Here’s How the Koch Brothers Are Getting Involved in Education.
Why are they so interested in our classrooms?
Throughout the history of money pouring in to America’s politicians, few have earned more of an infamous reputation than the Koch brothers. As owners of Koch Industries, Charles and David Koch have a combined net worth of over 100 billion dollars. With income inequality becoming even more of a hot topic in political discourse, that number alone is controversial enough. That being said, it is how they have chosen to spend that money that has made them such well known characters in the American political system.
With unlimited resources at their disposal, the Koch brothers have a long track record of using their financial wealth to create a widespread, intricate web of political influence to further their libertarian agenda throughout the nation. During the 2016 election alone, the Koch brothers spent an unprecedented total of 889 million on elections all over the country. Even more troublesome is the fact that their various networks of political influence aren’t registered under campaign finance laws, and therefore they aren’t required to disclose their donors.
As self-described libertarians, the Koch brothers believe in and advocate for the total privatization of the education system, and through the years they have become highly adept at making this policy seem more appealing for the average American. Out of all the money spent, the Koch brothers have set aside a significant percentage to influence education policy at all levels.
The Charles Koch foundation is just one of the many avenues that the Koch brothers have used to push for the privatization of education. The foundation has financed education grants to go towards scholarships, research, “curriculum support”, and community nonprofits. The website goes in to further detail, and stresses that “we need to examine what and how students learn, and how policies can affect families’ abilities to find the education that’s right for them”. While this statement on its surface may seem uncontroversial, it takes on a whole new meaning when it’s put in to the context of the libertarian ideology.
The Koch foundation has given tens of millions of dollars to colleges and universities for the purpose of studying various topics such as military strategy, urban education reform, campus speech, marijuana sentencing, and policing reform. By focusing on these more bipartisan issues at a time when so many schools are struggling for money, the Koch Foundation’s reach across higher education has spread to 300 colleges ranging from the most elite, to small community colleges. In 2017, the Koch foundation gave more than 90 million dollars, with 60 million going to higher education. But their reach does not end with the funding of various studies. According to the New York Times, the Koch Foundation was given a say in the hiring and firing of professors at George Washington University.
So why are the Koch brothers so invested in the education system?
Because the Koch brothers are smart enough to know that getting the most “bang for their buck” won’t come with funding politicians alone, but in shaping the hearts, minds, and political philosophies of America’s young people. Investing money in a grant that will go towards the hiring of a new visiting faculty position ensures that they will arguably have at least some influence over who is teaching in our classrooms. The amount of impact that college professors have on the minds of the people they teach cannot be understated, and it’s no surprise that the Koch brothers have seen this as one of the best avenues to shape America’s future.
But the Koch brothers are not limiting their education endeavors to college campuses.
For years, the Koch brothers have engaged in a well reported state-by-state efforts to push for public funding to be spent on private and charter schools at the ground level. One of their most well known advocacy groups that takes part in these efforts is Americans for Prosperity, or AFP.
In 2017, AFP got involved in school board elections in Douglas Country, Colorado, where it aimed to elect candidates more friendly to programs such as vouchers, that use taxpayer money to mitigate some of the costs for families to enroll their children in private or parochial schools. While they did not win the number of seats they needed, AFP did not shy away. After the election of four candidates who were unfriendly to voucher programs, they declared their intention to spend five figures in support of their agenda in Douglas County.
Douglas County was not alone.
AFP also has a track record in Wake County, North Carolina where the city of Raleigh is located. In 2009, AFP funded a grassroots effort called WakeCARES, which worked on the behalf of schools board candidates who wanted to do away with the county’s policy of busing that has ensured school integration since Brown vs. Board of Education. The candidates backed by WakeCARES and AFP reverted back to the old terminology of “forced busing”, a phrase common among pro-segregation politicians in the ’60s and ‘70s.
All four of the AFP-backed candidates won, and the Koch brothers have continued to ramp up their efforts.
AFP recently launched the Libre Initiative, which is designed to specifically target hispanic families to bring them in to their fight for “school choice” voucher programs. The Libre Initiative launched a campaign in Arizona, where with the help of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, lawmakers recently enacted the broadest “school choice” program in the country called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. The fierce opposition to the law argues that Arizona is already at the bottom in terms of how much they spend per student ($7,613), and this program will only starve an already weakened state education system, and the battle remains entangled in Arizona court. Neither side is going to sit down quietly.
The Koch brothers and their wide web of influence in education policy throughout the country, if gone unchecked, will have implications that could potentially last for generations. Politics aside, the very notion that a couple men with tens of billions of dollars can shape the education policy of an entire nation is sobering to say the least. The education of our country’s kids deserves long, healthy, and productive debate. But should it be billionaires and their advocacy groups dictating the conversation? This day in age parents, teachers, and local level politicians must remain more vigilant than ever when it comes to who is leading the charge in education reform in their communities.