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New Scheme to Sell Suburbanites on School Vouchers: Scaring Whites with Taxes & Fears of Minority Influx

Susan Notes: The Black Commentator offers analysis of guerilla theater in the voucher proponents’ war on the very concept of public education--to be followed by a race-based legislative strategy targeting the suburban bloc of the New Jersey state legislature.

E-3 and its rich masters now offer vouchers as a safety valve to contain minorities in the inner cities.

The "surveys" arrived like toxin-tainted envelopes on the desks of 191 school district superintendents across New Jersey. The Wal-Mart family-funded school vouchers outfit E-3-- Excellence in Education for Everybody-– demanded to be sent "the master collective bargaining agreement for your teaching personnel, and any and all public records that affect their terms and conditions of employment." Further, "the term 'records' is construed as broadly as possible under the statutory definition of the New Jersey Open Public Records Act." You've got seven days, warned the signer, E-3 Deputy Director Derrell Bradford, who made sure that Bush Education chief and voucher champion Rod Paige got a copy.

Alarmed educators soon learned that failure to respond satisfactorily to E-3's fishing expedition could result in hefty fines. But the "survey" is more than petty harassment by the voucher crowd, the sworn enemies of teachers unions. The national voucher offensive has entered a new phase, a strategic shift calculated to expand the popular "base" for privatization of education. Having spent tens of millions of dollars to convince the public that school vouchers is an authentic "Black" issue, the wealthy financiers of the "movement" now seek support from white suburbanites, whose kids already attend the best schools. To move this bloc of voters, E-3 and its rich benefactors are preparing a campaign of fear: If voucher programs are not soon established in the inner cities, the line goes, minority students will spill into the suburbs, while taxes soar to pay the growing costs of urban education. Vouchers are the brainchild of the Hard Right, accomplished fear-mongers who specialize in racial manipulation. It was only a matter of time before they returned to their accustomed themes.

The E-3 "survey" was a propaganda stunt, guerilla theater in the voucher proponents' war on the very concept of public education – to be followed by a race-based legislative strategy targeting the suburban bloc of the New Jersey state legislature. First, the public schools must be depicted as a waste of taxpayers' money.

"There are hundreds of millions of dollars wasted in public education that has nothing to do with the education in the classroom," said businessman and E-3 co-founder Peter Denton, explaining the survey. "I think people will be shocked what's in those contracts."

What Denton really means is: the 180,000-member New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and the smaller United Federation of Teachers (UFT) are robbing suburban taxpayers by defending a system that wastes money on inner city schools, which should be turned over to privateers.

This not so subtle shift of emphasis from the previous privatization line – that vouchers are a special remedy for ghetto schools – signals the onset of a new and brutish campaign. Voucher supporters have nearly exhausted the political potential of their Black- and Latino-centered propaganda machine. After all, if decades of authentic, community-wide African American demands for quality urban public schools have fallen on largely deaf suburban ears, how could rightwing-financed minority front groups expect to be any more effective in advancing their perverse agenda – especially when suburbanites have no intention of abandoning their own public schools. To broaden the appeal to the suburban political majority, E-3 and its rich masters now offer vouchers as a safety valve to contain minorities in the inner cities, and as a means to avoid higher taxes to pay for equalization of public education opportunities. They are about to play their race cards, big-time.

Rich, white roots
The Bush men are determined to impose voucher regimes in every black population center where the opportunity presents itself.

Vouchers proponents have won few victories at the ballot box, and vouchers have never been the preferred educational "choice" of the most intensely targeted group, African Americans. (The NJEA web page, "Where is the public support for vouchers?" http://www.njea.org/Issues/public.asp provides a concise overview of the most compelling research. For additional data, see Black Commentator, November 21, 2002, under "Vouchers: Hypothetical numbers for a phony issue." http://www.blackcommentator.com/17_analysis.html) In no jurisdiction have Black majorities initiated voucher programs through the ballot. Rather, vouchers have been bullied into the Black political conversation on the strength of multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, solicitous corporate media coverage of Right-financed voucher front organizations, the methodical purchase of Black media loyalty, and the wholesale enticement of Black preachers, many of whom hope to operate schools of their own.

