Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Preserving the Juggernaut: Betsy DeVos approved as Education Secretary with tie-breaking vote of VP

When Donald J. Trump was forced to accept uber-right wing “conservative” Mike Pence as his running mate, it caused concern among some of Trump’s supporters.  But when Trump allowed Pence to select his domestic agenda cabinet members, concern turned to horror, especially since America lacks an opposition party with the now defunct Democratic Party.

Yes, there was the usual yapping and swooning among the remaining so called “liberal” democrats, but any dissention was watered down after those same Democrats approved Barack Obama’s public school privatizing stooge Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education.  From The Black Agenda Report:


The Obama Education Legacy Part 1 of 3: Obama Appoints Another Privatizing Stooge Secretary of Education

Back in December 2008, when then President-elect Barack Obama announced Arne Duncan would be his Education Secretary, Black Agenda Report asked “Did Barack Obama Just Appoint an Underqualified Stooge and Privatizer Secretary of Education?”

We interviewed longtime Chicago teacher and union activist George Schmidt, who told us Duncan was an old friend of the president-elect with a spotty resume who'd come to the Chicago Public Schools straight from the mayor's office where he'd been a budget guy, and had never taught a day in his life.

Duncan had closed dozens of Chicago schools and replaced them with charters, often in neighborhoods under pressure from gentrifiers, and fired hundreds of qualified, experienced and largely black teachers. And Duncan had stripped hundreds of Chicago's innovative elected local school councils of neighborhood parents and rank and file teachers, whom reform laws in the 1980s had given veto power over principals contracts (which were limited to 2 years) and Title One funds of their power.

The rest is history. Duncan and Obama soon announced their intention to close and privatize (in their language “turn around”) what they called “5,000 underperforming public schools” across the country, with the “underperformance to be mostly indicated by low scores on standardized tests…

The nation's corporate media conglomerates played a vital role by popularizing the narrative that public schools were “failing” but not covering the waves of coercive testing, teacher firings, parent protests and school privatizations unfolding across the country.

"The national wave of school closings not national news because our nation's elite, from Wall Street and the hedge fund guys to the chambers of commerce and the business establishment, from corporate media and all the elite politicians of both parties from the president down to local mayors and state legislators are working diligently to privatize public education as quickly as possible.

They're not stupid. They've done the polling and the focus groups. They know with dead certainty that the p-word is massively unpopular, and that parents, teachers, students and communities aren't clamoring to hand schools over to greedy profiteers.

Is Betsy DeVos, sister of the owner of the world’s largest private mercenary army, formerly known as Blackwater, Eric Prince and wife of the heir to the Ponzi scheme Empire Amway, really any less qualified than Arne Duncan?  So you may ask yourself, how is it that charter schools are such a cash cow for hedge funds?  From Seattle Education:


Charter schools: “There’s gold in them thar schools!”

How to Get Rich From Public Schools (Without Actually Educating) There’s gold in them thar schools!  Don’t believe me?

When you drive by an inner city school, it doesn’t exactly look like the Taj Mahal. Does it? Even relatively upscale suburban schools wouldn’t be mistaken for a house on MTV Cribs. And some of those fly-by night charter schools look more like prisons than Shangri-La.  But I’ve got it on good authority that there’s $1.3 trillion available for someone who knows how to take it.  That someone is Harold Levy, an expert on how to get rich through school privatization.

The former chancellor of the New York City School System has begun a second career managing an investment company.  “For-profit education is one of the largest U.S. investment markets, currently topping $1.3 trillion in value,” according to the Website for one of his master classes for rich investors.  Wooo-weee! That’s a lot of money!  To put it in context, that’s more than 10 times the amount the federal government spends on education per year. And it’s all yummy profit!

So how do you get your hands on some of those delicious taxpayer greenbacks?  You gotta’ invest.  No! I don’t mean increase education budgets for traditional public schools that can barely make ends meet! I mean invest in shiny new charter schools.  Here’s how it works.  Lend money to a for-profit company to build a new charter school. If you do it just right, you’re almost guaranteed to double or triple your money in seven years.

You’ll want to take advantage of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), which began in 2000 at the end of President Bill Clinton’s administration. This will give you a whooping 39 percent tax credit. But here’s the best part, since it’s money you’re lending, you also get interest on it! And if that weren’t enough, you can piggyback all kinds of additional federal tax credits on top of that – things like historic preservation or job creation or Brownfield’s credits…

But maybe you just aren’t into the whole hedge fund game. Maybe you’re not the banking and investing type.  You can still make oodles of cash off public schools through real estate.  Here’s what you do – buy up cheap inner city properties that can be renovated or repurposed for charter schools. Then when a school privatization firm wants to set up shop in an impoverished city like Philadelphia, Chicago or Detroit, it needs someone like you to open the door.

You’ll get to charge the charter corporation rent and – get this – that’s not price capped! You can charge whatever you want! As long as you’ve got a good spot and no one else is trying to beat you to it, charter corporations are willing to pay bookoo bucks to get their money-making enterprises rolling!..   there are plenty of examples of charter schools paying 25, 30 even up to 43 percent of their money just on rental costs! Ca-Ching!

