This from AlterNet:
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 (now Xe), 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.For a local manifestation, check out the Bluegrass Institute's homage to Friedman, this one offered by UK's John Garen.
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 isBetsy 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 Commentator.com 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.” ...
Hat tip to School Matter