The Department of Education and school districts throughout the US are working with billionaire families such as the Waltons and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to undermine public education, Dustin Beilke reported for PR Watch in January 2016. Instead of defending public education in pursuit of equity for all students, the Department of Education (DoE) is working with organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—an alliance of corporate lobbyists and state legislators—as well as local chambers of commerce to encourage the conversion of public institutions into private charter schools.
A December 2015 DoE presentation showed that the federal government had spent over three billion dollars of tax-payer money to boost charter schools, supporting an uncritical assessment of how effective charter schools actually are. Beilke described the 25-slide overview of the DoE’s charter schools program as “an uncritical PR document embracing a magical idea of charter schools.”
According to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), although many charter schools have failed and closed in the last twenty years, the DoE continues to provide significant funding to promote them. An October 2015 CMD investigation, “Charter School Black Hole,” uncovered how much the federal government has invested in charter schools, as well as the DoE’s ties to ALEC. As Beilke reported, a slide from the December 2015 DoE overview of its charter school program acknowledged that it had spent $3.3 billion to “fund the start-up, replication and expansion of public charter schools.” However, Beilke reported, “CMD was unable to extract this number from DOE despite inquiries and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests since 2014.” The actual figure may be higher, because the list of charter schools receiving DoE funding appears to have been incomplete. Overall, the DoE overview suggested that it functions as a “propagandist” for charter schools, Beilke wrote.
According to the CMD report, “laws governing charters have been built by proponents,
favoring ‘flexibility’ over rules,” permitting an “epidemic of fraud, waste, and mismanagement that would not be tolerated in public schools.” As Beilke concluded, “the Department of Education’s charter school agenda matches that of the anti-education, pro-privatization movement that funds and promotes so much of the misinformation about public education.”
Corporate media have provided significant coverage of ALEC’s involvement in promoting charter schools, including its lobbying efforts, but the role of the DoE has not been well covered in the corporate press. A 2012 New York Times article, “Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools,” mentioned both ALEC and the DoE, but did not establish any connection between them.
Dustin Beilke, “Feds Cheerlead for Charter Schools, Aiding Private Philanthropy’s Takeover of America’s Public Schools,” PR Watch, Center for Media and Democracy, January 20, 2016, http://www.prwatch.org/news/2016/01/13019/feds-cheerlead-charter-schools-aiding-private-philanthropy’s-takeover-america’s.
Student Researcher: Karina Seiler (College of Marin)
Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)