Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Astroturf Organizing 101: Walton Family Gives $6.3 Million to Parent Revolution

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Parent Revolution (the Los Angeles organization behind many of that city’s Parent Trigger charter conversion attempts) has a radical, populist-sounding name. Its stated goal is to empower poor parents to transform their low-performing neighborhood schools into successful ones. Everyone from politicians and right wing demagogues to teachers and their unions pay lip service to empowering parents (or at least getting them more “involved” in their children’s education).

In reality, though, Parent Revolution is a front group for private charter school operators and their wealthy allies in the Education Reform movement who support weakening and ultimately abolishing the teachers’ unions, tenure and seniority; increasing testing, online learning and the deskilling of the teaching profession; lowering overall costs to increase charter school profits and lower state spending on education.

Parent Revolution’s executive director, Ben Austin, is a millionaire former state school board member and Los Angeles Deputy Member (under Mayor Riordin), who earns over $200,000 per year from the organization. He also earned over $94,000 in 2008 as a consultant for the private charter school organization, Green Dot, according to Schools Matter. It should come as no surprise that Parent Revolution, which advocates for the conversion of traditional public schools into charter schools by way of California’s Parent Trigger law, was created by Green Dot’s founder, Steve Barr, quite likely in hopes of winning some of the contracts to run the soon to be converted schools.

A recent investigation by Frying Pan News has found that the Walton Family Foundation has pumped $6.3 million into Parent Revolution since 2009. (An interactive infographic from Frying Pan News can be seen here). The Gates Foundation has donated $1.6 million, and a host of other wealthy donors (including Eli Broad) have also kicked in more than $1 million each. In total, 18 different foundations have provided the organization with over $14.8 million since 2009. The Emerson Collective Education Fund (started by the widow of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs) has also donated $1.2 million.

Not long after California’s Parent Trigger law was approved in 2010, similar legislation started to pop up across the country, thanks to model legislation created by ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Commission) and the ultra-conservative Heartland Institute, in Chicago. The movement for Parent Trigger laws received additional support from the Hollywood propaganda flick, Won’t Back Down, which was produced and funded by Walden Media, which is owned by reactionary billionaire Philip Anschutz, a longtime supporter of free market education reform.

Parent Revolution’s succeeded in converting Desert Trails Elementary school in San Bernardino County, but not without controversy (the conversion was originally rejected by the school board because of irregularities in the petition process, as well as doctored signatures). However, even many of the parents who voted for the conversion ultimately felt duped. According to Alternet, Desert Trails parent Lori Yuan said Parent Revolution organizers tricked parents into thinking they were merely trying to improve conditions at the school, rather than turning it over to a private charter operator: “Our community was misled. . . Parents didn’t know they were signing for a charter takeover.”

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