by Félix Pérez
“You are the company you keep.” Anonymous
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Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie is scheduled to be the keynote speaker today at an event sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers, global oil tycoons whose agenda includes spreading private school vouchers, defunding public schools in favor of for-profit education, dismantling the right of working men and women to join together as a union, pushing right-to-work laws and eliminating the minimum wage.
Gillespie, a lobbyist and Super PAC founder, is addressing the group at its signature annual event. Americans for Prosperity endorsed Gillespie’s campaign even before he officially announced he was running.
Gillespie’s support for taking money from under-resourced public schools to give to private schools in the form of vouchers should come as no surprise. One of his biggest campaign donors is the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos’ family, which has a decades-long record of funding campaigns for vouchers and unaccountable charter and for-profit schools, contributed more than $100,000 to the Gillespie campaign.
Virginia is one of two states electing a new governor this November (the other is New Jersey). And education is a top-tier issue, especially for the more than 50,000 teachers and school support professionals who are members of the Virginia Education Association.
Gillespie and his opponent, Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist and the state’s lieutenant governor, each participated in VEA’s candidate recommendation process this spring. The VEA Fund for Children and Public Education, the association’s political arm, recommended Northam.
“Ralph understands the foundational role public education plays in the future of our state,” said VEA President and middle school math teacher Jim Livingston, who also serves as chairman of the VEA Fund. “He’s the best candidate for our students, schools and educators, and he has an excellent track record of working to meet their needs.”
Gillespie’s campaign website includes a lengthy education plan that uses confusing and misleading language to mask what is essentially the corporate reform agenda. Looking instead at his record and stated views, here’s what we know:
- Gillespie believes Congress should use federal taxpayer dollars to support voucher schemes and strong arm states into expanding charter schools that are not accountable to the public – the very ideas that Betsy DeVos now promotes as secretary of education.
- Gillespie bashed Gov. Terry McAulliffe’s vetoes of bills for charter expansion, vouchers (in the form of “Education Savings Accounts”), and virtual schools. Gillespie stated that he would sign such bills if elected governor.
- Gillespie is a strong supporter of virtual education.
Northam, by comparison, has a long history of supporting public education and is committed to preserving local control of schools by elected school boards. He . . .
- Has pledged to uphold Virginia’s strict regulation of charter growth and accountability.
- Plans to invest in the neighborhood public schools that the vast majority of families depend on–he has been clear that he will not consider any charter school proposal that could drain resources from public schools.
- Voted against vouchers and charters during his time as a state senator and as lieutenant governor, and even cast the tie-breaking vote this year to defeat voucher legislation.
- Spearheaded the expansion of pre-K in Virginia that created spots for more than 13,000 students.
- Sponsored, in one of his first actions as a state senator, a bill to find a dedicated revenue stream for teacher salaries.
With allies such as the Koch brothers and the DeVos family, it’s reasonable to expect that Gillespie will wage a competitive campaign. But he’ll have his hands full with educators and education voters concerned with providing students the best possible pubic schools.