Tag Archives: DLC

Best Book of 2022 – Left Behind

24 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/24/2022

Lily Geismer has performed a great service to America. The Claremont McKenna College associate professor of history has documented the neoliberal takeover of the Democratic Party in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In her book, Left Behind: The Democrats Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality she demonstrates how Bill Clinton “ultimately did more to sell free-market thinking than even Friedman and his acolytes.” (Left Behind Page 13)

When in the 1970’s, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, Paul Tsongas, and Tim Wirth arrived on the scene in Washington DC they were dubbed “Watergate Babies.” By the 1980’s Tip O’Neill’s aid Chris Mathews labeled them “Atari Democrats” an illusion to the popular video game company because of their relentless hi-tech focus. Geismer reports,

“Journalist Charles Peters averred that ‘neoliberal’ was a better descriptor. Peters meant it not as a pejorative but as a positive. … Neoliberals, he observed, ‘still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out,’ but ‘no longer automatically favor unions and big government.’” (Left Behind Pages 17-18) [Emphasis added]

Founding the DLC

In 1984, Lyndon Johnson’s son-in-law Charles Robb was the Democratic Governor of Virginia. He hosted a series of meetings in Washington and Virginia to develop a strategy for going forward. The meetings occurred shortly after Mondale’s huge loss to Ronald Reagan. It was decided they needed a new structure outside of the Democratic Party and Al From was tasked with writing the initial plan.

From’s scheme called for establishing the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to give the party a winning direction. Robb convinced From to become executive director of the nascent organization. From hired Will Marshal to be policy director. Geismer reveals,

“The architects recruited as founding members a lineup of fourteen senators, including Nunn, Chiles and Gore (who had just moved chambers); seventeen representatives, like Wirth, Gephardt, Leon Panetta of California, and Les Aspin of Wisconsin; and ten governors, such as Robb, Babbitt, James Blanchard of Michigan, Richard Lamm of Colorado, and Bill Clinton of Arkansas. … Of the total forty-one inaugural members, there were no women, two were men of color, and only four came from outside the Sunbelt.” (Left Behind Page 45)

Historian Arthur Schlesinger labeled the DLC “a quasi-Reaganite formation” and accused them of “worshiping at the shrine of the free market.”

Union pollster Victor Fingerhut called them “crypto-Republicans.”

Douglas Wilder a black Virginia politician criticized their “demeaning appeal to Southern white males.”

Others called them the “conservative white caucus” or the “southern white boys’ caucus.”

Jesse Jackson said its members “didn’t march in the ‘60s and won’t stand up in the ‘80s.” (Left Behind Pages 46-47)

In 1989, From convinced Bill Clinton to become the chairman of the DLC. That same year the DLC founded the Progressive Policy Institute to be their think tank competing with the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute. Today, it still spreads the neoliberal gospel.

The next year, the DLC issued the New Orleans statement which stated the “fundamental mission of the Democratic Party is to expand opportunity, not government.” The statement also claimed that a “free market regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity.” (Left Behind Page 107)

At the DLC convention in early 1991, Clinton rejected criticism from people like Jesse Jackson and Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) stating, “choice is not a code word for elitism and racism.” Geismer notes that in his speech, “He then listed off the DLC proposals to address the problems of poverty with programs like childcare vouchers, public school choice, job training programs, and community policing.” (Left Behind Page 127) [Emphasis added]

It was at their 1991 convention that the DLC urged Congress to give President Bush fast track trade authority to negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Democratic establishment had not been warm to the idea and labor strongly objected.

After Clinton won the Democratic nomination, labor unions were in a difficult position. Geismer explained,

“Labor officials and the rank and file both had strong objections with Clinton’s position on free trade and were well aware of the New Democrats’ long-standing hostility toward unions. … Even though union members had gained more than a quarter of the delegate seats at the 1992 Democratic Convention, labor leaders made a conscious decision not to demand that Clinton openly advocate for unions in the platform or to temper his support for free trade. This calculation rested on their sense that Bush was a bigger threat to unions, and the movement should focus their energy on defeating him.” (Left Behind Page 133)

Once elected, Clinton turned away from New Deal liberalism and Johnson’s Great Society. He claimed that by increasing private sector activity in blighted urban areas and providing more credit these communities of poverty would be lifted up. He proposed creating enterprise zones “to create a small-business entrepreneurial economy in every underclass urban area …” (Left Behind Page 144)

Geismer describes a 1996 speech given by Hillary Clinton:

