National School Choice Week: PR For Privatizers?

On Wednesday morning, a roomful of school children were herded into a congressional meeting room and required to sit through an hour and a half worth of speeches by conservative Members of Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner, Sens. Ted Cruz and Tim Scott, Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Patrick McHenry, Education & Workforce Committee Chair John Kline of Minnesota, and a handful of others. Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana was the emcee.

The Capitol Hill event was in honor of National School Choice Week, whose organizers describe it as a nonpolitical, nonpartisan “independent public awareness campaign” promoting the idea that every child deserves access to an excellent education. Who would disagree?

In other words, it’s a PR campaign, one that wraps itself in the moral mantle of children. But the bright yellow scarves it wraps around its participants are meant to distract attention from the fact that sponsors of this week’s thousands of events include many anti-public education, anti-union, anti-government ideologues, including the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance for Prosperity and others. The President of National School Choice Week, Andrew Campanella, used to work at the Alliance for School Choice, whose board is chaired by deep-pocketed right-wing activist Betsy DeVos and is funded by a who’s who of right-wing foundations.

As we noted during last year’s NSCW:

Education policy is a vast, complicated, and hotly contested arena. Terms like “education reform” and “school choice” sound good, but they are so broad as to be almost meaningless. They can be applied to genuine efforts to strengthen teaching and educational opportunity as well as cynical schemes to destroy public employee unions and dismantle public education altogether.

In particular, “school choice” encompasses a huge array of education policies, from public charter and magnet schools to taxpayer-funded for-profit cyberschools and homeschooling.  Even a seemingly specific term like “charter schools” cloaks a more complex reality that ranges from innovation labs co-located in public schools to for-profit chain operations.  

Indeed, this year, Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter published “A Smarter Charter: Finding What works for Charter Schools and Public Education.” The book documents that the original vision for charter schools – teachers empowered to be creative in diverse schools that could identify ways to strengthen public education – has been turned on its head. Rather than a teacher-empowering and collaborative paradigm, charter schools are often noted for tightly controlled teachers in highly segregated schools dominated by an ideology of competition with public schools. 

There are more collaborative models, just as there are charter schools with strong academic track records as well as those that lag behind the public schools that choice advocates consistently disparage. Important distinctions get lost under the big, vague, banner of school choice. And that’s intentional.

NSCW is about painting in broad strokes and drawing no distinctions, for example, between public magnet schools and for-profit corporations cashing in on the “reform” movement. No distinction is made between giving students choice among their district’s public schools and diverting education dollars into religious academies and online homeschooling via vouchers and other schemes.  These do not have the same impact on public schools, or the same levels of public accountability, but in the interest of keeping things simple, and winning public support for across-the-board expansion of these programs, they’re all “choice.”

As we wrote last year:

The problem with this “collective messaging” approach is that it hides the anti-public-education agenda of some “reformers.” Celebrating “school choice” across the board lends credibility to organizations pushing for destructive policies that are not at all popular with the American public. In spite of decades of right-wing-funded attacks on public education, for example, Americans oppose privatization plans like vouchers that transfer public education funds to private schools.

Self-proclaimed reformers often dismiss concerns about privatization as a “red herring.” But you can’t embrace the Milton Friedman Foundation as a partner and then pretend that privatization is only an imaginary threat dreamed up by teachers unions.  Friedman has an explicit goal of getting rid of public schools altogether; they see programs like vouchers for poor kids as a tactical stepping stone toward that ultimate goal.

Other supporters of National School Choice Week have included companies that want to tap into the huge flow of public dollars spent every year on education. K12, a member of the “choice”-promoting American Legislative Exchange Council and a company the New York Times has described as “the biggest player in the online-school business,” paid its president more than $5.5. million last year; two other executives each made more than $4 million. A November 2014 investigation by Bloomberg focused on the company’s efforts to turn around “subpar test scores” and declining enrollments.

National School Choice Week promoters say it is nonpolitical and has no legislative agenda, but that’s hard to take seriously given the agendas of its backers. At this week’s event on Capitol Hill, the only Democratic Member of Congress to join the Republican parade was Illinois’ Dan Lipinski, who declined to endorse Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012. (Former Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford also spoke.)

Members of Congress at Wednesday’s event talked about pushing legislation this year to expand “school choice” programs, meaning that battles over vouchers, charter schools, and other education issues will be on the agenda this year, including February’s Senate markup of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “There are currently private school voucher and tuition tax credit programs in 23 states and at least 10 states are looking to create new or expanding existing school voucher programs this year.”

Obviously, not everyone who participates in National School Choice Week activities is an anti-public-education ideologue. People from across the political spectrum are eager to strengthen schools and give students an opportunity for a great education. That includes public school teachers, administrators, and school board members – people who are collectively smeared as “the blob” by some “reformers.” People who are seeking to strengthen public education and make schools better for all children should think twice about making common cause with organizations that see public education as something to be dismantled and corporations that see students as the means to a bigger bottom line.

