Foundation for Excellence in Education

Jeb Bush: “ALEC’s Report Card on American Education is a helpful guide…”  Look Out MI.!

Jeb Bush: “ALEC’s Report Card on American Education is a helpful guide…” Look Out MI.!

By Bob Sloan

As many have begun to write, ALEC is pursuing privatization of everything “public” in America.  Perhaps a better description for their actions is “profitizing”, a term VLTP has used for nearly two years to describe efforts by the conservative Koch-funded cabal of think tanks and corporations to turn tax dollars into profits through policy and legislative changes.

Many of these policies are designed to redirect state taxpayer dollars from public schools to private or for-profit education corporations. It is perhaps unsurprising that corporate beneficiaries of these policies have also been the corporate benefactors of the non-profit groups promoting them, including FEE and ALEC.

Today there are numerous stories about the cabal’s education initiatives.  Literally dozens of ALEC “model bills” related to privatizing public education exist.  Written by corporations, their attorneys or lobbyists, the models are found within the ALEC arsenal.  Drawing upon these templates, state lawmakers holding membership in ALEC take these boilerplate model bills from ALEC’s extensive “library” and introduce them across our country, state by state.  Corporate members funnel huge amounts of money into buying “support” and sponsorship for these legislative monstrosities.  Together ALEC’s membership of lawmakers and corporate interests then pressure non-ALEC state lawmakers to sign on to sponsor ALEC written and introduced bills.

A major effort of this cabal involves key states where Republicans hold majorities in legislature and a Republican Governor occupies the people’s “house”.  Right now one state stands out as being at the core of a huge struggle over control of that state’s education system.  This battle involves a tug-o-war between corporate profits and the future of tens of thousands of Michigan students.  It pits voter and citizen guarantees of an adequate and proper education against corporate profits sought by ALEC affiliated “educational” companies and their investors.  Pawns in this epic war are; teachers, students and taxpayers aligned against corporate interests represented by bought and controlled state lawmakers.

A similar battle now rages across the U.S. involving gun control.  As that issue has become nationalized we’ve all been able to factually assess the power of the NRA and the “Cabal” as corporate campaign funding and lobbying has been used to defeat the will of nearly 90% of Americans polling in favor of background checks.  Millions of corporate dollars spent on lobbying and campaign contributions have bought (there really is no other word for it) Congressional votes against the will and safety of the people.

Privatizing education is simply another initiative advanced by the same cabal as gun control, denying climate change, voter ID and Right to Work (for less) legislation now being pursued in Michigan.  The methodology, tools, tactics and “players” on the conservative cabal’s side are identical.  Develop a plan to profit off some form of government service, bring in the think tanks to write studies, reports and compile “data” that supports privatization, supply ALEC with the wording of desired legislation to legalize or authorize the wishes of the profiteers then adopt the finished and polished legislative crafting as model legislation.

Next, bring in the corporate owned media outlets and give them a script of why privatizing [insert need here] is necessary and will save taxpayers tons of money and finally give your 2,000 state legislative members marching orders along with a copy of the proposed legislation and send them “home” to their districts to introduce what the media has begun calling “critical and necessary” legislation to cure a failing government program, department of service.

Each topic is advanced using the same fill in the “[Title of Bill”] here, “[Your state] here”, “[cite as statute number __________ here]” template.  It really is that simple – and effective.  In this manner the public has become “informed” on the issue through media disinformation and are easily convinced the government is failing and the only way to save [insert program name here] is to turn it over to corporate control. This strategy worked for tort reform, privatizing prisons and creating prison industries, Right To Work, Stand Your Ground, privatizing school transportation, state toll roads, state lotteries and to end collective bargaining in many states.

In the battle over Michigan’s education system, the formula and playbook have been utilized once again.  Vouchers, charter schools, long distance learning and standardized testing bills to turn state education funds over to corporations,  have all followed a successful campaign to privatize school transportation.  The Koch-funded Mackinac Center and a new conservative think tank, the Oxford Foundation have joined with the likes of the DeVos family foundations to fund the concerted effort of privatizing the state’s public education system.  Lately they have been joined by another conservative “heavy hitter” in the education game; Jeb Bush and his “Foundation for Excellence in Education” (FEE).

In November of last year, PRWatch published an article on FEE and their connectivity to ALEC’s educational pursuits.  Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy wrote:

“Aptly named FEE, Bush’s group is backed by many of the same for-profit school corporations that have funded ALEC and vote as equals with its legislators on templates to change laws governing America’s public schools. FEE is also bankrolled by many of the same hard-right foundations … that have funded ALEC. And, they have pushed many of the same changes to the law, which benefit their corporate benefactors and satisfy the free market fundamentalism of the billionaires whose tax-deductible charities underwrite the agenda of these two groups.

