DeVos Moves to Give Control of Education to Koch Brothers and Heritage Foundation

By U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 3rd Class Matthew R. Schwarz

Published on Crooks & Liars on 3/17/2017.

Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is wasting no time when it comes to destroying our children’s education on a federal level. During her confirmation hearing, she stressed that she would work in the best interests of students, teachers and education leaders, and that she supported public schools, wanting only the best for them. But for those who know DeVos’ history, this was not in tune with her previous statements and actions.

She has spent the last twenty plus years destroying the education system in her home state of Michigan. Through investing millions of her personal fortune into buying influence with Michigan politicians, she was able to get numerous bills passed that established charter schools and voucher programs. The DeVos family also helped create organizations that supported these bills, organizations that Betsy was a board member of. These organizations would then pressure and fund candidates who were under the impression this was a movement within education. Only it wasn’t. It was actually all coming from a small group of like minded people: The Heritage Foundation, the DeVos family and the Koch brothers to name a few.

Today, the system Betsy DeVos created in Michigan is falling apart. Schools are closing, and there is no fair play when it comes to the quality of education being offered. This is mainly due to DeVos funding opposition to state mandated accountability practices. Schools in Michigan report to no one, and literally anyone can open a school. Students are failing and unable to maintain scores similar to other states. Taxpayer money is being drained from public schools and given to charter schools, thus crippling the public system. Public schools were not failing until she got her grubby little hands on them.

Step one: cut accountability

Secretary DeVos began her assault on the Department of Education by gutting the very program she promised to uphold, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The ESSA is more or less the same set of standards and reporting practices that President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act before it. Each president has changed the name of the program while adding or subtracting a few programs here and there. It is a large set of regulations that require schools across the nation to meet state academic standards, conduct academic assessments, have statewide accountability systems and provide for school support.

While DeVos kept all the programs in ESSA, on March 13, 2017, she created what is referred to as the Consolidated ESSA Plan. It dropped all accountability measures. States will still have to submit their program plans to the Department of Education as this helps the federal government determine how much assistance/funding to give each state.  As DeVos stated:

Students have never been well-served by rules, regulations, and red tape that are not absolutely necessary and that hinder their teachers, local school districts, and state leaders.”

This statement makes is seem as if she only cut those rules and regulations that were not benefiting students and schools. However, this is not the case. To be clear, she cut all rules and regulations. States can now choose the programs they participate in as long as they do not violate disability and discrimination laws. How those states evaluate their schools and programs is up to them. Further, they do not need any approval as to how they spend any funds even if they are taxpayer funds.

Step two: break up teacher’s unions

States will no longer be required to report on teacher’s issues such as pay discrepancy. Schools will not have to provide students with access to school counselors, experienced teachers or certified teachers. In short, this allows schools to hire teachers with little to no experience or certification. A recent bill stating that teachers need not have a teaching degree but merely experience in a field in Wisconsin was killed due to voter outrage. Aside from making Joe Blow a teacher, this will reduce actual teachers’ pay and benefits.

DeVos’ goal is to take taxpayer money from the federal government and dole it out to states who in turn hire private management companies that maintain charter schools. By refusing to hold states accountable at the federal level, they no longer have to follow Constitutional requirements of separation of church and state. This will allow for religion to be brought into the classroom; of course they mean Christianity. Additionally, she will be creating a private market that is funded by taxpayer dollars.

Step three: bring in the vast network she created in Michigan

On Tuesday, March 14, 2017, Secretary DeVos met with the Center for Education Reform (CER). According to her schedule, this was “behind closed doors,” so we have no idea what was said. That’s convenient since the CER is part of the DeVos education network she created in Michigan. This network consists of many private, non-profit organizations that are funded by right-wing think tanks.

At the top of this network is The Heritage Foundation. Betsy DeVos’ father-in-law, Richard DeVos, helped create the foundation by initially funding it in the 1970’s. The Heritage Foundation is the go to organization for everything right-wing. They are the reason America is under Trump tyranny right now. They are behind the voter roll purges, voter ID laws and all the other Republican shenanigans. The Heritage Foundation maintains professional advisers on every subject from the environment to defense. They tell Republicans what to think and what to do, which explains how they are always lock, step and barrel on every issue.

