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How New York’s Emergency Ventilator Supply Went Up For Auction

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

In July 2006, with an aggressive and novel strain of the flu circulating in Asia and the Middle East, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a sweeping pandemic preparedness plan.

Using computer models to calculate how a disease could spread rapidly through the city's five boroughs, experts concluded New York needed a substantial stockpile of both masks and ventilators. If the city confronted a pandemic on the scale of the 1918 Spanish flu, the experts found, it would face a "projected shortfall of between 2,036 and 9,454 ventilators."

The city's department of health, working with the state, was to begin purchasing ventilators and to "stockpile a supply of facemasks," according to the report. Shortly after it was released, Bloomberg held a pandemic planning summit with top federal officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, now the face of the national coronavirus response.

In the end, the alarming predictions failed to spur action. In the months that followed, the city acquired just 500 additional ventilators as the effort to create a larger stockpile fizzled amid budget cuts.

Even those extra ventilators are long gone, the health department said on Sunday. The lifesaving devices broke down over time and were auctioned off by the city at least five years ago because the agency couldn't afford to maintain them.

Today, 14 years after the pandemic plan was released, the death toll from the novel coronavirus is climbing by the hundreds daily, and the shortage of ventilators threatens to push it higher still. On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the city, which entered the crisis with around 3,500 ventilators, would run out of the machines this week. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was authorizing the state's National Guard to seize ventilators from less overwhelmed hospitals to be used where they are more urgently needed.

Early hopes that the federal government could use its Strategic National Stockpile to adequately supplement New York's supply of ventilators have faded amid revelations that key federal agencies were themselves woefully underprepared for a pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the national stockpile as poorly maintained by the Trump administration and far too small to meet the competing demands that have predictably poured in from many states as the pandemic hurtles across the country. Indeed, some of the ventilators in the stockpile suffered from the same problem faced by New York — they fell into disrepair.

On Friday, President Donald Trump faulted New York and said he could not assure the state of more ventilators. "No," he told reporters. "They should've had more ventilators at the time. They should've had more ventilators." (Trump himself has been widely criticized for ignoring early warnings and downplaying the threat of the virus in the face of mounting global evidence of its lethality.)

New York City, with its plan 14 years ago, recognized that the nature of a pandemic — striking in many places in rapid and devastating succession — would mean that the city, in many ways, would be on its own.

"Since the pandemic will be widespread in the United States, the supplies from the federal Strategic National Stockpile may not be available and local caches will need to be relied upon," the 2006 report said.

In a newspaper interview that year, Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, then a deputy commissioner at the health department involved in pandemic planning, said the city could not count on the federal government. "We do understand that New York City will be responsible for New York City in terms of dealing with any pandemic," he said.

The story of New York's ventilators, as with many of the pre-crisis pandemic reports that have come to light at the federal level, is one of grave vulnerabilities that were made plain by experts but never were made budget priorities by policymakers.

The city health commissioner who spearheaded the 2006 pandemic planning effort, Thomas Frieden, left three years later to run the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and key elements of the plan had not been implemented. Frieden, who now leads a public health philanthropy, has emerged as a prominent critic of the country's inadequate preparations, writing in January that "we are living the consequences of being underprepared for the next big global epidemic."

Another prong of the Bloomberg pandemic plan — the mass distribution of masks to the public — has not happened either, even as experts are now reversing earlier guidance and urging everyone in hot spots like New York to cover their faces. Instead, de Blasio last week advised residents to use a scarf, a bandanna — something "real homegrown." The city's hospitals still need over 3 million masks just to safeguard health care workers, he said.

In interviews with ProPublica, other former city health officials said they were also worried about other threats and that there simply wasn't enough money to fully prepare for every possibility.

"It's easy to say in retrospect we should have spent all our money on pandemic influenza, but at the time you just don't know what was going to happen, and there were other threats," said Weisfuse, who worked under Frieden and led the city's disease control division until 2012. "I feel good about what we did, but obviously for this situation it was not enough."

Following the avian influenza scare and the pandemic planning of the mid-2000s, the city faced its first major test when H1N1 swine flu arrived in 2009.

Officials feared it would become a major outbreak. Some schools were closed and there were high-level discussions about shortages of supplies. But the disease abated, with a substantially lower death rate than the coronavirus, and the city turned much of its attention back to the aftermath of the recession that had devastated New York's economy.

"We learned the wrong lesson, I think, from swine flu," Dr. Douglas Ball, former medical director of the city health department's Bureau of Emergency Management, told ProPublica. He compared it to the London Blitz during World War II: "When people got missed by a bomb that hit nearby, they thought they were safe. When really they should have thought, 'Wow, we were so lucky.'"

Years of budget cuts to the city's health department followed, limiting the city's ability to prepare, even as planners still feared a major pandemic.

In 2014, Nicholas Cagliuso, a top emergency management official for the city's public hospitals, told participants in a pandemic training session that cost-cutting had hobbled the hospital system's preparation, in particular its ability to amass a stockpile of emergency equipment.

Instead, the hospitals had taken to holding just enough to meet day-to-day needs. It was a practice that was antithetical to preparing for a pandemic, which requires emergency supplies to be in easy reach, Cagliuso said. "If a resource is not available by foot, it does not exist."

In a statement on Sunday, Michael Lanza, a spokesman for the city's health department, said pandemic preparedness efforts had been undermined by the loss of federal aid.

"These plans depend on ample federal assistance, and Congress has not appropriated enough funding to state and local jurisdictions to adequately prepare for emergencies," he said. "Annual federal public health and health care preparedness funding levels are not sufficient to prepare for an emergency of this scale and scope."

Despite the warnings in the 2006 plan and the initial efforts to build a stockpile, de Blasio spokeswoman Avery Cohen said in a statement on Monday that cities "do not typically stockpile ventilators and that such emergency reserves are the responsibility of state and federal government.

"Despite our best efforts to stretch our resources, there was no foreseeing a crisis of this magnitude."

Michael Bloomberg took office just a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The planning-obsessed mayor wanted to be better prepared for the next crisis. "Mayor Bloomberg wanted there to be every plan for every disaster you have: coastal storm, pandemic, terrorist attack — and make sure it was up to date and we were going to drill it," said Edward Skyler, the city's former deputy mayor for operations.

And then, across the globe, lethal strains of the flu began to spread. In 2002, SARS emerged in southern China, and then in 2005, avian influenza swept across several countries in Asia.

Frieden, Bloomberg's first health commissioner, believed the city needed a pandemic plan. A committee of experts was assembled and the 266-page plan was published in July 2006. New York City, Frieden wrote in the introduction, is "uniquely vulnerable to infectious disease threats."

The document's assumptions are prescient: a future pandemic could have a 2 percent fatality rate, a 30 percent citywide infection rate and a delay of many months waiting for a vaccine, which could place an enormous strain on health care workers and supplies.

In 2005, the city's health department had begun to survey nearly all of the public and private hospitals to understand the equipment needs they would face in a pandemic. It found New York's hospitals had roughly 2,700 ventilators, far from what would be needed in a severe outbreak.

Even though the plan stressed that purchasing, storing and maintaining ventilators was a large endeavor, the city began to take steps to form a stockpile. It was vital because in a pandemic, cities and states would be competing for supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile. (Last week, White House adviser Jared Kushner claimed that the stockpile was not for the use of the states at all, contradicting a government website.)

In 2006 and 2007, following the release of the pandemic plan, the city purchased a few hundred "disaster-ready" ventilators. The $1.76 million contract went to a New York-based company called VersaMed.

Jerry Korten, the CEO of VersaMed at the time, recalled city officials understanding that, in case of a major pandemic, the ventilators would not be enough, he told ProPublica.

"New York knew they would need a lot more ventilators," Korten said. "It's a very sad situation that no one invested in what was needed when it was needed. It's just too late now."

By 2009, the city had trained some of its hospitals on how to use the new ventilators, in case they were needed to increase capacity. The training was intended to help the health department evaluate the ventilators, and after the training, the city stored the devices in a warehouse for future use.

