” Jensen said. “Don’t let them say ‘You hinted.’”

Campaign Blueprint
That said, Jensen offered up tips for aspiring voucher candidates on how to talk about the issue, and attendees were provided with a binder full of information on how to file as a candidate, develop their campaign strategy, and use social media, earned media and direct mail to get their message across.
According to a Marquette University poll provided to attendees, 50.5% of those polled support the new statewide voucher program, while 44% oppose it. Republicans show 66% support, while only 42% of independents and 37% of Democrats statewide do.
American Federation for Children data showed that the highest support comes from low-income voters and younger voters, while those 45 and older oppose statewide vouchers because they attended quality public schools, he said. Jensen likened vouchers to marriage equality, in that younger people are more accepting of them while older voters show more resistance.
Jensen also claimed that the voucher movement “shows echoes of the civil rights movement” as he showed a photo of a voucher rally in Florida that featured African American leaders.
Jensen offered up a few winning messages for voucher candidates. The “we can’t wait” or “education is a civil right” themes received huge approval when AFC tested these statements in Louisiana.
Closer to home, upwards of 73% of those polled in Racine and Green Bay agreed with similar statements.
He cautioned that voucher opponents had strong messages too—“charter and choice schools steal resources from traditional public schools” and “charter and choice schools are not accountable” chief among them. He reminded the audience that AFC supported increased accountability in the loosely regulated system.
Jensen likened raising money to mowing the lawn—“it’s a chore, but you need to get it done.”
Jensen said that very few people donate to influence a candidate’s vote while in office.
“They donate because they know you,” Jensen said.

Tales from the Kleefisch Campaign
Jensen, who’s spent a lifetime in politics, recounted a smattering of anecdotes from his own campaigns and those he’s overseen as examples to the potential candidates. He explained that candidates needed to develop a theme with personal stories to illustrate it.
Jensen said that he ran Rebecca Kleefisch’s 2010 bid for lieutenant governor, where he helped her overcome her rookie mistakes—such as relying on too much data and policy—by focusing on positioning herself as a small businesswoman and outsider who knows how to create jobs.
“To the voter, if the candidate’s life experience rings true and they believe she cares, then her plan doesn’t really matter,” Jensen said.
Although Jensen bills himself as Kleefisch’s “senior strategist,” neither he nor Chartwell shows up on any of her campaign finance reports from 2010 or 2011.
Kleefisch’s campaign did not respond to the Shepherd’s request to clarify Jensen’s role in her campaign.
Jensen predicted that the outsider message would be a winning one this year, thanks to the anti-incumbent mood in Wisconsin and Washington, as well as the near-historic number of legislators who are deciding not to run this fall. He said that two more legislators would announce their retirements soon.