The Heritage Foundation’s education department established mini-Heritage Foundations in every state called the State Policy Network (SPN). The SPN in turn funds the multitude of charitable, pro-charter school, pro-voucher organizations that have been established by the DeVos, the Koch brothers and a handful of other mega-wealthy parasites that feed at the government trough. The CERS is one of these groups. They in turn donate to each other’s organizations and to both the SPN and The Heritage Foundation. They are all supporting each other in gaining access to state legislatures and local school boards to make each system into a private education enterprise run off of taxpayer dollars.

In order to streamline this concept, The Heritage Foundation, SPN and all these charitable organizations joined the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is responsible for bringing together corporate interests and legislation. It maintains departments in all subject matters like The Heritage Foundation, but ALEC focuses on writing legislation only. They claim to be non-partisan but only have one Democrat on their roles. Your state representatives meet with corporate representatives and vote on what should be included in bills. ALEC then writes the legislation and makes it available to all legislative bodies. Representatives merely have to copy and paste their names to the bills and pretend they wrote them.

ALEC maintains education bills concerning legalizing charter schools, resolutions supporting homeschooling, school tax credit programs, online school charter acts and many more. As reported by an investigation by The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), they have been pushing for privatization in schools since 1985 when they wrote Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program. Today Georgia, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida and Indiana have all passed charter school legislation using ALEC bills. It has been estimated that half of all legislation in the states was written not by your representatives that you voted for, but by ALEC.

In addition to funding The Heritage Foundation, SPN and ALEC, the Koch brothers also funnel money into education through various non-profit groups. Millions have been pushed toward privatizing schools via their Claude R. Lambe Foundation, Donors Trust, Donors Capital Fund, Americans for Prosperity and the Knowledge and Progress Fund. Likewise, the DeVos family funneled their money through the American Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, The Federalist Society, The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, The Great Lakes Education Program and many other groups.

Step four: convince Americans on privatizing education

ALEC is a pro at using terms to fool the public. CMD’s investigation also found that ALEC purposefully labeled their arguments for privatizing schools as “school choice” and “opportunities for low-income families.” Many of these organizations show minority children on their websites in an effort to make it seem as though school choice, charters and vouchers are to benefit the minority and poor communities. They also offer scholarship programs that appeal to parents like the Special Needs Scholarship, Foster Child Scholarship and Opportunity Scholarship Programs. The term ‘vouchers” will be replaced by “The Education Savings Account Act.” You can expect to hear Secretary DeVos make that change in terminology soon.

As usual with these privatizing anti-government types, these programs are in reality a way to benefit rich, white families. According to the CMD report, the wealthy in Wisconsin can now take tax money and pay for private tuition even though most (upwards of 75%) were in those private, religious schools already. In Georgia, ALEC sold a voucher program to parents by claiming it was intended to assist minority families, yet most scholarships were given to white, wealthy families.

ALEC’s latest scam is to write bills allowing for corporations to deduct 100% of their donations to educational organizations. Past laws only allowed 50%. This bill is referred to as “the Great Schools Tax Credit Act” and was introduced in seventeen state legislatures during 2015. It’s expected to be introduced federally as well.

Game, set, match

DeVos began immediately by soliciting contracts for studies on how to fund private, religious schools with tax payer funds. This week she completely scrapped all of the state education requirements for accountability, all data reporting on teachers and how schools use their taxpayer funds. Meetings with her labyrinth of charter school organizations have also begun as evidenced by her off the record meeting with the CER.

This is nothing more than a DeVos style scheme to get tax money into private hands and Christianity into schools. Instead of tax dollars going to public schools, they will go to private management companies that will then give 10-15% to your kid’s school. The professional teacher will all but disappear. In return, The Heritage Foundation, the DeVos and the Kochs will have generations of uneducated, religious zealots to vote for their right-wing causes. This is corporate welfare at its worst.

Only the loud voices of educators and parents can stop this. Start organizing and making your protests heard in hopes that it’s not too late.

 

Republicans Commence to Eat Their Own

Published on Crooks & Liars on 3/15/2017.

Trump is not known for his consistency. One day he’s claiming he’ll lock Hillary up for baseless charges, the next he could care less. Sometimes he states he is besties with Putin, other times he claims, “Putin who?” Last week he tweeted that Obama was wire tapping his phones, this week his press secretary stated that Trump really doesn’t think Obama tapped his phones. He’s consistently inconsistent.