This post originally appeared on People For the American Way's blog.

Right Wing Round-Up - 1/28/15

Right Wing Bonus Tracks - 1/28/15

  • BarbWire's Gina Miller laughably defends the American Family Association as a "peaceful Christian organization" that is being smeared with "damnable lies."
  • Newsbusters also tries valiantly to distract from Bryan Fischer's well-documented history of unmitigated bigotry by conveniently ignoring it entirely.
  • Sam Rohrer of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network is very excited about "the number of potential [Republican presidential] candidates who profess what he calls an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ."
  • Shocklingly, Rick Santorum's claim that all of the jobs created since 2000 have gone to immigrants turns out to be false.
  • Pamela Geller declares that "the vicious Jew-hating rhetoric coming from the White House is unusual even for an anti-Semite like Obama."
  • Finally, Glenn Beck is apparently so devoid of vision for his network that he has now been reduced seeking advice from his Facebook followers on what sort of shows he should be making.

Ben Carson: Police Protests Help Al Qaeda, ISIS

Last Wednesday, likely Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson appeared on “The Andy Parks Show” to discuss a recent meeting he had with the leader of the New York Police Department Sergeants Benevolent Association.

Carson told Parks that NYPD officers have completely lost faith with New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio because of comments he made that some perceived as sympathetic to people protesting excessive force by police in the death of Eric Garner. Lamenting the recent debates over police tactics in New York and other cities in the U.S., Carson worried that violent groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda will capitalize on the discord.

After Parks said people should move on and focus on “real problems” like national security threats — “We’ve got ISIS, we’ve got Al Qaeda, we’ve got constant terrorist threats around the world” — Carson cheerfully agreed.

“Can you imagine how delighted they are when they see all of this strife, internal strife?” Carson said. “They’re saying, ‘Oh my this is going to make it easy for us. We’ll get in there, we’ll infiltrate, we’ll get things going and they won’t even notice what’s going on.”

J. Christian Adams Attacks Loretta Lynch For Acknowledging That Structural Racism Exists

The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing today on Loretta Lynch’s nomination to be U.S. attorney general, which Senate Republicans mostly used as an opportunity to attack current Attorney General Eric Holder and to try to extract promises from Lynch that she would break course from Holder on issues like immigration enforcement.

But it might be tough for Lynch to completely appease Holder’s critics on the Right, who have repeatedly attacked the attorney general for working to fight racially discriminatory voting laws and acknowledging racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

In fact, J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department official who has become one of Holder’s most prominent critics on the Right, attacked Lynch today for her statements implying that structural racism exists in areas like voting rights and law enforcement.

“I think that Lynch buys into this same grievance industry about structural racism in the United States, about how minorities cannot get a fair shake ever, that the system is stacked against them, that it’s a collectivist, anti-individual approach to things,” Adams warned the American Family Association’s Sandy Rios.

“I think that Lynch is going to sound a lot like an Eric Holder mini-me when it comes to election issues and voter ID,” he said.

Earlier in the interview, Adams discussed an article he co-wrote with the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky yesterday urging Republicans, as he told Rios, to use the Lynch hearings to “extract course corrections out of the Justice Department.”

In particular, Adams wants the Justice Department to stop hiring attorneys who have previously provided legal representation to terror suspects. (Similar attacks on DOJ attorneys by Liz Chaney in 2010 were condemned by a group of Bush administration officials as “shameful” and “unjust.”)

“We’ve had an attorney general who has turned toward lawyers who have worked for Al Qaeda terrorists, who were their attorneys, to then work at the Justice Department,” Adams said.

“That’s how crazy it’s gotten in the last six years, where it seems that one of the top qualifications to become a lawyer working for the Justice Department is that you used to work at Al Qaeda, or for Al Qaeda detainees.”

Adams demanded that Republicans “get a commitment out of [Lynch] to stop catering to this far-left-wing legal world that hates U.S. foreign policy, that hates detainee policy, that hates Gitmo, that that hates our war on terror.”

Sandy Rios Thinks The Government Is Blackmailing Sen. Menendez With Discredited Prostitution Story

On her radio program today, the American Family Association’s Sandy Rios raised the prospect that someone in high places may be blackmailing Sen. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who recently agreed to delay a vote on an Iran sanctions bill he is cosponsoring as nuclear negotiations continue.

Rios speculated that Menendez has been “silenced” by someone with information about his alleged use of prostitutes. The prostitution story, which originated with The Daily Caller, was discredited after it was revealed that people were paid off to make the false claims about Menendez, possibly at the behest of the Cuban government.

