Race to the Bottom: The Department of Walmart Education

First published on: http://crooksandliars.com/2017/04/department-walmart-education

I don’t know about you, but whenever I realize that I absolutely have to go to Walmart, which is literally almost never, I have to suppress the urge to puke a bit. I cannot stand to go there. Never in my 45 years have I been to a Walmart that is not absolutely filthy, where the employees don’t look like they would rather be getting dental surgery or where there exists any small measure of decent customer service. I’m aware that this is a personal observation. After all, it’s not as if I have toured the U.S. visiting all of these stores. And I’m also aware that they make money for a reason, that many Americans like them if not love them.

It seems almost nothing can change these Walmart lovers’ minds. Do you recall the 2014 study that found the largest private employer in the country was actually costing Americans over $6.2 billion in taxpayer subsidies? According to the report, Walmart also received $1 billion in tax breaks annually and $70 million in state and local subsidies. Employees were prevented from working full time so that the company could save on health care and other employee benefits packages. Many were on food stamps as well as other assistance. All the while, The Walton family was raking in billions upon billions upon billions. Yet, the Walmart devotees never strayed. Yes it was all very sad, but who could say no to the low, low prices of Doritos, rifles and cold medicine?

The Walmartification of Education

The Walton family now owns only 50% of Walmart stores. Sadly, that means they only make billions upon billions having lost the last chunk of billions. But never fear, for they have invested wisely. So much so that they have been able to give over $1.3 billion, by their own estimates, to K-12 education during the last two decades through their Walton Family Fund.

But it’s not just any education that the Waltons love, it’s for-profit education. The Waltons love charters so much, they even sit on many pro-charter, pro-school choice organizations’ boards. John Walton, Walmart’s founder, co-founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund and the Alliance for School Choice. His granddaughter, Carrie Walton Penner, is on the board of the KIPP Foundation, the Alliance for School Choice and the California Charter School Association. Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a member of the National Teach for America board and the director of the Charter Growth Fund. Christy Walton co-chairs the Children’s Scholarship Fund, and Annie Walton Proietti works with KIPP in Denver, Colorado.

Through their foundation, the Waltons have given to one in four start-ups nationally. But they don’t just give to charter schools and organizations that support charter schools, they also donate to researchers so that studies of charter schools and how they perform can be conducted. These studies, which miraculously wind up supporting the Waltons’ stance on privatizing education, are then featured on their website as proof that charter schools are performing better than public schools. These studies are also used by Betsy DeVos in her endless pursuit to destroy the American public school system.

As you might have guessed, the Walton family, like the DeVos family, is big on political donations. Their modus operandi is to stuff Republican state legislators’ pockets with cash so that they can then outspend and take over the state along with the Republican governors they’ve also funded. Those Republicans then cut the public school funding and give some of it to private schools.

Another method of closing public schools used by the Waltons is to fund charters in one area and flood the market. In Minnesota, the Walton Family Foundation helped start almost half the charters in Minneapolis and have given to 62% of all the city’s charters. Such a high concentration of charter schools in one area takes more and more taxpayer money, choking the life out of public schools.

Just when public school supporters thought it couldn’t get much worse, the foundation has announced they plan to spend another $1 billion by 2020 on privatizing education. Currently they have funded charter schools and voucher programs in California, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Washington D.C.

Stopping the Waltons

Even though independent studies have shown over and over again that a large number of charter schools are not performing as well or better than their public counterparts because they are infested with corruption and no regulations or oversight, pro-charter school advocates like the Waltons and DeVos now claim that the main concern should be parental choice when it comes to education. This is laughable since it was these same advocates that used school and student performance to justify charter schools in the first place.

Education is not about squeezing the last dime out of our teachers by cutting their hours and benefits like the charters funded by the Waltons are doing. Charter schools on average pay their staff 10-15% less than public schools. It’s not like teachers were making that much in the first place. Teachers are paid less because charter schools create a middleman with management companies, and they make sure their pay is very high. Some CEOs are reportedly taking home hundreds of thousands of dollars, while teachers are forced to work evening and weekend jobs to make ends meet just like Walmart employees must do.

I don’t want our schools to be filthy. I don’t want our teachers looking like they’d rather be having dental surgery when they are supposed to be teaching our kids. Our kids deserve the best we can give them. The thought of our schools being run the Walmart way, of running on their business model makes me sick as it should you too. This can’t just be my personal opinion. If parents knew the truth about who was behind the their local charter schools, I don’t believe they would love it like they do Walmart.

If you agree, please contact your school board and local and state representatives. Tell them you will not vote for anyone willing to give your taxpayer funds to create the Department of Walmart Education. Support teachers’ unions, and then choose to send your kids to public schools. Charters, like Walmart stores, cannot stay open if they don’t have customers.


Erasing Obama: DeVos Dismantles Protections on Student Loans

First published on: http://crooksandliars.com/2017/04/devos-continues-attack-education-student

On Tuesday, Betsy DeVos continued her assault on education by dismantling any protections for loan borrowers. Her memorandum, “Student Loan Servicer Recomplete,” effectively erases the Obama administration’s 2016 reforms on federal student loans in just four paragraphs.

Prior to 2016, the student loan providers that were contracted with the Department of Education and managed by the Federal Student Aid office operated with little to no oversight. Providers were racking up thousands of complaints regarding their loan providers and managers. Grievances usually centered around fines, being able to obtain information from the lender, how payments were handled, receiving the wrong or misleading information, bad customer service and harassing phone calls. These poor lender practices were contributing to a high number of defaults as they refused to work with borrowers.

The Obama administration recognized the need for minor reforms and organization that if implemented, would help protect borrowers and in turn assist lenders in recouping their money. The rules consisted of a Student Aid Bill of Rights:

  1. requiring the Federal Student Aid office to continually evaluate lenders that contract with the Department of Education to make sure they are meeting borrowers’ needs
  2. providing economic incentives for those lenders with high performance evaluations
  3. creating a system so that borrowers could find and understand all lender information on one website
  4. maintaining a quality assurance program so that borrowers could trust that lenders contracting with the Department of Education
  5. meet requirements requiring “timely and accurate responses” from lenders
  6. providing a feedback system for borrowers to report complaints, positive interactions and suspicious activity by lenders

DeVos’ memo erases all these basic, common sense rules for lenders. Even lenders contracted with the Department of Education can return to their old ways of harassing borrowers, misplacing payments, excessive fines, not answering borrowers’ questions and misleading and confusing their clients. Her reasoning for this abrupt turn was simply that the new rules were not working. No evidence of why or how was given.

Before becoming the Secretary of Education, DeVos did step down from various companies and boards of educational groups that would have caused a conflict of interest. However, as of the last known report in January, she had yet to divest from investments that involved lending companies or those that managed those companies. But even if she did divest, DeVos has deep ties to these lenders. It is not improbable that her latest assault is directly, financially benefiting those close ties if not herself and her family. As a government employee, paid by taxpayer money, DeVos’ first concern must always be how her actions affect the people, not how they will affect corporations or her business ties.

Republicans can never again claim to be the party of Lincoln who said, “…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth…” It is perishing right before our eyes because the Republicans are slaughtering it.Republicans can never again claim to be the party of Lincoln who said, “…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth…” It is perishing right before our eyes because the Republicans are slaughtering it.

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.