Is Democracy for Sale?

It would appear that some people - especially wealthy people - believe this is so (and are willing to spend huge sums to prove it). 

We have our own examples here in Washington State.  Consider our initiative process. In this last cycle, we see nearly every single initiative pushed by a handful of wealthy people.  The liquor initiative (I love Costco but this was wrong), the gay marriage referundum, the charter school initiative - it's a sad thing.  And, they are not only willing to pay for a campaign but pay to get it on the ballot. 

The idea that in Washington State our initiative process is a way for grassroots efforts from citizens to make their voices heard is becoming a joke. 

So what's next?  Well, just as we have seen the huge money in our presidential election (both sides) and on down, the next thing will be...School Board elections. 

Here's a great story out of New Jersey at the Jersey Jazzman blog where they are seeing this play out. 

Why would California multi-millionaires be interested in a school board race in the small city of Perth Amboy, NJ?

It seems absurd, and yet it's true:
four wealthy Californians and one wealthy Coloradan - heavy hitters in the tech, financial, and health care sectors - have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a slate of candidates running for the school board in Perth Amboy, a city of 50,000 with a majority Hispanic population.

A lot of this fight is around expansion of charter schools in New Jersey.  As I previously reported, charters in urban areas are at a saturation point and now are moving into smaller areas and the suburbs.  Naturally, the denizens of the high-performing school districts in the suburbs don't want charters, knowing that money will be siphoned off from their districts.

(It would have helped if those people had actually read their own charter law and realized that, like 1240, charters can and WILL open anywhere.)

This is what we will see in November 2013 when we have three seats up for play on the School Board.  This is exactly what we will see, I have no doubt about it.

What will people say then when out-of-state interests try to lead the discussion on who should sit on the Seattle School Board?

One chilling statement from the blog post from Jersey Jazzman:

But perhaps that wasn't enough. Did B4K go out and actively solicit contributions from out-of-state for this race? It would certainly be in keeping with their profile if they did; B4K's Executive Director, Derrell Bradford, is a self-confessed political animal:
He said two interesting things to me in our meeting. “I’m here because you’re not.” Translation – if the education establishment had taken on the issues, or at least been less complacent about messaging (the REAL problem in my opinion) there’d be no market for the “reforms.”  The second thing he said was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Reform 1.0 was school choice. Reform 2.0 was tenure (for NJ). Reform 3.0 is we have a SuperPAC – we can elect candidates. [emphasis mine]
 I absolutely would say that much of ed reform is driven because districts and unions did NOT take on issues early and emphatically.   They didn't clearly explain about lack of resources and what toll that truly took in the classroom and in our districts.  

Reform 3.0 is not coming - it's already here.


seattle citizen said…
You are correct - the district (and, to some extent, the union - the union is, though, really merely a bargaining unit, not a policy maker) has not done enough to a) help build support systems for the individual students who are, to a large degree, the students skewing the "data" (test results) AND it hasn't done enough to actively counter the narrative put forth by those buying democracy.

Not only do the buyers have all the money (and help control the spigot of public funding via taxes) but they are managing to create a network of people, activily seeding them into policy areas and the media, which are pushing the twisted narrative of "reform." In this narrative, there is nothing to be done about poverty but change the schools. Nothing to be done but let competition have its way with our public schools.

That is probably more damaging than the millions of dollars of ads - people are already convinced that nothing good comes out of public schools, that educators are union thugs or slackers, that if we just make everyone "college ready" they will be assured fine, life-long careers (if they choose STEM, that is)

So when the big bucks roll in for the kill, the electorate is already convinced.

The narrative has to be grabbed back from the "status quo" people and put back in the hands of actual citizens and educators.
Michael H said…
"actual citizens"? What do you actually mean by that? Aren't Bill Gates and the Bezos' (among others) citizens of this state and nation (or, as more progressive folks would say, citizens of the world)?
ArchStanton said…
@Michael H: Of course they are citizens. But to quote Orwell: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
seattle citizen said…
Michael, I meant people whose kids go to the schools, who don't have billins of dollars to buy schools with which to play.
Of course Gates, et al are citizens - but they have far greater power than us little folk.

