In the war being fought over the survival of public education, the privatizers are forging the future. Is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aiding and abetting them? I don’t know how you feel about Bill Gates, the chair of Microsoft and one of the world’s richest people in the world. Many people appreciate what he’s accomplished. In philanthropic circles, the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—which gives some $3 billion annually, especially in fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria, and mother-child deaths in underdeveloped countries around the world—is highly regarded.
However, late last year, at a Hudson Institute-sponsored panel titled “Living with the Gates Foundation” Tim Ogden, editor of Philanthropy Action, pointed out that Gates is “creating the ball, building the team, hiring the referees,” and “funding the instant replay.” According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Caroline Preston’s report, Laura Freschi, of New York University’s Development Research Institute said, “it’s not out of the question that one day a reader might devour an article about a Gates-supported health project printed on the pages of a newspaper that gets Gates’s money, reported by a journalist who received media training paid for by Gates, citing research by scientists financed by Gates.”
In an appearance with the host of ABC’s “This Week With Christiane Amanpour,” Gates said that, while he favored raising taxes on the wealthy, he didn’t think that would solve the “deficit gap.” He also said that he didn’t think President Obama was waging class warfare on the rich, joking that, as far as he knows, there are no barricades in the streets being manned by the wealthy. Gates does have a legion of critics. In his biography of the late Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson reported that Jobs told him that Gates is “basically unimaginative, has never invented anything…he just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”
In 2010, I wrote a piece about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s relationship to the chemical company Monsanto and the agribusiness giant Cargill. The story pointed out that the Foundation had bought 500,000 Monsanto shares worth around $23 million in the second quarter of 2010. Monsanto has, for years, had a negative impact on small farmers, especially in
Some critics are also highly skeptical about some of the Gates Foundation’s choices, particularly as it relates to education in the
Robin Rogers, an associate professor of sociology and the author of The Welfare Experiments: Politics and Policy Evaluation, in a recent piece at the Education Optimists titled “Billionaire Education Policy,” pointed out that the Gates Foundation’s grant to ALEC was aimed at “influenc[ing] state budget making—where the rubber hits the road on education policy.”
Primarily funded by corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations, “ALEC is a non-profit organization made up primarily of a ‘who’s who’ of the extreme right.” While the Washington, DC-based ALEC may not be responsible for all of the mayhem going on in such states as Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Florida, and Michigan (with more states certain to follow), it has historically played a role in shaping pro-corporate legislation in a number of states. According to ALEC Exposed, ALEC-sponsored “bills would privatize public education, crush teacher’s unions, and push American universities to the right. Among other things, these bills make education a private commodity rather than a public good and reverse
As Julie Underwood, dean of the
“Introducing market factors into teaching, through bills like the National Teacher Certification Fairness Act.”
“Privatizing education through vouchers, charters and tax incentives, especially through the Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act and Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, whose many spinoffs encourage the creation of private schools for specific populations: children with autism, children in military families, etc.
“Increasing student testing and reporting, through more ‘accountability,’ as seen in the Education Accountability Act, Longitudinal Student Growth Act, One-to-One Reading Improvement Act and the Resolution Supporting the Principles of No Child Left Behind.
“ Chipp ing away at local school districts and school boards, through its 2009
Admittedly, the $376,635 grant from the Gates Foundation is just a drop from the foundation’s bucket and it will not guarantee ALEC’s success in achieving its goals, but it will help. However, what the foundation’s grant might contribute to is yet another in a series of ginned-up reports produced by ALEC’s education team touting the success of charter schools and voucher programs and citing more reasons to bust teachers unions. It will design sample legislation for its members to introduce in state houses across the country. The privatization of public education will be moved forward. This is not a project that Bill or Melinda Gates should be proud of.
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.