“FEE and ALEC also have had some of the same “experts” as members or staff, part of the revolving door between right-wing groups. They have also collaborated on the annual ALEC education “report card” that grades states’ allegiance to their policy agenda higher than actual student performance. That distorted report card also rewards states that push ALEC’s beloved union-busting measures while giving low grades to states with students who actually perform best on standardized knowledge tests.

“The ALEC/FEE scoring is based in part of whether states have embraced changes to the law to advance charter schools or virtual schools (which FEE touts as “digital education”) or other corporate-backed reforms. Yet, studies of the actual performance of such schools raise serious questions of the costs versus benefits of market-driven primary and secondary education.

“These shortcomings have not stopped FEE’s founder, Jeb Bush, from putting his name on the preface to the 16th Edition of the ALEC’s Report Card on Education, asserting: ‘ALEC’s Report Card on American Education is a helpful guide for anyone who wants to achieve a quality education for all students.’

A close affiliate of both FEE and ALEC is an organization known as Chiefs for Change (CfC). Another conservative outfit lending support to Jeb Bush and ALEC in the pursuit of privatizing education, CfC is instrumental in securing corporate funding for privatization efforts.  CfC’s Chair for 2012 was Dr. Tony Bennett.

Bennett was the former head of Indiana’s school system until his defeat in the 2012 election.  In that capacity, Bennett toured the country on behalf of ALEC, touting their legislation and pursuits of virtual education, long distance learning, school vouchers and Charter schools.  Under Bennett’s sponsorship, Indiana passed legislation to allow charter schools and implemented other education programs beneficial to corporate interests.

Recently Schools Matter blog reported on FOIA’s secured by In The Public Interest that found:

“Emails between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), founded and chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and state education officials show that the foundation is writing state education laws and regulations in ways that could benefit its corporate funders. The emails, obtained through public records requests, reveal that the organization, sometimes working through its Chiefs For Change affiliate, wrote and edited laws, regulations and executive orders, often in ways that improved profit opportunities for the organization’s financial backers.

Many of ALEC’s model bills were found to be used by CfC and FEE in Maine and elsewhere:

K-12 is a for-profit corporation that pushes “virtual” schooling. It is traded on the New York Stock Exchange as LRN. While most American families have struggled financially in the four years since Wall Street crashed the economy at the end of the Bush Administration, K-12’s revenues have increased by over 300%, from over $226 million in 2008 to over $708 million this year. Member of ALEC’s Education Task Force.

Connections Academy, which previously co-chaired ALEC’s Education Task Force for a number of years and funded ALEC, is also a funder of FEE. Connections Academy is a division of Connections Education LLC, an entity based in Baltimore, Maryland, that contracts with charter schools, school districts, or governmental entities to provide “online” lessons to students…

State Farm Insurance. State Farm, the largest seller of auto insurance in the US, was listed on FEE’s “Meet the Donors!” page. State Farm has a seat on ALEC’s corporate board. Its CEO, Ed Rust, is also the co-chair of the Business Roundtable, which includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and he previously chaired the Financial Services Roundtable, which advances the interests of Wall Street bank and investment firms. In 2010, State Farm had revenue of $1.8 billion and paid Rust $10.2 million in compensation…

Intel. This computer chip maker has been a financial supporter of both ALEC and FEE.

Microsoft. Bill Gates’ company has previously paid for a seat on ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force, where its corporate representative has voted as equals with legislators on bills to change state laws on telecomm issues.

Other corporations that are not donors to ALEC but have given to FEE include, Apple, Inc.TargetMcGraw Hill, and Electronic Arts, and acronymed corporations such as ETSSMART, and SAS, The Walton Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation.

All of the foregoing are funders, contributors and/or members of ALEC, FEE or CfC – or of all three. Not surprisingly most of these same corporate players – along with the named foundations and FEE, CfC – all participated in the 2011 Philanthropy Roundtable where Education was on the menu as the “main entree” served up to conservative philanthropists and prospective investors as a new potential for profits.  Here is a list of the speakers at the 2012 Philanthropy Roundtable and most of the names mirror those of attendees the previous year.

Here is a graphic showing how the cabal influenced recent events involving education in Maine (from the Portland Press Herald). This represents precisely what is being done today in Michigan and other states across America.

virtualschoolssmall

It’s time for voters and parents of school age children in Michigan and elsewhere across this vast country to wake up and realize while they’ve been sleeping, corporate interests have been working hard to sacrifice quality public education for corporate profits. They want your tax dollars to go toward enriching them as a reward for lessening the quality of teaching your children will receive through “their” publicly funded programs.

