Meet Tom Luna, Idaho's Republican Superintendent of of Public Education, architect of the gutting of Idaho public schools, massive teacher layoffs, and union-buster. Tom Luna is an interesting character. He's a good, solid Republican, 2-year veteran of the Bush Administration's Department of Education, and doesn't really have any educational qualifications for the office he now holds. No, seriously. He doesn't. Here's his resume in a nutshell:
Classes at Boise State and Ricks College, Bachelor of Art (2002) in Weights and Measures from Thomas Edison State College, a non-accredited on-line degree factory supposedly based in New Jersey.
[Commenters have pointed out that TESC is indeed accredited, so the person I quoted above is wrong about that. Even so, there is nothing about a degree in weights and measures that qualifies Luna for the office he holds.] Also, he owns a scale company whose largest account is an Idaho corporation owned by Frank Vandersloot -- Melaleuca. Remember that name. I'll be talking about him later.
Tom Luna's Amazing Fundraising Abilities
Now, Tom Luna had one of the best-financed 2010 re-election campaigns I've seen for an office that oversees about 280,000 students. (For perspective, California employs more teachers than Idaho's total number of students.) But to get Tom Luna elected in a Republican state in 2010 when the Tea Party was full of hubris and madness, donors gave $212,000 to his campaign, of which $132,000 was spent as of November 18, 2010. This is not counting PACs, or independent expenditures. That's direct campaign donations. With the exception of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, no other candidate for state office came anywhere near the campaign donations that Luna received.
Those donors didn't give because they were feeling generous and loved Tom Luna. They loved Tom Luna's plans for the state's public education system, though.
If Luna’s “Students Come First” proposal passes the Legislature, online education will be mandated in Idaho and a laptop will be available to every high school student. That means 115 school districts, with 82,000 high school students, will be in the market for computers, software and online courses.
Well, lookee there. And look at who Tom Luna's top 2010 donors were:
- K12 Inc. of Virginia, an online company with 81,000 students and operator of the Idaho Virtual Academy. In Idaho, IVA enrolls 2,930 students and received $12.8 million from the state in fiscal 2010. K12, its employees and major stockholders spent about $44,000 supporting Luna; $25,000 of that was funneled to an Idaho interest group for independent advertising on Luna’s behalf. I should also mention that K12, Inc was started by Bill Bennett, Education Secretary under Ronald Reagan. Yes, *that* Bill Bennett.
- - Apollo Group of Phoenix, the parent company of the University of Phoenix, an online university with more than 400,000 students. Luna’s plan would allow high school students to earn college credits at state expense once they complete high school requirements. Apollo Group gave Luna $5,500.
- - Executives of Scantron Corp., a Minnesota-based leader in testing technology that is aggressively expanding into online education. Scantron employees and family contributed $7,450.
Other corporate education contributors: Apangea Learning, Inc. (online math courses) $1,000; Education Networks of America (educational video/network technology) $5,500; Madison Education Group (education consulting and advocacy) $5,000, and yes, Frank Vandersloot, who not only picked up the tab for thousands in independent expenditures, but also donated $10,000 to Luna's campaign. But don't take my word for it. Here's a whole huge list with all the tentacles listed.
For-profit educators, GOP privatization organizations, marry at the IBCEE
Frank Vandersloot is a wealthy affiliate marketer in Idaho who is also connected with the Education Alliance of Idaho, an affiliate of the Idaho Business Coalition for Education Excellence (IBCEE), a non-profit organization (which hasn't filed any Federal disclosure forms that I can find) comprised of CEOs and company presidents. The Education Alliance membership is comprised of the following:
Members include J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and representatives from the Idaho Education Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators, Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Parent Teacher Association, Idaho Digital Learning Academy, State Board of Education, State Department of Education and the State Division of Professional- Technical Education.
According to the "fact sheet (PDF)" they publish it has a mission:
The Education Alliance of Idaho is a coalition of key stakeholders in the Idaho education system. The core purpose of the Education Alliance is one of advocacy and advice. The Education Alliance does not have authority in statute, nor does it control policymakers. Instead, the organization’s influence on the future of the education system in Idaho comes from that of its members.
Indeed. In 2005 (the only annual report (PDF) I could find), the JA and Kathryn Albertson Foundation funded 20 charter schools, including the Idaho Distance Education Academy, the Idaho Virtual Academy and INSPIRE Charter school, all online schools. The foundation has also given a large grant (in connection with the Micron Foundation, another Luna donor) to the Boise school District for the first "brick-and-mortar web enabled elementary schools using K12 Inc. curriculum."
But it's not only the Albertson grocery family. Others participate in the "influence on the future of the education system in Idaho." Others, like Bill Hansen, co-founder of Big Luna Donor Madison Education Group and now President and CEO of Scantron have some influence, too. Hansen was an adviser to the 2008 Romney campaign, too. And Michael Milken, who owns 24% of K12, Inc.
I've given you all of this detail on Idaho because it's a small enough state that the money flow really stands out like a sore thumb. Despite Luna's insistence that he's not beholden to those who bought his re-election, his "reform proposals" say otherwise.
But it's not just Idaho. It's Michigan. It's Pennsylvania. It's Arizona. Florida. Ohio. Indiana. The names are different but the model's the same. In Michigan, it's the DeVos family who funds charter schools and "influences policy". The corporate education firms have different names but the goal is the same: To break unions, get rid of as many teachers as possible, and force students into online learning courses which teach to a test but don't necessarily educate students. This particular model assumes students are commodities with identical learning styles and abilities. Profit centers, amortized over 12 years.
Cronyism Strikes Deep
Idaho's high school students understand what's at stake. It's why they walked out in support of their teachers earlier this month. And some of Idaho's citizens get it too. In fact, one retired secretary is beginning a recall effort against Luna. Her reasons echo the same reasons Wisconsin and Michigan citizens have for undertaking their own recall efforts.
Berto has attended protests against Luna’s three big education reform bills with “Stop the Lunacy” and “Save Our Schools” signs. Despite overwhelming public testimony against the plan backed by Luna and GOP Gov. Butch Otter, two of the three bills are expected to get final legislative approval in the House Tuesday. The third bill is stalled in the Senate.
Berto disputes Luna’s claim of a mandate for change — including larger class sizes, required online classes and a computer for every high school student — because neither he nor Otter mentioned the ideas in the 2010 campaign.
I would only say this to Mrs. Berto: Follow the money during the campaign and it will tell you what they're really planning to do after they're elected. Luna's campaign was so heavily and well-financed that it was clear from early on that the goal was exactly what they've now done.
Tom Luna lives the GOP creed: Cronies Come First.