“Hillary Clinton took pains to emphasize the potential of micro-credit not just internationally but in the United States as well. The speech came just as states were implementing the requirements in the 1996 welfare reform act, which fulfilled Bill Clinton’s campaign pledge to ‘end welfare as we know it.’ The law terminated the assistance for women and children in place since the Roosevelt administration and served as a potent symbol of the Clinton administration’s attempt to put a nail in the coffin of New Deal liberalism.” (Left Behind Page 170)

In the fall of 1999, the Clinton administration negotiated with Senator Phil Gram (R-Texas) to end the Glass-Steagall act. This was the culmination of the administration’s support for deregulating the banking industry, which unleashed an historic wave of consolidations. The 2:45 AM deal ended the bank reforms President Roosevelt enacted to insure banks would never again make dangerous deals that led to failure and losing their depositors assets. (Left Behind Pages 309-312)

In retrospect, a good case can be made that the neoliberal agenda has been a disaster. The bank failures of 2008 almost brought down the entire World’s economy. Economic inequality has grown along with the creation of hundreds of billionaires both of which harm democracy. America’s childhood poverty rates are the highest in the developed world and homelessness plagues every moderately large city in America. It truly is “The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality.”

The Attack on Public Education

The philosophy that guides people can also blind them. Neoliberals are so convinced by the magic of markets that they have fallen for the illusion that public education is failing. They are convinced that a business type accountability and market based competition are needed. It seems not to have occurred to them that the foundation for America becoming the economic, scientific and cultural leader of the world is public education. How can they overlook the fact that America’s public education system has produced by far the most Nobel Prize winners in the world? Evidently they believe that since it is not a market based system it must be failing. However, even the conservative publication Education Next just produced a study showing that public education results have been steadily improving for the last 50 years.

Vice President Al Gore was convinced public schools were failing and needed a new direction. During a monthly “Gore-Tech session”, the Vice President asked venture capitalist John Doerr, “If you Silicon Valley types are so smart, why can’t you do something to create new schools?” Doerr who had scored big with investments in Netscape, Amazon and Google, like Gore, was certain public schools required radical change. He wanted “better schools based on Silicon Valley’s principles of accountability, choice and competition.” (Left Behind Pages 233-234)

Two big results came from this conversation. Doerr, a notoriously successful venture capitalist, went home where he was integral to establishing the NewSchools Venture Fund which was one of the first venture philanthropies. It was dedicated to promoting charter schools and education technology. NewSchools collaborated with Reed Hastings and Don Shalvey to create America’s first Charter School Management organization. 

Geismer notes,

“Computer companies had long understood that getting a foothold in the nation’s schools was a potential goldmine. … As the participants at the Gore-Tech sessions took up education reform, the conversation quickly turned to the topic of charter schools, which were a favorite reform tool of the president.” (Left Behind Page 239)

Like other venture capitalists, NewSchools’ founders expect a return on investment. This return would be measured in test score gains rather than dollars. (Left Behind Page 255)

Al From told Clinton that in order to win reelection in 1996 he need to “grab the mantle” of charters and school choice for Democrats. Geismer avers,

“The 1996 State of the Union was most notable for Clinton’s declaration that the ‘era of big government is over.’ Elaborating on the theme, he also dared ‘every state to give all parents the right to choose which public school their children will attend; and to let teachers form new schools with a charter they can keep only if they do a good job.’” (Left Behind Page 244)

Some Parting Notes

Lily Geismer’s book is special. The scholarship is above reproach and she solidified my personal opinion about the neoliberal ideology and its implementation. I hope as many people as possible read this edifying book. It provides profound insight into the source of the stupefying inequality plaguing American society.

The book and this post put the neoliberal faction of the Democratic Party in an extremely bad light. However, it is important to remember that the neoliberal market driven agenda is embraced even more tenaciously by America’s conservative community and they don’t seem concerned about “a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out.”

Federal Charter Schools Program a Fountain of Corruption and Disruption

19 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/19/2020

Last year, the Network for Public Education (NPE) published two investigations of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). The first one called Asleep at the Wheel came in March. In it they made several claims including that hundreds of millions of dollars had gone to schools that never opened or were shut down.

The authors, Carol Burris and Jeff Bryant, stated, “Therefore, we recommend that Congress end funding for new charter grants coming from CSP.”

Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, harshly criticized the report to Congress saying, “It makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor.”  In response, NPE redoubled efforts and in December published Still Asleep at the Wheel where they documented that their conservative claims in the first report under-reported the extent of negligence associated with the CSP.

DeVos Graphic

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

The Charter Schools Program

After Walter Mondale’s crushing defeat in 1984, a group of mostly southern Democrats including Bill Clinton founded the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). According to a 1997 article in the New Republic,

“… [T]he DLC’s mission was to wrest the Democratic Party away from its left-wing establishment—particularly minority interest groups and labor unions—in order to transform it into a party that championed middle-class values. The old Democrats called for minimum wage increases, antipoverty programs, protectionism, and school busing; the DLC’s self-described new Democrats sought balanced budgets, welfare reform, free trade agreements, and charter schools.”

In his book Kochland, Christopher Leonard wrote, “If the new era was defined by any term, it was still the soupy and ambiguous term of ‘neoliberalism,’ which combined the machinery of a welfare state with deregulatory efforts for the select few special interest groups that had the money and lobbying power to make their case heard in Washington, DC.”

The Charter Schools Program was established in Title 10 of the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The purposes cited were to provide support for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools. The intent stated was to enhance parent and student choices among public schools.  The business men and politicians writing the law believed these choices and standards would result in higher student achievement. In his paper “Schooling the State: ESEA and the Evolution of the U.S. Department of Education,” Patrick McGuinn explained,

“In the 1994 ESEA reauthorization, President Clinton—a former “education governor” and ‘New Democrat’— secured changes that would push states to increase performance reporting and embrace educational accountability. Under this new ESEA and a companion piece of legislation, Goals 2000, states were required to establish academic standards in each grade and create tests to assess whether students had mastered the standards. The tests were to be administered to all poor children at least once in grades three through five, six through nine, and ten through twelve.”

In “Still Asleep,” Burris recites,

“Begun with just $6 million in 1995, Congressional appropriations for the CSP jumped to $190 million by 2001 and nearly $219 million in 2004. In 2019, the federal Charter Schools Program was funded with $440 million in taxpayer dollars.”

The charter school theory was that these privately operated schools without interference from state education departments and local school districts would unleash dramatic innovation and improvement. In response to “Asleep,” DeVos wrote Representative Grijalva stating, “Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has shown that charter school students outperform their peers in traditional public schools.” However, her Education department’s 2019 study concluded that charter schools do not get better academic results than public schools.

When Bill Clinton first pushed charter school legislation, it was promoted as an experiment. The experiment is now 25-years old. This new class of privatized schools has come with many unintended consequences. They have driven up education costs through the inefficiencies associated with running dual systems; they have undermined teacher professionalism; they have weakened one of the great pillars of democracy in America and they have diminished the role of schools as a unifying historical entity in neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, they have not unleashed dramatic innovation and improvement; just disruption.

Asleep at the Wheel

The March 2019 paper “Asleep at the Wheel,” states in the executive summary,

“The federal outlays we examined are not modest expenditures amounting to little more than rounding errors. In its 2015 analysis, CSP stated that since its inception in 1994, the program had provided $3.3 billion to fund the startup, replication, and expansion of charter schools, creating 40 percent of operational public charter schools in the nation. We estimate that program funding has grown to well over $4 billion. That could bring the total of the potential waste to around $1billion.

“The waste of public dollars on closed charter schools is not the only concern. Of the grant recipients that manage to stay open, we uncovered extensive evidence that raises serious questions as to whether or not these schools are truly ‘high quality,’ meeting the CSP goal of providing equitable access for disadvantaged students.

“Through detailed examination of CSP’s application process, and by comparing claims made by charter grant applicants to information on state databases and school websites, we found numerous examples of federal tax dollars being misspent due to an inattentive process that routinely accepts applicants’ claims without scrutiny.”

“The CSP’s own analysis from 2006-2014 of its direct and state pass through funded programs found that nearly one out of three awardees were not currently in operation by the end of 2015.”

On April 10, 2019, Secretary of Education DeVos testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor where she was repeatedly queried about different claims made in “Asleep at the Wheel.” When Wisconsin Congressman Pocan asked about the more than $200 million grant to IDEA Charter Schools and their plan to lease a private jet for 6-years at $2 million per year, DeVos deflected and never answered the question but she did say, “The report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda.”

That was a lie. It still has not been totally debunked or even seriously challenged.

In a written reply to follow up questions by the committee DeVos stated,

“Quite simply, the Network for Public Education is anti-reform, anti-charter and anti-choice; accordingly, its report represents nothing more than a political attack.”