Maybe it was a bad choice of words, but surely you got my point.
seattle citizen said…
Michael, your comment actually illustrates the problem: It seems to suggest that everybody is the same, we're all just citizens, right, doing what we can, etc etc...

But there are just a few people around the country pulling all the strings: misinforming, culling data, omitting data, slandering their opposition ("the schools are FAILING, I tell you!"), buying elections through campaign donations, buying media time, and generally acting above it all.

This is a far cry from actual citizen action. No one can compete with hired media (Strategies 360, et al) and millions for advertising.

Yet they make themselves seem like they are "just plain ol' 'mericuns," they build these coalitions and alliances and leagues that have very few people, but are well funded to spread their gospel.

EVERY one of the above, in Seattle and maybe even WA, is funded by Gates. Some of the pathways between then are clear and direct: Gates -> Alliance -> LEV -> "Our Schools Coalition. As we saw two years ago, OSC was the PR creation of Strategies 360 (their name was the "contact us" email). OSC like to claim that it's citizens, but it's not: It's a list of business groups, politicans, other "leagues et al, and the names (but not the membership) of various minority groups.
I know this because I used to belong to one of the groups listed on OSC. I had no idea the "leader" had agreed to add the name of this group to OSC. Yet there it was.

So Gates buys "citizenship" throughout the city, fake "astroturf" citizenship.

I was, of course, in my earlier post referring to ACTUAL citizen participants.
Charter Supporter said…
This is pretty funny, since the unions actively select and amply fund school board candidates all the time. Then they provide the phone banks and door-bellers to make it seal the deal.

It's rough having someone finally countering the power of the WEA.

It also takes a lot of money.

Charter Supporter
Charlie Mas said…
Oh Charter Supporter, you and your false equivalency. You are hilarious.

Let us, by all means, compare the political contributions of the SEA and the WEA representing thousands of teachers to the political contributions of a few millionaires and billionaires. Please let's compare them.

Then let's talk about undue influence. Please, please, please.
Anonymous said…
Charter Supporter:

How many teachers does it take to equal one Bill Gates? Bill Gates can out spend the WEA millions of times over by himself. What a great democracy that is!

-not a billionaire
Duke said…
Thanks for the link! It is astonishing to see this played out in Seattle, Perth Amboy, Louisiana, Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver...

How is this happening all over the nation and at the same time? The apparently coordinated strategy concerns me more than anything.

This blog is one of the best: keep up the great work!

seattle citizen said…
As Charlie pointed out, the unions ARE the teachers and the classifieds - It's, you know, a UNION of people, of individuals.

Bill Gates is a union of one.

With thousands of times more purchasing power than the WEA.

With allies in corporate management and ownership everywhere, as charters are products of the corporations.

With allies in the media, as the media is corporate.

With allies in the new field of edu-business, a lucrative market where people get twice the pay of teachers merely by spouting Friedman's free-market philosophies transmorgified into privatized public education - selling schools, curriculums, tests, testing machines, tax credits, building rentals and sales...

Bill Gates and the unions are far, far from equivelant.
seattle citizen said…
Duke, it's happening because the Koch brothers, ALEC, the Broad Foundation, the Gates Foundation, NWEA test company, investment firms and others have been busy for years sowing the seeds of privatization: First the tests, standardized tests used to rationalize absurd statements such as "the schools are failing" while ignoring the individual students; from the tests, blame the teachers for the struggles of poor children (go ahead - blame those who dedicate their lives to helping children, blame them instead of support them); then come the charters, because they don't need no stinkin' rules and regs and all that messy democracy - they just want your tax dollars.
Then come the profiteers - scoopin' up management fees and rental fees and levy pay-outs and test costs and curriculum costs, throw in a cheaper workforce as you get rid of all those pesky union dinosaurs who are, evidently, racist and uncaring anyway, and you can hire cheaper teach-to-the-testers, straight outta TFA, for half the cost and then pocket the difference.

