March 9, 2024

Mike DeGuire: OPINIONS Colorado’s PK-12 Enrollment Declines While Billionaires Fund Charter Schools

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Mike DeGuire is a coach for school leaders in Denver and serves on the board of Advocates for Public Education Policy. In an op-ed for the Colorado Times Recorder, he notes who is really pushing choice policies in Colorado.

Colorado is home to the most favorable set of laws for funding and opening charters in the country. Over the last two decades, Colorado state laws and local district policies were used to close neighborhood schools deemed as “failures” according to state-required standardized test results, and charter schools were opened in their place. At the state level, the Colorado state board of education ruled that the Adams 14 school district had to open a charter school in its district, even though the local school board had voted against it. Since 2005, Denver Public Schools closed forty-eight traditional neighborhood schools, and opened more than seventy charter schools. In Jefferson County, eighteen schools were closed while several charter schools have been opened.

The greatest boon to charter school expansion and viability, however, has been from billionaires who do not support the current public education system. Pro-charter billionaires like Reed Hastings, John Arnold, Bill Gates, Bill Daniels, Edythe and Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, and the Walton family have worked strategically to privatize public education in Colorado and elsewhere. The billionaires set up philanthropic systems by contributing to non-profit foundations to promote their goals. They support absolute parental choice in their child’s schooling, charter schools, vouchers/tax credits or education savings account systems, and limiting the existing role that school boards, educators, and teacher unions exercise in the decision-making for public education. They use their wealth to buy school board elections and to influence the decision-making of both legislators and school board members.

This is a concerted effort to award monetary grants to “overhaul the education system through a corporate model of privatization and market competition.” Their primary goal is to privatize the education system, while creating for themselves an “enormous tax evasion scheme.”

According to the Institute for Policy Studies’ (IPS) report, Gilded Giving 2022: How Wealth Inequality Distorts Philanthropy and Imperils Democracy, “the generosity of the 1 percent is not enough to replace precious public services — it’s become just another way for them to grow their wealth and power.” The report points out that “the foundation’s donors set up a system to allow them to appoint themselves and anyone they know as trustees, a status that allows them to dip into the foundation’s “charitable” funds to take out loans or be compensated to the tune of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, compensation that counts as charitable disbursements — all while enjoying the tax benefits of charitable giving.” A 2022 report on private equity, “How Wall Street profits from a public good”, documents that the increase in private equity in education has skyrocketed exponentially. Investors were alerted for decades to get involved with public education as a means of making money. This billionaire scam has been taking place for decades in the public education sphere.

In addition to funding charter schools and charter-supported organizations directly, the billionaire money is used to support school board candidates who will design policies to promote the disruption of district control. The billionaires and their foundations design key strategies with their grant recipients to elect board members who will restructure public schools based on a business model, market-driven philosophy. Thanks to the vocal support of Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis, the monetary influence of Democrats for Education Reform in local and state elections, and the investments from billionaires and their allies, the Colorado charter industry continues to thrive.

The Walton Family Foundation has invested more than $407 million to grow high-quality charter schools. Since 1996 when its charter-school funding began, the Waltons have given grants to fully one out of every four charter-school startups in the U.S. The Waltons believe that the public schools are failing students, especially students of color, and rather than spending money on the public schools, their solution lies in funding alternative governing models like charters. Their funding to Colorado charter schools and related organizations that support those schools is well over $20 million.

Reed Hastings and John Arnold’s City Fund, established in 2017, set aside over $200 million to promote charter schools, charter-lite (innovation) schools, and pro-charter groups in 40 cities across the countryReed Hastings, former CEO of Netflix, believes that public education today is not working, that local school boards should be replaced with a system of market-driven choice, and that parents should be the primary decision-makers for their child’s learning experiences.

According to Influence Watch, City Fund is “an education organization that funds initiatives to promote the growth of charter schools and other school choice organizations. It also funds activist organizations that support increasing charter school access and school choice programs.” RootED in Denver received over $40 million from City Fund, which they then distributed to charter schools and local community groups to promote charter schools in Colorado.

Read the full piece here. 

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