Yet you can count on Trump for a few things: he lies, won’t take responsibility when things go wrong, will take responsibility for great things he hasn’t actually done like creating jobs, will attack anyone for criticizing him, is a con man through and through, etc. Most of all, Trump holds grudges. And like the elephant that is the mascot of his adopted party, he never forgets those wrongs that he feels others have committed against him. Never.

Just look at what he did to Mitt Romney. Trump purposefully and publicly humiliated him by making him beg for the secretary of state position. All the while, Trump was never, ever going to appoint him. He intended to get even and make Romney look like a fool to which he succeeded. He selected Ben Carson for HUD with the intent of destroying it for its audacity in suing Trump and his father back in 1973 for violating housing anti-discrimination laws. It’s even been said that the entire Trump presidency is a response to Obama teasing Trump publicly at the White House Correspondence dinner in 2011. And so on…

I would bet the house that Trump has a list of wrong doers, and at one time, Obama was probably target number one. Now that number one is assigned to Paul Ryan. Ryan earned that distinction when he uninvited Trump to his Michigan rally after the “grab them by the pussy” comment was made public. It took Ryan months to endorse Trump for the Republican nominee, and it took Trump even longer to endorse Ryan. Like two kids fighting over a toy, they begrudgingly shook hands.

This beef has not gone away; there is a giant crack in the Republican Party. In Ryan’s and his supporters’ minds, they are simply using Trump to sign their long list of laws they’ve been dreaming about for eight years. They think they are the ones holding the power, that they can get rid of Trump whenever his liabilities outweigh his benefits. On the other hand, the Trump team is using Ryan and cohorts to write the laws they want. They also believe they are more powerful and will likewise clean house when Ryan and the gang are of no use.

And so it begins. 

Ryan is pushing his healthcare bill like his life depended on it. That’s because his political life does. With constituents demanding some sort of healthcare program and elections coming in 2018, Ryan’s congressional gang has no choice but to put forth an alternative to the ACA. If they simply repeal and don’t replace, they will be voted out. Ryan has even resorted to buying ads against other Republicans that tell their constituents to demand their representatives support his bill. This is nothing less than a stab in the back.

Trump’s gang wants to see nothing short of repeal. Trump may publicly say that he wants healthcare for all, to save social security and other government benefits programs, but he doesn’t. This is just another election lie like the “lock her up” lie. Trump knew he could not win without this promise.

You have to believe not in what they say, but in what they do to know the truth.

That truth is that Trump only listens to Bannon, Breitbart, Fox News, Infowars and the like. And what those people have been doing for years is railing against the Republican Party. They believe Republicans like Ryan and his supporters are Republican In Name Only (RINO). Breitbart even sells merchandise with RINO emblazed on it. They do not support these RINOs and most certainly do not support government healthcare.

Just this week, Breitbart once again went on the attack again. Their top story exposes Ryan for the Trump hater he is. In it they released a secretly recorded phone conversation between Ryan and multiple Republican representatives. In it he clearly stated his opposition to Trump, and added that he would never support him. This can read as nothing other than a deliberate call for Trumpites to attack Ryan and his gang.

And they are answering that call. Noah Wall of FreedomWorks, Breitbart News Daily, Alex Marlow of Sirius XM, and Lou Dobbs of Fox Business News are calling for Ryan to resign. Even Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots got in on the action when she met with Trump earlier this week. Martin emphasized to Trump that he should not forget that it was Ryan that did not support him during the Access Hollywood fiasco, but that Tea Party Patriots and her PAC never waned in their support. And now FreedomWorks, Breitbart, Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Representative Jim Jordon are holding a protest called FreedomWork’s Day of Action tomorrow, March 15th at the Capital Building.

The Republican civil war has begun. Pass the popcorn please.

Henagar Drive-In Keeps the Ball Rolling on Sand Mountain, Alabama’s Bigotry

By Jennifer Lynn – Princess Garden, Festival of Fantasy Parade

Published on Crooks & Liars on 3/12/2017.

I am not excited about going to see Disney’s latest rendition of “Beauty and the Beast.” Seriously, how many times does Disney need to tell this story? I didn’t care for the animated version, and I’m sure I won’t like this one either. It offends my feminist and anti-bestiality sensibilities to watch a story about a man, turned to a beast, that holds a woman hostage until she falls in love with him.