A Walmart Fortune, Spreading Charter Schools

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 8:49 am

By Motoko Rich NYTimes April 25, 2014
WASHINGTON — DC Prep operates four charter schools here with 1,200 students in preschool through eighth grade. The schools, whose students are mostly poor and black, are among the highest performing in Washington. Last year, DC Prep’s flagship middle school earned the best test scores among local charter schools, far outperforming the average of the city’s traditional neighborhood schools as well.
Another, less trumpeted, distinction for DC Prep is the extent to which it — as well as many other charter schools in the city — relies on the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropic group governed by the family that founded Walmart.
Since 2002, the charter network has received close to $1.2 million from Walton in direct grants. A Walton-funded nonprofit helped DC Prep find building space when it moved its first two schools from a chapel basement into former warehouses that now have large classrooms and wide, art-filled hallways.
One-third of DC Prep’s teachers are alumni of Teach for America, whose largest private donor is Walton. A Walton-funded advocacy group fights for more public funding and autonomy for charter schools in the city. Even the local board that regulates charter schools receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation.
In effect, Walton has subsidized an entire charter school system in the nation’s capital, helping to fuel enrollment growth so that close to half of all public school students in the city now attend charters, which receive taxpayer dollars but are privately operated.
Walton’s investments here are a microcosm of its spending across the country. The foundation has awarded more than $1 billion in grants nationally to educational efforts since 2000, making it one of the largest private contributors to education in the country. It is one of a handful of foundations with strong interests in education, including those belonging to Bill and Melinda Gates of Microsoft; Eli Broad, a Los Angeles insurance billionaire; and Susan and Michael Dell, who made their money in computers. The groups have many overlapping interests, but analysts often describe Walton as following a distinct ideological path.
In addition to giving grants to right-leaning think tanks like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, the Walton foundation hired an education program officer who had worked at the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business-backed group. Walton has also given to centrist organizations such as New Leaders for New Schools, a group co-founded by Jon Schnur, a former senior adviser to President Obama’s transition team and to Arne Duncan, the secretary of education.
In 2013, the Walton foundation spent more than $164 million across the country. According to Marc Sternberg, who was appointed director of K-12 education reform at the Walton Family Foundation last September, Walton has given grants to one in every four charter start-ups in the country, for a total of $335 million.
“The Walton Family Foundation has been deeply committed to a theory of change, which is that we have a moral obligation to provide families with high quality choices,” said Mr. Sternberg. “We believe that in providing choices we are also compelling the other schools in an ecosystem to raise their game.”
The supporters and critics of charter schools, many of them fierce, cannot be easily divided into political camps. Supporters include both Republicans and Democrats, although critics tend to come more from the left. In Washington, where the charter system has strong backing in City Hall, supporters have been more successful than in New York, where opposition from teachers unions and others has kept charter school enrollment to about 6 percent, despite growth in the past decade.
The size of the Walton foundation’s wallet allows it to exert an outsize influence on education policy as well as on which schools flourish and which are forced to fold. With its many tentacles, it has helped fuel some of the fastest growing, and most divisive, trends in public education — including teacher evaluations based on student test scores and publicly funded vouchers for students to attend private schools.
“The influence of philanthropy in terms of the bang for the buck they get is just really kind of shocking,” said Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
A separate Walton foundation that supports higher education bankrolls an academic department at the University of Arkansas in which faculty, several of whom were recruited from conservative think tanks, conduct research on charter schools, voucher programs and other policies the foundation supports.
Last year, the Walton Family Foundation gave $478,380 to a fund affiliated with the Chicago public schools to help officials conduct community meetings to discuss their plan to close more than 50 schools at a time when charters were expanding in the city.
And Walton played a role in a recent battle in New York, giving a grant to a charter advocacy group that helped pay for advertisements attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio after he denied public space to three schools run by Success Academy Charter Schools, a network in which students have gotten high scores on standardized tests.
While charter schools and vouchers may benefit those families that attend these schools, there may be unintended effects on the broader public school system.
Grant recipients say Walton injects entrepreneurial energy into public education and helps groups eager to try new ideas move more quickly than they could if they relied solely on publicly managed bureaucracies. Thousands of children, they say, attend better schools because of options Walton supports.
“The supply of new models and new ideas is really important, and so I think it’s a very positive thing,” said Robert C. Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, of the Walton investments. Neither Dr. Pianta nor the Curry School have received funding from Walton.
Critics say that Walton backs schools and measures that take public dollars — and, some say, the most motivated families — away from the existing public schools, effectively creating a two-tier educational system that could hurt the students most in need.
Although Walmart opened its first two stores in the nation’s capital just last December after a protracted battle over the retailer’s wages, the Walton Family Foundation has played a role in steering the direction of public education in the city for more than a decade. Since 2000, the foundation has invested more than $80 million here, not only in charter schools but also in support of taxpayer-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools. It poured millions into a controversial overhaul of tenure, the implementation of stricter teacher evaluation systems and the introduction of performance pay in the district’s public schools.
Walton also supports measures that labor leaders say undermine union protections for teachers. Like-minded Walton recipients are working together in many cases, so there are few dissenting voices.
“When lots of charter schools open up, it’s like a new Walmart store moving in,” said Kevin G. Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at University of Colorado in Boulder. “You could look at it and say, ‘Well, the schools in a community are losing families because of healthy competition the same way that the hardware store is losing customers because of healthy competition.’ But that doesn’t take into account the long-term harms to the community, which are probably greater than any short-term benefit.”
In addition to the foundation’s activities, many individual members of the Walton family have made millions of dollars in campaign donations to candidates for local school boards and state legislatures who support causes funded by the foundation.
Walton’s largest recipients include the Charter School Growth Fund, which helps charter school networks expand ($101.6 million since 2000); Teach for America, which recruits high-achieving college graduates for two-year teaching stints in poor districts and now places about a third of its corps members in charter schools ($67.2 million); KIPP, one of the country’s best-known and largest charter school networks ($58.7 million); the Alliance for School Choice, a national advocate for private school vouchers ($18.4 million), whose board includes Carrie Penner, a member of the Walton family; and GreatSchools Inc., an online schools information database ($15.5 million.)
Last year, the foundation announced a two-year, $8 million grant to StudentsFirst, an advocacy group led by Michelle A. Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington who oversaw many of the policy changes funded by Walton in the district’s public schools. StudentsFirst now pushes for the extension of many of those same policies in states across the country, contributing to the campaigns of lawmakers who support the group’s agenda.
“What they’re doing in terms of education is they’re trying to create an alternative system and destabilize what has been the anchor of American democracy,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers union.
Although the foundation’s leaders say they are focused on helping children in poverty or stuck in low-performing schools, some of their actions support concepts regardless of whether poor children benefit. In 2012, for example, Walton gave $300,000 to the Douglas County School District in Colorado to help it fight a lawsuit brought by opponents of a voucher program. The median income of families in the district, where the public schools are high performing, is more than $99,000, according to census data.
Walton supporters say the foundation is not blindly supporting the expansion of charters. Two years ago, Walton announced a $5.2 million grant to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to support an initiative under which the group would push state and local regulators to close about 900 low-performing charter schools around the country, while opening another 2,000.
Regarding unions: states with no unions or very weak one, primarily in the south, have the poorest student outcomes in test scores and the…
A healthy discussion on charter schools has to happen. As a product of catholic schools this is really not a new issue, just one that has…
“Any foundation that invests the money has to ask themselves, is their money impacting the system as a whole?” said Dennis Van Roeckel, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union.
Walton’s Mr. Sternberg, who started his career in Teach for America and founded the Bronx Lab School, a public school in New York City, does not apologize for Walton’s commitment to charter schools and vouchers. “What’s the argument there?” he said during an interview. “Don’t help anybody until you can help everybody?”
He said the foundation was focused not on ideology but on results, a word he repeated many times.
In Washington, for example, the group has given more than $5.8 million to the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, whose members are nominated by the mayor to regulate the opening and closing of charter schools. The board has used Walton’s grants to help develop accountability measures for all charter schools in the city. When critics complained that charters were pushing out difficult students, the board began reviewing and publishing data on expulsions and midyear departures. Scott Pearson, executive director of the board, said charter schools in the city had halved expulsions since the board began releasing statistics.
“D.C. is a better place today than it was 10 years ago because of the reforms that have played out here,” said Mr. Sternberg, who was an official in the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. He pointed to recent increases in scores on national tests by both public and charter school students, saying that neighborhood schools had responded to competition from charters. “And maybe in very small part, because of Walton’s role,” he added.
Walton has become a go-to source for many charter schools seeking start-up grants. In addition to funding large networks like KIPP, which is expanding in Washington, the foundation has given grants to several stand-alone schools.
The Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts, housed in a building across the street from the Washington Navy Yard in the southeast part of the city, received $250,000 from Walton in 2011. The school used the money to buy computers for students, as well as chemistry lab equipment and recording gear for the school’s media studio.
All of the school’s students qualify for federally subsidized free or reduced price lunches. According to Marco Clark, the founder and head of the school, one in five students have special needs and one in 10 have been involved with the criminal justice system.
On a recent morning, the range of academic abilities in the school was apparent. In an advanced placement world history class, 11th-graders gave rapid-fire answers to questions about Native American tribes, with the teacher asking “Why?” to gauge whether students were merely regurgitating memorized facts. Upstairs, in an eighth-grade reading class, several students asked the teacher for help in understanding a passage about the world’s largest harp. One boy struggled to eke out what he thought was the main point. “It about how can orchastra works,” he wrote.
Several students noted that they had come from schools in which they either did not feel safe or were not learning much. Dr. Clark acknowledged that the school was still working to raise test scores, and had added extra math and reading classes.
“Those who want to criticize any philanthropy group for giving money to kids to change their futures,” said Dr. Clark, “there’s something wrong with them.”
Some parents said they felt torn between the interests of their children and those of the city. Marcus Robinson, the owner of a pet supply and grooming business, said he had attended public schools in Washington and wanted his children to do the same. But his daughters Lourdes, 8, and Maja, 6, attend Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School, a start-up that received $250,000 from Walton.
Mr. Robinson was concerned that the schools in his northeastern neighborhood had trouble coping with students who had behavioral problems. He also liked the dual language approach at Mundo Verde, where students work in small classes on projects related to the environment and sustainability. A relaxed atmosphere permeates the classrooms, and a yoga teacher and nutritionist are on the faculty.
“Charter schools are a bit of a disservice to the public schools,” Mr. Robinson said. “It puts the onus on public schools to take on the people and children that other schools don’t want. But in the meantime, between everyone fighting about it, I did not want my kids to be caught in the limbo.”


