National Privatization Groups

Organizations Pushing Privatization & Dismantling

Does “school choice” truly provide families choice, or is it possible that many families who seek educational choices for their children are being sold a bill of goods? It depends on the family. Families in wealthier suburbs with ample time and resources to provide lunches, private transportation, after-school tutoring, and other amenities might find success.

The reality for most students, however, is that “school choice” is really the “school’s choice.” We see that play out when a special needs family receives a voucher, yet is rejected from one private school after another. Or when an English Language Learner is asked to waive language learning services because the elite private school doesn’t offer them. Or when a child who doesn’t quite look, learn or pray like the other kids in the school is told the school down the street might be a “better fit.”

The lexicon of privatizers is filled with carefully crafted euphemisms: “opportunity scholarships” and “empowerment accounts” are actually taxpayer-funded vouchers that subsidize unregulated private schools while siphoning funds from what they discredit as “failing government schools.” And the term “school choice” itself derives from an anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-taxation movement that has undercut public institutions for decades.

National Privatization Groups

So, who has pushed this false narrative of “school choice,” and how did it spread so quickly and effectively when it’s predicated on lies?

One word: Money. Spreading information requires funding – a lot of it. Just the way Apple sells iPhones, or McDonald’s sells Big Macs, privatization proponents have major funders who sell “school choice” across the US. And the special interests that have been pushing this false narrative for decades are not hard to identify.

In the past decade, billions upon billions of dollars have been spent by special interests to privatize our public school systems and push policies that encourage draining public school budgets and siphoning funds to private and religious schools.

National Privatization Groups

Organizations Pushing Privatization & Dismantling

National Privatization Groups

Does “school choice” truly provide families choice, or is it possible that many families who seek educational choices for their children are being sold a bill of goods? It depends on the family. Families in wealthier suburbs with ample time and resources to provide lunches, private transportation, after-school tutoring, and other amenities might find success.

The reality for most students, however, is that “school choice” is really the “school’s choice.” We see that play out when a special needs family receives a voucher, yet is rejected from one private school after another. Or when an English Language Learner is asked to waive language learning services because the elite private school doesn’t offer them. Or when a child who doesn’t quite look, learn or pray like the other kids in the school is told the school down the street might be a “better fit.”

The lexicon of privatizers is filled with carefully crafted euphemisms: “opportunity scholarships” and “empowerment accounts” are actually taxpayer-funded vouchers that subsidize unregulated private schools while siphoning funds from what they discredit as “failing government schools.” And the term “school choice” itself derives from an anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-taxation movement that has undercut public institutions for decades.

So, who has pushed this false narrative of “school choice,” and how did it spread so quickly and effectively when it’s predicated on lies?

One word: Money. Spreading information requires funding – a lot of it. Just the way Apple sells iPhones, or McDonald’s sells Big Macs, privatization proponents have major funders who sell “school choice” across the US. And the special interests that have been pushing this false narrative for decades are not hard to identify.

In the past decade, billions upon billions of dollars have been spent by special interests to privatize our public school systems and push policies that encourage draining public school budgets and siphoning funds to private and religious schools.

Who Funds the Privatization Agenda

Who Funds the
Privatization Agenda

The groups pushing so-called “school choice” have a variety of motives (turning a profit, advancing religious beliefs, and limiting government), but one thing they have in common is deep pockets.

The DeVos Family Foundation

Betsy DeVos, US Secretary of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos married into the DeVos family, which runs a powerful foundation that pushes school privatization based on an evangelical, corporate ideology.

The DeVos family has donated at least $200 million since the 1970s to think tanks, media outlets, political committees and advocacy groups, largely to further school privatization and public funding of Christian schools. Betsy DeVos has repeatedly stated that her goal with these organizations is to find “ways that will continue to advance God’s Kingdom.” She has since referred to the K-12 school system as a “monopoly” and a “dead end.” Here are some examples of the strategic ways the DeVos family has bankrolled “school choice”:

  • Spent nearly $250,000 in Arizona in 2016 to elect pro-voucher candidates
  • Spent $4.75 million on a pro-voucher campaign in Michigan in 2000, which voters overwhelmingly rejected
  • Gave at least $6.1 million directly to Michigan elections from 2006 through 2016 to expand for-profit charter schools
  • Donated $200,000 to Florida gubernatorial candidate and voucher enthusiast Ron DeSantis weeks before the 2018 election, helping to save his floundering campaign. In 2019, the governor signed a $130 million voucher program into law.

The groups pushing so-called “school choice” have a variety of motives (turning a profit, advancing religious beliefs, and limiting government), but one thing they have in common is deep pockets.

