Privatization of Public Education: A Joint Venture of Charity and Power

Connecting the Dots at the State Level

The Children’s Scholarship Fund was originally targeted toward five “partner communities” – Chicago; Jersey City; Los Angeles; New York; and Washington, D.C. It has since expanded to a total of 43 citywide and three statewide programs.53 Most of the affiliate programs administer the vouchers locally, with CSF merely distributing funds to the affiliates.


CSF gave $7.5 million to Michigan’s Education Freedom Fund (EFF), and EFF’s Dick and Betsy DeVos of the Amway Corp. matched the contribution with $7.5 million locally.54 Another $5 million was raised by Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit, whose archdiocesan schools would realize a government subsidy with vouchers.55

The DeVoses have been avid supporters of taxpayer-funded vouchers for years as well as major funders for Religious Right groups and causes. Dick DeVos fought for vouchers as a member of the Michigan Board of Education in the early 1990s.56 Dick and Betsy DeVos have contributed $25,000, and the Helen and Richard M. DeVos Foundation gave $100,000 to the Mackinac Center,57 a State Policy Network member.58 The Helen and Richard M. DeVos Foundation has also contributed money to such conservative, anti-public education groups as Focus on the Family in Colorado, Gary Bauer’s Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., and Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida.59

Betsy DeVos has been involved in other anti-public education efforts. She served as co-chair for Of The People, the group attempting to introduce parental rights amendments in the states. These state amendments would have provided disgruntled parents with a strong legal weapon for censoring public school curricula, weakened the ability of social service agencies to act effectively on behalf of children, and facilitated the adoption of vouchers for religious schools. She is chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and, according to the conservative Washington Times newspaper, is said to have close ties to Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, and James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family.60

The DeVos family contributed $1 million to the Republican Party for the 1998 congressional elections.61

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In Portland, Oregon, CSF doles out its funds through the Cascade Policy Institute (CPI)62, another State Policy Network member.63 Cascade’s president, Steve Buckstein, has a history of supporting anti-public education proposals. In 1990, he campaigned unsuccessfully for an Oregon tuition tax credit ballot initiative.64 As finance director for the pro-voucher side of the initiative, he helped outspend the opposition to the initiative $540,000 to $180,000.65

CPI’s executive director for Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland is Julie Riggs,66 who was previously employed as conference director at the libertarian CATO Institute and as deputy director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty,67 a pro-voucher legal organization whose board includes Kenneth Starr.68

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New York

New York is another voucher battleground state. One of the five original “partner communities,” CSF provides funds through the School Choice Scholarship Foundation, which actually began in 1997. The program has been championed by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who hopes that the foundation’s success will boost his own efforts to enact a program of taxpayerfunded vouchers for public school students to attend New York private and religious schools.69

The School Choice Scholarship Foundation was endorsed by former NYC schools chancellor Frank Macchiarola and former New York Democratic Rep. Floyd Flake,70 who with his wife owns and operates a religious private school in Queens that is associated with his Allen Church. Both Macchiarola and Flake are SCSF trustees.71 The other trustees and financiers include Thomas Rhodes of The National Review, and several board members of either the Manhattan Institute or the Empire Foundation for Policy Research72 (a State Policy Network member).73

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Florida is a hotbed of voucher legislation activity, with taxpayer- funded vouchers a major plank in Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign in 1998. A tax-funded voucher plan recently passed the Florida House and, in a modified version, the Senate. The bills are now pending reconciliation in conference.74

The Miami scholarship program is being funded with $2.5 million from CSF, with another $2.5 million to be matched from funds raised locally. The Archdiocesan Education Foundation of the Catholic Church in Miami has already pledged $150,000.75

Another pro-voucher Miami-based organization, Floridians for School Choice, is being matched dollar for dollar by CEO America in its efforts to help enact publicly funded voucher legislation. Patrick Hefferman, who had been the executive director of the Miami Archdiocesan Education Foundation, is the group’s executive director.76 Floridians for School Choice has 14 registered lobbyists to actively lobby for the passage of taxpayer-funded voucher legislation in Florida.77

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