"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Los Angeles privatization pushers take second biggest slice of reactionary Walton pie

"[T]here should be no education marketplace." — Dr. Diane Ravitch (celebrated education professor and author)

In the long run, charter schools are being strategically used to pave the way for vouchers. - Jonathan Kozol
The indefatigable Valerie Strauss posted an excellent piece yesterday discussing where and how funds from the arch-reactionaries of the Walton Family Foundation were divvied out to various entities engaged in the privatization of public education. Second in funding only to the voucher dystopia and Michelle Rhee wasteland of Washington D.C. is Los Angeles, which saw the Ayn Rand worshiping Walton fortune heirs dump $11,981,508 into any organization proffering poverty pimping.

Time doesn't permit covering all of Los Angeles based privatization outfits on the list, but a cursory glance at some of our more notorious and egregious local offenders was worth compiling.

Camino Nuevo Charter Academy

It's no small irony that Los Angeles based corporate charter chain Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA), which claims that it wants its students to become "agents of social justice with sensitivity toward the world around them" is on this list. Camino Nuevo Elementary School #3 got $250,000 from the right wing extremists at the Walton Family Foundation who also fund anti-gay, anti-female, anti-union, and a host of other reactionary causes and organizations. Seems to me that you can't teach the principles of social justice if you're taking money from organizations whose entire purpose is to perpetuate and exacerbate injustice. Perhaps that's why CNCA doesn't mention the Walton Family Foundation on their donors page, they don't like being exposed for the charlatans that they are. Like all corporate charters, CNCA is slick in that they ape the language of social justice, while conveniently pouring money into their executives' pockets. Just one look at the composition of their board should remind people who CNCA really serves.

Sure enough, in practice CNCA's principles and actions reflect that of their funders. Remember this tidbit from the Broad Residency FAQ:

[P]rivate sector experience is important because there are business best practices which can improve the way the education organizations are operated.

I'm always wondering which of the three core business practices (lying, cheating, and stealing) Broadytes [1] are referring to. Well in this case it's lying. Camino Nuevo has been claiming that their newly selected principal chosen to run what was formerly a public school site recently handed over to CNCA was nothing less than a Professor at LMU's School of Education. Turns out he was nothing of the sort, but playing fast and loose with the truth is a hallmark of corporate charter chains.

Parent Revolution (née Los Angeles Parents Union)

Also prominent on the list is The Heartland Institute's sister organization, Parent Revolution (née Los Angeles Parents Union). The foppish millionaire from Benedict Canyon, Ben Austin, and his market minions stacked a cool half a million dollars in Wal-Mart blood money. Much of this was probably used for promoting Austin, Schwarzenegger, and Romero's corporate charter hostile takeover enabling law, the so-called Parent Empowerment Act. Many people know the law by the moniker Austin coined — the Parent Trigger — a vile name as I've discussed before:

[S]ince the wealthy Ben Austin, who lives in an affluent area that is "87.5% white and the median household income is $169,282," is blissfully unaware of how culturally loaded, and frankly racist, the word trigger is to use in conjunction with low income areas like Compton. Most importantly, [Caroline] Grannan, who is one of several experts on Parent Revolution, points out the organization is "not a parent group but was founded by charter school operators, backed financially by billionaires and corporate interests."

Parent Revolution are certainly no strangers to the kind of values and society the Arkansas Robber Barons envision, being experts in stoking "the subtle, insidious racism that fuels the charter/voucher movement."

I was puzzled recently seeing a gushing article discussing a seemingly self colonized former Teach For America and current Parent Revolution employee Christina Sánchez who described herself as an Ivy League Revolutionary. Apparently Ivy League graduates consider it "revolutionary" to take funds from the Broad/Gates/Walton Triumvirate to carry out a reactionary agenda of privatization. I suppose hosting forums with The Heartland Institute, quoting The Hoover Institutions' Andy Smarick, and pandering the wealthy westside racism are all part of the revolutionary's toolkit — if you're a teabagger.

The Parent [Counter]Revolutionaries recently attacked the distinguished Dr. Diane Ravitch, citing an another amateurish article by Matthew Yglesias — their third favorite writer after Ben Boychuck, and Andy Smarick. It's amazing what you can do with Walton Family Foundation money!

Green Dot Public [sic] Schools

The list clearly states: Green Dot Public Schools $500,000. This is remarkable, since Green Dot's well heeled CEO Marco Petruzzi stood in front of an auditorium full of students, parents, teachers, and other members of the Ánimo Justice community, a school he just closed by fiat, and said:

"We have no money. We're a non-profit. We don't have a rich guy that even [sic] gives us extra."

Seems that there is some cognitive dissonance to work out here. Since Petruzzi's salary eats up almost half of the that half a million, perhaps he really can't tell that the Walton fortune heirs are "rich guys" (and a gal) that give Green Dot money all the time, and they're not the only ones. This reliance on plutocrat funders certainly goes a long way towards explaining why the original Alain Leroy Locke Charter High School petition contained language requiring students "demonstrate a belief in the value of capitalism."

California Charter Schools Association (CCSA)

$3,940,652 of the Walton money went to the notorious California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), which was founded by right wing bigot and nativist Steve Poizner. It is currently led by serial liar Jed Wallace.

An activist from the grassroots organization Echo Park Moms for Education recently asked me for a brief description of the CCSA, so let me reproduce part of the email here:

CCSA is a trade association for charter-voucher schools, essentially a Chamber of Commerce for charters. Their primary purpose is to grow charter school market share.

CCSA is funded by both the membership dues their member schools pay, and the same plutocrat foundations that fund school privatization in general. For example The Walton Family Foundation, Broad Foundation, Gates Foundation, and others.

In addition to marketing and growing market share, the CCSA sells "products" and "services" to their constituent charter members. Insurance, consulting, loans, and the like. Even though they are all supposedly "non-profits" they sure sound like regular businesses at this point no? Of course all the businesses they deal with to provide services are for profit enterprises, so you can kind of figure out what's really going on there, given that they have a steady steam of taxpayer money pouring in. Consider this charter executive's scheme to make money, and you'll see what I mean.

Their motives are to continue to privatize as many schools as possible. Not only because the end goal of the people and foundations that fund them is to privatize (and profitize) the entire system, but because Charter Management Organizations have to continually grow market share in order to keep up with the costs associated with running schools while paying astronomical salaries to their executive staff.

Public education represents an annual 500 billion expenditure. Corporate vultures don't miss those kind of things. The celebrated author Jonathan Kozol discussed this: "The education industry represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control... represents the largest market opportunity... the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada." — Montgomery Securities prospectus quoted in Jonathan Kozol's "The Big Enchilada."

CCSA is the neutron star that Mayor Villaraigosa and the Coalition for School Reform funded Los Angeles Unified School District Board members orbit.

Special Mention for ICEF

Two ICEF schools are on the list for a quarter million each. ICEF, which was going to be swallowed up by a competitor, but the corporate merger fell through, has seen millions of plutocrat funds thrown at it in an attempt to save it. Moreover, neoliberal darling Caprice Young was brought in and now charter crook Parker Hudnut, a long time Broad/Gates plant in LAUSD, is going to be given a chance to navigate the sinking ship to the ocean floor. Given that millions of taxpayer dollars have vanished in addition to millions of dollars from the ideologically charged plutocrats willing to float ICEF at any price, two things come to mind:

First, with all that money missing with no explanation and former ICEF chief Mike Piscal having fled the state to a cushy charter post in Nevada, why aren't more people asking "where's the money Mike?"

Second, isn't it funny how the corporate lackeys in the reactionary Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) crowd who constantly parrot their Cato, AEI, Hoover, and Fordham mentors in saying you cannot save public education by throwing money at it, suddenly change their tune as soon as one of their privatized charter voucher schools are in trouble? If it's run by a private corporation, they're happy to throw money at it, and lots of it! Coincidence?

Mitigating Damage

In the end the damage done by years of privatization funding of this magnitude will be difficult if not impossible to ameliorate. While providing information about these nefarious foundations and their motives is helpful, it doesn't replace the dire need for grassroots organization and struggle on the ground. Los Angeles, like every other city that's targeted by the plutocrats that want to end public education, must begin to create community and parent organizations big enough to demand that the school districts remove every administrator (starting with Superintendent John Deasy) that's been planted by billionaires engaging in right wing social engineering. It means activists being able to explain to entire communities who funds astoturf groups like Parent Revolution and what their real goals are. It means community, parents, students, and teachers forming meaningful coalitions to take direct action against standardized testing and begin implementing worthwhile curriculum like project based learning, bilingual and ethic studies programs, and problem posing pedagogy. Those things would represent a true turning away from the status quo.

We have a lot of work cut out for us, but many people are beginning to see through the corporate smoke screens and the slick DFER opportunism. If you believe in public education and social justice, now is the time to fight. You can start by supporting the Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action. ¡El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido!

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NOTES
[1] I know most people are inclined to call the graduates of the Broad Residency in Urban Education and Broad Superintendents Academy Broadies. However I prefer to call them Broadytes, since it sounds appropriately like troglodytes. Broad's vile institutions are essentially a School of the Americas for poverty pimps and privatization pushers.

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