This is exactly why I've always been suspicious of Bill Gates' "philanthropy." Yes, I understand that he's done wonderful things in Africa, but the United States is where we live and there is a very real and lasting battle going on over the future of public education.
While union-busting is certainly one goal of the privatization monsters, profit is the primary goal. Education for profit is lucrative and alluring, especially to people with large sums of money parked and waiting for investment in big-profit items. So when Bill Gates claims to stand for education reform in this country, I place him squarely in the category of those who stand to profit from privatized education.
Now we have this grant from the Gates Foundation to ALEC, of all things. It isn't a small grant, by any stretch. $376,635 to be paid over a period of 22 months. That's about $17,000 per month dropping into the coffers of one of the most evil organizations in the country. The grant description reads as follows:
Purpose: to educate and engage its membership on more efficient state budget approaches to drive greater student outcomes, as well as educate them on beneficial ways to recruit, retain, evaluate and compensate effective teaching based upon merit and achievement
Wow, Michelle Rhee must be doing a happy dance right about now. I've tried to turn this around and imagine ways that this money could be used to counter the usual right-wing memes about the wonders of privatization, but I just can't seem to find any way to do that. I can only conclude that Mr. Gates and his fellow trustees fully embrace the notion of killing public education one state at a time.
Lee Fang wrote a tremendous article for The Nation a couple of weeks ago about online education and how profitable it is, at the expense of public education. In it, he describes a talk lobbyist Patricia Levesque gave to philanthropists. Among those listening were representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Among her suggestions:
Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a unionbusting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”
This particular talk was being given in the context of online education and the perceived value of permitting online charter schools, funded with public education dollars. Levesque's clients?
But Levesque wasn’t delivering her hardball advice to her lobbying clients. She was giving it to a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Indeed, Levesque serves at the helm of two education charities, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a state-specific nonprofit, both of which are chaired by Jeb Bush. A press release from her national group says that it fights to “advance policies that will create a high quality digital learning environment.”
In the state of Florida, this report from August highlights the cozy relationship between Florida's Governor Rick Scott and the for-profit charter organization Charter Schools USA, after he spoke to a conference of employees:
Speaking to the crowd of about 2,000 Charter Schools USA employees, Scott gave a nod to the charters that are independently operated, but financed with tax dollars. Charter USA manages 25 charters in Florida with about 23,500 students, making its operation larger than 40 of 67 public school systems in the state.
He said charter schools must prove their promise as an escape route for students "stuck in poor performing schools."
"You have to make sure that you are great," he said. "If you don't, you are going to get a lot of criticism."
Charters were under fire earlier this summer when school grades came out and charters earned nearly half of the 31 F grades handed out statewide, although they represent only a fraction of the state's more than 3,000 public schools.
Oh, and guess who else was at this rally? That's right, Michelle Rhee! So here we have a "rally" paid for by a for-profit organization funded solely with public money that might otherwise go directly into the public school systems in Florida, complete with buses to transport employees from their various locations to the lovely Rosen Plaza Hotel. Faced with criticism over the event, here's what Governor Scott had to say:
The for-profit management firm, which is paid with tax dollars, bused in employees from across the state for the daylong event, including lunch, at the upscale Rosen Plaza. Orange and Seminole school district officials said the expense was misguided when schools across the state face a budget crisis for daily operations.
"Leave it to the local educators to decide how to best spend their money," Scott said.
Charter schools, including those managed by Charter Schools USA, have complained that they are inadequately funded by the state.
I wonder if Scott would say that about a similar event for public school teachers? Somehow, I doubt it.
This organization and others like it exist because ALEC is busy at work coordinating with legislators on the state level to throw a bunch of union-busting tactics into the fire in order to sneakily pass state authorizations for online charter schools. Thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they now have nearly $400,000 more to use toward that goal.
With friends like that, who needs enemies?