Democrats and Republicans alike use the example of the New Orleans as the model of success in turning the entire public school system into a charter school Shangri-La.  From BlackAgenda Report.


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan could not contain his gratitude to Hurricane Katrina, which killed or permanently displaced much of New Orleans’ Black residents. Other whites “wondered why they could not have been fortunate enough to have a black population swept out of town in a matter of days.” Katrina was welcomed by millions of whites as an opportunity for economic and ethnic “renewal” – a rationale that would justify genocide.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Louisiana, and the entire Gulf coast. More than 1,800 people died and thousands more were permanently displaced…   But this tragedy for multitudes was a gift to powerful people who wanted to turn New Orleans into Exhibit A for neo-liberalism…

In 2005 the ruling elites were over overjoyed because nature gave them the chance to do what they could not get away with easily. Overnight, New Orleans lost a huge portion of its poor, black population. The state legislature used the crisis to arbitrarily declare public schools as “failing” and converted them into charters. They fired 7,500 public school employees who won decisions in lower courts but were undone when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their case. In short, New Orleans became the face of disaster capitalism and ethnic cleansing.

While millions of people watched in horror as the levees broke and homes were flooded, some watched with glee and, as Kristen McQueary of the Tribune editorial board admits, with envy too. They wondered why they could not have been fortunate enough to have a black population swept out of town in a matter of days…

She is not alone in longing for post-apocalyptic disaster capital triumphs. In 2010 her fellow Chicagoan Arne Duncan said that the hurricane was “the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans.” As education secretary his goal has been to undo public education as we know it and expand the control of charter schools throughout the country.

Parents have no rights in the charter school system but that is why they are desirable to people like Duncan and McQueary. There is no public input, no permanent employment. This dystopian hell is perfect in their eyes.

Oh how wonderful those charter schools are, they give parents a choice.  But that choice ends after their child is enrolled in one of those Apartheid charter schools.  From Aljazeera America:


The resegregation of America’s schools

The Supreme Court ruled 60 years ago this May 17 in Brown v. Board of Education that “segregation of white and Negro children in the public schools of a State solely on the basis of race, pursuant to state laws permitting or requiring such segregation,” is unconstitutional…

Today, segregation — both racial and economicremains the core organizational feature of American public education. In 1980, the typical black student attended a school where 36 percent of students were white. Today, the average black student attends a school where only 29 percent are. Many black and Latino students attend schools where nearly every other student is nonwhite — including in supposed liberal bastions such as New York and Chicago.

Indeed, New York State’s public schools are the most segregated in the nation, according to a March report from the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. In New York City, 19 of 32 community school districts are less than 10 percent white. That includes all of the Bronx, two-thirds of Brooklyn and half of Manhattan…

“Black children are more racially and socioeconomically isolated today than at any time” since data became available in 1970, Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, wrote in a recent report.  What’s more, schools attended primarily by nonwhite and poor children are often woefully underfunded.  Take Philadelphia… after years of underfunding, is going through a spectacular collapse in the wake of budget cuts implemented by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

Many high schools here are more than 90 percent black. Among the many things city schools lack are sufficient nurses, counselors, music and art teachers and libraries. Things are rather different a few miles over the city line at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, a leafy suburban town with a median household income of nearly $69,000. There, the funding is stellar. The student body: 8 percent black… 
A self-described reform movement, which calls for expanded charter schools and evaluating teacher effectiveness based on test scores, now dominates American public-education policy debates. It has largely abandoned the civil rights movement’s dream of integrated schools and instead blames public management and teachers’ unions for poor students’ troubles. Notably, the Civil Rights Project study found that 73 percent of New York City charters are “apartheid schools,” with less than 1 percent white enrollment.

So who is behind these charter schools?  Who is reaping the benefits of these apartheid schools?  From Mother Jones:


Who's Really Behind Campbell Brown's Sneaky Education Outfit?

The former CNN anchor says her nonprofit seeks to protect kids from predators in the classroom. Its real agenda may be union-busting. 

Early one morning in July, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe, pen in hand, notes fanned out in front of her. Viewers might have mistaken her as a fill-in host, but Brown had swung by 30 Rock in her new role as a self-styled education reformer, a crusader against sexual deviants in New York City public schools and the backward unions and bureaucrats getting in the way of firing them…

Brown was there to plug her new venture, the Parents' Transparency Project, a nonprofit "watchdog group" that "favors no party, candidate, or incumbent…" Shortly after it was launched in June, PTP trained its sights on the New York mayoral race, asking the candidates to pledge to change the firing process for school employees accused of sexual misconduct.

When several Democratic candidates declined, perhaps fearing they'd upset organized labor, PTP spent $100,000 on a television attack ad questioning whether six candidates, including Republican Joe Lhota and Democrats Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner, had "the guts to stand up to the teachers' unions."  Before founding PTP, Brown raised this issue in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in July 2012. But what she failed to disclose was that her husband, Dan Senor, sits on the board of the New York affiliate of Students First, an education lobbying group founded by Michelle Rhee, the controversial former Washington, DC, chancellor.

