If you are a conservative American, let me start by saying that this information will quite likely blow your mind, or make you angry, or make you call me a liar. You might even say I want to protect the public school monopoly, or take down the public school system altogether. I’ve heard it all. Please bear with me as I expose the people and money behind “school choice.”
I’ve already written about what “school choice” is. It should be defined as simply choosing where your child goes to school. And we do have that already.
But the term has become a crafty political tool to disguise government-funded private school and homeschool. It means that “the money follows the child.” It’s being pushed (or already has been) in every state, and is coming to the national scene in the form of vouchers and ESAs (Education Savings Accounts) and tax-credit scholarships.
What it means now is that government funds will be given to parents to “spend on the best possible education for their child” in any location. Some say, “I already pay taxes, so I should decide where those taxes go.” Others say, “The public schools are failing, so we should have more options.”
- We do pay taxes, and we should get to say where they go. But we don’t try hard enough. We haven’t fought hard enough to make our voices heard in terms of education spending. We should decide. But have we actually done so? Do you even know how education dollars are spent in your state? (If we truly felt we should decide where our taxes went, wouldn’t we be watching each bill filed, at every school board meeting, and hounding our representatives in state legislatures? Are we doing any of that?)
- If the public schools are failing, what is the reason? Its is too little funding? Too much testing? Common Core (or other similar standards)? If any of these is true, would it make sense to impose those same problems on private and home schools? (That’s what “school choice” legislation does. It is government funds, with government restrictions, government approved materials, and government required testing.)
Do you follow?
Now. This is a Republican issue. It’s pushed and touted by Republicans all over the country, and by Republican policy organizations. Think of Heritage Foundation, Ted Cruz, and others. That’s where this gets confusing for someone who disagrees with the concept and otherwise trusts and supports these people. This is where you have to think WAAAAY outside the “Republican” box, because it is NOT conservative.
Those of us who find ourselves against this type of legislation, also find ourselves in political no-man’s land. I’m a conservative. And yet I’m finding that the Democrats are the ones who agree with me. Talk about strange.
So I started researching. I wanted to know why Republicans were pushing what amounts to an entitlement program, an expansion of government, and a restriction of freedom.
Settle in, because I found a lot. And though this post is long, it still doesn’t cover everything out there. So I’m also providing links for you to go and read for yourself.
In June 1995, the economist Milton Friedman wrote an article for the Washington Post promoting the use of public education funds for private schools as a way to transfer the nation’s public school systems to the private sector. “Vouchers,” he wrote, “are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system.” The article was republished by “free market” think tanks, including the Cato Institute and the Hoover Institution, with the title “Public Schools: Make Them Private.”
While Friedman has promoted vouchers for decades, most famously in his masterwork Free to Choose, the story of how public funds are actually being transferred to private, often religious, schools is a study in the ability of a few wealthy families, along with a network of right-wing think tanks, to create one of the most successful “astro turf” campaigns money could buy. Rather than openly championing dismantling the public school system, they promote bringing market incentives and competition into education as a way to fix failing schools, particularly in low-income Black and Latino communities. –
Despite an effort to promote private school choice as a nonpartisan, grassroots effort, the engine behind the national effort and its local offshoots has been, and continues to be, a surprisingly small group of wealthy conservatives. (Source – Read the entire article)
“Rather than the government running schools and assigning students to them based on where they lived, the state should give the funds directly to parents who could then choose the school that worked best for their own children. Education choice should be universally available and free of any ‘conditions…that interfere with the freedom of private enterprises to experiment, to explore, and to innovate. These education choice policies include school vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and publicly funded education savings accounts (ESAs).’” (quote from the late Milton Freidman)
Betsy DeVos and Heritage Foundation
When given a clear choice, voters across the United States have consistently opposed school vouchers. Between 1966 and 2000, state ballot initiatives to allow public funding for private schools were rejected 24 out of 25 times. This dismal record led the pro-voucher strategists to rebrand the movement as “school choice” and as beneficial to public schools. In 2002, Dick DeVos suggested to a Heritage Foundation audience that the school choice movement should conceal its conservative roots. He advised that “properly communicated, properly constructed, [school choice] can cut across a lot of historic boundaries, be they partisan, ethnic, or otherwise.”
He continued: “We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities. Many of the activities and the political work that needs to go on will go on at the grass roots. It will go on quietly and it will go on in the form that often politics is done – one person at a time, speaking to another person in privacy.”
