Billionaires fuel US charter schools movement
By SALLY HO
Monday, July 16
SEATTLE (AP) — Dollar for dollar, the beleaguered movement to bring charter schools to Washington state has had no bigger champion than billionaire Bill Gates.
The Microsoft co-founder gave millions of dollars to see a charter school law approved despite multiple failed ballot referendums. And his private foundation not only helped create the Washington State Charter Schools Association, but has at times contributed what amounts to an entire year’s worth of revenues for the 5-year-old charter advocacy group.
All told, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given about $25 million to the charter group that is credited with keeping the charter schools open after the state struck down the law, and then lobbying legislators to revive the privately run, publicly funded schools.
It’s an extreme example of how billionaires are influencing state education policy by giving money to state-level charter support organizations to sustain, defend and expand the charter schools movement across the country.
Since 2006, philanthropists and their private foundations and charities have given almost half a billion dollars to those groups, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax filings and Foundation Center data. The review looked at 52 groups noted by a U.S. Department of Education website as official charter school resources in the 44 states plus Washington, D.C., that currently have a charter law, as well as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Most of the money has gone to the top 15 groups, which received $425 million from philanthropy. The Walton Family Foundation, run by the heirs to the Walmart fortune, is the largest donor to the state charter advocates, giving $144 million to 27 groups.
“We ought to be paying more attention to who these organizations are, and what kind of vision they have, and what drives them. A lot of these organizations have extraordinary influence, and it’s often pretty quiet influence,” said Jon Valant, an education policy expert at Brookings.
Charters aren’t subject to the same rules or standards governing traditional public schools but are embraced by Gates and other philanthropists who see them as investments in developing better and different ways to educate those who struggle in traditional school systems, particularly children in poor, urban areas. Studies on academic success are mixed.
The charter support groups, as nonprofits, are typically forbidden from involvement in political campaigns, but the same wealthy donors who sustain them in many cases directly channel support to pro-charter candidates through related political action committees or their own contributions. In one indication of the philanthropy’s success in asserting its priorities, Georgia’s lieutenant governor was recorded saying he was motivated to support school choice laws to curry the Walton foundation’s favor for his gubernatorial campaign. The Walton foundation has denied any connection to the candidate.
Nationwide, about 5 percent of students attend charters. They have become a polarizing political issue amid criticism from some, notably teachers unions, that they drain resources from cash-starved schools and erode the neighborhood schooling model that defines communities.
The Walton foundation notes the groups it funds have resources that often pale in comparison to the war chests of teachers unions, the usual foes in their battles over state education policy.
“The philanthropic support is essential for a small group of schools” that represents disadvantage families without their own political power, said Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a University of Washington-affiliated think tank that has in the past been funded by the Gates foundation to support charter schools and traditional school districts working together.
But John Rogers, an education policy expert and UCLA professor, said it’s a problem for democracy that billionaires who back a certain model of education reform can go toe-to-toe with a critical mass of professional teachers.
“A handful of billionaires who are advancing their vision of education reform is very different than having 200,000-some odd teachers across the state representing their understanding of public education through their union representation,” Rogers said.
In California, the Waltons are the biggest backers of the powerhouse California Charter School Association, which has gotten more than $100 million since 2006 with support coming also from Gates, Michael and Susan Dell and the Mark Zuckerburg-backed Silicon Valley Community foundations.
“We’re proud of our partners and very open about our desired outcomes, and that is, honestly, access to more better schools,” said Marc Sternberg, who leads the Walton foundation’s education program.
Sternberg said the foundation doesn’t set the agenda but wants to empower the local vision, which has included the charter association’s fight for more money and access to public school buildings through lawsuits against Los Angeles Unified, the country’s second-largest school district. The California charter group said it works aggressively when painted into a corner.
A political arm of the association also has been a force in Golden State politics. It’s now focusing on pushing pro-charter candidates in the November election, including former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck for state schools superintendent, and a number of legislative seats.
In Washington state, charter skeptics say Gates single-handedly propped up the entire charter school network. He gave at least $4 million to help pass a state charter school law, though the concept had failed three times at the ballot. Voters eventually approved a charter school law in 2012, making Washington one of the last states to adopt the schooling model.
