To prepare for positioning himself to run for President, Jeb Bush has resigned from a number of boards including his role as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an organization he founded to promote a “Florida Formula” for school reform across the states and to establish ties between state governments and the corporations involved with the school reforms Bush promotes. In an incisive report for the Washington Post earlier this week, Lindsey Layton outlines the school reforms Bush and his foundation launched in Florida and then exported across the states: “issuing A-to-F report cards for schools, using taxpayer vouchers for tuition at private schools, expanding charter schools, requiring third-graders to pass a reading test, and encouraging online learning and virtual charter schools.”
While Bush is often described as the moderate among possible Republican presidential candidates, these policies constitute a radical attack on public education. Layton reminds us of Bush’s approach to public education: “fighting what he calls ‘government -run, unionized, politicized monopolies’ that ‘trap good teachers, administrators and struggling students in a system that nobody can escape.'”
Despite that it is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Foundation for Excellence in Education—like the American Legislative Exchange Council and other politically active, so-called educational organizations—has actively engaged in political activity. “The foundation has helped its corporate donors gain access to state education officials through a committee called Chiefs for Change, composed of as many as 10 officials from mostly Republican-led states who convene at the foundation’s annual meeting. The meetings include private two-hour gatherings with the officials and company executives.” “In most of the states where the education chiefs have worked closely with the foundation, K12 and Pearson have established virtual charter schools, in which students take their courses online and tax money flows to the companies.”
Layton describes e-mails from 2011 and 2012 showing that Bush’s foundation worked closely with state superintendents of public instruction who were members of Chiefs for Change to help them promote the Foundation’s priorities: “The foundation has forged an unusual role mixing politics and policy—drafting legislation and paying travel expenses for state officials, lobbying lawmakers, and connecting public officials with industry executives seeking government contracts.” Layton calls Bush’s nonprofit “a backdoor vehicle for major corporations to urge state officials to adopt policies that would enrich the companies.”
Corporate donors to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, according to Layton, include Microsoft, Intel, News Corp (whose Amplify Division “markets tablets, software and data analysis to school districts”), Pearson, K12 Inc., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Educational Testing Service, McGraw-Hill Education, and Connections Academy. Philanthropic donors include Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.
Layton quotes Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest: “If companies want to go and directly lobby officials, they should go do that. But using a 501(c)3 and Jeb Bush’s cachet in the name of good government and good policy in a move that will expand their market share is not okay.”
This blog most recently covered Jeb Bush’s education policies here.