July 25, 2015

Missouri's local PBS station turned to the one person who might be able to explain why on earth they think it's a great idea to dump the college algebra requirement: Billionaire Rex Sinquefield's spokeswoman, Brenda Talent.

Talent was, of course, appropriately concerned. After acknowledging that half of Missouri's college students have failed, she takes aim at the high schools. What's going on there, she wonders.

As if she doesn't know the answer to that question already. Rex Sinquefield has singlehandedly done to Missouri what the Kochs have done to Kansas, because billionaires are spending a ton of money to destroy public education so they can profit from the privatized version.

Besides, who needs stupid algebra anyway?

"Why are you taking this course that you're not really going to apply in your profession? Why wouldn't you take a course that has content that is more applicable to what you're going to be doing when you graduate?" said Johnson.

"Not everybody just needs college algebra. Like I said, if you're going to go on and take calculus, you got to have it because you need all those skills. But if you're not going to do that, then okay, lets see what you do need," said Richard Laird, math professor.

Sinquefield is a real piece of work.

By examining what Sinquefield is up to in Missouri, you get a sobering glimpse of how the wealthiest conservatives are conducting a low-profile campaign to destroy civil society.

Sinquefield told The Wall Street Journal in 2012 that his two main interests are "rolling back taxes" and "rescuing education from teachers' unions."

His anti-tax, anti-labor, and anti-public education views are common fare on the right. But what sets Sinquefield apart is the systematic way he has used his millions to try to push his private agenda down the throats of the citizens of Missouri.

Our review of filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission shows that Sinquefield and his wife spent more than $28 million in disclosed donations in state elections since 2007, plus nearly $2 million more in disclosed donations in federal elections since 2006, for a total of at least $30 million.

Sinquefield is, in fact, the biggest spender in Missouri politics.

In 2013, Sinquefield spent more than $3.8 million on disclosed election-related spending, and that was a year without presidential or congressional elections. He gave nearly $1.8 million to Grow Missouri, $850,000 to the anti-union teachgreat.org, and another $750,000 to prop up the Missouri Club for Growth PAC.


"I hope I don't offend anyone," Sinquefield said at a 2012 lecture caught on tape. "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's historically inaccurate and inflammatory comments created a backlash from teachers, public school advocates, and African American leaders, who called it "a slap in the face of every educator who has worked tirelessly in a public school to improve the lives of Missouri's children."

The statement would be easy to write off as buffoonery if it didn't come from Sinquefield, who has poured millions from his personal fortune into efforts to privatize education in the state through voucher programs and attacks on teacher tenure.

The jewel in his privatization crown is the Missouri-based Show-Me Institute, a rightwing think tank that receives just shy of $1 million every year from the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. Its tag line is a mouthful: "Advancing Liberty with Responsibility by Promoting Market Solutions for Missouri Public Policy."

Rex Sinquefield is the institute's president, and his daughter is also employed there (and spends her time tweeting rightwing talking points). The institute is currently led by Brenda Talent, the wife of former U.S. Senator Jim Talent.

And there's Brenda Talent, batting her eyelashes and "wondering" why on earth college students need algebra anyway and how it can come to pass that they're struggling with it.

I'm not sure who I'm angrier with over this segment: the PBS station who brought her on, or Sinquefield himself. Maybe both.

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