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The Right's 'School Choice' Scheme

A small group of wealthy conservatives is out to destroy public education, demonize teachers unions and divert funding into fundamentalist religious schools. Here's how.

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Morken quotes Flake,

"I was on the phone Thursday with Tom Ridge, who is the governor of Pennsylvania, who worked with me in Congress, where they are taking over the schools and may be taking over the Philadelphia schools. So I'll be meeting with [Philadelphia] Mayor Street on Wednesday morning. I've already had telephone conversations with the secretary of state of New Jersey where they are taking over the schools in Camden and Jersey City. I'm all over the country right now."

Shortly thereafter, Edison took over management of 20 Philadelphia schools.

Morken describes Flake as "targeting core groups of swing voters" in "Black and Latino caucuses" and often promoting charter schools from "the pulpits of their churches." Morken states that Flake was "at the center of a major funding coalition in New York state" that included rightwing funder John Walton. Flake and his wife had founded a 750-student private school affiliated with their church in 1982; it closed in June 2012 in the face of a $1.7 million budget shortfall. Edison Schools failed to produce the promised improvements and their contracts for Philadelphia schools were ended in 2008 and 2011.

The AFC claims that 91 percent of Latinos polled in five states support vouchers or corporate tax credit programs, and that this will be an issue in the 2012 election. AFC and its related entities provided almost a half million dollars in funding for the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options between 2006 and 2010.

Private school choice is not only a way to privatize education but viewed by some as a wedge issue to bring Latinos and African Americans into the Republican Party.

Grading the Privatization Report Card

The pro-corporate ideology behind school choice asserts that business style competition will be invariably good for education, and that putting school management and teaching into private (and nonunion) hands will make education less expensive, more efficient and more effective.

The statistics do not bear out their claims. By the time of the 2010 election and 2011 campaign for Pennsylvania’s SB1, test results for the two oldest school voucher programs in the nation - Milwaukee and Cleveland - had reported disappointing results. Participating students scored no better or worse than their peers who had remained in the public schools. Voucher proponents responded by asserting that voucher students attending private schools graduate at a higher rate. They fail to mention the lack of standards or accountability for some of the institutions bestowing those diplomas.

Much of the positive reporting on private school choice quotes the Foundation for Educational Excellence, founded by Milton Friedman; the Department of Education Reform at University of Arkansas, recipient of a $300 million donation from the Walton Foundation; and other entities funded by pro-privatization supporters.

Louisiana’s new voucher program, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal in spring 2012, has a list of approved schools that includes church schools using home schooling DVDs for instruction and schools that lack the facilities to house the students they are offering to enroll for the 2012-2013 school year. Louisiana legislators threatened to withdraw support if an Islamic school was included in the approved list, of which over 90 percent are Christian schools. The program promises to be such a debacle that the Cato Institute is already recommending a corporate tax credit program instead of vouchers.

But the private school choice juggernaut will roll on and the claims of privatization as the magic bullet will continue, no matter how baseless these claims may be. The multi-billion dollar budget for the nation's schools is a rich prize for those who would profit from the privatization of public schools, and they are joined by equally determined anti-public education ideologues. In May 2011, a headline in the Wall Street Journal trumpeted, " The Evidence is In: School Vouchers Work."