Tag Archives: Rex Sinquefield

Saint Louis School Board Stalls Privatization Agenda

24 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/24/2021

The August 19th headline in the Saint-Louis Post Dispatch reported a new plan “sparks school board outrage.”The board accused Better Futures STL of trying to usurp its role. Better Futures soon cancelled the launch of its new program and Superintendent Kelvin Adams apologized for not sharing the extent of his involvement in a plan described as “a new St. Louis education blueprint that serves all children.”

The Post Dispatch went on to outline Better Futures as being started in April by Opportunity Trust, Education Equity Center of St. Louis, Forward Through Ferguson, WePower and others. Fenton, a pricey New York public relations firm, stated that Better Futures was developing a “community-designed plan over the next 12 months to reimagine an equitable K-12 public education system.” Superintendent Adams and Mayor Tishaura O. Jones are both on the new organization’s advisory council.

Kelvin Adams Involvement Not a Surprise

In a magnificent article about the history and demise of public schools in St. Louis, Jeff Bryant detailed the neoliberal philosophy driving the city’s leadership. The hiring of Kelvin Adams was a result.

Mayor Francis Slay served four terms starting in 2001. He brought in Teach for America (TFA) and championed charter schools. When circumstances beyond the school district’s control led to a large deficit, Slay successfully recruited and financed a new slate of school board members in 2003.

Within a month of taking office, the school board voted to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti became the de facto superintendent of schools. The results were a disaster. District financing became so untenable that the state took over.

To solve the mess in Saint Louis, the state turned to the New Orleans Recovery School District and hired Paul Vallas’s chief of staff, Kelvin Adams. At the time, Peter Downs, president of the elected school board, called Adams unacceptable. However, Adams’ thirteen-year tenure is attributable to his popularity among Saint Louis’s neoliberal embracing business and political leadership.

School Privatization

In 1981, Rex Sinquefield and David Booth a fellow MBA student at the University of Chicago formed the California based financial firm Dimensional Fund Advisor (DFA). Today the company oversees more than $350 billion in global assets. DFA pioneered index fund investing.

In 2005, Rex and his business partner wife Jeanne returned to Missouri ending his absence of more than 40 years. Since returning he has become a major force in Republican politics and has demonstrated a thorough disrespect for public education. Rex claimed,

‘“There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss who was a former judge in Missouri,’ Sinquefield continued, in response to a question about ending teacher tenure. [Voss] said, ‘A long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.’”

Sinquefield was a major reason Josh Hawley was elected to the US Senate. Rex also spent $2.5 million trying to get Missouri’s income tax replaced with a sales tax and spent another $1.6 million attempting to have teachers evaluated using testing.

He has consistently championed lower regressive taxes and market based solutions.

On July 31, 2018, Neerav Kingsland, the founder of New Schools for New Orleans, announced on his blog that billionaires John Arnold and Reed Hastings had pleged $100 million each to start The City Fund. Kingsland is the new Fund’s Managing Partner.

In addition to the non-profit, they have also created an associated political action organization called Public School Allies. In 2019, Allies sent $20,000 to Saint Louis’s Civil PAC.

City Fund has spent large amounts of money developing local organizations to promote implementation of the portfolio model of public education management. The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio.

The Opportunity Trust is their partner in St. Louis. City Fund has made a three year $5.5 million grant to the Trust. Opportunity is also a TFA related business. Founder and CEO, Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years starting as a TFA corps member in 2001-3.

The 2017 Opportunity Trust founding board consisted of John Kemper, Diane Tavenner, Maxine Clark and Eric Scroggins. (See 2017 tax form 990 – EIN 82-1838644)

Diane Tavenner is the founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, a charter management organization that serves schools in California and Washington State. Tavenner is a former board member of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and currently serves on the CCSA member’s council.

In 2018, John W. Kemper succeeded his father David Kemper as President and CEO of Commerce Bancshares Inc. Biz journal noted,

‘“He will be a good steward. Cities need good banks to take care of the community, and Commerce is a well run company,’ said cousin and friendly rival Mariner Kemper, chairman of UMB Bank, Missouri’s second largest, with $20.6 billion in assets.”  

Kemper also sits on several local boards including KIPP St Louis.

