School Vouchers

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  • Trump's New Education Transition Team Has Corporate Dark-Money Ties

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Major education news outlet Education Week reported that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign has appointed two new staffers to his “presidential transition team for education”: the Hoover Institution’s Williamson Evers and the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Gerard Robinson. Both Evers and Robinson are well-connected in the pro-privatization education policy sphere and affiliated with several groups devoted to weakening public schools.

    In a September 19 article, Education Week reported that multiple sources confirmed the addition of Evers and Robinson to Trump’s education transition team. Both Evers and Robinson have previously served in Republican administrations and are connected to prominent corporate- and dark-money-fueled groups in the education policy landscape. As Education Week explained:

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has picked Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, to be on his presidential transition team for education, according to multiple sources.

    Evers served as an assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Education from 2007 to 2009, and also was an adviser to former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in 2007 under President George W. Bush. Robinson served as Florida's education commissioner from 2011 to 2012, and has also served as Virginia's education secretary and as the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

    The policies backed by Trump, Evers, and Robinson -- often cloaked in the language of so-called “school choice” -- have earned the support of corporate and private billionaire funders eager to profit off students, an interest Trump himself has pursued through his now-defunct and allegedly fraudulent Trump University business. Among education groups funded largely by right-wing dark money to drum up support for education privatization are three directly connected to Evers and Robinson.

    Evers is a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, which publishes the education policy journal Education Next and has received thousands in funding from the anti-union, right-wing Bradley Foundation to support a K-12 education “taskforce.” Evers’ work at the Hoover Institution has largely focused on his opposition to the Common Core State Standards and his conservative interpretation of the federal government’s limited role in shaping education policies. Trump has both egregiously misrepresented the standards and confused the parameters of federal education policy on the campaign trail, namely by repeatedly and incorrectly asserting that he would abolish the Common Core as president.

    Robinson is a resident fellow at the conservative right-wing think tank AEI, which has received millions in funding from conservative donors such as dark-money conduit DonorsTrust, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, to support general operations and education-related research. AEI, “one of the country’s main bastions of neoconservatism,” frequently publishes education research defending voucher programs that drain money from public schools (similar to Trump’s recent education policy proposals) and online education programs that allow private companies to profit off students with little oversight. Robinson’s tenure at AEI has included Bradley Foundation-funded work on the “future of American society and the role education plays in it” and efforts to push a conservative view on racial justice in education across mainstream and right-wing media outlets.

    Robinson also previously led the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), a group that receives substantial funding from conservative donors to make the case for privatized educational policies as a means for racial equity. Both AEI and BAEO work closely with a number of other pro-privatization nonprofits and think tanks such as the anti-union American Federation for Children and the Koch-affiliated State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks.

    Evers’ and Robinson’s research and affiliations reveal a commitment to pro-education privatization policies that should come as no surprise -- they perfectly align with Trump’s support for expanding opportunities to open up the public school system to market competition and private, for-profit actors with little regulation. These recent appointments reveal the Trump campaign’s active desire to operate solidly within the “education reform” echo chamber built, funded, and fueled by dark-money conservative activists.

  • Journalists, Experts Unimpressed By Trump’s Education Plan

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump recently delivered an education-focused speech in Cleveland, OH, coupled with the release of what his campaign calls “new school choice policies.” As they have with Trump’s limited previous statements on education, education reporters and experts are pointing out that his proposals lack specifics, don’t reflect political realities, and show a lack of understanding about the federal government’s role in creating education policy. 

  • Mike Pence Set To Strengthen Ties To ALEC And Corporate-Driven Education Reform

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Republican vice presidential nominee and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is reportedly scheduled to speak Friday at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which takes place in Indianapolis, IN, this year. The meeting, which typically determines the legislative priorities of the corporate-funded bill mill for the coming year, runs from July 27 through July 29. Pence was originally scheduled to speak at a July 27 ALEC event co-sponsored by the conservative-leaning Center for Education Reform but later pulled out, citing conflicts with the Trump-Pence campaign schedule. The Indianapolis Star reported that Pence rescheduled his ALEC appearance, however, and will speak at the annual meeting on July 29.

