Charter Schools:  It’s all about market share and yes, vouchers

Remember the ‘voucher’ movement?  I do, I wrote a book on it some ten years ago as it swept the nation as rightwing bad breath has a tendency to do.  “Choice” then, as now, was the favorite word of the sophists that tried to sell it like carnival barkers to the public.  Milwaukee tried it; so did some other cities.  Researchers, authors, think tank inhabitants, and policy wonks all broke into high speed to embrace this Milton Friedman theory of economics.  It was Friedman who proposed the idea more than fifty years or so ago.

The capitalist class was giddy with the idea when it first surfaced; it would, if passed into law, allow them to set up private schools and then get public subsidies in the form of ‘vouchers’ which would be allocations of taxpayer monies per child.  What a business plan!  Set up ‘schools’ and then get taxpayers to pay you to warehouse kids.  As I wrote in my book in 2000, Vouchers and the Privatization of Education, the list of Wall Street players, slick entrepreneurs, investment firms, real estate developers and the usual suspects were all drooling over a chance to get their hands on public funds and make an easy buck.  This was also when we saw the rise of the educational maintenance organizations (EMO’s) that would run schools for a profit.

Yet the idea never sold.  The free market fundamentalists just couldn’t get a beleaguered public to destroy public education by socializing the costs and privatizing the profits.  The public saw through the whole sordid mess, even in light of the fact the managerial and financial elite had recruited people of color tired with failing public schools, to their cause.  Polly Williams is one prime example, a parent from Milwaukee.   This was the beginning of the privately funded dog and pony shows with parents; ginned up on conservative ideas, poor and lacking adequate public services and schools, many parents were scammed by the fast talking money changers.  They were then used as public relation people to rouse up public confidence in the voucher idea by appealing to their ‘constituencies’, which were often people of color, people the elites would not and could not reach.  So began the phony town hall meetings, the paid for think tank reports, the pay for view conservative pundits all trying to sell the idea.  But still the public wouldn’t buy.  Americans inherently know that putting up their school system for sale is like putting their kids up for auction.

So, after many dreary decades and yellow paged ‘research reports’ the right wing fundamentalists turned their sorry eyes to the notion of the charter school.  Sure, the idea had been around since the late 1980’s, but putting it into practice had been the province of parent groups, a charter here a charter there.  It was only as the voucher movement began to lose steam did we see the huge financial investments in the notion of charter schools and the interest of the billionaires.  Why?   Simple, they provide the slippery slope to get the market fundamentalists and capitalist class what they couldn’t get directly — vouchers.  Charters sell better as an idea than does the wholesale looting of the public coffers and public schools through vouchers.  You still get the ‘choice’, but it comes with a ‘public’ flavor and thus is more palliative to a low informed public.

In the following article activist and author Robert Skeels gives a sharp analysis of how charter schools are Trojan horses for vouchers.  Thought to be deceased and in the casket, the ideological forces behind vouchers are now coming out of their coffins to step-up charterization rapidly with an eye on privatizing the whole system through the voucher ideal put forth by Milton Friedman so long ago.  Arne Duncan of course is the key player on the federal level but as Skeels notes, the game is being played in the back alleys of America throughout the nation.  It is amazing to me just how many ideas that Milton Friedman suggested to and that were adopted by Pinochet’s, Chile have come to birth right here in the United States.

The California Charter Schools Association, a union of privatizers casts a moneyed eye at vouchers

By Robert Skeels

You’d think that the overarching goal of the California Charter Schools Association would be to contribute to the social fabric by providing a quality education to all the students its member schools serve, but instead it’s all about market share. To wit:

“Ultimately the Association gauges its success by tracking the growth in the number of children attending high-quality charter schools in California.” — Rick Piercy (Board Chair CCSA 2009) [1]

This imperative of increasing market share — an imperative shared by all the billionaire backers [2] of charters, pressing through their proxies like Ben Austin — is ultimately aimed at union busting and bankrupting public school systems. AEI’s Andy Smarick, Ben Austin and Marco Petruzzi’s reactionary ideological muse, writes the following in a far right wing journal sponsored by the Hoover Institution and Fordham Institute.

“As chartering increases its market share in a city, the district will come under growing financial pressure. The district, despite educating fewer and fewer students, will still require a large administrative staff to process payroll and benefits, administer federal programs, and oversee special education. With a lopsided adult-to-student ratio, the district’s per-pupil costs will skyrocket.” [3]

This is of course, the exact methodology that Austin and his fellow CCSA operatives follow in Los Angeles — a right wing roadmap, so to speak. While they’ve been helped greatly by the policies of the current administration, particularly by Arne “Katrina Schadenfreude” Duncan, these machinations have been in place for many, many years. After charter schools have displaced and bankrupted public schools entirely, the employing class’s long time dream of vouchers is in reach.

This dovetails with what celebrated educator and author Jonathan Kozol states is the real purpose behind the charter “movement”:

‘In the long run, charter schools are being strategically used to pave the way for vouchers. The voucher advocates, who are very powerful and funded by right-wing foundations and families, recognize that the word voucher has been successfully discredited by enlightened Americans who believe in the public sector. So they’ve resorted to two strategies. First, they no longer use the word “vouchers.” They’ve adopted the seemingly benign phrase “school choice,” but they are still voucher advocates.’ - Jonathan Kozol [4]

So too, says the Walton Family watchdog site “” which discusses under the subheading The Walton’s’ Agenda: Vouchers and Charter Schools.

“Since the late 1990’s, the Walton’s have donated millions of dollars to various causes across the country “including the start-up funding that allowed the national private-school voucher movement to get off the ground more than a decade ago.” [5]

Charged with growing corporate CMO charter market share, Ben Austin’s Green Dot Public [sic] School subsidiary LAPU/Parent Revolution has allegedly just received a large grant from the voucher oriented Walton Foundation. For more examples of millions of ideologically charged dollars flowing into Green Dot corporation and LAPU/Parent Revolution, see Sharon Higgens’ latest expose on the nefarious relations between the charter-voucher camp and their billionaire bankrollers: ‘The “Parent Trigger” and its connections to the phoney LA Parents Union, Green Dot, Steve Barr, and Eli Broad‘ [6]



[2] Eli Broad, William Gates II, The Walton Family, Reed Hastings, Donald Fisher, et al.


Notice too, the paragraph reveals the deliberate charter-voucher intention of not educating special education children. While the CCSA and charter-voucher proponents try to skirt this issue, their own ideological documents shamelessly contain their malevolent ideology and firm commitment NOT to educate every child.




Special thanks to Sarah Knopp and Dr. Danny Weil for pointing me in the market share direction.

Robert D. Skeels