The ground has been laid - they're all ratcheting up now because they have momentum, they have created a narrative that people believe.

It's false.

So what will we do?
Charter Supporter said…
This is entertaining.

Gates knows that if no one wants what he is selling, he doesn't make a profit. Or, if he sets up a charter that doesn't educate, no one will enroll.

On the other hand, teachers are forced to join the WEA, or they can't work. Poor students are forced to stay in a failing school, or drop out. The WEA forces its teachers to pay dues through payroll deductions.

Maybe you see dictatorship from any opponent because of "projection".
Unknown said…
I agree with you almost 100%--with the exception of the marriage equality campaign. R-74 has 22,644 donations listed on the PDC website from 15,657 unique donors. Yes on 1240 has 186 unique donors. Although their campaign and the Yes on 1240 campaign seem similar because they both raised about the same amount of money (~10,000,000) and have at least two of the same donors, they are dis-similar in almost all other regards. Tellingly, the average donation on the Yes on 1240 campaign is over $66,000. The average donation on the Yes on R-74 campaign is $510.

I do agree that something needs to be done to limit campaign spending, and I believe a constitutional amendment to limit corporate spending would be a start. I know that there are currently ballot measures to limit corporate spending on Tuesday's ballot in several states. Clearly, though, limiting corporate spending on political campaigning doesn't fix this type of situation.
ArchStanton said…
Ooh, I can play this game (even though none of us can really claim to know what Bill Gates thinks or feels). Let me try:

That is amusing.

Gates knows that if he sticks his name on something, enough people will buy what he's selling to make a profit. Or, if he sets up a charter plenty of people will enroll before it's known whether it will educate.

How'd I do?
Anonymous said…
Highly suggest subscribing to Diane Ravich's blog - she does a great job of tracking education issues nationwide.

I also set up a google alert for I-1240 and one for charter schools and I get scads of articles daily from newspapers, blogs etc around the country. The charter schools one is particularly interesting b/c several times a week there is an article about some scandal or another associated w/ a charter school.

-no 1240
dorainseattle said…
What has happened in Seattle is that the teachers have trusted their union leaders to know more than they do about what is going on politically and therefore protect them. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

This is what happened in Chicago where teachers were eventually so pushed aside with charter schools that they finally got it and voted in Karen Lewis to be their union president. The rest, as they say, is history. The teachers overcame Stand for Children's leader Edelman with his ALEC buddies and wealthy backers who tried to foil the teachers and take away their right to fair bargaining practices.

It might take that for teachers in our state to "get it".

My faith is in the fact that people will eventually get it and push back.

See Stand for Children Stands for the Rich and the Powerful… and The MASSIVE Failure of Jonah Edelman.

Charlie Mas said…
Ooooh! I love this game. It's the one in which you put up one false argument and then, when you get called out for it, you switch to another false argument.

First say that the teachers' union dominates school board campaigns - when that isn't true at all. The candidates who got union support only got a few thousand dollars from the union and were outspent by multiples of two and three times. Oops! Caught in the that lie! Time to ignore the voices correcting the false claim and switch to another:

Teachers are forced to join the union and students are forced to stay in failing schools. But charter schools will fail and close if they don't work well.

It is true that teachers in public schools do have to be union members. It's a state law. It's not much different from other closed shops. The police and firefighters have to join their unions as well. So do carpenters, longshoremen, electricians, and lots of other tradespeople. It's not that unusual. Lawyers have to join the bar to practice.

As for students forced to stay at failing schools, that's more than just false. Not only can they transfer to another school, but if they are at a "failing" school, the district actually sends them a letter making the offer to transfer them. I guess charter supporter never got one of those letters.

Remind me again what a failing school is.

