By BAR executive editor Glen Ford
Feb. 8, 2017
Betsy DeVos barely won confirmation as the next secretary of education, so dreadful is the performance of the charter schools she promotes in Michigan. But the educational atrocities of the DeVos schools are inseparable from the larger war against public education. Barack Obama doubled charter school enrollment, and Cory Booker, who hopes to be president, is a fanatical advocate of private school vouchers. Trump and Devos aren’t the only villains.
Sometimes, when ruling class competitors collide, the villainy of both factions is made manifest. Donald Trump did the nation’s public schools a great service by nominating Betsy DeVos, the awesomely loathsome billionaire Amway heiress, for secretary of Education. In turning over that rock, Trump exposed the raw corruption and venality at the core of the charter school privatization juggernaut.
Only an historic tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence saved DeVos from rejection by the U.S. Senate. Two Republicans abandoned their party’s nominee, joining a solid bloc of Democrats, including New Jersey’s Cory Booker, a school privatizer that crawled out of the same ideological sewer as DeVos and has long been her comrade and ally. Booker defected from his soul mate in fear that the DeVos stench might taint his own presidential ambitions.
The New York Times editorial board, a champion of charters, bemoaned that DeVos’ “appointment squanders an opportunity to advance public education research, experimentation and standards, to objectively compare traditional public school, charter school and voucher models in search of better options for public school students” – a devious way of saying that the Senate hearings exposed the slimy underbelly of the charter privatization project and the billionaires of both parties that have guided and sustained it.
The greatest privatizer of them all, the man who broke the back of public education and more than doubled charter school enrollment through his Race to the Top program, was cavorting with Richard Branson on the British billionaire’s private Caribbean island when Betsy DeVos was on gruesome display at the Senate hearings.
Obamacare will soon be history, but the First Black President’s most enduring domestic legacy was to make charter schools the effective alternative to public education — but only in Black America, and to a much lesser degree, in Latino neighborhoods. Beginning in 2010, Obama deployed the coercive powers of Race to the Top to force states to increase the spread of charters schools or lose access to $4.35 billion in additional federal funding. On Wall Street, it’s called “making a market.” In his two terms in office, President Obama succeeded in creating a privately-run network of schools that are both effectively segregated and outside democratic processes of accountability.
His first secretary of education, Arne Duncan, famously said Katrina was the best thing that ever happened for New Orleans education. The federally-fueled charter storm has devoured much of the educational sphere in Black and brown cities across the nation. Below is a list of the top charter school jurisdictions, based on percentage of enrollment.
New Orleans, LA 93%
Detroit, MI 53%
Flint, MI 47%
Washington, DC 44%
Kansas City, MO 41%
Gary, IN 40%
Philadelphia, PA 33%
Hall County, GA 32%
Victor Valley, CA 32%
Indianpolis, IN 31%
Grand Rapid, MI 31%
Dayton, OH 30%
San Antonio, TX 30%
Cleveland, OH 30 %
These cities are the domestic mirrors of Obama and Bush foreign policies – the bombed out public educational infrastructures selectively targeted in Black and brown America. Betsy DeVos’ depredations in Michigan, where the largely for-profit charters she promotes score worse than traditional public schools on national tests, are like the wedding party and hospital bombings that punctuate U.S. foreign wars: although singular, horrific atrocities, they are part and parcel of the larger aggression, the logical consequences of the war against public education.
Sen. Cory Booker is a mercenary in that war. He entered politics as an advocate of public funding for private schools, two of which he operated in Newark, New Jersey. While a first-term city councilman, Booker became deeply entangled with the most right-wing corporate sugar daddies (and mommas) of the private school vouchers “movement” — actually, a billionaires club encompassing many of the main funders of the Hard Right in the U.S. (See “Fruit of the Poisoned Tree,” The Black Commentator, April 5, 2002.)
Booker’s rise to national prominence has been funded and promoted by these same right-wing networks, to whom he remains loyal. From 2004 to 2008, Booker sat with Betsy DeVos on the board of the Alliance for School Choice, a pro-charter and school vouchers outfit founded by John Walton, one of the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune. Hakeem Jeffries, a Black congressman from Brooklyn, is a protégé of Booker and fellow supporter of tax credits for private schools. In the wake of Obama’s eight-year crusade on behalf of charters, much of the Congressional Black Caucus is now amenable to various privatization schemes
.In their zeal to confront and delegitimize Donald Trump, the Democrats primp and posture as if in genuine opposition to President Cheeto’s governance-by-billionaires. But, charter school privatization, like U.S. wars, is a project of both wings of the ruling class duopoly. When you scorn DeVos, you must also curse Obama, and reject Booker — or you are no better than Trump.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.