Tag Archives: California

California: Meet the Billionaires Who Are Financing the Spread of School Privatization

ctaThe California Teachers Association created a useful graphic of the billionaires who are supporting charter schools and privatization of public schools. (There are many more billionaires supporting privatization, but this is a good start.)

Here are a few things you should know about the people on this site.

The Waltons are probably the richest family in America. Forbes estimates their family fortune at $130 billion. Privatizing public education is a family hobby or passion. Wherever there is a critical election, whether in Washington State or Georgia, you are likely to find that a Walton has put in big money to help those who want to replace public schools with private management. They don’t like unions. They boast that they have funded one of every four charters in the nation. I don’t know if any of them have a union, but I doubt it. Walmart is non-union, and it has thrived–for the Waltons, if not for its workers. Workers at Walmart had to fight to get minimum wages. Many qualify for food stamps. If the Waltons wanted to reduce poverty, they could do it by raising the wages of their workers to $15 an hour. They have 1 million low-wage workers. Imagine the good the Waltons could do if they gave their workers a living wage.

Arthur Rock not only gives generously to charters, he is a major contributor to Teach for America. He personally pays for its Washington, D.C., interns who work as Congressional staff and diligently protect TFA’s financial and political interests.

Reed Hastings owns Netflix. He told a meeting of the California Charter Schools Association that he looks forward to the day when there are no local school boards. Think of it. You would get to pick your charter but have no voice whatever in its decision making. Democracy is such a nuisance. Hastings contributed to a fund to oust the chief judge of Washington State this fall because she wrote the opinion saying that charter schools are not public schools. He established a $100 million fund to promote charter schools headed by the guy who ran New Schools for New Orleans.

Doris Fisher is the matriarch of the Fisher Family that owns the Gap and Old Navy. The family has heavily supported KIPP and TFA. The three Fisher children went to Phillips Exeter Academy.

Eli Broad pushes to eliminate public schools everywhere. His Broad superintendents have been strategically placed in key positions in school districts across the country after being carefully indoctrinated in his view that the best way to improve public schools is to replace them with charters. He likes to work with school districts where there is minimal public participation, preferably where the mayor has total control. He wants to put half the children in Los Angeles in privately managed charter schools. He is another reformer who doesn’t like democracy. The more autocratic control, the better the environment for his top-down management plans.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation of Houston has made its mark beyond supporting charter schools in California. John Arnold tried, but failed, to turn Dallas into an all-charter district. He has a passion for eliminating defined-benefit public pensions and replacing them with 401Ks, which fluctuate with the market. When investigative reporter David Sirota discovered that Arnold was financing a PBS program on the “crisis” in public pensions, PBS was shamed into returning Arnold’s donation of $3.5 million.

What about in Maryland, who are the drivers behind charter schools Financing  and the Spread of School Privatization? The union members needs to pause a challenge to Maryland State education Association to make a similar list.

Know your reformers!


Are Unions An ‘Us’ Or A ‘Them’?

unionDivide and conquer works. When you face a strong enemy it’s always a good strategy to find ways to break them apart into smaller units that can be fought separately. A state initiative to gut California’s public-employee pension and healthcare benefits is trying to do just that.

A well-funded campaign is underway (again) to take advantage of the state’s constitutional amendment initiative process, this time to place a proposition called the “Voter Empowerment Act of 2016” on the 2016 ballot. The initiative would require that voters approve any pension and health benefits in contracts for new teachers, nurses, police and other government employees as well as any pension enhancements for existing employees.

This initiative follows a pattern well-known to California public-interest advocates. Ballot initiatives must receive 585,407 signatures to qualify, and corporate/billionaire-funded initiatives hire paid signature gatherers to get this done. Then they launch a well-funded, deceit-filled campaign to scare voters.

Similar anti-pension campaign have been, are and will be underway in states and municipalities across the country.

Divide And Conquer

Public-employee pension-gutting initiatives and other anti-union efforts typically use divide-and-conquer strategies to accomplish this mission. Here are a few classic divide-and-conquer techniques used by Unions in Maryland and other places:

  • Make people suspicious of each other.
  • Make people question their leadership and mission.
  • Divide attention with distraction and diversion – get the other side to “take their eye off the ball.”
  • Make people fight on different fronts.
  • Prevent alliances and promote infighting.
  • Maginalize and dehumanize groups so others look down on and ignore them.

