The Battle in Seattle Against a Charter School Invasion


Originally published on The Progressive.

Charter schools and other market-based forms of “school choice” have been touted as ways to make education more responsive to “market demands.” But when you look at the latest attempt to force these schools onto the citizens of Washington state, you have to ask, “Just who is demanding these schools?”

Washington State has been pushing back against charter schools for a decade.

Three times, between 1996 and 2004, the state held ballot initiatives allowing charter schools in the state. Three times the voters said “No.”

In 2012, Bill Gates, Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, and other wealthy education “reformers” made a concerted effort on a fourth try to bring charter schools to the state. The public received a barrage of TV ads, forums, and mailers sponsored by organizations such as the League of Education Voters and Stand for Children, both of which are financially backedby Bill Gates.

Initiative 1240 passed 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, only squeaking by despite the enormous financial advantage of the “Yes” campaign, which outspent the “No” campaign by a margin of 12 to 1.

Charter schools remain a controversial and unpopular concept in the state of Washington particularly in Seattle where over 60 percent of the voters were against the initiative.

After Initiative 1240 passed, a special commission was established to approve charter schools in the state. It is comprised of politically appointed members with no accountability to the general public with the ability to circumvent oversight by local school boards.

The commission recently approved the Green Dot charter chain, despite its checkered history. Green Dot has been faulted for poor test score results, loss of accreditation, low SAT scores, teachers cheating on student’s tests, poor teacher pay, high teacher turnover, student free speech violations, and misleading parents.

The Green Dot charter chain got its foothold in Seattle by subterfuge.

When community members in Southeast Seattle, a neighborhood of minority cultures and immigrants, found out a Green Dot middle school was part of a development plan there, citizen activists pushed back.

Former Seattle School Board member Sue Peters, who helped block Green Dot from receiving a zoning variance, told me in an interview: “Green Dot is violating the law. They have no legal right to make that request, yet someone in the City worked with Green Dot behind the scenes and granted them one waiver already and want to grant them another . . . So Green Dot is committing violation after violation.”

“Too often [charters] want rules and laws broken or special treatment that public schools are not granted,” she summed up. “And then they have the audacity to claim to make apples to apples comparisons with truly public schools.”

In May, 2017 Green Dot managed to push through a different zoning variance—this one to have “greater than allowed” building height for a high school—and, again, by operating under the radar and with the assistance of the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods division of Major Institutions and Schools.

When community advocates called attention to Green Dot requesting a second variance, the Seattle School Board unanimously passed a resolution that charter schools should not be afforded a variance because they are not considered public schools.

On the board of the company Homesight, which is the developer of the site in Southeast Seattle, is an executive from Impact Public Schools, which advocates for charter schools, Natalie Hester, who also serves on the board of the Washington State Charter Schools Association.

There were no representatives from Seattle Public School district on the board of the company.

With the variance for the high school successfully pushed through, but the variance for the middle school stymied by the school board’s resolution, Green Dot has decided to co-locate the high school with the junior high school.

Local citizens protested at the construction site.

And once again, the legality of charter schools is being challenged at the level of the State Supreme Court.

Seattle citizens voted three times against charter schools and there is no indication that opinions have changed. Only a select few backroom operators want the privatization of public schools in Seattle so the battle in Seattle continues.

Dora Taylor


The Walmartization of our public schools



alice walton
Alice Walton

Alice Walton donated $1.7M to the charter school initiative in Washington State in 2012. Was it because she cares so much about the children? She doesn’t seem to be concerned at all about her employees who she and her brothers have cruelly short shifted their entire time as owners of WalMart and have expected their employees and their families to live on food stamps to shore up their pay working for WalMart. Although, Bill Gates doesn’t seem to mind them being partners in his faux research organization attached to the University of Washington, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE).

For more on Alice Walton and her siblings, see:

More information on the Walmart Walton’s and charter school Imitative 1240

Why are the WalMart Walton’s spending so much money on charter school Initiative 1240?

The Gates owned Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) right here in Seattle


To follow is an article originally posted on AlterNet by fellow Progressive blogger Jeff Bryant.

The Walmart empire has played a huge role in promoting and funding the charter school movement.

Walmart’s recent decision to close 269 stores was a blip on the national media radar, but it was big news in small towns and suburban neighborhoods across America.

“Now we have to figure out how to do our shopping,” a Walmart customer inBaldwin Hills, in Southern California lamented.

“Before Walmart’s arrival, Winnsboro had two grocery stores,” a local reporterin that South Carolina town noted. Now that Walmart is gone, so is convenient access to groceries and other retail goods.

“It’s the traditional story of a big corporation driving local competition out of town,” an article in Texas Monthly stated, “and then leaving.”

A Walmart spokesperson told a reporter covering a store closure in a smallMississippi community that closing stores is “strictly a business decision… It made fiscal sense.”

That rationale is nothing new. Stories about local communities being devastated by business decisions made in distant headquarters have become a staple of this era. Time and time again, the nation has witnessed whole towns being hollowed out when big companies uproot local manufacturing plants to move to cheaper labor markets in Mexico or China.

The cause of the trauma and grief is always the same: “strictly business.” “Fiscal sense.”

But what if that story isn’t just about businesses anymore? What if instead of a closed factory or shuttered store, the story is about a closed public school? What if the consequence of these types of “business decisions” isn’t a grown man having to look for another job or an elderly woman having to figure out a new way to pick up her prescriptions, but a child having his or her education significantly disrupted or a whole community left without convenient access to schools?

That question is becoming increasingly urgent as more and more government officials turn to publicly funded but privately run charter schools to compete with and upend local public schools—an education option, it is worth noting, that the family behind the Walmart empire has played a huge role in promoting and funding nationwide.

The Walmart Way For Education

At the same time news of Walmart store closings spread through local media outlets, the Walton Family Foundation (WFF), the private foundation created with the retail giant’s wealth, announced that it would be “doubling down on its investments in school choice with a $1 billion plan to help expand the charter school sector and other choice initiatives over the next five years,” according to a report in Education Week.

This immense treasure trove for expanding the number of charter schools in the country comes in addition to the millions the Waltons have already spent on charter schools. In fact, the foundation’s “strategic plan,” published in 2015, claims, “1 in 4 charters nationally have received WFF startup funds.”

In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, education historian Diane Ravitch explores whether there is any “commonality between the Walmart business philosophy and the Walton funding of school choice.” She likens the competition that charters pose to public schools to the competition that Walmart stores present to locally owned stores, and suggests parallel consequences: just as Walmart forces stores that can’t match their prices to shut their doors, so charters — which bleed students, and their funding, from traditional schools — cause local schools to close down.

Is the analogy Ravitch poses fair and accurate? Or is this new model for school options being promoted by the Waltons and other self-ascribed education “reformers” something more nuanced? Is there any evidence that their plans for distributing “quality” education are more efficient than democratic governance?

The Waltons Go To School

As the Walmart retail chain became the world’s largest retailer, the Walton family became one of the world’s richest families, with a combined net worth of around $150 billion as of January 2016.

The Walton Family Foundation—the family’s main philanthropic endeavor—was established in 1987 by Walmart founder Sam Walton and his wife Helen. In Sam Walton’s autobiography Made in America, he voices a concern for America’s public school system and links education and national economic prosperity, particularly in the context of being able to “compete” with other nations.

Since its founding, WFF has given more than $1.3 billion to K-12 education, according to its own recent calculations, an amount that is surpassed only by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation’s most recent annual report shows well over 50 percent of its 2014 grantee investments went to education ($202.4 million out of $373 million).

Sam Walton’s concerns about America’s public education system were no doubt fed by the animosity toward public schools that spread during the 1980s and, in particular, the presidential administration of Ronal Reagan.

Reagan had campaigned in 1980 on abolishing the department of education, according to Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, and declared in a speech in 1984, “America’s schools don’t need new spending programs; they need tougher standards, more homework, merit pay for teachers, discipline, and parents back in charge.”

The landmark report from Reagan’s presidency, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform,” published in 1983, set the tone for those years and the years following, warning of a “rising tide of mediocrity” in public education “that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.”

That report proved to be “a golden treasury of selected, spun, and distorted statistics,” noted the late education policy scholar, and Reagan critic Gerald Bracey, 25 years after the report’s publication. Nevertheless, it was hugely influential.

According to the Philanthropy Roundtable, Sam Walton’s second-eldest son, John, who would take control of the Walton Family Foundation after his father’s death in 1992, read “A Nation at Risk” the year it was published and “circulated it among family members,” prompting “a number of discussions” in the family about ways to improve education and influencing his father to announce, “I’d like to see an all-out revolution in education.”
At first, the Walton’s education philanthropy “followed the usual course of education giving,” the Philanthropy Roundtable quotes John Walton recollecting of those early years, doling out money to “programs you hope will address the problems.” But at some point during the 1990s, John Walton’s patience with this approach wore thin, as he found “the improvements [to be] transitory, lasting only as long as the heroes making them work are on the job.”

To create more immediate and lasting change, John Walton came to believe, his foundation’s approach to public education would have to change. The agent of change would be “school choice.”

The Friedman Effect

The whole idea of school choice, most policy experts believe, is credited to the extreme libertarian Friedman Foundation, founded in 1996 by the economist Milton Friedman and his wife Rose to advance his ideas for how to improve K–12 education systems.

“Our elementary and secondary educational system needs to be radically restructured,” Friedman argued in 1995. “Such a reconstruction can be achieved only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system—i.e., by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop … a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools.”

It’s not hard to see why John Walton’s conception of how to improve American schools would be heavily influenced by Friedman’s preference for school choice; both individuals viewed the world through the lens of rational markets. And year after year, the Friedman Foundation has been a consistent recipient of grant money from WFF.

Central to Friedman’s ideology was that schools should be thought of as businesses, with students being, essentially, customers. “In order to have satisfactory performance, you have to have a customer who needs to be served,” Friedman explained in an interview with the conservative Heartland Magazine in 1998.

Where public education had gone wrong in America, according to Friedman, was that the students’ role as the customer in the system had been displaced by the “professionalization and unionization” of teachers. Teachers unions had made education a “monopoly,” Friedman believed, and he falsely correlated the National Education Association’s conversion to trade union status in 1965 to a drop in scores on the SAT. (The scores changed because more students were taking the test.)

As Friedman saw it, “the only solution” to fixing the nation’s education monopoly was “through a system of vouchers.” As long as public schools were essentially free, and private schools charged tuition, most parents would keep sending their kids to the local public school. But introducing a voucher that could be “redeemed” by parents at a private school would break that dynamic, and in turn, break up the public education monopoly.

Friedman’s theory is, of course, grounded in what the Walton family practiced in retail: provide customers with the products they want (in this case, a “good” education for their children), at lower prices, and eventually drive merchants that are unable to compete out of business. Enterprises that are able to endure this churn in the marketplace, the theory holds, will be strengthened by their abilities to hold their customers.
Friedman’s animosity toward teachers unions also meshed with the Walton’s anti-union business practices. As freelance writer T. A. Frank writes for Washington Monthly, Sam Walton was obsessed with lowering business costs, especially payroll, and he believed loyal employees were created by giving them a stake in the business—through profit-sharing, stock options, and other means—rather than by giving them higher wages.

After the founder’s death in 1992, his progeny eliminated many of the employee retention policies Sam Walton created, Frank recalls, but the vigilant opposition to unions remained. While Sam Walton countered the first pro-union outbreak in his stores in 1989 with a series of management seminars exhorting his managers to “care” about frontline employees, his children, in 2000, responded to union activity among the company’s meat cutters by shutting down operations, finding alternative contractors, and summarily firing the instigators of the union organizing.

Fully inculcated with Friedman’s philosophies, and motivated by the myth of school failure spread by the Reagan administration, the Waltons were ready for their education revolution to begin.

A Preference For School Vouchers

John Walton launched the foundation’s battle for school choice by throwing both money and influence into a succession of voucher referendums throughout the 1990s and beyond — only to see the cause defeated at the ballot box time after time, as numerous studies have chronicled. The public, it would seem, was nowhere near as keen on the idea of vouchers as the Waltons and their ilk.

Then in 1998, came the Walton family’s earliest ventures into direct funding of school choice, according to Education Week, when John Walton joined with New York City financier Theodore J. Forstmann to pledge $100 million “to launch a national privately financed voucher program that would offer scholarships to as many as 50,000 poor students.”

A voucher of $1,000 would be given to each qualifying family to cover most of the cost of attending a Catholic private school, which, at the time, typically cost $1,500 in tuition annually. The idea was a scaling up of an effort the previous year by both Walton and Forstmann to give $6 million to the Washington Scholarship Fund, an organization that offered scholarships to students who wanted to transfer from public schools to private Catholic schools in the nation’s capital. Neither Walton nor Forstmann appear to be followers of the Catholic faith.

In a rare interview for Bloomberg Business Week in 2000, John Walton explained his preference for school vouchers over traditional giving to public education institutions.

“I’ve also invested in public schools,” he explained, and the interviewer makes note of “investments in New American Schools, scholarships, teacher and principal training, and other programs that work inside traditional public schools.”

But then Walton adds, “I will say that we have had a much more difficult time evaluating the benefits of those investments than we have our [private voucher] investments, where the benefits are so clear and convincing.

At some point amidst repeated defeats at the ballot box and his frustrations with direct funding vouchers, John Walton decided “choice” needed another option.

