Screwing America, One School at a Time

From AlterNet:

Since the 2010 elections, voucher bills have popped up in legislatures around the nation. From Pennsylvania to Indiana to Florida, state governments across the country have introduced bills that would take money from public schools and use it to send students to private and religious institutions.

Vouchers have always been a staple of the right-wing agenda. Like previous efforts, this most recent push for vouchers is led by a network of conservative think tanks, PACs, Religious Right groups and wealthy conservative donors. But “school choice,” as they euphemistically paint vouchers, is merely a means to an end. Their ultimate goal is the total elimination of our public education system.

The decades-long campaign to end public education is propelled by the super-wealthy, right-wing DeVos family. Betsy Prince DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince, founder of the notorious private military contractor Blackwater USA (now Xe), and wife of Dick DeVos, son of the co-founder of Amway, the multi-tiered home products business.

thepublicenemyOriginal movie poster

[The goals of] conservative policy institutes founded beginning in the 1970s [that] get hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy families and foundations […] include privatizing social security, reducing government regulations, thwarting environmental policy, dismantling unions — and eliminating public schools.


But Americans don’t want their schools dismantled. So privatization advocates have recognized that it’s not politically viable to openly push for full privatization and have resigned themselves to incrementally dismantling public school systems. The think tanks’ weapon of choice is school vouchers.

Vouchers are funded with public school dollars but are used to pay for students to attend private and parochial (religious-affiliated) schools. The idea was introduced in the 1950s by the high priest of free-market fundamentalism, Milton Friedman, who also made the real goal of the voucher movement clear: “Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a free-market system.” The quote is in a 1995 Cato Institute briefing paper titled “Public Schools: Make Them Private.”


The longest running voucher program in the country is the 20-year-old Milwaukee School Choice Program. Standardized testing shows that the voucher students in private schools perform below the level of Milwaukee’s public school students, and even when socioeconomic status is factored in, the voucher students still score at or below the level of the students who remain in Milwaukee’s public schools. Cleveland’s voucher program has produced similar results.


Most Americans do not want their tax dollars to fund private and sectarian schools. Since 1966, 24 of 25 voucher initiatives have been defeated by voters, most by huge margins. Nevertheless, the pro-privatization battle continues, organized by an array of 527s, 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s, and political action committees. At the helm of this interconnected network is Betsy DeVos, the four-star general of the pro-voucher movement.

The DeVoses are top contributors to the Republican Party and have provided the funding for major Religious Right organizations. And they spent millions of their own fortune promoting the failed voucher initiative in Michigan in 2000, dramatically outspending their opposition. Sixty-eight percent of Michigan voters rejected the voucher scheme. Following this defeat, the DeVoses altered their strategy.

Instead of taking the issue directly to voters, they would support bills for vouchers in state legislatures. In 2002 Dick DeVos gave a speech on school choice at the Heritage Foundation. After an introduction by former Reagan Secretary of Education William Bennett, DeVos described a system of “rewards and consequences” to pressure state politicians to support vouchers.


Media materials for Betsy DeVos’ group All Children Matter, formed in 2003, claimed the organization spent $7.6 million in its first year, “impacting state legislative elections in 10 targeted states” and a won/loss record of 121/60.

Dick DeVos also explained to his Heritage Foundation audience that they should no longer use the term public schools, but instead start calling them “government schools.”


A significant forum that brings together free-market power brokers and Religious Right leaders is the Council for National Policy (CNP), a secretive group that has met several times annually behind closed doors since 1981. Richard DeVos described CNP as bringing together the “donors and the doers.” This partnership gives the Religious Right access to major funders, including Richard Mellon Scaife, who are not social conservatives.

Many of the free-market think tanks are secular, but there is a trend toward merging free-market fundamentalism with right-wing religious ideology. The Acton Institute is described by religious historian Randall Balmer as an example of the merging of corporate interests with advocates of “dominion theology.” Dominionism is the belief that Christians must take control over societal and government institutions. The Acton Institute funds events featuring dominionist leaders including Gary North, who claims that the bible mandates free market capitalism or “Biblical Capitalism.”

