Rural Advocate Uncovers Privatization Ploy

Last Updated: December 01, 2006

This article appeared in the December 2006 Rural Policy Matters.

When James Holloway, a member of the South Carolina Rural Education Grassroots Group, was invited to a meeting at a local church dinner to hear from a group called Clergy for Educational Options (CEO) about solving student achievement issues and writing grants, he was eager to attend.
As a local school board member in Saluda, South Carolina, Holloway is acutely aware of children in his community who are not doing well in school. In 2003 in response to this situation, he and others in the community created the Riverside Community Development Corporation (RCDC), a non-profit group that provides after school programs, tutoring, and a variety of services and activities.
As Holloway listened to the CEO presentation at the church dinner, he realized that this group might not be what he had thought.
He explains: "Since I attend our grassroots group in Columbia once a month, I knew a lot about 'Put Parents in Charge,' a thinly disguised school voucher proposal, and it sounded to me like CEO was pushing that agenda."
Several months later, a CEO official called RCDC's director of after school programs and offered to bring school supplies for about 200 kids. In the meantime Holloway had received a CEO membership card-based solely on having put his name on the sign-in sheet at the first meeting.
On the day the CEO representative was scheduled to bring the school supplies, Holloway and several local ministers met with him. (It turns out that he only brought refreshments; CEO had asked local churches to donate the school supplies.) They learned that CEO only works on grant-writing with its members. They also clarified that CEO supports an initiative that would enable parents to put their child in any private, public, or home school and take the public school's per pupil funding with them.
Holloway and the other ministers challenged the voucher idea. "The best thing to do is fix the failing situation. This program takes money out of our community and supports re-segregation," Holloway remembers saying. He also tore up his CEO membership card and returned it, demanding to be taken off CEO's lists.
This story playing out in a small rural community in South Carolina is part of a much bigger story of a large, well-funded effort by national groups to push privatization of education through school vouchers and tuition tax credits.
The mission of Clergy for Educational Options, according to their website, is "to provide guidance and support to help African American and minority families meet their social, economical (sic) and academic needs." It is clear that CEO supports school choice and vouchers, but it is not easy to get a lot of information about the group or find out how it is funded.
After some sleuthing, however, Holloway found that CEO is closely linked to South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG), a group that advocates for all kinds of school choice and vouchers programs.
SCRG also refuses to say how it is funded, but there is evidence that points to Howard Rich, a wealthy New Yorker who has set up many shell companies and organizations through which he makes contributions to causes he support. These include private school voucher programs, and candidates, including $56,000 to Karen Floyd, the pro-voucher candidate for state superintendent of South Carolina schools.
Rich specializes in hiding his political activity behind local organizations created out of thin air with his money. SCRG claims to be a grassroots group with over 200,000 members, but if they count members the way CEO does, one has to wonder.
Churches in Saluda were not lured into this tangled web of deceit, in large part because James Holloway and the South Carolina Rural Education Grassroots Group understand the role of policy in creating good schools for all students.
For more information about the involvements of Howard Rich, see the Online Supplement.
Editor's Note: The South Carolina Rural Education Grassroots Group is an independent organization that participates in the national Rural Education Working Group coordinated by the Rural School and Community Trust.

Read more from the December 2006 Rural Policy Matters.