April 22, 2014

Please Help Publish New Rethinking Schools Book

Filed under: Rethinking Schools — millerlf @ 1:58 pm

Help us publish this awesome book!


Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality was born a few summers ago when Jody Sokolower, Rethinking Schools’ managing editor, and RS editor Melissa Bollow Tempel sat down in Jody’s kitchen to discuss an article Melissa was writing. “It’s OK to Be Neither” is the story of Melissa’s growth as a teacher when Allie, a student who is gender nonconforming, joined her class. Until then, Melissa had not realized how customs like lining up by girls and boys could create problems for students who do not fit neatly into the female/male binary.

“It’s OK to Be Neither” really struck a chord. As Melissa tells it, “We never dreamed it would be shared more than 45,000 times on one blog alone.” Allie is not unique. Gender nonconforming kids are in schools everywhere, and teachers want to know how to support them.

Gender identity is just one of many issues addressed in Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality. The book includes sections on:

  • creating safe and nurturing classrooms
  • coming out at school as a teacher or student
  • integrating feminist and LGBTQ content into curriculum
  • moving beyond the classroom to school and community
  • teacher education

Want to check out a sample article or two?

To  help publish Rethinking Sexism, Gender and Sexuality go to:


April 21, 2014

Refresher Article on Hispanics for School Choice

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:32 am

Republican Party, Hispanics for School Choice and Scott Jensen

Scott Jensen and Hispanics for School Choice-Both are part of an interlocking network of pro-voucher organizations aligned with the Republican Party.

By Barbara Miner, Feb. 18, 2012

News reports this week exposed the close working — and legally questionable — relationship between Republican legislators, lobbyist Scott Jensen and the pro-voucher group Hispanics for School Choice.

Those involved in the controversy have a long-standing working relationship that is part of a strategic alliance between right-wing billionaires; school vouchers supporters, and Republican Party operatives.

Consider this announcement on the website of “The Hispanic Conservative” more than a year ago, on Jan. 14, 2011:

Last week, Executive Board members of Hispanics for School Choice created somewhat of a buzz as they descended upon the State Capitol to circulate their legislative agenda.  Associates from the American Federation of Children and School Choice Wisconsin accompanied HFSC in separate meetings with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, Education Committee Chair Steve Kestell, and Secretary of the Department of Administration Mike Huebsch to discuss a timetable of moving the School Choice program forward.

HFSC Board Members were also given exclusive entry to a closed caucus in the Grand Army of the Republic Hearing Room before Assembly Republicans  – an access rarely granted to non-profit organizations of any sort for any reason.  Before the 60-member caucus, Board Members of HFSC were introduced communicating the idea that HFSC aimed to be more of a resource to legislators than a needy lobbyist.[i]

Pro-voucher groups are some of the strongest and best-funded lobbyists in the Wisconsin legislature, and have played an increasingly central role in promoting Gov. Walker’s overall agenda. As state Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) noted last year, “The new 800-pound gorilla— actually it’s more of a 1,200-pound gorilla —is the tax-funded-voucher groups. They’ve become the most powerful lobbying entity in the state.”[ii]

Who is Hispanics for School Choice?  What are its connections to Scott Jensen? What is the involvement of the American Federation for Children, a well-known conservative powerhouse headed by a former chair of the Republican Party in Michigan?


