From the Washington Post's education blog reports: 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.”
Here are the excerpts about Florida specifically:
• 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.
Jaryn Emhof, spokeswoman for the foundation sent the Herald/Times the following response:
“It certainly is not surprising that In the Public Interest, a union-backed organization, opposes school choice and the expansion of digital education.
“And, it is hardly a secret that the Foundation for Excellence in Education (Excel in Ed) is committed to school choice and openly offers its expertise to legislators and policy makers interested in improving their education systems. It’s on our website.
“The majority of Excel in Ed’s operational expenses, including salaries, are funded by private foundations, non-profits and philanthropies which do not sell to the K-12 market. We do accept sponsorships from corporations to help fund our annual Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform, in the same manner that unions and other organizations accept the same kind of sponsorships from companies.
“The notion that Gov. Jeb Bush, who has spent the past 20 years as a passionate advocate for education reform, is profiting from this involvement is beyond ridiculous. He has devoted thousands of hours to this cause without compensation.
“We believe families, particularly low-income families, are best served when they can choose the best schools for their children. We believe digital technology will revolutionize education, something already taking place at the university level.
“Students have achieved remarkable success as a result of these education reforms. And, we take great pride in that.”