Maxine Clark is the daughter of Eleanor Roosevelt’s traveling secretary. She was President of Payless Shoes before founding Build-A-Bear Workshop which grew to over 400 mall based stores. Clark retired as CEO in 2013. Since leaving Build-A-Bear, she and her husband have concentrated on civic endeavors. Ladue News reports,

“Among their biggest successes is the launching of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Charter Schools in St. Louis. There are two elementary KIPP schools and two middle schools, and this fall, KIPP St. Louis High School will welcome its first freshman class. As a public charter school, KIPP St. Louis High School will operate like a private college prep school.”

Clark calls her latest project Delmar Devine.” It is a play on the local term “Delmar Divide,” for the line of demarcation separating predominantly white St. Louis from the North Side, where the population is nearly all African-American. She is using Housing and Urban Development money to remodel the 1904 built St. Luke’s Hospital into a mixed use facility with apartments and office space. Many of the new tenants are part of the segrenomics business selling education services to urban poor. They include: Teach for America, The Opportunity Trust, IFF, Education Equity Center of St. Louis, KIPP St. Louis and Navigate STL Schools.

Business elites like Maxine Clark and politicians like Mayor Tishaura O. Jones are making a terrible error in judgment. The public school system is the backbone of communities and the foundation of democracy. Furthermore, unbiased research shows that public schools consistently outperform either private schools or charter schools.

St. Louis Public Education Theft Accelerates

30 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/30/2020

A proposal to close 11 more public schools in St. Louis came before the school board on December 15. Based on Superintendent Kelvin Adams’ recommendation the final decision was postponed until January. It is not clear why Adams pulled back his own recommendation, but it is clear that public education in St. Louis is being dismantled.

In 1967, St. Louis’s school population peaked at 115,543. It was by far the largest school district in the state of Missouri. In 2020, total enrollment sank below 20,000 to for the first time to 19,222 and St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) is no longer the state’s largest K-12 district.

From 1967 to 2000 there was an enrollment decline of over 71,000 students. In a 2017 article, Journalist Jeff Bryant took an in depth look at the forces undermining St. Louis and its schools. He noted three defining events that turned St. Louis into the World’s most incredible shrinking city.

An 1876 home rule law enacted by city business leaders to keep control of the city’s economic engines created and locked in city boundaries. Today, there are over 90 municipalities surrounding St. Louis. After World War II, federal housing policies and racists lending practices created white flight to the burgeoning adjacent communities. Finally Bryant explains,

“Legislation passed in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s deregulating a number of key industries – including airlines and banking – put large St. Louis employers at a disadvantage. Then, new laws lifting anti-trust enforcement, passed during the Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton presidential administrations, subjected St. Louis’s leading industries to corporate takeover or rendered them uncompetitive.

“Consequently, St. Louis went from hosting 23 Fortune 500 headquarters in 1980 to hosting just nine in 2015.”

The Attack on Public Schools

 From 2000 to 2020, the student population in St. Louis has again fallen by more than half from 44,264 to 19,222. Some of that decline can be attributed to the continuation of migration to the suburbs which now includes Black families. However, a large portion of the drop is due to the growth of charter schools. The charter school enrollment for 2020 was at least 11,215 students which represents 37% of the district’s publicly supported students.

Like the national trend, the privatized schools chartered by the state, educate a lower percentage of the more expensive special education students; charters 11.4% versus SLPS 15.1%.

In 1997, the Heartland Institute reported,

“Although Missouri does not yet have a charter school law, a Charter Schools Technical Assistance Conference was held in St. Louis on November 22 with Mayor Clarence Harmon as the keynote speaker. Sponsored by the Charter Schools Information Center, the Saturday workshop featured state legislators, business leaders, and national and local charter school experts, including the Center’s director Laura Friedman and Paul Seibert of Charter Consultants.

“Although a charter school law failed to win legislative approval last spring, there appears to be strong support for the concept and hopes run high for passage in the coming session.”

The Heartland Institute is an extremely conservative organization with Libertarian ideals including opposition to climate change legislation and support for privatizing public education. Two of Heartland’s key funders are the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee and Charles Koch of Koch Industries.

Mayor Harmon and the Heartland team saw their hopes rewarded in 1998 when Missouri became the 27th state to pass a charter school law. The University of Missouri notes, “Charters were one part of legislation designed to end three decades of court-ordered desegregation in Kansas City and St. Louis, and were limited to those two urban areas.”

In 2000, Mayor Harmon welcomed the first charter school in St. Louis, Lift for Life Academy.

The next year Francis Slay defeated Harmon in the mayoral race.

