Education for the 99%: How the Top 1% Is Destroying Public Education

Privatization of Public Schools

With the top 1% in full control of education policy and responsible for creating a financial crisis that is defunding our public schools and eliminating essential programs such as Adult Education and Early Childhood Education, we must join together as the 99%. We must take back control of our schools from corporate interests and make those responsible for the financial crisis in this country pay, so we can fully fund our public schools.

Billionaires like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Philip Anschutz, and companies like NewsCorp, and Goldman Sachs all contribute to so-called education “reform” efforts across the country. Here in Los Angeles, they all directly fund the LA Mayor’s Coalition for School Reform. Yes folks, the 1% have more influence and control in our schools than parents, students and professional educators, who have the MOST interest in the success our children.

Writer Joanne Barkan carefully outlines how the wealthy have gained so much influence in her article, “Got Dough, How Billionaires Rule Our Schools.”

Whether it is through grants, donations or political contributions, no one has more power and influence in our schools than the Corporations and the Ultra Wealthy 1%. In Los Angeles, Billionaire Eli Board has trained and now pays the salaries of LAUSD top executives. The 1% has access to public education decision makers that only money can buy.

Moreover, what has the 1% done with their influence? They have increased the amount of standardized testing, approved new corporate charter schools, taken away adequate resources from public schools and then blamed teachers and unions with the failure of their own making. This has lead to a narrowing of the curriculum, a de-emphasis on arts, health, career and industrial education and a heavy emphasis on standardized testing.

But it does not stop there.

The 1% has no interest in closing the gap between the rich and the poor. With the onslaught of private career and technical colleges, the 1% would rather close down public Adult Schools to push adult students into predatory private schools, where they can make a profit.

But there is hope.

The 99% movement has inspired a new wave of activism and organizing that has not been seen in a long time.  In the Fall of 2011, educators in Los Angeles came together and joined with the #Occupy movement that has swept the country and began a campaign to #OccupyLAUSD.

Teachers from across the city began to set up tents, hold general assemblies and protest the lack of funding for public education and the 1% influence in Public Education. On the first day of the encampment hundreds of people from Occupy LA and teachers held a march and rally. Privatization of Public SchoolsHowever, the encampment almost did not make it through the night as LAUSD School police came and tried to evict the teachers. Over 15 police arrive to evict the teachers from the encampment. Jose reaches out through Twitter for help.

On the first night of our encampment at OccupyLAUSD outside LAUSD headquarters (also known as “Beaudry” for the name of the street), suddenly school police showed up with the intention to evict our group, which was very small on the first night.  While we negotiated with them to buy more time, I reached out across the Twitterverse to the media and our friends at OccupyLA.  The standoff became quite tense, but many people started retweeting us—and within an hour a contingent of 100 people from OccupyLA marched over from City Hall to the LAUSD School Board, swelling our ranks. Spanish media outlets also showed up. At that point the police backed down, and left us alone. We had won our first victory with OccupyLAUSD! People began chanting, Beaudry is ours! Here is the series of tweets describing the police encounter. Best read from the bottom, up.Privatization of Public Schools

Using social media, grassroots mobilization and outreach strategy, #OccupyLAUSD quickly joined the network on hundreds of Occupy sites across the country. Just like the Occupy Wall Street movement protested Wall Street greed, the #OccupyLAUSD campaign protested Wall Street greed and influence in our schools.

Privatization of Public SchoolsThe #OccupyLAUSD Campaign ended with a huge protest bringing together labor leaders and teachers from across the state. This included local presidents of the largest teachers unions in California, including the Oakland Teachers Assoc, United Teachers of San Francisco, the San Diego Education Assoc. and United Teachers Los Angeles.  The #OccupyLAUSD campaign completely changed the discourse around inadequate school funding and exposed the corporate greed and influence in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  For the first time in years, we put corporate influence in our school on the defensive.

The Occupy movement reignited a fire for educational justice and reminded us once again that organized people beat organized money any day of the week.Privatization of Public Schools

The resistance movement against defunding pubic education has already regained traction in Los Angeles. It has been spurred by threatening cuts to eliminate Adult Education and Pre-school programs.  Both programs directly serve the working class community in LA and both have had massive amount of support from the community. Over the course of the past month there have been numerous protests organized by parents and teachers. The organizing in support of Adult Education has been particularly impressive as thousands across the city make phones calls, write letters and join in many of the protest rallies.

Jose Lara

Jose Lara

Fighting for educational justice for the 99% has just begun. We must continue to fight against budget cuts to essential educational programs and support Tax initiatives like the California Millionaires Tax, that make the top 1% pay for the economic crisis they created. We must take back our schools and not allow the 1% to destroy public education. United we win!

Jose Lara is a social justice educator, community organizer, adult education activist and a leader of #OccupyLAUSD, a grassroots campaign linking the 1% influence in privatizing public education.


  1. harry wood says

    one problem parents see is when a teacher is charged with breaking the rules. It might even be something that may be ciminal. A process starts, management looks at the problem and the teacher is taken out of the classroom and can not have contact with students until a final ruling is made. I know of teachers in NYC where several teachers have been in this limbo world for years. They have to go to work each day, but to a building without students. The teachers can do anytihing they want, write a book, study for a masters, or just read the newspaper. They are in limbo for years and another person is teaching their class while they are being paid not to teach their class. Things like this make people loose faith in the school unions, it appears they only look after the union members and not the kids or the system. Stuff like this should not happen.

  2. Anita Martinez says

    The schools systems here in Riverside county are also doing a very bad job…and there is plenty of blame to go around. First the teacher’s unions do not allow the school districts to fire the bad teachers. I have seen excellant young teachers get laid off because of budget problems and the old bad teachers who are just waiting for their retirements kept. A lot of these teachers do not care one bit about the students. Not all but a lot of them. Enough to ruin the lives of young students.

    Next school administrators have loaded up the districts with non-teachers helpers, assistants, etc. We have janitors and trash collectors who are unionized and cannot be fired and who do a lousy job. These jobs should be handled by the private sector on a bid basis. But no we have to keep the unions happy because that is how our politicians get elected with unions’ money.

    Then we parents and grandparents have to have school choices. The rich can send their kids to private schools, but we cannot. I am all for school vouchers. Let’s look at what Governor Jeb Bush did in Florida and follow that example. I know it is not a perfect system, but it is a heck of a lot better than California.

    And  we did new and honest politicians not only in our counties but most important at the state level. We cannot continue to vote for politicians that are only out for them selves and for the unions. The public employees unions run this state and until we wake up and begin to fight for the future of our children it will only get worse.

    I am ready to start the fight.     Anita Martinez

  3. says

    I am pleased to see this article generated so much response .

    I’m not an Educator nor a politician , not even rich but I do have teenaged boys in Public Schools and I often wonder how it is that there are _BILLIONS_ of entitlement tax dollars available to corporations already making record profits but , no tax dollars for new school books or Teachers Salaries and reduced class sizes…. -Nate

  4. JamieTFranklin says

    One thing not talked about enough is slant of the actual tests our kids are taking.  There are proven ethnocentric advantages for Caucasians in K-12 testing.  Adult Education has effective assessment as well as ridiculous testing.  For example the State exam used in ESL classes in California was designed for prison inmates to evaluate their work skill levels.  Somehow, this exam, Not designed for the purpose its used for, determines what makes a successful school, teacher, and student.  Students are given an exam they are not expected to do well on, and teachers are not to teach to the test.  A crazy scheme is used to determine outcomes, and these are used to determine continued funding.  Testing companies are invested in Testing.  Follow the money.  It’s not being used on students, it’s going to outside companies, vendors, consultants, publishers, and politicians.  Someone has to stop and speak directly to students.  They can tell you how they learn best.

  5. Sflores815 says

    The claims that have lack evidence all alone, are the ones reformers have made about public education and teachers all along.  Most of the reforms wouldn’t even be considered if evidence for their claims had been demanded.  Lara is not pointing out at the outcomes -the reality of millions of people who have been and are being affected by the policies emanated from the neoliberal ideology. I would suggest that everyone, reformers included, should present clear and convincing evidence –not anecdotal or advocacy research–for any of their claims.  Claims requre evidence; extraordingary claims require extraordinary evidence.
    Who wins, who loses, who cares?Sergio Flores

    • says

       Excellent points Sergio!! The only critique I have is that Ashley will not be notified of your comment because you didn’t use the “Reply” function that is located in the lower right hand corner of every comment. When you click “Reply”, your response is nested within the comment you are responding to and the original author is pinged. But you did a great job countering her argument.

    • in_awe says

      I am puzzled by your statement. Are you saying that there has been no basis for undertaking reform of the schools? To say that you would have to discard decades of research (not just standardized test results) that point to serious shortcomings in this nation’s public school system.

      By extension, are you saying that the performance of the public schools has been satisfactory?

      • says

        Decades of research — I’m talking about actual, peer-review research by legitimate sources, not garbage un-juried “policy papers” by right-wing think-tanks like Cato, AEI, NCTQ, et al. — show that implementation of free voluntary reading, smaller class sizes, project based learning, and culturally relevant curricula are the kinds of things that produce real academic achievement (in fact these are the thing ruling class parents get for their children enrolled in private schools, like say, Sidwell Friends). Actual scholars like Professors Horn, Thomas, Krashen, Welner, Baker, Ravitch, and so many more have shown time and time again that making a fetish of standardized tests does nothing but narrow curriculum and lower actual achievement.

        Professor Krashen and others have demonstrated that when we account for poverty, this nation’s public schools are still among the best in the world.

        • in_awe says

          I see. How do the studies you cited square with higher performing schools in countries where class sizes are larger and less is spent per pupil? I would guess that the emphasis on “culturally relevant curricula” is also lower in those nations’ schools – and more traditional teaching style is at use.

      • Sflores815 says


        For a reform to be effective it needs to be well thought off and considering the pubic school system within a context.  The actual reforms have not defined the problems that the system has. Instead, the reformers have manufactured a crisis, creating a sense of urgency to promote their ideas.  I don’t think any reasonable person will consider the American Public System perfect. It has shortcomings. However, the reforms haven’t brought the improvements they promised. Indeed, the reforms don’t,and will not improve public education. Look at the example of Chile, a country that try and tested these ideas since the early 1970s.
        If citizens of this nation really want to improve public education for all, we need to start by taking time to analyze and define the problems. To randomly apply hunches or impose ideological measures –which is what reformers have done– cannot be considered a legitimate attempt to improvement. Therefore, what we see happening to our public schools system has to be understood as a movement not directed to improve them.
        Offering education to all is a formidable task, and the US citizens decided they would try in the middle 1800s. In my opinion, if we wanted to improve pubic education, we could start by copying systems like Finland’s. We can analyze it, choolse some communities –towns, districts, or even some cities where to “experiment” with. 
        Let’s act like reasonable people, stop the unwarranted privatization of the public schools system, and apply the scientific method to improve the system of public education for the benefit of this and the next generations. For more than ten years already,  Billionaires and neoliberals have spent already billions of dollars shaping our attitude toward public schools and teachers, and made structural changes to the system without showing any solid and sustainable results for those they said they wanted to help.. Instad, they are destroying and dismantling our public education system. 
        Who wins, who loses, who cares?In solidarity,Sergio Flores

        • in_awe says


          I appreciate your thoughtful reply. There is no doubt that the American dedication to public education altered the course of world history. Let us also remember by the late 1800’s who sponsored the expansion of public education and libraries and endowed universities. Partnering with philanthropists and corporations should be viewed as an opportunity to experiment in the provision of education. Instead, what is commonly seen is an ideological stance taken by teacher unions which claim that only unionized teachers should have a say in what happens in the classroom. To say that all independent reform efforts are random and ideologically based is silly and unsupportable.

          You speak about a rational approach to change – I couldn’t agree more. Yet, we have seen decades of ideologically driven changes to the curriculum and teaching methods from the left with no discernible improvement in outcomes. Why decry only reforms that come from the right? I believe that anyone involved in school reform at their core should be interested in improving the outcomes of the system. As more and more money has been spent on education in the US with no upward tick in achievement, shouldn’t we vilify the teachers who were the beneficiaries? Why excuse their pecuniary motives while you comfortably attack businesses?

          Maybe the competition from private/charter schools will yield an evidence based response from the public schools beyond trying to politically crush the charter movement. Are all charter schools great? Of course not, on the other hand not all of them are evil either. By what reasoning should we crush the charter experiment – just because the NEA despises it?

          I don’t know anything about the schools in Finland, yet I find it interesting that they would be cited. Finland lacks the one characteristic that is used often to “explain” poor academic results in the US – cultural and language diversity. The population is 93% Finn, 6% Swede and the remainder Lapp, gypsy and Tatar. Not the polyglot/polyculture situation we face here.

          The other possible difference that might affect the transferability of lessons learned in Finland to the US is the societal and cultural commitment to the education of youth. What is the dropout rate in Finland? Is it comparable to that in the US? What portion of children come from homes where the parent(s) did not graduate from high school? Etc.

          My wife graduated from the School of Education at Northwestern University and became a tenured teacher. Our lives have been affected by this topic. My interest is not just theoretical.

          Thank you for not attacking me in your reply – I enjoy the exchange of ideas when it doesn’t descend into the personal.


          • Sflores815 says

            Thanks, for the opportunity to share some thoughts. Here are some that I consider important:

            1.     Public education is the result of an ambitious ideal: to provide everyone with the same opportunity to get an education through the collective will and effort of the citizens of a community.  In the mid 1800.s Horace Mann’s efforts to persuade politicians and millionaires of his day were in agreement with their socio-economic context, and significant to the creation of the American public school system.  That was the genesis of a system that has going through challenges which had reshaped it continually, right now is we are at a stage where as you point out correctly, includes a variety of new conditions.
            2.     I don’t use the term “ideological” as pejorative, but descriptive. The current wave of reforms has their foundation in the neoliberal, free-market theories that have been in vogue for the past forty years. The new perspective on education that billionaires are imposing demand structural changes that are dismantling the current structure in order for the new system to take place.  This cannot be considered an experiment but a takeover.  So far the outcomes of the reforms in American have fallen short of what their proponents promised. We have enough time and evidence to evaluate the reforms –They have brought a more complicated system with no positive outcomes.  When  the same ideological reforms where applied in Chile the result has been the creation of a two-tier system with disastrous results for the majority of Chileans. Keep in mind that these reforms had been in place since the mid 1970’s – about forty years! I reasonable person concerned with the common good would discard these ideas.
            3.     I have no problem with experiments on education, as long as they are labeled as such: experiments to be tried and studied for future reference.  Indeed, John Dewey experimented in the early 1900’s and created the progressive education. The neoliberal reforms are resolutely applied as if they were tested and proven ideas. The consequences of these reforms have affected and continue affecting millions of people, despite their record of failure.  I state that the current reforms are ideological because they are –that is not even controversial. 
            4.     As for the randomness of the ideas, all you have to do is to see is the list of ideas that do not have a causal relationship with the provision of education but are tried as if they were –charter schools were going to be competition for schools; merit pay is part of Arne Duncan’s RttT condition for providing federal funding to states, high stakes testing are thought as a necessary piece to improve learning and to evaluate teachers. None of these ideas have a solid foundation on research.  These are random ideas, hunches!  My opinion on the neoliberal reforms is neither unsupported nor silly. I don’t know why you infer that I speak of all “independent reforms.” I don’t speak of any other type of reform, only on the neoliberal ideas.
            5.     I agree with you that it would be ideological  is a “stance taken by teacher unions which claim that only unionized teachers should have a say in what happens in the classroom” I would like you to produce a serious source NEA, AFT, or any state teachers union that have said such a thing.  What I know is that the reformers have done exactly the opposite, they have managed to eliminate teachers’ voice  from the decision making process that have produced these ineffective reforms.
            6.     I disagree with your assessment about the left driving the reforms in the past decades. What have been those left ideas? And even if they were, I don’t think the destiny of public education should not be a game between the right and the left taking turns at it. I don’t decry the reforms because they come from the right, I reject them because they are ineffective and destructive.  I agree with being concerned with the outcomes. Which ones?
            7.     Demonizing teachers is not an argument and does not conduce to any rational discussion. In the past ten twelve years more money has been allocated for education, but not for schools. President Bush decided to support charter schools with 200 million dollars annually; Obama wants to give double that.  For the first time in American history, millions of dollars on public funds are ending in the hands of “consultants.”  
            8.     No teacher attacks business; billionaires and corporations have attacked and keep attacking teachers!  There is nothing comfortable about dealing with millions of dollars directed to destroy this profession, the livelihood of millions of teachers, and the opportunity to a decent education for tens of millions of students.
            9.     Charter schools have not delivered the results expected. That is a fact! They have not been a competition nor the laboratories reformers said they would be. Despite that, they have flourished with the financial help of billionaires and the federal government.  NEA despite what you believe, don’t despise them.  For years I have tried to convince CTA and NEA to support public education and revise their positions (both positive) on charter schools, but nothing.  You are misinformed on this aspect.
            10.  I am taking as an experiment. One can take Finland’s ideas and see which ones can be applied. For instance, Finland’s classrooms are conducted on periods of 45 minutes of instruction and 15 of recess. They have a teacher and an assistant.  If a student has problems, they bring another teacher to support the student. What about that experiment!
            11.  My mom and two of her sisters were teachers in Mexico. One was also a lawyer and, stay in education and became a professor of education. She worked for 62 years. I saw the benefits of a system that despite its flaws, provide the necessary conditions for teachers to do their job.  I wish this topic were theoretical, but the present and the future of the institution of public education, and its democratic component are at stake. This is serious business.
            I enjoy this exchange with you. My disposition is about learning and teaching. That is the essence of this profession. I can be persuaded. I look at the facts and the evidence. When these don’t validate my opinion, I accept it.
             Who wins, who loses, who cares?In solidarity,Sergio Flores

  6. Ashley says

    For an educator you sure do have an interesting writing style. I’d suggest using more evidence and facts to support your baseless claims. “Progressives” like you give progressivism a bad name. You clearly need to 1. stop drinking the UTLA kool-aid, 2. start educating yourself. Attempts to link the real problems highlighted by the “Occupy” movement to the problems facing education only serve to diminish real progressive efforts to solve both problems. People like Jose Lara are misinforming citizens and doing his readers no better service than what Fox News does for their viewers. 

    • says

      José Lara’s piece above is well documented, with copious links to credible, factual sources. What more evidence are you suggesting he provide? In fact Ashley, if you can point to single “baseless claim” in the above essay, I will personally compile a list of sources to support it. Talk about projection! By not citing anything in the article that you feel is baseless, you expose yourself as being guilty what you claim José — who is a tireless advocate for our communities —  is guilty of. I’ve worked alongside José and his fellow activists for years, and I don’t know of a greater advocate of social justice than José. What have you done?

      Shame on you for insinuating José is providing misinformation. Indeed it is you Ashley that is aping Faux News by providing tacit support for the one percent and their vile policies of neoliberalism. Even moderates like Professor Diane Ravitch discuss widespread school privatization through the tampering of billionaires, her watershed book has a chapter entitled “The Billionaires Boys Club.”

      Go back to your Ayn Rand novels Ashley. You clearly have the wrong politics to even be discussing the meaning of the word progressive.


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