Hispanics for School Choice received minimal press notice until Feb 17, 2012, when it was revealed that the group had been privy to election redistricting maps that even Democratic legislators had not seen. The maps were released to Jensen last summer, who in turn forwarded them to the head of Hispanics for School Choice in order to gain his support for the Republican redistricting effort and promote the guise of community involvement.[iii]

Hispanics for School Choice hosted its “coming out event” on January 24, 2011 — 10 days after boasting of its access to Republican leaders in the Wisconsin legislature. The group did not become a household name — but gained behind-the-scenes prominence during the debates over Gov. Scott Walker’s expansion of the voucher program last spring, including private meetings with Gov. Walker.

Zeus Rodriguez is president of the Board of Directors — and the person who received maps of the Republican legislature’s redistricting from Scott Jensen. (Rodriquez is also president of the St. Anthony School, which as a result of the voucher program has become the largest Catholic elementary school in the country. Officials from St. Anthony’s have been prominent at various legislative hearings on public funding of private and religious schools.)

Other board members of Hispanics for School Choice include Victor Huyke, owner of El Conquistador Newspaper; Daisy Cubias, Staff Assistant to Mayor Tom Barrett; Ivan Gamboa, VP of Tri-City Bank; and Aaron Rodriguez, owner of the Hispanic Conservative website.

The groups’ Advisory Board is chaired by James Klauser, former Secretary of Administration for Governor Tommy Thompson. Other members include Jose Delgado, founder of the American Transmission Company; Jose Vasquez, CEO of three non-profits in Milwaukee; Anselmo Villarreal, President and CEO of La Casa de Esparanza; and Susan Mitchell, President of School Choice Wisconsin.[iv]

Hispanics for School Choice lists its partners as School Choice Wisconsin and American Federation for Children.

On May 4, 2011, Gov. Walker hosted Hispanics for School Choice at the Capitol, holding private meetings with them and posing for a group photo.[v]


Jensen served in the Wisconsin assembly from 1992 until 2006, when he was indicted and later convicted for having his staff work on campaign issues on state time. He is a senior adviser to the American Federation for Children/Alliance for School Choice. According to a Sept 21, 2011 report by Madison-based journalist Bill Lueders:

Jensen is also registered as one of the three contract lobbyists for the federation, which reported spending $56,659 on lobbying Wisconsin state government in the first six months of 2011. This included $6,680 to Jensen for 32 hours of lobby work, which comes to more than $200 an hour.

The bulk of the federation’s lobby effort in Wisconsin is handled by its government affairs associate, Brian Pleva, formerly an aide for Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon. Former Fitzgerald chief of staff Jim Bender left to become a lobbyist for School Choice. …

The influx of school choice money into Wisconsin is most easily tracked in direct contributions to political candidates. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s analysis found that individuals and political action committees associated with school choice gave $125,220 in campaign contributions to Walker and another $181,627 to current legislators and committees, most of them Republicans, in the 2009-10 election cycle. …

Many of the direct contributions to Wisconsin candidates from school choice proponents come through a conduit called the Fund for

Parent Choice. Conduits bundle money from individual donors to present to candidates collectively.


The American Federation for Children is a national group founded in January 2010, with a budget of roughly $4 million.[vi] The federation is the most prominent national group in the movement to use public tax money to fund private and religious schools.

The group is led by Betsy DeVos, a former chair of the Republican Party of Michigan and the sister of Erik Prince, the leader of Xe, the mercenary outfit formerly known as Blackwater that led the privatization of U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Betsy is married to Dick DeVos, son of billionaire Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, who himself is a long-time supporter of right-wing causes.

Betsy DeVos has deep pockets — and her involvement in partisan politics goes back decades. Back in 1997 she wrote an op-ed in which she said her family “is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party.” She went on to say that she had decided “to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point.”[vii]

The federation is an outgrowth of Advocates for School Choice, which had also been headed by Betsy DeVos. The group became embroiled in controversy after one of its partner groups headed by DeVos, All Children Matter, was fined $5.2 million by Ohio election officials for illegally funneling contributions.[viii]

According to Madison-based journalist John Nichols, the group “was also fined for political misconduct in Wisconsin, where the group’s 2006 campaigning violated campaign finance laws by expressly urging voters to cast ballots against legislative candidates who backed public education.”[ix]

The federation works in collaboration with voucher and conservative groups across the country. Its partners include the Heartland Institute (recently in the news for its “Operation Angry Badger”[x]), the Heritage Foundation, and a range of pro-voucher organizations organized both nationally and on a state-by-state basis.[xi] In Wisconsin, its state ally is School Choice Wisconsin, headed by Susan Mitchell (who, as previously noted, is also on the board of Hispanics for School Choice. The interlocking agendas and personnel among pro-voucher groups would make a multinational conglomerate blush with envy.)

The American Federation for Children is a 501©4 of the non-profit Alliance for School Choice, and as such is allowed to make political donations. In addition to being a lobbyist, Jensen is a senior advisor for the federation. Jensen had long supported vouchers when in the state legislature; after his indictment, he was hired by the Alliance for School Choice in 2004 to promote school vouchers on a state-by-state level.

Madison-based journalist John Nichols, in a report in the Nation magazine, notes that the American Federation for Children “spent an estimated $820,000 on independent expenditures and phony issue ad activity in the 2010 fall legislative races.” The figures were based on data from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.[xii]

On May 9, 2011, the American Federation for Children invited Gov. Scott Walker to deliver a keynote address on school vouchers at its national policy summit in Washington, D.C.