Slay like Harmon was a Democrat. He would serve for the next four terms. Over that time Slay developed a reputation as a charter school champion.

In 2002, Slay put together almost $800,000 to bring 50 fake teachers in from Teach For America (TFA). “Fake” because they have almost no training. It’s like calling a liberal arts college graduate with five weeks of summer training a lawyer or a dentist or an architect.

Slay increased his control over SLPS by putting together and financing a slate of four candidates for the seven member school board. A 2003 report in the River Front Times states,

Slay loaned $50,000 from his campaign fund to support the slate. Major area corporations kicked in with Anheuser-Busch, Ameren and Emerson Electric each giving $20,000. Energizer Eveready Battery Company gave $15,000. The coalition raised more than $235,000.

Within a month of taking their positions, the school board voted to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants. St. Louis paid A&M $4.8 million to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti was to be superintendent of schools. His official title was changed to “Chief Restructuring Officer.” The clothing store leader had never worked in a school before.

Bryant reported, “Slay and this team attended training on how to remodel the district along business lines provided by the Broad Foundation, a private foundation that has long been a powerful advocate of charter schools.” However, their decision to bring in business professionals turned into a disaster. Deficit ballooned, teachers revolted, the district lost state accreditation and the state took over from the elected school board.

In 2005, the billionaire, Rex Sinquefield, returned to his roots in Missouri. Rex a former orphan became wealthy when he and a partner from the University of Chicago developed and marketed the first index funds. Rex also has economic views that align with the libertarian small government ideology of his Nobel Prize winning peers Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan. 

Rex and wife Jeanne are proponents of “school choice.” They fund the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri (CEAM) claiming that the St. Louis based organization is the leading education reform organization in the state. They contribute millions to the right wing think tanks Show-Me Institute, which Rex also founded, and Missouri Club for Growth.

Sinquefield has made large campaign donations to Mayor Francis Slay plus Slay’s cousin, Laura Slay, is the Executive Director of CEAM. Laura is also owner of a public relations firm which regularly represents Rex. 

In 2011, former TFA corps member Charli Cooksey and three other former corps members founded the now defunct InspireSTL. In 2016, Cooksey resigned from InspireSTL to run for the powerless school board. The leadership at InspireSTL went to another former TFA corps member, Adam Layne.

Susan Turk of St. Louis Schools Watch reported that Cooksey received a $30,000 campaign contribution from Leadership for Education Equity (LEE). LEE is a billionaire funded and directed organization spending to elect former TFA corps members to school boards and other political positions.

In 2018, a former TFA corps member and employee for 14 years, Eric Scroggins, founded The Opportunity Trust. That same year The City Fund gifted the newly formed Opportunity Trust $5.5 million. That is the fund started in 2018 by former Enron trader John Arnold and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. They consider The Opportunity Trust their partner in St. Louis.

Charli Cooksey left the school board to found WEBPOWER, an organization meant to create community leaders to advance the privatization of public education and school choice.

In 2019, Cooksey’s successor at InspireSTL, Adam Layne, followed her path to the SLPS school board. He and fellow TFA alum Tracee Miller won the two seats available in 2019. That is the same year the state finally handed back control of SLPS to the elected school board. Miller raised local money and got a $1000 donation from LEE. Layne’s campaign raised almost no money but got a large donation from Public School Allies the political arm of The City Fund.

Tracee Miller has since resigned from the school board and written a scathing article about her experience:

“Shortly after my election to the BOE, I was approached by Eric Scroggins, founder and CEO of The Opportunity Trust, to visit The Mind Trust, an organization with a similar mission in Indianapolis. He personally selected three members of the BOE to attend. I am a person who is open to ideas and who believes in public education. I joined the trip with the understanding that it would be an opportunity to learn about innovative strategies being used in another Midwest city. However, the more questions that I asked and the more non-answers or unsatisfactory explanations that I heard, the more I realized that their agenda, and not students, was the priority.”

“I met with WEPOWER employee Gloria Nolan in what felt like a friendly conversation where the stated goal was to explore ways to bring the BOE and WEPOWER together; however, less than a week after this conversation WEPOWER attacked my credibility with false information and an out-of-context recording during the public comment portion of a BOE meeting. In addition, when I expressed concerns about the trip to Indianapolis, financial connections to school board members, or that these groups did not seem to focus on all education providers but only on SLPS, both WEPOWER and The Opportunity Trust ceased communication with me.”