Public education took us to the moon and back, sent exploratory missions to Mars and beyond and in essence helped build America and develop the middle class. Corporate interests would have us disregard all that and turn our entire education system and all it’s programs over to them to use as tools to attract investors and increase profits.

My question is what happens if/when these vulture capitalists get tired of playing school…or education doesn’t provide the projected and expected returns?  If the likes of Bain Capital decides to “speculate” and take a controlling interest in corporate education, looking to amass a huge windfall by selling off assets and eliminating jobs…where will America be then?  Education, like criminal justice, court systems, policing and fire protection are all services that should always remain government controlled.  None exist or provide services expecting to make profits.  No, they are necessary programs that require only the funding needed to operate fully and efficiently.  The concept of turning such duties over to a bunch of corporations looking to profit off them is ludicrous and leads to drops in quality, protections and timely service as dollars MUST go to provide dividends to investors, not to rebuilding infrastructures or improving quality.

Everyone should remember what it meant 40 years ago to own something “made in America.” Manufacturers took pride in their products, provided lengthy warranties on their products and valued consumer loyalties.  Console TV’s made in the U.S. had long and dependable usage lasting 20 or 30 years before needing replacement.  Today those same products barely last 1 year.  Craftsmanship and quality of materials of products sold by American manufacturers have dropped as those products are now made by foreign workers, using lesser quality raw materials.  Expensive extended warranties are now needed if you want to use a product longer than 1 year without costly replacement.

Let us not allow our public education system to go the way of our manufacturing at the hands of corporate raiders and venture capitalism.  This cabal has been pursuing access to taking over public education for a quarter of a century now.  Every year their legislative members have worked to defund education programs, cut back on subsidies to higher education, research and sciences. Charles and David Koch along with many corporate funding sources such as BB&T bank have stepped forward, taking advantage of the dire financial straits created by these cuts.  They offer money in exchange for policy changes that allow “their” brand of economics to be taught in colleges and universities…their brand of science that denies global warming exists or about the age of Earth or life itself.  Charter school legislation comes with fine print that drops the requirement that their “teachers” be certified or state accredited.  While claiming they can “fix” public education, they insist they can do it profitably while providing education to larger classes, thousands of students being taught by one teacher from thousands of miles away.  No need to pay standard wages to teachers when one can do the work of dozens through virtual software, so they’ve introduced legislation to mandate students in public school must complete one or more virtual classes to graduate.  They’ve set teacher salary caps and to implement salaries based upon testing and graduation rates.

All of those radical concepts are finding their way into our schools – K-12 and higher education.  Once these exploiters get their hands on the “Full Monty” these polices and practices will become standard.  Not only the future of students will be adversely impacted…all of us will ultimately pay the price for not rejecting all attempts to profitize our education systems.

E-mails link Bush foundation, corporations and education officials

E-mails link Bush foundation, corporations and education officials

jeb and george bush                                    George and Jeb Bush (Jason Reed/Reuters)

A nonprofit group released thousands of e-mails today and said they show how a foundation begun by Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and national education reform leader, is working with public officials in states to write education laws that could benefit some of its corporate funders.

A call to the foundation has not been returned.

The e-mails are between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and a group Bush set up called Chiefs for Change, whose members are current and former state education commissioners who support Bush’s agenda of school reform, which includes school choice, online education, retention of third-graders who can’t read and school accountability systems based on standardized tests. That includes evaluating teachers based on student test scores and grading schools A-F based on test scores. John White of Louisiana is a current member, as is Tony Bennett, the new commissioner of Florida who got the job after Indiana voters rejected his Bush-style reforms last November and tossed him out of office.

Donald Cohen, chair of the nonprofit In the Public Interest, a resource center on privatization and responsible for contracting in the public sector, said the e-mails show how education companies that have been known to contribute to the foundation are using the organization “to move an education agenda that may or not be  in our interests but are in theirs.”

He said companies ask the foundation to help state officials pass laws and regulations that make it easier to expand charter schools, require students to take online education courses, and do other things that could result in business and profits for them. The e-mails show, Cohen said, that Bush’s foundation would often do this with the help of Chiefs for Change and other affiliated groups.

The e-mails were obtained by Cohen’s group through public record requests and are available here, complete with a search function. They reveal — conclusively, he said — that foundation staff members worked to promote the interests of some of their funders in  Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Louisiana.

