“National School Choice Week” launched its nationwide activities in New Orleans over the weekend with the participation of celebrities and elected officials and a proclamation of support by at least 25 state governors, including Rick Scott.
New Orleans’ Times-Picayune reported that the city “was selected for the kickoff because it’s considered an exemplar for its embrace of controversial school reforms such as charter schools. This year about 80 percent of the city’s public school children attend privately managed charter schools.”
Event organizers wrote that ”supporters of National School Choice Week believe that parents must be empowered to select the best schools for their children and that elected officials must do more to expand access to great public schools, public charter schools, private schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.”
School Choice Week, which touts its bipartisan credentials as well as free-market competition, has very powerful political and economic conservative supporters.
Vice president of public affairs for National School Choice Week spokesman Andrew Campanella is the CEO of Campanella Media & Public Affairs and worked for the American Federation for Children, which promotes “school choice” “with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs.” Campanella has earned praise for his work from Florida Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson, former GOP Govs. Jeb Bush and Haley Barbour and current Govs. Butch Otter and Bobby Jindal.
The American Federation for Children is “affiliated with the American Federation for Children PAC, a political committee that supports and opposes state-level candidates for elected office,” and works “to promote the benefits of—and the need for—school choice.”
A November 2011 report published by the National Institute on Money in State Politics shows that American Federation for Children spent $6.3 million on 2006, 2008, and 2010 Florida elections. The report adds that Federation President Betsy DeVos and her family have “also made significant campaign contributions in Florida, giving $682,750 over the last three cycles, with two-thirds of that given to the Republican Party of Florida.” The DeVos family owns Amway and the NBA’s Orlando Magic.
Tampa’s John Kirtley, a Federation vice-chair, “spread an additional $106,200 among 70 candidates and both major parties,” the report adds.
Republicans are not alone in their support for School Choice Week. James Carville, a Democratic political strategist, said at the launching, “I think we got to give our children the best we probably can, and I think we’re moving in that direction, I’m very excited”:
School Choice Week is endorsed by at least 270 organizations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (known as ALEC), which supports “principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.”
Celeste Smith, an educator with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the University of Miami, and a group of educators associated with United Opt Out, this week issued an article that points out that through ALEC, ”global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called ‘model bills’ reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.”
The Florida Charter School Alliance, which also endorsed the School Choice Week, includes on its board of directors ”former Florida education commissioner Jim Horne, Florida corporate tax credit scholarship program founder John Kirtley, and Jeb Bush’s education foundation executive director Patricia Levesque.”
The Florida chapter of the Koch-affiliated tea party group Americans for Prosperity also called for people to sign up for rallies affiliated with National School Choice Week.