“Mr. Scroggins eventually contacted me to let me know that he found my questioning of his approach to education reform to be misguided. He used patronizing and intimidating language to attack my ethics and integrity on account of my opposition to Senate Bills 525, 603, and 649 regarding the expansion of charter schools, and accused me of being uninformed and incapable of leadership, of ignoring science, and of perpetuating inequity.”

“Most notably, The Opportunity Trust funded the strategic plan for the Normandy School District, which resulted in the hiring of Marcus Robinson, former Executive-in-Residence at The Opportunity Trust, as its new superintendent. Normandy is opening their first charter school (also funded in part by The Opportunity Trust) in Fall 2021.”

In 2017, longtime 28th Ward Alderman, Lyda Krewson, became the next neoliberal Democrat serving as Mayor in St. Louis. After she doxxed people calling on her to de-fund the police, a large demonstration heading to her home made national news. Krewson’s gun toting neighbors, Mark McCloskey and his wife Patricia, threatened the passing crowd with guns, admonishing them to stay off their property.

Mayor Krewson has kept up the nepotistic schemes attacking public schools. Jack Krewson the mayor’s son is a co-founder of Kairos Academies along with creator Gavin Schiffres. The school’s design was developed in 2015 as a capstone project for Schiffres’s undergraduate degree at YALE. The Opportunity Trust also invested in the incubation and then launch of Kairos Academy, the first personalized learning school in St. Louis.

In other words, three TFA alums, Scroggins, Schiffres and Krewson, have teamed up to sell edtech to St. Louis. They have an “innovative” plan to put kids at screens, the last thing 21st century kids need. At the same time excellent public schools with real teachers are being closed.

Developing the Portfolio District Model

The City Fund is known for its support of the portfolio district management model. It is a method that removes control of schools from elected boards and replaces them with private businesses either for profit or non-profit. The evaluations are based on standardized testing results meaning the lowest performing schools are closed and replaced invariably by a privatized school. Since standardized testing only measures relative family wealth accurately, this plan guarantees schools in poor communities will be privatized.

 In 2008, the state overseers selected Dr. Kelvin Adams (is it OK to call him Dr.?) to be Superintendent of schools in St. Louis; the position he still occupies. At the time, Peter Downs the President of the elected school board called the selection unacceptable.

Adams came to St. Louis from the Recovery School District in New Orleans where he was second-in-command to the infamous Paul Vallas. Prior to the Saint Louis announcement, Vallas had stated publicly that Adams was his top choice as a successor. Being thought of as a successor to a known virulent opponent of public schools was a big concern. However, Adams took over the mess left by A&M; fixed the financial issues, raised attendance rates, lowered dropout rates and got the district accreditation restored.

Adams also continued to close schools. SLPS has gone from 93 schools when he arrived to 68 schools now and he wants to close 11 more.  

A component of the portfolio model school districts in both Indianapolis and Denver is Innovation Schools. The American Legislative Exchange Council has created model legislation for the development of these schools which are removed from the purview of the elected school board and given to a non-elected board. The ultra-right wing billionaire Charles Koch of Koch Industries is the key funder of ALEC. Koch has a long history of opposing public education.

Superintendent Adams is an outspoken advocate of school choice, the portfolio model and innovation schools. In fact, he claims as an achievement, “Created a portfolio of schools to provide meaningful choices for students and parents.” In 2019, Adams introduced innovation schools to Saint Louis calling them the Consortium Partnership Network. The announcement on the SLPS webpage states,

“Beginning January 2019, the CPN school principal and teacher leadership teams began a 4-month planning process together to define school structures, working conditions, priorities and budgets. This process was facilitated by Bellwether Education Partners…”

Bellwether Education Partners came into being in 2011 when it was cofounded by New Schools Venture Fund founding CEO Kim Smith and former Clinton administration domestic policy advisor Andrew J. Rotherham. Both Smith and Rotherham have had lucrative careers attacking public education for their billionaire funders.

It is clear that St. Louis Public Schools are in trouble and the vultures are circling. They have been weakened and are targeted by billionaires like Rex Sinquefield, Reed Hastings, Alice Walton, John Arnold, Bill Gates…

A paper written by National Board Certified Teacher Ceresta Smith, Why People of Color Must Reject Market-Based Education Reforms, has a profound message for the large Black population in St. Louis. Their democratic right to govern their own schools is being stolen and they must resist. Most of the 23 page paper cites other studies that support her opening statements:

“Reformers assert that test-based teacher evaluation, increased school “choice” through expanded access to charter schools, and the closure of “failing” and under enrolled schools will boost falling student achievement and narrow longstanding race- and income-based achievement gaps.”