After the state’s highest court ruled in 2015 that the charter law’s funding model was unconstitutional, the Gates-backed state charter group shepherded almost $5 million to keep the lights on at six charter schools and urged legislators to pass a new law. In 2016, its political arm called Washington Charters Action was created, and an affiliated political action committee has already given small amounts to dozens of state lawmakers up for election this fall.
Today, the state’s teachers union is challenging the second version of the law. The Washington Educators Association’s spokesman Rich Wood said the charter group inserted itself into the case after the union sued the state.
The Washington charter group — and all the charter schools in the state — wouldn’t agree to be interviewed. The Gates foundation said in a statement it is not involved with the lawsuit but values the association’s technical work helping charter schools blossom.
Some critics say money can define the advocacy itself, so not all charter support groups accept money from the billionaire philanthropists.
A second statewide charter support organization in California, the Charter Schools Development Center, relies on programming fees to preserve its independence, according to director Eric Premack.
Though the two California charter groups share many similar values, Premack said, they’re on different sides of the testing issue: how to and how much to use test scores to determine educational quality. Premack said he rejects test-based accountability — embraced by the California Charter Schools Association and many of its business mogul donors — as antithetical to the charter movement’s innovative spirit.
“You often find them being close political bedfellows — if not the same — who support high-stakes testing,” Premack said.
Associated Press journalist Larry Fenn in New York contributed to this report.
Follow AP Education Reporter Sally Ho on Twitter: https://twitter.com/_SallyHo
Amazon’s Prime Day runs into early snags
By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO
AP Retail Writer
Monday, July 16
NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon’s website ran into some early snags Monday on its much-hyped Prime Day, an embarrassment for the tech company on the shopping holiday it created.
Shoppers clicking on many Prime Day links after the 3 p.m. ET launch in the U.S. got only images of dogs — some quite abashed-looking — with the words, “Uh-oh. Something went wrong on our end.” Many took to social media to complain that they couldn’t order items.
Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but by about 4:30 p.m., many Prime Day links were working.
The hiccups could mute sales and send shoppers elsewhere on one of Amazon’s busiest sales days. Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali at Forrester Research called it a “huge deal.”
“This is supposed to be one of their biggest days of the year,” she wrote in an email. “I am shocked this caught them off guard. But I guess the lesson is to not have a big unveil during the middle of the day when everyone comes to your site all at once.”
She believes that Amazon will prolong the deals to keep customers happy. Shoppers have lots of options, as many other chains have offered sales and promotions to try to capitalize on the Prime Day spending.
Amazon, which recently announced that Prime membership would be getting more expensive, was hoping to lure in shoppers by focusing on new products and having Whole Foods be part of the process.
While Amazon doesn’t disclose sales figures for Prime Day, Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight Research, had estimated that it will generate $3.4 billion in sales worldwide, up from an estimated $2.4 billion last year. Prime Day also lasts six hours longer than last year.
Meanwhile, other retailers like Macy’s, Nordstrom, Best Buy, Walmart and Target have rolled out their own promotions, said Charlie O’Shea, lead retail analyst at Moody’s.
“Brick-and-mortar retailers know that they have little choice but to continue offering their own deep discounts, which is evident in the proliferation of ‘Black Friday in July’ deals that are being launched earlier each year, as well as various ‘price match’ offers,” he said in a note Monday.
Amazon created Prime Day in 2015 to mark its 20th anniversary, and its success has inspired other e-commerce companies to invent shopping holidays. Online furniture seller Wayfair introduced Way Day in April, becoming its biggest revenue day ever.
Prime Day also usually helps boost the number of Prime memberships. Amazon disclosed for the first time this year that it had more than 100 million paid Prime members worldwide. It’s hoping to keep Prime attractive for current and would-be subscribers after raising the U.S. annual membership fee by 20 percent to $119 and to $12.99 for the month-to-month option.
Stranded woman drank water from moss after California crash
By MICHAEL BALSAMO
Monday, July 16
LOS ANGELES (AP) — An Oregon woman who was badly injured and stranded for a week after her Jeep plunged 250 feet over a cliff into the ocean near Big Sur in California says she survived by drinking fresh water dripping from moss until she was rescued by a couple hiking along the beach.