All of these divide people from each other and weaken whatever organizational structures people have or might wish to form. That is exactly what is happening as billionaires and giant corporations work to turn the regular working public against unions and break unions up.  The same goes for Unions which are being sued in Maryland.  The polics has become very dirty. As private employers squeeze their employees more and more by reducing pay and benefits, getting rid of pension plans, and so on, people feel they are falling further and further behind. If they can get people to believe that unions are about some separate, distant “them” instead of “we” and “us,” they can turn some working people against other working people, and keep them from realizing this is why everyone’s wages and living standards are under such stress.

In the case of public-employee pensions, they tell people that this “other” – public-employee union members – are getting more money than regular workers, or hogging tax resources that could go to roads and other public needs. They say “lavish” pensions are “eating up government budgets” or “causing massive borrowing.”

How often do you hear that public employees are paid more than the rest of us, and have “lavish” benefits? How about the term “union bosses?” How much do union bosses make?

This is part of that process of dehumanizing and dividing – get people to think there is this “other” who is their enemy and who doesn’t deserve what the rest of us deserve, so people don’t see what’s being done to them behind the screen.

Unions Are An ‘Us’

A labor union is the very definition of “us” and “we.” It is employees banding together to ask for decent pay, benefits and better working conditions for themselves and others. By banding together they are stronger than if each employee went to the manager alone, by themselves, with no one backing them up to ask, please, for a raise or, please, can you stop calling me names and shouting? This is how things are supposed to work for unions with proper accountability and transparency. However, union corruption if left unchecked might end up destroying the unions.

Dividing working people is one of the oldest strategies in the book. First, if a high level of unemployment can be maintained people are divided by necessity. If you are hungry you are not likely to say, “no you shouldn’t ask me to take his or her place, they need that job.” Another way to divide is to help keep workers elsewhere poorly paid so your own employees have nowhere to go and you don’t face wage competition when you hire. Or the better wages and conditions that unionized employees get can be used against them by arguing that “they are getting paid so well and you are not; you should resent them.” Yet another is to divide the union leadership from the membership by claiming they are “bosses” who tell you what to do and then keep all the dues for themselves.

Don’t let yourself be divided by “us vs. them” arguments. The reality is that when unions are strong, everyone benefits — union member or not. Here are a couple of charts that illustrate the difference unions make in everyone’s pay.

Not just union members benefit when unions are strong; the whole middle class benefits.

When unions are weak, most of the gains of an economy go to a few at the top, which increases inequality.

Meanwhile take a look at these websites:


Unions create an economy that works for all of us.Over the past few decades, union membership has declined, contributing to increased income inequality. When we take away Americans’ freedom to form a union and negotiate with their employers, we are stacking the deck in favor of big corporations and the 1%. Strong unions fight against inequality and help every American get a fair shot at success.


For too many years, public service workers (and actually most Americans) have seen their job security, wages and benefits, and retirement security erode — even though for the top 1 percent things have been great. Now, when it’s our turn to make things better for our families, they’re trying to cripple our union. We’re not going to let that happen.


This is part of the campaign for Americas Future.




What’s going on with Mr. O’Malley’s money?

image FORMER MARYLAND governor Martin O’Malley is a small-timer when it comes to the fees he demands for speaking engagements, at least compared with Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. Nonetheless, Mr. O’Malley has been stepping up his game, specifically by striking a deal with a tech company that benefited from a sizeable no-bid state contract when he was governor — and which then paid him nearly $148,000 for speeches and consulting in the months after he left office in January.

The appearance of a quid pro quo is not the biggest problem facing Mr. O’Malley, who remains stuck near zero in the polls among Democratic primary voters. Still, the payment — his single largest chunk of current income — while not illegal, is troubling.

In response to our questions, Mr. O’Malley’s campaign said he has given four speeches since January to the company, Environmental Systems Research Institute, known as Esri, which is based in California. A spokesman said Esri had approached Mr. O’Malley to propose the arrangement near the end of his term as governor last fall and that a contract to give speeches, provide consulting and “review policy documents” for the firm was signed in January, almost immediately after he left office. The speeches to date were delivered in Washington, California and Lisbon.

