Miami High Schoolers Reportedly Get Academic Credit to Help Kochs Push GOP Tax Bill

Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons
David Koch
The New York Times yesterday chronicled how conservative megadonors such as the Koch brothers are funding so-called grassroots, door-to-door campaigns to drum up support for the GOP tax bill, which will hand billions of dollars to the nation's richest at the expense of the poor and middle class. The Times followed volunteers in Miami working with Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Florida, the state chapter of the Kochs' main lobbying wing, while the group canvassed Little Havana late last week.

But the Times buried a curious tidbit: Some of the volunteers were high-school students who told the newspaper they were receiving school credit to campaign for the tax bill. The Grey Lady watched as "a dozen high-school students" knocked on 40 different doors in Little Havana, reading from an AFP-approved script:

“We believe it’s time to fix our broken tax code and let families keep more of what they earn,” Barbara D’Ambrosio, a sophomore, dutifully told an elderly woman who answered the door in her slippers. After she finished her script, Barbara glanced up from the iPad she was carrying and asked if the woman would kindly call her senators to urge them to support the tax bill, which was hours away from being approved by the Senate.

Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters added that in "Little Havana late last week, the high-school students — for whom the canvassing worked toward their community service requirements for graduation — were leaving bright orange door hangers behind on each home they visited." The signs urged the public to help "unrig the economy" and "leave more money in your pocket" by supporting the tax proposal. (The plan actually raises taxes on the sort of low- and middle-income earners who mostly inhabit Little Havana.)

What the Times describes seems baffling: How did 12 Miami-area students get so jazzed about cutting the corporate tax rate that they agreed to spend their weekends campaigning for it? And how did AFP, a group that's far from a household name, even within conservative circles, recruit them?

John Schuster, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, says the district's students are barred from receiving academic credit for the kind of campaign the Times described in its story.

"Students are not allowed to get credit for working on political campaigns," he says flatly.

However, that rule doesn't apply to the area's charter schools, which can operate under different guidelines. One infamous chain of Miami charters has obvious ties to the Kochs: Lincoln Martí Schools, run by felon and outspoken conservative Demetrio Perez Jr., held a joint event in January with the Kochs' Hispanic-outreach wing, called the LIBRE Initiative. According to the conservative news outlet, LIBRE and Lincoln Martí held an event to "celebrate the families of the charter’s students and talk about school choice," which is how the for-profit charter-school industry refers to itself. The event this year came during "School Choice Week," a holiday promoted by charter advocates.

Administrators at Lincoln Martí did not respond to a phone message today about whether their students are receiving academic credit to push for the tax bill. (The Times reporter who authored the story didn't immediately respond either.) But it's worth asking whether AFP and LIBRE have put their feelers out into the Miami charter-school world to push a deeply draconian and cruel tax plan through Congress.

The American Action Network, another group the Times profiled, has pledged to spend millions across the nation to help pass the tax bill, including "organizing at the grassroots level" in parts of Miami, according to the Miami Herald's D.C. affiliate.

There does appear to be a silver lining though: The Times reported that the volunteers failed miserably at getting anyone excited about tax cuts for billionaires.

"When we say, ‘This is going to create eight million jobs,’ people don’t believe it," Cory Bliss, the Action Network's executive director, told the Times. "And they don’t care."