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An essay titled Liberal State, Libertarian Policies, published on the web site of Political Research Associates, (PRA, a progressive think tank in Somerville, Massachusetts), raises disturbing questions about education policy under four Republican gubernatorial administrations in Massachusetts. The authors, Paul Dunphy and Nikhil Aziz, charge that "a handful of conservative ideologues, closely aligned with a local libertarian think tank, are dominating every aspect of Massachusetts' education policy and pushing an agenda of privatization that is driving up costs even while weakening public oversight." They also suggest that free market rhetoric maybe cloaking some self-dealing by insiders who crafted hands off regulations for charter school companies for which they subsequently were employed. The authors say that Pioneer and its associates are "getting away with it largely unquestioned."  Well, thanks to the hard work and persistence of Dunphy, Aziz and PRA, those days are over.

The essay is a timely follow up to an earlier PRA investigative report, The Pioneer Institute: Privatizing the Common Wealth.

The Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research  has influenced many areas of state education policy. But, the authors say that Pioneer "almost single-handedly" advanced charter school and voucher programs.

How do they do it? In part by a revolving door between the Pioneer Institute, Republican administrations and private companies holding no-bid charter contracts. For example, the authors report that "the chair of the state Board of (public) Education is the former executive director of Pioneer. Another former executive director serves alongside him on the Board. The head of the Department of Education's Office of Charter School Accountability arrived at the job directly from Pioneer. These appointments continue the revolving door pattern between Pioneer and the Administration."  

"While the institute claims to favor competition," write Dunphy and Aziz," three of its former executive directors, serving in the Weld Administration, ingeniously crafted the regulations not only to exempt charter schools from many of the mandates facing the public system (for instance, serving severely disabled students) but to accord them financial priority over public schools, largely insulating them from the uncertainties of the state budget process."

"Meanwhile," they conclude, "millions of dollars in contracts between charter schools and for-profit management companies, one of which was founded by Pioneer associates, have been awarded with no competitive bidding whatsoever. This from the folks who claim that, 'the public benefits from competition'

The result of all this may be less anything resembling the free market, so much as crony capitalism.

"Pioneer operatives," Dunphy and Aziz charge, have steered huge private subsidies to charter schools enabling them to out spend the neighboring public system by hundreds of dollars per student, even as conservative groups continue to charge that public schools are 'over-funded.'"

They call Pioneer and other free marketeers "hypocrites" for pushing for standardized testing for public school kids, while seeking "vouchers to private and religious institutions that want nothing to do with MCAS" (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) the controversial state standardized test.

"As millions are siphoned off to charters, municipalities face the unpleasant reality of either higher property taxes or leaner educational programs," Aziz and Dunphy charge. "Wherever there are charter schools, from Martha's Vineyard and Boston, to Fitchburg, Worcester, and Northampton, public school kids pay the price of privatization."

There is a question that is long overdue with regard to the financing and management of charter schools. In a time of budget crises, why are municipalities and states subsidizing private, for-profit academies that benefit a very few, at the expense of everyone else?  

Struggles over school privatization are being waged all over the country,of course. But the impetus behind some of it, just as in Massachusetts, is a national network of state-level conservative think tanks that have sprung up, while national policy in many areas "devolved" to the states during the Reagan and Bush administrations. I documented this in an earlier report for PRA titled Takin' It to the  States:  The Rise of State-Level Conservative Think Tanks. Pioneer, like the others, is bankrolled by rightwing business interests and foundations. Pioneer's supporters, as Dunphy and Aziz note, include the "Walton (as in Walmart) Family Fund."

This network, and the various privatization schemes they promote, deserve far more scrutiny than they have generally received from the media, and public officials who treat their studies as legitimate scholarship and earnest public policy proposals.