Mr. O’Malley, justly recognized for his use of data-driven policy analysis, helped deepen Maryland’s business with Esri, which specializes in interactive mapping software. In 2011, the state Board of Public Works, on which Mr. O’Malley was one of three members, approved a $2.1 million sole-source contract for Esri; the contract was expanded to $3 million last year, also with Mr. O’Malley’s backing. (The board, on which Mr. O’Malley no longer sits, will consider an additional contract expansion worth $832,000 in August.)

There’s no reason to doubt that Esri’s work for Maryland, as well as for other states and municipalities, is worthwhile. And we don’t question Mr. O’Malley’s track record, as governor and, before that, mayor of Baltimore, of using data-driven analysis and mapping to enhance public services and programs.

What’s concerning is how he pivoted almost immediately on leaving office to accepting a large income from a firm whose ongoing business with the state was sustained in no small part because of Mr. O’Malley’s influence. Notwithstanding the governor’s sincere interest in the subject matter, there’s the appearance of a payback.

There is no law prohibiting that sort of arrangement; the public’s only safeguard is the conscience of the public servant himself.

It’s also fair to wonder how Mr. O’Malley and his wife, Catherine Curran O’Malley, a state district court judge, ran up such large personal debts. Together, the couple had a combined annual income of nearly $300,000 for most of the eight years he served as governor, as well as free housing in the governor’s mansion in Annapolis. Yet they have taken loans of $339,000 to put their two eldest children through college, plus a line of credit of at least $100,000 and a mortgage of $500,000 for a home in Baltimore.

The question of how presidential candidates handle their finances is related to character, personal responsibility and maturity. By his means of earning income and the debt he has incurred, Mr. O’Malley has raised questions.

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Transforming Education: How Children Learn


Like every other public institution in the United States, our education system is simultaneously under attack and flailing in its attempt to defend itself. Politicians and pundits jump into the fray as No Child Left Behind morphs into Race To The Top. Schools are forced to comply with high stakes testing in order to get funding. Budgets are cut to the bone and teachers, struggling to make ends meet, are forced to teach to tests that seem to be designed to ensure that many schools, teachers and children will fail. The vaunted Common Core, for example, that will replace the STAR tests in California and most other states in 2015, is not developmentally appropriate, particularly in the younger grades. It was not designed by teachers who know what children can actually do at different ages. When it was previewed this year in New York schools, the testers had a new problem to solve: what to do with tests that stressed children had vomited on. Really.

Public schools, once seen as the keystone of democracy and the agent of an informed and responsible citizenry, are now facing takeovers by for-profit charter schools that cut teacher salaries and spending per pupil while pocketing profit from federal funding. How did we come to such a pass? When I was growing up, California boasted the world’s best educational system. My four years at U.C. Berkeley were essentially free. With health care included, I paid the Regents $150 a year in student fees. I did not have to take standardized tests or honors courses to be admitted. U.C. accepted my application with a transcript of courses and GPA. My ability to attend this prestigious university was considered an earned right, supported by the citizens of California through their taxes.

A student entering UCB next year will pay $13,200 in tuition. If her parents are not wealthy, she will most probably be indentured for decades to a usurious student loan scam. According to a recent article in Education Week, California now ranks 49th among the states in per pupil spending. Last year at the school where I was Education Director, the administration decided to take a 5% cut in salary and our teachers gave up five days of instruction in order to maintain our bare bones program. This, in one of the richest states in the richest country in the world.

The reasons for this devolution are complex, reflecting the values of our late stage neoliberal free market economic system that seems unable to correct its trajectory towards catastrophe. That said, corporate influence in public education has been pernicious for many years. A passionately engaged English and Drama teacher, I was horrified in the mid 1980′s that my new local public school required teachers to be on the same page on the same day in the same text throughout the district. That a school district would have so little respect for its teachers to force them into a scripted straightjacket violated everything I understood about creativity and learning. The idea that teachers did not know how to teach and needed to be guided by “experts” had taken hold. Textbook companies and corporate testing “services” increasingly determined how and what should be “taught” to children. I am not surprised that schools with a history of such rigid curricular mandates are floundering.

>>> Read more Popular Resistance

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