"The idea of this warehouse is something that we could send trucks to and load ventilators or other equipment and ship them right to hospitals quickly," said Weisfuse, the former deputy commissioner, who is now an adjunct professor at Cornell University Public Health. "They were on site, and it was just a matter of getting them to the right place."

But after 2009, the effort to create a large ventilator stockpile petered out. "We tried to fill in the gap as best we could," Weisfuse said. "That's where we left it. We also had to spend money to fill the gap for other problems too, like bioterrorism."

VersaMed was acquired by GE Healthcare in 2008 and the company discontinued the line of ventilators New York had bought, Lanza, the city health department spokesman, told ProPublica. "This was beyond our control but had a direct impact on cost and viability of maintaining a stockpile." Annual maintenance costs for the 500 VersaMed ventilators, which includes replacing batteries and degrading parts, ran over $100,000 per year, Lanza said, adding that the ventilators were ultimately auctioned off by the city. It's not clear who bought the devices and for how much. GE did not respond to questions related to the VersaMed ventilators, but a spokesperson said the company "provide[s] maintenance on any equipment that is under a service contract with GE."

Hospitals were also reluctant to spend money to store machines and protective equipment that they did not need for day-to-day operations.

Over the past few decades, cuts in Medicaid reimbursement and other fiscal pressures have reshaped the hospital industry, leaving the city's public and private medical centers with, collectively, thousands fewer beds.

The city's network of 11 public hospitals, which includes Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and Bellevue in Manhattan, regularly operates at a large deficit and in recent years has relied on city funding to fill the gap. The network is a vital provider of health care to many poor New Yorkers. Nearly 70 percent of patients who use the public hospitals are uninsured or on Medicaid.

With federal grant funding, the city had also planned to purchase 1.1 million face masks for use in a pandemic. But after funding was reduced, the city instead bought only 216,000 masks, spending roughly $84,500, a state comptroller audit later found.

Asked about the masks, the department said it "did purchase N95s in quantity but eventually all expired, and it became cost-prohibitive to replace them in any meaningful quantity." The department said that it did, however, acquire over 20 million surgical face masks prior to the coronavirus pandemic, millions of which have been distributed to health care and front-line workers.

Asked about the pandemic plan, Frieden said in a statement that "any health department in the world would be challenged by an outbreak of this severity and scale." He declined to answer specific questions about the fate of the ventilator and mask plans.

After the 2008 financial crisis hit, tax revenues dried up. Over the next five years, the city health department's budget was slashed by about $290 million, or 17 percent, and federal preparedness funding plummeted.

Some health department spending, such as services for developmentally disabled children, was mandated by law and could not be cut. So the agency had to look for other areas to cut, and infectious disease work was vulnerable.

In 2009, swine flu arrived in New York, the first pandemic scare since the Bloomberg plan was published. Hundreds of students became ill at a high school in Queens, and city officials were worried that the disease could overtake the city.

"There was some discussion that if it were as bad as projected we would be short of ventilators at that time," a former top city health official recalled. There was no time to buy the machines during the outbreak, and the disease ultimately receded more quickly than expected.

The health department did not receive any requests for ventilators from its small stockpile, said the former deputy commissioner Weisfuse. The possible shortfall of ventilators during a pandemic, once a key issue, again faded.

In the later Bloomberg years, the health department was focused on planning how to distribute huge volumes of Tamiflu, in case of a flu pandemic, or antibiotics, in case of anthrax, according to the former top health official. "To the extent people were thinking about a ventilator shortage, that was a secondary or tertiary issue," the former official said.

In a statement, Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said: "Our Administration was among the first governments in the country to comprehensively plan for a pandemic health crisis, and key parts of our program were implemented successfully and harnessed in our effective H1N1 virus response in 2009, which itself became a national model for public health emergency planning."

Pandemic planning continued under de Blasio, who took office in 2014.

That year, the New York-New Jersey office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a Wall Street trade group sponsored a series of pandemic training sessions online attended by a couple of hundred corporate executives and government officials.

Cagliuso, then the assistant vice president for emergency management for the city's public hospital system, gave a presentation warning of the difficulty obtaining supplies during a crisis.

"Supply chain breaks are a very real issue. Much to the detriment of those of us in emergency management, we have moved to just-in-time supply chains," Cagliuso said at the time, referring to hospitals' practice of limiting stockpiles of medical equipment to save money. "So I had some very spirited discussions with my supply chain leadership. But nonetheless I also realize the business and the way that we are moving."

Cagliuso, who still works for the hospital system, did not respond to a request for comment.

But massive cuts in federal funding hampered the city's ability to act on experts' warnings. At an infectious disease conference in 2012, Dr. Jay Varma, then the city's deputy commissioner for disease control, warned that "the age of austerity" was "hitting infectious disease programs hard."

Three years later, Marisa Raphael, then the deputy commissioner of the office of emergency preparedness and response, repeated this warning while testifying before Congress. "The greatest danger to our progress is the decline in federal emergency preparedness funding," she said. Critical CDC programs had lost over a quarter-billion dollars in funding since 2005, and Raphael said the department had to cut almost half of its public health preparedness workforce.

The supply-chain issue surfaced yet again in 2018 when the public hospital system participated in a pandemic exercise with Johns Hopkins University on the 100th anniversary of the 1918 flu. Cagliuso and several colleagues produced a paper in an academic journal about what they learned.

In short: New York City would likely be on its own in case of a pandemic.

"State and federal stockpiles of medical supplies exist [that] can be rapidly distributed, but a pandemic scenario is likely to complicate resource allocation on local and sub-national levels because of competing areas of similar need, limiting the allocation and deployment of these resources," they wrote.

Their proposed solution was not to beef up the city's stockpiles. Rather, they called for creating a technological fix, a dashboard that would "automate the presentation of data to decision-makers."

A spokesperson for the hospital system did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2015, the state updated its guidelines on ventilator allocation during a possible influenza pandemic and calculated that the state had about 7,250 ventilators available in acute care facilities, including in New York City, with an additional state stockpile of 1,750 machines. The state recognized that if a pandemic swept across multiple regions at the same time, it could not rely on the federal stockpile to fill the gap.

"The State's current approach to stockpiling a limited number of ventilators balances the need to prepare for a potential pandemic against the need to maintain adequate funding for current and ongoing health care expenses," the report stated. In a severe pandemic scenario, "New York will not have sufficient ventilators to meet critical care needs despite its emergency stockpile." The report lays out guidelines on how to decide which patients should be placed on ventilators if hospitals are forced to ration resources, withholding devices from patients with poorer odds of surviving. The report did not specifically address the needs or current resources in New York City.

The roughly 3,500 ventilators in New York City hospitals had going into the coronavirus crisis compares to a total of 2,688 ventilators the health department counted in a 2005 survey — an increase, to be sure, but a fraction of what it expected to need if faced with a serious pandemic.

The mayor has repeatedly said the city will need 15,000 ventilators from the federal government, but the city has so far received only 2,500.

While de Blasio has cautioned that ventilator needs change by the day or hour, he said on Friday that New York City projects it requires at least another 2,500 to make it through this week. "The ventilators to me are one of the clearest examples of life and death," the mayor explained. "If we're going to save every single life we can save, we must have the ventilators we need exactly where we need them, when we need them."

How Teach For America Joined The Drive For Charter Schools

When the Walton Family Foundation announced in 2013 that it was donating $20 million to Teach For America to recruit and train nearly 4,000 teachers for low-income schools, its press release did not reveal the unusual terms for the grant.

Documents obtained by ProPublica show that the foundation, a staunch supporter of school choice and Teach For America’s largest private funder, was paying $4,000 for every teacher placed in a traditional public school — and $6,000 for every one placed in a charter school. The two-year grant was directed at nine cities where charter schools were sprouting up, including New Orleans; Memphis, Tennessee; and Los Angeles.