The Web site of the Foundation for Excellence in Education used to list some of their donors but no longer does and is not required to list all of its donors to the public under tax rules for 5013C organizations. However, it is known that the foundation has received support from for-profit companies K12 and Pearson and Amplify, as well as the nonprofit College Board.

There are strong connections between FEE and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), according to the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy:

Aptly named FEE, Bush’s group is backed by many of the same for-profit school corporations that have funded ALEC and vote as equals with its legislators on templates to change laws governing America’s public schools. FEE is also bankrolled by many of the same hard-right foundations bent on privatizing public schools that have funded ALEC. And, they have pushed many of the same changes to the law, which benefit their corporate benefactors and satisfy the free market fundamentalism of the billionaires whose tax-deductible charities underwrite the agenda of these two groups.

 

FEE and ALEC also have had some of the same “experts” as members or staff, part of the revolving door between right-wing groups. They have also collaborated on the annual ALEC education “report card” that grades states’ allegiance to their policy agenda higher than actual student performance. That distorted report card also rewards states that push ALEC’s beloved union-busting measures while giving low grades to states with students who actually perform best on standardized knowledge tests.

Here is some of what the e-mails released today by Clark’s group say, taken from the Web site of In the Public Interest:

* In New Mexico, FEE acted as a broker to organize meetings between their corporate donors and individual Chiefs.

* Maine moved the FEE policy agenda through legislation and executive order that would remove barriers to online education and in some cases would require online classes – including eliminating class size caps and student-teacher ratios, allowing public dollars to flow to online schools and classes, eliminate ability of local school districts to limit access to virtual schools.

*In Florida, FEE helped write legislation that would increase the use of a proprietary test (FCAT) under contract to Pearson, an FEE donor.

* Foundation for Excellence in Education CEO Patricia Levesque urged state officials to introduce SendHub, a communications tool, into their state’s schools. News reports indicate that Levesque’s boss, Jeb Bush, is an investor in SendHub.

 

Florida 

• FEE staff sought legislation that would count the state test, known as FCAT, as more than 50% of the state’s school accountability measure. FEE staffer Patricia Levesque wrote to a state official that she had negotiated the related language with state legislators, who were now “asking for the following, which the Foundation completely supports: FCAT shall be ‘at least 50%, but no more than 60%’ of a high school’s grade.” Pearson, the company that holds the $250 million FCAT contract and sponsors FEE through its foundation, has an obvious financial stake in ensuring that FCAT continues to be at the center of Florida’s education system.

• Levesque writes, “I think we need to add a sec onto this bill to give you/the department authority to set a state?approved list of charter operators or private providers so districts can’t pick poor performers to implement turnaround.” At least one FEE donor, the for-profit Florida-based Charter Schools USA, could benefit from being placed on such a state-approved list.

• Charter Schools USA also could benefit from a “parent trigger” law, the passage of which, as Nadia Hagberg of FEE wrote, was the goal of a partnership between Bush’s Florida-based organization (the Foundation for Florida’s Future) and Parent Revolution: “The Foundation for Florida’s Future worked closely with [Parent Revolution] throughout the process in Florida and they proved to be an invaluable asset.” Parent trigger, which failed to pass during Florida’s last legislative session, is a mechanism to convert neighborhood schools to charter schools.

Louisiana

• An April 26, 2011, e-mail indicates that Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, through its Chiefs for Change project, had engaged John Bailey, a director of Dutko Grayling. CEO Patricia Levesque wrote to State Schools Superintendent Paul Pastorek:

“John Bailey, whom you met over the phone, will be on the call to provide an update on reauthorization discussions on the Hill. He is going to be on contract with the Foundation to assist with the Chiefs’ DC activities in light of Angie’s departure.

“Dutko has been accused of working with industry front groups in the past. For example, Dutko worked with AIDS Responsibility Project (ARP), an industry-supported effort described by an HIV/AIDS policy activist as a ‘drug industry-funded front group. ‘”

• There are records of the Foundation for Excellence in Education reimbursing Paul Pastorek and John White, the two men who led the state’s education department, for their travel to Orlando and Washington, D.C., for events sponsored by FEE and the Chiefs for Change.

Maine

• As the Portland Press-Herald has reported, the e-mails were evidence of “a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.”

• FEE Deputy Director Deirdre Finn wrote, “We can definitely help develop an executive order,” referring to what became a February 2012 executive order by Gov. LePage directing his education commissioner to develop a plan to open the door to more cyber-schooling in Maine. The elements of the order originated with the Digital Learning Council, a group co-chaired by Bush and funded by FEE donors K12 Inc, the Pearson Foundation and McGraw-Hill.