    •  “Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
    • “Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.
    • “Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
    • “School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.
    • “Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.
    • “Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.
    • “The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance.”

In the conclusion Ceresta says to care givers for students of color,

“Of high importance, they must not fall prey to the trap of “school choice,” which in itself is a method of racist exclusion that provides for a “few” at the expense of the “many.”  Instead, they must first and foremost, stop allowing their children to be used to further the inequities in public education and ultimate wealth building.”

Destroying Public Education in St. Louis

18 Apr

By T. Ultican 4/18/2019

On April 2nd, St. Louis city voters picked Adam Layne and Tracee Miller to serve on their seven-member Public School Board. They appear to be the two least likely candidates out of the seven to protect public schools. With the state ending twelve years of control over the city’s schools on April 16, this election result is not a happy one for public education advocates.

The Seven Board Candidates

  1. Adam Layne is a former Teach for America (TFA) corps member assigned to a St. Louis charter school and is currently a board member of the Kairos Academy charter school.
  2. Tracee Miller was a TFA corps member and is currently running a math tutoring program in St. Louis for the Gates Foundation supported Khan Academy.
  3. Louis Cross boasts a long career with St. Louis Public Schools. He served as principal and interim superintendent of the now defunct Ethel Hedgemen charter school.
  4. Bill Haas served on the school board from 1997 to 2005, and again from 2010 to 2018. He was one of two board members that stood in opposition to contracting with Alvarez and Marsal to run St. Louis schools in 2003.
  5. David Merideth served on a special committee in 2017 that studied the school board’s role in future governance of the district when state control is relinquished.
  6. Barbara Anderson is a graduate of St. Louis Public Schools who taught on the elementary, middle and university levels throughout her career.
  7. Dan McCready is from Cincinnati, where he taught third and fifth grade math at a Cincinnati public school. He currently works at KIPP Victory Academy, a St. Louis charter school.

Dark Money Sways Election Results

Layne and Miller

Adam Layne and Tracee Miller

New board member Adam Layne appears to be a talented and idealistic young man. In 2011, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance from George Washington University. Unfortunately, that youthful idealism was corrupted when he was enticed into the segrenomics business by TFA. [Professor Noliwe Rooks defines segrenomics as profiting off segregated poor communities by selling them education services.]

Layne’s report to the Missouri Ethics Commission (ID: A190713) shows him receiving only $155 in campaign contributions.  The first time I searched the Ethics Commission, I got a clue as to how with such meager experience and direct campaign support; Layne won a seat on the board. There was some sort of data base error and instead of displaying Adam Layne in the name field it put Public School Allies. The error will not repeat but the downloaded excel file displays it.

Public School Allies

An Error Showing Public School Allies in the Name Field Instead of Adam Layne

Chalkbeat reported that St. Louis is one of seven US cities The City Fund has targeted for implementation of the portfolio district governance model; which assures the privatization of schools. Public School Allies is a political action committee created by The City Fund staff. It supplies campaign financing under IRS Code 501 C4 rules making it a dark money fund.

City Fund lists The Opportunity Trust as their partner in St. Louis. Opportunity is a TFA related business. Founder and CEO, Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years starting as a TFA corps member in 2001-3.

Marie Ceselski of the St. Louis 7th Ward reported,

“Last week, St. Louis City-based Civil PAC sent out a targeted, glossy, multi-color mailing supporting Adam Layne. …

“At the time of the mailing, Civil PAC had $37.21 in its bank account per MEC records. On Wednesday, March 24th, Civil PAC reported to MEC that it had received a $20,000 donation on March 19th. The donation was from Public School Allies ….”

The other new board member Tracee Miller also appears to be dedicated and idealistic. However, like her fellow new board member, she too had her youthful idealism corrupted by TFA. Through TFA she was introduced to a group of “education reform” companies profiting off segregated poor communities.

Miller’s present employer the Khan Academy’s main purpose is promoting kids learning at computers – euphemistically known as “personalized learning.” She also lists Blueprint Education as a current employer. Blueprint is another TFA related business working in the segrenomics sector. Miller shares her responsibilities for Blueprint in Massachusetts,

“Supervise elementary math intervention program; hire, train, observe, coach, and evaluate high-quality full-time math intervention specialists; write lesson plans and provide instructional support for elementary teachers in math; serve as a liaison between school teams and Blueprint Fellows/Blueprint Program; track student data and use data to drive instruction via lesson planning and coaching; maintain a positive and professional atmosphere with clear and high expectations.”

