Say No to Billionaire Bullies!

“The definition of bullying is when there’s a power imbalance and there’s repeated harm against those who are less powerful… (At a) macro and policy level…the billionaires and the technology companies who have the power...are attacking public education… If you look at who’s getting attacked, (it’s) women and children... in communities of color… the least politically powerful and most disenfranchised in our community… and teachers…(which is) primarily a female profession… Easy targets…”
— Dr. Roxana Marachi, NAACP, March 12, 2018

As the Ross Valley community reels from the continuing and ongoing disruptions instigated by the Ross Valley Charter (which filed suit against our public schools for the second time, on March 16, 2018), it is appalling to learn that the charter’s continued malfeasance and hijinks are being financed to the tune of a $150,000 grant. The grant was given by The Hastings Fund, which is financed by the deep pockets of Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, who also had a direct role in the creation of the public education wrecking ball, Proposition 39. Hastings, his Fund’s CEO, Nareev Kingsland, RVC Board member, Kristi Kimball, and other powerful operators (explained more fully here and here), are not only running roughshod over the Ross Valley community and its kids; by continuing their attacks on our excellent and highly-rated public schools, they are supporting a group of operators with a proven record of discrimination, about which the ACLU expressed “grave reservations.” Despite their claims to the contrary, RVC is a true astroturf group.

For those who are new to the charter school and public education/privatization debate, Mr. Hastings looms large. After a successful career in the tech industry, he decided that the free-market ideals of competition, disruption and consumer “choice” (i.e., shopping), needed to be applied to public education. He’s gone on to become one of the most powerful education “Deformers,” applying his billions of dollars and his outsize influence to reduce supports and resources for neighborhood public schools, hurting vulnerable children and educators along the way.

Mr. Hastings was appointed by then Governor, Gray Davis, to the California State Board of Education (SBE) in 2000, becoming its President in 2001, where he remained until 2005, when he resigned after some in the legislature questioned his policy directives. The SBE proved an excellent perch from which to begin his assault on public education. In November of 2000, while sitting on the SBE, he spent $1 million to ensure the passage of Proposition 39, which ostensibly lowered the bond threshold for passage of public school facility construction (from 66% to 55%). As local residents are probably well aware, Prop 39 contained a trojan horse requiring public districts to house charters. According to this article from 2000, “the agreement between two of the state's fiercest Proposition 39 proponents -- Hastings and the teachers union -- has given charter operators a significant boost unseen in many other states.” Mr. Hastings has not been shy about his disdain for democratically-elected, local school boards, and his stated desire to do away with them entirely. In addition to his own fund, Mr. Hastings serves on the board of KIPP, a controversial and highly profitable “non-profit” charter chain which recently won approval at the State Board of Education for new charters in San Francisco and San Jose, over the objections of locals, the NAACP, and overriding the votes of those communities’ democratically elected boards (sound familiar?). He also has financially enabled Rocketship, another highly contested charter chain (link).

Despite The Hastings Fund’s purported intention to, “expand educational opportunity,” because, “too many children do not have access to amazing schools,” and “to partner with communities” to “increase… access to rich and holistic educational experiences,” Mr. Hastings and his cronies are actually reducing our 2,000 kids’ access to our already amazing schools and teachers, all in support of a new charter based on a 20-year program with a proven track record of discrimination against the very children he professes need saving from public education. The very undemocratic way RVC came into being, and the lack of regard they continue to show for the larger Ross Valley community, is the polar opposite of “partnering with.”

Via its CEO, Mr. Kingsland, the Hastings Foundation is closely linked to RVC Board member, Kristi Kimball, who works for billionaire Charles Schwab, doling out his billions to charters across the country (including KIPP). Both Mr. Kingsland and Ms. Kimball sit on the California Charter Schools Association’s (CCSA) Board, one of the biggest lobbying groups in California (here). Mr. Kingsland cut his teeth helping to transform 90% of the New Orleans School District into charters, in a stunning example of what Naomi Klein has dubbed, “The Shock Doctrine.” According to this study from Stanford’s Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, these changes have "created a set of schools that are highly stratified by race, class, and educational advantage, operating in a hierarchy that provides very different types of schools and to different types of children. While some have choice; others do not." Mr. Kingsland casually concedes (here), that despite the these radical changes, and the firing of thousands of mostly African American female educators, "the school system is far from excellent".  Nonetheless, Mr. Kingsland and Ms. Kimball had a conversation here, comparing “the charter sector” to Uber (spoiler alert: charters are “1000 times more difficult than Uber”), and this one, where he likens public school districts to “greedy corporations,” and closes with this statement, “...shout out to Kristi Kimball for ideas that this post was built upon.” Good to know that Ms. Kimball believes districts, staffed with educators who have heeded a call to teach and work with children, are “greedy corporations.” That attitude toward our excellent public schools explains a lot of RVC’s actions, doesn’t it?

The Ross Valley community is dismayed that its kids and excellent teachers are being bullied by those who use their billions to exploit undemocratic policies, which have already decimated many urban districts (New Orleans, Detroit, Oakland and Los Angeles). We cannot remain silent as these ill-conceived laws are applied to our small, underfunded, and high-performing school district. For those who insist we are a wealthy district and can afford a pet-project charter school advocated for by the privileged (with a history of discrimination) please take note: California’s per-pupil funding comes in 41st in the country and Ross Valley School District’s per-pupil funding is at the bottom 10% of state funding. Despite this, our neighborhood district schools perform in the top 7% of the state. We have no choice but to Stand up to these bullies and their assault on our excellent, democratically-governed schools; a fight against the privatization of public education that threatens to run our schools - and so many other underfunded public schools - into the ground.

Go Public, Not Charter!