A list of the funders of school voucher organizations reads like a Who’s Who of right-wing foundations and billionaires. Think Progress— a non-partisan liberal blog focusing on investigative journalism — outlined some of the funding links in a May 21, 2011 report. Funders just for the Alliance for School Choice alone included DeVos, the Wal Mart Foundation, the Chase Foundation of Virginia, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the powerful Walton Family Foundation (of Wal-Mart fame).

Milwaukee’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has donated some $400,000 to the Alliance for School Choice over the years. [xiii] The Bradley Foundation has long been one of the most important ideological and financial supporters of vouchers. It made an estimated $41 million in grants for school voucher initiatives from 1986 to 2003 alone, and subsequent grants have maintained a similar pace.[xiv]

In Wisconsin, one of the most essential operatives in the school voucher movement is Susan Mitchell — head of School Choice Wisconsin and a board member of Hispanics for School Choice. School Choice Wisconsin had a budget of $1.279 million in 2009, and directors included conservative notables such as Tim Sheehy of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, former Lt. Governor and Republican state senator Margaret Farrow, and nationally prominent voucher advocate Howard Fuller (until January 2010). Mitchell’s compensation last year was more than $200,000.[xv]

— Barbara Miner, a Milwaukee-based journalist, has followed the voucher movement for more than 20 years. She is the author of the forthcoming book Lessons from the Heartland: Milwaukee Wisconsin, public schools, and the fight for America’s Future (New Press, Fall 2012).

[i] The Hispanic Conservative website is run by Aaron Rodriguez, secretary of Hispanics for School Choice. This excerpt, under the headline “A Buzz at the State Capitol,” is available at:

[ii] Bill Lueders, “Selling Out Public Schools,” Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, The Capital Times, Sept. 21, 2011, accessed via

[iii] “Jensen got early look at legislative district maps,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 18, 2012.

[v] Photos of the event, including a photo of Walker with the group’s leaders, are available at flickr:

[vi] The American Federation for Children, 990 tax form for 2010.

[vii] For a multi-part series on DeVos and her crusade against public education, see the website on the religious right, “Talk to Action Reclaiming Citizenship, History and Faith” and its report available at:

[x] Operation Angry Badger was a $610,000 effort to: 1. Recruit and promote superintendents who support Act 10;  2. Explain the benefits of Act 10; 3. Document the shortcomings of public schools in Wisconsin; 4. Expose teacher pay in key districts; 5. Create blogs that shadow small town newspaper coverage of the controversy. The campaign was based on leaked documents on the institute’s 2012 budget. The institute said in a Feb 15, 2012 statement the documents were stolen, and the authenticity of the documents had not been confirmed. The statement did not specifically disown Operation Angry Badger.

[xi] For a list of its allied organizations go to:

[xiii] Milwaukee Journal Sentinel searchable database on Bradley donations. Access at:

[xiv] John J. Miller, “Strategic Investment in Ideas: How Two Foundations Reshaped America” The Philanthropy Roundtable, Washington, D.C. 2003. The report was based on Bradley and Olin Foundation annual reports, and interviews and assistance from foundation employees and grantees.

[xv] School Choice Wisconsin 990 tax form for 2010.

April 20, 2014

Rand Paul, Anti-Immigrant and Tea Party Advocate, to Speak at St. Anthony’s on Wednesday

Filed under: Immigration,Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:21 pm

Sponsored by Latinos for Choice

Dear friends,

The Milwaukee Journal published the following article announcing that Rand Paul and Rachel Duffy will be the speakers at an event of St. Anthony’s School next Wednesday, April 23.

This is truly amazing! Rand Paul, together with a few other influential republicans in the US Senate and House, have been the stumbling block preventing immigration reform in this country. Senator Paul, in particular, has been hateful and inhumane in his references to the undocumented, and has even made proposals to take citizenship away from children born in this country to undocumented parents. Constitutionally, he can’t. But that is the type of disgusting rhetoric from the mouth of this incredibly nasty and inhumane libertarian politician. Rand Paul, elected into office with the push of billionaires and the Tea Party, is definitely among this party’s most extreme and insensitive members.

Paul has also been a leader in the movement to reverse Obamacare, and return to a time when the health and insurance industries depraved 48 million Americans of insurance and health care. Senator Paul has been an advocate of the rich, and is known to promote racist thinking against civil rights legislation. In other words: Senator Rand Paul is horrible on Latino and Black issues, a racist, and an enemy of immigrants, so why bring to Milwaukee?

We have stood by to see the growth of vouchers in the Latino community and Latinos for Choice, but  we can not allow insults and the manipulation of poor and working class Latinos. Most Latinos who enroll their children in voucher schools do not know that they are being used by Latinos for Choice to promote to power extremists that work against important immigration reform, health reform, necessary safety nets for the needy, and Latino empowerment.

Since yesterday there has been a huge reaction in the Latino community by many who see this as offensive! Senator Paul’s coming to Milwaukee must not be treated as an expression of “another” point of view by some in the Latino community. Persons with dignity and true concern for Latinos in this country take offense to Paul’s presence and presidential campaigning. Frankly, no one in their right mind should support this racist, insensitive anti-immigrant person –and this is an objective point of view. We urge you to let people know that this is totally unacceptable.

Never should we allow in the name of Latinos the appearance in our community-based institutions of Mr. anti-immigrant Rand Paul. It is even worse when some Latinos dare to manipulate ill-informed Latino parents and children, so as to promote a right wing political agenda. It is a sad day when anyone thinks that because Rand Paul and other extremist support school vouchers, one should support his extremist, insensitive and racist views too. The manipulation of Latinos in this day and age cannot be allowed. If those who enroll their children in St. Anthony know what this hatemonger has been doing all over this country,they would not support this event.

