Any lingering doubts about the connection between public education, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and for-profit education providers may have been erased once and for all with the release of thousands of emails that demonstrate that an educational foundation begun by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is “distorting democracy” by molding state education policies to benefit the foundation’s private corporate donors.
Stories about the emails were published in Wednesday’s Orlando Sentinel http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/os-bush-foundation-criticism-20130130,0,7386113.story but no Louisiana newspapers had picked up the story.
Donald Cohen, chairperson of the nonprofit In the Public Interest, http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/blog/jeb-bushs-education-nonprofit-really-about-corporate-profits?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+itpi-blog+%28ITPI+Commentary+Feed%29 released the emails, which included correspondence between Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and a second group Bush founded called Chiefs for Change, whose members are current and former state education leaders who support Bush’s education reform agenda.
He said the emails “conclusively reveal that FEE staff acted to promote their corporate funders’ priorities, and demonstrate the dangerous role that corporate money plays in shaping our education policy. Correspondence in Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Louisiana paint a graphic picture of corporate money distorting democracy.”
That agenda includes school choice, online education, school accountability systems based on standardized tests, evaluating teachers on the basis of student test scores and giving schools grades of A-F on the basis of those test scores.
Louisiana Education Superintendent John White is a member of Chiefs for Change.
Some of the emails released by Cohen included correspondence between FEE and White and White’s predecessor, Paul Pastorek.
The emails provide conclusive evidence that FEE staff promoted their corporate funders’ interests in Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Louisiana. Those interests coincide with the agenda promoted by ALEC’s pay-for-play operation. Corporate donors work closely with state legislators and state education policy makers at ALEC conferences, seminars and annual meetings, according to the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy.
The emails between FEE and state education officials show that FEE, at times working through its Chiefs for Change affiliate, wrote and edited laws, regulations and executive orders in such a way as to enhance profit opportunities for FEE’s corporate funders.
Bush’s organization is supported by many of the same for-profit school corporations that also provide funding for ALEC. Those corporations vote as equals with ALEC legislators on templates to change laws governing America’s public schools.
FEE also receives financial backing from many of the same conservative foundations striving to privatize public schools that also bankroll ALEC. FEE and ALEC lobby for many of the same changes to state laws, changes which benefit their corporate benefactors.
FEE and ALEC also have many of the same “experts” who serve as members or staff employees and the two organizations also collaborate on the annual ALEC education “report card” which grades states’ allegiance to their policies.
FEE acted as a conduit for ALEC model legislation for Maine Gov. Paul LePage which removed barriers to creating online K-12 schools and in some cases, required online classes.
LePage’s agenda was eerily familiar in its call for eliminating class size caps, student-teacher ratios, eliminating the ability of local school districts to limit access to virtual schools and allowing public dollars to flow to online schools and classes.
The emerging importance of education as a corporate cash cow was underscored in 2010 when Rupert Murdoch, who has his own education division called Amplify, said, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S.”
Amplify is one of FEE’s corporate donors, as are K12, the Pearson Foundation and McGraw-Hill.
Last February, FEE CEO Patricia Levesque urged state education officials to introduce StubHub, a communications tool, into their states’ schools. Jeb Bush is an investor in StubHub.
An April 26, 2011, email indicated that FEE, through Chiefs for Change project, had engaged John Bailey, a director of Dutko Grayling. Levesque wrote to Pastorek only two weeks before his resignation as state superintendent:
“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,” Levesque wrote. “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.’”
Cohen’s organization also uncovered FEE documents indicating the foundation reimbursed Pastorek and White, the two men who have led the state’s education department under Gov. Bobby Jindal, for their travel to Orlando and Washington, D.C., for events sponsored by FEE and the Chiefs for Change.
Dutko Grayling a K Street lobbying firm in Washington which has been struggling to maintain its position as one of the top firms in the nation’s capital.
“These emails show a troubling link between Jeb Bush’s effort to lobby for ‘reforms’ through his statewide Foundation for Florida’s Future, his national Foundation for Excellence in Education, and the powerful corporations who want access to billions of our tax dollars by re-shaping public education policies just to create markets for themselves—none of which are in the best interest of our children,” Public Interest quoted a Florida parent as saying.
“Testing companies and for-profit online schools see education as big business, said Cohen. “For-profit companies are hiding behind FEE and other business lobby organizations they fund to write laws and (to) promote policies that enrich the companies.”