Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

@jeffbcdm

Betsy DeVos Using Pandemic To Strip Funding From Public Schools

This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

As American deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000, the New York Times reported that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos declared her intention to "force" public school districts to spend a large portion of federal funds they're receiving through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on private schools.

Going beyond the traditional practice of education secretaries to issue guidance on how states should interpret federal law, she now wants to write the laws herself.

Read Now Show less

Democrats May Have To Choose Between Charter Schools And Teacher Pay

For years, the safe havens for education policy debate in the Democratic Party have been expanding pre-K programs and providing more affordable college, but in the current presidential primary contest, another consensus issue has been added to the party’s agenda: salary increases for K–12 classroom teachers. Kamala Harris has gotten the most press for coming out strongly for raising teacher wages, but other frontrunners including Joe BidenPete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders have also called for increased teacher pay.

But what will happen when a consensus issue like teacher salary increases comes into conflict with a lightning rod issue like charter schools? That’s a scenario currently playing out in Florida.

A recent law passed by the majority Republican Florida state legislature and signed by newly elected Republican Governor Ron DeSantis will force local school districts to share portions of their locally appropriated tax money with charter schools, even if those funds are raised for the express purpose of increasing teacher salaries in district-operated public schools. (Charter schools in Florida, as in many states, do not receive funds that are raised through bond referendums, mill levies, or other forms of local funding initiatives.)

Florida teachers have openly opposed the new law, and local school districts have taken it to court to have it overthrown. But given this new law, it’s not at all hard to imagine a scenario, even at the national level, where Democrats pushing to increase funds for teacher pay will have to confront an expanding charter school industry—and now voucher programs—that would claim their portion of that money to use as private institutions for whatever purposes they wish.

“The problem with charter schools isn’t that they’re competing with public schools; it’s that they’re supplanting public schools,” says Justin Katz. Katz, who is president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, recently helped organize a rally in West Palm Beach where more than 200 teachers and public school advocates showed up to voice their opposition to distributing funds raised by local tax increases to charter schools.

The protest “was very specific, local, and personal,” Katz explains, because voters in the county had approved $200 million in funding for their schools in a measure that specified increases could be used for teacher raises in traditional public schools and not for funding charter schools.

The referendum was overwhelmingly approved by more than 72 percent of voters. But under the proposed new law, a proportional share of 10 percent, or about $20 million a year, would have gone to the county’s 49 charters. Only a late amendment in the state senate averted the loss, when the bill was altered to apply to future bond referendums only.

The language of the referendum that was passed was “crystal clear,” Katz says, that money raised by the bond efforts would not go to charter schools. But the loophole being used to argue for charters to get their share is the use of the term “public schools.”

The new law is “an effort to redefine what are public schools,” he says, in order to give charter schools a right to claim a portion of any publicly raised education funds, regardless of the intent for raising the money. He fears that once charters claim that right, private schools in the state’s school voucher programs will claim it too.

What Katz fears aligns to Governor DeSantis’ recent comment that “if the taxpayer is paying for education, it’s public education,” which seems to mean that virtually any education provider—charter schools, private schools, and even homeschooling—is “public education” and therefore has a rightful claim to public funds meant for teachers, local schools, and any initiative voters approve, regardless of the intent.

“Our objection to sharing bond referendum money with charter schools is that it’s not what the money was intended for,” says Anna Fusco, the president of the Broward Teachers Union.

Broward, the county immediately to the south of Palm Beach, also recently passed a local referendum that raised $93 million, enough funding to boost teacher salaries by as much as $8,000. Like the Palm Beach initiative, the Broward referendum funds were intended not to go to charters, although the language was not as specific. Broward has over 90 charter schools educating 45,919 students, over 20 percent of the district’s students.

Fusco says, “it was fair to not include charters in the referendum” for several reasons. Because nearly half the charter schools in the state are managed by for-profit companies, new funding voters had approved for teachers could instead be used to expand profits for charter management companies.

Fusco also believes many charter schools are “non-public” because they “get to choose their students.” Studies have shown Florida’s charter schools, compared to public schools, serve significantly lower percentages of low-income students, students with disabilities, and students who struggle with English.

