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Est. April 5, 2002
December 15, 2016 - Issue 679

Privatization Strategies

"The Cartel has created a vast array of
think tanks and advocacy organizations
to distribute questionable and deeply flawed
research studies to confirm that corporate
and virtual charters, vouchers, and non-certified
teachers are the best approaches to
educating low-income students of color."

Public sector stakeholders (teachers, unions, and ordinary citizens) are on the precipice of a public education Armageddon. On January 20, 2017, the nation’s system of public education is likely to begin descending into a public education free zone. President-Elect Donald J. Trump has stated that he will ramp up and facilitate the efforts of the corporate education reform Cartel to privatize public schools. To underscore his commitment to this endeavor, he has placed one of the Cartel’s most prominent and aggressive members, billionaire Betsy DeVos, at the helm of the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE).

She and the Cartel have also established and funded an interlocking network of majority and minority civic leaders, grassroots groups, corporate executives, professional athletes, entertainers, former and current school board members, superintendents, political bosses, governors, state and federal legislators, and every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan. DeVos’s approach has been bipartisan with deep tentacles among both Democrats and Republicans.

This reality is at the core of public education supporters’ conflicts as to how to combat this assault on K-12 public education. As noted in previous columns, they cannot decide whether cooperation or opposition is the best option to save public education and the public sector. As a result, teachers, unions, elected officials, and others have been unable to come up with a coherent and focused set of initiatives to win the battle for K-12 public schools.

While these difference of opinion persist among public education stakeholders, the corporate education reform Cartel has systematically employed a military-style offensive on the foundations of private- and public-sector unions: co-opting and/or developing Democratic legislators and leaders who traditionally sustained and advanced the public sector; legislative redistricting which facilitated Republican takeovers of state legislatures and the U.S. Congress; writing and passing state and federal legislation promoting public school privatization; dismantling collective bargaining agreements (CBAs); and forming sixty-five Cartel think tanks, from coast to coast, that produce a steady stream of questionable and exaggerated research findings to affirm the success of public school privatization.

Starting in the 1980s, the Cartel identified minority and majority politicians, clergy, and local leaders and contributed to their campaigns and 501c3 non-profits. Included in this group are former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke; South Carolina legislator, U.S. Congressman, and now U.S. Sen. Tim Scott; former Illinois state senator, U.S. Senator, and now two-term President Barack Obama; recently elected Philadelphia Congressman Dwight Evans; disgraced Bishop Eddie Long who paid off a $25 million lawsuit after being accused of sexually abusing under-age boys; Bishop T.D. Jakes, who has advised Republican and Democratic U.S. presidents for more than two decades; and numerous others throughout the nation.

The Cartel has developed its own pipeline, which it constantly replenishes, to carry out its school privatization agenda. In return for this largess, these proxies have provided credibility for the Cartel’s program in their respective ethnic and social class communities, similar to President-Elect Trump inviting former professional football players Jim Brown and Ray Lewis and entertainer Kanye West to confer with him this week at New York City’s Trump tower. (Confidential sources have stated that Trump plans to use them and others to promote his corporate education reform plan.)

The legislative redistricting after the 1990 census found Democrats asleep at the wheel. Republicans approached black communities in a number of states and got them to buy-in to packing African Americans into a few districts thereby increasing their numbers in state legislatures and in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was nearly two decades before blacks began to realize that this racial trade-off, in terms of major reductions in overall Democratic representation, were not in the overall best interests of African Americans, that blacks did not need eighty to ninety percent population density in order to win elections.

Coupled with the cultivation of their erstwhile Democratic opponents, the Cartel began proposing legislation to privatize public education (via vouchers and tuition tax credits) in 1981 as soon as Reagan was inaugurated as president and in state legislatures. These early trial balloons burst very quickly, but by 1990, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, collaborated with the Cartel-sponsored Democratic chair of the legislature’s bicameral Joint Committee on Finance (Sen. Gary George), to pass the nation’s first publicly-funded private school voucher bill, since the era of Brown v. Board of Education, for Milwaukee, the state’s largest school system which was overwhelmingly populated by low-income African American and Hispanic students, despite the fact that Democrats controlled both legislative houses.

When the bill was challenged in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who was investigating the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, was recruited and paid by the Bradley Foundation to take a leave from his attempt to indict President Clinton to defend the voucher bill before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. (Wisconsin’s Democratic attorney general had the statutory responsibility to so, but Gov. Thompson did not trust him to be a strong advocate due to his party affiliation.) Starr prevailed in this instance although he would later fail in his prosecution of Bill Clinton. Using Milwaukee as a model, Ohio and Florida passed voucher bills by 1995, and the Ohio voucher case, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled constitutional in 2002, opened vouchers to the nation if states could pass the legislation.

However, the Cartel’s coordinated efforts to eliminate collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and union check-off dues, which have provided public- and private-sector unions the financial resources to sustain their organizing campaigns and to elect politicians who support their interests, have taken a substantial hit in recent years. Beginning in 2010, when Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) passed Act 10 eliminating CBA for teachers and other public-sector unions, right-to-work bills are being advanced throughout the country.

Walker’s victory was quickly followed by Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA) where a teacher, Rebecca Friedrichs, was suing to keep from paying agency dues for representation to CTA although she had refused to join the union. The case reached the Supreme Court and was defeated in a 4-4 tie in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death. Had he lived, unions’ ability to collect these dues would have been overturned. Moreover, since the November 2016 election, right-to-work bills are gaining traction in New Hampshire, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Kentucky as Republicans continue to increase their numbers in state legislatures.

Finally, the Cartel has created a vast array of think tanks and advocacy organizations to distribute questionable and deeply flawed research studies to confirm that corporate and virtual charters, vouchers, and non-certified teachers are the best approaches to educating low-income students of color. Although these results have been repeatedly proven to be false, this information is widely reported by the print (New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles times, etc.) and broadcast (MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, etc.) media as if they are accurate. The Cartel is becoming a major purveyor of “fake news.”

In addition, it has promoted parent satisfaction studies, finding that private, voucher, and charter parents have higher satisfaction levels than those in public schools. Just last Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Peterson, professor of government at Harvard University, where he directs the Program on Education Policy and Governance, which has been underwritten by the Cartel for nearly three decades, reported on an online survey he conducted and other secondary analyses he reviewed that showed private and charter school parents are the most satisfied as if satisfaction, alone, translates into academic outcomes. Other Cartel-backed researchers at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Stanford University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have made similar claims about significant educational outcomes in voucher and charter schools using the flimsiest data sets.

Public education supporters will have to overcome the aforementioned challenges if they hope to forestall a public education Armageddon.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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