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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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Tax Dollars Supporting Creationism

The private "school choice" movement has found a way to circumvent the federal courts, the National Council for Science Education (NCSE) and the ACLU by thinking outside of the box. The Education Improvement Tax Credit program in Pennsylvania has provided a way to use public funds to teach creationism and global warning denial to students enrolled in religious schools. This circumvents the ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover, a 2005 federal case resulting in a decision that Intelligent Design is not science, and should not be taught in public school science classes.

Many Pennsylvania schools receiving education tax credit funding are using A Beka Book and other fundamentalist curricula. These textbooks are hostile to Roman Catholicism and other Christian and non-Christian religions, and teach a radical form of market fundamentalism, young earth creationism, and distorted American history where, in the words of researcher Frances Paterson, "Democrats are deluded, liberals are villains, and conservatives are heroes."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The National Center for Science Education, (whose logo is "Defending the Teaching of Evolution and Climate Science") led the fight against Intelligent Design. Nevertheless, when contacted, both institutions described the Education Improvement Tax Credit issue as being outside the boundaries of their mission, since the teaching of creationism is taking place in private schools.

 

The DeVoses--Dollars at the Intersection 

Dick and Betsy DeVos represent the merger of two wealthy and politically influential families. Dick DeVos is the son of Richard DeVos, one of the founders of the Amway pyramidal home products business and owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team. Listed as the 60th wealthiest person in the United States and the 205th richest in the world, his net worth has been estimated at $5 billion. He has played a central role in bringing together the "doers and the donors" as he once described the New Right merger of the Religious Right with major funders of the political Right.

Dick’s wife, Betsy, is the daughter of Elsa and the late Erik Prince, major contributors to conservative causes including Focus on Family and the Family Research Council. Betsy’s brother Erik Prince founded the infamous military contractor Blackwater USA (rebranded "Xe"), which sought to privatize another type of activity that previously had been presumed to be under the control of government agencies. Betsy DeVos heads the American Federation for Children, the national umbrella organization at the center of the private school choice movement.

In 2003, Dick and Betsy DeVos founded All Children Matter, a 527 organization, and established Political Action Committees (PACs) in Virginia, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Ohio. PACs can make contributions directly to political campaigns. All Children Matter’s media kit advertised expenditures of $7.6 million in 2003-2004, "directly impacting statewide and state legislative elections in 10 targeted states."

In 2008, All Children Matter was fined $5.2 million in Ohio for breaking campaign finance law, a decision that was appealed and confirmed in 2010. All Children Matter was moving money from the Virginia PAC to PACs in states around the nation. Some states allow unlimited contributions, but Ohio fined All Children Matter for contributions over the maximum limit allowed. In 2011, it was reported that the fine was still unpaid. Wisconsin also fined the organization $500 for supporting candidates without registering a PAC.

Between 2009 and 2011, the All Children Matter state PACs were disbanded. During the same time period, PACs affiliated with the Betsy DeVos-led American Federation for Children were registered in several of the same states.

Rachel Tabachnick is an independent researcher who writes and speaks about the political and societal impact of the Religious Right. She can be reached at Protectpluralism[at]gmail.com.