The DeVos Family Foundation

Betsy DeVos, US Secretary of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos married into the DeVos family, which runs a powerful foundation that pushes school privatization based on an evangelical, corporate ideology.

The DeVos family has donated at least $200 million since the 1970s to think tanks, media outlets, political committees and advocacy groups, largely to further school privatization and public funding of Christian schools. Betsy DeVos has repeatedly stated that her goal with these organizations is to find “ways that will continue to advance God’s Kingdom.” She has since referred to the K-12 school system as a “monopoly” and a “dead end.” Here are some examples of the strategic ways the DeVos family has bankrolled “school choice”:

  • Spent nearly $250,000 in Arizona in 2016 to elect pro-voucher candidates
  • Spent $4.75 million on a pro-voucher campaign in Michigan in 2000, which voters overwhelmingly rejected
  • Gave at least $6.1 million directly to Michigan elections from 2006 through 2016 to expand for-profit charter schools
  • Donated $200,000 to Florida gubernatorial candidate and voucher enthusiast Ron DeSantis weeks before the 2018 election, helping to save his floundering campaign. In 2019, the governor signed a $130 million voucher program into law.

The Koch Foundation

Charles (left) and the late David Koch

Charles Koch (left) and the late David Koch

Brothers Charles and recently deceased David Koch, heirs to their father’s oil refinery fortune, have built Koch Industries into the US’s second-largest private company. The Kochs’ libertarian, free market convictions fuel their battles to keep government regulation away from their businesses.

The Kochs have waged a war on public education for decades. Holding $104 billion in collective wealth, their foundation has devised a multi-pronged political agenda to defund public education and privatize the school system nationally, state by state.

Their strategic mission to destroy public education has employed a massive propaganda campaign calling public schools “government schools” that are part of a “monopoly,” pushing for “innovation and reform” of our school system, decrying public schools as “one size fits all institutions” and demanding “school choice” at all costs. These carefully crafted words pervade the landscape, from think tank blogs to political speeches to talking heads.

  • Over the past decade, the Kochs have invested in a shadowy network of euphemistically named organizations like “Yes Every Kid” and the “Libre Initiative,” which work to proliferate vouchers under the guise of helping low-income kids.
  • Koch group “American Encore” has funneled substantial amounts into governor races and ballot initiatives around the US, including more than $1.4 million to elect Arizona Governor Doug Ducey in 2014 and $500,000 to kill Prop 204, an Arizona school funding initiative which failed in 2012.
  • In 2019, the Koch network announced its latest education lobby, Yes Every Kid, a lobbying organization that will monitor statehouses where it can effectively influence legislation to expand school choice.

The Koch Foundation

Charles (left) and the late David Koch

Charles Koch (left) and the late David Koch

Brothers Charles and recently deceased David Koch, heirs to their father’s oil refinery fortune, have built Koch Industries into the US’s second-largest private company. The Kochs’ libertarian, free market convictions fuel their battles to keep government regulation away from their businesses.

The Kochs have waged a war on public education for decades. Holding $104 billion in collective wealth, their foundation has devised a multi-pronged political agenda to defund public education and privatize the school system nationally, state by state.

Their strategic mission to destroy public education has employed a massive propaganda campaign calling public schools “government schools” that are part of a “monopoly,” pushing for “innovation and reform” of our school system, decrying public schools as “one size fits all institutions” and demanding “school choice” at all costs. These carefully crafted words pervade the landscape, from think tank blogs to political speeches to talking heads.

  • Over the past decade, the Kochs have invested in a shadowy network of euphemistically named organizations like “Yes Every Kid” and the “Libre Initiative,” which work to proliferate vouchers under the guise of helping low-income kids.
  • Koch group “American Encore” has funneled substantial amounts into governor races and ballot initiatives around the US, including more than $1.4 million to elect Arizona Governor Doug Ducey in 2014 and $500,000 to kill Prop 204, an Arizona school funding initiative which failed in 2012.
  • In 2019, the Koch network announced its latest education lobby, Yes Every Kid, a lobbying organization that will monitor statehouses where it can effectively influence legislation to expand school choice.