The gift’s purpose was far removed from Teach For America’s original mission of alleviating teacher shortages in traditional public schools. It was intended to “generate a longer-term leadership pipeline that advances the education movement, providing a source of talent for policy, advocacy and politics, as well as quality schools and new entrepreneurial ventures,” according to internal grant documents.

The incentives corresponded to a shift in Teach For America’s direction. Although only seven percent of students go to charter schools, Teach For America sent almost 40 percent of its 6,736 teachers to them in 2018 — up from 34 percent in 2015 and 13 percent in 2008. In some large cities, charter schools employ the majority of TFA teachers: 54 percent in Houston, 58 percent in San Antonio and at least 70 percent in Los Angeles.

Established nearly 30 years ago to tap idealistic graduates of elite universities to teach at traditional public schools in high-poverty areas, Teach For America has evolved into an informal but vital ally of the charter school movement. Not only does it place a disproportionate number of its teachers in charter schools, but the organization and its affiliated groups also have become reliant on the support of the Walton Foundation and other school choice advocates, including a daughter of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor. As board members of Teach For America’s offshoot leadership organization, which gives to the political campaigns of former TFA teachers, Emma Bloomberg and a Walton family member have supplemented the organization’s contributions to charter school proponents with their own donations.

“There’s no question that Teach For America as it evolved became joined at the hip to a large degree with the national education reform movement. I suspect that some of this was coordinated in part with funders who are active in the Teach For America funding and the charter and reform activities,” said Jeffrey Henig, a professor at the Teachers College, Columbia University, and author of a book about education research and charter school policy. “These billionaire school reformers and the foundations with which they are allied really have become much more sophisticated in the way they strategically use their funding.”

Teach For America cautioned its public school teachers against participating in recent teacher strikes in Oakland, California, and Los Angeles. Ava Marinelli, one of just 35 Teach For America teachers in the Los Angeles traditional public schools, joined the picket line anyway.

“With the level of divisiveness between charter and public schools, Teach For America has aligned with the charter school agenda,” she said in a recent interview. “This shows who their donors and who their partners are.” Teach For America said that it took no stance on whether its teachers should strike, but that the terms of their AmeriCorps funding prohibited involvement with organized labor.

Teach For America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard said that donors don’t sway its approach. “We don’t have any one funder that is more than five percent of our overall budget,” Beard said. “We are very focused on what are our objectives, what is our mission, what are our values and what are the needs of the community.” She said that current grants to Teach For America from the Walton Foundation and other organizations don’t favor charter schools over traditional public schools.

She said that the organization does not have a national placement strategy and that where corps members teach is determined by the needs of regional partners. “Every last strategy question is answered locally,” Beard said. “Our interest is just to make sure that we are working to ensure that we meet our partners’ needs, are serving the students who need us most and are able to advance the needle for opportunity for them.”

Both push and pull factors have fostered Teach For America’s shift in direction. Since 2016, school districts in San Francisco; Jacksonville, Florida; and Houston have decided to end their contracts with Teach For America, citing, among other reasons, its teachers’ relatively low retention rate. At the same time, Teach For America and the charter school movement share a similar goal: promoting innovation by streamlining bureaucracy. Teach For America’s alumni have started some of the nation’s largest charter networks, including KIPP, Rocketship Education, IDEA and YES Prep.

Whichever type of school they serve in, Teach For America’s teachers devote their intelligence and energy to helping low-income and minority students and closing the nation’s unrelenting achievement gap. But its metamorphosis reflects a broader trend: As nonunion charter schools have gained acceptance in the past 20 years, political support for traditional public schools and teacher unions has eroded.

While both the Obama and Trump administrations have backed charter schools, the appointment of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who once called the traditional public education system a “dead end,” fractured the political consensus. The issue divides candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Bernie Sanders has called for a moratorium on federal funding of charters until a national review of their growth is conducted. Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have criticized for-profit charter schools, with Sanders advocating an outright ban.

Other candidates, such as Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke, are sympathetic to charters. As Newark’s mayor, Booker raised millions in private funds for education reforms, including the expansion of charter schools. O’Rourke, whose wife started a charter school, has called them a “good idea” for encouraging competition and innovation.

As a Princeton University senior in 1989, Wendy Kopp had a radical idea to curb the teacher shortages plaguing America’s least resourced public school classrooms: Send them the country’s brightest college graduates.

“We take all of these promising future leaders and have their first two years be teaching in low-income communities, instead of working in banks,” Kopp said. “I thought that would change everything. It would change the consciousness of the country.”

Within a year, Kopp’s idea became Teach For America, which recruits new graduates from top colleges, trains them for five weeks, places them in schools nationwide and mentors them during a two-year classroom commitment.

Fueled by Kopp’s prolific fundraising, the nonprofit grew quickly. In 2000, it raised $25 million from private donors, government grants and foundations, which supported about 1,600 new corps members a year. By 2016, its contributions and grants rose to $245 million with an endowment of about $208 million, enough for 3,500 new members a year. Today, Teach For America ranks among the 100 largest nonprofits in the country.

The charter school movement, which arose soon after Teach For America’s founding, was booming as well. Publicly funded but privately managed, and regarded by some proponents as a way to fix a failing education system weighed down by unions and bureaucracy, charter schools nearly tripled in enrollment from 2006 to 2016.

While Teach For America has received more than $40 million annually in government grants, according to the recent tax filings, some of its largest private donors also bankroll charter schools. Over the years, these backers — including Greg Penner, Walmart’s board chairman and a Walton family member by marriage; Arthur Rock, a retired Silicon Valley entrepreneur; and Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist — have cycled through Teach For America’s board. Together, the three tycoons and their family foundations have doledoutatleast $200 million to Teach For America.

“There are only so many donors and Teach For America is probably going after all of them, certainly whether they have a charter agenda or not, but many of them are very supportive of charters,” Kopp said.

Rock said in an email that he devotes almost all of his time and philanthropy to supporting K-12 education. “I support those organizations which have a proven record of helping children,” he said. Penner declined to comment, and Broad did not respond to questions related to his support of the organization.

Teach For America has long maintained that it does not prefer charter schools. “We believe in public education,” the organization states on a webpage devoted to combating criticism. “We’re not concerned about whether kids (or teachers) go to traditional district schools or public charter schools or innovative magnet schools, and TFA takes no institutional position on school governance.”

Marc Sternberg, a former corps member, now runs K-12 education for the Walton Family Foundation, which has given more than $100 million to Teach For America over the years. He said the foundation has a “bedrock partnership” with Teach For America. To Sternberg, the missions of the two organizations are intertwined: expanding educational opportunity, and options, for children.

“I was placed in a school that was pretty dysfunctional,” said Sternberg, reflecting on his Teach For America experience at a traditional public school in the South Bronx in the late 1990s. “It lacked a leadership thesis that is necessary for organizational success. The entrepreneur walks into that environment, and sees all the great things, and develops an understanding of the problem statement and then wants to do something about it.”

While Sternberg said that the Walton foundation is “agnostic” about the types of schools it funds, the foundation has been one of the most generous supporters of charter schools, having spent more than $385 million to help launch and sustain about a quarter of the nation’s charter schools since 1997. In 2016, the foundation announced that it would spend an additional $1 billion to support charter schools, expand school choice and develop “pipelines of talent.”

The foundation’s 2013-15 grant paid more for placing TFA teachers in charter schools, Sternberg said in an email, because “we wanted to ensure that the growing number of charter schools had access to high-quality educators given increased demand from communities.” Its current grants to TFA provide equal funding for teachers at charter and traditional public schools, he said.

Today, in most of the cities targeted by the 2013 grant, TFA partners with more charter schools than traditional public schools, according to AmeriCorps data. In Indianapolis and greater Los Angeles, about two-thirds of TFA’s partner schools are charters. In New Orleans, where nearly all of the schools are charters, all of TFA’s corps members are assigned to charter schools. In the past five years, the proportion of TFA teachers placed in charter schools has increased even as the raw numbers have gone down, reflecting an overall decrease in corps members.

