Follow the Money

Follow the Money

In an April 22nd interview with Fox&Friend’s Brian Kilmead, former Secretary of Education (1985-88) Bill Bennet questioned why people who hate America are elected to public office. He answered his question by concluding students who attend higher education facilities are indoctrinated by liberal professors who are critical of America. Those students graduate to become teachers. As educators, they promote hate for America to students at the earliest stages of vulnerability. These students grow up hating America.

The two then debated the benefits of teaching the 1776 patriotic education package of information as opposed to the 1619 “hate America” package offered by the radical left. The crescendo was a full condemnation of teacher unions preventing students from getting a quality education while protecting teachers from working because 100% of schools were not fully opened across the country.

Bennet has a history of battling teacher unions during and after his tenure as Education Secretary, but the emphasis on opening public schools would seem to be contrary to his history and the current wants of News Corp which owns Fox News (and the New York Post, Wall Street Journal and other outlets in Australia and the United Kingdom).

Bennet is one of the founders and former CEO of k12 Inc.

He is a former CEO because in 2005 during his “Morning in America” radio show, he suggested that aborting Black babies would help reduce crime in America. Although he claimed the comment was taken out of context and was a disgrace to his First Amendment rights, he resigned as head of the company. Nonetheless, he is still an advocate of publicly funded private charter schools and online education companies. He has long been an advocate of homeschooling because, “…homeschooling represents one of the most positive, courageous, and consequential developments in modern-day America.” He contends that if America stays on the path two million homeschooled students have already taken, we can reinvigorate the bonds between students and adults and see these kinds of schools everywhere.

News Corp listened. In 2010 they bought Wireless Generation for $360 million. CEO Rupert Murdoch was seeking a piece of the $1 trillion public education funds being channeled to primary education. In 2012 News Corp. Changed the name to Amplify and sold the company in 2015 to Emerson Collective. Their goal was the integration of computer technology into the common educational environment. By 2018 the company revenue approached $125 million annually and reached almost 4 million students in urban centers like New York, Chicago, and Denver. With public money available for private education companies, there are other big fish swimming in the pond.

Michael Moe was an investor for Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. He now leads an investment group called Global Silicon Valley Partners who helped k12 go public. They advise other private education companies and hold “education” summits promoting brick-and-mortar private charter schools as well online private education companies.  Moe is also a member of the Center for Education Reform whose mission is “…to expand educational opportunities that lead to improved economic outcomes for all Americans, particularly our youth…” The nonprofit is headed by Jeanne Allen who also leads TAC Public Affairs. TAC Public Affairs is a government relations firm, translation…lobbyist, who represents several for-profit education companies including Kaplan Education and Charter Schools USA. The connection between private industry and public funding is strong and some might even say there is a conflict of interest.

Jeb Bush was elected governor of Florida in 1999. During his 8 years, Florida for-profit charter schools exploded across the state. The MacCharters were paid for with public money and were free of collective oversight and collective bargaining. Under a 1996 law, only non-profits could apply to open a charter school but there was a way to circumvent the law. For-profit education companies created not-for-profit foundations which then applied for the public funds. By 2002 three-fourths of the public charters were being managed by for-profit companies taking a 12% cut from those publicly funded charters. Florida became a breeding ground for experimental publicly funded charters. In 2008 Bush started the Foundation for Education Excellence (FEE) whose mission is “to work with decision-makers on developing, adopting and implementing reform policies.”

Former Governor, now Florida Senator, Rick Scott signed a bill expanding the Florida Virtual School to grades K-5 which funneled funds to for-profit virtual schools and required all Florida high-school students to take at least one online course. Florida’s push for charter schools is not a solo effort as more than 13 states have joined the effort promoting “school choice”.

Under former Governor Mitch Daniels, Indiana enacted a law expanding the number of private and charter schools paid for with public funds. This also includes religious schools in the state.

Under Governor Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania opened the door to online private school expansion creating PAVirtual under the umbrella of K12 Inc. In a letter, purported to be written by Cindy Dingeldein, the rationale for sending their daughter to PAVirtual was laid out in detail. The letter begins with her questioning whether to allow her daughter Lexi to attend public school until she listened to a radio show featuring Bill Bennett. She began to explore the options and finally settled on PAVirtual as the school of choice. It is not until the end of the letter that we find she is an employee of PAVirtual. What is not mentioned in the letter is the abysmal graduation rate of students attending online/virtual schools.

During the Trump administration, charter school advocate Betsy DeVos was named Education Secretary. She stood by graduation numbers reported by companies like K12 Inc. who cited their graduation rates at 92% for their Ohio Virtual Academy. In reality, the graduation rate was 53%. Ohio was not the only state with a dismal online graduation rate.

The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter has graduation rates 32 points lower than the state average of 87% and 12 points lower than the average for the Philadelphia School District. (67%) Despite dismal results, in states across America companies like Connection Academy and K12 can siphon money from public education under the banner of school choice as a panacea for the woeful performance of American students on PISA Scores.

The irrational anger about public schools and teacher unions portrayed on conservative shows like Fox&Friends and speakers like Bill Bennet is a smokescreen for an interconnected network of for-profit education companies.

The fact is, there is no rational argument for the public funding of failing private online education institutions. Part of the sales strategy is to ignore intellectual arguments and appeal to people at the emotional level. They intentionally portray teacher unions as bullies, teachers as child abusers. Fear and anger stay with people longer than an intellectual or fact-based argument.

They use the tried-and-true tactic portrayed in the Wizard of Oz; ignore the man behind the curtain and focus on the scary illusion of smoke, lightning, and noise. People are suckers for the spectacle at the expense of the facts.

Each year billions of dollars of public funding are funneled to fund private for-profit schools which consistently fail their charges. The pressure to fund these failures is unrelenting and the stakes are huge.

K12 Inc. begins their commercials stating they are a tuition-free public education alternative. The statement is misleading. Their tuition is paid by the school district with funds emanating from tax dollars and most of that money is not going towards education efforts. According to a 2018 article written by Benner and Campbell, “For-profit virtual charter schools consistently underperform other public schools. Available financial records demonstrate that large for-profit virtual charter school operators allocate public dollars toward advertising, executive compensation, lobbying, and profit at the expense of instruction.”

If truth be told, it is not the teachers, their unions, or the institutions of higher education who have contempt for America. The people who have contempt are those willing to sell out the future for the love of a dollar. If you want to know the truth, follow the money.

John Tierney spent over three decades in the classroom as a social studies teacher.  In 2016 he was named Nevada State Teacher of the Year and in 2017 he became an NEA Global Fellow for China. He was a national facilitator for PBS TeacherIne and  currently serves as the chair of  the Institutional Advisory Council for Great Basin College and as a member of the Nevada State Superintendent's Teacher Advisory Cabinet. When not working in education, he is a husband, musician, fly fisher, dad, and grandpa.

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