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The DeVos Family: Meet the Super-Wealthy Right-Wingers Working With the Religious Right to Kill Public Education

By now you've surely heard of the Kochs. Meanwhile, the powerful, wealthy DeVos family has remained largely under the radar, while leading a stealth assault on America's schools.

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A report by People for the American Way questions whose interest was being served in the partnership between the Alliance and conservative foundations. The summary of the report reads, “Over the past nine months, millions of Americans have seen lavishly produced TV ads featuring African American parents talking about school vouchers. These ads and their sponsor, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), portray vouchers as an effort to help low-income kids. But a new report explores the money trail behind BAEO, finding that it leads directly to a handful of wealthy right-wing foundations and individuals that have a deep agenda -- not only supporting the school voucher movement, but also backing anti-affirmative action campaigns and other efforts that African American organizations have opposed or considered offensive.”

Black Commentator.com was more blunt, describing vouchers as “The Right’s Final Answer to Brown” and tracking the history of vouchers from die-hard segregationists to the Heritage Foundation’s attempt to attach vouchers to federal legislation in 1981. The article stated, “The problem was, vouchers were still firmly (and correctly) associated with die-hard segregationists. Memories of white “massive resistance” to integration remained fresh, especially among blacks, who had never demanded vouchers -- not even once in all of the tens of thousands of demonstrations over the previous three decades.”

The article continues, “Former Reagan Education Secretary William Bennett understood what was missing from the voucher political chemistry: minorities. If visible elements of the black and Latino community could be ensnared in what was then a lily-white scheme, then the Right’s dream of a universal vouchers system to subsidize general privatization of education, might become a practical political project. More urgently, Bennett and other right-wing strategists saw that vouchers had the potential to drive a wedge between blacks and teachers unions, cracking the Democratic Party coalition. In 1988, Bennett urged the Catholic Church to 'seek out the poor, the disadvantaged…and take them in, educate them, and then ask society for fair recompense for your efforts' -- vouchers. The game was on.”

In this winning formula, vouchers or “scholarships” are advertised as the only hope for under served and urban minority children. Those who dare to defend public education from voucher schemes are, ironically, implied to be racist. Glossy brochures published by the DeVos-led entity All Children Matter show smiling faces of little children as well as those of the African American and Democratic politicians who have joined the campaign. Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. city councilman who takes credit for “shepherding” vouchers in D.C. and New Orleans, served as senior advisor to All Children Matters and now leads the BAEO and sits on the board of the DeVos-led AFC and Democrats for Education Reform.

All Children Matter was fined $5.2 million dollars in Ohio for breaking campaign finance laws, and lost an appeal in early 2010. The fine has not been paid. The DeVos-led organization also received bad press due to a fine in Wisconsin for failing to register their PAC as well as complaints in other states. In 2010 the entity began working under the name American Federation for Children (AFC) and registered new affiliate PACs across the nation, just in time for the 2010 elections.

The 2010 effort included a state that was not even included in Dick DeVos’ list of potential targets when he spoke to the Heritage Foundation in 2002 -- Pennsylvania. An affiliate of AFC registered a PAC in Pennsylvania in March 2010 and less than a year later a voucher bill, SB-1, was sponsored in the Senate.

Throughout this well-coordinated campaign, the Pennsylvania press never once mentioned the name Betsy DeVos.

 
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