Tag Archives: State Policy Network

Current Attack on Democracy and Public Education

30 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/30/2021

Nancy MacLean’s amazing book Democracy in Chains documents Charles Koch’s anti-democratic and anti-public education agenda plus his relationship with Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan (Democracy in Chains page 184). She quotes Buchanan speaking about their shared libertarian agenda, “The project must aim toward the practical removal of the sacrosanct assigned to majority rule.” MacLean writes of Buchanan, “The collective enemy he was constructing included nearly everyone in education except academic economists” (Democracy in Chains page 119). She also noted that the handsomely Koch-financed politician Dick Armey called for the end of public education which he labeled “the most socialized industry in the world” (page 196). Today’s pandemic attack on public education is simply a continuation of a more than a half-century long crusade to end it. Koch money is still feeding the cause.

Christopher Leonard’s Kochland is the story of Charles Koch beginning with his earning two MIT masters of engineering degrees. For those who don’t know about him and his late younger brother David, this book is a magnificent tutorial.

In 1966, after five years working for his father, Charles became the CEO of a company then known as Rock Island Oil & Refining Company. After his father Fred died in 1967, Charles took a disparate set of assets – a cattle ranch, a minority share in an oil refinery and a gas gathering business – and stitched them together into the company the family renamed Koch Industries as a tribute to their father. Today it is the second largest privately held corporation in the world.

Unfortunately, it was the works of Austrian economists and philosophers Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek that attracted Koch. He has been described as a libertarian and a conservative but “classical liberal” is a more apt description. Leonard observed, “Hayek, in particular, put forward a radical concept of capitalism and the role that markets should play in society, and his thinking had an enduring effect on Charles Koch” (Kochland page 42).

Charles and his late brother David have spent lavishly promoting their libertarian beliefs. Inspired by the anti-New Deal Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek; the brothers agreed that public education along with most other public institutions must be abolished.

Charles Koch has been the leader of the effort to undermine democratic rule and state management, but he is hardly alone. Joining his libertarian crusade are Wal-Mart’s Walton Family Foundation, Wisconsin’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Illinois’s Richard Uihlein, the dark money donor directed fund, Donors Trust and many others.

Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money described Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund as “a screen for the right wing, behind which fingerprints disappeared from the cash.”

The Pandemic Attack

In the spring of 2020, a campaign to ignore school safety issues associated with the novel corona virus was initiated. The former president and his secretary of education began calling for schools to be opened immediately for full time face to face instruction. There was a nationwide response from the Republican Party that included establishing Astroturf parent organizations demonstrating throughout the nation for schools to be reopened. There was little concern for the health of school staff or about the likelihood that children would take COVID home to vulnerable family members.

This spring, the attack on public schools took a dark and violent turn. School board members were being screamed at and threatened because they were requiring students to ware masks. The accusations grew in scope to include the supposed teaching of critical race theory (CRT) and supplying children with inappropriate books like “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story”.

Oddly, most teachers did not have a clue about what CRT was because it is seldom addressed outside of Law School graduate seminars.

Last month State Representative Christine Palm and former Assistant US Attorney, Frank Hanley Santoro wrote in the CT Insider,

“Clearly, something is afoot. Why is this happening suddenly and simultaneously in so many different places around the state (and indeed the country)? Why is the pattern so similar? … Why pick on CRT, which schools don’t even teach …? This doesn’t sound like something that just happened to occur to parents at a local bake sale.”

“The explanation may lie with Steve Bannon. According to Bannon, ‘This is the Tea Party to the 10th power,’ and ‘The path to save the nation is very simple. It’s going to go through the school boards.”’

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado weighed in on why the attack on CRT and where it’s coming from:

“Well-established and powerful far Right organizations are driving the current effort to prevent schools from providing historically accurate information about slavery and racist policies and practices, or from examining systemic racism and its manifold impacts. These organizations include the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Goldwater Institute, Heritage Foundation, Koch family foundations, and Manhattan Institute, as well as billionaire-funded advocacy organizations such as Parents Defending Education and the Legal Insurrection Foundation.”

“The anti-CRT narrative is … used to accomplish three goals: to thwart efforts to provide an accurate and complete picture of American history; to prevent analysis and discussion of the role that race and racism have played in our history; and to blunt the momentum of efforts to increase democratic participation by members of marginalized groups.”

