Monday, October 22, 2012

The billionaire boys (and girl) club for charter schools

Posted By on Mon, Oct 22, 2012 at 9:23 AM

CHARTER BACKER: Brother Jim Walton has been most identified with charter school backing in Arkansas. Alice Walton has spent heavily in Washington.
  • CHARTER BACKER: Brother Jim Walton has been most identified with charter school backing in Arkansas. Alice Walton has spent heavily in Washington.
The charter school movement in Arkansas and everywhere has been accurately characterized as the Billionaire Boys Club. In Arkansas, Walton, Murphy, Stephens and Hussman money is the motive power of legislation to bust what few unions remain in Arkansas classrooms and promote charter schools (backers need not be proven) and other forms of "choice," with vouchers the ultimate game.

But it probably should says Boys and Girls Club, too.

Here's a sharp illustration from Washington state, where an intitiative would allow expansion of charter schools. I have to laugh at the backers' claim of "stric accountability." That was promised in Arkansas, too. It has been somewhat more true in recent years, much to the unhappiness of the billionaires, who probably have ideas about ridding the state Education Department and its board of those who have insisted on accountability.

In any case, in Washington, 91 percent of the $8.9 million raised to promote the charter initiative came from just 10 people. (You have a spare $800,000, don't you?)

Although wealthy donors pour millions into Washington state ballot measures each election season, what's unusual about the charter school campaign is that it depends almost entirely on big-money contributions from donors with no obvious financial interest in the outcome. Bill Gates contributed $3 million, one-third of the overall campaign donations. Millions more came from Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, and Mike and Jackie Bezos, the parents of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

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