Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Walton heirs bankroll 'choice' candidates in Wisconsin

Heirs to the Walmart fortune, including Alice and Jim Walton, have given thousands to Wisconsin political candidates since mid-2008. Photo courtesy of Walmart Stores

Public schools in Wisconsin will have to make do with $800 million less from the state over the next two years, under the budget passed by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-led Legislature. But state spending on programs that provide public dollars to private schools will see a net increase of nearly $17 million. And, for that, these private schools can thank Alice Walton and her family. Walton, the multi-billionaire heiress to father Sam Walton’s Walmart empire, was the largest individual contributor to successful state legislative candidates in the 2009-2010 election cycle that brought Republicans to power in Wisconsin, according to data fromMapLight, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the relationship between money and politics. -- WisconsinWatch.Org

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday morning news

Los Angeles Archdiocese hopes to raise $100 million for Catholic schools
The initiative, headed by former L.A. mayor Richard Riordan, will ask supporters to make provisions in their trusts or wills for the Catholic Education Foundation. -- L.A. Times

Riordan is a wealthy, conservative, venture capitalist who never met a privatization project he didn't like. He played a key role in the bailout of a failed L.A. charter school chain, ICEF, in Sept. 2010.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Look who's sponsoring 'Education Nation'


Why it's education's top profiteers. Gates, Broad, Microsoft, Univ. of Phoenix, Scholastic, to name but a few. Do you think that influenced the agenda any? H/t to David Sirota for the Tweet.

The "norm" for Zuckerberg schools in Newark

Gov. Christie, Mayor Booker, and Mark Zuckerberg announced on "Oprah" a $100 million donation by Zuckerberg for Newark schools.

Some of the $100 million of Mark Zuckerberg's gift to Newark Public Schools finally made it to the school house. The money was used to create a couple of new charter schools. No surprise there. What is interesting -- the media is playing up the small class sizes in the new schools.
At Newark Leadership Academy, she [student Lacha Young] found new books, an enthusiastic new principal, teachers with time for tutoring and small classes with as few as five students. -- Star Ledger
But I thought small class size didn't matter. At least that's what N.J. officials and Arne Duncan himself, were arguing just a few weeks ago.
What’s more, small class sizes are out of favor with officials like Governor Chris Christie and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who insist teacher quality matters more than class size when it comes to student achievement. That has many New Jersey parents and teachers concerned that the state is headed back to the days when large classes were the norm. -- New Jersey Monthly
The "norm," yes for public schools. But obviously not the norm for Zuckerberg schools. 



Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rupert Murdoch's entry into the education business

News Corp.'s entrance into the education sector raises broader education policy questions, says University of Arizona education professor Kenneth Goodman. Having a multinational corporation in charge of assessing kids' reading skills, he notes, shows that "decision making in education is so far removed from people who have anything to do with kids." And like many educators, he is suspicious that Murdoch will bring his conservative ideology to his education ventures: "They'd like everything to be privatized." -- Mother Jones, "Fox in the Schoolhouse"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Schools for sale

Chicago leads the nation in privatization

Chicago leads all other U.S. cities when it comes to the erosion of public space. If it's not nailed down, Mayor Emanuel wants to sell it off or lease it to private corporations.
Chicago has been the most aggressive city in the United States in the privatization of public infrastructure. Since 2004, the city has privatized the Chicago Skyway toll road, four downtown parking garages, and the city’s system of 36,000 parking meters, with only the recent financial crisis preventing the privatization of Midway Airport as well. -- Illinois PIRG
The privatization of Chicago’s parking meters – allowing a Morgan-Stanley backed set of investors to reap the profits for the next 75 years from the city’s parking meters – sparked public outrage as parking rates quadrupled overnight in some parts of the city, meters malfunctioned, and critics, including the city’s own Inspector General, argued that the city received hundreds of millions of dollars less for the meter system than it was worth. Morgan-Stanley's man in Chicago, greasing the deal with no public debate was Bill Daley, the mayor's brother and now Obama's Chief of Staff.