    ALEC is a corporate-fundedmembership organization that connects right-wing state legislators across the country with model legislation that represents “the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism” and corresponds with corporate interests on a given policy issue. ALEC’s corporate-minded -- and conservative -- model policies tackle issues from K-12 education to “academic freedom” in higher education, as well as tax reform, social programs, environmental and infrastructure policies, and health care. Its corporate-sponsored model legislation on education issues is heavily focused on scholarship tax credits, vouchers, and other “school choice” programs that would lessen support for traditional public school systems. In line with the right-wing agenda, ALEC is also behind so-called “right to work” legislation that severely weakens unions -- including teachers unions -- and has so far been adopted in 26 states, although the law was struck down as unconstitutional by a Wisconsin state court in April.

    ALEC is funded by several philanthropic organizations founded or supported by the oil billionaires David and Charles Koch -- including the Charles Koch Foundation, “dark money ATM" DonorsTrust, and Donors Capital Fund -- as well as several other staunchly right-wing private foundations. It boasts having “nearly 300 corporate and private foundation members,” who pay for memberships in order to influence the proposed model policies, and lists partnerships with several right-wing education privatization groups.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

    Pence’s education policies as Indiana governor have closely mirrored ALEC priorities. In fact, Pence wrote the introduction to ALEC’s annual “Report Card on American Education” in 2014, which graded Indiana highest in the nation for education policy that year. In his introduction, Pence touted Indiana’s school voucher system, which boosts federal funding for students to attend private schools, a long-standing ALEC priority. A recent study, however, pegged Indiana’s voucher program -- now one of the largest in the country -- as an example where “negative effects of vouchers” were apparent in student performance.

    Pence also pointed to increased attendance at charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated, sometimes by private management companies with little oversight. ALEC supports policies, reflected in Pence’s education agenda, that boost charter funding and enrollment caps but can financially threaten traditional public schools. The group is reportedly focusing on legislative efforts to make charter school closures more difficult in the coming year.

    Pence has spoken at ALEC and other right-wing corporate reform events in the past, including delivering a keynote address at ALEC’s 2013 policy summit. In 2015, Pence spoke at an Indiana education rally held by the state political action committee Hoosiers for Quality Education. The rally was sponsored by controversial online charter company K12 Inc. (also a “proud” ALEC member) and several national education privatization groups -- some affiliated with the Kochs. These connections to right-wing education reform efforts represent only a facet of Pence’s reportedly close relationship with the Kochs and of his commitment to corporate-backed policies.

    ALEC’s annual meeting has sparked protests from Indiana teachers and lawmakers. State Rep. Robin Shackleford, a Democrat, explained, “For too many years, this organization has destroyed the character of public education in the name of choice at the detriment of our community.”

  • The WSJ's Editorial Board Celebrates Arne Duncan's Resignation By Promoting Anti-Public Education Myths

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    An October 5 editorial by the Wall Street Journal used anti-union rhetoric and pro-privatization arguments to celebrate Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's resignation and replacement by Acting Deputy Education Secretary John King. The editorial perpetuated several well-worn education policy myths, and mischaracterized the economic outcomes of for-profit colleges and the effects of voucher programs for low-income students of color. 

  • NRO Continues Misinformation Campaign About The DOJ's Lawsuit Against Louisiana

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    National Review Online is attacking the Department of Justice's decision to hold the state of Louisiana accountable for apparently failing to comply with the terms of several longstanding court orders, incorrectly framing these enforcement efforts as an attempt to force minority students to attend failing schools.

    This is not the first time that the NRO has advanced these outlandish claims against the DOJ and the Obama administration, but they continue to be dishonest. From a September 24 column on NRO's The Corner:

    The Department of Justice's fight against school vouchers for poor children in Louisiana has not been popular, and the Obama administration knows it. So last night, in a particularly cynical move, the DOJ filed an additional motion, amending its suit in phrasing but not spirit.

    This political maneuvering threatens the future of thousands of minority children who may soon be banished to failing schools.


    The DOJ is making two main demands: First, it wants information about how the voucher program would affect the racial composition of public schools; and second, it wants parents to get pre-clearance from federal courts before they're allowed to transfer their own children to a school of their choice.

    And if the DOJ succeeds, that would have repercussions not only within Louisiana, which has emerged as a national school-choice leader, but also across the United States; education reformers would have to assess how offering academic options to parents and their children might affect "desegregation."