• The Foundation for Educational Excellence also acted as a conduit for ALEC model legislation and policies. LePage’s order originated at ALEC, was tailored for Maine by the FEE and sent to Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, who subsequently forwarded it to LePage to release unchanged. “Resolution adopting the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning” is a model bill introduced by Arizona Sen. Rich Crandall at the 2011 ALEC Annual Conference.

New Mexico

• FEE provides its donors — including for-profit digital education companies — access to the chiefs. A draft agenda for the Excellence in Action 2011 Summit blocked off two hours for “Chiefs for Change donor meetings.” Another draft agenda for the meeting allocated nearly three hours to “Chiefs for Change donor meetings.” The donors for the summit were the Walton Family Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Carnegie Corp., Susan and Bill Oberndorf, GlobalScholar, Target, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Microsoft, State Farm, IQity, McGraw-Hill Education, Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, Intel, Pearson Foundation, Apex Learning, ETS, Electronic Arts, Koret Foundation, SMART Technologies, K12, Morgridge Family Foundation, Charter Schools USA and Connections Academy. Demand for donor time was so high that Patricia Levesque wrote that she had to turn down opportunities for the chiefs to meet other representatives from companies.

• FEE staff served as advisers to acting education commissioner Hanna Skandera. FEE, and, by extension, its donors, had great influence over New Mexico legislation. In a Jan., 2011, e-mail, Skandera directs a staffer from the legislature to forward all education bills to FEE’s Christy Hovanetz for edits: “Can you send all Governor’s office ed bill language to Christy, including social promotion?” Another FEE staffer, Mary Laura Bragg, wrote to Skandera, “I’m at your beck and call.”

• The foundation sought to make connections between Skandera (as well as the other Chiefs for Change) and the Hume Foundation for funds for digital learning projects from  Hume  that “must flow through the Foundation for Excellence in Education as a project-restricted grant.” The Santa Fe New Mexican reported  Oct. 21 that Skandera had indeed applied for such a grant, which ultimately could lead to digital learning legislation favorable to FEE funders Connections Academy and K-12 Inc.

• The e-mails indicate that FEE paid for Skandera’s travel, reimbursing New Mexico $3382.91 for her expenses, including trip to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress.

Oklahoma

• An Oct. 7, 2011, e-mail indicates that State Superintendent Janet Barresi was a guest of Louis A. Piconi — founder and SVP of Strategic Activities, Apangea Learning Inc., a distance learning company — at an event Piconi hosted for Jeb Bush and Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett. Apangea is not a known funder of FEE, but Apangea and Barresi contributed to Bennett’s campaign.

• As in other states, FEE staff had great control over state education policies, writing and editing regulations for the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

*For unknown reasons, Barresi’s response to an e-mail from Patricia Levesque about SendHub was not included in Oklahoma’s response to the public records request. Instead, that was found in the documents from Louisiana. A Louisiana official was cc’d on the e-mail. A description of Barresi’s response is in the Rhode Island section of this document.

Rhode Island

• In February 2012, Patricia Levesque, using her Foundation for Excellence in Education e-mail address, urged state officials to introduce SendHub, a communications tool, into their state’s schools. News reports indicate that Levesque’s boss, Jeb Bush, was an investor in the start-up by the fall of 2012.

• An e-mail chain between RI Ed Commissioner Deborah Gist and FEE’s Patricia Levesque shows Gist trying to obtain a funding grant from the Kern Foundation, which was denied because of the “political environment” in RI.

• Gist also sought funding from the Hume Foundation for a digital learning initiative. FEE staff made it a point to connect Gist, as well as other state education commissioners, with Hume to launch digital learning projects.

This post was written by  Valerie Strauss  and posted in the Washington Post on January 30, 2013.  The original may be found at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/30/e-mails-link-bush-foundation-corporations-and-education-officials/

 

 

 

Special Report: The profit motive behind virtual schools in Maine

Documents expose the flow of money and influence from corporations that stand to profit from state leaders’ efforts to expand and deregulate digital education.

A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers.

K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of education publishing giant Pearson, are both seeking to expand online offerings and to open full-time virtual charter schools in Maine, with taxpayers paying the tuition for the students who use the services.

At stake is the future of thousands of Maine schoolchildren who would enroll in the full-time virtual schools and, if the companies had their way, the future of tens of thousands more who would be legally required to take online courses at their public high schools in order to receive their diplomas.

The two companies have at times acted directly, spending tens of thousands of dollars lobbying lawmakers in Augusta and nurturing the creation of the supposedly independent boards for the proposed virtual schools they would operate and largely control.
To read this report in its entirety, please click here