Dick and Betsy DeVos followed through. By 2009, the media packet of the DeVos-founded All Children Matter promoted the following successes:
• Spent $7.6 million in 2003-2004 directly impacting statewide and state legislative elections in ten targeted states.
• In races with significant ACM involvement, we have a won/loss record of 121 to 60, phenomenally successful for a political organization.
• In an era where incumbents are rarely challenged or defeated, ACM had a role in defeating 17 incumbents that opposed school choice for low-income families.
• ACM has supported the campaigns of four school choice Governors – Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Matt Blunt in Missouri, Mitch Daniels in Indiana, and Jon Huntsman, Jr., in Utah. (Source – same article as above)
For proof, watch Dick DeVos talk about dismantling the public school system in 2002. At Heritage.
Lindsay Burke, from Heritage Foundation, says: “Rather than the government running schools and assigning students to them based on where they lived, the state should give the funds directly to parents who could then choose the school that worked best for their own children. Education choice should be universally available and free of any “conditions…that interfere with the freedom of private enterprises to experiment, to explore, and to innovate.” She goes on to state: “America’s district school system guarantees all children access to a seat at a school assigned to them based on the location of their home.”
Since the beginning of time, this has been true.
She goes on: “America’s district schools have fallen behind their international counterparts. On the most recent PISA exam, America ranked 32nd in math among participating nations in the industrialized world, despite a significant increase in funding. Indeed, adjusted for inflation, the average amount spent annually per pupil at the nation’s district schools has approximately tripled since 1970 and yet the scores of 17-year-olds on the Long-Term Trend Assessments of the National Assessment of Educational Progress have remained flat.”.
We agree on this point: funding doesn’t matter. Yet, Heritage is actually advocating more funding from the very agencies that are responsible for the downturn in education. I ask: how is this choice?
“In a review of the international research comparing different types of education systems, Andrew J. Coulson of the Cato Institute found that that the most market-like, least regulated systems consistently outperformed more centralized and regulated ones. The most market-like systems were defined as those in which parents chose their child’s school and bore some direct financial responsibility, and in which the private schools had considerable autonomy to determine their own curricula and pedagogy and set their own wages and tuition. These more market-like education systems outperformed more centralized ones by a ratio of 15 statistically significant findings to one across numerous different measures of educational outcomes, including:
- Academic achievement;
- Efficiency (academic achievement per dollar spent);
- Parental satisfaction;
- Student attainment; and
- Subsequent earnings.”
Again, why is Heritage advocating for government funded private education when their own report even admits that private schools enjoy success BECAUSE of their independence from taxpayer-tied strings and regulation?
“The pro-corporate ideology behind school choice asserts that business style competition will be invariably good for education, and that putting school management and teaching into private (and nonunion) hands will make education less expensive, more efficient and more effective.” (Source)
Wait. How do taxpayer dollars become private dollars? These are not tax deductions we’re talking about. These are (in the case of Texas) funds handed to the parent from the state for purchase of approved and accredited materials and tests. There’s nothing private about that.
Much of the positive reporting on private school choice quotes the Foundation for Educational Excellence, founded by Milton Friedman; the Department of Education Reform at University of Arkansas, recipient of a $300 million donation from the Walton Foundation; and other entities funded by pro-privatization supporters.(Source)
“In a market-based system, producers are held directly accountable to consumers for results. The government sets certain rules against fraud or health and safety standards, but the consumers ultimately decide whether a product or service meets their needs. Likewise, the government could ensure that ESA funds are spent on qualifying educational products and services, but the accountability for results should lie with parents, who are in the best position to evaluate those results.”
You can’t have “goverernment ensuring that ESA funds are spent on qualifying education products” and also accountability lying with the parents. There’s one or the other; not both. You know it and I know it. If your neighbor was given thousands of taxpayer dollars to spend, you’d want some accountability, right?
Oh, didn’t I mention we’re talking about thousands of dollars? In Texas, the proposed amounts start at $5,000 and go up from there. Per child. Per year. So, yeah, you’d want some kind of oversight on that money. Approved purchases, perhaps? Who approves the purchases? What is the criteria? Would your religious curriculum be approved? Ha!
Yep. You can just bet. So, tell me again how this gives parents a CHOICE?
“In a market-based system, high-quality education providers that attract families have a strong incentive to expand while less effective providers must either go out of business or imitate their more successful competitors.”
