Monday, July 16, 2012

Standing for Astroturf

Astroturf organizations get their name from the artificial grass used in athletic stadiums. While pretending to be authentic, grassroots movements, they are really cover groups for wealthy corporations and individuals that want to appear as if they have the public interest at heart.

At first blush, Stand for Children Louisiana would appear to fit that definition. After all, it shilled for all of Gov. Jindal's anti-public education schemes during the last legislative session, and its executive director is a former high-ranking official of the Jindal administration's education department.

This letter to the Advocate editor, from a Stand for Children functionary, would seem to reinforce the suspicion that Stand for Children is little more than a front for the big business interests looking to drain public education's resources. Why else would he "commend" the state education board for the devastation being visited on our schools?

And while the evidence certainly points to the subversion of Stand for Children by the governor and his ilk, it is instructional to note that it was not always so.

As this blog entry from Parents Across America documents, Stand for Children was originally the product of a pro-public education rally organized by child advocate Marian Wright Edelman's son, Jonah. It was nurtured in Oregon, "fighting...for early childhood education, foster care, child abuse prevention and a variety of other programs centered on children."

Unfortunately, writes one of Stand for Children's early members, SFC has changed: "SFC now has private equity investors and venture philanthropists on the board, making decisions for the organization as it grows new chapters. And, grow they will, as they have announced the need to hire a National Expansion Manager, having raised over a million dollars in funding from the Walton Foundation, and over three million dollars from the Gates Foundation."

"When I joined," writes SFC member Susan Barrett,  "SFC fought for more school funding and endorsed pro-education candidates for elective office. Our elementary school parents were passionate about lowering class sizes and enhancing our crumbling school facilities. A “grassroots” organization like SFC was the perfect fit for parents like me who wanted to work on these issues."

But then, she says, things changed at Oregon's Stand for Children chapter. The organization brought in high-priced consultants and outsiders who urged support for corporate, hedge-fund driven "reforms."

Suddenly, Oregon's Stand for Children chapter began pushing the state legislature for charter schools, online learning, and tax rebates that only make sense "when you billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates and the Walton Family Foundation are now funding and driving the organization’s agenda."

If it's sounding like what happened in Louisiana,  you're right - Barrett even started hearing terms like "defenders of the status quo" tossed around.

So it is probably safe to characterize Stand for Children Louisiana as an astroturf organization. Maybe it wasn't always so, but the corrupting influence of money has tainted whatever good could come out of the organization in our state.

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