Rhee made a name for herself as public enemy No. 1 of the teachers' unions and has become the torchbearer of the charter school movement. In 2012, her "bipartisan grassroots organization" backed 105 candidates in state races, 88 percent of them Republicans. (Senor was also the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority following the invasion of Iraq and served as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012.)…

But there is much more about PTP that is less than transparent, including its sources of funding and its overall agenda. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, PTP may keep its donors' identities secret and spend money in electoral campaigns, so long as political activity doesn't consume the majority of its time and money.

Despite its nonpartisan billing, Brown's nonprofit used Revolution Agency, a Republican consulting firm, to produce the mayoral attack ad…  Brown failed to disclose that her husband sits on the board of the New York affiliate of Michelle Rhee's education lobbying group… 

Before Brown left CNN three years ago, her evening news show carried a memorable tagline: "No bias. No bull." She can't say the same for her foray into the education wars.

Well it appears CNN’s Campbell Brown and hubby, Dan Senor have their snouts firmly planted in the $1.3 trillion dollar charter school trough.  So much for transparency.   While hogs at the trough like Campbell Brown and Dan Senor line their pockets with taxpayer dollars earmarked for public education, what do the empty shell public schools look like for those left to fight for education scraps?  From the Rutherford Institute:


In the American police state, you’re either a prisoner (shackled, controlled, monitored, ordered about, limited in what you can do and say, your life not your own) or a prison bureaucrat (police officer, judge, jailer, spy, profiteer, etc.)…  Unfortunately, when you’re a child in the American police state, life is that much worse. 

Microcosms of the police state, America’s public schools contain almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the “outside.”

From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment she graduates, she will be exposed to a steady diet of draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior, overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech, school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students, standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking…

If your child is fortunate enough to survive his encounter with the public schools, you should count yourself fortunate.  Most students are not so lucky.  By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested. 

More than 3 million students are suspended or expelled from schools every year, often for minor misbehavior, such as “disruptive behavior” or “insubordination…” For instance, a Virginia sixth grader, the son of two school teachers and a member of the school’s gifted program, was suspended for a year after school officials found a leaf (likely a maple leaf) in his backpack that they suspected was marijuana.

Despite the fact that the leaf in question was not marijuana (a fact that officials knew almost immediately), the 11-year-old was still kicked out of school, charged with marijuana possession in juvenile court, enrolled in an alternative school away from his friends, subjected to twice-daily searches for drugs, and forced to be evaluated for substance abuse problems…

It’s not just look-alike drugs that can get a student in trouble under school zero tolerance policies. Look-alike weapons (toy guns—even Lego-sized ones, hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a “threatening” manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in detention.

Thanks to a combination of media hype, political pandering and financial incentives, the use of armed police officers to patrol school hallways has risen dramatically in the years since the Columbine school shooting...   Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, these school resource officers (SROs) have become de facto wardens in the elementary, middle and high schools, doling out their own brand of justice to the so-called “criminals” in their midst with the help of tasers, pepperspray, batons and brute force…

Indeed, the transformation of hometown police departments into extensions of the military has been mirrored in the public schools, where school police have been gifted with high-powered M16 rifles, MRAP armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and other military gear. One Texas school district even boasts its own 12-member SWAT team…

The term “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to a phenomenon in which children who are suspended or expelled from school have a greater likelihood of ending up in jail…  As if it weren’t bad enough that the nation’s schools have come to resemble prisons, the government is also contracting with private prisons to lock up our young people for behavior that once would have merited a stern lecture.

So with all the bipartisan theft of taxpayer dollars from the public school system to fund the cash cow charter school system, what is the up side?  Better education?  Better teachers?  Better results?  From Steve Lendman:


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Long ago, inner city kids like myself had wonderful public schools with dedicated teachers, preparing us for higher education when even top colleges and universities were affordable.  No longer. Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Obama's Race to the Top (RTTT) wrecked public education the way it used to be…

NCLB leaves most kids behind. RTTT is a race to the bottom. Both agendas reflect schemes to destroy a nearly four century tradition.  Public schools in America don’t teach. They’re institutions of intimidation and totalitarian control. They produce uneducated youths unprepared for the adult world they’re about to enter - most facing a working lifetime of rotten jobs with poverty wages along with few or no benefits.

No wonder many end up in prison, America’s most vulnerable, mostly people of color, abused throughout the nation’s sordid history.  Can US primary and secondary education get worse? Instead of appointing an eminent educator, Trump chose the billionaire sister of Blackwater USA Eric Prince, Betsy Devos

In late November, Trump nominated her to serve as education secretary. On January 31, she cleared the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on a party-line vote.  On February 7, the Senate deadlocked on her nomination 50 - 50 with two Republicans voting nay. Vice President Pence broke the tie, confirming her as Trump’s education secretary.

While Democrats feign outrage, and Republicans declare Trump deserves the cabinet he wants one thing is for certain, the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary is just another day in the life.  Our politicians are just preserving the juggernaut crafted by both Democrats and Republicans.  The real losers are the American people and their children, for us it’s “school’s out.”

By Patricia Baeten

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