Doug Porter of the Wordsanddeeds blog writes, “While the racial resentment that the school board battles illustrate is as American and ever-present as apple pie, the road to retaking power through educational culture wars is part of a current, well-funded national strategy by some of the usual Dark Money suspects.”

Christopher Rufo’s Tweets about the Framing of CRT

According to his biography at the Manhattan Institute, the 35-years-old Christopher Rufo “is a senior fellow and director of the initiative on critical race theory at the Manhattan Institute.” As he clearly indicates in the tweets shown above his team at the Institute has rebranded CRT to “annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” He knows it is a false construct but does not care because it has become amazingly successful. Honesty is not a treasured virtue in libertarian circles. Winning is all that matters.

Source Watch reports,

“The Manhattan Institute (MI) is a right-wing 501(c)(3) non-profit think tank founded in 1978 by William J. Casey, who later became President Ronald Reagan‘s CIA director. It is an associate member of the State Policy Network.”

Funding for the the Manhattan Institute and the State Policy Network include generous grants from Koch Family Foundations, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Scaife Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and many other funders of libertarian causes. For example, 2017 tax records show that Donors Trust (EIN 52-2166327) sent $6,500,000 to the State Policy Network and in 2020 the Bradley Foundation reported gifting $850,000 to the Manhattan institute.

The last available Tax form for the Manhattan Institute (EIN: 13-2912529) covers parts of 2018 and 19. It shows a regular yearly intake of more than $15 million in grants which seems to mainly pay large salaries. Senior Fellow, Christopher Rufo is not listed on the form but all of the senior fellows from tax year 2018-19 raked in more than a quarter million in salary and benefits.

Creating Astroturf Organizations

To create an effective political ground game, billionaire financed artificial organizations are continuously created. One outcome of this was noted by Blogger Jan Ressenger when she observed that the CRT controversy has links to “Well funded groups working to galvanize parents [including] Parents Defending Education,  Moms for LibertyNo Left Turn in Education,  FreedomWorks, and  Parents’ Rights in Education.”

Addressing these billionaire financed groups, Professor Maurice Cunningham wrote a very insightful post, Koch Connections and Sham Grassroots of Parents Defending Education”. About the newest organization, Moms for Liberty and its two leaders, he wrote,

“Moms for Liberty’s creation story is similar to others in the anti-public education universe: ‘moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.’ In a year and a half Moms for Liberty’s Form 990 tax returns are likely to show these two patriotic moms hauling down in excess of $150,000 each.”

Cunningham says it will be a year and a half before we have documentation about the pay for the founders of Moms for Liberty because non-profits do not file their first tax forms until 2-years after legal formation. The effective date on the Moms for Liberty articles of incorporation is 01/01/2021. The three founding officers signing the document are Tina Descovich, Tiffany Justice and Bridget Ziegler. Up until 2020, Descovich and Justice were both school board members in Indian River County, Florida (Vero Beach). Ziegler is the wife of Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a former Congressional Fellow at the Heritage foundation.

In 2020, it appears Tiffany Justice voluntarily gave up her school board seat on the Indian River County school board. Tina Descovich was defeated in her reelection bid for the Brevard school district board. Jennifer Jenkins, a former school employee, campaigned against Descovich’s opposition to teacher raises and mask mandates. She won by 10% points in the heavily Republican district.

The Washington Post reported, “In 10 months, Moms for Liberty has grown to 135 chapters in 35 states, with 56,000 members and supporters, according to the organization’s founders.” In praising Moms for Liberty, Christian Ziegler (the husband of co-founder Bridget Ziegler), told the Post, “I have been trying for a dozen years to get 20- and 30-year-old females involved with the Republican Party, and it was a heavy lift to get that demographic, but now Moms for Liberty has done it for me.”

Obviously, Moms for Liberty is not a spontaneous movement of conservative mothers incensed by the teaching of CRT and the implementation of mask mandates. It is another well financed Astroturf organization designed to undermine public education and promote a libertarian agenda.

Pumping the Message

To generate “research”, a large network of think tanks working under the umbrella organization State Policy Network (SPN) was developed. This network is made up of 64 affiliated members and 98 associated members. In 2019, The Center for Media and Democracy reported that the 64 affiliated members took in more than $120 million in donations from almost exclusively far right conservatives. The Manhattan Institute that created the bogus CRT outrage is an associated member of SPN.

