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

Monday, May 04, 2015

Divide and Conquer: The Philadelphia Story

 Leading Philadelphia mayoral candidates Anthony Williams and James Kenney

Everyone concerned about corporate education reform and the influence of various venture “philanthropists” in their drive to privatize public schools should be following the Democratic primary on May 19th for the next mayor of Philadelphia. Neoliberal and conservative financiers, in a drive to make Philadelphia public schools like the New Orleans school system, are investing millions of dollars in the mayoral race.

Most prominent is the Susquehanna Investment Group (SIG) that is funding state Senator Anthony Williams. SIG made an initial investment of $250,000 for television ads at the beginning of his campaign. In the final weeks of the campaign, they have boosted their funding to $800,000 per week.
The Susquehanna Investment Group makes no bones that their goal is the privatization of public schools in Philadelphia. For a full description of SIG see #Hedgepapers No. 11 – High Frequency Hucksters

The other major contender in the Philadelphia mayoral election is Democratic City Councilman James Kenney. Kenney has no problem with the expansion of charters as long as the state reimburses for their cost. 

Williams backers, beside the outside financial interests investing millions in Williams campaign, include Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, and union leadership of carpenters, sheet metal workers, laborers, operating engineers, and transit workers.

Kenney has been endorsed by much of the Democratic Party machine in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia local AFL-CIO leadership, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and a carpenters union, State Representative Dwight Evans and a coalition of African American leaders.

The splintering of Philadelphia’s labor movement is in marked contrast to 1973, when the PFT was on strike for 7 ½ weeks, the top union leadership and dozens of teachers were jailed for contempt of court without bail, but the strike ended with a victory for the teachers as the city labor movement was preparing a general strike in support of the teachers. In 1981, the threat of a general strike by the city labor movement ended a 50-day-strike by the PFT after the District attempted to lay off 3,500 employees and cancel the teachers' contract.

On April 30th, Philadelphia political activist Helen Gym, who is running on the Democratic ticket for a City Council-at-Large seat, criticized the Susquehanna billionaires for trying to buy Philadelphia’s election. Gym was viciously attacked at an April 30th rally by Anthony Williams for “duplicity” and a personal attack was made on some of her supporters. 

Williams was joined in the attack by School Reform Commission member Bill Green. Green is a former Democratic City Councilman who was appointed by former Governor Corbett to the School Reform Commission, the administrator of the School District since the state takeover in 2001. Rather than administer the beleaguered School District, he is taking sides with Williams in the mayoral election to promote his privatization agenda and his attack on Philadelphia teachers. See Bill Green’s Education Agenda: Hidden in Plan Sight | Defend Public Education

On May 3rd, Williams was endorsed by the Editorial Board of the Philadelphia Inquirer. They said the deciding factor was Kenney’s union support. Critics of the endorsement pointed out that the Inquirer is owned by Gerry Lenfest who is strongly pro-charter, a supporter of Teach for America,  and corporate education reform as a whole. Reports are that the endorsement caused a lot of dissension on the staff at the Inquirer. Asked if she was concerned, Williams campaign spokeswomen Barbara Grant said in a statement “that Kenney and his allies will learn that both the Inquirer editorial board and voters don't think that Kenney's union supporters "need a seat in the mayor's office."

Both State Senator Williams and State Representative Evans support the Education Improvement Tax Credit Program. This program is a form of voucher that gives businesses a tax credit for providing scholarships for students to attend private or parochial schools in lieu of paying state taxes that would be going to public schools. This method of circumventing the Pennsylvania Constitutional mandate which says government cannot fund sectarian schools was pioneered by Florida Governor Jeb Bush after vouchers were declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court. Funding for Florida's Corporate Income Tax Credit Scholarships program has risen dramatically since its inceptions.

Both Williams and Evans have been on the board of the Black Alliance for Education Options. It’s founder, former civil rights activist Howard Fuller, has been a promoter of vouchers and charters in low-income communities since  August 24, 2000. Among its funders are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Institute for the Transformation of Learning, and the Walton Family Foundation.

A detailed history of the right-wing support of BAEO can be found in the July, 2003 report by People for the American Way Foundation, Community Voice or Captive of the Right? The Black Alliance for Educational Options. 

On page 11 of this report it says:  
" Pennsylvania State Representative Dwight Evans, a Democrat, introduced voucher and tuition tax credit legislation repeatedly since joining the legislature in 1980. Evans' 1997 voucher proposal would have provided $5,500 to students to "escape" failing schools and enroll in private schools at taxpayer expense."

The state takeover of the Philadelphia School District in 2001 grew out of a civil rights lawsuit in1998 in which the city of Philadelphia charged that Pennsylvania funding practices discriminated against non-white students. In retaliation, the legislature passed Act 46 that set up a School Reform Commission that eventually took over the School District in 2001. The city withdrew the lawsuit when it was given two of the five seats on the SRC. The architect of the Act 46 was Philadelphia Representative Dwight Evans who was chair of the House Appropriations Committee. On the BAEO website it says:
“In Pennsylvania, the support and leadership of BAEO board members Representative Dwight Evans and Senator Anthony Williams were crucial to the creation, protection, and expansion of the tax credit and charter programs. They were also instrumental in passing the law that led to the state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia, which has led to an increase in quality educational options for poor families.”

On February 5, 2015, Fuller participated on a panel at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute during which he said, "We (BAEO) wouldn't exist without John Walton and this is one of the reasons I love that man." Fuller seems indifferent to the fact that the money given to BAEO by the Walton Foundation comes from the low-wage exploitation of Walmart workers!

Like Williams, Evans has tried to start charters schools while he voted on education legislation as a Philadelphia Representative in Harrisburg. In 2011 he came into conflict with Broad Foundation board member Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman over which charter company should take ownership of Martin Luther King High School. The clash led to a chain of events that lead to Ackerman’s resignation as Superintendent.