The Walton Foundation

From left: Jim Walton, Alice Walton, Rob Walton

From left: Jim Walton, Alice Walton, Rob Walton

The Walton family, co-founders of the world’s largest retailer Wal-Mart, is the richest family in the US; their combined network has $196 billion in assets. Heavily influenced by then-president Ronald Reagan’s 1983 manifesto “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform,” the Waltons vowed to drive education reform through “school choice,” which melded with their free-market competitive philosophy. (continued)

Reagan himself had been advised by Milton Friedman, the libertarian originator of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers. The Waltons committed to the promotion of school choice and vouchers and have subsidized these efforts throughout the states:

  • In 2009 alone, the Waltons poured $134 million into school choice programs across the US, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy
  • In 2013, the Waltons pledged $6 million to the Alliance for School Choice, one of the most powerful voucher lobbying firms already backed by the DeVos family
  • In 2016, the foundation committed to spending $1 billion over five years to grants to expand for-profit charters throughout the US; according to the Arkansas Times, these grants totaled $535 million in 2017 alone

The Walton Foundation

From left: Jim Walton, Alice Walton, Rob Walton

From left: Jim Walton, Alice Walton, Rob Walton

The Walton family, co-founders of the world’s largest retailer Wal-Mart, is the richest family in the US; their combined network has $196 billion in assets. Heavily influenced by then-president Ronald Reagan’s 1983 manifesto “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform,” the Waltons vowed to drive education reform through “school choice,” which melded with their free-market competitive philosophy. (continued)

Reagan himself had been advised by Milton Friedman, the libertarian originator of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers. The Waltons committed to the promotion of school choice and vouchers and have subsidized these efforts throughout the states:

  • In 2009 alone, the Waltons poured $134 million into school choice programs across the US, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy
  • In 2013, the Waltons pledged $6 million to the Alliance for School Choice, one of the most powerful voucher lobbying firms already backed by the DeVos family
  • In 2016, the foundation committed to spending $1 billion over five years to grants to expand for-profit charters throughout the US; according to the Arkansas Times, these grants totaled $535 million in 2017 alone

The Bradley Foundation

Richard Graber, President of The Bradley Foundation

Richard Graber, President of The Bradley Foundation

With assets over $800 million, the Bradley family has one of the country’s most powerful foundations. This politically active and highly conservative family, which has made substantial contributions to the far-right John Birch Society, adopted the earliest push for diverting public funds to private schools in their home town of Milwaukee. Their troubling philosophy was illuminated when the Bradleys gave $1 million to Charles Murray to research and write “The Bell Curve,” (1994) which argued that most African Americans are biologically inferior, and educational resources should be allocated to the intellectual elite.

  • From 2001-2011, the Bradley Foundation spent over $30 million in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S. bankrolling voucher expansions. (continued)
  • Now, according to internal documents discovered in 2017, the Bradley Foundation is methodically building a coalition of groups aimed at influencing state legislatures, from Arizona to Florida.

The Bradley Foundation

Richard Graber, President of The Bradley Foundation

Richard Graber, President of The Bradley Foundation

With assets over $800 million, the Bradley family has one of the country’s most powerful foundations. This politically active and highly conservative family, which has made substantial contributions to the far-right John Birch Society, adopted the earliest push for diverting public funds to private schools in their home town of Milwaukee. Their troubling philosophy was illuminated when the Bradleys gave $1 million to Charles Murray to research and write “The Bell Curve,” (1994) which argued that most African Americans are biologically inferior, and educational resources should be allocated to the intellectual elite.

  • From 2001-2011, the Bradley Foundation spent over $30 million in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S. bankrolling voucher expansions. (continued)
  • Now, according to internal documents discovered in 2017, the Bradley Foundation is methodically building a coalition of groups aimed at influencing state legislatures, from Arizona to Florida.

Who Pushes the Privatization Agenda

Who Pushes the
Privatization Agenda

These powerful special interests have, as you’ve seen above, invested in candidate races at almost every level of government. But their main influence derives from the shadowy network of well funded think tanks that promote policy to lawmakers, manipulate the media, and prolifically churn out white papers, blogs, and videos that use cherry-picked data sets to prove pre-determined conclusions: that public schools are “failing” and the only way out is through vouchers. Here are some of the more prominent organizations that shape public perception in Arizona:

These powerful special interests have, as you’ve seen above, invested in candidate races at almost every level of government. But their main influence derives from the shadowy network of well funded think tanks that promote policy to lawmakers, manipulate the media, and prolifically churn out white papers, blogs, and videos that use cherry-picked data sets to prove pre-determined conclusions: that public schools are “failing” and the only way out is through vouchers. Here are some of the more prominent organizations that shape public perception in Arizona:

Americans For Prosperity

Americans for Prosperity Logo

Primarily funded by Koch Industries, but also by the DeVos Foundation, AFP promotes a “competition model” for our public school system, and has pushed for expansion of vouchers year after year in Arizona. At the 2017 Koch Donor Summit, the Kochs announced that they plan to spend $300-400 million to influence politics and public policy in the subsequent two years through AFP and other organizations.

AFP was instrumental in pushing for universal voucher expansion in Arizona in 2017 (referred to the ballot by SOSAZ and defeated by voters as Prop 305 in 2018). AFP pursued litigation against SOSAZ alleging irregularities with the signature collection process, a claim that was rejected by the Arizona Supreme Court.