She also points to other recent legislation that gave charter schools access to state funding for building leases and executive pay and big new loopholes for bypassing local school boards and employing uncertified teachers. She contends the law undermines the charter industry’s argument for needing local referendum money. And because of the new loopholes, bond referendum money would now go to charter schools even though they can bypass the very school boards that pushed for the bonds, and even if the money was earmarked for wage hikes for certified teachers, charters could use the money to hire uncertified teachers who lower the status of the teaching profession.

“This is part of an incremental and deliberate effort to take apart our public school system,” says Karen Castor Dentel in a phone call. Castor Dentel is a board member of Orange County Public Schools and former Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives. A native of Florida and graduate of the state’s public schools, she taught in an elementary school last year, and her mother was Florida Education Commissioner from 1987 to 1994.

Castor Dentel sources the assault on the state’s public schools to former Governor Jeb Bush, who initiated a series of reforms he called the A+ Plan that included imposing a school grading system based on test scores. Gradually the test-based system was used to evaluate teachers too—including evaluating teachers based on the scores of students they don’t even teach.

Bush’s plan also called for changing teachers’ salary increases from a traditional step plan based on seniority and continuing education to a system of bonuses and merit-pay schemes based on test scores and other measures. The most preposterous of these schemes based teacher bonuses on scores they earned on their college entrance exams. Districts are now rushing to abandon these plans.

“The purpose of this was to shame schools and teachers,” Castor Dentel insists. “We already knew which students needed help and which schools and teachers needed more support. But it’s easier to label schools and teachers failing and hand everything over to a private charter operator than it is to do what these schools and communities actually need.”

While Bush’s plan cracked down on teachers, it loosened the regulatory environment for charter schools and provided them with new funding sources. By the time Bush left office in 2007, charter schools across the state had grown from a modest 30 to well over 300. Today there are 655.

The educational success of the A+ Plan continues to be hotly debated, but it’s undeniable that the welfare of public school teachers in the state suffered significantly under its regime.

The state has dropped to 46 on a national scale of average teacher salaries, and at least one credible analysis has deemed the state the fifth worst state in the nation to be a teacher.

Due to low pay, deteriorating employee benefits, and demoralizing working conditions, Florida teachers have refused to work beyond school hours, increasingly called in sick, and are leaving their jobs at higher rates. The state now has an acute teacher shortage and struggles to fill vacant positions. And in what’s being called a “silent strike,” experienced teachers are leaving the profession early, and people who would be highly qualified for teaching are choosing other employment opportunities.

In the meantime, charter schools have flourished and now account for nearly all the state’s growth in student enrollment.

“It’s been a long game,” Castor Dentel says. “The agenda has been imposed so slowly over the past 20 years that people don’t notice. It’s a cancer that started in Florida and is now spreading everywhere.”

If the Florida model for education is a disease, Democrats have certainly been infected. Much of what was in Bush’s A+ Plan formed the policy agenda of the Obama administration, which also pushed for evaluating schools and teachers based on test scores and expanding charter schools.

“Democrats have been promoting a conservative ‘school reform’ agenda for the past three decades,” education historian and bestselling author Diane Ravitch observed. “Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Party has lost its way on public education.”

But because presidential hopefuls are rallying around teacher salary increases, have Democrats found their way back?

No doubt, what got Democrats to pay attention to the plight of school teachers was the series of teacher protests staged across the country last year and into 2019. The highly visible strikes emboldened candidates running in 2018 midterm elections to campaign for increasing investments in public schools. The teacher uprisings also took the schools issue away from Republicans and made it less about “accountability” and more about the massive cuts political leaders in both parties have enacted to the system.

In Florida, teachers are forbidden to strike by law and the state constitution. “Any teachers engaging in such action would endanger their professional status,” explains Fusco. “They could lose their licenses and jobs for life and lose their pensions too. Our union will never, ever encourage a walk out.”

However, the laws haven’t stopped teachers from speaking out against efforts to divert local tax dollars for teacher pay to charter schools. Their protest messages are about educating voters on the impact of charters rather than opposing them outright.