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Sun Jan 23, 2005 at 12:26 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The SCLM Ignored PRA's Original Report (4.00)
    The orignal report goes into greater detail into how the regulations were rigged to minimize public accountability, and to artifically prop up for profit charters while unfairly draining local school budgets.
  •  Let's see: Repug to do list (none)
    ( ) Destory all institutions of traditional liberalism and of progressives:

    1. Common schools
    2. Liberal arts and sciences at public universities
    3. Rule of law
    4. Dignity of human-kind (respect of human rights)
    5. Democracy, at home and aboard
    6. Social security

    ( ) Replace with autocratic state that serves corporate interests only

    Action: Help 75,000 more Americans learn the true cost of war.
    Click, download, email. (painful photo)

    by Tom Kertes on Sun Jan 23, 2005 at 12:50:51 AM PST

  •  This is so disturbing (none)
    How the hell do we stop this stuff? I know also that Scientology has their sick hands in the education system also. They've bought a couple of universities in Mass- damn I can't think of the name- I'll try to google it and come back with a link- I practically 'brain-washed' my daughter on the dangers of schools run by religious groups and how to question anyone who 'tried' too hard to get her to 'visit' meetings etc., when she was growing up. I urge all parents to educate their kids to question their teachers etc., if they feel the teacher is wrong. I did it all through catechism classes when I was little and the nuns use to call my parents about me all the time LOL!! I especially did it in catholic High School- and several of the nuns and priests that taught me- left the church-no kidding!!
    •   "Student Technology" W.I.S.E (none)
      http://studytech.org/archives/000058.php Boston Herald Scientology-linked project gets city grant by Steve Marantz Scientology-linked project gets city grant by Steve Marantz Mayor Thomas M. Menino has endorsed a literacy project affiliated with the Church of Scientology, which critics say is a step towards offering cult-like teachings to school children. When Menino posed for a photo at a December awards ceremony with the director of H.E.L.P. Boston - and gave a $1,000 city grant to the group - aides said they were aware that the group teaches a ``study technology'' developed by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the movement. But Menino, through a press office spokesperson, said yesterday that he did not know of H.E.L.P. Boston's Scientology connection. In any event, city officials say the group's program is nonideological and nonreligious, and are standing behind the grant to be used for the city's school-aged youth, even as a Scientology-watch Web site is urging the public to ``complain about Boston's support of this cult scam.'' Boston Herald Church keys programs to recruit blacks by Joseph Mallia The Church of Scientology has targeted black families in Massachusetts with a learn-to-read program that critics say is just a rehash of old methods that leans heavily on the church's religious teachings. The learn-to-read program - the World Literacy Crusade - is part of a nationwide effort by the church to entice blacks into Scientology and then convince them to take other, expensive programs, according to critics and former members of the church. A Herald review has found that Scientologists have: Targeted a literacy campaign at inner-city Boston programs for minority children, including Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn's Youth Development Program, the Roxbury YMCA and the Roxbury Youth Works.
  •  I support public schools (none)
    but I also support our governments long-held tent that education is primarily the responsibility of parents.  Schools act "in loco parentis" which basically means that parent subcontract education of their children to schools while retaining authority.

    As I have argued before, America's education system fails because of the lack of skilled teachers.  I cannot blame parents for seeking alternatives.

    On the other hand, I am concerned about who starts charter schools.  I am well-acquainted with a particular charter school whose charter has all the right words, but in actuality is a Mormon school whose principal, an ex-insurance agent, believes he owns the school, especially since he purchased with his own money the land the school stands on.

  •  For the next "This Week in Fascism" (none)
         Frederick Clarkson wants to know if you agree that the Republican Spoils System Spoils the Schools). He has prepared an excellent piece on how the Republicans go from "think tanks" where they recommend charter schools to the State Administration to prepare legislation for voucher programs and finally to the schools as administrators where they collect the funds. Another trick involves standardized tests in which Charter School students are exempted so they actually prefer that public schools perform poorly so that they can push more voucher funds.
         How do they do it? In part by a revolving door between the Pioneer Institute, Republican administrations and private companies holding no-bid charter contracts. For example, the authors report that "the chair of the state Board of (public) Education is the former executive director of Pioneer. Another former executive director serves alongside him on the Board. The head of the Department of Education's Office of Charter School Accountability arrived at the job directly from Pioneer. These appointments continue the revolving door pattern between Pioneer and the Administration."
    After reading this you will understand why Republicans push Private Schools. It's the money as usual. The Religious Right are blind to this because with the limited regulation of Private and Charter schools they get their cut and can "properly indoctrinate" the children.

    This Week in Fascism is now on Thursday and due out at 20:00 PST.

    "It's about the accountability, stupid." Thomas Davis 2005

    by Tomtech on Thu Jan 27, 2005 at 05:02:13 PM PST

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