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by Jersey Jazzman
James Osborne at the Philadelphia Inky had a great piece on the secretive, unaccountable charter application process in New Jersey. I want to add a few things to his report:
New Jersey education officials had a dilemma last summer: Following the approval of a record number of charter schools, questions were flying about how closely the applications had been screened.
It's worth noting that the only reason we know who screened the charter applicants is because the ACLU and the Education Law Center
filed a lawsuit to get the names released. Officials in the NJ DOE reported said they would go to the mat
to protect the names of the reviewers. This is what passes for transparency in the word of Chris Christie and Chris Cerf.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a Chicago nonprofit, had offered to fly in 14 consultants to lead Department of Education staff in the next approval round, looking toward overhauling the entire process.
What was particularly enticing was that the association could arrange funding through the Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit backed by the same philanthropies that support the association, including the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
But the association also employs a Washington lobbying firm, primarily to push for more federal funds for charter-authorizing agencies.
And it works with the nonprofit American Legislative Exchange Council, founded in 1973 by a conservative political activist. The council gives corporations and think tanks access to its 2,000-plus state-legislator members. The groups are circulating legislation to remove control of charters from local school boards through creation of state charter-school commissions that would free school officials from "regulatory interference by other governmental agencies" - a position even some charter backers say could lead to corruption and more failing schools.
What Osborne neglects to note is that ALEC also gets money from Gates
. That's right: Gates is funding this thing from every possible angle. The Baron of Bellevue has more say over the New Jersey education system than the people who actually live here.
Of course, New Jersey is just the latest stop on the charter superhighway; Gates's proxies have also worked their reformy magic in New York
Public education has never been so divided, between those like Dr. Tisch, Commissioner John B. King Jr. and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg who support the Obama administrationÃ¢€™s signature Race to the Top initiative and its emphasis on standardized tests and charter schools; and dissenters on the board, who call it a Race to the Bottom and put their faith in teachers as well as traditional public schools. The Race to the Bottom folks warn that the supposedly free fellows come at a stiff political price.
The Bottoms: "Private people give money to support things theyÃ¢€™re interested in," said Roger B. Tilles, a lawyer and longtime education administrator who has been a regent for six years.
Those donors include Bill Gates ($892,000), who is leading the charge to evaluate teachers, principals and schools using studentsÃ¢€™ test scores; the National Association of Charter School Authorizers ($50,000) and the Robbins Foundation ($500,000), which finance charter expansion; and the Tortora Sillcox Family Foundation ($500,000), whose mission statement includes advancing "Mayor Bloomberg's school reform agenda."
Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Gates are expert at using philanthropy in a way that pressures government to follow their public policy agendas. [emphasis mine]
So this is how we do it:
Make state taxes as regressive as possible, so we...
Starve state education departments, so we...
Can't afford to administer programs, so
Bring in outsiders, paid for by...
The people who made out like bandits from regressive state taxes! (Gates lives in Washington, with America's most regressive state taxes -- surprise!)
Of course, Bill is very angry
about the gimmicks in state budgets; specifically, that we might have to actually meet our obligations to fund public employee health care and pension benefits compensation. He calls it "the young vs. the old." Does he consider it may be "the rich vs. the poor"?
Until we solve our budget problems, however, Bill is happy to take advantage of their fiscal crises to remake education the way he likes it - even in states where he doesn't live or pay taxes.
Everyone OK with that?