Next up on the auction block -- the city's public school system, bit by bit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rupert Murdoch giving keynote at Jeb Bush’s ed reform summit

“We were motivated to invite Mr. Murdoch after reading his eloquent speech before G8 Summit on leveraging the power of technology to improve education.” -- Jaryn Emhof, communications director for Bush's foundation


The man chosen to give the breakfast keynote address on the second day of the upcoming National Summit on Education Reform 2011: Education Everywhere , is none other than ... media mogul Rupert Murdoch.


The summit is being convened next month in San Francisco by former Florida Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, an organization through which Bush has maintained strong influence across the country as a leader in standardized test-based school reform. Last year’s gathering was in Washington D.C. and topics for discussion were charter schools, choice, innovation and technology — favorites among modern school reformers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

NBC's Education Nation: Corporate reform's star-studded agenda

NBC's ed extravaganza is essentially a bought and paid-for showcase for ownership society school reform. Leading off on Monday morning, the Buffett family -- Warren (Birkshire Hathaway), Susie, and Susan A. Buffett, representing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, being interviewed by Tom Brokaw.

Other corporate reform superstars filling the agenda: John "the man from Gates" Deasy, Debprah ("fire 'em all, let God sort 'em out") Gist , Ben Austin (Parent R-r-r-revolution), Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and of course Arne Duncan.

But don't worry. There's a few good folks, like Pedro Noguera and Phillip Jackson (Chicago's Black Star Project) sprinkled in. I think I even saw a teacher listed somewhere on the agenda. But no Pasi Sahlberg from Finland, who really shook things up last year. I don't expect any such dissonance this time around.

Hey, what happened to Waiting for Superman star Michelle Rhee and fiance Mayor K.J. (Will they ever tie the knot?)? Geoffrey Canada? Joel (the man from Murdoch) Klein? How the mighty have fallen.

Wait! Is that NEA prez Dennis Van Roekel and TFA's Wendy Kopp being interviewed by Ann Curry? I'm starstruck.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mazany reports to Fed Bank board: "There's no safety net left..."

Mazany
Seven times a year, the nine-member board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago meets in the most secure building in the city, in the bowels of LaSalle Street, where millions of dollars in worn-out cash are shredded every week in the basement. -- Melissa Harris' Chicago Confidential
I was fascinated to learn that Terry Mazany, the chief executive of the Chicago Community Trust and former interim chief of the Chicago Public Schools, sits on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago along with USG Corp. Chairman William Foote, Northern Trust CEO Frederick Waddell, Allstate CEO Thomas Wilson and executives from Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana. I think Mazany had hopes of staying on as the mayor's permanent schools CEO, but Emanuel brought imported J.C. Brizard instead. 

Mazany tells Tribune business columnist Harris, that at every meeting, each board member shares with Fed Bank Pres. Charles Evans, news and data about what's happening in their worlds through anecdotal observations and data. Mazany says his job is to represent the general public, and the picture he painted at Thursday's meeting was grim.
"I want to emphasize that we need to understand here that there is no safety net left to fall into. The poverty statistics for Illinois are 14.1 percent, that's about 1.8 million people, and it's even higher in Chicago, as high as 21 percent... In the past 20 years, the bottom 40 percent of earners gained about 13 percent in their income, whereas the top 20 percent grew by 35 percent and the top 5 percent grew by 57 percent. We are seeing a hollowing out of our communities."
Read Harris' entire column here.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Washington Post hosts ownership society soiree

Katherine and David Bradley
Steve Brill is this year's Davis Guggenheim. His aptly titled "Class Warfare" book is this year's Waiting For Superman and has become the rallying point for a waning and frustrated clan of anti-teacher union busters, charter school operators, and corporate-style school reformers.

The Washington D.C. branch of the clan, still reeling from the expulsion of last year's hero, Michelle Rhee, gathered Thursday evening, for a soiree co-hosted by Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham at the Embassy Row home of power philanthropists Katherine and David Bradley. The gala was called to celebrate self-described "media entrepreneur" Brill and his not-so-best-selling book. Post ed writer Bill Turque's description of the meeting failed to mention what was served or whether or not the servants were allowed to stay for the proceedings.

But we do know that corporate-reform luminaries like former education secretary Bill Bennett, D.C Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), philanthropist Mark Ein, (Venturehouse Group) and charter advocate Mike Peabody (Friends of Choice) were in attendance. One can only assume that Bennett wasn't making any "abort all black babies" jokes in the presence of Brown.

