The Koch-funded war on labor unions is only part of a larger battle plan. Meet the DeVos-fronted war on public education.
Reasonable people can, of course, disagree over the wisdom of education voucher plans that pay for charter schools, but a new Talk To Action exposé traces financial and organizational ties to show that many of the people behind campaigns for voucher bills coming before state legislatures this Spring don't want to improve public education; quite the opposite--they want to destroy it.
My colleague Rachel Tabachnick has just released a groundbreaking report that ties voucher initiatives in Pennsylvania, Florida, and elsewhere to right-wing Think Tanks--funded by the DeVos family but also the Koch brothers and foundations of the Scaife, Olin, Bradley, Smith-Richardson, and Walton families--whose leaders have publicly indicated their desire to completely eradicate taxpayer-financed public education.
As the report shows, a central part of the strategy is the use of considerable money to sway key Democratic Party figures to back voucher bills so that support for such bills appears bipartisan, and in Pennsylvania an organization called Students First has played a major role in promoting the push for vouchers, but the DeVos-backed group group is run by a Republican political strategist who served as an aide to President George W. Bush.
As early as April 26th, a voucher bill will come before the Pennsylvania legislature. As Rachel Tabachnick writes in Voucher Advocate Betsy DeVos, Right-Wing Think Tanks Behind Koch-Style Attack on PA Public Schools,
A new wave of school voucher bills is sweeping the nation, which would allow public education funds to be used in private or parochial schools. As with past waves of voucher initiatives, these new bills are largely promoted and funded by the billionaire DeVos family and a core group of wealthy pro-privatization supporters. They include Pennsylvania SB-1, soon coming to a vote in the PA Senate, and the "Vouchers-for-All" bill approved by the Florida Senate Education Committee on April 14. Betsy DeVos is at the helm of organizations that have set the stage for both bills, but you would never know it based on the propaganda being marketed to Pennsylvanians. Even if you are from another state, keep reading. Chances are a Betsy DeVos-led campaign is already at work in your state or will be there soon.
The DeVos family is recognized as one of the top national contributors to the Republican Party, free market policy institutes, and Religious Right organizations. Many of their previous attempts at using voucher initiatives to privatize the nation's public schools have been transparent. Recent campaigns have been more covert and are camouflaged behind local efforts described as grass roots and bipartisan.
Pennsylvanians should not be deceived. Regardless of where one stands on the issue of school choice, behind the curtain of this effort is an interconnected network of right wing think tanks and billionaire donors, funded by foundations including those of the DeVos and Koch families and the Scaife, Allegheny, and Carthage Foundations of Pennsylvania's own Richard Mellon Scaife. The leaders of many of these DeVos/Koch/Scaife-funded institutes openly voice their ideological objections to all forms of public education. Some even proudly display their support for a proclamation posted at the Alliance for Separation of School and State, which reads,"I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education."
Years have been spent developing and promoting schemes to privatize public education. The report"Voucher Veneer: the Deeper Agenda to Privatize Public Education" by People For the American Way (PFAW), quotes Joseph Bast, President and CEO of the Koch/Scaife/Walton-funded Heartland Institute,"The complete privatization of schooling might be desirable, but this objective is politically impossible for the time being. Vouchers are a type of reform that is possible now, and would put us on the path to further privatization."
Regardless of the individual merits of any particular charter school, the promotion of charter schools collectively is key to the hard religious right strategy for destroying public education, because voucher-funded charter schools will siphon money and the best students from public schools.
That, in turn, will degrade public schools, at which point advocates for charter schools and privatization will point to public schools and say, "look! Public schools are a failed experiment. We need more vouchers, more charter schools!"