Ch. 4: Koch Network's Anti-Civil Rights Crusade

Part 2: Reversing Brown v. Board of Education 

  1. School Choice

  2. Re-segregating Schools


1. School Choice

Decades later, the segregationist roots of the charter school strategy have been largely forgotten, and an industry has risen up around for-profit schools. The “school choice” movement continues to divert public funding to private, often for-profit, schools that perpetuate segregation.

In 2016, and again in 2017, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has called for “a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice” until such time as “charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children.”

Their 2017 report cites that:

With the expansion of charter schools and their concentration in low-income communities, concerns have been raised within the African American community about the quality, accessibility and accountability of some charters, as well as their broader effects on the funding and management of school districts that serve most students of color. . . [C]harters are more racially and economically segregated than public schools generally.

Donors in Koch’s network, including the Bradley Foundation and the DeVos family, have been among the largest bank-rollers of the charter school movement in past decades, including the DeVos’s Alliance for School Choice.

Another aggressive leader of the U.S.”school choice” movement has been the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, now called EdChoice, which was named for the free-market charter school advocate, Milton Friedman.

As of 2016, both organizations were top sponsors of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) who has been instrumental in the privatization of education across the country by promoting model legislation for school choice, including voucher programs. EdChoice is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN), a national collection of political think tanks funded by Koch’s network of political donors.

In 2018, the Koch network is coming out in full force on school privatization. At Charles Koch’s most “Seminar Network” donor summit, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey thanked Koch and other attending donors for helping him pass private school vouchers in the AZ legislature, saying "I needed the power of the network."

EdChoice fellow, Matthew Ladner, is a Charles Koch Institute Senior Research Fellow, and co-authors ALEC’s “Report Card on American Education” which ranks K-12 “Performance, Progress, and Reform.” Ladner worked with ALEC’s Education Task Force and was previously the director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice.

A 2018 event between the Charles Koch Institute, EdChoice, and the Reason foundation was entitled: “The Case for School Choice in 2018: Tackling the Most Persistent Arguments Against School Choice and Why They are Wrong.” It featured the Koch institute’s Matthew Ladner.

So far, just in 2017, the Charles Koch Institute directly pushed for school vouchers in Texas, while Koch backed groups Americans for Prosperity and and LIBRE initiative have been pushing charter schools in several states, with the intent to “change people’s opinion over the longer term” on charter schools.

In Kentucky, Koch’s academic programming dovetails perfectly with their political efforts in the state, including the recent opening legal pathways for charter schools.

Koch’s academic centers at the University of Kentucky is run by John Garen, who has produced pro-charter school research, and is a policy scholar at the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy.

The Bluegrass Institute is the primary Kentucky-based affiliate of the State Policy Network, a tight consortium of free market think tanks funded by the Koch network. The Bluegrass Institute’s “top issue” was to “lead education reform,” noting that it “supports proven school-choice policies.”

Kentucky’s Governor Matt Bevin, an attendee of Koch’s secretive donor summits, ran on a  pro-charter school platform, winning with the support of Americans for Prosperity. Within a week of Kentucky lawmakers passing and signing laws that allow charter schools, a school choice event was put on at the University of Kentucky’s Koch-funded academic center.

2. Re-Segregation of Schools

Outside of school choice, we can see Koch’s efforts to re-segregate a school system in Wake County, North Carolina.

In 2009, the Koch-founded and funded organization Americans for Prosperity backed the election of four school board candidates through an organization called WakeCares. These four candidates ran on a platform opposing “forced busing”—a phrase that dates back to the pro-segregationist era of George Wallace, claiming that schools should educate only those who lived in the surrounding neighborhood.

The Institute for Southern Studies’ Sue Sturgis was quoted as saying, “They’re definitely pushing an agenda to resegregate these schools, but there’s also a real push toward privatization.” Though AFP has denied any role, and has deleted several posts on its website, archived pages show AFP publicly taking credit for their role in:

the successful effort by the school board of the Wake County School District to eliminate a wasteful and ineffective policy of social engineering that undermined neighborhood schools by forcing parents to send their children to distant schools with different calendars -- at significant cost to taxpayers.

"The North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity -- along with our Wake County members and other key allies -- were pleased to play some small part in this fight," said AFP North Carolina State Director Dallas Woodhouse.

Other archived pages show less subtle evidence:

Americans for Prosperity is on record as supporting the parents of WakeCares, through significant financial contributions as well as other support. WakeCares is a great example of the kind of grassroots effort to fight the abuses of government that Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina is dedicated to supporting. (AFP website)

In 2015, Americans for Prosperity took over the Jefferson County School Board in Colorado, pushing a privatization agenda that championed charter schools. A grassroots effort was launched to recall the school board members after thousands of Jefferson County students held massive walk-outs to protest the corporate alterations to their curriculum.

These efforts would appear to be identical to those of the John Birch Society decades before. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

As early as September, 1960, Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, had told members that the way to take over schools was to take over the PTA. He urged members to “join your local PTA at the beginning of the school year, get your conservative friends to do likewise, and go to work to take it over. (FBI File on JBS)

On November 22, 1963, the Florida’s Lakeland Ledger editorialized that Lakeland’s own local PTA was threatened:

In case anybody is inclined to laugh off the threat against the PTA, let it be known that the John Birchers did succeed in capturing the PTA in Eustis, only 75 miles northeast of Lakeland, and in some other places too. At Eustis, the PTA was destroyed, disbanded, and an entirely different organization substituted for it. Not surprisingly, the new one has far right political messages ready for any who venture forth to its meetings. (Campbell, 1984)


Part 3 of this chapter shows how this network didn't stop at K-12. They have made every effort to opposed efforts to desegregate higher education as well.