But Rios seems to have missed the fact that the prostitution story was completely bogus, speculating that Menendez is now being blackmailed into delaying the vote on new Iranian sanctions.

“He has a terrible personal — there are terrible personal reports about his life, with prostitutes and young girls,” Rios said. “Remember he just barely made it through the last scandal so when people are not careful about their personal conduct, then they can be silenced over threats. Now I’m not saying — I don’t know that this is happening, but why in the world, suddenly he saw it very clearly just a few days ago, now not so clearly.”

Bryan Fischer 'Clarifies': Gay Activists Are Satan's Prisoners of War

On his radio broadcast today, Bryan Fischer sought to "clarify" the remarks he made on Monday when he asserted that gay activists are driven by "the unvarnished energy of Satan himself."

Laughably insisting that his liberal critics "cherry-pick" quotes from him which are then presented out of context, Fischer explained that gay activists are actually victims who have been captured by Satan and become his prisoners of war.

"They are actually captives," he said. "Prisoners of war, if you will, of the real ultimate enemy that we contending with ... Our real struggle is with the unseen forces that are pushing this agenda which is so contrary to the will of God. And so those human beings that are caught up in this agenda and are pushing this agenda and pressing this agenda, they too are victims of the energy and the forces that are behind the entire homosexual agenda. These individuals have been deceived. They have been taken captive by the same forces with which we contend and now he's manipulating them and using them to represent the agenda that he wants to accomplish":

The Family Leader Is Distributing David Barton's 'Christian Nation' Bible To Every Iowa State Legislator

Iowa Religious Right group The Family Leader, a key player in the GOP’s first-in-the-nation caucus, has a new plan to encourage legislators in Iowa to “do what God has asked them to do.”

The group is soliciting funds to purchase $100 leather-bound copies of “The Founders Bible" — which is annotated by hack historian David Barton with his thoughts on “our Judeo-Christian history as a nation" for each member of the Iowa state legislature. 

In “The Founders Bible,” legislators will find such educational passages as a retelling of Exodus that portrays Moses as the inventor of republican government; a made-up story about the early American government printing Bibles; an endorsement of the “Christian nation” concept from a notorious defender of slavery; information on the “many areas in which the Constitution specifically incorporated Biblical principles”; and an argument for the biblical origin of DNA evidence. All of this is intended to advance Barton’s view that the U.S. government exists to carry out his interpretation of the Bible’s commands.

In its fundraising appeal, The Family Leader asks churches to sponsor copies of Barton’s Bible to give to legislators in their own districts at the group’s “Life, Marriage and Family Rally” next week. While they’re at the state capitol, the group is asking pastors to meet with legislators in order to engage “in this war with Satan, who has taken many captive in Des Moines” through such means as “working to divide Christian organizations, back room deals, or organizations like Planned Parenthood pushing wicked policies”:

Our goal has been to encourage pastors to team up with The FAMiLY LEADER in accomplishing our two main goals at TFL:

1. Fulfill the Great Commission by sharing the Gospel in the civic arena. We do this by building relationships and showing the love of Christ to not only elected officials, but also staff, lobbyists, campaign workers, and many others who engage in the civic arena with the purpose of pointing them to Christ.

2. Pass righteous legislation that will help our brothers and sisters in the church, as well as current believers. Government is one of God’s three institutions, and when it fulfills its purpose, (which is to punish evil and reward good, Romans 13:1-4), it displays God’s perfect design. Our goal is to help our elected officials do what God has asked them to do.

One of the ways we accomplish these goals is by our work at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. The FAMiLY LEADER has four lobbyists who work at the capitol during the legislative session. The lobbyists are there to serve as missionaries. I am blessed to be one of them.

When pastors come to the Capitol, the first thing they do is meet with The FAMiLY LEADER team in the morning. We bring them up to date on what different legislation is being worked on, who is spiritually soft, who their ministers are, and who is in need of prayer. By meeting with us, we are able to bring pastors up to date as if they were there every day. Following the meeting, pastors then go upstairs to the House and Senate chambers and work with them to help them contact their different legislators.

What happens next is just amazing! We usually see dozens of pastors out in the Capitol rotunda praying, encouraging, building relationships, and sharing God’s Word with legislators and many others. The environment at the Capitol completely changes when these pastors are present. There is less cursing, less back-stabbing, and the place even seems brighter! There is so much spiritual warfare in that building. Whether it is Satan working to divide Christian organizations, back room deals, or organizations like Planned Parenthood pushing wicked policies, these pastors are engaging in this war with Satan, who has taken many captive in Des Moines.

Specific projects:

Legislator Bibles – We want to bring the Gospel to the Iowa Legislature. The goal is to get 150 Founders’ Bibles in the hands of Iowa’s 150 legislators.