Betsy DeVos has served on the board of Acton, which is also funded by Scaife, Bradley and Exxon Mobil. A shared goal of this unlikely group of libertarians and theocrats is their battle against environmental regulation. One of the Acton Institute fellows leads a group of Religious Right organizations called the Cornwall Alliance, which is currently marketing a DVD titled Resisting the Green Dragon. The pseudo-documentary describes global warming as a hoax and claims environmentalism is a cult attacking Christianity. Another shared goal of the free marketers and Christian dominionists is eradicating secular public education.


Betsy DeVos has announced that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are scheduled to speak at the National Policy Summit of the American Federation for Children on May 9. Walker wants to expand vouchers in Milwaukee despite the program’s failure, made clear by disappointing standardized test results. Walker’s response? To halt the testing. Pennsylvania voucher supporters have already taken care of the pesky issue of accountability by defeating an amendment that would require the students using vouchers to take standardized tests.

During the AFC’s summit, it’s doubtful there will be speeches about eradicating public education but there will certainly be public relations-produced media everywhere, showing the beautiful faces of the little children these voucher proponents are supposedly saving. And Betsy DeVos, the four-star general of the voucher wars, will continue to advance a stealth campaign against American communities and working families — the battle to eradicate public education.

These are just snippets of the article. I encourage you to read the entire thing.


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36 responses to “Screwing America, One School at a Time

  1. Oh crap … I have a lean toward vouchers, but in an educational sense – and definitely not a political or religious sense. Then again, part of me says privatize the whole damn thing.

    But back to your post – one thing for sure – you have increased my awareness of the the forces behind the movement. Well done Nonnie … and thanks!

    • i am and always have been against vouchers. i think every penny taken away from public schools is a mistake. public schools aren’t perfect, but the best way to fix them so that every child has an opportunity to learn is not to take money away.

      • PSzymeczek

        I’m with you, nonnie. Take the tax money away from the charter schools and give it back to the public schools, where it belongs. If someone wants to operate a charter school, let them do it on private donations.

        • amen, ps! if parents want their kids to get a religious education, let them pay for it or teach them about religion at home themselves when school is over.

    • Friend of the court

      private schools will not be burdened with those nasty government regulations. does Neil Bush still sell “educational”software? i remember the mother of all bushes donating a load of her boys programs to the happy campers of New Orleans Schools and taking a tax deduction while the streets were still wet. our school just got 36” monitors with an AT&T link in every room, to be programed god only knows where. no one says where the money came from. at least 5 staff and three teachers will be laid off. we lost seven teachers last year and six the year before.

      • isn’t it funny how the schools always seem to have enough money to buy crap from politically-connected companies, but they’re always bitching about having to scrape up enough money to feed poor kids or to have music or art programs?

  2. I can see how schools that make kids stupider serves conservative ideology. And fucking Amway? Figures. In high school, I made a ton of money babysitting for Amway nuts.

    I appreciate the article a lot, Nonnie. Thanks. 😉

  3. Dominionists.

    :Shakes head:

    I can’t tell you how much I hate Dominionism. I don’t seem to remember any passage in the Bible that says anything about Christian political aspirations. Or the part about Jesus taking over the Roman Empire.

    Sigh …

    But you’ve got to give Gov. Walker credit. What better answer could there be, if your patron schools are failing the tests, then obviously you should ban the tests. That’s brilliant!

    If, you know, you hate kids.

    But, really, shouldn’t the kids be working in factories, anyway? What do they need all that schooling for, anyway? If they go to school, they might get ideas and listen to scientists or artists or maybe even … gasp! … philosophers! Better to put them to work early.

  4. John Erickson

    We couldn’t get equality in public schools 30-plus years ago. When my family moved from one of Chicago’s suburbs to another, we moved to a “poorer” school district (one with less money due to fewer high-income businesses and a lower population density). I went from being challenged in 4th grade, to sitting bored to tears in 5th grade, covering materials I had already learned. The school I moved to was over a year behind my old one, with older textbooks, fewer supplies, and a rigid curriculum that had to be followed point by point. (It wasn’t that the kids were less intelligent – far from it.) And that was still in the Chicago suburbs, with solid funding even in the poorest schools. All the vouchers will do is produce a two-track system – rich kids being years in advance when they graduate high school, and poor kids barely capable of functioning in society (provided they even graduate high school). So much for “the children are our future”.

