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Wisconsin's Walker Heads to DC to Take Lead in Fight to Privatize Education

Wisconsin’s union-busting governor has emerged the hero of the right-wing groups that are proposing extreme measures in the battle to privatize public education.

The following article first appeared at For more great content from The Nation, sign up for their e-mail newsletters here.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker continues to court national support for an extreme agenda of attacking public employees and public services while diminishing local democracy and shifting public money to private political allies. Despite the fact that Walker’s moves have been widely condemned in his home state, the hyper-ambitious career politician has repeatedly suggested that he will not moderate his positions because he wants to shift the tenor of politics and policy-making far beyond Wisconsin.

Walker’s stance has earned him talk as a possible dark-horse contender for a place the 2012 Republican nod and the governor has not discouraged it.

To that end, Walker headed to Washington Monday night to deliver a keynote address at the innocuously-named American Federation for Children’s “School Choice Now: Empowering America’s Children” policy summit. It’s actually a key annual gathering of advocates for privatizing public education, and of some of the biggest funders of right-wing political projects nationally.

The appearance comes at a time when education cuts are becoming a front-and-center issue, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stirred an outcry in the nation’s largest city by proposing to lay off thousands of teachers.

But while other officials are proposing deep cuts and layoffs, Wisconsin’s governor has emerged the hero of the right-wing groups that are proposing extreme measures in the battle to privatize public education.

This bunch loves Scott Walker. They hail him as “one of the nation’s most visible leaders” on their issues. 

“In both of his previous elected offices, Walker distinguished himself as an outspoken advocate for school choice, including both private school choice and public charter schools,” declares an American Federation for Children announcement of Walker’s appearance tonight before the nation’s primary proponents of undermining public education by shifting taxpayer dollars into school vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and similar schemes.

In addition to his much-publicized proposal to strips teachers of collective bargaining rights and to make it dramatically harder for their unions to advocate for small class sizes and other priorities, Walker’s budget plan seeks to cut funding for local schools and reduce the authority of local school boards to make decisions that defend and strengthen public education in their communities. It also outlines a number of initiatives designed to clear the way for and encourage private-school choice schemes. 

“Private school choice” describes the practice of taking taxpayer dollars and shifting them to schools that are operated by non-profit and for-profit concerns – including corporations. It is a high priority of right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups that see breaking teacher unions as a critical policy and political goal for their movement. And it is a top priority for Michigan billionaires Dick and Betsy DeVos.

Dick DeVos is a former Republican nominee for governor of Michigan and Betsy DeVos is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. But the couple’s real political work has involved the direction of tens of millions of dollars into the ideological and electoral infrastructure that supports school privatization.

“Dick DeVos has used his family's fortune and status to create an intricate national network of non-profits, political action committees and federal groups known as 527's that effectively fund the political arm of the school voucher movement,” noted a People for the American Way study of the political projects of the heir to the Amway fortune and his wife. “Nowhere is the impact of the DeVos family fortune greater, though, than in the movement to privatize public education.”