“Unfortunately, several of your colleagues appear to have embraced this report without a careful examination of it. This rush to judgment risks fracturing the longstanding bipartisan support for public charter schools, which so many American families have come to rely upon as the only alternative to failing public schools.”

 “What isn’t debatable is that the Network for Public Education had a purpose when it published its report: to smear public charter schools, the CSP program and its grantees under the guise of research. It makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor.”

“Since 2001, of the 5,265 charter schools that have received funding through a State entity or directly from the Department, 634 did not open and are unlikely to open in the future. As the developers of these schools received only CSP “planning” funds, which serve the specific purpose of enabling a charter school developer to explore the feasibility of opening a new charter school, the average award size for these schools was significantly lower than the average award size for CSP “implementation” grants and subgrants. In total, the funds awarded comprise less than 3.5 percent of the more than $2 billion in total awards made to public charter schools during the same period.”

The President of NPE, Diane Ravitch, has a long history of championing standards based education reform informed by standardized testing. It was only after reviewing years of data around 2007 that she concluded it was not working. She certainly never gave up on the idea of improving public education.

Her criticism of charter schools has been the lack of oversight, profiteering and fraud that have plagued the industry.

As far as school “choice” is concerned. In her book School Choice, educator and NPE supporter Mercedes Schneider quoted a 2012 Educational Research Alliance study noting, “The combined pressure to enroll a greater number of students and raise test scores to meet state targets seems to have created perverse incentives, encouraging the practice of screening and selecting students.”

Schneider observed, “[Milton] Friedman’s idea of the market as a disinterested player in the game of choice simply is not consistent with practice.”

Ironically, Secretary DeVos has a well known anti-public education bias. Christina Rizga wrote about the DeVoses’ philanthropy for Mother Jones stating,

“… [T]here’s the DeVoses’ long support of vouchers for private, religious schools; conservative Christian groups like the Foundation for Traditional Values, which has pushed to soften the separation of church and state; and organizations like Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has championed the privatization of the education system.”

DeVos asserting NPE “makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor” is a baseless claim. The reasons no one has been able to convincingly refute the conclusions in either “Asleep” or “Still Asleep” is because of the quality of the supporting data used and the careful rigor applied.

DeVos indicated that the spending on “ghost charters” [charters that never opened] was not nearly as high as stated. In a Washington Post article, Burris used DeVos’s data to defend the paper.

DeVos stated, “In total, the funds awarded comprise less than 3.5 percent of the more than $2 billion in total awards made to public charter schools during the same period.” Burris pointed out,

“The total for grants in the 2015 data set we used for our report is $1,794,548,157. Of that amount, 3.5 percent is $62,809,185. Our report said $45.5 million was wasted on ghost schools. Again, it appears as if we did not catch all of the waste.”

Burris also noted that of the 5,265 grantee schools DeVos cited only 3,138 were still in existence according to a department contracted WestEd presentation. That means 2,127 schools either never opened or were closed; a rate of 40.4% of all charters that were funded from active grants during those years. In “Still Asleep,” the percentage of failed charter schools over the same period was stated as 37%.

In other words, using DeVos’s numbers and official reports contracted by the US Department of Education for checking; the NPE numbers proved to be conservative and accurate.

Conclusion

Both “Asleep” and “Still Asleep” are well researched important studies illuminating the profound corruption in the federal Charter School Program.

“Still Asleep” notes, “Hundreds of millions of dollars sent to states with few rules of the road have resulted in the massive waste of federal tax dollars, as grants were doled out to individuals who had no credentials or experience to open up a new school.”

“Asleep” and “Still Asleep” are forty and forty-eight pages in length respectively. The data presented and the illustrative charter school antidotes are meticulously documented. These two documents reveal a corrupt raid on taxpayer money which is negatively impacting K-12 education in America.

The “Still Asleep” recommendations seem like common sense. They urge:

“We therefore strongly recommend that Congress end appropriations for new charter school grants in the upcoming budget and continue funding only for obligated amounts only to legitimate projects. Once those grants have been closed, we recommend that the CSP be ended and that charter schools continue to receive federal support only through other federal funding streams such as Title I and IDEA. Students, not charter school entrepreneurs, should benefit from federal funds.

“We also recommend thorough audits by Congress of previous grant awards, the establishment of regulations to ensure grant awards still under term are being responsibly carried out and that misspent money is returned to the federal coffers.”