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, there’s a ridiculous boycott of Disney because some Christians detect a hint of gayness in one of the characters. Friends called me recently and said the wife and I have to go to support Disney. I’m always up for a protest, especially a gay one but they’re really starting to push my limits. I’d considered bailing until I heard about the Alabama drive-in that banned the film claiming it violated their Christian beliefs. I won’t feign surprise, but I did take it personally.

You see, I’m from Alabama, and I dearly love much about it. I grew up in Huntsville which is in the most northern part of the state. It is the home of Redstone Arsenal where my father’s father was a colonel, and to the Space and Rocket Center where my mother’s parents worked with Boeing on the Apollo series.  Huntsville is a hub for engineers and as such, people come from all over the world to work there.

Alabamians joke that you can tell a Huntsvillian because we don’t have that heavy, mumble drawl you hear when listening to Jeff Sessions. My accent might occasionally slip out and it’s getting worse the older I get, but for the most part people here in California have no idea that I was raised in the Bible Belt. Huntsvillians also tend to be more educated and welcoming of different cultures. By no means am I saying there is no racism or bigotry there. There is just like anywhere else. It’s just not as Deliverence-ish as many parts of Alabama.

So when I read that the Alabama drive-in was the Henagar Drive-In, an area that I know well, this Alabama girl lost it. The owner of the drive-in, Carol Laney stated,

“This by no means is sending a message of hatred or bigotry. However, we are Christians first and foremost and must adhere to our Bible and to our Christianity.”

That’s a lovely quote by Carol, but she’s full of shit. First of all, Jesus never said a word against homosexuality. She is taking words from the Bible that were never attributed to Jesus Christ. Secondly, announcing that your actions are not “hatred or bigotry” is basically signalling that they are indeed bigoted and full of hate. Let’s just be honest about this, Carol is using this as an means to draw attention and get business for her drive-in, and it’s working. Next thing you know, she’ll have a fundraiser set up because people are boycotting her.

What Carol and the media have failed to tell it’s readers is that Henagar is located in an area referred to as Sand Mountain. This area has a rich history of racist and bigoted crimes that anyone raised in north Alabama is well aware of. It’s not the type of history that you’ll find in any textbook though. Towns is this region are referred to as “sundown towns,” meaning blacks should not be out in public after sundown. There were even signs posted stating, “N***er don’t let the sun set on you in Sand Mountain.” This was not a joke. And even though those signs were long gone by the time I was a teenager in the 80’s, we all knew the KKK, the League of United Southerners (now known as The League of the South) and Confederate groups ruled that area.

All you need to know about Henagar was that my friends and I (black and white) referred to it as “Hang a n****er.” 

But even if you are not from that region, you should be aware of the Scottsboro Boys story. Scottsboro is twenty-five minutes west of Henagar and part of the Sand Mountain region. In 1931, nine young black men were traveling on a freight train through Scottsboro when they were accused of raping two white women. Sheriff Matt Wann stood in the doorway of the small jail and threatened to kill anyone of the KKK mob who attempted to take his prisoners. They’re intent was to lynch all nine of the men without a trial. The young men were convicted by all white juries and spent as much as nineteen years behind bars before their convictions were overturned.

Though one of the women eventually recanted her story, that didn’t stop the KKK from getting their revenge on Sheriff Wann. He was murdered in 1932. Records from that time are conveniently missing, but everyone in Alabama knows it was the Klan that pulled that trigger, or as we would say, “The Klan done it.”

Henagar itself is over 96% white according to the 2010 U.S. Census. I’m sure there are many residents that are not racist, and maybe Carol is one of them, but there’s been a rise in hate groups and crimes since the Trump administration has taken control. My wife and I recently cancelled our trip to Alabama because we fear these homophobic people who now feel emboldened by Trump. It angers me that I cannot introduce her to the many great things about Alabama. I don’t even feel comfortable visiting my alma mater, Auburn University. It is my home state whether these bigots like it or not.  I am an Auburn Tiger through and through. These people don’t have a right to take away my Alabama simply because they have “deeply held beliefs.” What about my deeply held beliefs?

Back in the day, it was acceptable to be a Klan member, to be a sundown town. Today it’s acceptable to claim your bigotry is justified because the Bible tells you so. A trade up from the region’s anti-black heritage to anti-gay I suppose. Someone should tell Carol that bigotry is still hatred whether you drape it in a Confederate flag or a Bible. They should also tell her that Jesus wasn’t about hate.

War Damn Eagle my friends!