How the Kochs are trying to shake up public schools, one state at a time

Source: Kimberly Hefling, Politico, October 30, 2017

With school choice efforts stalled in Washington, the billionaire Koch brothers’ network is engaged in state-by-state battles with teachers’ unions, politicians and parent groups to push for public funding of private and charter schools.  One of the newest campaigns is the Libre Initiative, a grassroots drive targeting Hispanic families in 11 states so far, under the umbrella of the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, a powerful conservative and libertarian advocacy group. … The group has had some initial success — for instance, helping to thwart a moratorium on charter school expansion in New Mexico. But it’s also created bitter divisions in the Latino community and led to accusations the Kochs are trying to undermine public education — and even in some cases, to subvert the Democratic process.

… Despite such criticism, the group is hunkering down for the long haul in states it views as ripe for change even as it eyes new states for expansion. Lima says it’s on track to make contact with more than 100,000 Hispanic households this year on school choice. Besides Nevada and New Mexico, Libre is organizing in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Its recent efforts, with other Koch-backed groups, include:

  • A planned “six-figure” spend in Nevada on “deep canvassing” in Hispanic neighborhoods to build support for educational savings accounts, which enable families to use state tax dollars to pay for private school. …
  • A lawsuit brought by Americans for Prosperity, among others, aimed at stopping a 2018 Arizona referendum asking voters whether they want to keep a school choice law passed earlier this year. …
  • A “six-figure” Libre and Americans for Prosperity campaign in Colorado this summer to promote charter schools and education savings accounts and another ahead of a Nov. 7 school board race by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation to push choice-friendly issues.
  • A seven-figure investment In Virginia’s gubernatorial race by Americans for Prosperity that includes a video criticizing Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, for his opposition to education savings accounts.
  • Mailings in Spanish and English supporting a Florida law that encourages charter schools in communities with low-performing schools. After Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed it into law, the state Democratic Party said he’d “declared war on our public schools.” …