Teachers who protested in Palm Beach County, according to Castor Dentel, “made their protests more about the responsible use of tax dollars.”

“Parents and voters are just starting to get engaged, but they aren’t always clear on the issues,” she says. “They don’t understand that charter schools aren’t really like public schools.”

“For now, our effort to push back has to rely on educating people on what these bills in the state legislature are really doing,” says Fusco. “We hope people who aren’t in education and don’t even have children in schools listen to us.”

“This obsession with crushing public schools to promote privately operated things that are being called ‘public’ is not universally accepted,” says Katz, “and people are just starting to sour on it.”

Maybe Democrats will too.

This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Department Of Education Wasted $1 Billion On Failed Charter Schools

new report issued by the Network for Public Education provides a detailed accounting of how charter schools have scammed the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) for up to $1 billion in wasted grant money that went to charters that never opened or opened for only brief periods of time before being shut down for mismanagement, poor performance, lack of enrollment, or fraud. The report also found many of the charters receiving grant awards that managed to stay open fall far short of the grant program’s avowed mission to create “high-quality” schools for disadvantaged students.

President Trump’s 2020 budget blueprint proposes increasing funding for the charter grant program by 13.6 percent, from $440 to $500 million, and education secretary Betsy DeVos praised this increase as a step forward for “education freedom.” But the report finds that increasing federal funds for this program would mostly continue to perpetuate academic fraud.

Of the schools awarded grants directly from the department between 2009 and 2016, nearly one in four either never opened or shut their doors. The federal program’s own analysis from 2006 to 2014 of its direct and state pass-through funded programs found that nearly one out of three awardees were not currently in operation by the end of 2015.

Since then, the federal program has continued to award charters with grant money, increasing the total amount awarded to over $4 billion. Should the department’s own 2015 study finding hold, that one in three of the schools awarded grants had closed, never opened, or were not yet opened, the likely amount of money scammed by bogus charter operators tops $1 billion. In California alone, the state with the most charter schools, the failure rate for federal grant-awarded charters was 39 percent. Of the 306 schools that received CSP money but are not open, 75 are “ghost” schools—that is, they received money but never began operating.

As a coauthor of the report, along with Carol Burris, the executive director of NPE, I found an astonishing array of charter operators who ripped off American taxpayers with impunity, and generally suffered no adverse consequences for their acts. In fact, many are still actively involved in the scam. The scams varied from the brazenly open—such as the Michigan charter that isn’t a charter at all, it’s a Baptist church—to the artfully deceptive—like the Hawaii charter that received a grant in 2016 and still hasn’t opened, doesn’t have a location, and its charter hasn’t even been approved.

But perhaps my favorite scam artist to take advantage of the federal charter grant program was a Delaware company.

In 2013, Innovative Schools Development Corporation applied for and received a three-year start-up grant eventually totaling $525,000 to open Delaware Met Charter School in Wilmington, DE. The school’s grant application promised to create an “Expeditionary Learning (EL) charter” to “maximize learning” for “elementary-aged Hispanic Latino English Language Learners in a high poverty community.” The school claimed to “be able to cater to each students’ [sic] career goals by personalizing their education,” a local reporter gushed. “The model is called ‘Big Picture Learning,’ and for lack of a better analogy, it’s kind of like Build-A-Bear for a high school education.”

The school didn’t open until August of 2015, but the company was already at work getting more grants from CSP.

In 2015, Innovative Schools applied for and received a three-year grant totaling $600,000 to support the Early College High School charter schools at Delaware State University in Dover, Delaware. The school would focus on “the development of college-ready students through an inquiry and project-based learning environment that engages students with a dynamic, rigorous STEM curriculum … to serve a diverse student population, focusing recruitment on first-generation college-bound students from low-income families.”

Then in 2016, Innovative Schools applied for and received a three-year federal grant totaling $609,000 to open the Delaware STEM Academy charter school. The school promised in its application to enroll 250 students for 9th and 10th grade in September 2016 and to add 150 students each year for 9th grade thereafter from the high-needs student populations in the Wilmington and New Castle County area of Delaware.

