DeVos’s Reverse Robinhood Act

Jim Hightower writes in OtherWords about Betsy DeVos’s scheme to rob from poor school districts and funnel the money to private schools.

Times of great adversity not only bring out the best and worst in society, but they also flush out some of the stinkiest and slimiest creatures. Think of war profiteers, hucksters who prey on poor hurricane victims, or Betsy DeVos.

Even in the Trump Kakistocracy, DeVos stands out as an especially loathsome plutocrat, constantly trying to weasel her far-right corporatist agenda into law.

As Trump’s education secretary, the billionaire heiress has been an out-of-control wrecking ball of America’s public schools, constantly conniving to drain tax dollars from public education into for-profit private schools — including some she personally invests in.

Worse, she keeps trying to rig the rules so fly-by-night for-profit colleges can more easily defraud their low-income students to enrich Wall Street investors who own these educational chains.

Now, the devilish DeVos is using the national coronavirus relief program as a way to impose her ideological agenda on American education, quietly pushing school districts to use some $58 billion in COVID-19 education money to fund wealthy private schools at the expense of lower-income families.

Officials in New Orleans, for example, say her plan would put 77 percent of their school relief allocation in private entities, and Pennsylvania says more than half of its school relief money would flow from the “most disadvantaged to more advantaged students.”

In addition to perverting the disaster program into a slush fund for her privatization agenda, DeVos has tried to pervert logic into Orwellian Newspeak. If the public money went primarily to public schools, her political staff explained, it would place wealthy, non-public schools “at a disadvantage.”

Yes, in DeVos World, the needs of the poor rich must come first, so they’re not discriminated against by the… you know, the actually poor.

“Kakistocracy” is government by the very worst people in society, and now it has a proper name: Betsy DeVos.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

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TEA Responds to Lee’s Backdoor Voucher Scheme

Amid reports that Gov. Bill Lee will go along with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s scheme to divert federal CARES Act funds to private schools, the Tennessee Education Association offered this response:

“We have a strong system of public schools in Tennessee that serve one million Tennessee children. Our students, families and educators are counting on local, state and federal officials to provide the funding needed to safely reopen public schools. Our public schools are the foundation of the communities they serve. Strong, financially stable local public schools are an important factor in rebuilding Tennessee’s economy.

The coronavirus pandemic should not be used as an excuse to advance bad ideas that siphon funding from public schools. Tennesseans have repeatedly rejected privatization schemes that use tax payer dollars to fund private school education. Our state leaders should prioritize providing a quality public education for every child in Tennessee, instead of following the lead of a woman who has repeatedly prioritized corporate profits over students’ education.”

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Jeff Bryant on DeVos’s Disruption

Education writer Jeff Bryant writes about how Betsy DeVos is using the COVID-19 pandemic to advance her school privatization agenda.

COVID-19 has shuttered public schools across the nation, state governments are threatening to slash education budgets due to the economic collapse caused by the outbreak. But the charter school industry may benefit from its unique status to seek public funding from multiple sources and expand these schools into many more communities traumatized by the pandemic and financial fallout. As school districts reported huge problems with converting classroom learning into online instruction delivered to students’ homes, often due to lack of funding, charter operators rolled out new marketing campaigns to lure families to enroll in their schools. Teachers have urged their districts to stop charter school expansions and co-locations, which they believe worsen the trauma that children in their communities are experiencing due to the virus. But the Trump administration and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have shown no signs of easing up their campaigns to further privatize public schools. “This is an opportunity,” said DeVos in an interview with right-wing radio talk show host Glenn Beck, “to collectively look very seriously at the fact that K-12 education for too long has been very static and very stuck in one method of delivering and making instruction available.”

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Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

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DeVos the Destroyer

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using the COVID-19 pandemic to further her school privatization agenda. Chalkbeat reports that DeVos is tying the awarding of certain CARES Act funds to a state’s willingness to further school vouchers and virtual schools.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will use $180 million in federal coronavirus relief earmarked for the hardest-hit states to create voucher-like grants for parents and to expand virtual education.

State education agencies can apply for federal money by proposing one of three things.

The first is “microgrants” — what some would call “vouchers” — meant to give families more options for remote learning. Those grants could be used to pay for tutoring, summer programs, tuition to a private or public school online program, counseling, test prep, or textbooks, among other things. The state must allow private organizations to provide those services.

The second option is for states to create a statewide virtual school or another program allowing students to access classes that their regular school doesn’t offer. States can either expand an existing program or create one from scratch.

Tennessee is already seeing the proliferation of virtual providers as long-time troublemaker K12, Inc. is facing stiff competition from Pearson to gobble up state dollars.

