May 27, 2023

Maurice Cunningham: Why Do the Walton Family and Charles Koch Fund Voices for Academic Equity Member National Parents Union?

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Maurice Cunningham is an expert on the world of dark money and education politics, In this post, he reminds us about the actual origins of the National Parents Union.

In 2020, mere months into NPU’s first year of operation, Vela sent $700,000 to NPU to promote homeschooling. NPU apparently had no track record in homeschooling or in grant administration, and as I show in Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization, has few if any parent organization members but plenty of charter  school industry members.

What does Koch want then? Let’s go to an excellent interview Jennifer Berkshire of Have You Heard? Podcast did with Christopher Leonard, author of Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America:

Christopher Leonard:  Know what the blueprint is. The Koch influence machine is multifaceted and complex and I am just telling you in a very honest way, there’s a huge difference between the marketing materials produced by Americans for Prosperity (Koch’s political organization) and the behind the scenes actual political philosophy. There’s a huge difference. And here’s the actual political philosophy. Government is bad. Public education must be destroyed for the good of all American citizens in this view.

So the ultimate goal is to dismantle the public education system entirely and replace it with a privately run education system, which the operatives in this group believe in a sincere way is better for everybody. Now, whether you agree with that or not is the big question, but we cannot have any doubt, there’s going to be a lot of glossy marketing materials about opportunity, innovation, efficiency. At its core though, the network seeks to dismantle the public education system because they see it as destructive. So that is what’s the actual aim of this group. And don’t let them tell you anything different.

In addition to the diverse appearing National Parents Union, Koch is also tied to the white backlash and anti-LGBTQ Parents Defending Education. If you think the two Koch groups are in conflict you may be focusing on tactics rather than goals. Koch’s endgame is that “public education must be destroyed.” NPU and PDE use different means to promote that ends. Focus on the ends.

What does the Walton family want? This is from my report Merchants of Deception: Parent Props and their Funders for Network for Public Education (where you can also find the Leonard quote above):

As the historian Nelson Lichtenstein writes, WFF is “the single largest source of funding for the ‘school choice’ movement and a powerful advocate of charter schools and voucher initiatives.” Quoting Lichtenstein, the Waltons’ support for privatization . . .

is an entirely ideological project, based on a desire to enhance the social and cultural value of a free market in which government is weak while public goods like . . .  education . . . are the fodder for entrepreneurial transformation. . . . Since public schools are by far the most pervasive of public institutions, and highly unionized to boot, this “$700-plus-billion-a-year industry”—John Walton’s phrase—has been a good place to start.

Read the full post here. 

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