LIBRE Initiative Promotes Ideology Over Evidence On D.C. Vouchers

LIBRE Initiative's Daniel Garza. Image from appearance on CNN en Español

The LIBRE Initiative, the Koch brothers’ organization that promotes right-wing economic ideology to Latinos, put out a press release on Friday celebrating that Congress had tucked into the recent budget bill a three-year reauthorization for the private school voucher program that it had originally imposed on the District of Columbia during the George W. Bush administration. While LIBRE President Daniel Garza claimed that “educational choice programs offer tremendous potential benefits to Latinos and others around the country,” the evidence suggests that the D.C. voucher program hurts rather than helps student achievement.

LIBRE’s press release claimed that “there is growing evidence that this program is effective at breaking the link between poverty and poor education.” Really? The press release links “growing evidence” to an article from 2009. Meanwhile, just last month, the U.S. Department of Education published an evaluation that found that students using a voucher to attend private schools score worse in math a year later than their counterparts who applied for a voucher but were not offered one. Reading scores for voucher students were also lower, but not by a statistically significant amount.

As PFAW’s blog noted at the time:

These results throw more cold water on voucher supporters’ enthusiasm for the program, but history suggests that privatization advocates are not deterred by dismal data. That’s why one scholar called the nomination of voucher cheerleader Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education “a triumph of ideology over evidence that should worry anyone who wants to improve results for children.”

In March, members of the DC Council sent a letter to Rep Jason Chaffetz, chair of the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, opposing reauthorization of the program, which the councilmembers wrote “should be phased out because participation in the program and similar initatives has not only failed to improve students’ academic performance, but worsened it, as found in a series of recent studies.”

People For the American Way and the African American Ministers In Action were among 62 organizations that signed a National Coalition for Public Education letter opposing reauthorization of the program, which the signers said “has proven ineffective and unaccountable to taxpayers.”

The recent Department of Education analysis wasn’t the first bad news for the D.C. voucher program. A 2012 Washington Post investigation found that quality control and accountability were lacking.

Last year People For the American Way worked with Brave New Films to release “Koch Brothers Exposed,” which explains how LIBRE fits the Koch Brothers’ larger strategy to promote right-wing economic policies.

LIBRE’s Daniel Garza was listed earlier this year at #19 on right-wing site Newsmax’s list of 50 most influential Latino Republicans; Garza ally Samuel Rodriguez was next on the list at #20. Two other LIBRE spokespersons, Marilinda Garcia and Rachel Campos-Duffy, also made the top 50. In 2013, at a prayer breakfast organized by Religious Right operative Ralph Reed, Campos-Duffy criticized school breakfast programs for low-income students, saying they hurt family bonding by giving parents an excuse not to make breakfast for their own kids.

Although LIBRE and the Koch Brothers have had their disputes with Trump, a high-level former LIBRE and Americans for Prosperity staffer Andeliz Castillo joined Vice President Mike Pence’s staff this year, part of a wave of Koch-connected people moving into senior administration positions.

More information on the LIBRE Initiative is available in our 2015 Right Wing Watch In Focus report.