Privatizing California’s Public Schools

19 Jun

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and the Republican machine destroying public education in California or at least trying to privatize it; are promoting their jaded cause.

Three key players in the assault on California’s public schools are Walmart heiress, Carrie Walton Penner, Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings and nativist republican politician, Steve Poizner. In 2001, they started EdVoice a lobbying organization that claims California schools are broken and must be reformed. In 2003 Poizner founded the CCSA. Walton Penner and Hastings remain as board members of both EdVoice and CCSA.

About These Key Players

In a 2008 Sacramento Bee Article announcing Poizner’s run for governor, it said, “Poizner, 51, sold a high-tech business in 2000 for $1 billion and has spent more than $24 million of his own money to launch his political career. A socially moderate, pro-choice Republican, Poizner has gone to great lengths to woo the conservative base of the Republican Party, touting himself as a fiscal conservative.” In 2001, Poizner took a senior fellows position in the Bush white house. He was elected California’s insurance commissioner serving from 2007 to 2011.

Reed Hastings is famous for being the founding CEO of Netflix. Joanne Jacobs wrote a puff piece about Hastings for EducationNext, a conservative pro-school-privatization  publication. She opened the article:

 “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has given millions of dollars to start charter schools. He’s put millions more into developing education software to personalize learning. But he doesn’t just give money. He makes things change. And he is not a fan of school boards.

 “The high-tech billionaire—he hit the “b” this year, according to Forbes—led and financed a 1998 campaign that forced the California legislature to liberalize its restrictive charter law. He served on the California Board of Education for four years. Hastings provided start-up funding for the Aspire Public Schools charter network and helped start and fund EdVoice, a lobbying group, and the NewSchools Venture Fund, which supports education entrepreneurs.”

 Many super-wealthy education reformers are not fans of democracy. There is a natural and dark human tendency to desire control over others. With their massive wealth, billionaire’s are capable of subverting democracy and enforcing their frequently uninformed opinions.

For decades, John Walton and the Walton Family Foundation promoted vouchers as the ideal fix for what Walton saw as needing fixed. In a Washington Post article Jeff Bryant wrote:

 “Fully inculcated with Friedman’s philosophies, and motivated by the myth of school failure spread by the Reagan administration, the Waltons were ready for their education revolution to begin.

 “John Walton launched the foundation’s battle for school choice by throwing both money and influence into a succession of voucher referendums throughout the 1990s and beyond — only to see the cause defeated at the ballot box time after time, as numerous studies have chronicled. The public, it would seem, was nowhere near as keen on the idea of vouchers as the Waltons and their ilk.”

 After a series of defeats, the foundation transitioned the privatization agenda to advancing charter schools. Bryant continued:

 “According to a pro-union website, another member of the Walton family, Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the foundation connected to the prominent KIPP charter school chain—on which the Walton Family Foundation has lavished many millions in donations—and is also a member of the California Charter Schools Association. Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director of the Charter Growth Fund, a ‘non-profit venture capital fund’ investing in charter schools. And Annie Walton Proietti, the daughter of Sam Walton’s youngest son Jim, works for a KIPP school in Denver.”

 Carrie Walton Penner serves on the boards of several organizations, including the KIPP Foundation, the Charter School Growth Fund, the California Charter Schools Association, EdVoice, Innovate Public Schools and the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

Reed Hastings is on the board of the California Charter Schools Association; the KIPP Foundation; DreamBox Learning, an education technology company; and the Pahara Institute, which provides fellowships to education leaders. On the business side, he served on Microsoft’s board until 2012 and is now on Facebook’s board.

This is a tight knit group of wealthy elites flexing their financial power to control education policy which means privatizing public schools.

The Hired Guns

Jeb Wallace is the CEO of CCSA. He is unusual in the pro-privatize set in that he did work in an elementary school in Los Angeles. He helped create a school within the school that led to a charter conversion. Wallace left LA to join Allen Bersin in San Diego to supervise charter schools in the San Diego Unified School District.

Bersin is cited by the Democrats for Education Reform as “a hero of education reform.” The citation says, “Appointed in 1998 as Superintendent of Public Education of the San Diego Unified School District, Bersin led the eighth largest urban school district in the country. In 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him as California’s Education Secretary. Bersin is a lawyer with no training in education. In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch called Bersin’s tenure in San Diego a test run for corporate style education reform.

Wallace went from San Diego Unified to be COO of High Tech High, the new startup charter school sponsored by the Jacobs family, founders and major stock holders of Qualcomm Inc. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided a $9.4 million startup grant and has contributed another almost $4 million in support funding since 2000.

