CEO America's widely publicized privately funded voucher plan is a ruse the group hopes will lead to taxpayer support of religious and other private schools, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"Americans shouldn't be fooled," said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "CEO America wants to privatize the public school system. Their much-ballyhooed 'scholarship' scheme is merely a step in that direction."
Continued Lynn, "This is a classic bait-and-switch con game. CEO America is using privately funded vouchers as the bait in the hopes that they will lead to the 'switch' -- publicly funded vouchers and, eventually, the privatization of education. Shame on them."
CEO America, through its Children's Scholarship Fund, plans to award 40,000 "scholarships" on April 21 by a national lottery. Although the organization portrays itself as a collection of philanthropists concerned about educating children, Americans United contends the group's real agenda is pro-publicly funded vouchers and anti-public schools.
Lynn cited the following evidence:
Fritz Steiger, president of CEO America, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Jan. 25 that the organization is shifting its focus away from providing privately funded vouchers and toward lobbying for publicly funded programs.
On March 25, CEO America sent out a fund-raising letter, signed by Steiger, asking for contributions to support proposed taxpayer-supported voucher programs in Florida and Texas. The letter asked recipients to, "Help CEO America advance these bills through grassroots educational efforts by forwarding a generous tax-deductible contribution of $250, $100, $50 or even $25."
CEO America founder John Walton, heir to the Wal-Mart discount store chain fortune, has shown a personal interest in seeing private education grow. Walton has owned 240,000 shares of stock in Education Alternatives Inc., a school privatization company (now called the Tesseract Group, Inc.). Last year The Dallas Morning News reported that Walton served on the Education Alternatives Inc. board of directors.
Ted Forstmann, a Wall Street investment banker and head of the Children's Scholarship Fund, helped found and donates generously to Empower America, a right-wing "think tank" known for its hostility toward public education that employs William Bennett. Bennett, secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan, is perhaps the best-known public school basher in the country. Forstmann is also a board member of the Cato Institute, a libertarian-oriented group that strongly advocates replacing public schools with a voucher system.
"Walton, Steiger, Forstmann and other CEO America backers are usually portrayed in the media as generous millionaires who want to help poor children," said Lynn. "But now the cat is out of the bag. Their goal is to undermine the public education system that serves 48 million children every school day. They want to direct resources instead into the coffers of exclusive private institutions that don't have to educate special-needs kids, can deny admission or expel any children at will and are not answerable to the public."
Continued Lynn, "CEO America's well heeled backers are free to pursue their agenda of trying to wreck public education, but they shouldn't be held up as heroes for doing it."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.