Wealthy Families, Corporate-Backed Foundations Behind Push for School Vouchers

The sudden, rapid push for school voucher programs nationwide is not due to any public outcry or grassroots uprising for these programs. For decades these programs have been a hard-sell with the American public. Instead, a small group of wealthy individuals and corporate-backed, private foundations have been behind these efforts to divert public taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools. Among them is the son of the billionaire co-founder of Amway, Richard "Dick" DeVos, Sr., who advocates dropping the term "public schools" in favor of the term "government schools" and who has poured millions of dollars into groups that advocate "school choice," the term often used to refer to voucher programs. Dick DeVos's wife, Betsy DeVos, who is also the sister of Erik Prince of Xe, the private mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater, has been even more aggressive than her husband at promoting voucher programs. She launched the pro-voucher group "All Children Matter" in 2003, which spent $7.6 million in its first year alone to promote the adoption of state voucher programs. Betsy DeVos also founded The American Federation for Children in 2010. A PAC of the same name spent $820,000 on Wisconsin state legislative races to elect pro-voucher candidates. The Alliance for School Choice is another DeVos-funded group that promotes vouchers. The Walton Family Foundation (of Wal-Mart fame) has also given millions to push school voucher programs. These are just a small sample of the private, corporate-backed forces working to undermine public schools.

Scholastic, Inc. Burned by Coal Industry-Sponsored Curriculum

Scholastic, Inc., a leading publisher and distributor of children's books and teaching materials, agreed to stop selling a coal industry-sponsored curriculum that it has distributed to 66,000 fourth grade teachers since 2009. The curriculum was sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, which represents the interests of the coal mining industry. A May 11, 2011 New York Times story labeled the coal industry-created curriculum "unfit" for fourth graders because it failed to mention the negative aspects of coal mining and burning on human health and the environment, like removal of Appalachian mountaintops, toxic waste discharge, sulfur dioxide, mercury and arsenic discharges, lung disease and mining accidents. The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, which drew attention to and opposed Scholastic's use of the curriculum, has also opposed Scholastic for its “SunnyD Book Spree,” which the company featured its Parent and Child magazine that encouraged teachers to have classroom parties with Sunny Delight, a sugar-fortified drink, and collect labels from the beverage to win free books. The campaign has also objected to Scholastic’s promotion of Children’s Claritin in materials it distributed about spring allergies. Scholastic is a $2 billion business whose educational materials are in 9 of 10 American classrooms.

Walker Promotes Education Privatization in D.C. Amid Protests

It seems wherever Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker goes, protesters seem to follow. This rule held true earlier this week in Washington D.C., when Walker used his newly burnished credentials as an extremist to address a forum promoting the privatization of public schools.

The American Federation for Children (ACF) promotes school privatization and voucher schemes that take away critically needed funds for public education to fund private schools. Inside the Marriott, The American Federation for Children's "School Choice Now: Empowering America's Children" policy summit attracted voucher boosters like Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and Michelle Rhee, the former controversial head of the Washington D.C. public school system. Outside the Marriott, there were around 200 protesters with signs that read "Public Education Not Privatization," "Save Our Schools," and "Vouchers Aren't the Answer."

Peabody Coal Company Spoofed in "" Website

Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal company, says it is the victim of a hoax after a website,, sprang up offering free "Puff-Puff" inhalers for kids with asthma who live within 200 miles of a coal plant. The site allows kids to select the free decorative inhaler of their choice: "My First Inhaler" with a picture of a duck on it, or inhalers with pictures of My Little Pony, Harry Potter, Spongebob Squarepants, Justin Beiber and more. Each inhaler, the site boasts, in made from "sustainable, eco-friendly recycled plastic." The site offers a $10 coupon towards the cost of actual asthma medication and a free charcoal pencil with every order. Other links include the "Kidz Koal Corner" featuring word games for children ages 4-12, like a word puzzle called "The Good Coal Does" where children can hunt for words like "clean," "dependable," "jobs" and "natural." Another page has a photo of birds flying into a wind turbine's spinning blades, and explains the dangers of clean energy technologies. The text says, "Wind turbines can kill up to 70,000 birds per year, or 4.27 birds per turbine per year. Coal particulate pollution, on the other hand, kills fewer than 13,000 people per year." The site says it is sponsored by Peabody Coal. The activist group that created the site is unknown.

And the Razzie goes to Norman Lear's EMA for Exposing Kids to Sewage Sludge and Not Coming Clean

For a non-actress surrounded by movie stars, Debbie Levin, President of the Environmental Media Association (EMA) -- an organization founded by Norman Lear -- is putting on quite a performance of her own. Too bad it's more likely to win her a fraud charge than an Oscar, based on her May 6, 2011 letter to her Board provided to the Food Rights Network by a source inside EMA.

Over the past month, Levin has been confronted with ample evidence that the group she runs exposed school children (not to mention the Hollywood celebrities that serve on the group's board) to toxic sewage sludge. In 2009, EMA began a partnership with several Los Angeles schools, securing the donation of thousands of dollars in compost and soil amendment products from Kellogg Garden Products for the schools' organic gardens soon thereafter. In a sworn affidavit, former L.A. Unified School District garden advisor, Mud Baron, said that he informed Levin early on and repeatedly that Kellogg uses sewage sludge in many of its products, and sewage sludge is illegal for use in organic gardens.

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools

The cost of K–12 public schooling in the United States comes to well over $500 billion per year. So, how much influence could anyone in the private sector exert by controlling just a few billion dollars of that immense sum? Decisive influence, it turns out. A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state, and national levels. In the domain of venture philanthropy -- where donors decide what social transformation they want to engineer and then design and fund projects to implement their vision -- investing in education yields great bang for the buck.

Hell Freezes Over: Philip Morris Settles a Wrongful Death Suit

Philip Morris (PM) broke from its longstanding policy of never settling a personal injury case recently after it quietly paid $5 million to settle a wrongful death suit brought against its subsidiary, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco (USST), maker of Copenhagen and Skoal brands of spit tobacco. PM's parent company, Altria Group, acquired USST in 2009.

Kelly June Hill sued USST on behalf of her son, Bobby Hill, who died of oral cancer in 2003 at age 42. Bobby got addicted to spit tobacco as a child, long before health warning labels were put on the product in 1987. In the course of the case, USST dumped a half million pages of documents on the plaintiffs lawyers, which, by Hill's attorneys' own account, made searching for helpful material quite interesting.

Don't Even Mention Global Warming to Kids

Colorado State School Board Member Marcia Neal (R-Grand Junction) supports eliminating teaching of global warming in schools.A new group called "Balanced Education for Everyone"(BEE) is rolling out a national effort to stop the teaching of global warming in schools, calling it "unnecessary." The group says global war

Procter & Gamble Blames Parents, Social Media for "Chemical Burn" Allegations

When parents of toddlers started complaining that Procter & Gamble's new "Dry Max" Pampers were giving their kids severe diaper rash, Jodi Allen, P&G's Vice President for Pampers took prompt action -- and blamed the childrens' parents and social media for spreading false rumors about their products.

Send out the Clown

Corporate Accountability International (CAI), a group that works to end irresponsible corporate behavior, is pressuring the [[McDonald's
|McDonalds]] fast food chain to retire their promotional clown, Ronald McDonald, saying the clown is a threat to public health.

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