"The DeVos family crusade to eradicate public education... [is] being marketed as a solution to save public schools, but the big donors are tied to right-wing think tanks that openly advocate, and strategize, the end of public education. How can vouchers improve public schools if the people mobilizing the movement intend to eradicate public education? Regardless of your personal stance on "school choice," it's important to know who is behind the voucher movement and the agenda they don't share with the public or advertise in their media campaigns." - from Rachel Tabachnick's report, Voucher Advocate Betsy DeVos, Right-Wing Think Tanks Behind Koch-Style Attack on PA Public Schools
Last weekend, while revisiting a 2007 Alternet story I did covering the war on public education, The link between Private Armies & Private Schools?, I discovered an astonishing video of a speech Amway fortune heir Richard DeVos gave on December 3, 2002, at the Heritage Foundation (which DeVos money funds.) Dick DeVos is brother-in-law to private mercenary army Blackwater's founder Eric Prince (hence my Alternet title.)
In the speech, DeVos laid out the next decade's plan for the continuing right-wing assault on public education but warned his Heritage audience that "We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities."
From here, I'll let Rachel Tabachnick, who has been covering the ongoing war on Public Education in depth, provide context for Richard DeVos' Heritage speech. If you have not yet read the two reports Tabachnick links to in her introductory paragraph, I urge you to do so:
Strategy for Privatizing Public Schools Spelled out by Dick DeVos in 2002 Heritage Foundation Speech
Right-wing think tanks have determined that school vouchers are key to eradicating public education and Dick and Betsy DeVos lead the way in execution of the well-funded plan. The money is tracked in two extensive reports on Talk2action [1 and 2].
"We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities," Dick DeVos warned in a December 2002 speech at the Heritage Foundation. DeVos was introduced by former Secretary of Education William Bennett and then proposed a stealth strategy for promoting school vouchers in state legislatures. DeVos and his wife Betsy had already spent millions promoting voucher initiatives that were soundly rejected by voters. Pro-privatization think tanks had concluded that vouchers were the most politically viable way to "dismantle" public schools; the DeVoses persevered. Dick DeVos introduced his 2002 Heritage Foundation audience to a covert strategy to provide "rewards or consequences" to state legislators, learning from the activities of the Great Lake Education Project (GLEP) initiated by Betsy DeVos. Vouchers should be promoted by local "grass roots" entities and could not be "viewed as only a conservative idea." DeVos added, "This has got to be the battle. It will not be as visible."
Ten years later, the DeVos stealth strategy has been implemented and is winning the voucher war in several states. As recommended to the Heritage Foundation in 2002, the public face of the movement is bipartisan and grass roots, and millions of dollars are poured into media firms to reinforce that image. However, behind the scenes the movement continues to be led by the DeVoses, and the funding used to provide "rewards or consequences" for state legislators continues to be raised from a small group of mega-donors.
[Transcript of this 2:24 minute segment of the speech is below the video. Full speech at link. ]
Transcript of the above video segment:
"Where's the battle going to be fought, for the future? In my view it will be, and at this point it needs to be, fought at the state level--utilizing vehicles such as GLEP and others nationally but ideally these organizations must be constructed locally. They need to be constructed with individuals such as the staff we had in Michigan, who were intelligent and connected with the local grassroots politics of what was going on, that had the relationships, the insights, and the political sensitivity to know what was happening.
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.
That has got to be the battle. It will not be as visible. And, in fact, to the extent that we on the right, those of us on the conservative side of the aisle, appropriate education choice as our idea, we need to be a little bit cautious about doing that, because we have here an issue that cuts in a very interesting way across our community and can cut, properly communicated, properly constructed, can cut across a lot of historic boundaries, be they partisan, ethnic, or otherwise.
And so we've got a wonderful issue that can work for Americans. But to the extent that it is appropriated or viewed as only a conservative idea it will risk not getting a clear and a fair hearing in the court of public opinion. So we do need to be cautious about that.
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. And so these issues will not be, maybe, as visible or as noteworthy, but they will set a framework within states for the possibility of action on education reform issues."
Here is Rachel Tabachnick's full story, Strategy for Privatizing Public Schools Spelled out by Dick DeVos in 2002 Heritage Foundation Speech, at Talk To Action
You can listen to an Mp3 podcast of Rachel Tabachnick discussing this subject on Working Family Radio Network, which goes out on radio stations in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas, here