But we need your help to accomplish this goal. We are working with churches in each legislators’ district to see if they will sponsor a Bible for their legislator. The cost for the Bible is $100.
When churches participate in the Iowa Capitol Project, they accomplish 3 big things:

1. Get a Bible in the hands of Iowa’s lawmakers.
2. Connect a legislator with a local church (which we believe is most important).
3. Have that local church faithfully praying for their legislator. (Imagine each legislator having a congregation faithfully praying for them. Wow! God could really use that!)

The Bible itself is a Founders’ Bible, which is a NASB Study Bible that focuses on our Judeo-Christian history as a nation. The Study Bible’s devotions are written by Dr. David Barton. The Bible will be leather bound with gold trim on the pages, and it will be embossed with Seal of Iowa and the legislator’s name. It will be something nice they will keep and hopefully read on a regular basis because of the compelling content pertaining to their job at the Capitol.

In order to initiate personal relationships between churches and legislators, we want a pastor and/or church members from the legislators’ own district to personally present the Bibles on February 3rd at our annual Life, Marriage, and Family Rally.

Right-Wing Activist Exposes The Obama-Ferguson-Islamist-Homosexual Plot To Destroy America

Bill Federer, a conservative “historian” who has shared a stage with the likes of Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, appeared on the conspiracy theory radio show “Trunews” this week to share his predictions about the future of America. Federer is notorious for wildly speculating about President Obama trying to fake an attempted assassination in order to win re-election, Hillary Clinton advancing worldwide Sharia law and U.S. military service members slaughtering millions of Christians, and “Trunews” host Rick Wiles was more than happy to hear out his theories.

Federer told Wiles that the “atheist homosexual gay agenda movement” will move America “into an Islamic future” complete with mythical Sharia law “no-go zones.” Wiles agreed, claiming that “the Muslims are the avengers, they are being sent in like hornets to sting us. They are the avengers that are coming in like a billion hornets coming in and just stinging and vexing the people.”

Federer also described an even more elaborate conspiracy theory.

According to Federer, the Arab Spring was all a coordinated plot by Islamic extremists to send the Mideast into turmoil in order to “set up a caliphate,” leading to an exodus of Muslim refugees who will come to America.

These refugees, along with Muslims smuggled into the U.S. through Muslim-run drug gangs, will then set up Islamic “sleeper cells” within the U.S. that will rise up once they “get a signal to have Ferguson riots in malls across America.” Once they start rioting, the government will then move to set up a “militarized dictatorship” under Obama’s complete control.

Wiles said that everything Federer told him is exactly what “the Lord showed me” years earlier in dreams and visions, proving that everything Federer said is true and will probably come about by the end of this year.

“We’re going to see unspeakable violence in this country. The Muslims are going to blow up schools, they’re going to blow up malls,” Wiles said. “It’s going to be done under the cover of a jihadist in the White House, a Marxist Muslim jihadist in the White House, planted there many years ago for this very day to bring down the nation. Mr. Obama’s election was no accident, it was the culmination of a carefully planned, funded and executed strategy to bring down this country.”

Federer and Wiles cited the work of Avi Lipkin, who predicted that Obama will “bring in 50-100 million Muslims” fleeing the Mideast to the U.S. and house them in National Parks and property seized under Agenda 21. Lipkin claims that Obama, whom he thinks is under the control of the Illuminati and Free Masons, also wants to turn women into “baby factories for Islam.”

“His warning has turned out to be true,” Wiles said.

“Again, I’m speculating,” Federer added, conveniently making sure that he doesn’t actually have to be held accountable for any of his claims.

Repeal Of Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Inspires Anti-Gay Activist That 'Once Again We Can Take Over Government'

On "WallBuilders Live" today, Rick Green and David Barton interviewed Mark Gonzales, the founder of the United States Hispanic Prayer Network, about the successful effort by anti-gay activists to overturn a nondiscrimination ordinance in Fayetteville, Arkansas, last year.

Gonzales, who considers himself to be the spiritual son of "respected prophet" Cindy Jacobs, shared his hope that the success they had in Arkansas would inspire anti-gay Christians to mobilize to repeal anti-discrimination ordinances all over the nation and to get more involved in politics "so once again we can take over government."

"If we begin to vote in our city council, citywide elections, we can begin to turn this thing around," he said. "We just keep getting additional folks to run for office that are coming from churches that are Christian and sound, principled businessmen and women, people of faith that can run for office. At the end of the day, it is going to take a movement of action, of voting movement, that we step up to the plate and go to the ballot box."

"If we're going to be, like we all like to say that we're the hands and we're the feet of Jesus, then we're going to have to be involved," Gonzales continued. "We're going to have become that vote and go to the ballot box and make sure we continue that extension of the kingdom in that place so once again we can take over government":

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