Ron Nehring, protege of conservative strategist Grover Norquist,
Vice-Chairman of the California Republican Party and former colleague
of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has introduced a proposal to
convert all east San Diego County schools in the Grossmont Union High
School District into charter schools, RAW STORY has learned.
At a hearing Jan. 19, the Grossmont school board -- of
which Nehring is a member -- voted 5-0 to begin preparing a
district-wide charter petition. If approved, Nehring's
proposal would make Grossmont the largest charter district
Some educators believe Grossmont is being used as a petri dish to test privatization of public education as part of a national GOP strategy.
"Ron Nehring ... is an important piece on Norquist's chessboard," states a
report titled Target San Diego: The Right Wing Assault on Urban
Democracy and Smart Government. Prepared for the Center on Policy
Initiatives, a progressive think tank, the report reveals how the
National GOP has targeted San Diego as a "battleground" and model for
an alleged agenda of radically cutting government funding, permanently
weakening organized labor, and aggressively moving to privatize public
Bruce Seaman, president of the Grossmont Education Association, called Nehring's plan the "first step toward privatization" of public education.
"From our standpoint, the Grossmont district is working well. Test
scores are up," Seaman told RAW STORY. "Why fix something that isn't
Nehring did not return repeated calls for comment. Nor did the California Republican Party.
Nehring, Chairman of the San Diego County GOP, is said to be eyeing the state
chairmanship. His relationships with Washington conservative heavyweights date back to his time in D.C. working for the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR). A conservative thinktank where fallen super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff was a board member, NCPPR is alleged to have raised money through questionable means and funneled money from Abramoff clients to pay for former GOP House Majority Leader Tom Delay's (R-TX) posh junkets abroad.
Official GOP websites have recently sanitized Nehring's bio to delete references to several groups which have recently generated unfavorable media coverage, including those with links to Abramoff and Delay.
As part of his seven-year tenure in D.C., Nehring was Director of
Development and Public Affairs for the National Center for Public
Policy (NCPPR). Abramoff channeled money through the center to pay for at least $64,000 in travel for DeLay. The Center was also part of a six month investigation by RAW STORY for fund raising letters it sent to
unsuspecting seniors misleading them into believing that this group
would save social security.
NCPPR also donated to Tom Delay's legal defense fund in 2004.
What role Nehring - as Director of Development and Public Affairs -
might have played in NCPPR's alleged mail fraud and
dealings with Abramoff is unclear.
David Almasi, NCPPR's Executive Director, said he did not remember Nehring and directed a call to Amy Ridenour, the group's director. Ridenour did not immediately return a call for comment.
NCCPR also founded Project 21, a conservative African American think
tank with an all Caucasian board, purporting to be from the black community, that opposes affirmative action and minimum wage hikes.
Project 21 lobbied for the tobacco industry and against other minority
concerns. One of Project 21's leading voices is the controversial Ohio
Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, under whose election oversight many allege the African American community was largely disenfranchised and unable to cast their vote in the 2004 election cycle.
Nehring's charter initiative may have had a boost from research
provided via NCPPR's PR affiliate, the Black America's Political Action
Committee, a conservative group that released a poll claiming
that 63% of blacks would prefer to remove their children from public
schools and enroll them in charter schools or private schools.
Contrary to the poll's findings, recent research indicates that in some
states, charter schools are more racially segregated than adjacent
public schools. The North Carolina Education Reform Foundation, for
instance, found that nearly 40% of the state's charter schools violated
the diversity clause -- and all but one enrolled over 85% African-American students. Similarly, a UCLA report concluded that California
was not enforcing its requirement that charters achieve racial and
ethnic balance reflective of the district's population.
Charter schools that receive public funds must meet certain
requirements or risk losing their charter contracts. In
exchange for being exempted from certain state rules,
charters must show gains in student achievements. A
charter school also has control over its own hiring and
firing. Proponents maintain that charters offer more
choices for parents, students and teachers, allowing for
innovative approaches to learning.
Overall, charter schools have received mixed reviews on academic
performance. A report by EdSource found that charter schools were 33%
more likely to meet student performance goals in 2004 than regular
But a 2004 American Federation of Teachers report analyzing Department
of Education data found that charter school students lagged behind
students in regular public schools on reading and math proficiency by
5% and 7% respectively. That study measured 6,000 fourth-graders at
167 charter schools.
While acknowledging some excellent charter schools, the
teachers also found that students who transferred from public schools
to charters had achievement scores drop. They accused the Bush
administration of failing to release data that casts a negative light
on charter schools' academic record.
Nehring, who has no children of his own, was inexplicably appointed as
a Grossmont trustee following the departure of trustee Gary Cass, a
pastor who moved to Florida and became executive director at the Center
for Reclaiming America for Christ.
The trustee board, dominated by Christian conservatives
recruited by Cass, has sparked numerous controversies.
Superintendent Terry Ryan, also a Christian, raised
eyebrows for sending an e-mail to a Jewish teacher who
complained about a board meeting set on a Jewish holy day.
The one-sentence e-mail read, "I will pray for you."
Charter schools on a national stage
The Grossmont school district has also been involved in a bitter labor
dispute, with the prospect of a teacher's strike looming. As Director
of National campaigns at Americans for Tax Reform, Nehring promoted
policies aimed at limiting labors unions' power. He also headed up
Project for California's Future, which spear-headed promotion of
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's failed Proposition 75, an initiative
which would have restricted use of union dues for campaign
expenditures. Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative anti-tax group
was founded by Grover Norquist, who himself is currently in the cross-hairs of the Abramoff-GOP scandal.
Paul Schnaubelt, a parent with children in Grossmont Union, heads up a
teacher's union in the La Mesa Spring Valley School District.
"Nehring publicly has worked to destroy unions in every state, every
organization he's ever been involved with," Schnaubelt said. "The
Grossmont District has always been, until this last school board, known
for its excellent educational program. This school board seems bent on
Most charter schools are non-union and pay teachers significantly less
than public schools. In New York, right-wing foundations recently
teamed up in an attempt to bust a teacher's union in charter schools.
Nehring may have outlined the true objectives of the charter program in
a 2002 article written for the conservative Heritage Foundation: "Any
move that changes the direction of policy toward smaller government
should be viewed as a victory: an incremental gain. Similarly, if
public school vouchers are the goal, then new charter legislation that
opens the door to options and alternatives is a victory."
Educators and residents alike express concern that religious
conservatives could wield an undue influence over school policies if
the charter proposal is adopted. Still others believe that Nehring's initiative has nothing to do with religion at all, rather,
the move is a union-busting ploy, citing Nehring's anti-union record.
Charters can also provide lucrative income sources for private
companies. Arizona has attempted to outsource public education by
proposing that for-profit companies operate charters for publicly
funded schools, a
tactic supported by the Bush administration.
Some see a non-altruistic motive behind controlling public education
"Education is the doorway from the middle class to the elites," one
district insider, who feared speaking out by name because of his job,
said. "If you can destroy the middle class, we're right back in the 17th
Nationally, the number of charter schools has grown dramatically. The
number of charter schools increased 15% in the 2004-05 school year and
13% in the 2005-2006 school year, according to the Center for Education
Reform. There are now 3,625 charter schools in the U.S.
Muriel Kane contributed to the research of this article.