Once the “research” is completed, it is fed to ALEC, where model legislation is distributed to the large number of Republican state legislators who attend their secretive meetings. The legislators then take these models home and introduce them as if they wrote the bill. Jim Miller reports, “Recently, ALEC has been very active in working to suppress voting rights, undermine labor unions, privatize public education, fight action on climate change, fuel rightwing anger over “critical race theory,” promote anti-abortion, and anti-trans bills.”

To widely disseminate their message to local residents, a vast assemblage of local news sites has been established. According to a Columbia Journalism Review study, “There are five companies that make up the core of the network: Metric Media LLC, Newsinator (that, according to Iowa state records, has the alternative  name Franklin Archer), Local Government Information Services (LGIS), Pipeline Media, and Locality Labs.”

In Virginia, there were 28 active Metric Media sites algorithmically generating stories during the recent governor’s race. The local news sites in the network have little advertising and no subscription fees. The Columbia Journalism Review linked funding for the network sites to “the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement” and “a Catholic political advocacy group that launched a $9.7 million campaign in swing states against the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.”

Under the unifying organization Metric Media, the group produces more the 5,000,000 automated articles every month through its 1300 local news sites. Popular Information reports,

“A Popular Information analysis found that between January and November 2021, the 28 ‘local news’ sites in Virginia published 4,657 articles about Critical Race Theory in schools.”

“Nationwide, tens of thousands of articles about Critical Race Theory have been published across the Metric Media network. That number is growing every day.”

Opinion

Nancy MacLean observed that Buchanan and Koch had concluded, “There was no glossing over it anymore; democracy was inimical to economic liberty.” (Democracy in Chains page 152)

The anti-democratic impulse of the oligarch must be contained. There is an underlying wisdom to democratic decision making. It is a wisdom that bends toward equity and humanism. Public education is the soil from which that wisdom can flower. For the past five decades, an autocratic businessman has been pushing our country in the direction of widespread suffering and discrimination.  

Neither capitalism nor socialism is a perfect guide for society. Education, medicine, prisons and policing are not well suited to a strict capitalist approach. A strict socialist approach does not function well in manufacturing, farming and entertainment. Ideologues demanding one of these two economic methods to the exclusion of the other are a problem. The guide to balancing these competing ideologies is humanism. In other words ponder, “The policy best serving the majority of the people while maintaining a keen eye to insure that the minority is not abused.”

The best way to move society forward toward a more perfect union is to make democracy ever more inclusive. And the best way to improve democracy is to protect and fund public education.

Ugly Teachers’ Union Smear from SPN Network

8 Aug

Edward Ring of the California Policy Center (CPC) just published a scurrilous attack on public schools, teachers and their unions. This mean spirited and factually challenged screed comes from a State Policy Network (SPN) member organization. The baseless attack is more evidence of a conspiracy to avoid federal tax law by masquerading as a non-profit while carrying out a political agenda.

Ring begins by saying private sector unions might not be so bad if they are controlled and admits unions “played a vital role in securing rights for the American worker.” He then delivers this jingoistic slam, “If they [unions] would bother to embrace the aspirations of their members, instead of the multinational corporations their leaders now apparently collude with, they might even support immigration reform.”

However, according to Ring, public sector unions are an abomination and teachers’ unions are the worst of the worst. He states,

“The teachers unions are guilty of all the problems common to all public sector unions. They, too, have negotiated unsustainable rates of pay and benefits. They, too, elect their own bosses, negotiate inefficient work rules, have an insatiable need for more public funds, and protect incompetent members. But the teachers union is worse than all other public sector unions for one reason that eclipses all others: Their agenda is negatively affecting how we socialize and educate our children, the next generation of Americans.”

When I decided to leave Silicon Valley and become a teacher, my new starting salary was one-third of my former salary and for the first time I had to pay for part of my medical insurance. I never worked so hard in private industry. I was never given a vote on who would be the principal at my school. My teaching colleagues were almost all moral and idealistic role models for their students. My personal experience says this anti-teacher fulmination is baseless bull-excrement.

Ring’s stated evidence for his claims includes,

“One of the most compelling examples of just how much harm the teachers union has done to California’s schools was the 2014 case Vergara vs. the State of California.”

“In particular, they questioned rules governing tenure (too soon), dismissals (too hard), and layoffs (based on seniority instead of merit). In the closing arguments, the plaintiff’s lead attorney referenced testimony from the defendant’s expert witnesses to show that these and other rules had a negative disproportionate impact on students in disadvantaged communities.”