The Waltons Choose Charters

That other option was charter schools.

“The Walton foundation itself was one of the early organizations to transition from vouchers to charters,” explains Jeffrey R. Henig in an interview for Education Week. Henig is a political science and education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and a co-editor of the book The New Education Philanthropy.

In a phone interview with AlterNet, Henig explained that the succession of ballot box losses, as well as numerous opinion polls conducted by conservative groups, influenced John Walton and other voucher advocates to conclude charter schools were the “more politically feasible” option, in Henig’s words.

Henig believes many conservatives view charter schools as a way to “soften the ground” for potentially more private options, though he isn’t entirely sure “the Waltons view charters as a Trojan Horse for eventually providing vouchers universally.”

Nevertheless, he has little doubt the current intention of the foundation is to “rapidly expand the number of charter schools to create a constituency of parents and others who will have a direct stake in the continued funding and expansion of these schools.”

“The Walton Family Foundation has been the strongest and most consistent force in the nation advancing charter schools,” as Ravitch notes. And that has remained true, even after John Walton’s untimely death in a plane crash, in June of 2005.

A Controversial Charter Legacy

Since John Walton’s death, a number of other family members have taken up his passion for promoting school choice, particularly in the form of charter schools.

According to a pro-union website, another member of the Walton family, Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the foundation connected to the prominent KIPP charter school chain—on which the Walton Family Foundation has lavished many millions in donations—and is also a member of the California Charter Schools Association. Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, “is a director of the Charter Growth Fund, a ‘non-profit venture capital fund’ investing in charter schools.” And Annie Walton Proietti, the daughter of Sam Walton’s youngest son Jim, works for a KIPP school in Denver.

Certainly there are beneficiaries beyond charter schools of WFF education money, most notably Teach for America, which has raked in tens of millions of dollars over the years. But year in and year out, top recipients of the Walton Foundation’s largesse are charter schools themselves and the many national, state, and local organizations and political groups that serve and promote school choice and the charter industry. Even TFA is closely associated with charter schools, with a third of the program’s recruits working in those schools.

Yet this unquestioning commitment to charter schools seems grossly detached from the controversy that charters have become in the American education landscape.

The charter school sector has been rife with financial scandal. Local news reports of charter school malfeasance and corruption have become commonplace in states where these schools have proliferated, such as in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

A series of reports from the Center for Popular Democracy in 2014 and 2015 uncovered many hundreds of millions in “alleged and confirmed financial fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement” committed by charter schools around the country. Authors of the 2015 report called their discovery the “tip of the iceberg.”

The financial problems caused by charter schools stem from the particular blend of public and private players involved. As a recent policy brief from the National Education Policy Center explains, the very structure of the charter school business introduces new actors into public education who can skim money from the system without returning any benefit to students and taxpayers.

The brief’s authors Bruce Baker and Gary Miron – university professors from Rutgers and Eastern Michigan, respectively – note that charters generally aren’t subject to the same disclosure laws that apply to state operated entities and public officials, especially when the governance bodies for these schools outsource management services to for-profit management firms, as is increasingly the case.

The very nature of charters, the authors state, results in a “substantial share of public expenditure intended for the delivery of direct educational services to children…being extracted inadvertently or intentionally for personal or business financial gain.”

Furthering the financial controversy related to charters is the model of how these schools are financed.

As currently conceived, charter schools are funded based on the idea that “money should follow the child.” That is, when students transfer from a public school to a new charter, the per-pupil funding to educate that child transfers as well.

But research studies have shown that this financial model harms the education of public school students. As a public school loses a percentage of its students to charters, the school can’t simply cut fixed costs for things like transportation and physical plant proportionally. It also can’t cut the costs of grade-level teaching staff proportionally. That would increase class sizes and leave the remaining students underserved. So instead, the school cuts a program or support service – a reading specialist, a special education teacher, a librarian, an art or music teacher – to offset the loss of funding.

For these reasons, and others, the introduction of charter schools into communities now invariably sparks division and resentment from parents who stay committed to public schools.

Yet, none of the controversy surrounding charters seems to have altered the Walton Family Foundation’s determination to expand the numbers of these schools on the American landscape.

Answering the Critics

WFF’s apparently unwavering course for charter expansion has drawn prominent critics.

A recent report by Philamplify, an initiative of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, looks closely at the Foundation’s education reform efforts, especially in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, and concludes that the “preformulated, specific approach” WFF employs, “fixated on very particular market reform vehicles: publicly funded charter schools and vouchers to attend private schools,” is in fact a hinderance to the “transformative potential of the foundation’s education program.”

As an apparent response, WFF recently issued a paper titled, “Investing in Change: The Walton Family Foundation Charts a New Course,” wherein the Foundation admits that its devotion to “expanding community-wide school choice” may not be “sufficient to improve educational outcomes.” But the paper’s author, Michelle Wisdom, reasons that that insufficiency stems from something other than WFF’s guiding philosophy.

Calling school choice a “theory of change,” Wisdom asserts, “School choice works.” What’s needed now, she argues, is “a favorable policy environment for choice to be truly effective.”

Responding to Wisdom’s paper, Strauss writes on her Washington Post blog, “Choice isn’t enough? So what is?” Most likely, Strauss deduces, nothing short of a total “dismantling [of] traditional public school systems.”

The Formula

“We’re at the early stage of the beginning of the end of public schools,” former classroom teacher and prominent public school advocate Anthony Cody tells Alternet in a phone conversation. “You can already see this in big cities such as New Orleans, Detroit, and Chicago.”

Cody is a harsh critic of education philanthropists. For years he engaged in a public debate with leaders of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided material for his book The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges the Gates Foundation. Cody is also cofounder, along with Ravitch and other education reform critics, of the Network for Public Education.

Cody sees Gates, another major funder of the charter school industry, and Walton as “operating with the same playbook;” although he acknowledges there are differences (notably around vouchers). What the two foundations share, Cody believes, is a devotion to operating schools according to “their belief in business systems.”

He argues that having charter schools compete with local public schools around student test scores will “corrupt education,” as schools chase after ever higher scores at the expense of educating all children equitably. In Cody’s mind, this will inevitably lead to expansions of charter schools, which have more leeway to game the system, and the closure of more public schools.

“There’s no way to compromise with this formula,” he contends, and “no end point at which applying the formula would stop because it impinges on human dignity.”

Cody isn’t the only critic who sees a fundamental problem with choice. When the late Rick Cohen of the Nonprofit Quarterly reflected on the Philamplify study of the Walton Foundation, he argued that “choice” makes education, ultimately, “a zero-sum [game], focused on the individual and the family and increasingly saying to hell with community… What’s lost is what the nation was trying to achieve in the first place with public education.”

Choice For Who?

Is the Walmart Foundation really intent on dismantling public education through its expansions of charter schools?

Henig argues no, saying the debate of charters versus public schools is not what really what matters “at the parent level.”

In his view, the debate about choice needs to shift from being about charter versus public schools to focusing on the role of democracy in school governance and how to “calibrate” democratic input in decision-making about schools.

That’s an important subject for sure, but when Henig says the debate about charters is not relevant at “the parent level,” it’s not clear what parents he is referring to. He’s clearly not talking about parents in Southside Chicago, where in 2013, families reeled from a rash of school closings coupled with charter school expansions.

As Sarah Karp reported for Catalyst Chicago, Walton had made Chicago its largest recipient of charter school grants, then gave the district additional financial support for a series of community meetings to “educate parents” about the school closures and obscure the role of charter schools. The WFF money paid for “robo-calls to tell parents about the meetings, mailings to parents and ‘other engagement and communication platforms.’”

This churning of public school closings with charter school openings left some stretches of the community without any schools at all, according to an article by Trymaine Lee for MSNBC. Calling these neighborhoods “school deserts,” much like the food deserts many low-income communities know about all too well, Lee quotes community activist Jitu Brown: “This is not about school choice. If it was really about providing us with choices, we’d have the choice to improve our neighborhood schools.”

That the spread of school choice can actually leave some communities with fewer educational options is not a matter constrained to Chicago alone.

In cities such as New Orleans, which now has an all charter system, whole neighborhoods are bereft of schools, and it is now quite common for students to spend hours a day in transit as they trek from their homes to available schools across town. Conditions are similar in some areas of Houston, TX, where parents have coined the term “education desert” to describe “areas where a significant number or share of residents is far from schools.”

“This crisis has reached critical mass,” the Houston parents contend.

Choice Hurts America’s Heartland

Around the same time Walmart was closing stores in rural North Carolina, parents in an Appalachian community in that state gathered at a hearing to fight for their local public school to keep it from being closed down. “Many in the audience sobbed as students talked about losing what to them has been the center of their world as long as they can remember,” a local newspaper reported.

The local reporter noted a “trifecta” of factors leading to the imminent closure. Two in the trifecta—declining student enrollment and state budget cuts—are factors school officials and communities across America have faced many times before. But the third factor was new: “charter school competition.”

We’ll never know if this is an outcome John Walton considered when he committed his family’s billions to the expansion of charters and choice.

What we do know for sure, though, is that when he made his decision to pull back from direct investments in public schools, he did so because he did not see the kind of results he wanted to see.

But what if John Walton’s disappointment in public schools stems from the possibility that Americans, as a whole, want other kinds of “results” from their public schools? What if what they want, as Jitu Brown says of his own community, is the opportunity to “improve our neighborhood schools” instead of having them replaced by the charters preferred by the Waltons?

Meanwhile, as WFF contemplates how to best “soften the ground” for increased school choice, and policy makers ponder the growing impact of philanthropists in education, more communities may have to contend with the reality of schools, public or charter, coming and going based on forces not in their control. Completely lost in the discussion, though, is whether it’s right for the American populace to have its access to education determined by the values and philosophy of a few rich people.


We are losing talented, dedicated and experienced teachers and here’s why

Two teachers who were fired along with every other teacher in their Rhode Island High School because the school was ruled “failing”. Photo by Sharon Schmidt.

The self-designation of “reformer” by people who have never been in the classroom and have no actual training or experience in education is a smokescreen. What they are really after is profitability for their investor-owned charter school corporations that will deliver as little education for the buck as they think they can get by with.

The public schools are losing well-qualified and experienced teachers who have made a commitment to our communities and dedicated themselves to teaching our children and and yet we are losing them in large numbers. Why?

There are many reasons but for the most part is has to do with the phrase “Education Reform”.

The term encompasses charter schools and who teaches in those schools, the Common Core Standards, high stakes standardized testing, as well as the failed idea of merit pay for teachers.

Charter schools are privately run and just like any other business, the owner/CEO and board of directors want to keep costs down and profits up. One place to save is with labor costs and with charter schools, that means teachers. There are two approaches to this that charter school owners have taken, either hire Teach for America, Inc.recruits with five weeks of training and pay them low wages with a promise of at least something to put on their resumes after their two year stint and/or implement what they like to call “blended learning” or  “personalized learning environments.” which means placing a student in front of a computer rather than a teacher to receive whatever education they can.

Charter school enterprises also love the Common Core Standards because the curriculum, lesson plans, books and standardized tests are already in place and all the unqualified “teacher” has to do is follow a script. It’s cheap and easy.

The teachers union is getting bombarded from two sides right now. First, by billionaires who would rather not see any unions in our country such as the Koch brothers, the Walton’s and corporate backed ALEC and from the other side by charter school enterprises who would love to have certified teachers but don’t want to pay a decent wage to hire them.

With Race to the Top we had schools closing based on test scores and then many converted into charter schools and folks like Broad-backed Michelle Rhee who fired several hundred teachers, most of them minority women, basically on a whim.

Then you have Common Core Standards and a battery of standardized tests, which make it difficult for a teacher not to teach to a test and thereby narrow their curriculum. This takes a lot out of a teacher who loves teaching, gets excited about their prepared curriculum, which is designed not only in terms of standard expectations but also to the students they are teaching. It destroys any creativity on the part of the teachers and students and makes teaching and learning a rote and tedious daily routine.

One young teacher shared with me that the curriculum with the barrage of standardized testing and pressure for students to perform well on the tests is “soul crushing”.

Hearing that broke my heart.

But…you hear that in many places where teachers are not afraid to share what they see, hear and feel about this dark time in public education.

With that introduction, I give you Brett Dickerson, who taught in public school for 16 years and is now  a writer, blogger, independent reporter and a teacher in an adult ESL program.

-Dora Taylor


Even though experienced teachers as a group have a high degree of love for their students and their work, they are leaving education in large numbers. The teacher brain drain has been happening for about ten years now, and very little grief expressed. Why?

The brain drain is a concern in business and industry

An NPR report by Yuki Noguchi titled “Businesses Try To Stave Off Brain Drain As Boomers Retire” shows the deep concern across industry and business about people with knowledge and decades of experience leaving.

The report shows the lengths that some industries are willing to go to keep the most experienced workers on the job, even after retirement. They are considered too valuable to allow them to just walk out of the door for the last time.

A key statement in this piece was from a 33-year veteran of product development for General Mills. “Let’s say you have 30 people retire in a year and the average years of experience is 30 years. So you just had 1,000 years walk away. That’s hard to lose.”

At another point in the story: “Employers are trying to hang onto older talent by offering flexible work hours, more attractive health care benefits or having retirees return to mentor younger workers.”

Business and industry seem to understand that experience and knowledge are important to success, especially when it comes to workers who not only know the information and the concepts of their work, but the experience and base of knowledge that the experience has generated.