From her hospital bed, 23-year-old Angela Hernandez posted a detailed account Sunday night on Facebook of her survival after the crash.
The Portland woman said she spent each day walking the isolated stretch of beach, searching for help, and was unable to make her way back up to the highway.
She said she had a brain hemorrhage, collapsed lung, broken ribs and collarbones, and severe sunburn.
“For her to survive for seven days on the coast with waves crashing over you at times, with injuries that she had, is amazing,” Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal said. “She was a fighter. She had the will to survive and I think most people in that situation probably wouldn’t have lasted that long.”
Hernandez had been driving to her sister’s home in Lancaster, near Los Angeles, on July 6 when a small animal crossed in front of her, causing her to swerve and lose control of her car, she wrote.
“The only thing I really remember after that was waking up. I was still in my car and I could feel water rising over my knees. My head hurt and when I touched it, I found blood on my hands.”
She said she broke a window of her car, jumped into the ocean and swam ashore. She fell asleep on the beach and realized what had happened after she woke up.
Her shoulders, hips, back and thighs were radiating pain and all she could see was the cliff, rocks and ocean.
“People don’t normally survive plunges down the Big Sur coast like this. She is very lucky,” Bernal said.
In the days that followed, Hernandez walked the beach searching for help, climbing on rocks to avoid sharp sand and walking on the shore to get away from hot rocks, she said.
“I found a high spot I was able to climb up to and found myself there almost every day,” Hernandez wrote. “I could see cars driving across the cliff and felt like if I could yell just loud enough, that one could hear or see me. That’s all it would take to make it back to my family. Just one person noticing me.”
Rescue crews had searched the area and found no obvious signs that a car had gone over a cliff, Bernal said.
By the third day, Hernandez’s jeans were torn, her socks had holes and she knew she was dehydrated. She made her way back to her car and found a 10-inch radiator hose that had fallen from the car during the crash.
“I walked farther south down the beach than I ever had before and heard a dripping sound,” she wrote on Facebook. “I looked up and saw a huge patch of moss with water dripping down from it. I caught the water in my hands and tasted it. It was fresh!!!!”
She said she developed a daily ritual of walking the beach in search of new high ground, screaming for help at the top of her lungs and collecting fresh water.
“It would be a lie to say that things got easier as the days passed,” she wrote. “They never did. But, they sure got predictable.”
Everything changed on Friday, when Hernandez woke up and saw a woman walking across the shore.
“I thought it was a dream,” she wrote. “I screamed, “HEEELLLPPPPP!” and then got up as quickly as I could and ran over to her.”
Chelsea and Chad Moore were hiking and looking for places to fish when they spotted Hernandez’s wrecked car and then her. Chelsea Moore ran and got help as her husband stayed with Hernandez and gave her fresh water.
“We just kind of panicked and were like, ‘Oh my God, you were in that car we just saw and are alive,’” Chelsea Moore told KION-TV in Monterey County.
Chelsea Moore made her way to a camp and called 911 before spotting a missing person handout with Hernandez’s photo.
She rushed back with help and Hernandez was hoisted up a cliff by rescuers and taken by helicopter to a hospital, where she is recovering.
“I couldn’t believe that they were even real,” Hernandez said about her rescuers. “I couldn’t believe that we had finally found each other.”
Survey of economists: US sales and employment likely to grow
By DEE-ANN DURBIN
AP Business Writer
Monday, July 16
DETROIT (AP) — Most U.S. business economists expect corporate sales to grow over the next three months and hiring and pay to rise with them.
But a majority of the economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics say the corporate tax cuts that the Trump administration pushed through Congress have yet to affect their plans for hiring or investment. The administration had promoted its tax cuts, which were heavily tilted toward corporations and wealthy individuals, as likely to raise worker pay and promote corporate investment and expansion over time.
The NABE also said a majority of respondents from goods-producing companies said their companies were delaying investment, raising prices or taking other steps in response to the Trump administration’s trade conflicts with other nations.
The results of the quarterly survey being released Monday reflect responses from 98 of the NABE’s members between June 14 and June 27.