DeVos wont’ rest, it seems, until her dream of destroying public education has been realized. In a time of pandemic-induced panic and uncertainty, our nation’s Education Secretary is seeking to disrupt the stability and sense of community provided by public schools.

Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

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Voucher Mail

The American Federation for Children is sending targeted mailers to families in Nashville and Memphis advertising for the state’s voucher program that is slated to start in the upcoming school year. The voucher plan, once thought to be in doubt due to a range of problems, was funded in Gov. Bill Lee’s amended COVID-19 budget.

The American Federation for Children (AFC) is an organization previously headed-up by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos and Lee have a long-standing relationship, with Lee providing financial support to AFC.

Here are those mailers:

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Weingarten Talks DeVos

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten talks about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s attempts to privatize American public education in a recent article in the Guardian. Here are some highlights:


“We’ve had plenty of Republican as well as Democratic secretaries of education but none of them, even those who believed in alternatives to public education, actually tried to eviscerate public education,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Here is someone who in her first budget tried to eliminate every single summer school programme, every single after-school programme, and who has done everything in her power to try to make it harder for us to strengthen public [sector] schools.”


Weingarten commented: “Here you have someone whose job it is to help students, 90% of whom go to public schools in America, and to help students in higher education navigate through their student debt or try to mitigate it. She’s failed on both accounts. Instead, she’s tried to defund and dismantle public education and make it harder for us to help kids in public education.”


Weingarten commented: “I’m not surprised that a judge held her in contempt because, just like her boss, she mocks the rule of law. Her rule is: she’s rich and she’s a believer in her ideology and that should drive it, not her oath of office, not that this is democracy, not that she is the secretary of education. So the mood [among teachers] is: we told you so, we knew she’d be like this.”

MORE on how DeVos is scheming against America’s public schools.

Still, Governor Bill Lee is fully embracing the DeVos agenda in Tennessee. From fast-tracking vouchers to building a slush fund for charter schools, Lee is all-in on DeVos-style dismantling of public education.

Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

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All the Money, None of the Work

Private school advocates attempting to secure public funding from Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher scheme made clear this week they want taxpayer cash without any real accountability. Specifically, Chalkbeat reports these groups, including Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children, are resisting proposed rules requiring strict background checks on school employees.


Leaders of the Tennessee-based Beacon Center, the Florida-based ExcelinEd, and the Washington, D.C.-based American Federation for Children say the rule is unclear as written and could force private schools to run background checks that are far beyond the requirements for public schools. Such a mandate, they say, could place an “undue burden” on private schools wanting to participate in Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account program, as well as on their employees. 


Voucher supporters say they want participating private schools to face the same requirements as their public counterparts when it comes to employee background checks. At the same time, they don’t want private schools to be judged academically using the same state tests used by Tennessee public schools.

While voucher advocates, eager for taxpayer cash, expressed concern about having to follow the rules, a Department of Education representative indicated the rules are clear:


Deputy Education Commissioner Amity Schuyler, who is developing the program on behalf of her department, added that the state’s new law is clear that participating schools must conduct criminal background checks through the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The resistance to employee background checks from voucher advocates comes just months after a horrifying story out of a Nashville charter school in which a student was in a class taught by a substitute teacher who was also the woman who killed that student’s brother:


But that feeling of safety was shattered Friday when the twins had a substitute teacher in their math class. It was Khadijah Griffis, the same woman who had shot and killed their older brother last month.

This incident happened at RePublic Charter School. The school was using a New Orleans-based firm to source substitute teachers.

Additionally, voucher proponents are attempting to avoid accountability when it comes to state tests:

On the testing issue, the proposed rules would allow either Tennessee’s standardized tests or “any nationally normed assessment” already in use when the state determines if a school will be suspended or terminated from the program for poor results by voucher students. The inclusion of national tests was a concession to private schools, which don’t administer state tests. Board member Wendy Tucker expressed concerns last month that the accommodation wasn’t in keeping with the spirit of new voucher law, which requires all voucher students to take annual state tests in math and English language arts to track student performance.

The voucher vultures are making it clear: They want Tennessee taxpayer dollars and they want minimal accountability. While Bill Lee attempts to fast-track this ill-conceived initiative, perhaps the antics of the money hungry DeVos devotees will boost the chances of a budding repeal movement.

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Dunn Done?

Knox County School Board member Patti Bounds is officially in the race to take on Rep. Bill Dunn, reports KnoxTNToday:

Bounds has been contemplating a race for state representative for some time. The former elementary school teacher has served on the school board for five years, while incumbent Bill Dunn has served in the legislature since 1994. The two Republicans share similar views except on one fundamental issue: school vouchers. Dunn was the prime sponsor of Gov. Bill Lee’s bill for vouchers that passed by one vote after several deals were cut and most counties eliminated. Bounds supports public education and will resist efforts to divert state revenue toward private or church schools through vouchers.