Who else will go out of business or imitate their competitors? The small, independent, and religious-affiliated curriculum providers. The ones who have thrived also provided superior education materials to homeschoolers for decades. (In case you’re not a homeschooler, you are probably not aware of the hundreds of curriculum providers available to parents; we are able to choose from an endless list of resources to meet the exact needs of our children and their abilities. No public school has the options we have. Click on this homeschool convention website and get a small sampling.) Talk about real choice!
Now, remember that quote above by Dick Devos? “When given a clear choice, voters across the United States have consistently opposed school vouchers. Between 1966 and 2000, state ballot initiatives to allow public funding for private schools were rejected 24 out of 25 times. This dismal record led the pro-voucher strategists to rebrand the movement as “school choice” and as beneficial to public schools.”
The Dallas Morning News recently reported: Based on focus groups it conducted nearly two years ago with 34 state legislators the (Friedman) foundation (now called Ed Choice) urges states to begin with narrowly crafted bills that create the accounts first for children with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Doing so “minimizes resistance” and gets choice supporters’ foot in the door, said a memo by Washington, D.C.-based Bellwether Research and Consulting, which conducted the focus groups. Supporters should tap into parents of students with autism, who are “a strong potential network of support for ESA legislation,” the memo said.
How interesting that Texas HB 1335 Filed states:
“Relating to the establishment of an education savings account program for certain children with special needs and other educational disadvantages.”
The memo goes on with the findings:
- The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice is seen as a top resource for education information, as are: ALEC [see more about ALEC below] the Heritage Foundation, and the Heartland Institute. The legislators appreciate: on-site visits to states leading education reform efforts and learning from fellow legislators, education reform conferences, case studies of what has worked in other states, and background facts and data.
They would like more case studies with possible adaptations for their states. They would welcome visits from experts to speak to their caucus or to the public on school choice.
When there is no (perceived) dissatisfaction with the status quo, and a large number of rural legislators who don’t think their districts will benefit from school choice, how do you make a case for school choice? (Pg 9)
Meet with newly elected legislators. Prep and prepare them for the assault they are likely to get from teachers’ unions or other groups. Help build up their backbone. (page 10- under “Tactics”)
About Tax Credit Scholarships
“Although Pennsylvania does not have a voucher program, the state has one of the largest school choice programs in the country, second only to Florida. This is made possible through a corporate tax credit program named the Education Improvement Tax Credit, initiated in 2001.
State Senator Sam Rohrer (R-128th District), an opponent of teaching evolution in schools, claims credit for writing the state’s education tax bill. Under the law, companies can divert their tax liability to private school scholarships, with 75 percent credited toward their state taxes, 90 percent on a commitment of two consecutive years. According to Pennsylvania accounting firms, as well as the private schools promoting the tax credit and REACH Alliance, these donations cost the corporation little or nothing, and also count as a charitable contribution on the corporation’s federal taxes.15 (Individuals contributing to nonprofit charities still pay the bulk of their donations from their own pockets.) The tax credit has been expertly (and falsely) marketed in Pennsylvania as costing the taxpayers nothing.” (Source)
Florida has the largest private school choice program in the nation. Corporations can donate to private school scholarship programs and be credited 100 percent of that donation through the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) program. In 2011-2012, the cap on the program was $175 million; a bill passed in March increased the cap to $229 million for the 2012-2013 school year. Although corporations are receiving a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, the program has been described in the press as “donations from corporations.”
“ALEC also counts as members some 270 representatives of trade associations, conservative foundations and many of the largest corporations in America. Interest groups are involved in other legislative organizations, such as NCSL and the Council of State Governments, but there they don’t enjoy the kind of influence ALEC gives them. ALEC has standing task forces composed of both legislators and private-sector representatives. The private-sector folks help draft and have a 231 CONSERVATIVE AGENDAS/CAMPAIGNS POLITICAL RESEARCH ASSOCIATES DEFENDING JUSTICE Securing a Conservative Infrastructure veto over any proposed legislation that the task forces create. “ALEC is unique in the sense that it puts legislators and companies together and they create policy collectively,” says Oklahoma state Representative Scott Pruitt, an ALEC task force chair. In Pruitt’s opinion, the regular legislative process doesn’t allow for enough time listening to business. “The actual stakeholders who are affected by policy aren’t at the table as much as they should be,” he says. “Serving with them is very beneficial, in my opinion.” (Source, p. 5)
ALEC’s annual budget is $6 million, which is supplemented by expenditures from private sector members who provide campaign contributions and “scholarships” that cover travel expenses for legislators attending ALEC functions. Legislators pay just $50 for a two-year membership, but businesses pay up to $50,000 to join. “You have to recognize that because ALEC is funded by profit-making industries, they have tremendous resources at their disposal,” says Julian Zelazny of the State Environmental Resource Center, one of the critics. “You can sum all these groups together and our budgets still won’t come anywhere near to being a fraction of ALEC’s.”
Allowing industries affected by legislation to write the legislation, they say, is going too far, and once the voters hear about this, they will agree.
ALEC does do a few things that reinforce its secretive image. It keeps its model legislation locked under password protection on its Web site, and gives its bills innocuous-sounding names that mask their actual significance. Rarely is any ALEC bill acknowledged as such; a legislator who proposes one offers it as though it were his own idea…” (Source)
Which brings me to the funding.
In case you think school choice is a grass roots effort by some concerned parents, think again.
While I have worked for awhile on connecting the dots, there are so many dots that I’d have to devote my life to it. But, I’m still a homeschool mom, so I present you with just a little:
“And so while those of us on the national level can give support, we need to encourage the development of these organizations on a state-by-state basis, in order to be able to offer a political consequence, for opposition, and political reward, for support of, education reform issues.” – Dick Devos
DeVos described the opportunity states as: Florida, Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado and Virginia.
Further insight to the agenda of the voucher movement can be found in the policy papers of right-wing think tanks heavily funded by several DeVos family foundations as well as the foundations of the Koch, Scaife, Walton, Bradley, and other families. The Heritage Foundation, for instance, has received over $21 million from the Sarah Scaife Foundation alone.
That fact gives us the tool we need to undercut the organizing ability of teachers’ unions, and hence their power as a special-interest group.
…Because we know how the government schools perpetuate themselves, we can design a plan to dismantle them.”
The plan was designed in think tanks funded by Koch, Scaife, Bradley, Olin and other mega-donors, but the execution at the state level has been the project of Dick and Betsy DeVos. (Source)
(Oh, did I forget to mention that the end goal is to destroy the public school system? See the video above.)
Anyhoo, back to the funding. That money has to get to the states, right? To the people on the ground, the legislators, etc. Since I’m in Texas, I’ve been looking at Texas. As a homeschooler, I’m trying to figure out how in the world our state homeschool organization was convinced that taxpayer funded private education was something they could champion.
After trying to wrap my brain around the connections, I finally had to put into a spider-web chart:
Betsy DeVos – You already know her role
Randan Steinhauser – Executive Director, Texans for Education Opportunity, formerly with American Federation for Children
Stacy Hock – Co-founder, Texans for Education Opportunity; Texas Public Policy Foundation Board Member; Vice Chair, Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (Source), Board Member, National School Choice Week, donated money to THSC
Heritage Foundation – Education policies
Texans for Education Opportunity – “The group, whose board of directors includes former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, has so far raised more than $100,000 from a variety of local and national organizations to fund its work, Steinhauser said.” (Source)
Texas Public Policy Foundation – Wrote a constitutional amendment resolution “protecting homeschool freedom” (this, from a very pro-ESA group)
Texas Aspires – (formerly Texans for Education Reform)
Gov. Greg Abbott – Leading the push for school choice, Appointed Stacy Hock as Vice Chair, Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (Source),
Texas Homeschool Coalition – Supports ESAs. I have spoken with Tim Lambert myself about this issue. He says it is “not fair” that some families cannot homeschool, and that everyone should have “equal” rights. Socialistic thinking, anyone?
THSC received donations from Stacy Hock, the state Comptroller, and Senator Don Huffines (See their campaign expenditures report)
Senator Don Huffines, SD 16 – Pushing school choice, including at Town Halls with Randan Steinhauser, donated money to THSC
Comptroller Glen Hegar – The “approval” arm of Education Savings Accounts (See SB3), donated money to THSC
You can check out Project Vote Smart for the all contributors to elected officials. Look for the names on the chart. Who paid to play?
These are not all the connections. These are not all the players. My goal here was to find out why the big push in Texas, and specifically with the Texas Homeschool Coaltion, which used to protect homeschoolers from overreaching state oversight. But it’s politics now. Follow the money. Draw your own conclusions. Follow the links. Follow the rabbit trails. It’s there for anyone to see.
THIS IS NOT GRASS ROOTS.
Other links you might want to read: