Schwarzenegger appoints controversial conservatives to education coalition
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Wednesday June 28, 2006
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has named Ron Nehring and Jim Kelly, two members of the controversy-plagued Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD) board in San Diego county, as co-chairs of the Governor’s education coalition.
The move has sparked an angry response from teacher’s union representative Bruce Seaman, president of the Grossmont Education Association.
“He’s certainly putting together a coalition of enemies of public education,” Seaman told RAW STORY. “Ron Nehring is working for Grover Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).” Noting that Norquist has stated he wants to reduce the size of government in order to “drown it in a bathtub,” Seaman added, “His second agenda is to eliminate public education and go to vouchers. Certainly Nehring can in no way be looked at as a friend of public education.”
Although school board positions are nonpartisan, both Nehring and Kelly have strong ties to the Republican Party. Nehring, chair of the San Diego Republican Party and vice-chair of the California Republican Party, was appointed to the Grossmont Union High School District board to fill a vacancy. Nehring worked for ATR in 2000 when the organization reportedly laundered money for Jack Abramoff .
As RAW STORY exposed previously, Nehring also worked as Director of Development and Public Affairs for the National Center for Public Policy (NCPPR), a conservative organization that was investigated for sending misleading fundraising letters to senior citizens and which funneled money from Abramoff to pay for Tom DeLay’s travel junkets.
Nehring has denied ever meeting Abramoff.
Nehring and the Grossmont Union High School District board, which is dominated by the Christian right-wing, pushed through a plan to convert the entire GUHSD into a charter district, as RAW STORY previously reported. That plan is supported by Kelly, who also heads up candidate recruitment for the Republican Party in San Diego and is a member of the San Diego County Republican Central Committee.
“I think it’s the first step in undermining public schools,” Seaman said of the charter district plan, which passed by a 5-0 vote. Since then, GUHSD board member Priscilla Schreiber has tried unsuccessfully to persuade the board to reconsider that motion.
Nehring has argued that the charter plan would “liberate” teachers from restrictions and allow more flexibility for innovation in classrooms. Advocates of charters maintain that charters give more academic freedom and in some cases may improve test scores. Charter schools have received mixed reviews on academic performance, in some cases increasing test scores but in other cases lagging behind public schools in reading and math proficiency.
While recognizing “a place” for some charter schools, Seaman voiced concern over Schwarzenegger’s proclamation that “any school that does not meet its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) would be turned into a charter school.” The teacher’s union leader warned that charters could lead to “curtailment of teachers’ rights to organize” under state law and could also lead to outsourcing of jobs.
“Certainly it is on the agenda to privatize all of these schools,” he added. “All the enemies of [public] schools are organized around Wal-Mart and John Walton. They’re talking about school reform under the guise of dismantling public education… Charter schools fits into the ideological attitudes of these wealthy, wealthy people. If charter schools are the first step toward dismantling public education, then second is then they don’t have to pay taxes to support public schools.”
At the Grossmont Union High School District site, Nehring has listed four backers of his charter plan. The East County Californian revealed backgrounds on those backers that suggest a less-than-kid-friendly agenda:
Ray Haynes, past president of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has authored articles supporting teaching intelligent design (creationism) in public schools and opposing the minimum wage. ALEC is a conservative organization with funding from Enron, Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, Coors Brewing and other large corporations as well as the Christian Coalition.
Michael Warder, Vice Chancellor of Pepperdine University, is former director of the Heritage Foundation, a prominent neo-conservative think tank. A Congressional investigation has linked the Heritage Foundation to Rev. Sun Myung Moon (founder of the Unification Church) and revealed financial backing from a group fronting money for the South Korean government.
Matthew Brouillette is president of Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank advocating limited government spending. He has authored an article criticizing public employee labor unions in Pennsylvania.
Lance Izumi is with Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (PRI), which supports privatization of public services and has received funding from Wal-Mart, R.J. Reynolds and ExxonMobil. After the Enron scandal broke, a PRI representative delivered a speech titled “In Defense of Price Gouging and Profiteering” at an economic forum.
PRI has also filed briefs in Seattle and Louisville cases which are currently before the Supreme Court, arguing to abolish use of race as a factor in assignment of students to schools. If successful, the move could overturn affirmative action and integration of public schools.
Lance Izumi has met with Bush administration officials on coordinating state and national efforts to advance the conservative agenda, according to CPI’s Target San Diego report. That report, prepared by the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI), a progressive, pro-labor think tank, identifies San Diego as a “battleground” in the Republican National Party’s agenda to privatize public services and permanently weaken organized labor.
“Ron Nehring doesn’t work on anything that’s not part of a national agenda,” Lee Cokorino, author of the report, has stated.
Schwarzenegger’s plan for California education includes half a billion dollars to build more charter schools, according to a recent “Join Arnold” press release.
The Grossmont Union High School District has also been the center of controversy over new bylaws which “squelch any dissent in the district,” according to Seaman. “What you are seeing is persecution of Schreiber and Larry Urdahl because they choose not to vote with Nehring, Wills and Kelly…What you are seeing are people who are determined to hold onto power and push their ideological and political agendas that are really not the norm here…They do not tolerate dissent or respect dissenting opinions, and they’re not democratic.”
The GUHSD also recently settled a bitter labor dispute, after teachers went two years without a contract and picketed GUHSD board meetings, threatening a strike until an arbitrator helped mediate the dispute.
An article from the San Diego Daily Transcript quotes Nehring supporting Schwarzenegger as a “strong proponent of charter schools and education reform,” also praising the Governor for investing in education at “the highest levels in our state’s history.” But cynics claim that the Governor’s recent increase in education spending may be viewed as an olive branch to teachers and the electorate, after referendums opposed by teachers’ unions were resoundingly defeated by California voters.
In response to an e-mail sent to the Grossmont Union High School District requesting comments from Nehring and Kelly for this article, GUHSD spokesperson Catherine Martin referred the inquiry to the Governor’s campaign office. The office did not provide statements from Nehring or Kelly in response to a RAW STORY request for comment.
However, wheen asked to respond to Seaman’s criticism of Nehring and Kelly as “enemies of public education,” Amanda Fulkerson, regional press secretary for Governor Schwarzenegger, sent this written response.
“The Governor is supported by a diverse group of education leaders from all backgrounds who applaud his commitment to education, California’s world-class universities, and after school programs. Under Governor Schwarzenegger’s leadership, California is investing in education at record levels – per pupil funding is over $21,000 for the first time and the Governor has worked with the legislature to put a historic plan before voters to invest billions into classrooms so our students will have a safe place to learn. We appreciate and thank every member of the coalition of educators supporting Governor Schwarzenegger and look forward to working with them to communicate Governor Schwarzenegger’s vision to move California forward.”
But Seaman expressed doubts about the Governor’s vision. “Schwarzenegger has not changed his ways if he is appointing those two,” he said of Nehring and Kelly. “It’s very frightening because neither one of those is supporting public education through word, deed or job.”