But “education reformers” are not at all concerned

So if this is the current view of the threat of a brain drain in other areas work in the U.S., especially that require extensive educations and experience to know how to use them, why are veteran teachers so disparaged right now in practice and discourse in the press?

For the last ten years now, a steady drumbeat of trash talk about teachers has made its way into the public comments about education.  Experienced teachers are portrayed as lazy and incompetent, incapable of teaching students in any kind of adequate way.

Teachers unions are pointed out as a telling sign that teachers know that they are no good and need “job protection” with tenure laws.

None of these statements accurately portray the quality of teaching or the actual situation of most students who graduate from public schools. Why would these be circulated so widely?

Not “education reformers”, but school raiders

To understand the teacher brain drain we have to get the reality of what passes as “education reform” in the press and media. True reformers want to engage those who have the most experience in the classroom and in leading teachers as administrators.

To achieve reform, there must be a collaboration and engagement of those who know what needs to be reformed the best. But that’s not what is going on, is it?

That’s because those who call themselves “education reformers” usually are not. Instead they are those who want only to raid public funds taken by force as taxes and then converted to the wealth of investors who do not care about your children, only their own.

The self-designation of “reformer” by people who have never been in the classroom and have no actual training or experience in education is a smokescreen. What they are really after is profitability for their investor-owned charter school corporations that will deliver as little education for the buck as they think they can get by with.

I refer to them as “school raiders” because that’s the best description for them. As I have argued in an earlier post, they are not that much different from the corporate raiders of the 1980s who were only interested in the cash that they could gain by buying up productive companies and then liquidating them.

I have not seen any credible argument that our industrial capacity has increased since the 1980s because of the “efficiencies” that those corporate raiders promised. Instead it created a shock to our jobs and economy that has not yet recovered. It was the rich minority getting richer at the expense of the rest of us in the loss of jobs and the economy that depended on those jobs.  It was the beginning of outsourcing of work that has not yet ended. It’s why we have seen a jobless recovery since the recession that started in 2008.

And yet we have an inexplicably compliant press that does not ask the important questions about how those charter corporations will save money and increase the knowledge of their students.

In experimental situations like New Orleans, Detroit, and Newark, we are seeing quite well that the new school raiders are no more productive than the old corporate raiders were in the 1980’s if referring to the productivity of whatever they take over.

They have no intention of being.

What they are after is the most money made for the least spent with as little time being taken on what non-educators would see as pointless discussions.

Engineered for compliant teachers and compliant students

The brain drain in education is actually being engineered by think tanks and public officials funded by these school raiders because experienced teachers ask too many questions. We want to know why, as any experienced professional would.

We are smart and know how and when to object when it is important to protecting the future of all children not just those of the rich.

So, school raiders believe that they must do two things: hire teachers who are compliant, who will teach children to be compliant. In order to achieve that, they had to eliminate the respect that teachers and their associations have had over the years, not to mention the teacher education programs.

They diverge from the rest of American business in the exact same way that the corporate raiders did in the 1980s when it comes to the brain drain.

Why worry about a brain drain when it is profitable to have “those people” out of the way in the first place?

The Gates owned Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) right here in Seattle


Whenever Bill Gates wants to justify the ideas he imposes on public school children around the country, he relies on the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) to appear with a research paper or study, that is not peer reviewed, to prove his point. They do as he bids.

Recently CRPE held a forum on charter schools at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The panel was made up of pro-charter folks with the notable exception of School Board Director Sue Peters who is also co-editor of this blog.

Apparently the forum did not go as planned and everyone in the audience who had an opportunity to speak or ask a question was against charter schools being in our city.

I heard Sue was brilliant but I would expect nothing less.

Recently an article describing CRPE in the Progressive was posted online and is the best description I have found so far of this corporate backed group.

Some of their backers include:

So without further ado:

The Secret Group That Wants to Take Over Your School

Don’t look now, but there’s something creepy coming toward you, and it wants to take over your public school system. Sure, it’s connected—through all-important grants—to many of the big names in today’s education reform movement (Gates, Walton, Broad), but most people have probably never heard of it.

This “education reform powerhouse” is the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which goes by the acronym CRPE—or “creepy.” How fitting. While there are many individuals and organizations on the front lines of the free-market education reform movement—from Teach for America, to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to the Recovery School District in New Orleans—CRPE has not been publicly outed. Instead, it has steadily carved out an influential role for itself behind the scenes.

In fact, CRPE operates in a manner that is strikingly similar to ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), the secretive, powerful group funded by the Koch brothers and a large roster of corporations. Here’s a look at how the two organizations work:

  1. Member networks: Both CRPE and ALEC have a “secret club” component, through their member networks. With ALEC, the members are state legislators. With CRPE, they are school districts from across the United States (there are currently thirty-nine of them).
  2. Network meetings: Both CRPE and ALEC host member network meetings or conferences, where a common philosophy (based on a distinct rightwing ideology) is honed, articulated, and shared.
  3. Model legislation: Both CRPE and ALEC create sample, model policies (CRPE) or “cookie-cutter bills” (ALEC) for the districts or legislators who are part of their member networks.
  4. Free-market funders: Like ALEC, CRPE is funded by very wealthy, free-market-focused special interests, including the Walton Foundation.
CRPE Founder Paul T. Hill stepped down as center Director and named Robin Lake to succeed him.
CRPE Founder Paul T. Hill stepped down as center Director and named Robin Lake to succeed him.

One difference is that ALEC has been around since the early 1970s while CRPE is a more recent concoction. University of Washington political science professor Paul T. Hill founded the group in 1993, just as the “accountability” movement in public education was taking off, and it is housed at the University of Washington-Bothell. CRPE is affiliated with the university, but Hill explains, “Our work is funded through private philanthropic dollars, federal grants, and contracts.” And, although CRPE describes itself as engaging in “independent research and policy analysis,” in 2011 the Center for Media and Democracy’s Source Watch website tagged the group as an “industry-funded research center that . . . receives funding from corporate and billionaire philanthropists as well as the U.S. Department of Education.”

While Hill may not be well known nationally, he is no shrinking violet when it comes to agenda-driven policy work. Beyond CRPE, he has been affiliated with the right-leaning Hoover Institute and its Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, which focuses on vouchers and other market-based, privatization-centered reforms for public schools.

And that right-leaning stamp is all over CRPE, which has built a network of “portfolio school districts” from New York City to New Orleans and beyond. It promises to run these districts like a stock portfolio. Under this model, schools are to become more “autonomous,” and districts will be decentralized for a more “hands-off” approach. In an eighteen-month portfolio implementation guide that CRPE provides school districts, a suggested strategy for the first two months is to “announce the district will replace five schools with charter schools.” Schools will be closed for such failures as “negative labor-management relations.”

Many people in progressive-minded Minneapolis would be shocked to know that the Minneapolis public school system has been part of the CRPE network since 2010 (thanks to a makeover, led, for free, by consultants from the global consulting firm McKinsey and Company). Today, this shadowy organization is on the verge of completely overhauling the public school district’s entire operation.

Anyone needing proof should look no further than the 2013 CRPE meeting for Portfolio Network members that was held in Seattle. A video from that meeting lays bare the competitive, resource-scarce mindset behind CRPE, and it even uses the Minneapolis public schools—albeit superficially—as a test case for the presentation.

Margarite Roza
Marguerite Roza

The video—available on YouTube as “Dollars and Sense Accountability”—offers attendees lots of suggestions for how schools can expand their limited pots of money. The assumption always seems to be that schools just need to do more with less, so the suggestions are pragmatic. They include encouraging schools to grow their enrollment (the presenter, Marguerite Roza, who now works for CRPE, recommends pushing schools on this, because they’ll always say they’re too full). CRPE also suggests paying teachers extra to teach more kids, and pitting schools against one another in a battle for resources. All of this is based around a central question: What does it look like when a district starts to view schools like businesses?

To begin, Roza praises Minneapolis for its “enormous cooperation,” because the district has offered its data for use as an example of how to view schools “in terms of cost and outcomes.” Roza then shows participants a graph, where Minneapolis school sites (unnamed) are splayed out according to how much money they spend in comparison to how “high performing” they are. Before she delves in too deeply, however, Roza makes one point very clear: “I hope when you leave this session, you realize that the money part of the equation has to be part of the accountability bit, so you have to start connecting the spending and the outcomes together,” she says.

Throughout the video, it becomes clear that what Roza means is that the ideal school is one which spends less money but gets high test scores. It also becomes clear that, to Roza, and by extension CRPE, kids and schools are mere widgets in the Hunger Games-like landscape of school finance that CRPE promotes.

At one point, Roza points to the graph full of Minneapolis examples and says, “Look at the relationship between spending and outcomes! It’s pretty dismal, right?” Roza acknowledges that “schools are messy,” but then veers back to CRPE’s market-driven ideology: “If we’re trying to get to a system where we’re leveraging our money to get the best possible outcomes we could get, we need a more robust relationship between spending and outcomes than we have.”

In the video, Roza zeros in on the concept of “nice” schools, which fall into the high-spending, high-performing part of her graph, and she then makes a whole lot of creepy allegations about them. In her Minneapolis example, there is only one such school, which sits by itself up in the lonely far corner of the graph.

Roza seems to assume that this school is a high-spending hog, feeding off the trough, and getting great outcomes on every other school’s “dime.” If such a school exists in your district, Roza tells the hushed crowd, “You should figure out how much extra you’re spending for those kids,” because this is not a “replicable model.” It’s just too expensive, Roza concludes.

Her solution? Force such schools to “take more kids,” and don’t listen when they tell you they’re too full. In fact, when they do tell you they are too full, simply ask them, “All right, did you want to give up the jazz band or the golf team?” Because, it seems, they must be lying about their ability to “cram more kids in,” as Roza puts it, just so they can protect their elite, district-funded programs. (Roza seems not to understand that, in Minneapolis, there are wealthy neighborhoods, but there are no wealthy schools rolling in district dollars.)

It turns out that the school Roza was referring to is Minneapolis’s Dowling Elementary, a K-5 site that indeed spends a lot of money. But it spends a lot because it serves an “unusually large percent of special needs kids,” according to Minneapolis’s former budget director Sarah Snapp, who was at the CRPE meeting. Snapp shared this information after Roza gave her fiscally conservative spiel.

Dowling Elementary is named after educator and legislator Michael Dowling, who, according to the school’s website, “succeeded in having the first bill passed providing state aid for handicapped children in 1919. Being handicapped himself, Mr. Dowling realized the importance of equal access to education for all people.” Even today, the school has a program for students with health-related disabilities. These students have their own special education classification, and Dowling was—and is—designed to meet their needs, alongside Dowling’s non-special-needs population.

At the CRPE meeting, Snapp tells Roza that Dowling does have a “unique set of factors” that make it look like a big spender, and also warns that lumping all students in a district together “might mask some of what’s going on.”

Still, Roza moves on in her presentation, and makes a joke about the next section, called “Performance Funding,” saying wryly, “This is where the school does well and we give them more money.”

Not quite. This would be a dangerous path to go down, Roza warns, because if you give a school “cash” for doing well (on standardized tests, of course), then that “high-performing” school will also become a “higher spending” school. Forget that, says Roza. Instead, she advises redefining “accountability” as, simply, the “right to continue to operate” according to a “continuous improvement model.”

Roza persists with her, and CRPE’s, definition of accountability, saying schools will—no, must—“seek to continuously go up,” with no “threshold” or end in sight, in terms of test-based measurements. The stakes are very high in this model. Roza explains that it is “constantly the lowest-performing, at a particular spending level, schools . . . that should go away or improve . . . and then you get a system that’s constantly striving for higher performance.”

The overall goal is to strip schools down from their messy, complicated “overspending” heights, and collapse them all into a pure “student-based” funding model. (CRPE shares their love of funding students, not programs, with ALEC, which has a model “Student-Centered Funding” bill, essentially a school voucher program.) Then, says Roza, districts will have arrived at a cost and outcomes Nirvana, where they can “just manage on performance.”

This, she explains, will yield a “vertical line full of dots” on a graph.

That may be the ideal way to view schools, students, and teachers from a CRPE point of view. On the ground, in Minneapolis, community members would probably object if it were known that their schools are being guided by the CRPE’s rightwing ideology.

But this may be changing.

At an April 14 Minneapolis school board meeting, parents, teachers, and students from across the city came to express their frustration with the district and its latest plans.

First up, there was a contingent from Roosevelt High School, an old-time school in south Minneapolis that has 80 percent students of color and a high proportion of kids in poverty (76 percent). In March, Roosevelt parents and staff received their school’s budget for the upcoming school year; it was $248,000 short of what they needed. The worst part? The budget cut—which was deceptively framed as an increase—came as Roosevelt stands to grow, by adding 100 new students to its incoming freshman class after years of being seen as one of Minneapolis’s “less desirable” schools.

It also came just as Minneapolis Public Schools Interim Superintendent Michael Goar was making very public claims about “right-sizing” the district’s budget, in order to send millions of dollars back into the pockets of the district’s schools.

This strategy—of “right-sizing,” with the promise that this will bring autonomy and funds straight to the schools—is CRPE all the way. Tellingly, a brief CRPE video about the virtues of school autonomy includes the insistence that schools must be given the “freedom” to control their money, as the ultimate goal, in the words of CRPE founder Paul Hill, is for a school to be “as free about what it does as a charter school.”

But the Roosevelt parents and students are not buying it. For the first time in years, under the energetic leadership of parent Jeanette Bower, the school has been getting organized—and vocal. School supporters went to the school board meeting to rally for Roosevelt, and to continue changing the school’s image from that of a “ghetto school,” in the words of ninth grade student Lewis Martin, to that of a school people choose to come to.

Their list of complaints about the lack of funding for Roosevelt were long, and will sound familiar to anyone who has been watching the move to defund and privatize America’s public schools:

Roosevelt is the only high school in Minneapolis with no theater program, and the district is not providing any funds to remedy this.

With budget cuts, the school will have to lay off its community liaisons, who have been going out into the community to change the narrative of “failure” (due to test scores) that hovers over the school.

The school will have to let its librarian go, and class sizes may increase.

Also, the district will only provide funding for the 100 new students who have signed up to attend Roosevelt next year in the fall, when the students actually show up. The problem with this, in the eyes of the Roosevelt community, is that the school can’t hire extra teachers because the hiring season is happening now, in the spring. (This is CRPE’s preferred way to fund schools: only according to the numbers of students who show up.)

For Roosevelt High School senior Shahmar Dennis, who also spoke out at the April 14 board meeting, the lack of clear information from the district around Roosevelt’s budget is troubling.

“We are a school on the rise, but our music program will suffer,” he says. “We have more students coming next year, but we can’t buy new instruments.”

Dennis explained that he is going off to college in the fall, but that he still deeply cares about his school: “I won’t be here next year but I want to see Roosevelt High School growing and doing well academically, with a good theater program.”

That desire is diametrically opposed to the CRPE agenda.


Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and former English instructor. She blogs about education at

The Charter School Bill 1240 and the 1%: An Analysis

1040 web

If only they had channeled all of the money represented above into our public schools in Seattle rather than into financing the corporate takeover of our educational system, we would have full time librarians, nurses, career counselors, enough teaching assistants to handle the increased load of data collection that is to occur as well as alleviate our crowded classrooms. There would be field trips, after school enrichment programs in all of our schools, books, fully equipped science labs, a well rounded after school sports program, civics classes, sewing classes, cooking classes (remember those?), drama, art in art rooms rather than art on a cart…the list continues and I know there are parents reading this post who can add other programs and resources that we have lost over the years due to a lack of adequate funding of our schools.

Now the venture/vulture capitalists, and anyone who wants to make an easy buck, are swarming our state. First these corporateers (new word) suck us dry by refusing to pay a state income tax  and companies like Boeing receive unbelievable tax breaks through the extortion tactic of threatening to leave our state, cripple the unions and then turn around and “invest”, with a minor percentage of their earnings, in political campaigns, clearing the way for the privatization of our schools through charter schools, Common Core lesson plans, textbooks, lots of tests and of course, computers with all of the software that is needed for a child in preschool to take a test to make sure they can move on to kindergarten. All of this is what they think is best for the rest of us if they care at all. They do expect a return on their investment, as Eli Broad has stated before, and they have full intentions of getting it, not through the satisfaction of knowing that our children will receive a well rounded education with an ability to think in a creative and critical manner. No, that’s for students in private schools, for their kids. What they will receive in return are millions of dollars from the United States Department of Education through hefty grants and our taxes for tests, test analysis, data collection, lessons, computer software, online course with one teacher managing 40 to 50 students and highly paid CEO’s of charter schools (they used to be called school principals).

Our children are their guinea pigs with personal information being collected on them from preschool to well beyond high school…and we’re paying for it.

Our own Wayne Au and Joseph Ferrare recently published a study titled Sponsors of Policy: A Network Analysis of Wealthy Elites, their Affiliated Philanthropies, and Charter School Reform in Washington State.

To follow are excerpts from the article that was published in Teachers College Record.

Sponsors of Policy: A Network Analysis of Wealthy Elites, their Affiliated Philanthropies, and Charter School Reform in Washington State.


To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, today’s plutocrats are not like you and I; nor do they resemble the politicians we elect. Even when they assume the authority to set public policies, they are, I fear, not sackable. (Bosworth, 2011, p. 386)

With the backing of both major political parties, billionaire philanthropists, venture capitalists, business leaders, and a growing network of nonprofit organizations and research centers, charter school policy has evolved into a major component of the current education reform movement in the United States (Fabricant & Fine, 2012; Rawls, 2013). As of 2012, all but nine U.S. states allowed charter schools (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 2013), and in one of those nine, Washington State, charter school legislation was passed by popular vote in November 2012 (Reed, 2012).

Washington State has a substantive and unique history with regard to charter school reform. The state allows for popular votes on whether or not various initiatives, measures, or referenda (put on the ballot by petition) become law; since 1996, there have been four opportunities for voters to decide if charter schools would be allowed in the state. Washington State voters have affirmed opposition to charter schools three times: In 1996, 54% opposed charters; in 2000, 51.8% opposed charters; and in 2004, 58.3% opposed charters (Corcoran & Stoddard, 2011). In the November 2012 election, however, voters in Washington approved Initiative 1240 (I-1240) by 50.69%, or 41,682 votes (Reed, 2012), legalizing charter schools in the state.

Given that charter school policy in Washington State has been decided by popular vote, the Yes On 1240 WA Coalition for Public Charter Schools’ (hereafter, Yes On 1240) campaign provided an opportunity to understand the influence of a specific collection of policy actors on the adoption of state-level education policy. The Yes On 1240 campaign played a role in the passage of I-1240 as the campaign directed its resources in an attempt to shift the public, political discourse in favor of the passage of the charter school initiative in Washington State. Indeed, the important role of the Yes On 1240 campaign is highlighted by the fact that, as of election day, November 6, 2012, the campaign had received $10.9 million in donations (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012a), at the time making it the third largest amount spent on an initiative campaign in state history (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012d). Thus, the campaign to legalize charter schools by popular vote in Washington State provided a unique opportunity to gain insight into the significant relationships between policy actors and state-level education policy adoption.


Functionally, the immediate origins of I-1240 can be traced to January 2012, when two companion charter school bills were introduced into the Washington State house and senate (Rosenthal, 2012). Among other details, these bills set a specific number of charter schools to be authorized over 5 years, established three charter school authorizers, established “transformational zone districts” allowing for state takeover of low-performing schools, and included a parent–teacher charter conversion trigger that would allow a majority of teachers or parents to petition to convert an existing public school into a charter school (Westbrook, 2012). Under state Democratic leadership, these bills were killed in committee, a move that provoked severe criticism from the local media (Seattle Times Editorial Board, 2012).

After the original bills were killed in the Washington State legislature, charter advocates then drafted I-1240, which was filed with the state by the League of Education Voters (LEV) chief of staff, Tania de Sa Campos (League of Education Voters, 2012; Sa Campos, 2012). Similar to the legislative bills introduced earlier in 2012, I-1240 contained provisions to establish 40 charter schools over 5 years, establish two charter authorizers (local school boards or an appointed state-level charter school commission), set up appointed charter school boards for charter oversight, and allow a parent–teacher charter conversion trigger, among other details (Sa Campos, 2012). With $2.26 million in donations—mostly from Bill Gates Jr.,’s Bezos family, venture capitalist Nick Hanauer (also a LEV board member), and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen— enough signatures were collected by paid signature gatherers to successfully put I-1240 on the Fall 2012 Washington ballot (Callaghan, 2012).

I-1240 supporters Stand for Children™, LEV, Partnership for Learning, and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) came together to cofound and coordinate Washington Coalition for Public Charter Schools (Washington Coalition for Public Charter Schools, 2012a), taking public responsibility for directing the Yes On 1240 campaign (Washington Coalition for Public Charter Schools, 2012b), as evidenced by their providing in-kind donations to the campaign (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012c). As such, these organizations provided leadership in coordinating every aspect of the campaign—managing financial activities; on-the-ground field organization; press releases; TV, web, and radio advertising; messaging; and making public presentations, among other activities (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012b). As of election day, November 6, 2012, the Yes On 1240 campaign had received $10.9 million in donations (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012a). At the time of the election, the $10.9 million spent to support charter school reform via the Yes On 1240 campaign represents the third largest amount spent on an initiative campaign in Washington State history (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012d). The Yes On 1240 campaign used these millions for phone banks, direct mail, on-the-ground field organization, and signs, and they were able to devote over $5 million specifically for web, radio, and television advertising (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012b).

Leading up to election day, Partnership for Learning (2012), in conjunction with researchers from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), published their report, Examining Charters: How Public Charter Schools Can Work in Washington State (Lake, Gross, & Maas, 2012), which made several explicit references to I-1240 as a good charter school law. Further, CRPE founder and charter school advocate, Paul Hill, was prominently featured in a Yes On 1240 television advertisement advocating for the passage of I-1240 (Yes On 1240, 2012b). In November 2012, citizens of Washington State voted to approve I-1240 by 50.69%, or 41,682 votes out of just over 3,020,000 total cast (Reed, 2012).


In this section we present the findings of our network analysis in two phases. First, through two tables, we present data on cash and in-kind contributions to the Yes On 1240 campaign and funding relationships between campaign donors, affiliated philanthropies, and organizational campaign supporters (Tables 1 and 2). Second, we visualize these relationships through a simple directed graph that traces the flows of sponsorship (material and symbolic) among policy actors (Figure 1).


 Several important findings arise when we analyze the contributions to the Yes On 1240 campaign.

Table 1: Yes On I-1240 Campaign Cash and In-kind Contributions of $50k and More

Yes On 1240 Donor

Donation Amount


Bill Gates Jr. – Microsoft cofounder and current chairman



Alice Walton – heiress; daughter of Walmart founder, Sam Walton



Vulcan Inc. – founded by Paul Allen, Microsoft cofounder



Nicolas Hanauer – venture capitalist



Mike Bezos – father of founder Jeff Bezos



Jackie Bezos – mother of founder Jeff Bezos



Connie Ballmer – wife of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer



Anne Dinning – managing director D.E. Shaw Investments



Michael Wolf – Yahoo! Inc. board of directors



Katherine Binder – EMFCO Holdings chairwoman



Eli Broad – real estate mogul



Benjamin Slivka – formerly Microsoft; DreamBox Learning cofounder



Reed Hastings – Netflix cofounder and CEO



Microsoft Corporation



Gabe Newell – formerly Microsoft; Valve Corporation cofounder



Doris Fisher – Gap Inc. cofounder



Kemper Holdings LLC – local Puget Sound developer



CSG Channels



Education Reform Now



Bruce McCaw –McCaw Cellular founder



Jolene McCaw – spouse of Bruce McCaw


Source: Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (2012a)

Table 1 highlights that $10.65 million in total, or almost 98% of the $10.9 million raised for the Yes On 1240 campaign, was funded by 21 individuals and organizations who each donated more than $50,000 to the campaign (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012a).

Notably, Bill Gates Jr. is the biggest contributor ($3M) to the campaign, nearly doubling the next biggest contributions coming from Walmart heiress Alice Walton ($1.7M) and Vulcan Inc. ($1.6M),2 Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s company. As a more general finding, these amounts indicate that a number of select wealthy individuals with no immediate connection to Washington State (e.g., Eli Broad and Alice Walton) demonstrated a vested interest in charter school policy in the state. Another finding that emerges from the data is that wealthy individuals who are connected to the technology sector also demonstrated a vested interest in promoting charter school policy in Washington State (12 of the top 21 contributors to Yes On 1240 are strongly connected to the technology sector). Additionally, as might be expected given the interconnectedness of any sector of industry, several of these individuals have historical and industry-related connections to Microsoft Inc. and Microsoft Inc. cofounder and chairman, Bill Gates Jr.

It is also of value to highlight the $50,000.00 donation to the Yes On 1240 campaign from Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee because it illustrates the tightly woven interconnectedness of organizations and funding structures associated with education policy reform advocacy. New York State tax records from 2006 explicitly indicate that Education Reform Now, Inc., Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee, and DFER all share officers, personnel, office space, and paymasters (Libby, 2012). Tax records from 2007 further indicate that Education Reform Now Inc. and Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee share these same resources (New York State Office of the Attorney General, 2013). Thus, it is difficult to determine where DFER, Education Reform Now Inc., and Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee begin and end individually because, in essence, they represent a financially intertwined cluster of three organizations that seem to operate as a single organization with overlapping staff and resources. Consequently, even though tax records do not allow us to fully understand the exact relationship, the $50,000.00 donation to the Yes On 1240 campaign from Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee is functionally also a donation from Education Reform Now Inc. and DFER.


As discussed above, four organizations, LEV, DFER, Stand for Children, and Partnership for Learning, publicly claimed credit for leading and coordinating the Yes On 1240 WA Coalition for Public Charter Schools (Yes On 1240, 2012a). An analysis of the in-kind donations to the Yes On 1240 campaign (that is, donations of labor or other services that are given cash value and added to the campaign donation total) supports this claim: Those four organizations predominate the in-kind donations database and are the only organizations listing “staff time” as donated in kind to the campaign (Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, 2012c). Further, as a university-based research center, they cannot be listed as having provided in-kind donations (or any donations) directly to a political campaign in the state. Because of their active role in providing direct, nonmonetary support for the Yes On 1240 campaign vis-à-vis being highlighted prominently in a campaign video (Yes On 1240, 2012b) and authoring a research report explicitly in support of I-1240 (Lake et al., 2012), we have included the CRPE here as a “connected organization” for their symbolic contribution to the campaign through the lending of their expertise.


Cross referencing information gathered from the Google search engine, philanthropy websites, and available tax records (Foundation Center, 2013) produced the following 11 foundations directly connected to major donors to the Yes On 1240 campaign (in alphabetical order): Apex Foundation (formerly the Bruce & Jolene McCaw Foundation), Bezos Family Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Corabelle Lumps Foundation (formerly the Anne Dinning and Michael Wolf Foundation), the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund (connected through the Connie and Steve Ballmer advised Biel Fund),3 Lochland Foundation (Katherine Binder, cofounder, officer, and contributor), The Walton Family Foundation, and Wissner-Slivka Foundation. Using foundation databases, foundation reports, available tax records, organizational websites, and institutional reports, we then looked for whether or not these foundations provided funding to the Yes On 1240 campaign-related organizations.

Table 2: Philanthropic Support for Yes On 1240 Connected Organizations




Center on Reinventing Public Education


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


The Walton Family Foundation


The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

Education Reform Now (Democrats for Education Reform)


The Walton Family Foundation


The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation


Doris & Donald Fisher Fund


Corabelle Lumps Foundation


Bezos Family Foundation

League of Education Voters


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


Lochland Foundation


Bezos Family Foundation


Apex Foundation

Partnership for Learning


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Stand for Children™


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


The Walton Family Foundation


Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund


Bezos Family Foundation


Wissner-Slivka Foundation


Lochland Foundation


Apex Foundation

(Sources: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2013; Foundation Center, 2013; Libby, 2012; New York State Office of the Attorney General, 2013; Stand for Children, 2013; University of Washington Bothell Office of Research, 2013; University of Washington Bothell Office of Sponsored Programs, 2013)

As Table 2 indicates, the philanthropic foundations connected to major contributors to the Yes On 1240 campaign provided a range of support directly to three of the four campaign-coordinating organizations and the CRPE: the Apex Foundation’s $1,000.00 contributions to each LEV and Stand for Children were the smallest, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s total contribution of $9,000,000.00 to Stand for Children was the largest. Further, while DFER received no direct philanthropic support, its sister organization Education Reform Now received ample support from campaign-connected philanthropies, and, as detailed above, the overlap of resources between the cluster of Education Reform Now Inc., Education Reform Now Advocacy, and DFER, is very fluid. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the most prominent here, haven given over $27 million total to Yes On 1240 campaign-connected organizations across multiple years, grants, and contracts. The Walton Foundation is second-most prominent, having contributed $6.48 million to campaign-connected organizations, followed by the Broad Foundation at $2.99 million in support for campaign-connected organizations. There is a precipitous drop in total support after these three, potentially indicating smaller amounts of financial support originating from smaller foundations (e.g., Lochland Foundation or the Bezos Family Foundation). Regardless of the amount, foundation support of the organizations directly involved in the Yes On 1240 campaign is indicative of ideological alignment around specific education reforms (in this case, charter schools) between funders and grantees/contractors.

Sponsorship also buys “credit by association” (Brandt, 1998, p. 167) for the sponsors of policy, and this credit by association is a form of symbolic sponsorship. In the present study, the wealthy individuals and affiliated foundations are credited with being a driving force for education reform within specific discourses of creating quality schools for low-income children (see, e.g., Washington Coalition for Public Charter Schools, 2012c). For instance, because the Yes On 1240 campaign was driven mainly through the material sponsorship of local nonprofit community organizations as well as the symbolic sponsorship of a local research center, wealthy individuals and their foundations are credited for being associated with what appears to be a grassroots movement for education change. Thus, instead of appearing to be a campaign largely driven by the material sponsorship of millionaire and billionaire donors and their affiliated philanthropies (which in reality it was), the Yes On 1240 campaign appears to have the symbolic sponsorship of broad-based, grassroots, community support.

However, as Barkan (2012) explained, what appears to be grassroots symbolic sponsorship can actually be coming from “Astroturf” organizations:

 When an outside organization hires and pays for staff and vote solicitors and then “donates” their work to a candidate, the work looks like grassroots organizing but isn’t. It is “[A]stroturfing”—a term the late U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen is believed to have coined in 1985. Astroturfing is political activity designed to appear unsolicited, autonomous, and community-rooted without actually being so. (p. 53) 

By lending their support to the education reform agenda of the philanthropies through their own symbolic sponsorship of I-1240, pro-charter, nonprofit organizations and the educational research center fundamentally aid these wealthy elite and their affiliated foundations in legitimating charter schools within public discourse, and this helps to garner the support for charter schools from various groups within Washington State.

Further, our analysis here finds the symbolic sponsorship provided through credit by association serves the wealthy and their foundations in three concrete ways. First it reflects directly back into the public sphere and contributes to the creation of a public image of goodness and caring for others. Second, the credit by association serves to strengthen the network of sponsorship because the presence of prominent, well-connected, and important business people and philanthropists draws others into the network, thereby solidifying the strength and influence of the network of sponsorship. Third, credit by association is a form of symbolic sponsorship that functionally enables the superwealthy to influence policy through raw financial power, but to do so through the shield provided by the symbolic power offered by foundations and local organizations.


Given the passage of I-1240, our findings and analysis raise serious concerns regarding the disproportionate power of super wealthy individuals and their related philanthropic organizations relative to public education policy and the democratic decision-making process of individual voters. In the case of the most recent Washington State charter school Initiative 1240, it is clear to us that these wealthy individuals wielded an inordinate amount of power well beyond that of the average person in the state of Washington. Further, the power of these wealthy individuals extended largely from their vast resources and not because of any expertise on the subject of public education reform (Bosworth, 2011). As such, the passage of I-1240 in Washington State raises concerns that billionaires and their philanthropies have become what Karier (1972) referred to as a virtual “fourth branch of government” that is able to carry its reform agenda and ideology forward into fully realized education policy through sheer force of material and symbolic sponsorship, but with little public accountability.

The combination of vast wealth and strong influence over education policy creates an economic and political tension because, as Scott (2009) explained, “Wealth that comes largely from favorable public policies is now directed into mostly tax-exempt foundations, where trustees and philanthropists directly shape public policy for the poor, without the public deliberative process that might have been invoked over school reform policies were that money in the public coffers” (p. 128). The latter portion of this point is particularly salient to our findings here, for as Ravitch (2010) reminded us:

These foundations, no matter how worthy and high-minded, are after all, not public agencies. They are not subject to public oversight or review, as a public agency would be. They have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state. If voters don’t like the foundations’ reform agenda, they can’t vote them out of office. The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. They are bastions of unaccountable power. (p. 200)

Given the disproportionate power outlined in our analysis and network (Figure 1), we are concerned with what appears to be a lack of a mechanism for public accountability for these wealthy individuals, their affiliated philanthropies, and their agenda for education reform.

It is clear that philanthropies have a growing effect on public education policy (Reckhow, 2013), and our paper suggests the need for further study of the formation of state-level education reforms, as well as the study of the increasingly complex relationships among wealthy individuals, their respective philanthropies, and the networks of sponsorship they utilize to influence public education policy at all levels. Our network-analytic approach to examining this issue in Washington State can provide a foundation for additional studies into the ways these networks are altering the landscape of education policy in the United States and beyond. Finally, considering the lack of public accountability for the wealthy individuals and their respective philanthropies influencing public education reform, our paper further suggests the need for a targeted, critical discussion about how to integrate an accountability mechanism through which members of the public can scrutinize the policy agendas of private individuals and organizations that seek to directly intervene in the system of public education.

To read the results of this study in full, go to Teachers College Record.

Posted by Dora Taylor

Lisa Macfarlane with WA DFER wins the Walton Award for privatization.

Walmart 1%

According to the PR Newswire, Lisa Macfarlane, formerly with the League of Education Voters (LEV) and now Director of Washington State Education Reform Now/Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), received a $10,000 grant from the Walton’s as an “Education Reformer to Watch” for her work on pushing charter school initiative 1240 in the state of Washington.

And what does Ms. Macfarlane plan to do with the cash? Ensure that charter schools open in the state of Washington of course.

Per DFER Watch:

Democrats for Education Reform is a political action committee supported largely by hedge fund managers favoring charter schools, merit-pay tied to test scores, high-stakes testing, school choice (including vouchers and tuition tax credits in some cases), mayoral control, and alternative teacher preparation programs.

Alice Walton supported charter school initiative 1240 in the state of Washington by providing $1.7 M to the cause.

According to  The WalMart 1%:

The Walton Agenda

While they haven’t given very much of their wealth away, a great deal of what the Waltons have spent has been focused on funding right wing causes.

The largest of these causes has been the movement to privatize public education.

Beyond this, the Walton Family Foundation has also given to a host of other right-wing organizations, including:

  • The Cato Institute
  • The Heritage Foundation
  • National Right to Work Foundation (anti-union)
  • Americans for Tax Reform (Grover Nordquist’s organization)

Dora Taylor

Next up, see: Lisa Macfarlane and Her Conspiracy Theories.

The Weekly Update: Milken is ready to milk us in WA State, Louisiana wants to test the toddlers, some awesome school teachers and much, much more

The Weekly Update for the news and views you might have missed.

Bill Gates and the Waltons have had their way with Washington State.

With ads running continuously on TV channels for the last three weeks up to November 6th, Bill Gates and the Waltons finally got their way with us….unless there is a legal challenge regarding the state’s constitutional demand for oversight by OSPI.

Stay tuned.

The passage of I 1240 due to the financial backing of Stand for Children, Bill Gates, the Waltons and few other of the 1 percenters with the aid of the League of Education Voters, has opened the floodgates for the greedy.

As Diane Ravitch describes in her blog post:

K12 Says: Elections Present New Business Opportunities

Soon after the elections, the mega-corporation K12 convened a conference call with investors to boast about the opening of new markets for virtual charters in Georgia and Washington State.

K12 is the company founded by the Milken brothers to sell online schooling for-profit.

It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Its CEO, Ron Packard, has a background at McKinsey and Goldman Sachs. Last year, he was paid $5 million.

The academic results of its schools are poor. The National Education Policy Center reviewed K12 and found that its students fare poorly in relation to test scores and graduation rates. The NCAA won’t accept credits from one of its online schools. The New York Times wrote a blistering critique of K12.

But K12, like some other charter operators, makes campaign contributions (as it did in Georgia), and the politicians care more about those contributions than about the children of their state.

Remember Michael Milken of the milk ’em brothers?

From Wikipedia:

Michael Milkin

Michael Robert Milken (born July 4, 1946) is an American ex-con business magnate, financier, and philanthropist noted for his role in the development of the market for high-yield bonds (also called “junk bonds”) during the 1970s and 1980s, for his 1990 guilty plea to felony charges for violating US securities laws, and for his funding of medical research.

Milken was indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and securities fraud in 1989 as the result of an insider trading investigation. After a plea bargain, he pled guilty to six securities and reporting violations but was never convicted of racketeering or insider trading. Milken was sentenced to ten years in prison and permanently barred from the securities industry by the Securities and Exchange Commission. After the presiding judge reduced his sentence for cooperating with testimony against his former colleagues and good behavior, he was released after less than two years.

His critics cited him as the epitome of Wall Street greed during the 1980s, and nicknamed him the “Junk Bond King”. 

And now he’s ready to milk us.

While the rich get richer off of our taxes, the rest of us lose ground.

Over 100,000 Local Teaching Jobs Have Been Lost In The Last Year

One major cause of the unemployment crisis. Ongoing cuts at the state and local level.

According to the latest BLS report local education jobs dropped by 14 in the last month, and over the last year, the number is down by over 100K, from 7.9 million in June 2011 to 7.8 million.

To view the table, go to Business Insider.

A new website sprung up last week called Charter Watch Washington.

This is the introduction of the website:

An $11 million political campaign by a small group of wealthy individuals, many from out-of-state, placed charter schools on the ballot in Washington this year and promoted it with television ads.

After rejecting charters three times already in the past 16 years, I-1240 appears to have passed in Washington this November by a razor-thin margin of 50-49%.

I-1240 is an extremely flawed and alarming (and unconstitutional) proposal, full of troubling loopholes and opportunities for private enterprises to profit from public funds and no genuine public oversight. It also allows for a simple majority of 51 percent of parents or teachers to stage a takeover of an existing school and convert it into a charter — with no recourse for the remaining 49% of parents or teachers who may oppose this “conversion.”

Clearly charter schools remain a divisive, controversial and unpopular concept in Washington State.

The election may be over, but our concerns have not gone away.

Keep an eye on it.

And speaking of charters, Edusyster, has coined yet another phabulous phrase, “achievement gaptivists” in this post:

Is Segregation the New Black?

Deborah Kenny, founder of Harlem Village Academies.

Today’s topic: student racial demographics at some of Boston’s finest charter academies of excellence and innovation.

School name                               Total student enrollment                   # of white students

Roxbury Prep Charter School               244                                                    0

Bridge Boston Charter School              74                                                       1

Smith Leadership Academy                  202                                                    1      

Edward Brooke Charter School 2         167                                                    2

Codman Academy Charter                   149                                                     3

City on a Hill Charter Public School      291                                                 4

Dorchester Collegiate Academy           110                                                    5

Edward Brook Charter School               470                                                  6

Boston Renaissance Charter               1,027                                                 12

MATCH Charter Public School              473                                                  12

Boston Preparatory Charter                  359                                                  15

To read this article in full, go to Edushyster.

For more on Deborah Kenny and her experiment on little black children, see:

Another “Miracle School” Debunked: Harlem Village Academies

Other states faired better than Washington in terms of education in the last election. David Sarota describes three victories in his article:

Phony school “reform” agenda takes a beating

The media barely noticed, but voters in three states rejected the profit-driven fraud that is education “reform”

If your only source of news about American education came from docu-propaganda like “Waiting for Superman,” Hollywood politi-schlock like “Won’t Back Down” and elite-focused national news outlets in Washington, D.C., and New York City, you might think that the so-called education “reform” (read: privatization) movement was a spontaneous grass-roots uprising of good-old-fashioned heartlanders generating ever more mass support throughout the country. You would have no reason to believe it was a top-down, corporate-driven coalition of conservative coastal elites trying to both generally undermine organized labor and specifically wring private profit out of public schools, and you would similarly have no reason to believe it was anything but wildly popular in an America clamoring for a better education system.

In other words, you would be utterly misinformed — especially after last week’s explosive election results in three key states.

In Colorado, the out-of-state, corporate-funded group Stand for Children, which previously made national headlines bragging about its corrupt legislative deal making, backed a campaign to hand the state Legislature to pro-privatization Republicans, specifically by trying to defeat Democratic legislators who have stood on the side of public education. Though the group and its affiliated anti-union, pro-privatization allies have become accustomed to getting their way in this state, 2012 saw them handily defeated, as the targeted Democrats won election, giving their party full control of the statehouse.

In Indiana, the results were even more explicit. There, as the Indianapolis Star reports, Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Bennett became “the darling of the reform movement” by “enthusiastically implement(ing) such major reforms as the nation’s most expansive private school voucher program; greater accountability measures for schools that led to the unprecedented state takeover of six schools last year; an expansion of charter schools; and an evaluation system for teachers that bases their raises, at least in part, on student test scores.” For waging such a scorched-earth campaign against teachers and public education, Bennett was rewarded with a whopping $1.3 million in campaign contributions, much of which came from out of state. According to Stateline, Bennett was underwritten by “some of the biggest supporters of education reform in the country, including Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, billionaire financier Eli Broad and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,” and NPR reports that he also received big donations from private corporations that stood to profit off his school takeover policies.

Ultimately, he was able to grossly outspend his underfinanced opponent, local educator Glenda Ritz, by more than $1 million. Yet, in the conservative union-averse state of Indiana, he was nonetheless booted out of office in what the Star called “the Election Night shocker.” That was thanks not to some brilliantly vague personality campaign by Ritz, but to a substantive, laser-focused assault on Bennett’s corporate-driven privatization agenda. As the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported, she “attack(ed) Bennett for his school and district accountability system, voucher program and use of student testing data for teacher evaluations”; “criticiz(ed) Bennett’s policies as funneling taxpayer dollars to private companies”; and slammed Bennett’s corporate donors — all while she “advocated returning local control to districts, ending the current administration’s focus on standardized testing and spending more on early childhood education”; and pushed to “provide more support for low-performing schools instead of threatening them with sanctions.”

A skeptic might say that crushing defeats in Colorado and Indiana are just a coincidence, and no proof of any transpartisan, national trend in support of public education and against the forces trying to destroy our schools. But then came ultraconservative Idaho. Even more historically hostile to unions than even Colorado and Indiana (and that’s saying a lot), Idaho delivered perhaps the most humiliating blow to the education “reform” movement in recent memory.

Back in 2011, Republicans in the crimson-red state’s Legislature rammed through a slate of laws that would have limited teachers’ collective bargaining rights, tied teacher pay to standardized test results, raised class sizes and replaced teachers with computers in schools (the latter a $180 million boondoggle to the high tech industry without any substantive proof that it would actually improve student achievement). The legislative initiative was led by State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, a former Bush administration official whose own election campaign had been financed by firms who stood to make money off his policy agenda.

For its radicalism, the Idaho effort attracted national headlines and billing as a possible model for other states. In response, grass-roots opponents scraped together enough signatures to put veto referendums on the 2012 ballots.

According to EdWeek, the ensuing campaign was fueled by a flood of anonymous out-of-state money laundered through a group called Education Voters of Idaho. Anonymous, that is, until a lawsuit forced the group to disclose its donation list, which (not surprisingly) “included $200,000 from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $250,000 from Joe Scott, an heir to Albertsons, a grocery-store chain.” Also backing the measures was ultraconservative Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot who “put $1.4 million of support behind the propositions.” And yet, despite all the money to ratify corporate “reformers’” education agenda, voters overwhelmingly backed the vetoes.

Inveighing against a political culture that too often demonizes teachers, the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board said the election results were a clear message about the education “reform” movement’s overall anti-teacher agenda.

To read this article in full, go to Salon.

How far will people go to make a buck?

Is Louisiana Getting Ready to Test Toddlers?

Is this child ready to be tested?

Louisiana, which has become the national laboratory for bringing business-minded accountability to education—an effort that has come to full flower in New Orleans where charter schools educate close to 90 percent of its students—is turning its accountability lens onto publicly funded preschools and the education of its youngest children.

In a move that worries some early childhood experts, Louisiana’s new Early Childhood Education Act is set to make major changes in the way publicly funded preschool programs are managed and evaluated. The aim of the law, also known as Act 3, is to improve the quality of early childhood education, which educators agree is key to ensuring later academic success; currently, close to 50 percent of children entering kindergarten in Louisiana are unprepared.

To do so, the Louisiana Department of Education is developing an outcomes-based rating system, including letter grades–much like the grading system it uses for K-12 schools–which will reward high-performing programs and “intervene” in under-performing ones.

While Louisiana’s preschool grading system includes the accountability components of the federal government’s Race-to-the-Top contest, Louisiana did not apply for the latest round of funding. Part of the reason Act 3 has early childhood experts worried is that it omits what they consider the best elements of RTTT, including requirements related to process improvement and raising the qualifications of early childhood educators. These requirements, the state said, were too onerous.

Indeed, at a time when standards-and-testing regimes are coming to kindergarten classrooms, and even some programs for four year olds, around the country, education experts fear that Louisiana’s Act 3 marks an escalation of the trend. They say the law could lead to developmentally inappropriate efforts to teach children below age four how to read, standardized tests for toddlers, as well as a test-prep approach to preschool curriculum.

Ya think?

To read this article in full, go to Andrea Gabor’s blog.

Now for some good news.

Great teachers in New York City

The good news is that there are great and dedicated teachers throughout this country. Here are three of them.

The introduction:

You can go to Teaching Social Issues in Elementary School and view the videos in full of each teacher

Highly recommended.

Dora Taylor

The Weekly Update: The 2012 Election Results on Education… so far

Before going through the results of the elections, one last note about the Walton’s. I came across a list of candidates running for election or re-election who received donations from the Waltons this year.

It is interesting to note that Obama and Romney got about the same amount of money from the Waltons. I suppose that’s called “hedging your bets”. The list of cash recipients is long and worth a look. Rick Larsen, a House Democrat in Washington State, received $7,500 from the Waltons. You might want to see if one of your representatives is on the list.

There is another list that is being compiled of the elections around the country where big money was spent on campaigns from school board candidates to state legislation.

For more information on who donated big to campaigns related to education, check out the Registry of Attempts to Buy Education Elections by Prizatizers.

Now on to the election results.

Disclaimer: As a not-for-profit organization, Parents Across America (PAA) does not endorse candidates; any opinions on specific races in the reports to follow are those of individual members only.

Washington State

It’s a close horse race in our state with 50.5% voting for charter schools, in no small part due to the millions that have poured into our state in an effort to privatize our schools, to 49.5% opposed to charter schools.

The tally has not been completed because there are still about 600,000 ballots to count due to mail-in voting. Final results for King County, where Seattle is located, have not come in yet but so far the majority of votes in Seattle and the surrounding area have gone against charter schools (Go Seattle!)

Regarding the funding of education:


From a Parents cross America member in Arizona:

In Arizona, we lost Proposition 204, a one-cent sales tax that would have created a permanent funding mechanism for education.

We passed a Prop 118, a constitutional amendment stabilizing trust land payouts to schools for the next 8 years. It’s estimated this will cost schools 85 million dollars a year.

In California

California voted to tax the rich and keep down state college tuition costs. No more wringing of hands by the rich on what to do with the poor uneducated masses…start paying for it!

After Prop 30 Passes, California State Universities Plan To Roll Back Tuition

California’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, eager to show quick results from newly passed twin tax hikes he promoted to avoid drastic education cuts, joined state university officials on Wednesday to announce an immediate rollback in tuition rates.

Officials said new revenues from temporary tax increases approved by voters on Tuesday allows the 23-campus California State system, the nation’s largest four-year state university network, to avert a $250 million mid-year budget cut.

A 9 percent tuition hike, raising annual fees by $249 per semester for 2012-2013 academic year, was approved by the university’s board of trustees in November of last year in anticipation of those cuts.

But with passage of sales and income tax hikes in a ballot measure approved 54 percent to 46 percent, annual tuition fees for full-time undergraduate students in-state will now revert back to $5,472, the same rate as in the previous academic year.

“The election last night was a clear and resounding victory for children, schools, and the California dream,” Brown told a news conference. “Instead of the state borrowing, hat in hand, from our school districts, we’re going to have enough money to fund the schools as our constitution requires.”

To read this article in full, go to the Huffington Post.

In Oakland, CA, from a Parents Across America member:

A slate of affiliated school board candidates won their elections and the ed reform mindset is about to take full control of the school board here. I’m expecting to see an increase in the number of school closures and an increase in the number of charter school approvals.

I expect that this new group will probably get quite close to finishing the Oakland Unified School District off. Market share-wise, privatized charter schools currently enroll a full one-third of Oakland’s non-tuition paying students (12,500 in charter schools vs. 36,260 in district schools).

SCHOOL BOARD RACE IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – An unprecedented amount of money ($184,980) was given to the PAC that was started by an organization conceived and led by a former TFAer who was Special Assistant to our succession of three Broad-trained State Administrators (Great Oakland Public Schools). He was a Broad Resident at the time. The PAC was set up to support the campaigns of a slate of three new, reformy candidates. It looks like all of them won.

Almost all of GOPS PAC’s money came from three entities: one multimillionaire from Oakland (T. Gary Rogers, former Dreyer’s Ice Cream CEO; $49,900), one billionaire from San Francisco (Arthur Rock, octogenarian venture capitalist; $49,000), and the California Charter Schools Association ($49,995). More here.


From a Parents Across America member in Portland, OR:

In Oregon, we voted down a repeal of an estate tax. We voted to reform our corporate kicker to have those funds go to K-12 when they would normally kick back, mostly to out of state corporations. We kept our current Labor Commissioner who is strong on CTE and restoring such classes and shops to our schools, and we won a Democratic House majority, and while I shouldn’t get my hopes up too soon, I think because of the work we have been doing, these Dems will be more vocal against the Governors awful ed plans. Locally in Portland, the big news is that we passed a major construction bond to finally update our facilities. AND, a local arts initiative passed to secure every K-5 student arts education at least once per week.

And now to other issues in education.


From the Parents Across America Newsletter:

The big news in Connecticut is the defeat of the charter revision in Bridgeport. The mayor, Bill Finch, supported by Michelle Rhee, her husband, Kevin Johnson, Michael Bloomberg, ConnCAN, business leaders and more pushed a revision to the city charter that would eliminate an elected school board in favor of one appointed by the mayor. Just over a year ago, in July 2011, Mayor Finch, the President of the State Board of Education, ConnCAN and TFA reps engineered an illegal takeover of Bridgeport’s BOE, which was overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court. So, Mayor Finch and his allies aimed their efforts at disenfranchising Bridgeport parents through a revision of the city charter.

Big money was poured into this campaign by Rhee, Bloomberg, ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Education Reform (a business group), companies like United Illuminating, Aquarian Water, the local hospitals, etc (PAA-er Jonathan Pelto detailed the donors and their likely election law violations at Ads flooded the airwaves and t-shirt-clad workers staffed the polls yesterday.

PAA-CT member and retired Judge Carmen Lopez, who was instrumental in the lawsuit challenging the illegal board takeover, worked tirelessly to educate the public about the implications of an appointed board. She wrote op-eds, and spoke at gatherings all over the city. BOE members Maria Pereira (also a PAA_CT member) and John Bagley also spoke out. Jonathan Pelto exposed the questionable campaign activities of Rhee and others.

In a surprise David vs. Goliath victory for democracy, the charter revision was defeated by a vote (unofficial) of 11,121 to 9,231.


From Scathing Purple Musings:

Floridians didn’t buy the religious freedom nonsense and defeated Bush’s Amendment 8. Voters  saw that it was just another back-channel attempt to legalize vouchers. Nearly 1 million Floridians voted against the measure, clearly showing that republican and independent voters didn’t want it.

From the Parents Across America newsletter:

Rita Solnet of Florida: We had a nail biting night in Florida. We were in danger of having the Florida Senate gain a 2/3 majority. That would enable the most egregious reforms to pass easily. I didn’t go to bed until 4:15 and that was because I had to.

One race– created due to boundary changes between two south FL Senators– was between a friend of mine and a friend to public education, Senator Maria Sachs. This race was hotly contested with over-the-top libelous flyers, malicious and never-ending tv commercials used by the pro-privatizing, pro vouchers, pro cyber charter GOP Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff. (really a new low in tv ads!)

Even though Florida hasn’t finished counting the ballots (another blog!), Senator Sachs did win the election by approximately 52%. This was highly significant and caused tears of joy. For education and for many other issues, regaining her seat was paramount.

Our local (Palm Beach County) School Board race went extremely well. My candidate, Chairman Frank Barbieri, won. He ran unopposed along with another School Board Candidate. We had one difficult seat up for grabs and the charter operators (including Maverick Charters) dumped a lot of money in Christine Jax’ race. However, the community united and rallied for local endorsements and volunteered for former Principal, Michael Murgio. Murgio won w/approximately 51% in a race I thought would have a wider margin. Whew.

Jacksonville (Duval County) elected two pro privatizer board members closely tied to Jeb Bush. This is very sad. Parent allies there are quite upset.

In Orlando (Orange County), one very powerful FL legislator pro privatization – who was slated to be the FL Speaker of the House spent 5 times his opponent and lost the election by 37 votes. Unfortunately they are going through a recount process beginning tomorrow. Stay tuned. I’m in close touch with parent allies there too.

The biggest problem for the Florida Election Results was the Indiana Election Results!!

Tony Bennett is on the short list for Florida Commissioner of Education. The State Board of Ed waited to see if he’d win his bid for re-election as Superintendent of Education for Indiana. Although Bennett reportedly spent ten (10) times his opponent (per Diane Ravitch), he lost his bid for re-election in a big way. That spells trouble for Florida. Parent coalitions were in touch via text and email at 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. and again this afternoon discussing our approach to this troubling scenario.

Now let’s go out and educate the legislators who did win so they’ll know how to vote when duplicitous proposals for legislation land on their desks.


From Charter Schools Win Support in Georgia Vote:

Georgia’s measure, which passed handily on Tuesday, asked voters to amend the State Constitution to allow for a commission that would approve new schools that had been rejected by local school boards.

Opponents, who said that the Constitution did not need to be amended and that charter schools already had routes of appeal, pointed to heavy spending by out-of-state donors, including Alice Walton, the daughter of the founder of Walmart, Sam Walton; Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers; and several companies that manage charter schools. Supporters of the amendment outspent opponents by about 15 to 1.

“Unfortunately, our side of the issue couldn’t be explained to the public on a bumper sticker,” said Herb Garrett, the executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, which opposed the measure, saying it could divert much needed financing from traditional public schools. “That was a pretty steep hill to climb.”

The Georgia amendment was based on ALEC model legislation.


From Scathing Purple Musings:

(Jeb) Bush’s foundation has provided significant political support for Idaho school chief Tom Luna. This from The Answer Sheet:

Idaho voters appear to have overturned the “Luna laws,” three school reform laws named for state schools Superintendent Tom Luna who made them the centerpiece of his agenda. Voters rejected his plan to require high school students to take two online courses and for the state to spend $180 million to lease laptops to make this happen. They also rejected merit pay for teachers that is linked to student standardized test scores and they opposed limits on the collective bargaining rights for teachers.

Mitt Romney won Idaho by a 64 to 36 margin, a clear indication that republican voters rejected Bush-style education reforms.

From Bloomberg — and corporate reform — lose big in last night’s elections:

In Idaho, all three Propositions 1, 2, and 3, also known as the “Luna laws” after their right-wing State Superintendent Tom Luna, lost big. These laws would have weakened teacher tenure and collective bargaining rights, would have imposed merit pay, and would have radically expanded online learning, authorizing the state to spend $180M to lease laptops for students. Bloomberg contributed $200,000 to a secret fund to the campaign to defend these laws.


From Julie Woestehoff, Parents Across America member in Chicago:

The elected, representative school board referendum was overwhelmingly approved in the city precincts where it appeared. Nearly 87% of voters voted YES. This is an advisory referendum, so supporters like PURE and 19th Ward Parents Organization must now take the people’s decision to the state legislature for a change in state law.


From Scathing Purple Musings:

 Allow me the opportunity to gloat: So how’s that Chiefs for Change thing going, Jeb? Just a few short months after Gerard Robinson resigned in disgrace in Florida, one of Bush’s hand-picked stars suffered defeat in a red state which Mitt Romney won on Tuesday. Indiana school superintendent Tony Bennett was defeated by a teacher, Glenda Ritz.  Over 100,000 more Indianans rejected Bennet’s hyper charter school-voucherism in favor of the wisdom of an educator.

From PAA Founding member Leonie Haimson:

Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett, an aggressively pro-voucher, anti-teacher education chief, and according to Diane Ravitch, “the face of right wing reform in America” was defeated by teacher Glenda Ritz, despite outspending her by more than $1 million. As the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported, “His campaign chest of about $1.5 million included contributions from billionaires and hedge-fund managers far from Indiana” including, according to the Huffington Post, an undetermined amount of Bloomberg SuperPAC cash.


From Diane Ravitch’s Blog:

Bad News from Minneapolis

A reader sends news about the school board election in Minneapolis:

“Don’t know if you got Minneapolis school board results. TFAer Josh Reimnitz narrowly defeated Patty Wycoff. Margin was just 650 some votes out of over 21,000.This was a sad one. Dems were divided as normally intelligent Mpls Mayor R.T. Ryback gave his support to Josh, a 26-yr-old that only moved to Mpls last May, and influenced many others to follow. Keith Eliison and other major Dems supported Wycoff, long-time resident, involved activist and trained treacher. We need a major educational effort to Democrats so that more aren’t duped by these corporatist frauds.”

Only a TFA alum could move to a major city in May and have the money and political connections to win a school board election six months later.

New York

From Bloomberg — and corporate reform — lose big in last night’s elections:

Closer to home, the GOP seems to have lost its majority in the NY State Senate — despite receiving a cool $1 million from Bloomberg in September, thought to be the largest single donation ever given to a state party. If a Democratic majority holds, this bodes well for parents, teachers and education advocates who would like the state Legislation to approve more progressive education policies — including the possibility of providing checks and balances to our own extremely unpopular and coercive system of mayoral control, which unlike the citizens of Bridgeport, we never got to vote on.


From a Parents Across America member in Houston, TX:

All 15 members of the Texas State Board of Education were up for election this year based on re-districting. The SBOE, which has been noted for its conservative positions on curriculum standards (as recently documented in the movie, “The Revisionaries,”) will continue to be dominated by Republicans (including some moderates). Some uber-conservatives lost in this election cycle, restoring some balance on the board. With six new faces (including a homeschooler, a creationist, it is likely controversy will continue as science textbooks come up for adoption. And many Texas textbooks are adopted nationally as publishers cater to large purchasers and do not make revisions for each state. I don’t know what impact the adoption of Common Core Standards will have on the textbook process. This blog is a good summary.

Republicans continue to dominate the Texas legislature, but this election cycle eliminated the super-majority of the House and while the Senate has a Republican Majority, its rules have required a supermajority for bills to be heard. A charismatic, pro-public education freshman senator, Wendy Davis D-Fort Worth, retained her seat, which was in jeopardy due to re-districting.

Some legislative leaders in public education retired or were defeated this year, including the chairs of the Senate and House education committees. The Senate Ed Comm chair was named last month, Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who started the legislative Tea Party Caucus. The House chairs will not be appointed until the Speaker is elected in January. There has been a huge turnover in the legislature and a significant loss of institutional memory, which will be challenging as legislators will eventually face a school finance lawsuit decision.

At the Congressional level, Texas elected Ted Cruz, a Tea Party type, over the former House Public Education Chair, Paul Sadler, often recognized by Texas Monthly as one of the best legislators. We added four congressman due to the state’s huge growth in the last decade (4.3 million!) and now have 36 members.

And from another PAA member in Austin, Texas:

Coalition SAUS (Strengthen Austin Urban Schools) had an excellent election day locally in Austin, TX. 4 of the 9 positions on AISD Board of Trustees faced re-election this year. Last year, 3 of these 4 Trustees up for re-election voted for co-locating IDEA charter school on 2 of our public school campuses. They did so over massive public protest of the co-location. The fourth Trustee up for re-election voted against the co-location, but opted not to run for re-election. The board passed the co-location on a 6 to 3 vote last November.

Pleased to announce that the 3 Trustees who voted for co-location of the charter school last November lost their re-election bids this November. Also pleased to announce that an anti-charter, anti-privatization candidate was elected to the retiring Trustee’s position. All 4 newly elected Trustees have clearly stated their belief that “charter schools are not public schools” and that they “support public education!”

In short, if we held the IDEA charter school co-location vote again today, the measure would FAIL by a 6 to 3 vote in the opposite direction! Now that’s the way to flip a school board…celebrations and new hope (after much work) here in Austin.

You can read the local news story here and Diane Ravitch’s blog post here – she reports, “The new members are pledged to listen to parents and communities before initiating new policies.”


Please feel free to add information in the comment section below about your state, county or city.

This week I want to end with what is happening to the victims of Hurricane Sandy and what you can do to help.

The organization that is doing the best relief work in New York is not the Red Cross or FEMA but Occupy Sandy.

Check it out:

Here is a link where you can easily donate goods through their gift registry at

Let’s not forget the victims of Hurricane Sandy and what we have wrought upon ourselves.

It’s time to do better, starting now, for our children and the generations to come.

The Boardwalk in New Jersey.
Breezy Point
Hackensack, NJ
New Jersey bus terminal.
New York apartment.
New York subway
Verizon Headquarters in Manhattan. Communication equipment supporting much of NYC is housed here.
Mayor Bloomberg viewing damage.

The “school conversion” clause in Initiative 1240, the parent trigger and ALEC model legislation

There’s a reason why Stand for Children doesn’t want to refer to the school conversion clause in Initiative 1240 as the parent trigger. If you Google “parent trigger”, articles come up about how it has divided communities, how it has been used as a tool for charter operators to take over existing school buildings and how it started with Steve Barr, then the CEO of the Green Dot charter chain to open a charter school in Compton amidst much uproar by the majority of parents using an existing school building. (Which begs the question, just where do Bill Gates, Alice Walton and Stand for Children see all of these charter schools being located?  The Seattle Public School district is above capacity right now in terms of class space). Oh yeah, and the other reason why Stand for Children denies the fact that the term “school conversion” is not the same as the parent trigger is because the parent trigger has been formalized as a model bill and pushed as legislation in 17 states by ALEC.

Even with Steve Barr’s big fail in Compton, CA trying to take over a school building, the Heartland Institute, yes the same one who loves vouchers and questions the reality of climate change, the effects of second-hand smoke and other issues that may require government regulations, liked the idea and produced an outline for a parent trigger bill in 2010 that could be submitted by state legislators.

In the Heartland’s version of parent trigger legislation, a school did not have to be failing to be converted by a simple majority of parents. Sound familiar Seattle?

In November of 2010, Heartland took their outline to the “bill mill” ALEC.

ALEC had the connections to provide the parent trigger model bill to legislators around the country. And that’s exactly what they did. So far seven states have some form of the parent trigger.

According to Initiative 1240, a school doesn’t need to be “failing” to be converted into a charter school nor does the initiative require a school community to be notified of a petition being circulated. This, compared to other states, is pushing the envelope to the point that Washington State could have the most radical parent trigger law in the country.

Is this what we want Seattle?

Dora Taylor

Walmart Waltons: The movie

Why is this woman laughing?

Alice Walton has donated $1.7 M to Initiative 1240 which would privatize our schools. If the Waltons are going to determine educational policy in our state, we should at least get to know them better.

WAL-MART: THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE is a feature-length documentary that uncovers a retail giant’s assault on families and American values.

The film dives into the deeply personal stories and everyday lives of families and communities struggling to fight a goliath. A working mother is forced to turn to public assistance to provide healthcare for her two small children. A Missouri family loses its business after Wal-Mart is given over $2 million to open its doors down the road. A mayor struggles to equip his first responders after Wal-Mart pulls out and relocates just outside the city limits. A community in California unites, takes on the giant, and wins!

For more on the Walmart Waltons and their interest in education, see the Walmart 1% on Education.

By the way, did you know that the developer who just bought the Red Apple property at 23rd and Jackson in Seattle is considering a Walmart at that location?


More information on the Walmart Waltons and charter school Initative 1240

Alice Walton is now the 2nd biggest donor to the Washington State charter school initiative at $1.7M.

From the Walmart 1% website and posted on July 6, 2012:

Walmartization of Washington Schools?

Yesterday, the Washington Secretary of State’s office certified Initiative 1240 for the state’s November ballot. I-1240 would essentially permit charter schools in Washington, which currently doesn’t accommodate them.  The signature filing deadline was July 6; five days later, Alice Walton—who lives in Texas, not the Pacific Northwest—gave $600,000 to the pro-charter school committee.

If passed, newly created charter schools would be exempt from some of the rules and regulations governing the state’s public schools, while operating within the same budget. In the words of the Washington Education Association, “I-1240 siphons taxpayer funding from existing public school classrooms into a new system of unaccountable, privately managed charter schools.”

This is not the first time an initiative like this has come up in Washington State, and it’s not the first time a Walton has backed it. According to the Secretary of State’s blog, “The concept was narrowly defeated in 2000 and lost by larger majorities in 1996 and 2004.” In 2004, John Walton, Alice’s late brother, contributed over $1 million toward the initiative. Like his sister, John Walton was not a Washington State resident, yet he was the biggest contributor toward the referendum that cycle. So far this year, Alice Walton is the second biggest donor to the charter school initiative, only to be outdone by Bill Gates, who narrowly came in second to John Walton eight years ago. Alice Walton has contributed 18% of the funds raised so far.

In short, the Waltons have a history of spending big to advance their agenda, even in states they have no ties to.

As the Seattle Times points out, the Waltons are influencing education policy in Washington State from more than one angle. If voters pass I-1240, “They agree that Washington charter schools must follow practices developed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Robertson Foundation – some of the very people bankrolling the initiative.” In fact, the political arm of a Walton Family Foundation grantee, Education Reform Now, has also contributed to the initiative campaign.

While Alice Walton and John Walton have spent to support charter schools, their nephew Greg Penner fought against one education initiative that would have raised his taxes. In 2006, Penner contributed $250,000 to a campaign against proposed Proposition 82 in California. The proposition, sponsored by actor and director Rob Reiner, sought to establish a universal preschool system in California for four-year-olds by placing an additional income tax on individuals making more than $400,000 a year, and couples making in excess of $800,000.[1]

Walmart helping to undermine tax base

While the Waltons like to talk about their support of education, Walmart is taking steps at multiple levels to reduce their tax bill and thereby reduce funding to schools. Good Jobs First has documented that Walmart has received more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments around the country.   In Grandview, Washington, Walmart received a $1 million subsidy to open a distribution center in 2004.

A 2011 report found that Walmart aggressively seeks to avoid paying taxes.

For every kind of tax that a retail company would normally pay or remit to support public services, Walmart has engineered an aggressive scheme to pay less and keep more.

The report concludes:

When Walmart avoids paying its fair share of state and local taxes, only two things can happen: either working families and small businesses pay higher taxes or the quality of schools and other public services goes down, or some of both.

Finally, Walmart also strains public budgets in Washington (and many other states) by being the largest employer of workers who use taxpayer-subsidized health coverage.[2]

Millions spent distorting democracy

The Waltons, whose wealth is equivalent to that of the bottom 42% of Americans and mostly comes from Walmart, have spent over $7 million in state-level politics since the 1990 election cycle, according to data compiled from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. About half was spent on ballot initiatives; 44% was spent on Republican politicians and committees; and 4% went to Democrats. At the federal level, the Waltons have spent nearly $5.1 million over the same time period. About 80% of that went to Republican candidates and committees, including nearly $550,000 to newly emerging super PACsassociated with contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination.

[1] Furillo, Andy, “Election law quirk spurs protests; Preschool initiative backers want to know where foes got funds.” Sacramento Bee. 3 May 2006.

[2] Sean Cockerham, “A Ranking Wal-Mart Could Live Without.” Tacoma News Tribune. 1 Dec 2006.

Why are the WalMart Walton’s spending so much money on charter school Initiative 1240?

…and they don’t even live here.

Do they care about us that much? I don’t think so, even though Alice Walton, one of the Walmart heiresses, has donated $1.7M so far to the Yes on 1240 charter school campaign.

The following post on the Walmart 1% website clearly describes what they are doing in our state.

Endangering Public Schools

“Before considering the specific goals and activities of these foundations, it is worth reflecting on the wisdom of allowing education policy to be directed or, one might say, captured by private foundations. There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people.”

– Diane Ravitch, education historian and Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush

When the richest family in the country inserts itself into the education policy debate, ordinary Americans have reason to be concerned. Why should one family’s overwhelmingly deep pockets give them the right to play such an outsized role in determining how the next generation of American students is educated? What are they really trying to accomplish?

Why do the Waltons care about education?

While John Walton said in February 2000 that he believed the greatest responsibility facing the country was to provide a “world-class education” for all children,[2] recent comments from his wife suggest that the family’s original motive for becoming involved in education policy may have been less lofty.

In a June 2011 speech to the graduating class of the private school her son Lukas attended, Christy Walton explained that her family became involved in K-12 education reform because their business—presumably Walmart—“was having trouble finding qualified people to fill entry-level positions” and because the family believed that “the education being provided [in public schools] had been dummied [sic] down.”

Who’s involved? Who are they connected to?

Through their foundation, the Walton family has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to promote charter schools and private schools, and family members are involved in many prominent national organizations pursuing this agenda. Get to know the family members most involved in this work:

  • John Walton: Until his death in 2005, John Walton coordinated the education work of his family and family’s foundation.[3] Most notably, he and the late Republican financier Ted Forstmann co-founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which funds private school educations for low-income children[4], and he assisted in the creation of the right-wing advocacy group Alliance for School Choice.[5]  He was also a shareholder in a for-profit school development company [6] that went bankrupt in 2006.[7]
  • Carrie Walton Penner: Penner, who graduated from a private boarding school and attended two elite universities,[8] sits on the boards of the KIPP Foundation[9]  (to which the Walton Family Foundation recently gave $25 million[10]) and the California Charter Schools Association.[11] She is also on the boards of the Alliance for School Choice[12]—a  voucher advocacy group—and its lobbying and political affiliate.[13] Penner has a degree from the Stanford University School of Education, but has apparently never worked on the front line of education as a teacher.[14]
  • Greg Penner: Greg Penner, Carrie Walton Penner’s husband, is on the National Board of Directors for Teach for America, and is a director of the Charter Growth Fund,[15] a “non-profit venture capital fund” investing charter in schools.[16]
  • Christy Walton: Christy Walton is now the co-chair of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which her late husband co-founded.[17]
  • Annie Proietti: Jim Walton’s daughter, Annie Walton Proietti, works for a KIPP school in Denver.[18]

What are they trying to accomplish? What are they funding?

The Walton Family Foundation states on its website that it seeks to “infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities.”[19] Between 2005 and 2010, the Walton Family Foundation gave nearly $700 million to education reform organizations.[20]  Specifically, the family provides lavish funding for voucher programs, charter schools, and policy and advocacy groups devoted to establishing and promoting alternatives to public schooling.

In addition, the Walton Family Foundation finances education studies whose findings reinforce the family’s positions on education reform. In January 2012, The Washington Post reported[21] on a new study done by Illinois-based IFF, a “regional nonprofit community development financial institution”[22] that identifies itself as a “stakeholder” in the charter school movement,[23] and funded with a $100,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation.[24]  Considering the source of this study, it is perhaps unsurprising that the study called for the closure of over 30 public schools in the city and the expansion of charter schools.[25]

While the family funds charter schools, it seems clear that its real interest lies with voucher programs, a mechanism for school privatization through which public tax dollars can be diverted to private institutions. The late John Walton, son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, was recognized by Business Week in February 2000 as “a leading advocate for using ‘consumer choice’ to reform America’s schools”—that is, through the use of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers.[26] Indeed, the family apparently began working on charter schools as a sort of compromise, only after it became clear that privatization of schools was a very controversial idea.[27]

The family is active in education policy outside of its foundation, too—for example, by injecting money into local political races, often far from where they live:

  • Wisconsin: Many of the Walmart heirs have furthered their interests in school privatization by funding Republican candidates for state office in Wisconsin, a state none of them lives in. As the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported in September 2011, six members of the family were among the top 10 individual contributors to winning state legislative candidates in the 2010 elections that put Republicans in control of the state government. Under the first budget passed by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-majority legislature, funding for public schools was cut by $800 million over two years, while funding for voucher programs that funnel public money to private schools increased by $17 million over two years. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has the first and largest voucher program in the country, and the Walton Family Foundation provides substantial funding to School Choice Wisconsin, the state’s primary advocate for vouchers.[28]
  • Louisiana: In October 2011, Carrie and Greg Penner, who live in California, each donated $5,000 to Kira Orange Jones, a candidate for the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).[29] Orange Jones, the Teach for America head in New Orleans who was elected to the BESE in this fall’s election, is said to have “[run] as the embodiment of post-Katrina reform efforts in New Orleans”[30]—reform efforts that have been focused on charter schools and school privatization. Greg Penner is on the board of Teach for America.[31]
  • California: In 2006, Greg Penner contributed $250,000 to a campaign against proposed Proposition 82.[32] The proposition, sponsored by actor and director Rob Reiner, sought to establish a universal preschool system in California for four-year-olds by placing an additional income tax on individuals making more than $400,000 a year, and couples making in excess of $800,000.[33]

Why is this a problem?

In her most recent book, education historian Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush and a former supporter of charters and vouchers,[34] clearly articulates the problem with Walton-style education philanthropy:

These foundations, no matter how worthy and high-minded, are after all, not public agencies. They are not subject to public oversight or review, as a public agency would be. They have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state. If voters don’t like the foundations’ reform agenda, they can’t vote them out of office. The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. They are bastions of unaccountable power.[35]

The Waltons and the Walton Family Foundation have gargantuan financial resources and can exert undue influence on politicians and public policy issues of their choosing. No matter where people come down on the issues of education reform or school choice, we can all agree it is unfair that the Walton family gets to dictate the future of public education because of the amount of money at its disposal, and to do so in a way that is unaccountable to the public.

Remember, too, that the Waltons—white, rural, and mind-bogglingly wealthy—pursue their education reform goals in low-income, urban communities where the student populations consist largely of children of color. When a profoundly privileged family seeks to engage in philanthropy in historically marginalized communities that they are not part of, the lack of accountability is even more troubling.

The Waltons and their foundation have reaped billions and billions of dollars from a ruthless business model that relies on Walmart jobs being insecure and unstable jobs, with low wages, skimpy benefits, and little respect in the workplace. Their company has helped create a world where parents have to work two or more jobs, with unstable hours to make ends meet.  They’ve helped create a world where parents struggle with choices like paying rent, putting food on the table or taking a sick child to the doctor. And now the Waltons want to tell us how to fix our schools? The Walmart model has made its impact on much of the world. But, for many, the Walmartization of our schools is one step too far.

[1] Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, pp. 200-201.

[2] “John Walton: ‘Making a World-Class Education Available to Every Child,’” Bloomberg

Businessweek, February 7, 2000,

[3] “A Quiet Family Fund Creates a Loud Buzz,” Caroline Preston, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, February 20, 2011,

[4] “Theodore Forstmann, Private Equity Pioneer, Is Dead at 71,” Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times, November 20, 2011,; “Founders – Children’s Scholarship Fund,”

[5] “The Carnegie of School Choice,” Joanne Jacobs, Philanthropy Roundtable, September/October 2005,

[6] Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. proxy statement dated April 18, 1997, and “Wal-Marting Philanthropy,” Bill Berkowitz, October 22, 2004,

[7] “Tesseract Group, Inc.,”

[8] 2009 Annual Report of Giving, for The Governor’s Academy:; “Carrie Walton Penner,”; “Teaching Arkansas Children Well,” Stanford Magazine, March/April 2002,

[9] “KIPP Board of Directors,”

[10] “$25 Million Investment in KIPP to Help Double Number of Families That Choose KIPP Schools,”$25-million-in-kipp-to-serve-59,000-students-by-2015

[11] “Carrie Walton Penner,”

[12] “Alliance for School Choice,”

[13] “American Federation for Children – Leadership,”

[14] Her bio for the California Charter School Association indicates that she has never held a teaching position: “California Charter Schools Association: The Association: Our Team: The Board,”

[15] “Charter School Growth Fund – Who We Are – Board,”

[16] “Charter School Growth Fund – Who We Are – Overview,”

[17] “Theodore Forstmann, Private Equity Pioneer, Is Dead at 71,” Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times, November 20, 2011,; “Founders – Children’s Scholarship Fund,”


[19] “Education Reform,”

[20] Based on reports of grant funding in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 on the Walton Family Foundation website (and archived versions of the website from the Internet Archive,

[21] “Many public schools in D.C.’s poorest area should be transformed or shut, study says; more charters recommended,” Bill Turque, The Washington Post, January 26, 2012.

[22] “About IFF,”

[23] “Policy and Research,”

[24] “Many public schools in D.C.’s poorest area should be transformed or shut, study says; more charters recommended,” Bill Turque, The Washington Post, January 26, 2012.

[25] “Many public schools in D.C.’s poorest area should be transformed or shut, study says; more charters recommended,” Bill Turque, The Washington Post, January 26, 2012.

[26] John Walton: ‘Making a World-Class Education Available to Every Child,’” Bloomberg

Businessweek, February 7, 2000,

[27] See Christy Walton’s June 2011 speech: “So in California, where we were living at that time, we began to work on vouchers, and that’s the full choice, where money follows the child, so whatever public or private school you decide and determine that your child needs to attend. And there was such a battle that there was a compromise made, and that gave us the public charter schools that we have today, that are in many, many states. And these public schools offer some options to the conventional system. But they’re still not as innovative and successful overall as the majority of private schools.”

[28] “The selling of school choice,” Bill Lueders, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, September 18, 2011. Available online at

[29] Louisiana Board of Ethics Campaign Finance Portal search, 12/09/11

[30] “Kira Orange Jones elected to BESE,” Andrew Vanacore, the Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), November 19, 2011.

[31] “Boards – Teach for America,”

[32], California Contributions Report. Accessed 20 May 2011.

[33] Furillo, Andy, “Election Law Election law quirk spurs protests; Preschool initiative backers want to know where foes got funds.” Sacramento Bee. 3 May 2006.

[34] “Why I Changed My Mind, Diane Ravitch, The Nation, May 27, 2010,

[35] Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, pp. 200-201.

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