The voucher legislation sponsored by Dunn passed the House by a single vote. That vote is now under investigation by the FBI. The Senate sponsor of the voucher legislation is also facing an FBI investigation.

In fact, while Bounds has experience as an educator and tireless advocate for public school students and teachers, Dunn has been at the forefront of the effort to privatize Tennessee’s public schools for years. That fight highlights the influence of big money from outside special interests:

The answer is shockingly simple and unsurprising: money. The details, though, reveal an unrelenting push to dismantle America’s public schools. Yes, this story includes familiar characters like Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers joining forces with a Tennessee cast to advance their vision for our nation’s schools. That vision: Public money flowing to private schools with little regard for the impact on students. In fact, the evidence is pretty clear—vouchers simply don’t achieve their stated goal of helping kids improve academic outcomes. Tennessee’s plan could result in taking more than $300 million away from local school districts to support private entities.

Will Republican voters stick with Dunn, who led the effort to use public money for private schools, or will they choose an educator and public school advocate?

Patti Bounds


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Making Failure Great Again

Governor Bill Lee has made no secret of his desire to expand charter schools across Tennessee. From doubling the funding available for charter school facilities to creating a “Super Charter Authorizer” that will override local school boards, Lee has made clear his disdain for public schools. A report from the Network for Public Education offers insight into why this strategy is destined to fail.

The report examines funds distributed by the US Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program and finds an alarmingly high 40% failure rate. Tennessee, always a national leader in the wrong categories, exceeds the national average with a 49% failure rate. Here’s more from the report specific to Tennessee:


Tennessee which has a 49 percent grantee failure rate, gave 38 grants of $10,000 each to schools that not only did not have a NCES number, they also did not have a listed name. Where did that $380,000 go? Apparently, the Department of Education has no idea.

Here’s more on the “success” of charters in Tennessee:

One hundred and twenty-one grants were given to open or expand charter schools in Tennessee from the federal charter schools program between 2006-2014. At this time, at least 59 (49%) of those charter schools are now closed or never opened at all. Fourty-three of the 59 grant recipients never opened at all.


Of the 43 that never opened, 38 did not even have a name. Only a grant amount was listed.

How much was spent on failed charter schools?

In total, $7,374,025.00 were awarded to Tennessee charter schools during those years that either never opened or shut down

This is the future Bill Lee wants for Tennessee — schools that never open or shut down just a few weeks into the year. Cash giveaways to private entities with little to no track record of positive impact. Taxpayer dollars wasted in the name of “choice” and the “free market.”

Bill Lee and his team of privatizers surely know these facts. They also don’t care. Steady, reliable service to the DeVos agenda of using public money to support private schools is all that matters.

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Bill Lee’s Wingman

We’ve already seen Bill Lee and his team of school privatizers use desperate measures in order to win votes for their “educational savings account” voucher scheme, but the latest effort reaches a new low. Team Lee turned to conservative mega-donor Lee Beaman (who gave Lee’s gubernatorial campaign $8000 in 2018) to pen an article in defense of school vouchers.

While the opposition to school vouchers includes resolutions from 44 school boards around the state, groups of parents, teachers, charitable foundations, civil rights groups, and even a former Senate sponsor of voucher legislation, the support appears to come from a small group of big money backers. The public face chosen for this group? A guy with a porn addiction who taped himself having sex with prostitutes in order to teach his wife how to better please him. You might say he’s certainly a fan of choice.

Beaman and Lee have been working together for years to bring school privatization to Tennessee. Both Bill Lee and Lee Beaman have been consistent supporters of the Tennessee affiliate of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children, a group that works to undermine public education and advance school vouchers.

It’s no surprise, then, that after bringing Betsy DeVos to Nashville, Bill Lee would turn to his other voucher buddy, Lee Beaman, to advance his privatization agenda.

In fact, as I wrote in December, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Bill Lee is taking our state down this dangerous road:

Even though as early as 2016, Bill Lee was extolling the virtues of school voucher schemes and even though he’s a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s pro-voucher Tennessee Federation for Children and even though he has appointed not one, but two voucher vultures to high level posts in his Administration, it is somehow treated as “news” that Bill Lee plans to move forward with a voucher scheme agenda in 2019.

Now, we’ve got Lee Beaman as the face and voice of vouchers ahead of a week when the privatization scheme known as ESAs will face key votes in the House and Senate.

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