By Alexandra Jacobo

June 27, 2024  Nation of Change


A new report by Sen. Bernie Sanders exposes a well-funded campaign by right-wing billionaires to privatize public education and divert critical funds from public schools.

Sen. Bernie Sanders released a report Tuesday detailing how right-wing billionaires are bankrolling coordinated efforts to privatize U.S. public education by promoting voucher programs that siphon critical funding away from already under-resourced public schools.

The report notes that last year, the American Federation for Children (AFC)—an organization funded by former Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—“ousted state lawmakers in Iowa and Arkansas who resisted proposals to subsidize private education in states and passed expansive private school vouchers.”

Aided by millions of dollars from DeVos and her husband, AFC’s political affiliates and allies spent $9 million to win 277 out of 368 races, removing at least 40 incumbent lawmakers. The DeVos family is not alone in using its wealth to undercut U.S. public education. The Bradley Foundation, heavily involved in efforts to privatize education in Wisconsin and nationwide, spent $7.5 million in 2022 to fund 34 state affiliates of the State Policy Network to push conservative policy agendas, including privatizing education. Additionally, $8.3 million was allocated to building a youth movement to “win the American Culture War.” “The Koch-sponsored group, American Encore, has funneled substantial amounts into state governor races and ballot initiatives around the country, including more than $1.4 million to elect Arizona’s former governor Doug Ducey in 2014 (who led the efforts to create the nation’s first universal private school voucher),” the report adds.

“For too long, there’s been a coordinated effort to sabotage our public schools and privatize our education system. Unacceptable,” Sanders said.

The analysis also names billionaires Jess Yass of Susquehanna International Group, Richard Uihlein of Uline, and Bernard Marcus of Home Depot, all of whom have recently donated to the School Freedom Fund—a PAC that supports voucher programs and shuttering the U.S. Education Department.

Key Findings:

  • AFC spent $9 million to win 277 out of 368 races, ousting 40 incumbent lawmakers.
  • The Bradley Foundation spent $7.5 million to fund 34 state affiliates pushing conservative agendas.
  • Koch-sponsored group American Encore funneled over $1.4 million into state governor races.
  • Billionaires Jess Yass, Richard Uihlein, and Bernard Marcus donated to the School Freedom Fund.

School voucher programs disproportionately benefit wealthy families, analyses have shown, while undercutting the goal of serving all students within a community.

“Over the past decade, there has been a coordinated effort on the part of right-wing billionaires to undermine, dismantle, and sabotage our nation’s public schools and to privatize our education system,” Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said in a statement. “That is absolutely unacceptable.”

“We can no longer tolerate billionaires and multinational corporations receiving massive tax breaks and subsidies while children in America are forced to go to understaffed, under resourced, and underfunded public schools,” Sanders continued. “On this 70th anniversary year of Brown v. Board of Education, let us recommit to creating an education system that works for all of our people, not just the wealthy few.”