One of AFP’s primary tactics is glossy marketing campaigns touting the benefits of “school choice” through mailers, digital ads, and hired astroturf advocacy groups. Though they do not have to disclose funding or expenditures, AFP bragged in 2017 that they were spending $200,000 on just one of these campaigns.

American Legislative Council

American Legislative Exchange Council Logo

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a consortium of state lawmakers and corporate interests, who pay hefty dues each year to attend ALEC events and network with these lawmakers. ALEC has revenues of over $10 million per year from donations from corporations, as well as the Kochs, the Bradleys, and others.

ALEC works to achieve its ideal “limited government” by drafting and propagating “model” legislation, which is replicated across states regardless of need. ALEC produces sample bills on myriad issues, including private school vouchers. The 2011 legislation that introduced ESA vouchers in Arizona was ALEC copycat legislation, and so was 2017’s universal voucher expansion bill.

In Arizona, ALEC-generated bills have dominated the state legislature for years. A 2019 expose by the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity, “Copy, Paste, Legislate,” found that Arizona was second among all the states for copycat legislation, introducing at least 209 ALEC bills in a 2-year time period.

State lawmakers once drafted bills based on constituent needs; now, lawmakers frequently sponsor and sign “copy/paste”bills pushed by Washington, D.C. special interests without knowing their content or questioning who they benefit or harm. In sum— ALEC-approved representatives no longer represent their constituents.

EdChoice

EdChoice Logo

Based in Indianapolis, EdChoice was founded by Milton Friedman, the controversial free-market economist who originated the concept of voucher programs in his 1955 essay “The Role of Government in Education.” Friedman advocated for turning the entire public education system over to the free market, claiming that competition would improve schools, cost less and yield superior educational outcomes. When speaking at an ALEC meeting in 2006, Friedman insisted, “The ideal way would be to abolish the public school system… how? Vouchers.”

The organization’s mission is to advance “school choice for all children” nationwide, with an annual operating budget of about $4.5 million in undisclosed funding. EdChoice ranks Arizona #1 in school choice due to its exponentially increasing taxpayer-funded ESA and STO vouchers, despite the fact that Arizona public schools are 46th in the nation in student spending. Well-paid EdChoice lobbyists work closely with state lawmakers around the country to push school choice bills year after year.

Institute for Justice

Institute for Justice logo

Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, appointed by Gov. Ducey to the Arizona Supreme Court in 2016, co-founded the anti-regulation, pro-privatization Institute for Justice with funding from Charles Koch in 1991 and served as its Vice President for 13 years.

With a yearly operating budget of $28 million, the Institute focuses on high-level litigation and legislative reform. Funders include the Kochs and the DeVos Foundation.

The IJ scored a victory in Espinoza v. Montana, a landmark US Supreme Court case that requires states with tax credit vouchers to include religious institutions. This case eliminates state constitutional amendments that prohibit state funding of religious schools, called Blaine Amendments, and opens the floodgates to publicly funded private religious education all around the US.

American Federation for Children

American Federation for Children Logo

The American Federation for Children was created and funded largely by Betsy DeVos. It was founded in Milwaukee in 1998, moved to Arizona in 2004, and then settled in Washington, DC in 2009. Its mission is promoting school choice with a specific focus on advocating for taxpayer-funded private school vouchers. Arizona is one of the few states with a dedicated AFC affiliate, which directly lobbies lawmakers, pushes policy, recruits families to apply for ESA vouchers, and more.

AFC co-sponsored the “Education Savings Account Act” at its partner American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) April 2011 meeting in Cincinnati, where it became an ALEC bill available to all states, and was subsequently passed into law in Arizona. AFC creates promotional videos of cherry-picked parents and students who are compensated and bussed en masse to legislative committee hearings to promote vouchers.

Goldwater Institute

Goldwater Institute logo

The Goldwater Institute spends over $4 million each year to push anti-regulation policies and ALEC copycat legislation, to litigate on behalf of publicly funded private school options and other libertarian ideals, and to lobby lawmakers. It has strong ties to Koch Industries and the Bradley Foundation.

The Goldwater Institute was the primary force behind Senate Bill 1431, universal voucher expansion, in 2017. To coerce reluctant Republican lawmakers to vote for the unpopular bill, they and other groups introduced a cap of 30,000 students as a compromise; however, upon passage of the bill, the Goldwater Institute immediately sent out a victory email stating: “Fifty years in the making, and tonight we closed the deal! Universal education savings accounts. There is a cap at 5,000 new kids per year; we will get it lifted.” –a claim that makes clear their intent to dismantle public education and divert taxpayer money to support private, religious schools.