In 2009, Wallace moved on to be President and CEO of CCSA. The Association form 990 covering tax year 2013 listed his remuneration as $336,000.

Bill Lucia, who is the CEO of EdVoice, was a senior official at the Department of Education in the George W. Bush administration. Lucia has served as Executive Director of the State Board of Education and in a number of key staff positions within the California State Legislature, including Chief Consultant of the Assembly Education Committee, senior staff on the Budget and Appropriations Committees, and Chief of Staff and education consultant to the Chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus.

Lucia has worked in various senior education policy roles, including as COO and Director of Policy at EdVoice from March 2008 through March 2010. Prior to joining EdVoice, Lucia served as Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, leading the advocacy and legal defense team at the California Charter Schools Association(CCSA). Before joining CCSA, Lucia worked as Senior Assessment Policy Liaison for Educational Testing Service.

The most recent EdVoice form 990 lists compensation to Lucia as more the $250,000.

Compassionate Love for Children Motivates the CCSA Board

This calls to mind the observation Ciedie Aech made in her wonderful book Why Is You Always Got To Be Trippin’:

 “So. When big money gets thrown around under the socially responsible guise of helping less powerful and politically disenfranchised citizens – benevolently offering that helpful leg up, so to speak; well, it’s a funny but historical trend that quite often this particular kind of money? Somehow, sort of, gets redirected.”

 Diane Tavenner the CCSA board Chairman is the Founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, a non-profit charter management organization focused on Silicon Valley. Her reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $192,000.

Ana Ponce the CCSA board Secretary is Chief Executive Officer of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA). CNCA is a neighborhood network of 5 elementary and secondary schools serving over 2000 students within the greater MacArthur Park neighborhood near Downtown Los Angeles. Her reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $205,000.

Christopher Nelson the CCSA Treasure is the Managing Director of the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund (Gap Inc. profits used to privatize public schools). His reported foundation earnings for 2013 – $475,000.

Cameron Curry a CCSA board member is the founder of the Classical Academy schools in north San Diego County. His organization has five sites serving 3,000 students. His reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $223,000.

Margaret Fortune a CCSA board member is the President and CEO of Fortune School of Education. There are five Fortune Schools in San Bernardino and Sacramento serving 1250 students. Her reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $226,000.

Gregory McGinity a CCSA board member is the Executive Director of Policy for The Broad Foundation. His reported foundation earnings for 2013 – $303,000.

The 2014 form 990 report to the IRS reveals that 12 employees of CCSA were paid more than $150,000 each in 2013.

Swaying Elections

 In the lead up to the San Diego County school board election on California’s June 7 primary ballot, the Voice of San Diego reported, “Partly to ensure charter schools get a fair review when they petition to open a school, CCSA is backing four challengers in the election: Powell, Jerry Rindone, Paulette Donnellon and former state Sen. Mark Wyland.” There are similar reports from around California of big money political activity supporting candidates thought to be more charter school friendly.

In 2013, the CCSA reported taking in $22,000,000. The Association declares itself to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit, which means CCSA must adhere to the associated regulations.

One of the regulations prohibits 501(c)(3)’s from engaging in electoral politics. IRS code states:

 “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.” (emphasis added)

 It is hard to see how a fair reading of this code makes it possible for organizations like CCSA not to lose their 501(c)(3) status. Why are people like Carrie Walton Penner, Reed Hastings and Jeb Wallace allowed to flout this law with impunity?

When researching for this report, I noticed that the California Foundation which has over $3 billion in assets and donates to charter schools shares the same address as the CCSA. (Correction; they only share the same zip code.)

I also noticed that many of the key people involved in privatizing California’s public schools were significantly involved in California and national republican party politics. Having groups like the Democrats for Education Reform and the Obama administration joining these Republicans in the effort to privatize public schools is difficult to comprehend.

Public schools are important to both American democracy and a vibrant just culture. They are worth fighting to save from arrogance, ignorance and greed.

7 Responses to “Privatizing California’s Public Schools”

  1. carolcorbettburris June 20, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

    Hi Thomas. Carol Burris here. I am coming to California in August to investigate charters. Would love to meet up if possible. Email me at burriscarol@gmail.com

  2. ciedie aech June 20, 2016 at 6:34 pm #

    Suddenly I am reminded of the guy who early in the 20th century was lauded and loved for bringing our nation little FORD cars and the assembly line…and then, once he felt his growing power, began to spew out his hatred and fear of Jewish people…

  3. aureliomontemayor June 21, 2016 at 3:31 pm #

    Reblogged this on aureliomontemayor.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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