At Dever Elementary school in Boston, the Blueprint experience was such a disaster that 45 of the original 47 teachers quit. Jennifer Berkshire of the Have You Heard blog started getting messages from upset teachers that did not know where else to turn. They told her, “We’ve lost faith because there’s absolutely no accountability here.” and “Blueprint has no idea how to run a school, and it’s maddening that there isn’t more oversight from the state.

The amount of dark money that went into supporting Miller through independent expenditures is unclear, however, it is known that a dark money fund created by the newly established Joseph Wingate Folk Society put $143,000 dollars into the political action committee Voters Organized Through Education StL (aka Vote-StL PAC). Complaints have been filed with Missouri’s Attorney General over the way this secretive new fund operates. Besides this fund and Public School Allies there were other dark money funds operating around this election.

Miller received a modest direct contribution total of $8330 (ID: A190747). A $1,000 contribution from Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) is particularly note worthy. LEE was established in 2007 to elect TFA corps members into education leadership positions. Miller sent a $1000 back to LEE to purchase their campaign consulting services. Leadership for Educational Equity’s three member board is comprised of Emma Bloomberg (former NY mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter), Michael Park (a Partner in McKinsey & Company’s New York office) and Arthur Rock (Silicon Valley billionaire who contributes heavily to promote charter schools and TFA).

TFA is an industry leader in the business of segrenomics. It has been remarkably successful everywhere except in the classroom. These temporary teachers with virtually no training nor experience are not ready to run a class. Letting TFA corps members teach is akin to letting a college graduate with five-week training fly commercial airliners or perform medical diagnosis. They have no business being granted a teaching license and students in their classrooms are being cheated. It is money from Billionaires that is making the TFA outrage possible.

St. Louis Elites Have Led a Century of Public Education Malfeasance

In 1904, St. Louis held an exposition on the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. At the time, the city was wealthy and boasted an amazing public education system. Particularly noteworthy were the schools designed and built by architect William Ittner. In an in-depth piece, Journalist Jeff Bryant observed, “More than a century ago, St. Louis embarked on a revolution in education that made the city’s schools the jewel of the Midwest and a model for urban school districts around the nation.

Unfortunately, segregation dominates the St. Louis story. Bryant cites the work of Richard Rothstein a Senior Fellow, emeritus, the Haas Institute at the University of California (Berkeley). “In an interview with a St. Louis reporter, Rothstein points to integrated neighborhoods in the city, such as Desoto-Carr, that were transformed into single race communities through federal housing programs.” This doomed many of the city’s schools to poor academic performance and anemic financial support plus the city itself stopped growing. The latest census shows that St. Louis has not grown in population since that 1904 exposition.

The schools in St. Louis receive 9% less revenue than the state of Missouri on average and next door in Ferguson they receive 13% less revenue. Rutgers University’s school finance wizard, Bruce Baker, put St. Louis schools into his “most screwed” category. The Normandy school system in Ferguson is where Michael Brown graduated just two months before being shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson. Brown was unarmed. In her book Cutting School, Cornell’s Professor Noliwe Rooks commented,

Racial and economic segregation, racially specific forms of educational instruction and testing, subpar facilities, undertrained teachers, and white parents determined to keep Blacks out of their more stable and functional school systems were all as much a part of Michael Brown’s life as they were for the students involved in the cases that formed the plaintiff group in Brown v. Board.”

In 2001, four of the seven seats on the school board were up for election. Mayor Francis Slay a Democrat did not want to run the schools directly but he put together a slate of candidates to dominate board. He made sure they could significantly outspend their opponents. A 2003 report in the River Front Times states,

Slay loaned $50,000 from his campaign fund to support the slate. Major area corporations kicked in with Anheuser-Busch, Ameren and Emerson Electric each giving $20,000. Energizer Eveready Battery Company gave $15,000. The coalition raised more than $235,000.

This led to a sixteen year crisis in St. Louis schools. The first action by Slay’s team was to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants. St. Louis paid A&M $4.8 million to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. The River Front Times reported the team’s goal was to “make the district more efficient, save money and hopefully redirect those savings to boost academic performance somewhere down the road.