Currently, the Institute has filed suit against the Arizona Department of Education and Superintendent Kathy Hoffman contending that it doesn’t have the authority to enforce rules governing the voucher program, that it cannot require parents who have misspent voucher money to reimburse the state, and that funding should not be dependent upon whether parents follow the law and file expense reports.

The Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation logo

The Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973, played an instrumental role during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership” became a blueprint for Reagan in his bid to shrink government, and remains one of the most influential conservative think tanks in the country, driving policy in every presidential administration. It has received countless millions from the Kochs, the Bradleys, the DeVos family, the Waltons, the Coors, and many other wealthy families and corporations. The organization has a yearly operating budget over $80 million. Their research (slanted to achieve their predetermined conclusions) is used to influence policy at the national and state levels, and in 2017 they launched a new arm focusing on K-12 school choice called the Center for Education Policy.

Currently, the Heritage Foundation produces white papers to convince lawmakers not to fund public schools during the COVID pandemic and to instead fund vouchers. Most recently, the Heritage Foundation is pushing publicly subsidized Microschools.

Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Thomas B. Fordham Institute Logo

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute sells itself as “America’s leading education reform think tank.” As stated earlier, “reform” is typically a dog whistle for school choice. With an operating budget of $4.5 million, the Institute churns out op-eds, white papers, blogs, and essays at a breakneck pace. The Institute is funded by the Bradley Foundation and the Walton Foundation, as well as many other “reform”-driven organizations. It is currently disseminating non-stop podcasts, blogs, and webinars about redirecting education funding away from public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cato Institute

CATO Institute logo

The Cato Institute was founded in 1974 by Charles Koch, along with Ed Crane and Murray Rothbard, who believed in the voluntary separation of races and spoke admiringly of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. It currently serves as a “think tank” for incubating new libertarian ideas and fights for elimination of the IRS and Federal Reserve. Through 2016, the Cato Institute received $2.5 million from the Bradley Foundation. In 2012, the New York Times reported that the Kochs had donated more than $30 million to the organization.

According to its website, the Cato Institute takes a position against public schools, arguing that the country should “break up the longstanding government monopoly” of public schools. They push policies at the state level to “institute school choice on a broad scale, moving toward a competitive education market.”

The billions of dollars spent to create and disseminate the “school choice” propaganda campaign are staggering. But when you listen to the individuals and organizations pushing this agenda, it’s easy to see why — to them, these billions of dollars are a small investment that will have major returns. In their eyes, K-12 education is an “untapped monopoly” with an annual budget of $200 billion. The potential profit margin in privatizing public education is astronomical.

In reality, from traditional neighborhood schools to STEM and Arts schools, from magnet schools to Montessori, America’s public schools offer robust choices and serve all children. Selling “school choice” is not about our kids; it’s about profit — and the real question is, will the American people fall for the propaganda, or can we come together and save the foundation of our democracy, our public schools?

Americans For Prosperity

Americans for Prosperity Logo

Primarily funded by Koch Industries, but also by the DeVos Foundation, AFP promotes a “competition model” for our public school system, and has pushed for expansion of vouchers year after year in Arizona. At the 2017 Koch Donor Summit, the Kochs announced that they plan to spend $300-400 million to influence politics and public policy in the subsequent two years through AFP and other organizations.

AFP was instrumental in pushing for universal voucher expansion in Arizona in 2017 (referred to the ballot by SOSAZ and defeated by voters as Prop 305 in 2018). AFP pursued litigation against SOSAZ alleging irregularities with the signature collection process, a claim that was rejected by the Arizona Supreme Court.

One of AFP’s primary tactics is glossy marketing campaigns touting the benefits of “school choice” through mailers, digital ads, and hired astroturf advocacy groups. Though they do not have to disclose funding or expenditures, AFP bragged in 2017 that they were spending $200,000 on just one of these campaigns.

American Legislative Council

American Legislative Exchange Council Logo

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a consortium of state lawmakers and corporate interests, who pay hefty dues each year to attend ALEC events and network with these lawmakers. ALEC has revenues of over $10 million per year from donations from corporations, as well as the Kochs, the Bradleys, and others.

ALEC works to achieve its ideal “limited government” by drafting and propagating “model” legislation, which is replicated across states regardless of need. ALEC produces sample bills on myriad issues, including private school vouchers. The 2011 legislation that introduced ESA vouchers in Arizona was ALEC copycat legislation, and so was 2017’s universal voucher expansion bill.

In Arizona, ALEC-generated bills have dominated the state legislature for years. A 2019 expose by the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity, “Copy, Paste, Legislate,” found that Arizona was second among all the states for copycat legislation, introducing at least 209 ALEC bills in a 2-year time period.

