Strategy for Privatizing Public Schools Spelled out by Dick DeVos in 2002 Heritage Foundation Speech
Ten years later, the DeVos stealth strategy has been implemented and is winning the voucher war in several states. As recommended to the Heritage Foundation in 2002, the public face of the movement is bipartisan and grass roots, and millions of dollars are poured into media firms to reinforce that image. However, behind the scenes the movement continues to be led by the DeVoses, and the funding used to provide "rewards or consequences" for state legislators continues to be raised from a small group of mega-donors.
Dick DeVos is the son of Richard and Helen DeVos, major funders of the Republican party and of numerous "free market" think tanks. The DeVos fortune was made through Amway, the multi-tiered home products business. Betsy DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince of Blackwater notoriety and the daughter of Elsa and the late Edgar Prince, major funders of Religious Right political activism.
The 2002 DeVos Speech
In his 2002 speech, DeVos claims that the only remaining defense against school choice programs is the argument that they hurt public schools. He responds,
"What is the purpose of a school today? Because if the purpose is to educate children, how can we hurt it [public education] anymore than it's already hurting. If the purpose of schools is to provide employment security for teachers and administrators then that pretty much defines the priority of a system that ought to die because it's not serving our children."
DeVos maps out a four-point strategy for advancing publicly financed parental choice programs.
DeVos describes the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) led by Betsy DeVos, which he states personally interviewed 140 political candidates in Michigan to assess their attitudes toward education reform and to provide for "rewards and consequences." DeVos credited this effort for reducing the Michigan House Republicans in the anti-reform group from six to two and for injecting school choice into political debate. "Candidates were forced to establish positions on educational reform," states DeVos describing the need for "rewards and consequences" for state legislators.
[Transcript of this 2:24 minute segment of the speech is below the video. Full speech at link. ]
Transcript of the above video segment:
"Where's the battle going to be fought, for the future? In my view it will be, and at this point it needs to be, fought at the state level--utilizing vehicles such as GLEP and others nationally but ideally these organizations must be constructed locally. They need to be constructed with individuals such as the staff we had in Michigan, who were intelligent and connected with the local grassroots politics of what was going on, that had the relationships, the insights, and the political sensitivity to know what was happening.
DeVos described the opportunity states as: Florida, Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado and Virginia. He adds South Carolina and New Hampshire as possibilities and proceeds with a "tier two" list of Utah, Arizona, Washington D.C., and Ohio. He bemoans that Michigan is not on the list despite all of their efforts and blames the state's constitution and organized resistance. "When the time comes we will bring the fight back to Michigan again," he adds.
The Role of Right-Wing Think Tanks in the Pro-Voucher, Pro-Privatization Movement
Further insight to the agenda of the voucher movement can be found in the policy papers of right-wing think tanks heavily funded by several DeVos family foundations as well as the foundations of the Koch, Scaife, Walton, Bradley, and other families. The Heritage Foundation, for instance, has received over $21 million from the Sarah Scaife Foundation alone.
In a report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy titled 1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s, 20 leading right-wing think tanks were described as spending a billion dollars on "anti-government and unregulated markets agenda." The report states,
"These policy groups have pushed aggressively to privatize Social Security and Medicare, loosen laws governing workplace safety and the rights of workers to organize, roll back environmental and consumer safety regulations, [...] privatize systems of public education..."A primary focus of many right-wing think tanks is the privatization of public education and several of their leaders have signed a publicly posted proclamation calling for the end of "government involvement in education."
The Cato Institute is heavily funded by the Scaife, Koch, Bradley and Lambe Foundations. In the Cato Institute's Policy Analysis 269, Joe Bast, president of the Heartland Foundation states in a section of the paper titled "The Goal: Complete Separation of School and State."
The plan was designed in think tanks funded by Koch, Scaife, Bradley, Olin and other mega-donors, but the execution at the state level has been the project of Dick and Betsy DeVos.
This is an article in an ongoing series on the DeVos-led campaign to privatize schools.
Voucher Advocate Betsy DeVos, Right-Wing Think Tanks Behind Koch-Style Attack on PA Public Schools
Pro-Voucher Astroturfing Campaigns Across Nation Coordinated by DeVos, Funded by a Few Mega-Donors
Betsy DeVos Announces PA Governor Tom Corbett Will Keynote Pro-Voucher National Policy Summit
Protesters Object to School Privatization Efforts of DeVos, Michelle Rhee and PA and WI Governors
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