Another major donor to both Teach For America and charter schools is the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, created by the founders of The Gap. In 2009, the fund gave $10 million over five years “to continue Teach For America’s role as a pipeline of teachers and leaders in the charter school movement,” according to an internal agreement.

In 1994, two Teach For America alumni founded the Knowledge is Power Program, now one of the nation’s largest charter school networks. As chief executive of the KIPP Foundation, Kopp’s husband, Richard Barth, has overseen the network’s expansion.

“Leadership is critical, and so we have been very involved with Teach For America, which is an organization that has really given birth to KIPP and to many of the top charter school organizations around the country,” the Fishers’ son, John, said in a filmed 2012 interview. “The human pipeline — the pipeline of top talent — has really been accelerated through the success of Teach For America.”

As of 2012, a third of KIPP’s teachers were Teach For America corps members and alumni. KIPP did not provide more recent figures. “You look at the percentage of the principals and teachers at KIPP and it’s clear that it’s a pipeline,” Kopp said.

As school superintendents and state education directors, TFA alumni have pushed to expand charters. In 2011, former corps member John White became superintendent of the state-run Recovery School District, which oversaw most of New Orleans’ schools. He’s now the state superintendent of education. Over the same period, charter schools in the city and across the state have proliferated. The last traditional public schools in New Orleans are set to close or begin a transition to charter control by the end of the year, and by 2022, all of the city’s schools will be charters.

Cami Anderson, a Teach For America alum and former employee, was a key adviser to Cory Booker in his unsuccessful 2002 campaign for mayor of Newark, New Jersey. In 2011, when Booker was mayor, she became Newark’s superintendent of schools. She reorganized the district, which led to mass layoffs of public school teachers and an increase in charter enrollment.

Under Teach For America alum Kevin Huffman, who served as Tennessee commissioner of education from 2011 to 2015, the number of charter schools there doubled. The state’s current commissioner, Penny Schwinn, was also a TFA corps member. In Washington, D.C., two charter-friendly Teach For America alumni have led the district over the past decade: Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson.

Eric Guckian, a former Teach For America corps member, headed the organization’s North Carolina chapter, and he later pushed for more charter schools as a senior adviser for education to the state’s governor. He said propelling TFA alumni into positions of power was always the plan.

“The promise of Teach For America, when I was pitching it to potential donors, was that all these kids are going to turn into leaders and that has manifested itself,” Guckian said.

Not all of Teach For America’s alumni leaders favor charter school expansion. After teaching for more than two decades in traditional public schools in Compton and Los Angeles, Alex Caputo-Pearl was elected to lead the local union, United Teachers Los Angeles.

“There are a lot of very good people who are attracted to the program and do good work,” said Pearl, who joined Teach For America in 1990. “I was in a classroom because nobody would be there if I wasn’t there.”

But, he said, Teach For America’s agenda has shifted. In Los Angeles, where about a quarter of students are enrolled in charter schools, Teach For America has become the “main contributor to the charterization and privatization of public schools, rather than helping to address the teacher shortage in public district schools,” he said.

At ICEF Inglewood Middle Charter Academy, in a low-income and predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood in Los Angeles, five of the school’s eleven teachers are TFA members, including English teacher Joy McCreary. One morning in May, she peppered her seventh graders with questions about a passage they had read on the photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

“And what was Muybridge trying to find out by photographing a horse running?” she asked a student in the second row of her classroom, which was decorated with white lights strung against curtained windows, student projects and motivational messages promoting humility and determination.

“If a horse could fly,” the student responded. McCreary nodded.

McCreary grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs; both of her parents were teachers. In June 2018, she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with degrees in international development, political science and German studies, and joined Teach For America. Her five weeks of training included coursework and teaching at a summer school program. Unlike teachers at traditional public schools, who typically gain certification by completing a qualified prep program and passing a standardized test, charter school teachers and TFA corps members may not need traditional certification. Over the years, TFA has successfully lobbied state and federal legislators for a classroom fast track for its members.

“Teaching is very sink or swim,” McCreary said. “The best way to learn how to teach is just to teach.”

When McCreary joined Teach For America, she didn’t care what kind of school she ended up in. Now she’s glad it’s a charter school.

“Charter schools place a much higher focus on teacher development,” McCreary said. At traditional district schools in Los Angeles, she added, “You get these old, battle-ax teachers that have been there forever and are doing the same things every year and are not necessarily trying out new things or being challenged to try new things.”

Natalie Kieffer, the principal, also participated in Teach For America. After three years of teaching at a traditional public school in Los Angeles, Kieffer was laid off during the financial crisis and moved to a charter school. Within a decade, she rose from teacher to principal.

“There were opportunities for growth that I wouldn’t have been offered in [the Los Angeles Unified School District],” Kieffer said. “Being laid off was a blessing in disguise.”

The Inglewood school district recently revoked the academy’s charter due to low academic performance, forcing it to close at the end of the year. Kieffer, who did not respond to emailed questions about the closure, will become an assistant principal at a charter high school next year. McCreary will move to another Los Angeles charter chain, the Alliance College-Ready network.

Another Teach For America corps member in Los Angeles, Faisal Hirji, is equally loyal to his school — a traditional public high school. The veteran teachers whom McCreary perceives as battle-axes, Hirji praises for their hard-earned wisdom. Hirji, who teaches special education, said TFA’s five-week training, plus a handful of online modules that it provided on how to teach children with special needs, weren’t nearly enough.

“Our kids are being dramatically underserved compared to what an experienced teacher could do,” he said. (Teach For America said that students of its teachers were at least as likely to pass state assessments as their peers.)

Like Hirji, all of Teach For America’s corps members in Los Angeles public schools were assigned to special education classrooms. “We were thrown into the fire,” he said. Teach For America said that aside from the summer institute, it provides “coaching, collaboration with veteran teachers, and local professional development opportunities” throughout a corps member’s commitment, but Hirji said its support was not enough. Realizing that Hirji needed a mentor, the principal at his East Los Angeles school had him work alongside a veteran special education teacher for his first semester.

“I didn’t learn anything from Teach For America,” he said. “I learned it all from my school.”

Typically, public school districts or charter schools pay Teach For America an annual finder’s fee of $3,000 to $6,000 per teacher. From 2013 through 2017, Teach For America reaped more than $110 million in recruitment and placement fees, according to tax filings. The districts or charters also pay the teachers’ salaries and benefits.

Often, they’re ponying up for short-timers. According to Teach For America, about 30% of its corps members leave teaching at the end of their two-year terms, and research has shown that only one-fourth stay in the classroom for more than five years, compared with about half of all new teachers.

In 2016, the San Francisco Unified School District cut ties with Teach For America, citing concerns about retention rates. The following year, Duval County, Florida, which includes Jacksonville, ended its contract, which allowed for up to $600,000 a year to Teach For America for the annual recruitment of at least 100 teaching candidates. About a third of TFA corps members stayed beyond two years in the district and only a tenth stayed for five years, a study from Teachers College, Columbia University found. In comparison, 60% of new teachers who weren’t affiliated with Teach For America stayed more than two years, and 40% more than five years. Teach For America said that its retention rate in Duval County has since improved, and that almost 80% of those who started teaching in 2017 plan to stay for a third year.

“One of the biggest questions was the return on investment,” said school board chair Lori Hershey. “We could certainly recruit teachers at less expense and keep them longer than two years.”

In 2018, Houston’s district renewed its contract with Teach For America despite plans to lay off hundreds of teachers. Then, this May, its board discontinued the contract for the coming school year. Mika Rao, a managing director for regional communications and public affairs at Teach For America, called the decision “a great loss for [Houston’s] kids.”

School board trustee Elizabeth Santos, who has taught in Houston’s traditional public schools for over a decade, voted to end the contract, calling TFA “problematic.” It “deprofessionalizes teaching, increases turnover and undermines union organization,” she said at the board meeting.

Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, a former corps member who briefly worked as a program director for Teach For America, supported renewal. “We tend to have a teacher shortage every year and this just allows principals to be able to have the opportunity to hire with this route,” she said at a board meeting.

About a third of Teach For America corps members in Texas are still teaching there after five years, compared with over three-quarters of non-TFA teachers, according to a recent study by the American Institutes for Research. Rao said TFA’s retention rate in Texas school districts has improved 20% since 2010.

Many of those who stay in education after their two-year stint in a traditional public school eventually shift to charter schools. While a quarter of corps members were placed in charter schools, about 40% of alumni who stayed in education later worked in them, according to a review of survey data from Teach For America alumni in Texas. TFA said this disparity is misleading because their data shows that alums who continue as teachers, instead of going into administration, switch from traditional public schools to charters at a lower rate than the other way around. About two-fifths of its alums in Texas are currently employed in administration or leadership, mostly in charter schools, according to the survey.

Tiffany Cuellar Needham, the executive director of Teach For America in Houston, said many alumni shuttle between both types of schools. “We see our alums make very intentional decisions about, for example, starting in a traditional public school district and maybe going to a charter school to get a certain sort of professional development that they think they need and then going back to a traditional district,” she said.

Beard, TFA’s chief executive, said the rejections by major school districts don’t indicate a national trend. “Every community has different dynamics and politics and budgets, and there’s lots of nuance and complicated factors going in,” she said.

This year, TFA’s turnover prompted Cristina Garcia, a Democratic state assemblywoman in California and former math teacher, to propose requiring teachers from Teach For America and other trainee programs to stay in the classroom for at least five years. Because Teach For America only demands a two-year commitment, it would have to change its model to operate in the state.

Supported by the California NAACP and the California Federation of Teachers, and opposed by the charter school lobby, the bill would also ban the finders’ fees that Teach For America charges schools. “Allowing Teach For America to come in, learn on the job, to experiment and create reform advocates is not creating people that are going to stay in the classroom,” Garcia said. “Is it really about creating a void because we have a teacher shortage, or is it about creating education reform advocates?”

Republican state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley cast the only vote against the bill in the education committee. “It’s probably the most disgraceful piece of legislation I’ve seen,” he said. It passed the appropriations committee in May, but it has been delayed until next January.

Kiley himself contributed to Teach For America’s low retention rates. After graduating from Harvard in 2007, he joined Teach For America and taught at a traditional public school in Los Angeles, where he started a debate team. After his two-year stint, he attended Yale Law School and worked as a deputy California attorney general.

“Many [corps members] stay in the classroom, but others move on, and that’s by design,” he said.

When Kiley ran for State Assembly in 2016, Leadership for Educational Equity, a “dark money” group that does not disclose its donors in its tax filings, advised him on strategy in regular phone calls. “I was a first-time candidate, and I was seeking wisdom wherever I could find it,” he said.

LEE contributed $8,360 to his winning campaign, according to campaign finance filings. In addition, after he filled out an internal questionnaire that asked the charter school supporter about his views on education reform and other issues, his campaign received more than $33,000 from three LEE directors — Silicon Valley entrepreneur Arthur Rock, Emma Bloomberg and Steuart Walton — and some of their family members.

LEE “put me in touch with two or three donors, which is a small percentage of overall funding,” Kiley said. “You draw from all sources when you’re running.”

Kopp established LEE in 2006 to help Teach For America alumni gain power, including by giving to their political campaigns. Although the two organizations operate independently, they share office space, and Teach For America donates millions of dollars to LEE each year through an intermediary foundation. Only Teach For America alumni can be LEE “members,” entitling them to free training on leadership development, civic engagement and other topics.

LEE, which received $29 million in contributions and grants in 2017, helped more than 150 alumni run in local and state races in 2018, according to an internal presentation obtained by ProPublica. (Leadership for Educational Equity said the presentation’s figures were incomplete and unreliable.) Half of LEE members that ran for office were women, and almost half were people of color.

The group gives to TFA alums regardless of their views on education. But if candidates indicate on the internal questionnaire that they support school choice or charters, directors Walton, Bloomberg and Rock often add their own individual donations, according to three former employees.

“The survey that the team uses is to really help the candidates to articulate” their positions and values, said Jason Llorenz, vice president of communication for LEE. “Certainly where we can help to connect to other people that can support them, whether that be about choice or about gun control or any number of other things, we certainly do.” Leadership for Educational Equity said it has contributed to several candidates who were supported by teacher unions.

Carl Zaragoza, LEE vice president of elected leadership, also said his team teaches candidates to network. “With money, the value added that we offer our folks is to how they will build relationships with folks that do have money who are aligned with their values,” he said. “That is part of the individual coaching we provide.”

Bloomberg, who is also on the KIPP board, said that Leadership for Educational Equity “supports a diverse set of leaders in communities across the country who believe deeply in the importance of high quality public education.” In the past, at her request, LEE has recommended candidates for whom her contributions could make the biggest difference, according to her communications adviser. It’s a coincidence that some of the candidates she funds favor education reform, because that’s not one of her criteria, the adviser said. Walton declined to comment on his donations or work with LEE, and Rock didn’t address questions about them.

Beard, TFA’s chief executive, is also on the LEE board. When asked about its work, she said it’s “a totally separate entity,” which Teach For America’s alumni choose to participate in. “We believe leadership development is core to what we do. We believe that we should be supporting our alumni in pursuing all of their interests and helping them ensure that they are accelerating their own leadership.”

Vilaseca, the Houston school board trustee who voted to renew Teach For America’s contract, was a founding teacher at a KIPP charter school. Walton family members and Rock gave a total of $20,000 to her 2017 campaign, in addition to $6,000 from LEE. Vilaseca did not respond to emailed questions.

Also in 2017, two Teach For America alumni ran against each other for the Los Angeles school board. Nick Melvoin, a charter school advocate, challenged board president Steve Zimmer, who taught at a traditional public school and was backed by the union. LEE contributed $2,200 to Melvoin, and $1,100 to Zimmer. (LEE said it gave another $1,100 to Zimmer, but his campaign treasurer said it was never received.) Rock and the Bloomberg family added $5,400 for Melvoin, but nothing for his opponent. Melvoin won and has become the most vocal charter supporter on the board.

“My north star is anything that will help improve outcomes for kids is good, and charter schools are doing that,” Melvoin said. This year, he was the only school board member to oppose a citywide moratorium on charters.

When Ava Marinelli heard last fall that her fellow teachers at Los Angeles Unified School District were planning a strike, she wanted in.

“I know where my values lie, and they lie with the union,” said the second-year Teach For America corps member, who graduated in 2017 from Boston University. “I’m not crossing a picket line.”

But her decision carried a financial risk. Through Teach For America, she and other corps members received scholarships from AmeriCorps, a federal program that prohibits assisting or promoting union organizing. The money helped pay for Marinelli’s coursework toward a master’s degree in education, a key teaching credential.

Teach For America cautioned Marinelli and other corps members not to strike, or else they would lose their Americorps funding. As a strike loomed, they asked Lida Jennings, executive director of Teach For America in Los Angeles, if they could give up their AmeriCorps money. Jennings agreed, but she told them that to retain even partial funding, they would have to cite extenuating circumstances for striking, such as harassment, pressure or bullying from other teachers, according to three corps members who spoke with her.

Jennings confirmed this position in an email to ProPublica. The teachers “had a difficult process to navigate due to the federal regulations they have to follow,” she wrote. “Those choosing to exit would have to demonstrate and detail extenuating circumstances, such as challenges at their placement school or other impact.”

Marinelli followed this advice. She told Jennings in an email that she faced “intimidation” at her school — a falsehood that still haunts her. “I lied to exercise my civil rights,” she said. “I was encouraging my colleagues to go on strike. No one intimidated me to do this.” Teach For America agreed to replace the striking teachers’ lost scholarship money with private funds. It has since arranged that, in the future, all teachers who choose to join a picket line will be suspended from AmeriCorps during the strike and then reinstated at the end, with no impact on their scholarships.