    The DOJ filed its suit because Louisiana is under numerous federal court orders that require the state to assess the impact of new educational policies on decades-long efforts to desegregate Louisiana public schools, not because it believes, as NRO puts it, "Minority kids mustn't leave for better schools." Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal ignored this legal obligation and went ahead with a voucher program before providing any information to the court regarding its effects, even after the DOJ warned the voucher program appeared to have "impeded the desegregation process."

  • WSJ Perpetuates Union Conspiracy To Attack DOJ's Enforcement of Desegregation Orders

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    A Wall Street Journal editorial is mischaracterizing the Department of Justice's attempts to bring Louisiana into compliance with long-standing school desegregation orders as motivated by pro-union biases.

    The editorial follows a long line of conservative media attacks against the DOJ's decision to file a lawsuit against Louisiana, asking a federal court to block the state's controversial voucher program. Despite the fact that Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal began issuing vouchers before seeking the required judicial approval, he insists that the DOJ's suit is nothing more than a scheme to advance the interests of teachers unions, a baseless charge the WSJ editorial board continues to repeat.

    After accusing Education Secretary Arne Duncan of "plead[ing] ignorance" for refusing to comment on the DOJ lawsuit (neither Duncan nor the Department of Education are parties to the suit), in a September 6 editorial the WSJ went on to suggest that the "real motive" for the suit is a pro-teachers union agenda on the part of the DOJ:

    [Jindal] got to the heart of the matter by noting that the real motive for this lawsuit is union politics. The teachers unions have been trying to block the voucher plan by any means possible, but so far they've failed. Bringing in the feds for a desegregation gambit is merely the latest attempt.

    Jindal maintains that vouchers represent the next stage of the civil rights struggle by offering minority students at failing schools a "choice," but the DOJ argues that vouchers actually "impeded the desegregation process." More importantly, right-wing media have largely ignored the existence of numerous long-standing court orders that require Louisiana to obtain permission from a federal judge before making any changes to the education system that might negatively impact desegregation efforts.

    Instead, right-wing media are accusing the Obama administration of "inhumane" treatment of students of color and comparing Attorney General Eric Holder to infamous former Alabama Gov. George Wallace who sought to illegally maintain segregation in schools. For its part, the WSJ claims that "studies" show that "voucher recipients increase integration by letting minority children escape geographic school boundaries."

  • NRO Attacks Desegregation Efforts By Likening Obama Administration To Jim Crow

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    A National Review Online editorial compared Attorney General Eric Holder to a notorious Jim Crow official for blocking a Louisiana school voucher program and accused the Obama administration of dehumanizing children of color, failing to mention the Department of Justice is acting pursuant to long-standing desegregation orders.

    Continuing a right-wing media campaign against the DOJ's current attempts to ensure Louisiana remains in compliance with valid court orders still in effect to prevent the re-segregation of its public schools, the NRO followed the lead of Fox News and completely ignored the law in order to champion a Republican school voucher plan.

    The NRO also accused the Obama administration of "inhumane" treatment of public school students of color, comparing the attorney general to George Wallace, the infamous Alabama governor who attempted to illegally maintain school segregation.

    Finally, the editorial assumed its readership was unaware of Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and the well-known switch on race relations between the two parties because of federal civil rights law, ahistorically concluding "[w]ould that [Wallace's] fellow Democrats should have a similar change of heart and give up their half-century stand in the schoolhouse door." For a publication with an ugly and well-documented history of past and present racism, such smears are wildly audacious.

    From the September 4 editorial:

    It was 50 years ago this June that George Wallace, the Democratic governor of Alabama, made his infamous "stand in the schoolhouse door" to prevent two black students from enrolling at an all-white school. His slogan was "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"

    These many years later, Democrats still are standing in the schoolhouse door to prevent black students from enjoying the educational benefits available to their white peers, this time in Louisiana instead of Alabama. Playing the Wallace role this time is Eric Holder, whose Justice Department is petitioning a U.S. district court to abolish a Louisiana school-choice program that helps students, most of them black, to exit failing government schools.

    The Obama administration is a serial offender on this issue, and its cynicism is startling.


    Setting aside the naked political cronyism that is in fact at the heart of this dispute, consider the DOJ's case on its merits: The government is arguing that the choices of actual black students and their families must be constrained in the service of preserving certain statistical measures of how black certain schools are. Put another way, this case really turns on the question: Are black children human beings?

  • Right-Wing Media Ignore Long-Standing Court Orders To Attack Louisiana School Integration

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    Continuing right-wing media attacks on the Department of Justice's attempts to protect school integration in Louisiana, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly completely ignored the multiple federal court orders blocking a school voucher plan that may cause re-segregation.

    Recently, right-wing media have been ignoring their proclaimed fidelity to the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution by dismissing violations of civil rights law, supposedly out of sympathy for other persons of color unaffected by the racial discrimination in question.

    The most prominent example of this paradoxical stance has been right-wing media's strenuous defense of the New York Police Department's (NYPD) stop and frisk policy on behalf of crime victims of color, despite the fact that federal courts have found it unconstitutionally discriminates against millions on the basis of race. This selective disregard for legal requirements when discussing significant civil rights holdings reemerged this week, with the announcement that the Department of Justice agrees with a recent federal court decision that found the school voucher program in Louisiana was not in compliance with a decades-old court order.

    On August 27, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal responded by attacking the Department of Justice's attempt to bring Louisiana back into compliance with multiple desegregation orders potentially violated by the voucher plan, and accused Attorney General Eric Holder of betraying the principles of Martin Luther King Jr. According to the WSJ, "[a] black Attorney General ought to be applauding this attempt to fulfill MLK's dream of equal educational opportunity. His lawsuit turns racial justice on its head."

    Fox News has followed this lead by offering ill-informed explanations of the Department of Justice's actions and Louisiana's integration requirements. On the August 29 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly didn't even bother to mention the current court orders or the fact that Louisiana could easily seek authorization from the relevant federal courts for its voucher plan, instead accusing Holder and President Barack Obama of "siding with the left."

  • How ALEC Is Quietly Influencing Education Reform In Georgia


    Georgia media have been silent as members of ALEC in Georgia's legislature have successfully pushed through a version of ALEC's Charter Schools Act, which would create a state-controlled board with the power to establish and fund charter schools over local opposition. A Media Matters analysis found that while Georgia media have frequently written about the bills, they have completely overlooked ALEC's influence in the debate.

  • Who's Behind Dick Morris' "School Choice" Crusade?


    CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- No venue provides a more exquisite fit for a Dick Morris speaking event than the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The high walls of this monument to speed and sponsorship feature mural-sized photos of the greatest car-and-drivers ever sold, their hoods and helmets bursting with brands both familiar and forgotten. Dick Morris could match any of them with the sponsors to whom he's rented his name in recent years.

    That roster now includes the logos of National School Choice Week (NSCW) and its patron, the Gleason Family Foundation. It was in their name that Morris cruised into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 26 as part of a national speaking tour to promote "school choice," a conservative crusade to steer tax dollars out of public schools and into the private education sector, which is heavily religious and non-union. Over the past year, Morris' NSCW involvement has included several plugs for the events during seemingly non-related appearances on Fox News, including spots on Hannity and On The Record With Greta Van Susteren. In a typical appearance, Morris blasted President Obama for failing to discuss National School Choice Week and the school choice movement.

    "I'm here in Chicago; it's National School Choice Week," Morris told Sean Hannity. "All over the country, people are going to charter and other schools as an alternative to the teachers union monopoly and [Obama] didn't mention it."


    Speaking of things not mentioned, at no point during his NASCAR Hall of Fame speech or his various Fox appearances did Morris disclose that the Gleason Family Foundation -- a major funder of School Choice Week -- has paid out at least $180,000 in "marketing" fees to Triangulation Strategies, a consulting firm registered to Morris' wife and co-author, Eileen McGann. (Morris has frequently used Triangulation Strategies to collect fees from candidates and political groups.) As with so many slides on Morris' well-worn coin-operated viewfinder, his school-choice promotion coincides with lucrative business relationships.

  • Doocy misrepresents report on voucher program to attack teachers' union

    ››› ››› ERIC SCHROECK

    On Fox & Friends, Steve Doocy falsely claimed that a government report found students enrolled in Washington, D.C.'s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which awards vouchers to students to attend private schools, "performed better academically than students in the public schools" and claimed that Congress' defunding of the program is evidence that "the teachers union has a stranglehold on the Democratic Party." In fact, the report to which Doocy is presumably referring "found no conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement overall."