Ninety-seven billion. That's the combined worth of Charles and David Koch. Separately, they share sixth place on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, but as a two-headed monster peddling their influence to make the country more conservative, libertarian and pollution-friendly (they're in the oil business, after all), they the top the list.
[Frightening side note: If you combine the fortunes of the three richest Waltons, the family that gave us Wal-Mart and spends hundreds of millions pushing educational privatization, their total worth comes to $115 billion, $18 billion more than the Kochs.]
Seeing as how I recently wrote a guest column in The Weekly's print edition about University of Arizona's Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, aka the "Freedom Center," and I plan to continue writing on the topic, and seeing as how the Kochs furnished nearly $2 million to help start the Center, I want to take a look at a Politico article which came out a couple days ago, How the Kochs are trying to shake up public schools, one state at a time. It begins:
With school choice efforts stalled in Washington, the billionaire Koch brothers’ network is engaged in state-by-state battles with teachers’ unions, politicians and parent groups to push for public funding of private and charter schools.The privatization/"education reform" crowd has a lock on the White House and the Department of Education, and it's got either a majority of Congress or close to it, but if that isn't enough (and it doesn't look like it is, the education agenda is stalled), there's always Charles and David Koch to put their billions to work. And let's not forget Ed Sec Betsy DeVos's well-funded American Federation for Children, which she had to step back from when she got her position in Trump's cabinet. It pours money into state and local races to help elect candidates who support educational "choice." Hundreds of thousands of AFC dollars have found their way into the coffers of "choice"-friendly candidates for Arizona's legislature.
The Politico article is mainly about the Kochs' Libre Initiative which, according to the article, is "under the umbrella of the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity." It's in eleven states including Arizona, targeting the Hispanic population with its pro-charters-and-vouchers, anti-public-schools agenda.
I dug back into the Weekly archives and found Jim Nintzel wrote an article about the group in 2014, saying the LIBRE Initiative put $700,000 into ads targeting then-candidates Ron Barber and Ann Kirkpatrick, so the group has been active in Arizona for awhile.
The Politico article also talks about Americans for Prosperity's ongoing attempts to block a referendum on the legislature's expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts which provides private school vouchers for any family that wants them. If the efforts of Koch's AFP fail and the referendum passes, we're back to vouchers for a smaller group of students. The article mentions that Governor Ducey attended a Koch donor retreat and publicly thanked the brothers' network for helping him pass his vouchers-for-all bill. "I need the power of the network," Ducey said. The Koch brothers have Ducey's back.
Recently, Americans for Prosperity joined the fight against Proposition 204, the Strong Start Tucson initiative which plans to make preschool available to as many as 8,000 Tucson three and four year olds if it passes.
From pre-K to K-12 to Arizona's state universities, the Koch brothers and the organizations they fund are very, very busy trying to shape Arizona' education to their liking.