Republicans Turn Charter School Officials Into the New Robber Barons

It is not news to anyone that the Republican Party hates public education, so much so that we can speak not only of a Republican War on Women, or a Republican War on Science, but of a Republican War on Education.

And, of course, there is always the concomitant Republican War on Government.

Our Founding Fathers wanted people educated. Schools followed westward the course of westward expansion and were as much a component of Manifest Destiny as the railroads.

The Republican Party wants to undo all that history. Everywhere we see the same push toward privatization that we see in other areas of government.  Nirvi Shah, at Education Week, reported on the GOP’s plans for our education system following release of the Republican Party Platform:

The platform doesn’t see money as a solution, a happy match for Paul Ryan, whose budget called for cuts in education spending. It was big on vouchers.  According to the platform, “If money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free. More money alone does not necessarily equal better performance.”

It was big on what it called “local innovations” like single-sex classes (you know, the sort they have in Kabul).

And of course, the 2012 party platform, as you would expect of a document crafted by religious conservatives, also favored the teaching of abstinence-only education.

As HuffPo reported in August,

Rejecting a “one size fits all” approach to education, the 2012 GOP education platform advocates providing broad education choices to parents and childrenat the state and local level — whether through charter schools, open enrollment requests, college lab schools, virtual schools, career and technical education programs, vouchers or tax credits. According to the platform, consumer rights in education — choice — remains the most important force in renewing America’s schools.

But people would be wrong to assume that the GOP is motivated solely by a hatred of big government. The GOP has shown itself time and again willing and able to use big government to push its agenda, particularly since 2010 with its crafting of historica numbers of anti-abortion legislation.

No, ironically, given the GOP’s vocal disdain of money as a solution, the secret motivator here is…money.

Privatization is the new Gold Rush. There is money to be made in them there hills. And charter schools are the the Republican hammer to be used to prise it out of our hands.

Georgia has a charter school amendment, which was pushed as a response to a dysfunctional  public school system. The logic being, apparently, to replace rather than fix. In Louisiana, where Republicans control both chambers of legislature, Governor Bryant plans to push charter schools again in 2013. I’ve written previously about how Louisiana is banishing its students in that state to the Bronze Age. In both states, there have been cries from opponents of “re-segregation.” The Arkansas Times reported in September on GOP plans to “end-run” charter school restrictions.

If you look at a red state, chances are somebody is trying the pull the rug from under public education, or eddimication, as the mostest educated conservatives call it.

The Progressive reported back in May 2011, on how the Republican scheme functions, using Wisconsin as an example:

Governor Scott Walker’s unprecedented $900 million cut to school funding, coupled with a scheme to create a state-run system of charter schools, will kill off both the school and the town, they said. Under S.B. 22, the bill they came to oppose, students and funds that used to go to schools like Montello’s will be siphoned off to virtual charter schools run by a state board of political appointees.

As Ruth Conniff wrote at The Progressive, “K-12 education is the single largest budget item for each of the 50 states. So it stands to reason that privatizing education is the largest front in the conservative war on government.”

Privatizing, folks, is a Republican codeword for “profit.” Who takes over when the government is not involved? It’s not charities. It’s for-profit entities. The people who will suddenly become middlemen for your tax dollars – and line their pockets and tell you, as with their imaginary trickle-down economics, that it’s all for you.

Crooks and Liars reveals  what ALEC has in mind for your tax dollars:

  • ALEC’s “Education Enterprise Zone Act” creates a voucher program to subsidize private schools with taxpayer money.
  • ALEC’s “Education Accountability Act” allows a state to override the elected school board, declare schools “educationally bankrupt,” and divert funds to private schools.
  • ALEC’s “Parent Trigger Act” would allow a small group of parents to close public school for current and future students, and turn the school into a charter school or require the state to use taxpayer dollars for vouchers to subsidize private tuition.
  • ALEC’s “Charter Schools Act” would allow for the state to grant charters to create and operate schools outside of traditional public schools, while also exempting these charter schools from state laws that apply to public schools.
  • ALEC’s “Next Generation Charter Schools Act” allows state taxpayers to subsidize charter schools that compete with public schools, while exempting charter schools from complying with many legal standards and requirements that govern public schools.
  • ALEC’s “School Board Freedom to Contract Act” encourages school boards to contract with for-profit corporations for services being provided by schools.

Out goes big government; in comes big corporations. As my colleague RMuse wrote here in May, Romney ‘s education plan would screw students and enrich those corporations.

Not only will your tax dollars suddenly be paying for single-sex classes, but they’ll be paying for family’s like Mitt Romney’s to send their kids to exclusive private schools.

Yes, privatized education is the next “big thing” in Republican grifting circles. Stephanie Simon, at Rueters, reported in August,

“You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up,” said Lytle, a partner at The Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting firm. “It could get really, really big.”

Indeed, investors of all stripes are beginning to sense big profit potential in public education.

The K-12 market is tantalizingly huge: The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from ages five through 18. The entire education sector, including college and mid-career training, represents nearly 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, more than the energy or technology sectors.

Taxpayers are also voters. And voters need to wake up to the fact that the Republican Party is not in this for you. They are in this to make money for corporations.  As Reuters reported, ” Now investors are signaling optimism that a golden moment has arrived. They’re pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.”

You do remember Mitt Romney and Bain Capital and private equity and venture capital.

If you do, you get the picture. Read Rolling Stone’s article on the subject, Josh Kosman’s Why Private Equity Firms Like Bain Really Are the Worst of Capitalism.

The Republican Party is set to rape our public education system. It’s just a rarin’ to go should they get another chance in 2016. Meanwhile, since they can’t do it nationally, they are doing it on a state by state basis; the money is flowing and corruption is sowing.

The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet gives  a broad overview of the problem. In Arizona, “Board members and administrators from more than a dozen state-funded charter schools are profiting from their affiliations by doing business with schools they oversee.”

Timothy Noah of the New Republic writes in “How Charter Schools Fleece Taxpayers” that,

In government, if I help myself to taxpayer dollars, we call that embezzlement and I go to jail. In the private sector, if I help myself to taxpayer dollars, we call that innovation and I get hailed as a visionary exponent of public-private partnership.

Gilded Age Graft is everywhere. Look in the Arizona Republic, the Dayton Daily News, the San Bernardino County Sentinel or the Washington Post itself, where, writes Noah, an investigation by David S. Fallis and April Witt “found conflicts of interest involving almost $200 million worth of business deals, typically real estate transactions, at more than a third of the District’s 60 charter schools.”

Noah writes that ” Arizona is perhaps extreme in the amount of latitude it grants charter school officials to enrich themselves, but indifferent enforcement of more strict legal prohibitions has the same effect” but I cannot help but see these officials as the new railroad barons, enriching themselves and, in true Republican fashion, regulating themselves.

Can you imagine a landscape more congenial to the conservative soul?

Privatization isn’t about simply opposing big government. It’s about adding a layer of for-profit middlemen between you and your tax dollars. In essence, you will end up paying twice – in your taxes, and then to the middlemen for use of your taxes. As rip-offs go, it’s elegant and you’ve got to admire the ability of its proponents to use the electorate’s bigotry, both religious and ethnic, as a selling point.

In the end, as with the very lucrative Religious Right, conservative has bigotry created a market niche, and conservative grifters were not slow to fill it.

And they wonder why capitalism has a bad name….

Conservatives says public education creates dummies. But when you look at how this rip-off works, I think you see who the real dummies are.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen's Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.

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