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Koch Bros. To Invest Millions To Disrupt U.S. Education

Charles Koch giving opening remarks at the 2018 Seminar Network conference in Palm Beach.Screengrab/Seminar Network/YouTube

The Charles Koch Institute increased its donations to higher ed institutions seven-fold over the past five years.

Charles and David Koch are planning to pump about $400 million dollars into the upcoming midterm elections, but that is not all the brothers are up to in their attempt to reform the American sociopolitical landscape.

According to the Washington Post, the Kochs are making massive investments in education, both K-12 and higher education, in a bid to mold the minds of younger Americans in a way that comports with their worldview.

Changing the education system as we know it was a central focus of a three-day donor seminar that wrapped up late last night at a resort here in the desert outside Palm Springs.

“We’ve made more progress in the last five years than I had in the last 50,” Koch told donors during a cocktail reception. “The capabilities we have now can take us to a whole new level. … We want to increase the effectiveness of the network … by an order of magnitude. If we do that, we can change the trajectory of the country.”

Though Charles Koch was not initially inclined to focus on education, he has since changed his mind, convinced by the work being done at the state and local levels across the country by members of the Koch network.

“The lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today is K-12,” said Stacy Hock, a major Koch donor who has co-founded a group called Texans for Educational Opportunity. “I think this is the area that is most glaringly obvious.”

Also glaringly obvious is the fight that will come from teachers unions and public school advocates. In Wisconsin, opposition to expanding the state's school voucher program earned enough signatures to put the law on hold and send it to the ballot for voters to decide.

The disdain for public schooling and teachers unions was palpable at the Koch seminar:

[Arizona Governor Doug] Ducey introduced Steve Perry, the headmaster of Capital Prep Charter Schools, who has been traveling Arizona to speak in support of the law. “The teacher unions are unencumbered by the truth,” he told the Koch donors. “It is a distant relative that is never invited to dinner.”

Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, highlighted field operations that the network has built in 36 states to advance its agenda, including on education. “We have more grass-roots members in Wisconsin than the Wisconsin teachers’ union has members,” he said. “That’s how you change a state!”

The goal making tangible change within the American educational system on a major scale looks more and more achievable as the Kochs bring more donors on board:

At the end of what was essentially a sales pitch, members of the Seminar Network, as it is officially known, were asked to check a box on a piece of paper in front of them if they were interested in contributing to the education efforts.

“We all need to be fully committed to a society in which everyone has an opportunity to make a better life for themselves,” Charles Koch said. “To succeed, each of us has to be all-in. What I mean by that is that we have to make these kinds of efforts a central part of our lives. You don’t need to be as obsessed as I am … although that wouldn’t hurt … but you can’t just make it a sideline.”