We urge the organizers if this activity not to proceed with the visit by Rand Paul. We should stop this event from happening and/or picket the activity.

Please see below.. and pass this on to others…This is important!

Tony Baez


Sen. Rand Paul coming to Milwaukee

By Georgia Pabst of the Journal Sentinel April 15, 2014


U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, the Republican from Kentucky who is considered a possible presidential contender in 2016, will be in Milwaukee April 23 for a roundtable on school choice.

His visit is sponsored by the conservative The LIBRE  Initiative and Hispanics for School Choice, a local organization that favors the expansion of school choice.

The roundtable will take place at St. Anthony’s Middle School, 2156 S. 4th St. It will be from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

Rachel Campos-Duffy, a TV commentator and author, is a spokesperson for The LIBRE Initiative. She’s also married to Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.).



Follow us: @JournalSentinel on Twitter

April 11, 2014

The Op-Ed the Journal Sentinel Chose Not to Run on the MMAC

Filed under: General — millerlf @ 8:22 am

MMAC Seeks to Influence Education Policy through Candidate Recruitment
By Larry Miller

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) is holding a “campaign training school” on Saturday April 12 to recruit candidates for public office who are in support of what they call pro-educational choice. The MAAC is uniting with the American Federation for Children, a Michigan-based voucher advocacy group, and a New York pro-voucher lobby group that calls itself Democrats for Education Reform.

Billed as a “bipartisan event,” the American Federation for Children (AFC) is anything but bipartisan. The group is led by Betty DeVos, the billionaire wife of Amway founder and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party Richard DeVos. In recent years, she has funneled tens of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts and other conservative initiatives.

The American Federation for Children spent $1.5 million helping Republicans in the recall elections. That includes some $900,000 spent to help Scott Walker fend off a challenge from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

The AFC has roots in Milwaukee. It has shared an address and leadership with its 501(c)(3) partner Alliance for School Choice, both groups promoting public school privatization through voucher programs.

AFC is also a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That’s the organization in which corporate lobbyists have formulated and advanced much of the legislation enacted by Republican-dominated state legislatures across the country. “Stand Your Ground” laws, efforts to restrict voting rights, voucher creation and expansion bills, bills to cut education funding and much more have origins with ALEC.

Representing Wisconsin AFC on the ALEC Education Task Force is former Rep. Scott Jensen. In 2005 Jensen, then Wisconsin Assembly Speaker, was convicted for misuse of his office for political purposes and banned from the state Capitol. Jensen is now one of AFC’s registered lobbyists in Wisconsin.

The MAAC’s alliance is part of a bold step to grow the voucher program in Milwaukee and expand it throughout the state. The AFC has influenced voucher creation and expansion in many states including Indiana and Florida. They attempted to influence the 2012 Milwaukee elections by supporting voucher candidates for Assembly and Senate seats. In that instance, every candidate they endorsed and heavily financed ended up losing. The Milwaukee delegation to the State Legislature, with the exception of Lena Taylor, has taken a strong and principled stand against expansion of taxpayer funded vouchers.

This year’s 16th annual Public Policy Forum report on schools and students in the Milwaukee and Racine parental choice programs provides insights on the characteristics of schools participating in the voucher programs and some early context for reflection on the impacts of major program changes enacted in the summer of 2011. The majority of voucher schools are made up of 80% or more voucher students. WKCE test scores for voucher students continue to lag those of MPS students. This is especially true for voucher students who attend predominantly-voucher schools. Voucher students also exhibit a high level of turnover, moving in and out of schools.

One of the MMAC’s favorite voucher programs is St. Marcus Lutheran School. “High performance” is often used to describe St. Marcus as a model for what are called quality seats for children in Milwaukee. Yet if one looks at the recently released reading data for that school, quite another picture emerges. St. Marcus’s WKCE reading scores, for grades 3 through 8, saw students, meeting proficiency, drop 2 percentage points to 19% from last year.

In this next round of education political warfare being launched by the MMAC, we all need to be aware of false advertising, hidden agendas and what is really at stake for our children.




April 4, 2014

Who is the right-wing American Federation for Children?

Filed under: American Federation for Children — millerlf @ 7:07 am

Right-Wing Alert: “American Federation for Children” and MMAC Organizing for Elections

The American Federation for Children (AFC), led by Betty DeVos, is allying with the MMAC to run candidates for offices in upcoming elections. The American Federation for Children spent $1.5 million helping Republicans in the recall elections. That includes some $900,000 that it spent to help Scott Walker fend off Tom Barrett’s challenge.

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.
Right-Wing Privatization Forces
The conservative policy institutes founded beginning in the 1970s get hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy families and foundations to develop and promote free market fundamentalism. More specifically, their goals include privatizing social security, reducing government regulations, thwarting environmental policy, dismantling unions – and eliminating public schools.

Whatever they may say about giving poor students a leg up, their real priority is nothing short of the total dismantling of our public educational institutions, and they’ve admitted as much. Cato Institute founder Ed Crane and other conservative think tank leaders have signed the Public Proclamation to Separate School and State, which reads in part that signing on, “Announces to the world your commitment to end involvement by local, state, and federal government from education.”

But Americans don’t want their schools dismantled. So privatization advocates have recognized that it’s not politically viable to openly push for full privatization and have resigned themselves to incrementally dismantling public school systems. The think tanks’ weapon of choice is school vouchers.

Vouchers are funded with public school dollars but are used to pay for students to attend private and parochial (religious-affiliated) schools. The idea was introduced in the 1950s by the high priest of free-market fundamentalism, Milton Friedman, who also made the real goal of the voucher movement clear: “Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a free-market system.” The quote is in a 1995 Cato Institute briefing paper titled “Public Schools: Make Them Private.”

