Who's Pushing Privatization?
Arizona has deep ties to national efforts to privatize public education funded by the Americans for Prosperity, Koch brothers and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos’ Alliance for School Choice launched on May 17, 2004 on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and was headquartered in Phoenix before moving to Washington, DC, in 2007. Clint Bolick, who was recently appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court by Governor Doug Ducey, served as the Alliance’s first president and then moved to the Goldwater Institute as Vice President of Litigation. Bolick also has longstanding ties to the Koch Foundation, which bankrolled the founding of the Institute for Justice, where Bolick served as Co-founder and Director of Strategic Litigation from 1991-2004. Bolick was part of the legal team that argued the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) school voucher case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 2016 interview, Bolick stated that he decided to become a lawyer because “cases like Brown v. Board of Education made me realize that if you want to be a revolutionary in America the best route to doing that is through constitutional law. You can really achieve systemic change and principled outcomes.“ (quoted in Root, 2016, para. 5). His career has primarily focused on laying the legal groundwork for a national disinvestment in public education in favor of market-based education reforms.
DeVos’s own lobbying organization, American Federation for Children (AFC), a conservative group that promotes school privatization via the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has also been a national architect of the privatization movement. Founded in Milwaukee in 1998 as the American Education Reform Foundation, the name was changed to Advocates for School in 2004 and then to the American Federation for Children in 2009. AFC is currently funded and organized primarily by the DeVos family. As stated by the AFC’s website, the organization’s main focus is on privatization, including taxpayer-funded voucher and tax credits programs (“School Choice in America,” 2019). AFC’s Arizona affiliate, Arizona Federation for Children, is one of four state affiliates with full-time lobbyists.
Also influential in Arizona state politics is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national group that produces model legislation to be enacted at the state level. Many Republican legislators are or have been members of ALEC. In 2014, Goldwater’s Education Director, Jonathan Butcher, served as the Private Chair of ALEC’s Education Task Force. He currently serves as senior policy analyst in the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation and is the recipient of a State Policy Network award for Most Influential Research. Butcher worked with then state Senator Debbie Lesko, former ALEC State Chair, to attempt to expand ESA vouchers universally. Lesko was named ALEC’s 2016 Legislator of the Year, and currently serves in the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition, other national organizations continue to have a presence in Arizona including the Institute for Justice, founded by Bolick in 1991, which maintains an office in Tempe, and Americans for Prosperity, the national group founded and bankrolled by the billionaire Koch brothers, which has an Arizona affiliate in Phoenix.