Finally, the myth that underperforming charter schools will lose enrollment and close simply has no basis in reality. Let's remember that 37% of charter schools ARE underperforming, but I have heard about a third of them closing - have you?
Anonymous said…
It is very odd everyone here is complaining all the time about what SPS does wrong. Then an opportunity comes up where a bit of change may happen and every one freaks out. Give change a chance or stop complaining about the system so much. Or do you just like complaing and being frustrated over and over and over and over......

_Left field
Eric B said…
The solution is simple. Outlaw paid signature gatherers. When that happens, the only initiatives that make the ballot will be ones with broad volunteer support. Enough support to have a thousand or two person-days out on street corners gathering signatures.

Whether that would be considered constitutional or not is another matter entirely, but that's the solution to the problem of paid initiatives.
seattle citizen said…
Charter Supporter wrote, "Poor students are forced to stay in a failing school, or drop out"

No, they're not. At least in Seattle (where, no doubt, the charter business would most like to set up shop and begin profiting) there is school choice. Any student can apply to attend a school other than their neighborhood school, including a number of fine option programs.

As to dropping out, Seattle offers a number of programs to support students who are struggling to complete course credit towards graduation. All over the city. Tailored to meet the student's need.

No student need drop out. Some do because, as always, there are issues outside of a school district's purview that impact student success. THESE are the issues that need attention, not this distracting slander of public schools called "charters."

Re-fund counseling positions, library positions, Instructional Assistant positions...Lunchroom and custodial positions - ALL of these people are valuable adult mentors in childrens' lives, and we've cut them down to the bone. THEN we say, oh, schools aren't supporting students, students drop out because the schools are "failing"
What a transparent transfer of public commonwealth into private hands. The "reform" industry has been quite successful selling this narrative: Let's not let them win this one.
Vote "no!" on I-1240, vote "no!" to the privatization of public schools.
"When an opportunity comes up where a bit of change may happen and every one freaks out. Give change a chance..."

First of all, we are changing in our state (and in our district). Did you miss that?

Second, this is not "a bit" - it will fundamentally change education in Washington State and I will bet ANYONE on that one. Any takes?

Nope, you won't sell me on that "change" line because it's neither simple or easy.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
reposting Anon @8:05 b/c unsigned posts get deleted...

Change for change's sake doesn't bring much promise of improvement. When education is short on funding to begin with, the drain of resources by charter oversight is concerning. The prospect of even less funding for existing schools, or the possibility of losing an existing school to a charter when the district desperately needs buildings, gives me great pause.

not 100% on topic but many of the No1240 signs I've put up in my neighborhood have been pulled down. Often the sign is right there on the ground, but sometimes it's gone altogether. And nearly always near multiple Yes1240 signs. If you see a pulled down sign, will you pull over and re-stake it? Election is tomorrow so it may not matter and while I don't know who is pulling them down, it annoys me that someone would. I drive by 12 million yes signs and leave them alone...

Anonymous said…
No1240 - you can always have some revenge by clicking on all the yes on 1240 ads that pop up on the Seattle PI and KOMO. Cost them some money...

Anonymous said…
Charlie Mas said:

"t is true that teachers in public schools do have to be union members. It's a state law. It's not much different from other closed shops. The police and firefighters have to join their unions as well. So do carpenters, longshoremen, electricians, and lots of other tradespeople."
No, Charlie, that's incorrect. That's not what a "closed shop" is. In a "closed shop" situation, you have to be a union member BEFORE you are even eligible to be hired, and the union, not the employer, does the hiring.

The situation you describe is a "union shop," in which the employer decides who is eligible to be hired, and does the hiring. If there is a labor agreement in place, with strong "union security" language in it, then the terms of that labor agreement are among the conditions of employment.

The differences between a closed shop, which is rare, and illegal in many places, and a union shop are significant. I hope this is helpful.

-- Ivan Weiss
Charlie Mas said…
Thank you for the correction, Ivan.

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