Sixty-eight percent of the business economists said they foresee sales growing over the next three months. And for a third straight quarter, a higher proportion of respondents reported rising sales at their companies. All the panelists expect the U.S. economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, to expand over the next 12 months.
Goods producers — a category that includes manufacturers, farmers and construction — are most optimistic, with 94 percent saying they expect sales to rise over the next three months.
Fifty-one percent of the economists said wages rose at their companies between April and June, and they expect pay to keep rising over the next three months. It was the first time since the NABE began analyzing such data in 1982 that it has reported such strong wage growth over two quarters. Forty-one percent of respondents said their companies expect to hire in the next three months.
“Labor market conditions are tight, with skilled labor shortages driving firms to raise pay, increase training, and consider additional automation,” Sara Rutledge, chair of the NABE’s Business Conditions Survey, said in a statement.
Overall, the respondents reported little impact so far from the Trump administration’s tariffs against China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico. A majority — 65 percent — said the trade disputes haven’t led their companies to change hiring, investing or pricing so far.
But among goods-producing companies — which are directly affected by the tariffs and the counter-tariffs by America’s trading partners — a majority said they had made one or more such changes. Twenty-six percent of the goods-producing companies said they had delayed investments, and 16 percent said they had raised prices.
Lose, your blues: Town tosses ‘Footloose’ anti-dancing law
Monday, July 16
FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — Officials in a western Arkansas city say residents can finally kick off their Sunday shoes.
Fort Smith city directors recently repealed a 1953 ordinance that essentially outlawed public dancing on Sundays. Locals who knew about the law called it the “Footloose” ordinance, nicknamed for the 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon about a town that banned dancing and rock music.
City Director Andre Good introduced the repeal after a resident told him about the antiquated law, which barred the operation of public dance halls or any place with dancing on Sundays. The ordinance came amid a series of blue laws established in Arkansas that banned all sales and most labor on Sundays, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Later laws also banned Sunday activities that included hunting and baseball.
“It is ascertained and declared that present laws are inadequate to restrain public dances upon Sundays and that such dancing greatly endangers the public health, safety and welfare,” said the dancing ban’s emergency clause signed by former Mayor H.R. Hestand.
No one in Fort Smith has been arrested or ticketed in two decades for cutting loose on Sundays, according to city spokeswoman Karen Santos.
“If you don’t care to dance on Sunday, that’s fine,” Good said. “We should all respect that. But let’s not impose some outdated, outmoded morality code on all our fine fellow citizens.”
Good said the decision could lead to repealing other unenforced rules that he said “impede progress” and “conflict with our focus on moving Fort Smith forward.”
Lava crashes through roof of Hawaii tour boat, injuring 23
By AUDREY McAVOY
Monday, July 16
Eds: Updates with 23 injured, details of woman’s leg injury. Updates headline, first paragraph with lava crashing through roof. Will be updated. With AP Photos.
HONOLULU (AP) — An explosion sent lava crashing through the roof of a tour boat off Hawaii’s Big Island, injuring 23 people Monday, officials said.
A woman in her 20s was in serious condition with a broken thigh bone, the Hawaii County Fire Department said. Three others were in stable condition at a hospital with unspecified injuries. The rest of the passengers suffered burns, scrapes and other superficial injuries.
They were aboard a tour boat that takes visitors to see lava plunging into the ocean from a volcano that has been erupting for two months. Firefighters said the lava punctured the boat’s roof, leaving a gaping hole.
Officials have warned of the danger of getting close to lava entering the ocean, saying the interaction can create clouds of acid and fine glass. Beside the hazards, several companies operate such tours.
The U.S. Coast Guard in May instituted a safety zone where lava flows into the ocean off the Big Island. It prohibits vessels from getting closer than 984 feet (300 meters) from ocean-entry points.
The agency allows experienced boat operators to apply for a special license to get up to 164 feet (50 meters) from where lava sizzles into the sea.
The molten rock is coming from the Kilauea volcano, which has been erupting from a rural residential area since early May and has destroyed more than 700 homes. But until now, the only serious injury was to a man who was hit by flying lava that broke his leg.
Officials were interviewing injured passengers at a hospital.