Early this year a pro-charter, anti-public school political organization descended on Philadelphia
Philly School Choice has appeared to counter-protest rallies of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and to organize parents with children in charter schools to speak at SRC meetings in support of charter expansion. It does not reveal its funding sources, but it’s leader, Bob Bowden, is will known in right-wing libertarian, corporate privatization circles.

On August 30, 2014 Bob Bowden interviewed Senator Anthony Williams about his agenda. State Senator Anthony Williams Discusses School Choice with Bob Bowden | Change the Game (video)

Many of the American civil rights leaders of the ‘60’s, like Howard Fuller, have followed in the footsteps of Booker T. Washington, and made their peace with the 1%. They promote a corporate education reform that undermines the civil rights gains of the ‘60’s. National leadership of groups like the National Urban League and NAACP have sold out for a price to the 1% and joined the promotion of the privatization of public schools. The Broad Foundation has trained urban superintendents, many from minority communities, to turn urban school districts over to private interests. (See “Who is Eli Broad and why is he trying to destroy public education?”)
The National Urban League has received $5,286,017 from Gates over the last few years.
Put other organizations, like BAEO, NAACP, AFT, etc., in the search window to see what they have received from the Gates Foundation.

The infusion of corporate and hedge fund money into all levels of government for the purpose of privatizing public education is a grave danger to democratic rights in the United States. Recently twenty-five civil rights groups joined Arne Duncan and endorsed the continuation of standardized testing in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA). This is a direct response to the burgeoning Opt Out movement where parents are saying they do not want their children to be used in the national social experiment being undertaken by corporate education reform.
As part of her collaboration with corporate education reform, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers has endorsed the call for annual testing in ESEA. On a panel at the recent conference of the Network for Public Education, Weingarten said of standardized testing (47:04 in the video):
We are fighting for a reset to get rid of high stakes. The civil rights community and the President of the United States of America is fighting very hard to have annual tests for one purpose. They have seen in states for years that if they didn’t have them that states would ignore children. They agree with us now that they have been misused, but they fought very hard in the last few months to actually have annual tests as opposed to grade span (in ESEA).
A few days after the NPE conference, Weingarten spoke in support of Common Core at an event sponsored by supporters of Common Core.

It is not necessary to torture children with standardized testing in order to see if a school needs funding. All you need to do is look at the income level of families in a school and you will know what funding is needed to meet the needs of students at that school. In addition to testing company profits, standardized testing is used by corporate education reformers to decide which public schools should be “turned around” to charters to advance a privatization agenda.
Based on the experience of the oppressive conditions in many urban areas, the explosion in Baltimore against police repression to those fighting the oppression is causing many youth to reject the social and political forms that have been holding them down. The fragmentation of the Democratic Party in Philadelphia is a harbinger of great changes coming nationally. Nature abhors a vacuum. A political party with a program that meets the needs of the 99% needs to be built out of the struggles on which the youth have embarked so we do not descend into a social disaster.

Also see:

Opting Out Interfering with the "Civil Right" of Testing?
Mercedes Schneider @ deutsch29 - May 5, 2015

12 Civil Rights Groups Oppose Opting Out. It Could Have Been 28. 
Mercedes Schneider @ deutsch29 - May 6, 2015

Letter: This election, let's not hedge our bets
Philadelphia Daily News - May 6, 2015
Two Philadelphia public school parents on the attempt by "philanthropists" to buy Philadelphia's mayoral election.

Who's the William Wallace of testing: @JessedHagopian or Liz King?
Cloaking Inequality - May 6, 2015
Even the statement from twelve civil rights organizations supporting standardized testing has a Philadelphia connection. 

School Activists, students, dropping in on Williams campaign's wealthy backers
Philadelphia Magazine - May 6, 2015

Sorry, but Tony Williams is not the new Stokley Carmichael
Will Bunch @ Philadelphia Daily News - May 7, 2015

In mayor's race, a monetary milestone
Philadelphia Inquirer - May 8, 2015

Just whose rights do these civil rights groups think they are protecting?
The Answer Sheet @ The Washington Post - May 9, 2015


For more on the corporate education reform attack on Philadelphia public schools see

Defend Public Education! blog



  1. Great piece - as usual!

  2. Once again, it’s not a drive to privatize — that would mean converting public schools into private schools.

    It’s a drive to monetize public schools while keeping the taxpayer cashflow flowing — flowing like an open artery without a tourniquet. Without the infusion of public dollars it’s not really worth their investment, or else they could simply invest in bona fide private schools.

    It’s not privatization, it’s piratization.

    1. Two years ago Jersey Jazzman had a post about this:

      "U.S. Census Bureau: Most charters not “public schools”

      It’s official: according to the US Census Bureau, most charter schools are not “public”:

      “Charter Schools

      The data in this report include only those charter schools established and administratively controlled by another government entity (e.g., universities, cities, counties, or public school systems). The data for these “public charter schools” are collected as separate, individual units, or are included with the data for their chartering government. Charter schools that do not meet the Census Bureau criteria for classification as a government entity are considered “private charter schools” and are not included in this report.

      In order for a charter school to be classified as a “public charter school,” it must meet the same requirements as any other government. It must be an organized entity, with substantial autonomy, and governmental character. Typically, if the school board is appointed by public officials, then the charter school would be classified as governmental. A few “public charter schools” are run by public universities and municipalities. However, most charter schools are run by private nonprofit organizations and are therefore classified as private. [emphasis mine]”

      – See more at: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2013/05/us-census-bureau-most-charters-not.html#sthash.smOndbyE.dpuf

  3. This article was posted by Ken Derstine.

  4. The result of the primary is posted here: Common Sense in Philadelphia