Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) annual meeting on February 27, 2020.

(Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

DeVos-Tied PAC Spends $60,000 in Support of Chicago School Privatizer Paul Vallas

"Chicago voters should know that DeVos supports Vallas' candidacy, and that there is no daylight between DeVos and Vallas' education agendas," said Illinois Families for Public Schools.

A super PAC with close ties to former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—one of the nation's most fervent supporters of school privatization—has taken an interest in Chicago's April 4 mayoral runoff, spending nearly $60,000 in support of notorious school privatizer Paul Vallas as the contest heads into its final stretch.

Vallas, a right-wing Democrat who previously served as the head of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), is taking on Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, a longtime educator and public school champion whose campaign has been endorsed by prominent national progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The Illinois Federation for Children PAC, which is bankrolled by the DeVos-backed American Federation for Children Action Fund, recently spent $59,385 on digital media supporting Vallas, according to new campaign finance disclosures.

The Illinois super PAC's bare-bones website states that "families should have the choice to enroll their children in the best school to meet their needs, whether it’s a district-assigned public school, homeschool, public charter, private, virtual, or blended-learning school," adding that "this election cycle will be one of the most important in the history of Illinois' school choice movement."

The group has received $465,000 from the American Federation for Children Action Fund, including a recent donation of $65,000. (The American Federation for Children Action Fund is an affiliate of the DeVos-founded American Federation for Children.)

Spotlighting the super PAC's outlay in Chicago's mayoral race, the advocacy group Illinois Families for Public Schools (IFPS) said in a statement that while "DeVos has not endorsed Vallas, Vallas' education plans for Chicago's school system are directly aligned with the DeVos agenda of school privatization, one she supported as secretary of education and promotes through her national network of advocacy organizations and PACs: defunding and dismantling public school systems and redirecting public funds via programs like vouchers to private schools."

"Vallas voices his support for 'a reconstituted system in which parents get to direct the per-pupil public dollars to the school (or education model) of their choosing'... The education platform on Vallas' website calls for 'dismantling the central administration' of CPS," the group continued. "These are exactly the policy goals that DeVos and American Federation for Children are advocating for: 'fund students not systems' and 'dollars must follow students.'"

"As secretary of education, DeVos' education policies were harmful to public schools on a national scale," IFPS added. "Chicago voters should know that DeVos supports Vallas' candidacy, and that there is no daylight between DeVos and Vallas' education agendas."

Johnson, by contrast, has pledged to strengthen Chicago's underfunded public schools. The progressive candidate's top donors are the Chicago Teachers Union PAC and the American Federation of Teachers' Committee on Political Education.

The Illinois Federation for Children PAC's intervention in Chicago's mayoral race is part of a broader assault on public education financed in part by DeVos, a billionaire who has used her fortune to erode public education in her home state of Michigan and nationwide.

NBC Newsreported Thursday that DeVos' American Federation for Children "poured about $9 million into state elections last year, backing nearly 200 candidates."

"Now, some of those candidates are pushing a wave of legislation boosting DeVos' longtime goal: subsidizing private schools with public dollars," the outlet continued. "Using at least $2.5 million from DeVos and her husband, the American Federation for Children has played a pivotal role in getting what supporters call 'school choice' policies passed into law in at least three states and introduced in several more."

The American Federation for Children's board includes infamous political figures such as former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), both of whom are outspoken supporters of school privatization.

Lieberman—a former Democrat-turned-Independent who is widely reviled by progressives for his role in tanking the prospects of a public option in healthcare more than a decade ago—introduced DeVos at her Senate confirmation hearing in 2017, praising the Trump nominee as a "purpose-driven team builder."

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