This is part 2 of a multi-part series on Save Our Schools Arizona's visit to the Network for Public Education’s 4th annual conference in Oakland, CA. Read Part 1 here.
2. When it comes to privatizing schools, ALEC will leave no state behind.
Privatization battles are being waged across the entire country, in every single state. We spoke with people from Florida to Oregon, Boston to Oakland, and everywhere in between. “Red state” or “blue state,” we are all equally under siege. Anywhere profits can be made off of what has been referred to by the opposition as “human capital” (our children), you’ll find well-funded, systematic efforts to privatize public education.
But wherever you see these efforts, you’ll also find grassroots efforts like ours. An Arkansas State Senator told us about her coalition’s fight to stave off an ESA voucher bill — a fight they won by applying pressure to rural legislators. These leaders came to realize that rural communities would receive no benefit from such a program, and their constituents held them accountable to this reality. The same is true for Arizona; we need our rural legislators to know we expect them to stand up for the public schools in their communities.
A tenacious school board member from Tennessee described her fight to elect a majority of pro-public education legislators as a “bipartisan, moral movement.” An activist from Nebraska delineated how their newly elected governor had ushered in bills for charter schools, tax credit vouchers, the A-F letter grading system, and vouchers IN ONE LEGISLATIVE SESSION, but through her group’s efforts, all were defeated.
The adage of “follow the money” has never been more true than in the war against privatization. The billionaire class sees the public school system as an untapped economy — and in a sense, it’s shocking that it’s taken them this long to successfully profit off our children. When undertaking the referendum this summer, we were under the ever-looming shadow of the American Federation for Children and Americans for Prosperity. We then saw these insidious groups in action as they overtook our petition review process, paid moms to attend legal hearings, and brought one frivolous lawsuit after another against SOSAZ.
But it wasn’t until we were able to hear these tales from all 50 states, and start doing the multiplication in our heads, that we were able to see the true magnitude of their influence. $500,000 on one school board race in Oakland. $18 million in Massachusetts fighting to raise the cap on charter schools. $12 million to expand charters in LA. $200,000 on pro-voucher legislative candidates in Arizona. Close to $900,000 in Mississippi to fight an amendment that required full funding of its schools.
The Walton Foundation spends over $1 billion per year to promote school choice. The Eli Broad Foundation spends around $60 million a year advancing the privatization agenda. The Bradley Foundation has spent over $100 million in the past decade pushing vouchers and the like. Throw in groups like the DeVos Family Foundation and the Koch Brothers, and you can be sure that the privatization agenda is being bankrolled more per year than the entire Arizona state budget.
Lest you believe the “school choice” sermon that Koch Kingdom cares deeply about the future of poor children in Arizona — no one spends that kind of seed money without an assured return on their investment.
Stay tuned for part 3 in this series.