In the meantime, while the company was applying for and receiving grant money from the federal government, no one seemed to notice that its schools were quickly failing.

Delaware Met was closed just five months into its first school year, in January 2016. The state committee that recommended closing found the school struggled to maintain a safe campus, used lesson plans that didn’t fit the state’s academic standards, and was out of compliance on all 59 of its Individualized Education Plans for its students with disabilities.

In June 2016, Delaware’s Charter School Accountability Committee and the State Secretary of Education both recommended revoking Delaware STEM Academy’s charter two months ahead of its planned opening, due to low enrollment of just 30 students and uncertain funding due to an overreliance on external grants. Local news reports on the demise of the school noticed that New Castle County already had a heavy concentration of charter schools—20 of 27 charter schools statewide. Yet in its review of the application, the U.S. Department of Education’s reviewers complimented the application for its “detailed management plan including objectives, measures, targets” and including a full year for implementation.

The Early College High School has managed to stay open, but although the application said it would have a student enrollment that is 24.7 percent “economically disadvantaged,” the school is located in a district with a student population that is 70 percent economically disadvantaged. In other words, what was supposed to be a lifeline out of poverty for students more closely resembles a white flight academy.

In the meantime, Innovative Schools Development Corporation did fine, as it was budgeted to receive, just from the STEM Academy deal, $247,500 of the federal grant funds for management fees, with $147,500 coming in the first year alone.

At this writing, the Innovative Schools Development Corporation website has been taken down and it is unclear whether the company still exists.

Much of the fraud and malfeasance is due to the fact that in many ways the charter scam is an inside operation.

The Department of Education uses a slipshod process to conduct reviews of charter school grant applications that allows applicants to get away with making false and misleading claims about their academic programs. The review process does not allow the verification of applicants’ claims, and reviewers are instructed to accept what applicants have written as fact. And reviewers are not publicly identified by the department and are likely to be biased because of the department’s requirement that they have “a solid understanding of the ‘charter school movement.’”

Many of the worst abuses take place in the grant program that sends money to states. When state education agencies pass the federal funding on to charter schools, there is generally little to no accountability for how the money is used. The sub-grantee schools often never open or close quickly, and the schools often blatantly discriminate, engage in outright fraud, and engage in related-party transactions that result in private individuals and companies pocketing huge sums of money at taxpayer expense. But once the monies are given to the state, the Department of Education maintains a “hands-off” policy.

One of these sub-grantee charter schools recently made national headlines when the New York Times reported about East Austin College Prep in Texas, where raccoons and rats invade offices and classrooms. When it rains, the roof of the main building leaks. Yet for all this, the secondary school pays almost $900,000 in annual rent to its landlord who is also its founder, Southwest Key Programs, the nation’s largest provider of shelters for migrant children. The federal charter grant program gave the school a grant to start the school through its Texas state grant.

There is only one way to deal with this blatant grift program for the charter school industry.

First, Congress must reject President Trump’s budget proposal for increasing funding for the charter school grant program. Then Congress must end funding for new charter grants coming from this program and demand thorough audits of previous grant awards and steps to ensure grant awards still under term are being responsibly carried out and that misspent money is returned.

And Congress also needs to consider the unintended consequences to districts caused by the unchecked expansion of charters. Resources are depleted for the students left behind, and public schools become more segregated and serve needier populations.

This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

IMAGE: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a determined advocate of charter schools. Illustration from Flickr/DonkeyHotey.

Why Charter Schools Have Lost Support From Democrats

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Netroots Nation is arguably the most important annual event in the progressive community, and a barometer of what’s on the minds of the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” At this year’s event in Atlanta, the headline-making happening was Democratic primary candidate for Georgia governor Rep. Stacey Evans being shouted down by protesters holding signs saying, “Stacey Evans = Betsy DeVos” and “School Vouchers ≠ Progressive.”

Protesters circulated leaflets comparing Evans’ past votes on education-related bills to positions DeVos espouses. This included her support for a constitutional amendment in 2015 that would allow the state to convert public schools to charter school management, her support for a “Parent Trigger” that would allow petition drives to convert public schools to charters, and her support of a school voucher program.

After Evans was shouted down, National Education Association vice president Becky Pringle took the stage and demanded progressives “stand in the gap for our children” when conservatives slash education budgets and attack the most vulnerable students in public schools. She received several standing ovations.

Jeff Bryant talked with Pringle about the significance of the protests and the possibility of a powerful new education movement emerging from the progressive community.

Jeff Bryant: Let’s talk about what preceded your speech. Many of the signs the protesters carried addressed school vouchers. Why was that?

Becky Pringle: This progressive crowd understands that vouchers are a scheme to suck money out of public education and funnel it to wealthy people like our current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. This crowd is not cool by that, and they have been long time opponents to vouchers. They have more recently begun to understand the nuances of charter schools.

JB: I’ve had plenty of conversations at Netroots Nation about charter schools, and we will get to that. But I want to call attention to one aspect of vouchers we should address because Georgia has what it calls a tax credit scholarship program that people defend by saying it’s different from vouchers.

BP: It’s vouchers by another name. There are many names, euphemisms, for vouchers. Proponents of vouchers have learned over the years to use different names, but once you expose that, then they move on to different names. They’re very good at evolving their message, but you’re talking about taxpayer money being used to fund private schools, and that flies in the face of what public education is supposed to be.

JB: So about charters, Stacey Evans was one of 11 Democrats to vote in favor of Amendment One that would have established the Opportunity School District that would have facilitated state empowered conversion of public schools to charter school management. The Amendment was eventually defeated in a November referendum. Is Evans out of step with most Democrats on that?

BP: The NEA worked really hard with our Georgia affiliate to expose what the OSD is designed to do, and we were successful. We mobilized against a lot of big money to send a very simple message that we need to support our public schools and make sure that every public school is as good as our best public school.

JB: Why haven’t Democrats always been behind that simple message?

BP: People say, we can’t do it; it’s too much money; we can’t make education equitable for all kids. So instead, we get into these false conversations about other initiatives. We too often adopt the false language of “failing schools,” when we should instead be talking about how we as a society have failed our students.

JB: Along with that false conversation about failing public schools, another conversation I often hear among Democrats is that we need charter schools because they offer some black families the only way to escape failed schools. How would you address that?

BP: It is a challenge for our progressive allies who don’t see the long-term impact of this narrative about the need to rescue black families, one at a time, from their inequitably resourced schools. But if that story really is true – which we could argue – then what it’s saying is that we’re going to support and continue to build a system that is still inequitable, a system in which we’re going to decide what some students will get and others won’t. Also, if the story really were true, in what scenario are the students who get left behind getting what they need? Even if we agree that charter schools are the best option for black families – and we have data that say that’s not always true – we know that having these charters puts into place a process where there are winners and losers.

JB: I get what you’re saying, that the process of school choice doesn’t take into account the welfare of all black families, but isn’t it right to save some of them?

BP: Approaching the problem of inequity by creating options for just some families is exactly the wrong way because you’re accepting the premise that we can’t educate all children.

JB: Does that mean NEA is anti-charter?

BP: We’re not opposed to charter schools. We have started charter schools, and we have members in charter schools. But charters need to have specific criteria. They need to be accountable, controlled by democratically elected boards, and have transparency. And –an important condition often overlooked – they need to be part of the system, not separate. They should be part of a system of education that makes sure every student gets what they need to thrive. We have examples of that.

JB: Is that what you mean by the ‘nuance’ of charter schools that progressives are finally coming around to?

BP: Progressives at their core share a lot of the same values. But we need to dig down into what it is progressives think charter schools are doing, even for that black family who declares charter schools are working for them. Progressives need to understand that expanding charters is fraught with all kinds of unintended consequences that even those behind the expansions for the right reasons often don’t see. What we’re seeing is that even in communities where some families have benefitted from charters, like in New Orleans, charter schools are breaking the community apart, and when that happens, the community is not fighting together for its collective good. This diminishes the power of a collective community’s ability to demand what it needs for kids.

JB: At Netroots, we’ve heard a lot about drawing lines in the sand where if Democrats cross, they’re no longer a progressive. For instance, any candidate who comes here and is not pro-choice on women’s reproductive rights is going to have a hard time. We seem to have a line drawn in the sand on school vouchers. But how do you tell when progressives are closer to drawing a line in the sand on all forms of public school privatization, including charters?

BP: We’re getting closer. It’s happening. What happened with the NAACP is instructive. It was not easy because Democrats are not yet united around the issue of privatization, and there are many parents in communities of color who still see charters as a way to save kids. But when the NAACP held hearings around the country, I went to the one in New York. I heard the stories, for instance, of parents of special needs students who had been thrown out of charter schools and sent back to public schools whose resources had been decimated due to the money flowing to the charters. What I saw was a rising grassroots understanding among parents that charters are not passing the smell test, and we have to fight for something better for our kids. So I think we’re on the verge of a widespread consensus that the current approach to charters is not working.

JB: What should progressives be for instead?

BP: Progressives all share a core value that all students need to be successful, and when they aren’t, we need to provide more opportunities. What progressives have lost sight of is the other core value of the collective good. Progressives are going to have to wrestle with that. I see signs they are.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Note: an earlier version of this story included a reference to the Trust Black Women protest that occurred at the same event, giving the impression that protesters were supporters of Evans’ opponent. The events were related but distinct. 

Jeff Bryant is director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. He has written extensively about public education policy.

 

Inside Donald Trump’s Extremist Education Agenda

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency left education policy experts at a complete loss to explain what this would mean for the nation’s schools. During his campaign, Trump gave few clues about what would inform his education leadership, only that he had some antipathy for the Department of Education, he was no fan of Common Core and he would advocate for more “school choice.”

After his election, experienced education journalists at Education Week predicted Trump would embrace conservative Beltway think tanks and state education policy leaders who had bristled under the rule of Obama’s education department, and would reject the influence of teachers unions, civil rights groups, and politically centrist education “reform” groups.

Many who pointed out “personnel is policy,” speculated Trump would pick an education secretary from the ranks of his transition advisers who came mostly from the above-mentioned DC-based circles and state government centers. Other knowledgeable sources predicted Trump might draw education policy knowhow from “outsider” sources, such as the military, big business or the charter school industry.

Not a single source I can find anticipated Trump would look for education expertise in the deep, dark well he repeatedly seems to draw from: the extremist, right-wing evangelical community.

The DeVos Nomination

The first clue that Trump would embed the extremist views of radical Christian orthodoxy in the White House’s education policy apparatus was his nomination of Betsy DeVos to be the nation’s next Secretary of Education.

As Politico reports, DeVos is a “billionaire philanthropist” who “once compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to ‘advance God’s Kingdom.’”

Politico reporters point to numerous recordings and interviews in which DeVos and her husband Dick, a billionaire heir to the Amway fortune, promote education policies as avenues to “greater Kingdom gain … lament that public schools have ‘displaced’ the Church as the center of communities,” and refer to their efforts to advance private, religious schools as a “Shephelah,” an area where battles, including between David and Goliath, were fought in the Old Testament.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Katherine Stewart, an expert observer of the Christian right, writes, “Betsy DeVos stands at the intersection of two family fortunes that helped to build the Christian right.”

Stewart points to numerous examples of DeVos-related family foundations that have generously donated to “conservative groups” pushing religious right doctrine including, the Alliance Defending Freedom,” the legal juggernaut of the religious right,” and “Colorado-based Christian ministry Focus on the Family.”

But Trump’s selection of DeVos for education secretary is not the only clue that the nation’s education policy may be in for a sharp veer to the religious right. As Stewart reports, “The president-elect’s first move on public education [was] Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the nation … Liberty University teaches creationism alongside evolution.”

Falwell Jr. Came First

The Associated Press was first to break the story about Falwell Jr. being offered the job, reporting also that he declined it saying, “He couldn’t afford to work at a Cabinet-level job for longer than [two years] and didn’t want to move his family, especially his 16-year-old daughter.”

“Here is Trump, ready to hand the job [of Secretary of Education] to a religious zealot whose sole goal,” writes Michelangelo Signorile, the Gays and Lesbians editor for the Huffington Post, “would likely be to infuse evangelical Christian doctrine into public schools.”

Signorile also calls Falwell Jr. an “enemy of LGBTQ rights” and states, “It’s hard to believe Falwell would continue the Obama administration’s pro-LGBTQ programs if he actually became Secretary of Education, nor would he likely take the job with any stipulation that he must so.”

Need more evidence that Trump will usher in an education agenda largely dominated by the evangelical community? Another candidate Trump also considered for education secretary was Larry Arnn.

The Hillsdale College Connection

As the Daily Caller reports, “Arnn is the president of Hillsdale College, a small conservative liberal arts school in Michigan known for declining all federal funds.”

Hillsdale College, located in Hillsdale, Michigan (the Devos family’s home state), is regarded as “the conservative Harvard,” in some circles, and has been the recipient of generous donations from numerous funders of the rightwing conservative movement including the Koch brothers’ family foundation. Hillsdale also sponsors the Rush Limbaugh Show.

Hillsdale students overwhelmingly supported Trump for president, according to the campus newspaper, and at least seven Hillsdale professors and administrators publicly endorsed him.

According to an article in The Atlantic, Hillsdale is one among a number of conservative private colleges that rejects federal funds including financial aid for students. Many of these colleges, while they are rejecting federal funds, “are seeking, exemptions from the US Department of Education from provisions under Title IX of the laws governing higher education, which protects students from discrimination in housing, athletics, and access to facilities on the basis of such things as gender, sexual orientation, sex or pregnancy outside marriage, or having an abortion.”

Hillsdale has a long-held reputation for discriminating on the basis of gender preference and identity, and news outlets in the LGBT community have reported incidents in which Hillsdale staff and officials openly discriminated against gay students.

Arnn also came under fire from many liberal sources for describing nonwhite students as “dark ones” during a state legislature subcommittee hearing regarding the adoption of Common Core State Standards. Hillsdale’s official apology for that incident was arguably worse than Arnn’s remark, a Michigan blogger notes, as the college used its apology as another opportunity to take a swipe at government enforcement of affirmative action policies.

In addition to Hillsdale’s strong resentment of federal intrusion, especially on issues of civil rights, the college also has deep commitments to another favorite of conservative, religious advocates: charter schools.

A Chain Of Religion-Based Charter Schools

As I report in an in-depth investigation of the conservative movement’s influence on charter school expansions in Colorado, in addition to reinforcing gender and race inequity, Hillsdale operates the Barney Charter School Initiative, which is essentially a consultant service for a chain of 16 charter schools called Classical Academies. These charters purport to offer “the same course of study that helped propel Western Civilization to the top of the world,” according to what at least one of these schools says on its website.

The Barney project’s strong political agenda was revealed in its former mission statement, since taken down, which said the Initiative seeks to “recover our public schools from the tide of a hundred years of progressivism that has corrupted our nation’s original faithfulness to the previous 24 centuries of teaching the young the liberal arts in the West.” The statement also said, “The charter school vehicle possesses the conceptual elements that permit the launching of a significant campaign of classical school planting to redeem American public education.”

Charter schools created with the help of the Barney Initiative are also proving to be an ideal vehicle for evading laws enforcing separation of church and state. Since my investigation into the opening of a Barney-related charter in Colorado called Golden View Classical Academy, an independent news outlet in that state confirms the school indeed provides students a religion-based curriculum on the taxpayers’ dime.

As Marianne Goodland of the Colorado Independent reports, charter schools like Golden View “have found a legal workaround, and many Democratic and Republican lawmakers are looking the other way.”

Goodland recalls when Golden View applied to the district school board for approval, the school’s director “assured the board Golden View would not use a religious curriculum” and “agreed to comply with the intent of Colorado’s sexual education law by providing ‘appropriate instruction on human anatomy, reproduction and sexuality.’”

Yet, she notes the school’s family handbook, “adopted before the charter application was approved includes references to teaching about sexual intercourse only “in the context of a monogamous relationship between two people of opposite sexes,” a focus on abstinence, admonitions on “the moral and physical consequences of promiscuous sex,” and the “limited effectiveness” of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

Goodlad blames a loose, unregulated waiver process for allowing charter schools like Golden View to skirt state laws, and she points to Colorado public officials  who provide charters ample leeway to ensure they have the  “autonomy” which they claim justifies their existence.

Keep in mind, Barney-related charters like Golden View, that essentially function like private religious schools while receiving taxpayer money, are scattered across the country; their network is growing, and a Trump administration that has pledged to provide more money for “school choice” will only help fuel more rapid expansions of these schools.

“Neither the public nor lawmakers understand the extent of the problem,” Goodlad concludes.

How DeVos And Hillsdale Intersect

Unsurprisingly, Hillsdale president Arnn says Trump’s education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, “is someone he ‘knows and admires,’” according to right-wing news outlet Breitbart.

And why not, since Hillsdale also has strong ties to DeVos and her immediate family.

As the Hillsdale campus newspaper reports, DeVos’s “roots in Michigan philanthropy run deep and also intersect with Hillsdale College. Betsy DeVos’ brother is Erik Prince, a 1992 graduate of Hillsdale College and the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, now named Academi. In 2009, the DeVos family also founded ArtPrize, an international art competition that featured the work of five art professors and students this year. Most notably, Richard DeVos, Betsy DeVos’ father-in-law, co-founded Amway with Jay Van Andel. Van Andel’s son, Steve, was a 1978 graduate of Hillsdale and currently serves as the chairman of Amway. In 2013, after he donated to graduate school scholarships and operations, Hillsdale named its graduate school of statesmanship in his honor.”

Jay Van Andel was also, at the time of his death, a trustee of Hillsdale College, according to Wikipedia.

Most Extremist Administration Ever?

“Those who know DeVos say her goals are not sinister,” Politico reporters caution, “though they acknowledge the policies she’s likely to advance would benefit Christian schools. In fact, Trump’s $20 billion school choice program that would allow low-income students to select private or charter schools was devised with the help of the advocacy group DeVos headed until recently.”

Despite the strong evidence Trump’s education agenda may be driven by right-wing evangelicals, advocates for charter schools in the Democratic Party keep looking for reasons to believe Betsy DeVos is not going to be the extremist she is often portrayed as in media reports.

On hearing the news of the DeVos nomination, the politically centrist hedge fund-backed Democrats for Education Reform released a statement congratulating DeVos on her appointment and applauding her “commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools,” while at the same time regretting that her nomination is the outcome of a political campaign driven by “bigoted and offensive rhetoric.” (Never mind the charter schools DeVos helped grow in Michigan seem less than “high quality.”)

Another centrist Democrat deeply embedded in the investment community, Andrew Rotherham of Bellwether Partners, hopes a Trump administration will offer up a plan for charter school expansion that includes “sweeteners for the Congressional Black Caucus” – a condescending and white privilege phrase if there ever was one.

Emma Brown, the education reporter for the Washington Post, notes many advocates for charter schools “worry” Trump’s embrace of charter schools may be identified with his “rhetoric about immigrants, inner cities, and women,” but still hope some kind of “strong accountability” will be in the new administration’s charter school governance, even though those accountability measures have proven to be easily gamed by the savviest charter operators.

“Playing the politics of niceness has never been so convenient for the Dems of education reform,” writes college professor and former charter school leader-turned reform critic Andre Perry. “DeVos’s belief in limited state oversight, for-profit charter management, and vouchers didn’t give Democrat proponents of charter schools any pause in the past. And for many it doesn’t now.”

If Perry is correct, that’s a shame, because anyone who strives for a clear-eyed view of the Trump administration’s oncoming education agenda will find there is no evidence—zero—of anything other than the most extreme policy agenda for the nation’s public schools.

Jeff Bryant is director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. He has written extensively about public education policy.

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) stands with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar