The corporatization of education: The Gates Foundation, Arnie Duncan, and Bruce Rauner

For over twenty years, the former senior policy advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement for the US Department of Education, Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, has been warning us about the coming corporatization of education through fascistic charter school privatization that will be subsidized by public finances.

Iserbyt, author of The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America, has described the charter school takeover, otherwise known as the “school choice” movement, as “[c]ollusion between neoconservatives, corporations, and leftists in education, including former ‘conservative’ Secretaries of Education and the NEA, [which] enabled corporations to take control of American education.”

As a case study, Illinois’ current education debacle proves her predictions accurate.

Ordo ab Chao

After operating without a budget for over two months, the Illinois State Legislature passed Senate Bill 2043 to appropriate $721 million dollars to fund state college and adult education programs. The emergency bill was intended to release funding for a number of public colleges, such as my alma mater, Eastern Illinois University, and Chicago State University, which may soon be forced to issue massive layoffs or possibly shutdown all operations indefinitely.

Nevertheless, Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed the legislation. And the state legislators fell short by two votes to override the veto.

According to a February 12 report from CNN Money, “Eastern Illinois University laid off 198 staff members this week, and the college president is blaming the state government. The cuts impact 13% of the school’s employees.” On February 26th, the Chicago Tribune reported that “Chicago State University sent notices of potential layoffs to all of its 900 employees.”

In an interview with CBS News, the president of Chicago State, Thomas Calhoun, Jr., responded to the unprecedented layoffs: “It is baffling to most of us who think deeply about this: that, on the one hand, our governor would talk about bringing jobs back to the state, attracting industry to the state, attracting the kinds of investments in our state [sic], while at the same time, cutting the very opportunity to provide a highly skilled workforce. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

At first glance, Calhoun is right; at face value, it doesn’t make any sense. But perhaps the governor’s doublespeak makes more “sense” when viewed from a Hegelian dialectical perspective.

In Antony C. Sutton’s bombshell America’s Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull & Bones, he expounds his analysis of leaked membership booklets belonging to Iserbyt’s father, Clifton Samuel Thomson, who was inducted into The Order of Death in 1924 (Sutton 293). From these leaked “‘Addresses” books, which used to be called ‘Catalogues’” (16), Sutton, a former Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, reverse engineers the history of the Hegelian manipulation of the American education system by The Order: “[p]rogress in the Hegelian State is through contrived conflict: the clash of opposites makes for progress. If you can control the opposites, you dominate the nature of the outcome” (xiv).[1]

The following is a simplified equation for the Hegelian formula: thesis + antithesis = synthesis (or problem + reaction = solution). Now, here’s what it looks like when we fill in the equation with the pertinent variables concerning the conflict between Illinois’ obligations to pay its debts and its commitments to pay for public schooling:

  • Thesis/Problem: The Old Guard Democrat Machine racks up the State of Illinois’ debt crisis until it threatens to collapse into insolvency; therefore,
  • Antithesis/Reaction: Reagan-style Republican Rauner halts state and federal funds for education in order to stop the budgetary cancer from metastasizing; as a result,
  • Synthesis/Solution: public education institutions, without public funds, will ultimately be forced to seek financing from the private sector or undergo privatization through charter school partnerships and voucher programs.

In sum, Rauner’s words and actions are not really “contradictory” if his real stratagem is to attract private jobs and industry to Illinois by opening the floodgates for private charter schools to move into the public education market to fill up the void created by the budget cuts.

Of course, the failed override of the governor’s veto was “a result of Democrat Scott Drury voting against the proposal and Democrat Luis Arroyo not being in attendance,” writes NBC News. And it was Democrats like former CEOs of Chicago Public Schools, Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan, who paved the way in Illinois for shutting down public schools and supplanting them with charters.

Hence, a hand-in-glove Hegelian manipulation of the leftwing-rightwing political dialectic that is designed to narrow the education dilemma down to a debate about charter privatization one way or another.

The charter “school choice” lobby

There is abundant evidence to illustrate Rauner’s charter school agenda. Former charter school supporter who was US Assistant Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush, Diane Ravitch, called Rauner “one of the most important financial backers of charter schools in Chicago.”

During his run for the office of governor, Rauner ran a television advertisement in which he lionized how he “helped start charter schools,” such as Chicago Bulls Prep of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, to compete against failing school systems. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rauner has donated about $2.5 million to the Noble Network, and one of the charter schools has been named in his honor: Rauner College Prep. In fact, before winning the governorship, Rauner sat on the Noble Network Board, and he has also partnered with ACT Charter School.

Now that he has taken office as governor, Rauner has appointed Beth Purvis, former CEO of the Chicago International Charter School, to be a key advisor on education policy. And he is paying her a $250,000 salary for her counsel.

Rauner’s push for corporatized charter education is often couched in the euphemism “school choice.” For instance, in one of his campaign ads, which lauded his multi-million-dollar investments in charter schools, he stated, “I’ll give parents more control and choices.” Two months ago, Rauner even proclaimed the week of January 24 through 30 to be “School Choice Week in Illinois,” saying that “[c]harter schools are already providing many Illinois families with choices; we look forward to supporting the growth of charter schools through our federal grant.”

However, as Iserbyt has emphasized in “The True Goal of School Choice,” the buzzword “school choice” is nothing more than a code word for the fascistic privatization of public education. As a liaison to the President’s Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives under Reagan, she was consulted on one of the first proposals for a “school choice” initiative: “this writer [Iserbyt] inquired of one of President Reagan’s political appointees whether this initiative was not corporate fascism; a politically incorrect question that resulted in someone else replacing me as Liaison with The White House.”

To facilitate more “school choice,” Rauner has built a bipartisan coalition of state representatives and lobbyists who advocate voucher programs and other charter packages.

The governor has appointed the Reverend James Meeks, a former Democrat State Senator, as the Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, despite the fact that Meeks holds no academic credentials to qualify him as an expert on education. Meeks, who endorsed Rauner during his electioneering, has expressed his openness to both charter schools and voucher programs: “[i]f charters can do it, or vouchers can do it, whatever the board will think will close the education gap,” stated Meeks. It should be noted that, during his race for office, Rauner poured $1 million into a South Side Community Federal Credit Union at 54th Street and Wentworth Avenue located about ten miles from Meeks’ Salem Baptist Church.

Rauner has also allied with one of the biggest charter school lobbies in Illinois: One Chance Illinois. In fact, at least two key Rauner proponents are members of the Board of Directors for One Chance Illinois: Executive Director Myles Mendoza and Pastor Corey Brooks.

Governor Rauner appointed Brooks to the Board of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority after the “Rooftop Pastor” endorsed the governor and even “appeared in a pro-Rauner campaign ad,” according to NBC News.

Mendoza, who was formerly a Senior Partner with Democrats for Education Reform, has “worked with Rauner on some of those [“school choice”] issues before Rauner had the keys to the governor’s mansion,” reports WBEZ News. Following the governor’s State of the State speech, Mendoza has avowed One Chance Illinois’ support for Rauner: “[o]ne Chance Illinois supports the Governor’s pledge to ‘create more quality school options for low-income children stuck in failing schools.’ One Chance Illinois believes that traditional, charter and private school providers can come together on a policy that benefits the neediest children, and rewards quality providers.”

Indeed, in his State of the State address, Rauner pushed for a “Student and Career Success Package [that] will lift the cap on public charter schools and give parents and students more options.”

The Duncan-Gates affair

The reaches of Rauner’s charter school comrades go beyond state-level special interests. One of his most powerful “school choice” cronies is Democrat Arnie Duncan: former CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) who went on to serve as United States Secretary of Education under President Obama from 2009 until the end of last year.

Duncan followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, another big time Democrat charter school pusher. As CEO, Duncan basically mirrored Vallas’ privatization reform. For Duncan’s crowning achievement in Chicago was the Renaissance 2010 initiative, “which had the goal of closing 60 to 70 schools and opening 100 new smaller schools by 2010,” according to a document from the American Federation of Teachers.

A Counterpunch article by Kenneth Libby reports that “Duncan helped the city of Chicago open over 100 new schools (at least 84 charters run by Renaissance 2010 with 31 more planned [as of December 2008]), including the city’s second Disney-run elementary school, 5 military academies with more in planning stages, for-profit schools, non-profit organizations receiving financial backing from ‘educational venture funds,’ and charter schools funded by big business (Boeing, Citigroup, Bank of America, Washington Mutual, and the Gates Foundation among others—all given corporate tax breaks, buyouts, and tax deductions that take money from our public schools).”

During Duncan’s tenure as CEO of CPS, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated over $137 million to the Chicago school system to invest in various charter school reform programs and initiatives “that led to the creation of several successful small and charter high schools in Chicago,” according to a Gates Foundation press release. At least $1.4 million went directly to the Noble Network of Charter Schools “to fund two new schools and develop the infrastructure necessary to support additional schools based on the Noble Street model in Chicago.”

Gates philanthropy followed Duncan over to his federal post as US Secretary of Education.

During Duncan’s tenure as US Secretary, the US Department of Education received $500 million co-contributed from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation and several other private donors. At least $178,114,911 of this investment was allocated specifically for “expanding effective practices in turning around low-performing schools; providing support for high-quality school choices including charters and alternative school designs; as well as for digital learning and supporting extended learning time.”[2]

The ties between Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Gates Foundation have been so strong that Teaching Ambassador Fellows Joiselle Cunningham and Lisa Clarke questioned the potential conflict of interest in an interview with then-Secretary Duncan: “[o]ne of the particular questions we’ve heard teachers ask is if corporate-based philanthropists are playing too heavy a role in public education, and if there’s a corporate agenda at the Department.”

Although Duncan denied that any corporations “have a seat at the table in terms of policymaking,” the New York Times writes that “[s]ome officials complained that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was trying to handpick the winners of the Department of Education’s $4 billion grant competition, known as Race to the Top.” Senator Nancy C. Detert, chairwoman of the Education Committee in the Florida Senate said, “The Gates program and the Arne Duncan program are pretty much the same program.”

Renowned critical theorist and pedagogue, Henry Giroux, has likewise called out Duncan as a corporatist. Giroux slams Duncan’s charter privatization schemes in several scholarly publications, including “Chartering Disaster: Why Duncan’s Corporate-Based Schools Can’t Deliver an Education That Matters” and “Obama’s Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling.”

Duncan’s track record as a corporatist change agent speaks for itself. In a truly fascistic policy move back in 2009, then-Secretary Duncan even announced the appropriation of Stimulus Package tax dollars to be spent toward corporate charter school expansion in Illinois. The US Department of Education documents that “Duncan today [April 20th, 2009,] announced that nearly $1.4 billion is now available for Illinois under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.” The stipulations of the ARRA funds required that “[i]n order to receive today’s funds, Illinois provided assurances that they will collect, publish, analyze and act on basic information regarding . . . progress on removing charter caps, and interventions in turning around underperforming schools.”

In October of last year, Duncan announced his resignation from the office of US Secretary of Education—just three days after he authorized another $249 million in federal grants for charter schools.

Coincidence or not, the timing is certainly perfect for Rauner and the “school choice” gang. Conceivably, the more Illinois state schools that go bankrupt, the more opportunities there will be for private charters to apply for these federal grant dollars to subsidize their takeover of insolvent public education institutions.

The timing of Duncan’s federal grants and Rauner’s stonewall on the budget might remind people of a coincidental phone call by Rauner to the office of then-CEO of CPS, Arne Duncan, followed by the admission of Rauner’s daughter to Walter Payton High School, despite the fact that her tests scores were “not high enough to meet Payton standards,” according CPS Inspector General, James Sullivan. “’There was a phone call made to the CEO’s office by Mr. Rauner,’ Sullivan said. ‘Somebody in the CEO’s office called Walter Payton and his daughter was admitted to the school.’”

“Fifteen months later,” ABC News reports, “Rauner made a $250,000 gift to the school he says was unrelated to the admission of his daughter.” When questioned about the coincidence by a State Journal-Register columnist, Rauner at first denied any phone contact with Duncan. Then, he backpedaled and tried to spin his behind-the-scenes dealing with Duncan: “I talked to Arne . . . I talked to him all the time. I said, ‘Arne, is there a process? What do you do in a situation like this?’”

Understandably, one might surmise that Bruce has still been talking all the time to his old pal Arne, who could provide a direct line to the White House as well as the Gates Foundation and other corporate handlers—maybe even coordinating corporate, federal, and state policy in anticipation of the Illinois’ budget impasse and the federal charter grant disbursement.

Either way, Rauner “look[s] forward to supporting the growth of charter schools through our federal grant,” as he announced this January, during his proclamation of Illinois’ official School Choice Week.

Goodbye, state universities. Hello, Gates universities.


[1] Sutton writes, “[f]or Iserbyt, in The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America, the American education system begins with Rockefeller and [Fredrick T.] Gates. But in fact, this statist system is a reflection of the Hegelian ideas brought to the United States by the Skull and Bones ‘troika’ of [Daniel Coit] Gilman, [Andrew Dickson] White and [Timothy] Dwight, and then financed by Rockefeller” (xv). Sutton documents how these three Bonesmen hijacked American education pedagogy, methodology, and curriculum through their influential posts as presidents of Yale University, Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University, the University of California, the Carnegie Institution, and the American Historical Association (62–111).

[2] It is worth noting that, according to Sutton, the Ford Foundation has become an instrument of The Order ever since former US National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy, who is a Bonesman, took over the foundation presidency and “used the Ford wealth so flagrantly against the wishes of the Ford family” that Henry Ford II resigned from the Board of Directors (24, 52).


Sutton, Antony C. America’s Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull and Bones. Updated Reprint. Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2002. Print.

John Klyczek has an MA in English and is a college English instructor, concentrating on the history of global eugenics and Aldous Huxley’s dystopic novel, Brave New World. He is also a contributor to the Dissident Voice and Natural News.

Comments are closed.