Joseph Bast, president of Heartland Institute, stated in 1997, “Like most other conservatives and libertarians, we see vouchers as a major step toward the complete privatization of schooling. In fact, after careful study, we have come to the conclusion that they are the only way to dismantle the current socialist regime.” Bast added, “Government schools will diminish in enrollment and thus in number as parents shift their loyalty and vouchers to superior-performing private schools.”

But Bast’s lofty goals have not panned out. That’s because, quite simply, voucher programs do not work.

The longest running voucher program in the country is the 20-year-old Milwaukee School Choice Program. Standardized testing shows that the voucher students in private schools perform below the level of Milwaukee’s public school students, and even when socioeconomic status is factored in, the voucher students still score at or below the level of the students who remain in Milwaukee’s public schools. Cleveland’s voucher program has produced similar results. Private schools in the voucher program range from excellent to very poor. In some, less than 20 percent of students reach basic proficiency levels in math and reading.

Most Americans do not want their tax dollars to fund private and sectarian schools. Since 1966, 24 of 25 voucher initiatives have been defeated by voters, most by huge margins. Nevertheless, the pro-privatization battle continues, organized by an array of 527s, 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s, and political action committees. At the helm of this interconnected network is Betsy DeVos, the four-star general of the pro-voucher movement.

The DeVos Family Campaign for Privatization of Schools
The DeVoses are top contributors to the Republican Party and have provided the funding for major Religious Right organizations. And they spent millions of their own fortune promoting the failed voucher initiative in Michigan in 2000, dramatically outspending their opposition. Sixty-eight percent of Michigan voters rejected the voucher scheme. Following this defeat, the DeVoses altered their strategy.

Instead of taking the issue directly to voters, they would support bills for vouchers in state legislatures. In 2002 Dick DeVos gave a speech on school choice at the Heritage Foundation. After an introduction by former Reagan Secretary of Education William Bennett, DeVos described a system of “rewards and consequences” to pressure state politicians to support vouchers. “That has got to be the battle. It will not be as visible,” stated DeVos. He described how his wife Betsy was putting these ideas into practice in their home state of Michigan and claimed this effort has reduced the number of anti-school choice Republicans from six to two. The millions raised from the wealthy pro-privatization contributors would be used to finance campaigns of voucher supporters and purchase ads attacking opposing candidates.
Media materials for Betsy DeVos’ group All Children Matter, formed in 2003, claimed the organization spent $7.6 million in its first year, “impacting state legislative elections in 10 targeted states” and a won/loss record of 121/60.

Dick DeVos also explained to his Heritage Foundation audience that they should no longer use the term public schools, but instead start calling them “government schools.” He noted that the role of wealthy conservatives would have to be obscured. “We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities,” said DeVos, and pointed to the need to “cut across a lot of historic boundaries, be they partisan, ethnic, or otherwise.”
Reinventing Vouchers
Like DeVos, several free-market think tanks have also issued warnings that vouchers appear to be an “elitist” plan. There’s reason for their concern, given the long and racially charged history of vouchers.

School vouchers drew little public interest until Brown v. Board of Education and the court-ordered desegregation of public schools. Southern states devised voucher schemes for students to leave public schools and take the public funding with them.

Author Kevin Michael Kreuse explains how this plan was supposed to work in White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. “At the heart of the plan to defend school segregation, for instance, stood a revolutionary scheme called the ‘private-school plan.’ In 1953, a full year before Brown, Governor Talmadge advanced a constitutional amendment giving the General Assembly the power to privatize the state’s entire system of public education. In the event of court-ordered desegregation, school buildings would be closed, and students would receive grants to attend private, segregated schools.”

Given the racist origins of vouchers, advocates of privatization have had to do two things: obscure the fact that the pro-privatization movement is backed primarily by white conservatives, and emphasize the support of African American and Democratic lawmakers where it exists.

In 2000, Howard Fuller founded the Black Alliance for Education Options. The group was largely funded by John Walton and the Bradley Foundation. Walton, a son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, contributed millions to the Betsy DeVos-led All Children Matter organization, including a bequest after his death in a plane crash in 2004.

A report by People for the American Way questions whose interest was being served in the partnership between the Alliance and conservative foundations. The summary of the report reads, “Over the past nine months, millions of Americans have seen lavishly produced TV ads featuring African American parents talking about school vouchers. These ads and their sponsor, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), portray vouchers as an effort to help low-income kids. But a new report explores the money trail behind BAEO, finding that it leads directly to a handful of wealthy right-wing foundations and individuals that have a deep agenda — not only supporting the school voucher movement, but also backing anti-affirmative action campaigns and other efforts that African American organizations have opposed or considered offensive.”

Black was more blunt, describing vouchers as “The Right’s Final Answer to Brown” and tracking the history of vouchers from die-hard segregationists to the Heritage Foundation’s attempt to attach vouchers to federal legislation in 1981. The article stated, “The problem was, vouchers were still firmly (and correctly) associated with die-hard segregationists. Memories of white “massive resistance” to integration remained fresh, especially among blacks, who had never demanded vouchers — not even once in all of the tens of thousands of demonstrations over the previous three decades.”