    • i wonder where all those people think their doctors, nurses, accountants, etc. are going to come from in the future. do they really want to be treated and serviced by people who had crappy educations?

  5. I agree with wken.
    Back in my childhood days, and attending Sunday School & Church, which I stopped doing back in my junior year of high school, I don’t ever remember this talk about Jesus being a capitalist, free market, and all this other nonsense. These jokers are so full of shit, that don’t have enough toilet paper to wipe their asses with.

    • that’s why it’s a good thing that they’ve rewritten the bible, don. that’s what they do. if they don’t like what something says, they find someone who will say that it says something else. if they don’t like test scores that demonstrate that their way is the wrong way, they cancel the test.

    • The Conservative Bible Project, by Andy Schlafly, is supposed to take care of that problem.

  6. jeb

    It’s just another step on the road to their goal of destroying the middle class in this country. Blow up public education in this country by calling it a failure when it’s underfunded and create a cheap labor pool.

  7. For they are followers of the Profit. Doesn’t scripture teach us to lay up treasure here in the mortal realm? Doesn’t it say to teach your children how much better they are than anyone else? Doesn’t the republican party hold the trademark on Gods Work(tm)? Doesn’t the almighty stay at wits end worring that John Gault doesn’t have enough? Well. at least I got the “doesn’t” part right.

  8. changing the name from “public” to “government”, brilliant! government…bad word, very bad word. your kids are being brainwashed five days a week! you must save them…. get your vouchers here!

  9. After I had eight years of private Catholic Education…. I was two years behind in Math and Science classes…. very advanced in English and literature…. and a devote agnostic. I strongly believe, overall, our public schools are great. We need to pay teachers as well as possible…… the raw material they work with is America’s most precious asset.

    • amen, okjimm. i think the schools have lost their way a bit. instead of focusing on the basics–math, science, history, and english, they’ve had to worry about prayer in school and fundraisers and lots of stuff that has nothing to do with education. get the best teachers, pay them what they deserve, and let them concentrate on teaching kids the things they need to know to be successful.

  10. Public schools are required to comply w anti discrimination laws, private institutions are a gray zone. One local private catholic elementary school really harassed & discriminated against a set of lesbian parents. They did not flat out kick them out, but made it so uncomfortable to be there, they may as well have.

    Private schools are more like the Stepford wives of the educational sector. They can be selective – i.e. discriminate, and get away with it, including getting rid of a student who is struggling, to boost their statistical test score numbers.
    Public schools on the other hand are more like a slice of real life.
    A blend of races, income brackets, and levels of learning skills.

    I went to private schools. They had higher quality illegal drugs, more money to buy cigarettes, and all the same issues public schools have. Because both parents had to work in order to afford the expensive private school, kids had less supervision so they could engage in sex, drugs & rock & roll. My high school class had the first black kid enrolled & that was a big deal.

    My kids went to public schools.
    Of all the things government can do with tax money, providing quality education is what they should be doing. All other countries have figured out this is a sound investment in the future. You give kids an excellent education, they will grow up to be productive, contributing members of society.
    Here, we slash education budgets & build more jails & detention centers.

    I hate the No child left behind Bush program. All that did was have non educators dictating to teachers how to teach (to the tests, rather than actual learning), and a witch hunt of teachers who don’t align with the teaching to the standardized tests program.
    Plus they slipped in some Patriot act nastiness that all schools had to give student info to the military (future recruits) in order to get federal funding.

    “School choice” vouchers is code for discrimination.

    • what will happen is what has already happened with health care. just as the insurance companies want to insure only healthy people, the private schools will only accept the best students, and those with learning or behavioral disabilities will be left in the lurch. they might even exclude physically disabled students, especially if they require special help. they won’t want any kids who might cost them a few extra shekels.

  11. This post was so good that I needed to read it a second time. You did a lot of background work on this. Well done, and thanks!

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