Billionaires versus school kids | WisCommunity

Billionaires versus school kids

A handful of billionaires and right-wing think tanks and foundations are pushing school voucher legislation nationwide, with the goal and effect of undermining public education. These schemes funnel huge taxpayer dollars to private schools while taking from public schools roughly an equal amount of dollars.

Think Progress, a progressive policy forum, helps put into context just how awful Gov. Scott Walker's education priorities truly are, by showing us that Walker is on the leading edge of a suddenly burgeoning right-wing movement nationally that is focused on turning public education into private education.

The site offers up a new survey report, "The Billionaires Who Want to Privatize Our Schools" (link below). The piece mentions Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers' screed this week against state lawmakers who immorally take funds from public schools to pay for private education -- in the case of Walker, even for wealthy families.

Think Progress notes that, "Between 1966 and 2000, vouchers were put up for a vote in states 25 times, and voters rejected the program 24 of those times. Yet despite this historic unpopularity, voucher programs are exploding across the United States."

The report tellingly makes the following, often overlooked double whammy faced by Wisconsin public schools:

"Indeed, it is a stunning statement on Walker’s priorities to have championed nearly $900 million in education cuts in his budget proposal while at the same time proposing a $750 million expansion of the state’s voucher system."

Vouchers are covered by public school budgets, meaning they get hit twice in the Walker/GOP scheme of things. Three times, if you factor in Walker's insistence that school property taxes be capped, a la California's disastrous Proposition 13. These things Walker calls "tools." Yeah, tools of corporate capitalism.

Just what is the right wing's real agenda here? Improving education, or transforming it into something more user-friendly for economic and political elites? One voice from the right comes right out and lets slip the underlying goal. From the Think Progress piece:

`Joseph Bast, the president and CEO of the Heartland Institute, may've explained the real thinking behind vouchers in 2002, saying, "The complete privatization of schooling might be desirable, but this objective is politically impossible for the time being. Vouchers are a type of reform that is possible now, and would put us on the path of further privatization." '

That's quite obviously also the modus operandi for GOP governors in Pennsylvania, Florida and elsewhere. It's an agenda that belies the founding principles of this country.

Framers of the Constitution were among those who saw universal public education as necessary to functioning democracy. Seven of the first 14 states had specific constitutional mandates relating to education. Thomas Jefferson believed that education should be overseen by the government, made free of religious bias, and available to all people irrespective of their wealth or status. Jefferson's views were echoed by luminaries including George Washington and Noah Webster.

In the 1800s, Horace Mann helped create a school reform movement that argued for universal and equal education. Benefits included creating better citizens, uniting society and preventing crime and poverty. By the start of the 20th Century, free public education was available for all American children. Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school attendance laws in 1852, followed by New York in 1853 and all states by 1918. Private schools fought these changes every step of the way, and lost.

All that progress is inoperable, now according to GOP ideology that is rapidly re-segregating our schools, this time dividing kids into haves and have-nots . You see, government is the problem, and "public" education by definition is a bad idea. Whereas, business is our salvation. Competition not cooperation is now the main driving force behind GOP-style education. Profit over outcomes. Excuses over results. Special-interest politics over common bonds. Fluff and fuzz over substance. But some things are just hard; there is no "easy" button when it comes to schooling our kids. Never will be.

The full Think Progress report, which names names and traces the connection between well-heeled interests and GOP politicians, is at:


May 24, 2011 - 6:22pm