Before that trial began David Callahan reported on who really brought the suit. His Huffington Post article noted,

“Of course, those nine kids aren’t really bringing the lawsuit; a wealthy donor is, in effect. A nonprofit called Students Matter has orchestrated the suit, and that group in turn was created by a successful tech entrepreneur named David Welch. He founded Students Matter in 2010 and hired the top tier legal team bringing the suit, which is co-led by Theodore Olson — who was George W. Bush’s Solicitor General.”

Callahan ended his article with this timely observation:

“What I will say here is that Welch’s laser-like philanthropy is yet one more example of how money can dramatically amplify the viewpoint of a single individual if deployed strategically. And when the money is targeted at efforts to change public education, it raises profound questions about the role of money in our democracy.

“The public schools, after all, have long been our most democratic institution. What does it say when one rich guy may be able to engineer a big change in this sector in the nation’s largest state?”

The expert witnesses in the Vergara trial were not unbiased professionals. One “expert witness” called was John Deasy who trained at billionaire Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators academy. He later wrote,

“During the Vergara trial, I testified from firsthand experience about the real harm that these laws have in our classrooms every day. I provided testimony about the barriers these laws create for administrators and the negative impact they have on students — and on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s many great teachers.”  

While it is true that it is possible for a California teacher to gain permanent employee status (tenure) in as little as 1 year and 9 months, it is not guaranteed or typical. I took 5-years. I worked for a year as an intern and then worked under temporary contract status for 2-years. It was only then that I was signed to a probationary contract which began my 2-year probationary period. I saw many “tenured” teachers fired during my fifteen years in the classroom and some of those firings seemed unfair.

The “barriers” administrators face are rules that stop them from favoritism or other negative behavior. I experienced rank favoritism my first year in the classroom when I had no protections. Midyear, my assignment was given to the daughter of a local well-connected family who had lost her job.

Only incompetent administrators are unable to fire “bad” teachers.

The “expert witness” that appeared to most influence the trial judge was Raj Chetty. Chetty is an economist from Harvard University who is known for his since discredited claim that teachers and schools could be evaluated using standardized testing. He called it value added measures (VAM).

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, Ph.D. specializes in research methodology at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She prophetically commented on Chetty’s testimony,

“Well…indeed, I believe we can chalk this up to a judge’s lack of understanding of the dangers of VAMs and being impressed by the sheer size of Chetty et al.’s data file. With that amount of data, they must be onto something right? I think we can also chalk this up to the defense in this case not (yet) doing an effective job debunking Chetty et al.’s methods. That, I believe, will be improved and also crucial next round. There are many holes to be punched, so in my opinion it’s the strategies of the hole punchers that are now critical to the cases to come across the country.”

Judge Treu’s verdict was reversed.

Famed statistician and education researcher Gene V. Glass tweeted:

Glass Tweet

Furman University Professor, Paul Thomas wrote, “But one has to wonder how much impact that testimony would have had if the judge had considered that most reviews of the study find it to be poppy-cock (see Baker on the Chetty et al. molehill and Di Carlo) ….”

Ring also opines, “And whenever it is necessary to reduce teacher headcounts in a district, the senior teachers stay and the new teachers go, regardless of how well or poorly these teachers were doing their jobs.”

There are many reasons to embrace seniority rights, but in education it is critical. In the first place, I have never had a job in which experience was more important. Most teachers will tell you that after 10 or even 20 years in the classroom, they are still learning and getting better. Secondly, there is no job more difficult to evaluate than teaching. Without seniority rights when politicians decide not to fully fund education, less expensive new teachers would be retained and proven deeply experienced teachers would be shoved aside.

Ring also used raw testing data reports to prove public-school and teacher failures. The federal education laws known as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top both employed this same methodology to evaluate schools and teachers. Unfortunately, the measuring stick used is no more precise than throwing darts at a spinning wheel. Testing under-girds the fraudulent scheme to privatize public schools. Ring stated,

“And as reported earlier this year in the LA School Report, according to the new “California School Dashboard,” a ratings system that replaced the Academic Performance Index, LAUSD is failing to educate hundreds of thousands of students. In the most recent year of results, 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earned a D or F in English language arts, and 50 percent earned a D or F in math. Fifty percent of LAUSD’s schools are failing or nearly failing to teach their students English or math.