The article continues, “Former Reagan Education Secretary William Bennett understood what was missing from the voucher political chemistry: minorities. If visible elements of the black and Latino community could be ensnared in what was then a lily-white scheme, then the Right’s dream of a universal vouchers system to subsidize general privatization of education, might become a practical political project. More urgently, Bennett and other right-wing strategists saw that vouchers had the potential to drive a wedge between blacks and teachers unions, cracking the Democratic Party coalition. In 1988, Bennett urged the Catholic Church to ‘seek out the poor, the disadvantaged…and take them in, educate them, and then ask society for fair recompense for your efforts’ — vouchers. The game was on.”

In this winning formula, vouchers or “scholarships” are advertised as the only hope for under served and urban minority children. Those who dare to defend public education from voucher schemes are, ironically, implied to be racist. Glossy brochures published by the DeVos-led entity All Children Matter show smiling faces of little children as well as those of the African American and Democratic politicians who have joined the campaign. Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. city councilman who takes credit for “shepherding” vouchers in D.C. and New Orleans, served as senior advisor to All Children Matters and now leads the BAEO and sits on the board of the DeVos-led AFC and Democrats for Education Reform.

All Children Matter was fined $5.2 million dollars in Ohio for breaking campaign finance laws, and lost an appeal in early 2010. The fine has not been paid. The DeVos-led organization also received bad press due to a fine in Wisconsin for failing to register their PAC as well as complaints in other states. In 2010 the entity began working under the name American Federation for Children (AFC) and registered new affiliate PACs across the nation, just in time for the 2010 elections.

The 2010 effort included a state that was not even included in Dick DeVos’ list of potential targets when he spoke to the Heritage Foundation in 2002 — Pennsylvania. An affiliate of AFC registered a PAC in Pennsylvania in March 2010 and less than a year later a voucher bill, SB-1, was sponsored in the Senate.

Throughout this well-coordinated campaign, the Pennsylvania press never once mentioned the name Betsy DeVos.

The Religious Right Foot Soldiers
The strategy in Pennsylvania in 2010, like efforts in other states, benefited from years of previous efforts to build alliances in the voucher movement. The conservative policy institutes have limited reach in the general public. In order to win the battle for hearts and minds, a larger public relations effort is required. The Religious Right fills this role with their tremendous broadcast capability and growing access to churches and homes. The partnership between free market fundamentalists and social conservatives is often contentious, but they share a common goal — to end secular public education. The free marketers object to the “public” aspect while the Religious Right objects to the “secular” component of public education.

A significant forum that brings together free-market power brokers and Religious Right leaders is the Council for National Policy (CNP), a secretive group that has met several times annually behind closed doors since 1981. Richard DeVos described CNP as bringing together the “donors and the doers.” This partnership gives the Religious Right access to major funders, including Richard Mellon Scaife, who are not social conservatives.

Many of the free-market think tanks are secular, but there is a trend toward merging free-market fundamentalism with right-wing religious ideology. The Acton Institute is described by religious historian Randall Balmer as an example of the merging of corporate interests with advocates of “dominion theology.” Dominionism is the belief that Christians must take control over societal and government institutions. The Acton Institute funds events featuring dominionist leaders including Gary North, who claims that the bible mandates free market capitalism or “Biblical Capitalism.”

Betsy DeVos has served on the board of Acton, which is also funded by Scaife, Bradley and Exxon Mobil. A shared goal of this unlikely group of libertarians and theocrats is their battle against environmental regulation. One of the Acton Institute fellows leads a group of Religious Right organizations called the Cornwall Alliance, which is currently marketing a DVD titled Resisting the Green Dragon. The pseudo-documentary describes global warming as a hoax and claims environmentalism is a cult attacking Christianity. Another shared goal of the free marketers and Christian dominionists is eradicating secular public education.

Gary North explains why getting students out of public schools is key to the Christian dominionist camp. “So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

And the Christian Right has been busy enacting this vision. One of the first goals of the Christian Coalition was to take control of 500 local public school boards, and it’s a strategy the Religious Right has continued. One prominent example is Cynthia Dunbar, one of the members of the Texas State Board of Education which made controversial changes to the state’s social studies curriculum in 2010. Dunbar, who was advised by right-wing self-styled “historian” David Barton, is author of One Nation Under God and has described sending children to public schools as “throwing them into the enemy’s flames, even as the children of Israel threw their children to Moloch.”

In addition to getting Trojan horses on school boards, the Religious Right has played a significant role in disseminating anti-public school propaganda and forming alliances to support vouchers for private schools. Family Research Council (FRC), one of the entities funded by the Prince and DeVos families, documents the effort in Pennsylvania to cultivate a partnership between Protestants and Catholics who wanted public funding for their sectarian schools.

The data accompanying proposed bill SB-1, indicates that the majority of the public school funds that will be spent on vouchers will pay tuition for students already enrolled in private schools. In Milwaukee 80 percent of voucher program schools are religiously affiliated, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In Cleveland, 52 percent of the students in the 29 Catholic diocesan schools are using taxpayer-funded vouchers, according to the Plain Dealer.

FRC’s Web site includes a 1999 speech by one of Pat Robertson’s biographers, in which he describes the school choice alliance in Pennsylvania of Protestant and Catholic leaders along with the Commonwealth Foundation and REACH Alliance. Commonwealth is a state think tank funded by the Scaife foundations. REACH Alliance is the statewide pro-voucher activist organization funded by the DeVos-led Alliance for School Choice (now also renamed American Federation for Children). This alliance is further described in the speech as forming “ties to black legislators based in Philadelphia, including Dwight Evans. This was big news for the Pennsylvania education reform movement because Evans is a powerful legislator and community leader.”

Evans would indeed become key to expanding vouchers in the Philadelphia area, and he and state Senator Anthony Williams (not to be confused with the D.C. mayor by the same name), both Democrats, serve as directors of the BAEO.


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