State lawmakers once drafted bills based on constituent needs; now, lawmakers frequently sponsor and sign “copy/paste”bills pushed by Washington, D.C. special interests without knowing their content or questioning who they benefit or harm. In sum— ALEC-approved representatives no longer represent their constituents.

EdChoice

EdChoice Logo

Based in Indianapolis, EdChoice was founded by Milton Friedman, the controversial free-market economist who originated the concept of voucher programs in his 1955 essay “The Role of Government in Education.” Friedman advocated for turning the entire public education system over to the free market, claiming that competition would improve schools, cost less and yield superior educational outcomes. When speaking at an ALEC meeting in 2006, Friedman insisted, “The ideal way would be to abolish the public school system… how? Vouchers.”

The organization’s mission is to advance “school choice for all children” nationwide, with an annual operating budget of about $4.5 million in undisclosed funding. EdChoice ranks Arizona #1 in school choice due to its exponentially increasing taxpayer-funded ESA and STO vouchers, despite the fact that Arizona public schools are 46th in the nation in student spending. Well-paid EdChoice lobbyists work closely with state lawmakers around the country to push school choice bills year after year.

Institute for Justice

Institute for Justice logo

Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, appointed by Gov. Ducey to the Arizona Supreme Court in 2016, co-founded the anti-regulation, pro-privatization Institute for Justice with funding from Charles Koch in 1991 and served as its Vice President for 13 years.

With a yearly operating budget of $28 million, the Institute focuses on high-level litigation and legislative reform. Funders include the Kochs and the DeVos Foundation.

The IJ scored a victory in Espinoza v. Montana, a landmark US Supreme Court case that requires states with tax credit vouchers to include religious institutions. This case eliminates state constitutional amendments that prohibit state funding of religious schools, called Blaine Amendments, and opens the floodgates to publicly funded private religious education all around the US.

American Federation for Children

American Federation for Children Logo

The American Federation for Children was created and funded largely by Betsy DeVos. It was founded in Milwaukee in 1998, moved to Arizona in 2004, and then settled in Washington, DC in 2009. Its mission is promoting school choice with a specific focus on advocating for taxpayer-funded private school vouchers. Arizona is one of the few states with a dedicated AFC affiliate, which directly lobbies lawmakers, pushes policy, recruits families to apply for ESA vouchers, and more.

AFC co-sponsored the “Education Savings Account Act” at its partner American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) April 2011 meeting in Cincinnati, where it became an ALEC bill available to all states, and was subsequently passed into law in Arizona. AFC creates promotional videos of cherry-picked parents and students who are compensated and bussed en masse to legislative committee hearings to promote vouchers.

Goldwater Institute

Goldwater Institute logo

The Goldwater Institute spends over $4 million each year to push anti-regulation policies and ALEC copycat legislation, to litigate on behalf of publicly funded private school options and other libertarian ideals, and to lobby lawmakers. It has strong ties to Koch Industries and the Bradley Foundation.

The Goldwater Institute was the primary force behind Senate Bill 1431, universal voucher expansion, in 2017. To coerce reluctant Republican lawmakers to vote for the unpopular bill, they and other groups introduced a cap of 30,000 students as a compromise; however, upon passage of the bill, the Goldwater Institute immediately sent out a victory email stating: “Fifty years in the making, and tonight we closed the deal! Universal education savings accounts. There is a cap at 5,000 new kids per year; we will get it lifted.” –a claim that makes clear their intent to dismantle public education and divert taxpayer money to support private, religious schools.

Currently, the Institute has filed suit against the Arizona Department of Education and Superintendent Kathy Hoffman contending that it doesn’t have the authority to enforce rules governing the voucher program, that it cannot require parents who have misspent voucher money to reimburse the state, and that funding should not be dependent upon whether parents follow the law and file expense reports.

The Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation logo

The Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973, played an instrumental role during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership” became a blueprint for Reagan in his bid to shrink government, and remains one of the most influential conservative think tanks in the country, driving policy in every presidential administration. It has received countless millions from the Kochs, the Bradleys, the DeVos family, the Waltons, the Coors, and many other wealthy families and corporations. The organization has a yearly operating budget over $80 million. Their research (slanted to achieve their predetermined conclusions) is used to influence policy at the national and state levels, and in 2017 they launched a new arm focusing on K-12 school choice called the Center for Education Policy.

Currently, the Heritage Foundation produces white papers to convince lawmakers not to fund public schools during the COVID pandemic and to instead fund vouchers. Most recently, the Heritage Foundation is pushing publicly subsidized Microschools.

Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Thomas B. Fordham Institute Logo

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute sells itself as “America’s leading education reform think tank.” As stated earlier, “reform” is typically a dog whistle for school choice. With an operating budget of $4.5 million, the Institute churns out op-eds, white papers, blogs, and essays at a breakneck pace. The Institute is funded by the Bradley Foundation and the Walton Foundation, as well as many other “reform”-driven organizations. It is currently disseminating non-stop podcasts, blogs, and webinars about redirecting education funding away from public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cato Institute

CATO Institute logo

The Cato Institute was founded in 1974 by Charles Koch, along with Ed Crane and Murray Rothbard, who believed in the voluntary separation of races and spoke admiringly of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. It currently serves as a “think tank” for incubating new libertarian ideas and fights for elimination of the IRS and Federal Reserve. Through 2016, the Cato Institute received $2.5 million from the Bradley Foundation. In 2012, the New York Times reported that the Kochs had donated more than $30 million to the organization.

According to its website, the Cato Institute takes a position against public schools, arguing that the country should “break up the longstanding government monopoly” of public schools. They push policies at the state level to “institute school choice on a broad scale, moving toward a competitive education market.”

The billions of dollars spent to create and disseminate the “school choice” propaganda campaign are staggering. But when you listen to the individuals and organizations pushing this agenda, it’s easy to see why — to them, these billions of dollars are a small investment that will have major returns. In their eyes, K-12 education is an “untapped monopoly” with an annual budget of $200 billion. The potential profit margin in privatizing public education is astronomical.

In reality, from traditional neighborhood schools to STEM and Arts schools, from magnet schools to Montessori, America’s public schools offer robust choices and serve all children. Selling “school choice” is not about our kids; it’s about profit — and the real question is, will the American people fall for the propaganda, or can we come together and save the foundation of our democracy, our public schools?

Organizations Fighting Privatization & Dismantling

Organizations Fighting Privatization & Dismantling

While the groups fighting the privatization of our public schools don’t have access to the same networks of hyper-wealthy donors who are also often donating to political candidates, they still have large grassroots organizations of people committed to protecting our valuable community institutions, especially our public schools. Fortunately, we are starting to see people power leading to victories over the deep pockets of privatization, but the fight still needs a lot of support.

Network for Public Education

Network for Public Education

The Network for Public Education was founded in 2013 by Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.

They are an advocacy group whose mission is to preserve, promote, improve and strengthen public schools for both current and future generations of students. The goal of NPE is to connect all those who are passionate about our schools – students, parents, teachers and citizens. NPE shares information and research on vital issues that concern the future of public education at a time when it is under attack.
The Network for Public Education was founded in 2013 by Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.

They are an advocacy group whose mission is to preserve, promote, improve and strengthen public schools for both current and future generations of students. The goal of NPE is to connect all those who are passionate about our schools – students, parents, teachers and citizens. NPE shares information and research on vital issues that concern the future of public education at a time when it is under attack.

Education Law Center

Education Law Center Logo

Education Law Center (ELC) was founded in 1973 focusing on New Jersey’s public school students and has become one of the most effective advocates for equal educational opportunity and education justice in the United States.

Widely recognized for groundbreaking court rulings on behalf of at-risk students, ELC also promotes educational equity through coalition building, litigation support, policy development, communications, and action-focused research in New Jersey, in other states, and at the federal level.

ELC’s legal and policy advocacy, which includes such landmark rulings as Abbott v. Burke, has significantly advanced the provision of fair school funding, high quality early education, safe and adequate school facilities, and school reform, especially to schools serving high concentrations of at-risk students and students with disabilities and other special needs. These successes have, in turn, resulted in strong academic gains and progress in closing student achievement gaps in New Jersey.

Public Funds Public Schools

Public Funds Public Schools logo

Public Funds Public Schools was founded to create a robust, sustained response to safeguard the nation’s public schools from efforts to undermine public education by promoting the use of public funds for private education – including through various kinds of private school vouchers (traditional private school vouchers, tax credit vouchers, and education savings account vouchers, among others).

Public Funds Public Schools is a national campaign supported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC Action Fund, Education Law Center, and Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP that strives to ensure that all public funds for education are used to maintain and support public schools. PFPS uses a range of tools to protect and promote public education, including litigation, advocacy, and research.

Why Groups Undermine Public Education

Privatizing education is usually just one aspect of these groups’ larger vision for government and public services. Some organizations are solely focused on education, such as EdChoice and American Federation for Children, while others focus on multiple areas and education is simply one of them, like Goldwater and CATO. But even those who solely focus on education are integrated into a large network of organizations and donors who have a mission larger than education.