The voucher "movement" owes its existence to two far-right financiers: the Bradley Foundation, of Milwaukee (where it established the nation's first voucher program) and the Walton Foundation, of Bentonville, Arkansas, the political plaything of the Wal-Mart clan. The two foundations jointly invented the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the face they present to the African American community. http://www.baeo.org/home/index.php

The real political muscle behind vouchers is the Republican Party. The Bush men are determined to impose voucher regimes in every Black population center where the opportunity presents itself. The goal is to create the conditions for the rise of an alternative, compliant Black political leadership opposed to organized labor, particularly the teachers unions.

In January, the Republican Congress delivered Washington DC to the voucher forces with the help of a Black Mayor who ignored the repeatedly expressed anti-voucher sentiments of the citizenry. (See , "DC Voucher Passage is Huge Defeat." http://www.blackcommentator.com/55/55_cover_vouchers.html) Bush now has his long sought national voucher showcase. However, the capture of the federal enclave, while providing an important propaganda platform, does not change the central problem with vouchers: they are not popular with Blacks or whites, and suburbanites have no use for them.

The GOP's solution is to circumvent democratic processes entirely and, with utter contempt for the intentions of Congress, convert No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation into a school privatization machine. As we wrote in our Cover Story, "Bush's Phony Grassroots Voucher Movement," on December 4, "Bush's Education Department, http://www.blackcommentator.com/67/67_cover_voucher.html infested with rightwing ideologues, now serves as headquarters and paymaster for the public schools' fiercest enemies."

"Over the past three years, more than $75 million in federal education funding has been diverted to just a handful of private, pro-voucher advocacy groups," said People for the American Way (PFAW) in its mid-November report, "Funding a Movement: U.S. Department of Education Pours Millions into Groups Advocating School Vouchers and Education Privatization." "This torrent of public funding appears to benefit and strengthen the advocacy infrastructures created by a network of right-wing foundations dedicated to the privatization of education."

In plain language, the grants underwrite the salaries and expenses of a growing cadre of political operatives initially assembled by Republican fat cats in the late Nineties.

Thus, the federal government has been transformed into a tool of school privatization, operating outside of--or opposed to--local democratic structures. NCLB is a weapon in the hands of voucher advocates – and their sustenance, as well.

Education Secretary Rod Paige is the BAEO's new Sugar Daddy. "During the past two years, the Bush administration has provided the Black front group $1.1 million to "actively support parent choice to empower families and increase education options for black children" – buzzwords for voucher advocacy at taxpayer expense.

Having tipped the scales against democracy and the public schools, the privateers surveyed the nation for targets of opportunity, while the gnomes at the Bradley Foundation conjured up a new strategy to broaden the popular base for an unpopular political commodity – vouchers.

New Jersey looked promising.

Battle lines
No Child Left Behind, says E-3's Ivy League-educated Derrell Bradford,"is essentially pro-school-choice."

In the September issue of the newsletter, The NJEA Reporter the teachers union considered why "New Jersey has been targeted by the right wing" as a voucher testing ground:

We have a large number of struggling urban school districts, which are commonly targeted by voucher organizers.

We have a large number of active urban/minority parents and leaders who justifiably want their children to attend quality public schools.

And we have a Newark-based organization – Excellent Education for Everyone, or "E3" – that is aggressively organizing for vouchers.

New Jersey is also unique, in that its Supreme Court ordered the state to spend all the money that is necessary to bring to 30 urban, so-called Abbott districts, encompassing an overwhelming majority of the state's minority population, the quality of education that exists in the suburbs. About $6 billion has so far been earmarked to comply with the court's order, following two decades of massive delays and resistance by the suburb-dominated legislature. Although the teachers' unions say the schools are adjusting well to Abbott, there can be no doubt that some white suburbanites feel the ruling has caused them to be overtaxed. Such is the nature of the privileged worldview.