Alongside her students, their parents and her fellow teachers, and wearing a bright red scarf wrapped around her neck, Marinelli picketed outside of her school as well as the district’s headquarters, frequently leading chants with a megaphone, for all six school days until the strike was settled. The union extracted key concessions, including a board vote on whether to support a statewide cap on the number of charter schools.

“It felt so hypocritical to join Teach For America for the social justice lens and then not go on strike, compromising the values that brought me to Teach For America,” Marinelli said. “Even though they claim to be an apolitical organization, I really felt there was an agenda.”

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Taking Charter Schools Private — With Public Funds

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

This story was co-published with Slate.

This past June, Florida’s top education agency delivered a failing grade to the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy in suburban Jacksonville for the second year in a row. It designated the charter school for kindergarten through fifth grade as the worst public school in Clay County, and one of the lowest performing in the state.

Two-thirds of the academy’s students failed the state exams last year, and only a third of them were making any academic progress at all. The school had had four principals in three years, and teacher turnover was high, too.

“My fourth grader was learning stuff that my second grader was learning — it shouldn’t be that way,” said Tanya Bullard, who moved her three daughters from the arts academy this past summer to a traditional public school. “The school has completely failed me and my children.”

The district terminated the academy’s charter contract. Surprisingly, Orange Park didn’t shut down — and even found a way to stay on the public dime. It reopened last month as a private school charging $5,000 a year, below the $5,886 maximum that low-income students receive to attend the school of their choice under a state voucher program. Academy officials expect all of its students to pay tuition with the publicly backed coupons.

Reverend Alesia Ford-Burse, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor who founded the academy, told ProPublica that the school deserves a second chance, because families love its dance and art lessons, which they otherwise couldn’t afford. “Kids are saying, ‘F or not, we’re staying,’” she said.

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Democratic Senators Condemn Betsy DeVos’ Record On Civil Rights

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.
by Annie Waldman

In a letter sent today, more than 30 Democratic senators rebuked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for scaling back civil rights enforcement at the Department of Education.

“You claim to support civil rights and oppose discrimination, but your actions belie your assurances,” wrote the senators, who said that the secretary’s recent moves to curtail civil rights efforts heightened their longstanding concerns about her commitment to protecting students from discrimination and harassment.

As ProPublica has reported, the Department of Education quietly laid out plans to scale back investigations into civil rights complaints in an internal staff memo earlier this month.

Under the Obama administration, the department’s civil rights investigators applied a broad approach to investigating complaints, often widening probes to look for patterns of harassment or discrimination in schools or districts. Investigators were frequently required to obtain multiple years of data to assess whether civil rights violations were systemic in nature.

In the recent memo, acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson instructed her staff to narrow this approach. Under the new directive, civil rights staffers will only look for systemic violations if the original complaint raises such concerns or the investigative team suggests it.

“Limiting use of the systematic approach may cause investigators to miss issues of pervasive discrimination or civil rights abuses,” wrote the senators in their letter.

The Education Department did not respond to ProPublica’s request for comment.

While the department has contended that the new approach will speed up the office’s investigations into complaints, DeVos’ recent budget proposal sets out plans to cut over 40 staffers from the office for civil rights, which could limit investigations.

The senators, led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., join a growing chorus of critics of the new administration’s civil rights record. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights opened an investigation earlier this month into the Trump administration’s enforcement of civil rights, specifically citing concerns with the Department of Education.

The bipartisan, independent commission is chaired by Catherine Lhamon, who led the department’s civil rights office under Obama. It will conduct the probe over two years, reviewing management practices across various agencies’ civil rights offices, as well as staffing and budget levels.

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DeVos Pick To Head Civil Rights Office Once Said She Faced Discrimination For Being White

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

by Annie Waldman ProPublica

The new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white.

As an undergraduate studying calculus at Stanford University in the mid-1990s, Candice Jackson “gravitated” toward a section of the class that provided students with extra help on challenging problems, she wrote in a student publication. Then she learned that the section was reserved for minority students.

“I am especially disappointed that the University encourages these and other discriminatory programs,” she wrote in the Stanford Review. “We need to allow each person to define his or her own achievements instead of assuming competence or incompetence based on race.”

Although her limited background in civil rights law makes it difficult to infer her positions on specific issues, Jackson’s writings during and after college suggest she’s likely to steer one of the Education Department’s most important 2014 and controversial 2014 branches in a different direction than her predecessors. A longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, she has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by, an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jackson’s inexperience, along with speculation that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will roll back civil rights enforcement, lead some observers to wonder whether Jackson, like several other Trump administration appointees, lacks sympathy for the traditional mission of the office she’s been chosen to lead.

Her appointment “doesn’t leave me with a feeling of confidence with where the administration might be going,” said Theodore Shaw, director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law, who led Barack Obama’s transition team for civil rights at the Department of Justice.

“I hope that she’s not going to be an adversary to the civil rights community and I hope that the administration is going to enforce civil rights laws and represent the best interests of those who are affected by civil rights issues.”

On Wednesday, DeVos formally announced Jackson’s position as deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, a role that does not require Senate confirmation. The 39-year-old attorney will act as assistant secretary in charge of the office until that position is filled. DeVos has not yet selected a nominee, who would have to receive Senate confirmation. As acting head, Jackson is in charge of about 550 full-time department staffers, who are responsible for investigating thousands of civil rights complaints each year.

Jackson referred ProPublica’s interview request to the U.S. Department of Education, which did not respond to our request. Neither Jackson nor the department responded to ProPublica’s emailed questions.

Jackson takes over an office that has been responsible for protecting students from racial, gender, disability and age discrimination for decades. Under the Obama administration, the office increased its caseload. It emphasized to colleges that they could give preferences to minorities and women to achieve diversity, and advised them to be more aggressive in investigating allegations of rape and sexual harassment on campus. Some of the guidance from the office provoked controversy, particularly among Republicans who have long called for the office to be scaled back.

Jackson grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where her parents operate two medical practices, specializing in family and aesthetic medicine. Her father, Dr. Rick Jackson, also ran unsuccessfully for Congress and is a country music singer under the name Ricky Lee Jackson. Jackson’s brothers have acting and music careers as well. Jackson and her mother have helped provide “business and legal” management for her father and brothers, according to a biography on her website from 2016.

In 2009, Jackson co-wrote a Christian country song with her father and brother, called “Freedom, Family and Faith.” The lyrics had an anti-government tinge: “Some politician wants our liberty/ They say just trust me, we’re all family/ I’ve got a family and hey, it’s not you/ Don’t need Big Brother to see us through.”

While in college, Jackson joined the Stanford Review as a junior, after transferring to the university in 1996 from a community college in Los Angeles. When she arrived, according to a Review article she wrote during her senior year, she was “eager to carry the message of freedom to Stanford through the only conservative publication on campus.”

Eric Jackson, no relation, who is Candice’s friend, former classmate and book publisher, said the conservative perspective of the Stanford Review often went against the status quo on campus. It took “courage,” he said, to write for the publication, which was co-founded in 1987 by PayPal billionaire and Donald Trump adviser Peter Thiel. “A number of us got death threats,” he recalled.

One topic of heated debate on campus was affirmative action, which California banned in public institutions, such as universities, in 1996. The prohibition did not affect private universities, like Stanford, which could continue to employ preferential policies both in admissions and in special programs designed to assist minority students in college-level math and science courses.

During her senior year, Candice Jackson penned her objections in an op-ed, contending the university “promotes racial discrimination” with its practices.

“As with most liberal solutions to a problem, giving special assistance to minority students is a band-aid solution to a deep problem,” she wrote. “No one, least of all the minority student, is well served by receiving special treatment based on race or ethnicity.”

Jackson was far from the only critic of such minority-only programs. In 2003, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology opened up similar programs to all races.