Turque describes what seemed to be the highlight of the evening:

Brill was preaching to the choir. During a brief Q and A, Peabody, the grandson of Groton School founder Endicott Peabody, asked: “When did the unions get the right to strike, when they could shut down cities without recourse?” 

Reprising some of what was in his book, Brill said that unionized teachers were the product of years of underpayment and mistreatment, including mandatory two-year leaves of absence from the classroom for women who became pregnant. But as their influence grew under union leaders such as Albert Shanker, Brill said, it became “much too much of a good thing.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Obama's Chief of Staff: The Man from J.P. Morgan

With Daley in charge, who needs Republicans?

Bill Daley, the brother of the former Chicago mayor and JPMorgan Chase executive, joined Obama's inner circle back in January in an effort to ease tensions with Wall St. leaders peeved at Obama for what they saw as his anti-business policies and rhetoric -- namely, health care reform, financial reform, and his utterance, once, of the term "fat cats.” In exchange, Chicago former CoS Rahm Emanuel as its mayor and schools boss. He's also a huge Democratic party rainmaker with elections on the horizon.
Democrats have taken issue with Daley for cozying up to Republicans and conceding too much, too soon, in negotiations with them. He routinely reminds GOP leaders how his business background colors his politics, trying to get across the message that he's not so different from them. "He constantly feels the need to tell [House Speaker John] Boehner and [Majority Leader Eric] Cantor that he agrees with us on regulations," said one House Republican aide. "It's almost an obsession." -- Huffington Post
Daley, it turns out, was a driving force behind Obama’s decision not to roll out new draft ozone standards. The move outraged environmental groups but Republicans hailed it as a step in the right direction, saying it freed up businesses to create jobs by freeing them from cumbersome regulations.

Now some Dems are pining for the aggressive, foul-mouthed Emanuel. I agree. Send Rahm back to D.C.. Get him away from our schools. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pearson buys virtual schools company

Textbook publisher Pearson announced today that it has acquired Connections Education, which operates virtual schools or academies in 21 states and serves roughly 40,000 students. The company is expected to turn a $190 million profit in 2011.

This acquisition is the latest in a long string of mergers and acquisitions within the ed-tech business community, and it marks the first time that one of the "big three" textbook publishers (Houghton Mifflin, Pearson Education, and McGraw-Hill) has stepped so deeply into the virtual education world.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The bait and switch of school "reform

David Sirota at Salon.com

Behind the new corporate agenda for education lurks the old politics of profit and self-interest
As Brill and most other education correspondents tell it, those most aggressively trying to privatize public schools and focus education around standardized tests just "happen to be" Wall Streeters -- as if that's merely a random, inconsequential coincidence. Somehow, we are to assume that these same Wall Streeters who make millions off of "parasitic" investment schemes to leech public institutions for private profit couldn't have ulterior motives when it comes to public schools. -- The bait and switch of school "reform"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Race To Top honcho involved in the Solyndra "green energy" scandal

George Kaiser
I'm following a brewing Enron-type scandal involving the White House and Solyndra, one of the many corporations getting in on the so-called green-energy (new meaning for that word green) gold rush and the recipient of more than $500 million in Dept. of Energy taxpayer supported, loan guarantees. Solyndra was touted by President Obama as the model for government investment in green technology.

An FBI raid on solar-panel maker Solyndra Inc. may signal the escalation of a probe into the Obama administration’s entire clean- energy program. Solyndra recently shut its factory and fired 1,100 people and said in its filing for bankruptcy protection that it had liabilities of $783.8 million.

I'm particularly interested in the Solyndra scandal, not only because of the ease in which a politically connected, but obviously failing corporation has easy access to federal dollars,  but because of the names cropping up around the investigation. Among them, Oklahoma oil billionaire George Kaiser whose Kaiser Family Foundation was a principal investor in the company and owns 35.7 % of Solyndra (Yes Virginia, big "non-profit" foundations are also big corporate investors). Kaiser was also a bundler for the  Obama campaign in 2008 and raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama during the 2008 election through GBK Corp. Kaiser’s firm, Argonaut Ventures, is the single largest shareholder of Solyndra. 