A&M selected Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti to be superintendent of schools. His official title was changed to “Chief Restructuring Officer.” The clothing store leader had never worked in a school before.

Roberti commuted from his home in Connecticut using a $110,000 travel expense perk. His education advisor was former New York Superintendent, Rudy Crew, who was living on the West Coast and would not move to or spend much time in St. Louis.

Roberti closed more than 20 schools and “balanced” the school budgets by borrowing $49 million dollars from an existing desegregation program. The money had to be repaid. By the time it was recognized that the system’s $73 million dollar deficit had ballooned to $87.7 million, Roberti and A&M were long gone. The were consulting in the Detroit School System for the soon to be failed emergency manager Robert Bobb. In 2007, the state of Missouri took over St. Louis Public Schools citing its financial issues.

Democrat Slay responded by becoming a “cheerleader for charter schools” hoping that would turn the tide of people moving out of St. Louis. Slay’s effort to privatize public schools drew support from 110 miles away in Osage County where the billionaires Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield had made their new home. They also have a modest little 8300 square foot home in St. Louis but are registered to vote in Osage.

Libertarian Gospel Propagated in Missouri

Rex and Jeanne Sinqufield

Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield

Rex Sinquefield grew up in a St. Louis Catholic orphanage. Unlike other extremely wealthy libertarians such as David and Charles Koch or the entire Walton family, Rex did not inherit his wealth. Three years after graduating from high school, he left a Catholic seminary to pursue a more secular path. He eventually earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Milton Friedman’s University of Chicago. At the school, he met and married his wife and business partner Jeanne Cairns. Jeanne also earned an MBA, plus she was awarded a PhD in demography.

In 1977, Rex co-Authored Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation: The Past and the Future with Roger Ibbotson. The book is still considered a standard reference for those who seek valuable information on capital market returns. Ibbotson gained his PhD in finance from the University of Chicago.

In 1981, David Booth a fellow MBA student at the University of Chicago and Sinquefield formed the California based financial firm Dimensional Fund Advisor (DFA). Today the company oversees more than $350 billion in global assets. His wife Jeanne supervised the DFA Trading Department and served as executive vice president until her retirement in 2005. DFA pioneered index fund investing.

The Sinquefield’s lived in Santa Monica, California – which he called “Soviet Monica” – while running DFA. In 2005, Rex and Jeanne returned to Missouri ending his absence of more than 40 years.

The Center for Media and Democracy produced “A Reporter’s Guide to Rex Sinquefield and the Show-me Institute.” They demonstrated his attitude about public education by quoting Rex:

‘“There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss who was a former judge in Missouri,’ Sinquefield continued, in response to a question about ending teacher tenure. [Voss] said, ‘A long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.’”

Rex Sinquefield’s primary policy interests are education, income tax reform and local control. He funds efforts for school vouchers, the elimination of teacher tenure and income tax reform. Ballotpedia stated, “Through the financial support of political committees and organizations, including Let Voters Decide, Teach Great and the Safer Missouri Citizen’s Coalition, Sinquefield has donated millions of dollars to support his policy priorities on the Missouri ballot.

Sinquefield Ballot Measures

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Sinquefield wants Missouri to eliminate personal and corporate income taxes altogether, partially replacing the lost revenue with a broader sales tax that would be capped at 7 percent. He believes Sam Brownback was on the right path in Kansas and wants Missouri to follow.

Sinquefield is currently trying to privatize the St. Louis’s Lambert Airport as a way of eliminating the 1% earnings tax in the city. Rex started learning his anti-tax beliefs at his mother’s knee. When he was seven years old, she had to give him and his brother up to an orphanage after his father’s death. Alan Greenblatt reported,

In strained circumstances, his mother resented having to pay the 1 percent tax imposed on earnings of people who work or live in St. Louis. ‘I can’t afford this damned tax,’ he recalls her saying.

Two Observations

The great concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few individuals is destroying democracy. Rex’s anti-tax, anti-union and free market ideology might be a winning philosophy, but his ability to spend so liberally to sell his ideas makes anyone else’s opinion mute. Billionaires are warping the democratic process and driving us toward oligarchy. We need a significant wealth tax to end this kind of financial tyranny.

Privatizing public education is another attack on the foundations of democracy. Charter schools, vouchers and education technology are not solutions to poverty and under resourced schools. Today, there are some good things happening in Saint Louis Public Schools. Protect it from billionaires and their TFA staffed armies of “deformers.”