“In the face of failure, you would think LAUSD and other failing school districts would embrace bipartisan, obvious reforms such as those highlighted in the Vergara case.”

The state dashboard does not assign letter grades. The results of this testing are highly influenced by who is being tested. Since standardized testing does reflect poverty levels and percentage of language learners among the tested subjects, a quick look at a Los Angeles Unified School District shows that they are facing monumental challenges and doing reasonably well. They certainly are not failing.

LA Unified Data

Dashboard Data and Subgroup Data from California Department of Education

Eighty-four percent of Los Angeles Unified’s students are classified as living in poverty and 26.9% of their students are language learners. Statewide those numbers are respectively 60.5% and 20.9%. These statewide numbers are staggeringly large but still the much larger numbers from Los Angeles Unified make their Dashboard results appear to outperform expectations. If the LA numbers were removed, the state percentages of students in poverty and language learners would drop significantly.

This is another example of school privatizers misusing data to claim that public schools are “failing.”

The article also claims that teachers’ union members are teaching Howard Zinn’s Marxist ideology. It is back to “good old 1955” and the communist witch hunts. It states, “As a Marxist, he’d prefer a society that resembles Stalin’s Russia.” In the FBI’s voluminous file on Zinn, he admits in an interview to being a liberal and tells FBI agents that some people might consider him a leftist, but that he was not now nor never had been a communist. Even after J. Edgar Hoover’s instance on finding solid evidence of Zinn’s subversive endeavors, none was unearthed. Zinn’s real crime appears to have been speaking out for justice and the powerless.

Federal Tax Law is Being Broken to Sell a Political Agenda

Tax exempt charitable organizations must adhere to IRS tax code 501(c)(3). The first line of the IRS code explanation states,

“To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” (emphasis added)

The article which is the subject of this post was published on the California Policy Center (CPC) web-page. CPC along with the Pacific Research Institute are the California members of the State Policy Network (SPN). In its 2016 tax form, SPN says its purpose is to generate, “state policy analysis and education – identify emerging and innovative solutions to state problems, work alongside think tanks to build momentum for wide-spread education about those solutions, and develop reform leaders the goal of this project is to create a robust movement of leaders advancing free market ideas in the states.” In other words, its whole purpose is to influence legislation.

A 2013 report from the Center for Media and Democracy documents SPN’s founding:

“SPN was founded at the suggestion of President Ronald Reagan, according to the National Review and SPN’s website. In a conversation with Thomas Roe, a South Carolina building supply magnate, Reagan allegedly suggested Roe create ‘something like a Heritage Foundation in each of the states.’ So in 1986, Roe founded the South Carolina Policy Council. Similar groups – self-denominated as state-based think tanks – formed in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and elsewhere at around the same time. Representatives of those groups met at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C., and started to call themselves the ‘Madison Group.’ Roe later officially founded SPN as an ‘umbrella organization’ to provide ‘advisory services’ – bankrolled by Roe and other right-wing funders – in 1992.”

There is some evidence that the transition to SPN was bankrolled by David and Charles Koch through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In any case, the Center for Media and Democracy report states, “SPN and its members have become major sponsors and members of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

If you are very rich and do not want people to know you give money to privatize public schools, you can funnel it anonymously through one of the dark money funds that will contribute for you. It works simply enough. Just contribute say $50,000 to Donors Capital Fund or Donors Trust, tell them where to send the money and these tax exempt “charities” will donate for you.

The following is an example of the how funding of SPN network affiliates like CPC happens.

Donor Capital Fund 2016

In 2015, ten Individuals donated $242,000 anonymously to the California Policy Center (CPC) through the non-profit Donors Capital Fund.

A Conclusion

The article by Edward Ring was a slanted hit piece intended to undermine support for public sector unions and teachers’ unions in particular. This is clearly a political document that has nothing to do with charitable giving, but anyone giving money to further this political agenda can claim a charitable deduction. That means as a citizen I am supporting the propagation of a political ideology I find abhorrent.

Large giving to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the Federalist Society or the Center for American Progress is political giving. It not only should be taxed; the details of the donations should be made available to the public. Much of the giving at the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, etc. is clearly designed to promote a political point of view. That is not charity. That is politics. It does not or at least should not qualify for non-profit status.

If we stop this tax cheating, we might see fewer of these baseless attack articles that divide people and communities.