While the groups fighting the privatization of our public schools don’t have access to the same networks of hyper-wealthy donors who are also often donating to political candidates, they still have large grassroots organizations of people committed to protecting our valuable community institutions, especially our public schools. Fortunately, we are starting to see people power leading to victories over the deep pockets of privatization, but the fight still needs a lot of support.

Network for Public Education

Network for Public Education

The Network for Public Education was founded in 2013 by Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.

They are an advocacy group whose mission is to preserve, promote, improve and strengthen public schools for both current and future generations of students. The goal of NPE is to connect all those who are passionate about our schools – students, parents, teachers and citizens. NPE shares information and research on vital issues that concern the future of public education at a time when it is under attack.
The Network for Public Education was founded in 2013 by Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.

They are an advocacy group whose mission is to preserve, promote, improve and strengthen public schools for both current and future generations of students. The goal of NPE is to connect all those who are passionate about our schools – students, parents, teachers and citizens. NPE shares information and research on vital issues that concern the future of public education at a time when it is under attack.

Education Law Center

Education Law Center Logo

Education Law Center (ELC) was founded in 1973 focusing on New Jersey’s public school students and has become one of the most effective advocates for equal educational opportunity and education justice in the United States.

Widely recognized for groundbreaking court rulings on behalf of at-risk students, ELC also promotes educational equity through coalition building, litigation support, policy development, communications, and action-focused research in New Jersey, in other states, and at the federal level.

ELC’s legal and policy advocacy, which includes such landmark rulings as Abbott v. Burke, has significantly advanced the provision of fair school funding, high quality early education, safe and adequate school facilities, and school reform, especially to schools serving high concentrations of at-risk students and students with disabilities and other special needs. These successes have, in turn, resulted in strong academic gains and progress in closing student achievement gaps in New Jersey.

Public Funds Public Schools

Public Funds Public Schools logo

Public Funds Public Schools was founded to create a robust, sustained response to safeguard the nation’s public schools from efforts to undermine public education by promoting the use of public funds for private education – including through various kinds of private school vouchers (traditional private school vouchers, tax credit vouchers, and education savings account vouchers, among others).

Public Funds Public Schools is a national campaign supported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC Action Fund, Education Law Center, and Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP that strives to ensure that all public funds for education are used to maintain and support public schools. PFPS uses a range of tools to protect and promote public education, including litigation, advocacy, and research.

Why Groups Undermine
Public Education

Privatizing education is usually just one aspect of these groups’ larger vision for government and public services. Some organizations are solely focused on education, such as EdChoice and American Federation for Children, while others focus on multiple areas and education is simply one of them, like Goldwater and CATO. But even those who solely focus on education are integrated into a large network of organizations and donors who have a mission larger than education.

Extreme Policy Objectives of Privatization Groups

  • The most common is a no-strings-attached, publicly funded, private education voucher.
  • Somewhat commonly held but generally seen as unattainable is to have all schools be privately run and for all parents to have only private options with public funding. This model is being tested in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, as all schools in the city are now privately run charter schools and all traditional public schools have been closed.
  • The least common is for an eradication of public education entirely, to include an elimination of all public funding of education, even for private options. The argument for this position is that families will simply keep their tax dollars and then prioritize the education they want without any government intervention. Groups who hold this position view taxation as theft and seek to minimize and eliminate all forms of taxation.

Privatization groups often have the funding and resources to play a long game, so for them, time is on their side. They also benefit greatly from the lack of political participation by most Americans, and often they try to keep their work as low under the radar as possible. There is a general understanding that if the public fully understood what was being pushed their fight would be more difficult. This is why you see things like vouchers being called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, ESAs, even though ESAs are a type of voucher. Obfuscation and a low profile are critical.

Extreme Policy Objectives of Privatization Groups

  • The most common is a no-strings-attached, publicly funded, private education voucher.
  • Somewhat commonly held but generally seen as unattainable is to have all schools be privately run and for all parents to have only private options with public funding. This model is being tested in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, as all schools in the city are now privately run charter schools and all traditional public schools have been closed.
  • The least common is for an eradication of public education entirely, to include an elimination of all public funding of education, even for private options. The argument for this position is that families will simply keep their tax dollars and then prioritize the education they want without any government intervention. Groups who hold this position view taxation as theft and seek to minimize and eliminate all forms of taxation.

Privatization groups often have the funding and resources to play a long game, so for them, time is on their side. They also benefit greatly from the lack of political participation by most Americans, and often they try to keep their work as low under the radar as possible. There is a general understanding that if the public fully understood what was being pushed their fight would be more difficult. This is why you see things like vouchers being called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, ESAs, even though ESAs are a type of voucher. Obfuscation and a low profile are critical.

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