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Seed Money for Conservatives

Seed Money for Conservatives

Nowhere is the Bush Administration's determination to push privatization clearer than in grants approved by the Department of Education.

Congressional opposition forced the administration to backtrack from its original plans to include vouchers for private schools in its landmark NCLB legislation. But that has not stopped the department from using discretionary monies to promote vouchers. (Mindful that the public distrusts vouchers and has consistently voted them down in statewide referenda, conservatives use code words such as "choice" and "educational options." Such code words are prominent in the names of conservative groups springing up to promote vouchers.)

From 2001 to 2003, the Department of Education granted $77.76 million to a handful of right-wing groups dedicated to privatization, according to People for the American Way, which released a report on the grants last November. The Department of Education has given money to an interlocking network of pro-voucher organizations-from the Education Leaders Council co-founded by Deputy Secretary Hickok; to the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO); to the for-profit "virtual school" company K12, founded by William Bennett. Bennett's many right-wing credentials include his stints as Drug Czar and Secretary of Education in former Republican administrations. (His stretch as Drug Czar didn't immunize him from becoming addicted to gambling, however, a revelation that thankfully has caused Bennett to reduce his public role as unofficial scold and moralizer.)

Controversy has been particularly intense around grants funding conservative groups to inform parents of their options under NCLB-mandated "supplemental" tutoring services for children in so-called failing schools. It's not just the money, but how the grants can be used to promote discontent among poor families about the problems of public schools. At the same time the NCLB does little to fix the problems. In fact, the NCLB puts so-called failing schools in a Catch 22. Need more money to do a better job? Sorry, instead we'll take money from you.

Under NCLB, for example, so-called failing schools must allow a portion of their Title I money to be used to pay for supplemental tutoring services before or after school. In other words, schools that are clearly in need of resources to do a better job are instead forced to use Title I money to pay for tutoring services, often by for-profit companies, that are disconnected from the problems a child is facing during the school day.

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