(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Politico reports on The LIBRE Initiative’s efforts to promote and expand educational opportunities and choice for families across our nation. Read the highlights of the story below:
With school choice efforts stalled in Washington, the billionaire Koch brothers’ network is engaged in state-by-state battles with teachers’ unions, politicians and parent groups to push for public funding of private and charter schools.
One of the newest campaigns is the Libre Initiative, a grassroots drive targeting Hispanic families in 11 states so far, under the umbrella of the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, a powerful conservative and libertarian advocacy group.
While the Koch network has long been involved in school choice battles, the push by Libre represents a new front in the fight by targeting Hispanic families — and a recognition that with Congress gridlocked, it’s on the ground at the state level where the network can disrupt the educational status quo. The Koch message on schools is shared by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime ally.
“Across the [Koch] network, there’s a greater commitment to advancing this because we do see it as critical to advancing a free and open society,” Libre’s Executive Director Jorge Lima told POLITICO.
The group has had some initial success — for instance, helping to thwart a moratorium on charter school expansion in New Mexico.
…the group is hunkering down for the long haul in states it views as ripe for change even as it eyes new states for expansion. Lima says it’s on track to make contact with more than 100,000 Hispanic households this year on school choice.
Besides Nevada and New Mexico, Libre is organizing in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Its recent efforts, with other Koch-backed groups, include:
— A planned “six-figure” spend in Nevada on “deep canvassing” in Hispanic neighborhoods to build support for educational savings accounts, which enable families to use state tax dollars to pay for private school. Although such a program was passed by the Nevada Legislature in 2015, it never took effect after the funding mechanism was ruled unconstitutional.
— A “six-figure” Libre and Americans for Prosperity campaign in Colorado this summer to promote charter schools and education savings accounts and another ahead of a Nov. 7 school board race by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation to push choice-friendly issues.
— Mailings in Spanish and English supporting a Florida law FL HB7069 (17R) that encourages charter schools in communities with low-performing schools. After Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed it into law, the state Democratic Party said he’d “declared war on our public schools.”
Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said it’s noteworthy the Koch network has singled out school choice.
“It’s telling us they have good reason to believe this is an issue that’s resonating with Latino families,” he said.
He also gave the initiatives strong odds at changing at least some state policies.
“Most of these states have had very active school choice movements with other organizations on the ground trying to expand programs,” Petrilli said. ” … It could be enough to put some of these ideas over the top.”
Hispanic families want more options for their children, [Lima] said, and the “only thing that’s really changing the game right now” is giving parents a say in “having greater access.”
Achievement gaps for Hispanic students persist. Even as they’ve made gains, there are still gaps with their non-Hispanic white peers hovering around 20 points on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test known as the “nation’s report card.” The graduation rate for Hispanic students is 78 percent, compared to the national rate of 83 percent.
In many ways, Lima suggests, Libre is playing a long game.
By Kimberly Hefling
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