Kaiser is also a big player in the world of school reform and in Arne Duncan's Race To The Top initiative. In May, he joined two Cabinet officials in announcing the $500 million RTTT competition on early learning and suggested Oklahoma's record in that area should give it a boost.

According to the L.A. Examiner, the company’s founder and CEO, Dr. Christian M. Gronet received $13.9 million in stock options on the same day the stimulus loan was announced. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to a group of Solyndra employees and investors, publicly announcing that the company “closed” the deal on the government’s $535 million loan guarantee. Biden boasted that Solyndra exemplified how well the stimulus is working by immediately creating thousands of well-paying permanent jobs. Gronet publicly thanked President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Chu, the Governor and the U.S. Congress for the support and loan. 

Kaiser reportedly made at least 16 White House Visits on behalf of Solyndra. In June, he met with senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, policy adviser David Pope and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (who as mayor of Chicago, now runs the city's school system),

George Kaiser insists that he is not directly an investor in Solyndra and denies any discussions with the U.S. government regarding the loan. The foundation however, says it “invests in a globally diversified portfolio across many different asset classes.” In its PR releases, the Kaiser Foundation claims that it is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty. It certainly has helped break George Kaiser's.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hedge funders eye N.J. schools

Billionaire Tepper
A new group backed by two hedge-fund founders is taking aim at New Jersey's largest teachers union. Better Education for Kids wants to end the use of seniority in teacher-hiring decisions, implement an effective teacher-evaluation system and weaken tenure.

Better Education for Kids was started by New Jersey residents David Tepper and Alan Fournier, who founded the Appaloosa Management hedge fund and the Pennant Capital Management hedge fund, respectively.

The billionaire boys (and girls) club

Charles (left) and David Koch.
Gavin Arensen at Mother Jones gives us a list of the biggest wing-nut billionaires who play with the Koch Bros. in their Vail, Colorado retreat. It includes:
The DeVoses: Rich and Helen DeVos hail from Michigan. The cofounder of Amway and owner of the NBA's Orlando Magic, Rich DeVos is reportedly worth in the ballpark of $4.2 billion. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation funds conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family. The DeVoses are big enough political donors to have their own profile at OpenSecrets.org.
The Griffins: Ken and Anne Dias Griffin are a hedge fund power couple from Chicago who wed in 2003. Ken is the founder and CEO of Citadel and is reportedly worth $2.3 billion. Anne founded one of the nation's largest woman-run hedge funds, Aragon Global Management. Ken bundled money for both President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain during the 2008 election.

The Marshall family: Elaine Marshall of Dallas is the widow of E. Pierce Marshall, a son of oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall who served on the board of Koch Industries before his death. Elaine was involved in a successful effort to prevent the late Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith, who married Howard when he was 89, from inheriting the family's wealth. Before Smith's death, she was investigated by the FBI but never prosecuted in a murder-for-hire plot against Pierce. In the end, Pierce inherited the bulk of his father's wealth because he and his father had previously helped Charles and David Koch thwart a takeover of Koch Industries; Howard's eldest son—also named Howard—sided against his father and was disinherited as a result. Meanwhile, Elaine's son, E. Pierce Marshall Jr., is senior vice president and general counsel at oil exploration company MarOpCo. Another son, Preston Marshall of Houston, is the president of MarOpCo.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Anger builds over $1M buyout of Ackerman in Philly

Philadelphians of every hue and persuasion have found something to be angry about in the buyout deal for former Superintendent of Schools Arlene Ackerman. For some, it's the roughly $1 million cost of the buyout... For the non-partisan, non-profit watchdog group, the Committee of Seventy, the issue has been the unusual and probably unprecedented dependence on anonymous private donors to help cover the cost of Dr. Ackerman's parachute. -- Education Nation
The $400,000 or so in private donations is being channeled through a non-profit organization established by the School District called Philadelphia's Children First. Its board of directors included Dr. Ackerman; lawyer Robert Archie Jr., chairman of the School Reform Commission, the state/city agency that oversees the schools, and Dr. Leroy Nunnery, an Ackerman deputy who is now acting superintendent and who has declared his interest in permanently winning Ackerman's job. Those who donated to the Ackerman buyout through Philadelphia's Children First get a tax deduction and, at least for now, complete cover.