As co-chair of Wisconsin’s powerful legislative Joint Finance Committee, Alberta Darling was charged by Governor Scott Walker with cobbling together the most anti–public education budget in Wisconsin history. And Darling delivered, with a plan to slash $800 million in funding for public schools across Wisconsin while at the same time scheming to shift tens of millions from the state treasury into the accounts of private schools.
Darling was not just doing the governor’s bidding, however.
She was delivering for American Federation for Children (AFC), the powerful national network of billionaire campaign contributors that has been pouring millions into school privatization fights across the country.
AFC is not just shaping the agenda in Wisconsin. Like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which produces model legislation designed to shape state agendas on a host of policies, AFC outlines legislative goals, crafts specific proposals and then works with allied legislators and governors to implement it’s agenda.
It is in the forefront of high-stakes school “choice,” voucher and privatization fights in Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana and the District of Columbia.
Organized by Michigan billionaires Dick and Betsy DeVos, Americans for Children is officially nonpartisan. But Dick DeVos is a former Republican nominee for governor of Michigan and Betsy DeVos is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. Together, they have poured tens of millions of dollars into the ideological and electoral infrastructure that supports school privatization.
“Dick DeVos has used his family’s fortune and status to create an intricate national network of nonprofits, political action committees and federal groups known as 527s that effectively fund the political arm of the school voucher movement,” notes a People for the American Way study of the political projects of the heir to the Amway fortune and his wife. “Nowhere is the impact of the DeVos family fortune greater, though, than in the movement to privatize public education.”
AFC chair Betsy DeVos has for decades been a high-stakes political player on behalf of school privatization. But that does not mean groups with which she is associated always play by the rules. One DeVos-led group, the political action committee “All Children Matter,” was fined a record $5.2 million by the Ohio Elections Commission after being charged with illegally shifting money into the state to support candidates considered friendly to private-school “choice” initiatives. It was also fined for political misconduct in Wisconsin, where the group’s 2006 campaigning violated campaign finance laws by expressly urging voters to cast ballots against legislative candidates who backed public education.