The rightwinger's nature--including Black voucher advocates in the pay of the Right--is to exploit these resentments. The intimidating "survey" of teachers' records by E-3, the Newark-based voucher group, is the setup for a bogus "study" (doubtless already written) that sends a barely-coded message to the suburbs: public education is wasteful--which will be received as, public money is wasted on Black and brown students.

The case will also be made that every urban student that leaves the public system for a private classroom represents a smaller "burden" to suburban taxpayers.

There is a one-two to this punch. No Child Left Behind, says E-3's Ivy League-educated Derrell Bradford, "is essentially pro-school-choice.'' Bradford elaborated to a reporter for The Record, in January of last year:

"All of these parents have had the federal government come in and say, 'You know, the school your kid goes to is terrible,''' Bradford says. "They've also been told they can transfer their kids to better public schools. But there's no capacity'' in other public schools. "So you have this huge market opportunity right now.''

There lays the landmine buried in the legislation by the Bush voucher advocates. When schools fall short in testing, parents can request a transfer to a better school. But there may be no such school in the district. Stan Karp, a teacher and opponent of vouchers, understands why E-3's Bradford is smiling. "Unless they're going to start letting kids in [mostly non-white] Paterson go to school in [mostly white] Wayne and Ridgewood, I see this as an attempt to create pressure for vouchers."'

"Pressures" is an understatement. Bradford and his crew can be expected to roam the halls of the legislature, effectively raising the specter of a Black and brown student exodus from city to suburb--unless these students can be diverted to private schools in their "own" areas. The case will also be made that every urban student that leaves the public system for a private classroom represents a smaller "burden" to suburban taxpayers--less of a threat to white neighborhoods and pocketbooks. Just as the Bush men anticipated.

"The battle lines are drawn, and it will be an ugly fight," said Cory Booker, the Black Trojan Horse candidate for mayor of Newark, in 2002. Booker knows all about ugly. The nominal Democrat tried his best during the campaign to hide the fact that he had traveled to Milwaukee with fellow E-3 founder Peter Denton to become a founding board member of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. "Out-ed" as a voucher advocate in the inaugural issue of The Black Commentator (see "Fruit of the Poisoned Tree," April 5, 2002), http://www.blackcommentator.com/poisoned_tree.html Booker was the unanimous choice of New York market corporate media, and even won the endorsement of rightwing columnist George F. Will. Millions of dollars flowed Booker's way from ultraconservatives across the country. He still lost.

However, that was before George Bush turned No Child Left Behind over to Booker's friends in the voucher gang; before the U.S. Senate passed a vouchers program for Washington, DC; and before the Bradley Foundation's think tanks devised a voucher strategy to appeal to racial fears in the suburbs. Booker plans to run for mayor again in 2006, hoping to provide the "alternative" Black leadership that Bush, Bradley and the Wal-Mart family hunger for.

New Jersey is the testing ground for the politics of vouchers. A similar scenario may be coming to a city and state near you.

Note: http://www.nje3.org
Here is E 3's board of directors:

Founder & Chairman -- Peter Denton -- Denton Vacuum

Executive Director -- Dan Gaby

Vice Chairmen of the Board
Keith DaCosta
Executive Vice President
100 Black Men of NJ

Board Members

Allen Barnhardt
Orange City Council (NJ)

General Alfred Cade(Retired)
Former Chair NJ Commision on Higher Ed.

Sondra Clark
Black United Fund

Saul Cooperman
Former Commissioner
NJ State Board of Ed.

George Harris
Schumann Fund for NJ

Rev. Reginald Jackson
Executive Director
Black Ministers' Council

Chris Jacob
Managing Director
Merlin BioMed

Daniel H. Jara, President
Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Mary Jo Kapalko
NJ Public Charter School Assc.

Right Rev. Msgr. William J. Linder
New Community Corp.

Michelle Doran-McBean
Future City, Inc.

Francisco Moran
Camden City Council (NJ)

Martin Perez
Latino Leadership Alliance

Mary Rone
NJ Association of Public and
Subsidized Housing Residents

Edwin Stier
Chairman of the Board
The Chad School

Robert C. Waggoner
President & CEO
Burrelle's Information Services

Richard Z. Zimmer
Attorney at Law
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

— The Black Commentator



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