Since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, many astute pundits, close observers of the behavior of prominent Republicans in the post-Gipper era, have variously labeled GOP types as masters of hypocrisy, projection and, even worse, authoritarianism. Does that amalgam sound a little bit like the elements of Trump DNA?
Though we might feel that many Republicans are indeed guilty of possessing similar DNA, it’s the hypocrisy trait that is most prominent in the mix.
On July 30, two happenings provide illustrations of that built-in hypocrisy trait among GOP types.
In a page one article detailing the history of the notorious online charter school ECOT, the Columbus Dispatch published a detailed review of this operation that has been efficiently sucking up the low hanging fruit otherwise known as public tax dollars since 2000.
In the last four years alone, that low hanging fruit has generated more $100 million annually for ECOT founder Bill Lager’s charter school companies, allowing him to maintain a very comfortable lifetstyle in several luxury residences, including one in Key West, Florida. In return, Lager has donated more than $2 million to the Ohio GOP and its candidates.
But wait, there’s more. In a subsequent article, the Dispatch revealed that Lager’s political contributions increased substantially as the legal and fiscal problems facing the school grew.
Through six months, Bill Lager personally more than doubled the amount he donated through all of 2016, when his $28,565 in giving was his lowest since 2003.
The Dispatch article plows through some interesting material about the history of the online charter school. But this passage in particular provides great insight into the unfettered world of ECOT, indeed the rest of charterdom:
“… Lager was driven much more by profit. “His phrase was, ‘It’s not about the (expletive) kids, Chandra; it’s about the money,’” she said.
One key factor was in its favor: Lager and Hardy hand-picked the ECOT board that employed their company. In fact, the man who signed the school’s agreement with Lager’s Altair Management, ECOT board chairman Donald Wihl, was a friend who owned the condo where Lager was staying. Wihl’s daughter was employed as the ECOT board’s secretary.
How convenient. How nice.
Hand-picked boards. Appoint your friends to a board who will then provide you contracts fueled by public funds. Nice. This sounds so like … charterworld.
Former Rep. Sally Perz, a Toledo Republican who wrote Ohio’s initial charter school legislation in the mid-1990s, defended the flow of taxpayer dollars and the decision to exempt charter boards from some state ethics laws.
“Everybody is making money off of schools, off traditional public schools,” she said at the time.
Hand-picked charter school boards offer a glaring example of Republican hypocrisy. In Sally Perz’s world of deregulation, for example, hand-picked board members don’t require any qualifications other than the ability to sign a contract for someone in the network, the Dark Side, as some charter persons call the very world they inhabit.
A 2016 Plunderbund article made this observation about the view of Ohio House Education Committee Chairman Andrew Brenner, an unabashed charter school champion, who famously said that public education was a form of socialism:
Yes socialism, as evidenced by the operation of public school districts who raise their revenue from the taxation of local property and who are subject to full legal transparency and accountability, governed by a group of citizens elected by qualified voters in the community where they operate. These are community schools, the real public schools. Contrast that with charter schools, where, unlike public schools, there is no requirement for board members to be qualified voters, viz. citizens.
I wonder why Republicans aren’t in favor of requiring proof of citizenship for charter school board members, as they are for some voters. Hmmm.
Hand-picked boards. Good ol’ boy networks. Hand-picked charter school board members. Hand-picked charter school board members who aren’t even U.S. citizens. How’s that deregulation and school choice idea working for us, fellow citizens?
On the same day as the Dispatch mega-article on ECOT, Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, was interviewed by Chuck Todd on the NBC program Meet the Press. In the interview, Lewandowski blasted Richard Cordray, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as an “unelected bureaucrat” and an “unelected official.”
While Lewandowski and his party seem to have problems with those that have regulatory powers and dismiss them as unelected officials, they have no problem with promoting charter schools that are largely unregulated and have so-called governing boards that are populated entirely with hand-picked friends that have ties with the management company, school director, or both. These board members are, I believe, . . . unelected officials.
Then there is the problem of charter school board members who may not even be U.S. citizens, as the Akron Beacon-Journal examined in an article in July 2014. But when this issue was covered in March 2015 as part of testimony before Brenner’s House Education Committee, he seemed to have no problem with Ohio law allowing charter board members to be non-citizens. By contrast, those who wish to serve on public school district boards must be qualified voters, viz., citizens, win the approval of residents of the district, and register with the Secretary of State upon election.
Surely all of these requirements for public school board members must seem like so much, um, red tape – and socialism – to Brenner.
But I digress. Or maybe not.
The hypocrisy of Republicans on many aspects of public policy, particularly in the area of charter schools, how they are governed, and the diminished transparency and accountability that comes with the deregulated milieu they dwell in, is in plain view.
For them, it’s wrong for unelected public servants like Richard Cordray to closely monitor the actions of Wall Street and financial institutions, but it’s ok to populate charter school boards with unelected board members (read: friends, family, good ol’ boys) placed there by the very companies that manage the school and who receive enormous amounts of public funds and profit from its operation.
As we await even more stories like ECOT from Ohio’s daily newspapers about charter school profits, conflicts-of interest, nepotism, hand-picked boards, and the good ol’ boy system of management companies and governing boards, be wary of those like Corey Lewandowski, the conflicted former Trump campaign manager, who rail against unelected officials.
If you are in favor of privatization of public services, that is what you get, and those who toss around such words as unelected and bureaucrat have hypocrisy – and perhaps projection – in their DNA. We call them Republicans.
Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office. He writes about education issues as well as politics and constitutional reform.