Home > Uncategorized > Koch Brothers Meddling in State, Local Politics in Effort to Promote Privatization Under the Banner of Choice

Koch Brothers Meddling in State, Local Politics in Effort to Promote Privatization Under the Banner of Choice

November 1, 2017

My wife and I recently attended a lecture by libertarian writer Jason Brennan with the same title as his 2016 book “Against Democracy”. In the lecture, Mr. Brennan explained his typology of voters into three categories: hobbits, hooligans, and vulcans. In seeking a concise definition for these types, I found this decryption form Washington Post writer Ilya Salman’s book review:

Hobbits have little or no interest in politics, and have very low levels of political knowledge. Hooligans tend to know more than hobbits do. But they are highly biased in their evaluation of information, tending to dismiss opposing arguments out of hand. They also lack any kind of social scientific sophistication. Vulcans, by contrast, combine extensive knowledge and analytical sophistication with open-mindedness. They also don’t let emotion and bias cloud their judgment. But very few of us even come close to being Vulcans.

In his lecture, Mr. Brennan made one other key distinction between Hobbits and Hooligans: Hobbits are disengaged from the voting process altogether and Hooligans are highly engaged.

I offer this as a backdrop to a recent Politico article by Kimberly Hefling titled “How the Koch Brothers are Trying to Shake Up the Public School System One State at a Time”. In the article, Ms. Hefling describes how the notorious Koch brothers are using their dark money to underwrite pro-school-choice Astro-turf parent organizations like Libre, which explicitly targets Hispanic families. Ms. Hefling offers a long list of initiatives undertaken by Libre and offers some insights from like-minded “reformers” who advocate school choice:

Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said it’s noteworthy the Koch network has singled out school choice.

“It’s telling us they have good reason to believe this is an issue that’s resonating with Latino families,” he said.

He also gave the initiatives strong odds at changing at least some state policies.

“Most of these states have had very active school choice movements with other organizations on the ground trying to expand programs,” Petrilli said. “ … It could be enough to put some of these ideas over the top.”

In reading about the Koch brothers’ efforts to get political traction for school choice, it struck me that they are trying to activate parents who are engaged in their child’s education– who are, in effect, Hooligans on the issue of doing what’s best for their children. By demonstrating to these parents that their children can attend better schools if “choice” if available, they are activating a group of voters who might otherwise be Hobbits and converting them into single minded “Hooligans”.

But, as Ms. Hefling reports, these subversive efforts by billionaires like the Koch brothers may backfire, particularly with groups of voters who are already Hooligans:

“Don’t let so-called Hispanic organizations such as the Libre Initiative deceive you …” Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union, wrote last year in a guest column published in the Las Vegas Sun. “Libre is not looking out for Nevadans’ best interest; it is working to benefit its billionaire Koch funders.”

…Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union and a fierce critic of the Kochs… said the Koch-funded push is about destabilizing public schools. She said she thinks austerity efforts to drastically cut school spending in states like Kansas backfired, so the Kochs are emphasizing private school choice instead.

“They and Betsy DeVos are twins,” Weingarten said. “They are about destroying public education and destroying the foundations of opportunity for working folk.”

As Ms. Hefling notes (and this blog has noted repeatedly), the Koch brothers and their kindred spirits are playing a long game. Even though their efforts to get school choice initiatives funded at the Federal level have failed, they are intent on pushing choice legislation through ALEC and through state level referenda… and the Koch brothers DO have one asset that their public school advocates lack: deep pockets. And they are using their considerable funds to create networks that promote school choice, often by advancing misleading legislation that plays on the relative inexperience of the parents who were once Hobbits but are now Hooligans. The passage of an “education savings account law” in Arizona is a case in point:

Dawn Penich-Thacker, a spokeswoman for Save Our Schools, a parent group that helped collect the signatures to challenge the Arizona law, said the push by Libre in her state is disingenuous.

She said that families aren’t told there are financial limits to what would be available to them for private school tuition, which would be around $5,000.

She said many families would be surprised to learn that might not cover all the costs of their kids’ private schooling, especially when the students get to middle or high school.

She also said Libre is participating in a “systemic degrading” of public schools, and stirring fear.

It makes families feel like participating in a private school program “is the only good thing I can do for my children,” Penich-Thacker said.

Fear for the future lives of their children activates a group of voters who were formerly Hobbits, a group of voters who can be persuaded that “choice” is better than the status quo and who will rally around any legislation that promises something better for their children.

But, as Susan Meek, communications director at Great Education Colorado, a group that backs public education in Colorado notes in Ms. Hefling’s article, …not all “school choice” is the same, and this “strategic decision to use this term has been highly effective in hiding the privatization movement behind the guise of charter schools.”

So the Koch bothers use fear to promote the degradation of public schools, the creation of low cost deregulated for-profit chains to replace “government” schools, and laugh all the way to the bank as their bankrolls increase because their local tax bills are diminished and their investments in for-profit schools pay them dividends. Meanwhile, the low income families they prey on get a cut rate education.

In the end… the Vulcans get the Hooligans to fight each other while the Hobbits sit on the sidelines and laugh all the way to the bank…




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