In another article Jackson penned for the Review during her senior year, entitled “How I Survived Stanford Without Entering the Women’s Center,” she condemned feminism on campus.

“In today’s society, women have the same opportunities as men to advance their careers, raise families, and pursue their personal goals,” she wrote. “College women who insist on banding together by gender to fight for their rights are moving backwards, not forwards.”

In the article, she encouraged women to choose conservatism over feminism. “I think many women are instinctively conservative, but are guided into the folds of feminism before discovering the conservative community,” she wrote.

She concluded, “[t]he real women’s issues are conservative ones.”

Her former Stanford Review colleague, Eric Jackson, told ProPublica that her college writings are nearly 20 years old and that it’s important to understand the context of her commentary. “The feminist culture she was critiquing was different than what happens today,” he said. Jackson, he added, is “very pro-woman.”

After Stanford, Jackson “exchanged conservatism for libertarianism,” she later wrote. She did a summer fellowship at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a free-market think tank in Auburn, Alabama, according to an institute publication. The institute was reportedly founded with money raised by former congressman and 1988 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ron Paul, and is a leading hub of contemporary libertarian scholars.

While at the Institute, Jackson provided editorial assistance on a book of collected essays by the institute’s co-founder, economic historian Murray N. Rothbard. A charismatic figure who devoted his life to ideas, Rothbard died a few years before Jackson’s fellowship. Mark Thornton, an economist and a senior fellow at the Mises Institute who vaguely recalled Jackson but did not specifically remember her role at the center, said that her editorial assistance may have involved proofreading.

Rothbard’s 1999 book, “Education: Free and Compulsory,” advocated for a voluntary education system, denouncing government-mandated schooling. Currently, all U.S. states require students to attend school until they are at least 16 years old.

“To force these children to be exposed to schooling, as the State does almost everywhere, is a criminal offense to their natures,” wrote Rothbard. “In any case, the instruction has almost no effect on these children, many of whose hours of life are simply wasted because of the State’s decree.”

This was not Jackson’s only connection to Rothbard’s work. She also wrote two papers analyzing his theories. One essay compared his philosophy to that of libertarian novelist Ayn Rand. In the other, she wrote that his 1982 book, “The Ethics of Liberty,” “shines as a monumental achievement, meeting Rothbard’s goal of setting forth 2018a positive ethical system 2026 to establish the case for individual liberty.'”

In other essays, published on a former colleague’s website, Rothbard called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “monstrous,” and lambasted one provision of it, which prohibited employment discrimination, as “a horrendous invasion of the property rights of the employer.”

Rothbard was “about as fringe as you could be and still be a tenured professor,” said Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, who met him twice.

If someone was a follower of Rothbard, Caplan told ProPublica, “instead of thinking of discrimination as a rampant problem, they would say the free market would take care of it.”

Jackson has often collaborated on articles with William Anderson, an associate scholar at the Mises Institute and a professor of economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland. Their work has appeared in the publication Reason and on the website of Llewellyn Rockwell, a co-founder and chairman of the Mises Institute.

Anderson, who told ProPublica that he has known Jackson for years, said that she would likely approach her position at the Education Department from “the standpoint of individual rights and due process.”

After graduating from Pepperdine University’s School of Law in 2002, Jackson also worked for Judicial Watch, a conservative legal advocacy group, for nearly two years as a litigation counsel, according to her LinkedIn page.

In the past few years, she has operated her own law firm. According to a recent biography on her website, her practice specialized in “business, entertainment, and litigation matters,” for a range of clients, “from restaurants to medical clinics, and from authors and musicians to filmmakers and record labels.”

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton, titled “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine.” She gained national attention last October after she arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Jackson sat with the women in the front of the audience. A few days before the debate, Jackson established Their Lives Foundation. In registration documents, she described two of its purposes as “giving public voice to victims of women who abuse positions of power” and “advocating for and against candidates for political office.”

Less than a week after the debate, Jackson posted on Facebook that her foundation “supports all victims of power abusers,” but labeled Trump’s accusers “fake victims.” Since the initial announcement of her Education Department role, her Facebook page has been taken offline.

Research assistance provided by Vivian Lam.

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Former Lobbyist With For-Profit Colleges Quits Department Of Education

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

A former lobbyist for an association of for-profit colleges resigned last Friday from the Department of Education, where he had worked for about a month.

As ProPublica reported last week, the Trump administration had hired Taylor Hansen to join the department’s “beachhead” team, a group of temporary hires who do not require approval from the U.S. Senate for their appointments.

 On the day Hansen resigned, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)., sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, citing ProPublica’s reporting and requesting more information on Hansen’s role.

“Mr. Hansen’s recent employment history clearly calls into question his impartiality in dealing with higher education issues at the Department of Education, and raises alarming conflict of interest concerns,” she wrote.

Jim Bradshaw, an education department spokesman, told ProPublica in an email that the department was “grateful for [Hansen’s] contributions.”

“He served ably and without conflict and decided his service had run its course,” said Bradshaw. Hansen did not immediately respond to ProPublica’s request for comment. Bloomberg first reported Hansen’s departure.

Hansen isn’t the only hire from the for-profit college industry to join the Department of Education via the beachhead team. The New York Times reported that Robert S. Eitel, a former compliance officer at for-profit college operator Bridgepoint Education Inc., is working at the department. Eitel, a former deputy general counsel at the Education Department from 2006 to 2009, has been a critic of federal regulations on for-profit colleges.

Warren also criticized Eitel’s hiring in her letter to DeVos. She noted that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last September ordered Bridgepoint, Eitel’s former employer, to refund $23.5 million to students whom it had deceived into taking out loans that cost more than advertised. Bridgepoint is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the attorneys general of New York, North Carolina, California and Massachusetts, Warren wrote.

Until July 2016, Hansen worked as a registered lobbyist for the nation’s largest trade group of for-profit colleges, Career Education Colleges and Universities, or CECU. He lobbied to weaken a regulation known as “gainful employment,” which permits the education department to rescind federal funding from schools whose students fail to earn enough to repay their debts.

Just weeks after Hansen was hired by the Education Department, it began scaling back the regulations by delaying the deadline of certain provisions of the gainful employment rule. The move gives colleges three extra months to submit appeals and publish disclosures about the high debt loads of their graduates, while the department reviews the implementation of the rule.

Hansen told ProPublica that he wasn’t working on the gainful employment regulations at the department, but he would not specify his responsibilities. He declined to comment on whether his role raised a potential conflict of interest.

Hansen worked as CECU’s director of legislative and regulatory affairs from December 2013 to July 2016 and was a registered lobbyist for the group for the first half of 2016. Over the past five years, CECU has spent about $3.5 million lobbying on behalf of its more than 600 member institutions, the majority of which are for-profit colleges.

Shortly after his inauguration, Trump relaxed the Obama administration’s restrictions on hiring lobbyists. He issued an ethics order that allowed former lobbyists, such as Hansen, to work for agencies that they recently sought to influence. The policy does preclude former lobbyists from working on any “particular matter” on which they lobbied.

Hansen would have been ineligible to work at the Education Department under the Obama administration’s policies.

Hansen’s father, William Hansen, served in the early 2000s as deputy secretary of the Education Department, where he helped to roll back regulations on for-profit colleges. After leaving the department, William Hansen worked for several years as a lobbyist for Apollo Group Inc., the parent company of for-profit college chain the University of Phoenix.

Ben Miller, the senior director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said that the lack of transparency around Hansen’s hiring raises concerns about temporary hires at the Education Department.

“His entire tenure shows we need much more information on how the beachhead teams work,” Miller said.

IMAGE: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to become Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill, January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

DeVos’ Code Words For Creationism Offshoot Raise Concerns About ‘Junk Science’

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

At a confirmation hearing earlier this month, Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s pick for education secretary, responded to a question about whether she would promote “junk science” by saying she supports science teaching that “allows students to exercise critical thinking.”

