Rural Advocate Uncovers Privatization Ploy: Online Supplement

Last Updated: December 01, 2006

This article appeared in the December 2006 Rural Policy Matters.

James Holloway, a member of the South Carolina Rural Education Grassroots Group, began looking into the Clergy for Educational Options (CEO) after the group approached his community and began signing up members. CEO claims to provide guidance and support to help African-American and minority families meet academic, economic, and social needs. As it turns out, they do so in the form of advocacy for school choice and vouchers.
Their website makes clear their support for school privatization. It is difficult, however, to get information from there because you have to log in for most of the information and an administrator decides who gets access.
CEO is closely linked to South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG), a group that advocates for all kinds of school choice and vouchers programs. The SCRG website posts announcements from CEO and remarks from SCRG officials welcoming CEO.
SCRG, like CEO, refuses to say how it is funded, but the evidence points to Howard Rich, a wealthy New Yorker. Rich has set up many shell companies and organizations across the nation. Rich's political activity is mostly hidden because these groups seem to be local or state organizations, but they are tightly bound through the network of Rich support.
Among the Rich-created organizations that push for private school voucher programs are the Parents in Charge Foundation (Rich is chair), Legislative Education Action Drive, (which shares offices with the Parents in Charge Foundation,) and the Club for Growth State Action, which lists South Carolina as one of it six active states. All three websites have links to SCRG. In addition, Rich's companies have donated over $56,000 in the past six months to Karen Floyd, the pro-voucher candidate for state superintendent of South Carolina schools. Floyd narrowly lost to Jim Rex after outspending him by a margin of 3 to 1.  
Rich is also closely tied as a board member or officer in other libertarian, anti-government organizations, including Americans for Limited Government, the Cato Institute, Social Security Choice, and U.S. Term Limits. He was a prominent early member of the Libertarian party, but left the party in 1983 over internal disagreements.
It is increasingly clear that South Carolina is one of a handful of states in which national school privatization interests are seeking to gain a foothold against public education. The deep involvement of Rich and his interests in formulating school policy in the state provides some of the evidence. The secrecy of these interests, the misleading ways in which some communities are approached, and the questionable methods by which "members" may be counted suggest these interests are unwilling to be fully transparent in their efforts.
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Read more from the December 2006 Rural Policy Matters.