The sudden, rapid push for school voucher programs nationwide is not due to any public outcry or grassroots uprising for these programs. For decades these programs have been a hard-sell with the American public. Instead, a small group of wealthy individuals and corporate-backed, private foundations have been behind these efforts to divert public taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools. Among them is the son of the billionaire co-founder of Amway, Richard "Dick" DeVos, Sr., who advocates dropping the term "public schools" in favor of the term "government schools" and who has poured millions of dollars into groups that advocate "school choice," the term often used to refer to voucher programs. Dick DeVos's wife, Betsy DeVos, who is also the sister of Erik Prince of Xe, the private mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater, has been even more aggressive than her husband at promoting voucher programs. She launched the pro-voucher group "All Children Matter" in 2003, which spent $7.6 million in its first year alone to promote the adoption of state voucher programs. Betsy DeVos also founded The American Federation for Children in 2010. A PAC of the same name spent $820,000 on Wisconsin state legislative races to elect pro-voucher candidates. The Alliance for School Choice is another DeVos-funded group that promotes vouchers. The Walton Family Foundation (of Wal-Mart fame) has also given millions to push school voucher programs. These are just a small sample of the private, corporate-backed forces working to undermine public schools.
According to news reports, the Charles G. Koch Foundation has bought "the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university." Kris Hundley of the St. Petersburg Times reports that the elder Koch brother's foundation "pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University's economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting 'political economy and free enterprise.'"
Protesters took to the Wisconsin's capital once more on May 14th to prove neither pessimism nor weather could dampen their enthusiasm.
An estimated 10-15,000 Wisconsinites gathered on the State Street steps equipped with new chants and signs protesting Walker's collective bargaining bill, education cuts, Badger Care cuts and immigrant rights. Summing up the feeling of many, one protester held a sign saying "Too Many Bad Bills for One Sign!"
The Wisconsin protests have yet to become redundant or uninteresting and continue to reinvent the very notion of protesting. The May 14 rally, sponsored by unions and the Wisconsin Wave, wasn't any different.
Phil Neuenfeldt, President of the WI AFl-CIO, warned that even though the collective bargaining bill was tied up in the courts, Gov. Scott Walker "is attempting to ram through the legislation attacking workers by incorporating it into an already extreme budget proposal."
It seems wherever Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker goes, protesters seem to follow. This rule held true earlier this week in Washington D.C., when Walker used his newly burnished credentials as an extremist to address a forum promoting the privatization of public schools.
The American Federation for Children (ACF) promotes school privatization and voucher schemes that take away critically needed funds for public education to fund private schools. Inside the Marriott, The American Federation for Children's "School Choice Now: Empowering America's Children" policy summit attracted voucher boosters like Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and Michelle Rhee, the former controversial head of the Washington D.C. public school system. Outside the Marriott, there were around 200 protesters with signs that read "Public Education Not Privatization," "Save Our Schools," and "Vouchers Aren't the Answer."
FreedomWorks, the Washington, D.C.-based group chaired by Dick Armey that does not disclose its corporate funders, has been aggressively promoting a measure in Pennsylvania that would divert taxpayer funds to support religious and private schools. FreedomWorks has hosted town hall meetings, run a state-wide radio ad campaign and organized phone call and letter writing campaigns to support SB1, a measure to phase in a new educational system that would give parents taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for their children to attend private and religious schools. The bill would also increase funding for an existing state program that gives businesses tax credits if they donate to private and religious schools. In addition to FreedomWorks, industry lobbying groups like the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association support the "school choice" measures. A group called Students First, which draws membership from FreedomWorks, recently conducted a "school choice" rally at the state capitol that revealed the group has access to cash and professional organizers. The rally included T-shirts, lunches and posters for hundreds of attendees, and the group uses a professional media adviser and veteran political ad man from Pittsburgh to help organize its events. The Students First PAC, funded by wealthy Philadelphia-area businessmen, first drew media attention after it poured millions of dollars into the campaign of Pennsylvania state senator Anthony Williams, who was running for governor. Williams made school vouchers a cornerstone of his campaign. Williams also co-authored the school voucher bill now before the state Senate.
According to its newly-minted website, the Advocates "are dedicated to supporting the University of Wisconsin-Madison ... [and] will promote greater accountability through enhanced autonomy for this unique institution." This lobbying effort is similar to efforts afoot in other states to use state budget issues to privatize public higher education institutions and put more assets and power at the disposal of powerful corporate interests.
The lobby shop's PR description closely mirrors the title of the Wisconsin Public Research Institute's December 2010 report titled, "Making the University of Wisconsin More Accountable Through Greater Autonomy." WPRI is heavily funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a right-wing neo-conservative think tank.
Op-Ed by Steve Horn, Madison, Wisconsin -- This is a story about Scott Walker and Biddy Martin's efforts to dismantle the University of Wisconsin-Madison. To complete the corporatization of the public's university is an important piece of what is happening both in Madison and nationwide. This story must be told before it is too late to save the university that belongs to the people of Wisconsin, and while democratic momentum is still on our side at the University, in Madison, and in the state of Wisconsin. Although seemingly specific to the UW, this is a case study about the future of public college education nationwide.
The cost of K–12 public schooling in the United States comes to well over $500 billion per year. So, how much influence could anyone in the private sector exert by controlling just a few billion dollars of that immense sum? Decisive influence, it turns out. A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state, and national levels. In the domain of venture philanthropy -- where donors decide what social transformation they want to engineer and then design and fund projects to implement their vision -- investing in education yields great bang for the buck.
A recent Spin of the Day item on PRWatch says that Bank of America bought up hundreds of derogatory Internet domain names related to their business, like BankofAmericaSucks.com and BrianMoynihanBlows.com (referring to BofA's CEO). Purchasing derogatory domain names is a quiet but common corporate strategy to try to minimize or contain bad PR.
Join as "One Nation" on October 2, 2010 for a giant march in Washington D.C. to demand good jobs now. One Nation describes itself as "a movement of individuals and organizations committed to putting America back to work and pulling America back together." Their key demands are job creation, equal justice, and quality public education for all. Only the Banksters would disagree with that agenda. Learn more about the civil rights, labor and consumer groups supporting this giant mobilization and where you can find your seat on a bus.