This seemingly innocuous statement has raised alarms among science education advocates, and buoyed the hopes of conservative Christian groups that, if confirmed, DeVos may use her bully pulpit atop the U.S. Department of Education to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools.

DeVos and her family have poured millions of dollars into groups that champion intelligent design, the doctrine that the complexity of biological life can best be explained by the existence of a creator rather than by Darwinian evolution. Within this movement, “critical thinking” has become a code phrase to justify teaching of intelligent design.

Candi Cushman, a policy analyst for the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, described DeVos’ nomination as a positive development for communities that want to include intelligent design in their school curricula. Both the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation and Betsy DeVos’ mother’s foundation have donated to Focus on the Family, which has promoted intelligent design.

“Mrs. DeVos will work toward ensuring parents and educators have a powerful voice at the local level on multiple issues, including science curriculum,” wrote Cushman in an email.

DeVos has not publicly spoken about her personal views on intelligent design. A more nuanced outgrowth of creationism, the approach lost steam after a federal court ruled a decade ago that teaching it in public schools would violate the separation of church and state. Greg McNeilly, a longtime aide to DeVos and an executive at her and her husband’s privately held investment management firm, the Windquest Group, said he knows from personal discussions with DeVos that she does not believe that intelligent design should be taught in public schools. He added that her personal beliefs on the theory, whatever they are, shouldn’t matter.

“I don’t know the answer to whether she believes in intelligent design — it’s not relevant,” McNeilly told ProPublica. “There is no debate on intelligent design or creationism being taught in schools. According to federal law, it cannot be taught.”

That assurance provides little comfort to those who worry that DeVos’ nomination could erode public schools’ commitment to teaching evolution.

Hearing DeVos refer to “critical thinking” was “like hearing old catch phrases from a nearly forgotten TV show that never made prime time,” Michigan State University professor Robert Pennock told ProPublica. Pennock has written several books and articles about creationism and intelligent design, including “The Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism” (2000), and has testified as an expert witness that intelligent design should not be studied in public school science courses.

“She evaded what should have been a simple question about not teaching junk science,” Pennock wrote in an email. “More than that, she did so in a way that signaled her willingness to open the door to intelligent design creationism.”

A confirmation vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee is expected Tuesday on DeVos, a billionaire and longtime advocate of charter schools, voucher programs, and other alternatives to traditional public education. She attended a Christian high school and college, and her four children were either home-schooled or sent to religious high school. Her husband, Amway heir Dick DeVos, publicly supported intelligent design during a failed campaign for governor of Michigan in 2006.

Many Christians who accept the Bible and its creation story as literal truth have long opposed teaching evolution as fact. Intelligent design gained traction in the 1990s and early 2000s, when Christian groups pushed for it to be taught in public schools, often alongside lessons on evolution. They distributed intelligent design textbooks and lesson plans, but faced a backlash from the scientific community and the courts. Kansas and Ohio adopted science standards, which were later rescinded, calling for teaching of “critical analysis” of evolution. While public schools are not legally allowed to teach intelligent design in science class, numerous private religious schools and some colleges do.

Advocates have contended that presenting intelligent design side-by-side with evolution, also known as “teaching the controversy,” would enhance the critical thinking skills of students and improve their scientific reasoning. Indeed, a briefing packet for educators from the leading intelligent design group, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, walks teachers through this approach.

“In American public education today, the status quo teaches evolution in a dogmatic, pro-Darwin-only fashion which fails to help students use critical thinking on this topic,” the report states, adding that teaching “the controversy” can help students “learn the critical thinking skills they need to think like good scientists.”

John West, vice president of the Discovery Institute, said that the implication that “critical thinking” is code for intelligent design is “ludicrous.”

“Critical thinking is a pretty foundational idea supported by lots of people, not just us,” said West in an email, adding that he also thinks “critical thinking should apply to discussions of evolution.”

In one of the most high-profile legal cases on teaching evolution since the Scopes trial in 1925, civil-liberties organizations took the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district to federal district court in Harrisburg in 2005, because the school board had required ninth-grade biology students to be told that the theory of evolution was flawed and that intelligent design was an alternative. Teachers were ordered to promote the 1989 intelligent design textbook “Of Pandas and People” as a reference.

The Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based Christian legal group whose slogan is “The Sword and the Shield for People of Faith,” represented the school district. The center had been searching for several years for a school board that favored teaching intelligent design and was willing to defend a lawsuit. Pennock, the Michigan State professor, testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs. The district argued that the introduction of intelligent design in the classroom was intended to encourage “critical thinking,” but Judge John E. Jones ruled against it, stating that the doctrine had “utterly no place in science curriculum.”

“The goal of the intelligent design movement is not to encourage critical thought,” Jones wrote in his opinion, “but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with intelligent design.”

The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation contributed $15,000 to the Thomas More Law Center between 2001 and 2002, according to tax filings. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, the foundation of DeVos’ mother and deceased father, has donated over $1 million since 2002 to Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona. The group unsuccessfully attempted to intervene in the Dover case by representing the publisher of the intelligent design textbook. The Thomas More Law Center and Alliance Defending Freedom declined to answer any questions about DeVos.

The Prince Foundation’s tax filings listed DeVos as a vice president for more than a decade. In the days leading up to her Senate hearing, forms were filed on DeVos’ behalf with Michigan’s licensing department to withdraw her name from the group. She testified at the hearing that her recorded affiliation with the organization had been a “clerical error.”

“Betsy doesn’t sit around and Google herself to find out if she’s an officer of the foundation,” McNeilly told ProPublica, adding that DeVos had no influence at the foundation.

Based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Focus on the Family has produced a religious video series with one episode focused on intelligent design and Darwinian evolution critiques. Through their foundation, DeVos and her husband contributed $75,000 to Focus on the Family in 2001, and her mother’s foundation has since donated almost $5 million.

Even though DeVos or her family may provide financial support to these organizations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she agrees with all their views, McNeilly said.

“She gives to all sorts of organizations that are involved in a variety of issues,” he said. “She doesn’t do a litmus test to make sure she’s in agreement with everything.”

Voucher programs, which DeVos has long championed, often provide taxpayer funding for low-income students to enroll in private and religious schools, which may legally teach creationism and intelligent design. The question of whether voucher program support of religious schools violates the separation of church and state has led to legal challenges in some states. Indeed, in 2015, Colorado’s Supreme Court struck down a school district’s voucher program because it was funneling public money to religious schools.

The Great Lakes Education Project, a group founded by DeVos and her husband, has been one of the primary vehicles for DeVos’ school-choice advocacy. Before her federal nomination, she served as a chairwoman and board member of the group. While Great Lakes has largely avoided religious rhetoric in its push for school choice, a policy paper released by the group in 2013 praised the standards initiative known as Common Core for leaving curriculum decisions in the hands of states and localities, including the option to teach intelligent design in public schools.

“State and local officials will continue to make important curriculum decisions when it comes to teaching History or specific issues such as Evolution or Intelligent Design, in line with what is right for their students and communities,” read the paper, which was printed on the group’s own letterhead and promoted on its website.

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“State and local officials will continue to make important curriculum decisions when it comes to teaching History or specific issues such as Evolution and Intelligent Design, in line with what is right for their students and communities.”

“It’s one sentence, but it says a lot,” said Heather Weaver, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, who reviewed the document at ProPublica’s request. “The fact that her foundation was putting out materials saying that local and state officials can teach intelligent design is troubling. It shows a lack of understanding about the law and science education.”

Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, told ProPublica that the organization did not write the paper and that it was drafted as part of a national advocacy effort to inform educators about Common Core. The paper didn’t cite the original source, a lapse that Naeyart attributed to a “design error.” He couldn’t recall which advocacy group was the author.

Although decisions on public school curricula are largely left to local school districts and state governments, the secretary of education’s views still carry weight, said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit in Oakland, California.

“The secretary of education has an important bully pulpit,” said Branch. “It would be dismaying indeed if it were used to push creationism, climate change denial, or any other junk science.”

IMAGE: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas