Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Koch's Yes Every Kid: Still Selling Privatization

Back in the start of 2019, Charles Koch declared that, all of a sudden, he wanted to work with teachers. Then we got another hint at the end of June when EdWeek noted that the Kochs were going to team up with the Waltons to throw a pile of money-- a great big honking pile of money-- at incubating schools, programs and what-have-them across the country. In that same article, EdWeek noted the creation of Yes Every Kid, "a group that intends to find common ground between groups that typically have disagreed vehemently over issues such as labor protections and school funding."

Yes. Every Kid. (I am going to skip the irritating extra punctuation for the remainder of this piece) was launched at the end of June, including a big piece from AP reporter Sally Ho, touting "hundreds of donors contributing at least $100,000 annually." The goal was to push school choice.

I wrote about it at the time, though at that point they hadn't done much. Charles Koch was a year away from announcing that, gosh, he had just been too partisan and divisive for the country, oopsies, my bad, and turning the Charles Koch Institute into Stand Together Trust, but Yes Every Kid was like a prequel to that rebranding effort. Its website at the time included an uplifting affirmation:

It's that simple. Instead of saying no. We say yes. We're done with negativity. Education reform has been saying "no" for decades. Saying no to educators, parents, and real solutions. Instead, we say "yes." Yes, every kid can learn. Yes, your ideas matter. Yes, together we can make change. We know that if we wait for change to come down from above, it won't be change in the right direction.

Yes, don't wait for things to come down from above, says this website that has come down from a billionaire who wants to drive the education bus despite his complete lack of educational expertise. But this astroturfery is insistent. "Real change has to start from the ground up. We're here as your resource to facilitate conversation." That might be really moving if the very next sentence weren't "We're here to foster a culture of disruptive innovation," which suggests that these facilitaty listeners already have some answers in mind. Also missing-- an acknowledgement of where all that negativity came from. Here is yet another reformy outfit talking about negatives from the past as if they simply fell from space, instead of saying, "Yeah, that was us. Sorry." And here comes the tell:

We want to hear new ideas, new solutions, and new voices. And it can only happen when we listen to the real stakeholders in education: you.

But who is this "we" and why should stakeholders feel any need or obligation to talk to "we" in the first place? This is the same old rich fauxlanthropist baloney-- we're not only going to vote ourselves a seat at the table, but we're also going to go ahead and give ourselves the seat at the head because, yeah, this is our table now. It's so big and generous of you to agree to listen to us, Sir, but I still haven't heard a reason that we should be talking to you.

When we call Yes Every Kid astroturf, that's not based on the usual tricky business of tracking forms and chasing money or junior detective shenanigans. Yes Every Kid has always been up front about being a Koch operation, from the current billing as "part of the Stand Together community" to its first big boss, chairman of YEK Meredith Olson. That appears to be this Meredith Olson, whose LinkedIn page lists her as Vice President, Public Affairs at Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC. She's located in Wichita and has been with Koch since 2005, first as Director, Business Development, then Managing Director, Operations, and now five years in the VP spot. Before that she worked for Shell Oil. Her degrees are mechanical engineering and an MBA.

So how are they doing these days?

Well, in 2019, for some weird reason, they tracked to an address in Michigan occupied by a hair salon. Today they have a proper address in a big office complex at 1320 N Courthouse Rd (Suite 400), Arlington, VA. The building is occupied by a variety of businesses; it's also occupied by the Stand Together Trust (Suite 500), and Americans for Prosperity (Suite 700), the Koch brothers operation that helped create the Tea Party movement. 

The Team is, again, clearly under the Koch umbrella. 

President Andrew Clark is listed as "a veteran of the Stand Together community," which turns out to mean he spent two and a half years at American for Prosperity. Before that, two years with Generation Opportunity, a Koch "sister organization" of AFP that helped fight the Affordable Care Act. Seems to have gotten his political start working as a grassroots consultant for Quayle for Congress. He's a "skilled lobbyist and tactician."

Craig Hulse, executive director, has been a busy guy. He's been back and forth through the revolving public-private door. Staff assistant for Congress, legislative liaison for Nevada governor, state policy advisor in Nevada, Nevada state director of StudentsFirst, director of government relations for Las Vegas Sands, public policy/public affairs manager for Uber, the Ready Colorado choicer advocacy group, state government affairs for JUUL, policy and government affairs for Tesla--most of them for a little over a year. His job is to oversee "the lobbying team with efforts across the United States to direct education and influence campaigns to shape education policy that is open to the free flow of ideas and innovation."

Erica Jedynak is the chief operating officer. Her last job was with Stand Together, and before that Americans for Prosperity, Deputy Chief of Staff in New Jersey legislature, and before than "campaign operative" for a whole lot of campaigns in the greater NYC area. 

There's more of the same. The coterie of National Policy Directors include a guy who touts his experience as a former teacher and, you guessed it, by "teacher" he means two years as a Teach for America temp, before moving on to help run a charter school and then go work for Excel in Ed, Jeb Bush's choice advocacy group. Former politician/pastor with libertarian think tank experience. Various coms professionals and experienced political operatives.

There is nowhere in sight anyone with real experience or expertise in education, but education is not really what YEK is about. It's about moving policies that defund and dismantle public education, a longtime goal of the Koch operation. As former Goldwater Institute operative Charles Siler explained:

Their ideal is a world with as minimal public infrastructure and investment as possible. They want the weakest and leanest government possible in order to protect the interests of a few wealthy individuals and families who want to protect their extraction of wealth from the rest of us. They see private wealth accumulation as a virtue signal because a person can only become wealthy by creating something of exceptional value for the public. In their world view, the more money someone has, the more moral life they've lived, and any attempt to take that money through taxation or other means is a moral issue.

YEK lists its four "policy pillars" as Fund Every Kid, Learn Everywhere, Education Your Way, and No More Lines, all policies about making education the responsibility of parents, not the government. The Koch machine frames this as freedom, but it's the same old voucher goal of defunding and dismantling the public education system and thereby getting rid of another part of government (and its attendant requirement to pay taxes to fund schools for Those Peoples' Children). 

Their press page involves a lot of applauding-- Iowa, Utah, Governor Sarah Sanders, Ryan Walters. It's a privatizer's all star list. They've also whipped up some balonified "research" to suggest that everyone loves them some vouchers. 

But mostly what they've done is perfect the warm fuzzy message that this is all For The Kids and Great Education (though there are no actual educators involved). But if you want the full unfiltered version of the Koch vision, there's nothing like David Koch's run as Presidential candidate for the Koch-funded Libertarian party. They wanted to get rid of a laundry list of federal agencies. They wanted to abolish Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They wanted to get rid of federally mandated speed limits, anti-trust laws, all controls on wages and rents. 

And in true Libertarian fashion, the platform urged the privatization of all schools (with an end to compulsory education laws). 

That's the dream--government completely out of the education biz, with families left to find what they can in a wide-open unregulated market. The dream itself hasn't changed; they just keep trying to put a more appealing face on it. Yes Every Kid is just the latest attempt to find a good sheep suit for that ugly wolf.

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