The DeVos family crusade to eradicate public education has targeted Pennsylvania, and a voucher bill may come to a vote in the PA Senate as early as Tuesday [TOMORROW]. It’s being marketed as a solution to save public schools, but the big donors are tied to right-wing think tanks that openly advocate, and strategize, the end of public education. How can vouchers improve public schools if the people mobilizing the movement intend to eradicate public education? Regardless of your personal stance on “school choice,” it’s important to know who is behind the voucher movement and the agenda they don’t share with the public or advertise in their media campaigns.
A new wave of school voucher bills is sweeping the nation, which would allow public education funds to be used in private or parochial schools. As with past waves of voucher initiatives, these new bills are largely promoted and funded by the billionaire DeVos family and a core group of wealthy pro-privatization supporters. They include Pennsylvania SB-1, soon coming to a vote in the PA Senate, and the “Vouchers-for-All” bill approved by the Florida Senate Education Committee on April 14. Betsy DeVos is at the helm of organizations that have set the stage for both bills, but you would never know it based on the propaganda being marketed to Pennsylvanians. Even if you are from another state, keep reading. Chances are a Betsy DeVos-led campaign is already at work in your state or will be there soon.
The DeVos family is recognized as one of the top national contributors to the Republican Party, free market policy institutes, and Religious Right organizations. Many of their previous attempts at using voucher initiatives to privatize the nation’s public schools have been transparent. Recent campaigns have been more covert and are camouflaged behind local efforts described as grass roots and bipartisan.
Pennsylvanians should not be deceived. Regardless of where one stands on the issue of school choice, behind the curtain of this effort is an interconnected network of right wing think tanks and billionaire donors, funded by foundations including those of the DeVos and Koch families and the Scaife, Allegheny, and Carthage Foundations of Pennsylvania’s own Richard Mellon Scaife. The leaders of many of these DeVos/Koch/Scaife-funded institutes openly voice their ideological objections to all forms of public education. Some even proudly display their support for a proclamation posted at the Alliance for Separation of School and State, which reads,
“I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education.”
Years have been spent developing and promoting schemes to privatize public education. The report “Voucher Veneer: the Deeper Agenda to Privatize Public Education” by People For the American Way (PFAW), quotes Joseph Bast, President and CEO of the Koch/Scaife/Walton-funded Heartland Institute,
“The complete privatization of schooling might be desirable, but this objective is politically impossible for the time being. Vouchers are a type of reform that is possible now, and would put us on the path to further privatization.”
(Contributions from the DeVos, Scaife and Koch foundations are noted throughout this article, however, other family foundations including Olin, Bradley, Smith Richardson, and Walton – the Walmart heirs, also fund these same think tanks.)
Pennsylvania could be a case study for nationwide anti-public education partnerships, formed by Religious Right activists joining forces with radical free market think tanks and libertarian-minded investment and hedge fund managers. The movement is billed as the salvation of inner city students; and Democratic politicians, often African American, are portrayed as the heroic champions of children who desperately need access to better education. The need is real, but the claim that this about improving public schools is false advertising. The big money donors who provide millions for orchestrated campaigns and glossy media, and what they expect from their investments, are kept behind the scenes. “Flooding the zone” is the phrase the Democrats for Educational Reform (DFER), partners in the voucher movement, have used to describe the intense media exposure before an important vote or election. In the case of Pennsylvania, the illusion created by “flooding the zone” may have impacted the 2010 gubernatorial election, and could impact the Senate vote expected to take place tomorrow (April 26, 2011).
Also see Part Two in this series, a report tracking over $4.6 million dollars contributed to American Federation for Childrens’ Indiana PAC in 2010, prior to the election.