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"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

Follow the Money: Race to the Top and ESSA

By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D.  |  January 11, 2016  Education Views 

The truth about Race to the Top, Common Core, and ESSA are lost in the daily minutia fed to the American public. This discussion is about learning who is profiting from – and controlling -- American public education. 

Traditionally teacher unions have supported Democrat candidates and are themselves ultra liberal.  Now there is now another group vying for control over education -- wealthy Democrats who are shoving the unions aside to reap the enormous monetary benefits from American public education. 

A key person is Joanne Weiss who was the director of Race to the Top federal grant program, although she is not an educator.  

Before moving to the USDOE as Chief of Staff to Secretary Arne Duncan, Weiss worked for nearly eight years at New Schools Venture Fund, a charter school investment group funded by billionaires Eli Broad, the Walton Family, Pearson Foundation, Bill Gates and others. 

Weiss was a partner and COO at New Schools Venture Fund and focused on investment strategy and management assistance in their portfolio ventures.  In that capacity she served on the boards of New Schools Venture Fund, Aspire, Green Dot and New Leaders for New Schools, all of which have received millions of dollars from Eli Broad, the “venture philanthropist.”  

In her essay, “Competing Principles” at the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Weiss wrote that state applicants were required to address four key areas: standards and assessments, teachers and leaders, data, and turning around low-performing schools.  Unfortunately schools in poor communities were not turned around; instead they were closed and then re-opened as for-profit charters.  Thousands of teachers and staff were laid off and students’ lives were disrupted as they were shifted around.   

The Broad foundation gave more than $500,000 to promote the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” and another charter-touting film, “The Lottery.” 

Charter school administrators are trained in the Broad Superintendent’s Academy and are placed inside the education system to serve as a pipeline for bringing in other Broad graduates.  Using this system, philanthropists such as Broad can manipulate the composition of the education workforce without directly altering public policy. 

Arne Duncan, then-Secretary of Education, was a former member of Broad’s board and brought in many USDOE officials who were connected with Broad. 

Democrats for Education Reform is a pro-charter school political action committee with close ties to hedge-fund managers.  The organization supports national standards, high-stakes testing, and evaluation of teachers by test scores.  They are not teacher or union-friendly and generally oppose public education. 

In a 2010 report by United Federation of Teachers, shows a majority of DEF’s corporate and advisory boards  to be hedge fund managers. 

At their website in 2012 DEF touts the progress under President Obama and calls on education reformers nationwide to take a hands-on-approach to get him re-elected. 

In 2008, progressive education reformers played a significant role in helping then-Senator Barack Obama build an independent base of support to win not only the Democratic nomination, but even­tually the Presidency….. 

Four years later, we can point to unprecedented progress on the education reform landscape, thanks to the strong leadership of President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan on school issues….. 

….As a result of the RTTT competition, fifteen states lifted caps on the creation of new charter schools, and one state enacted a charter school law.2  Charter schools flourished more under three years of Obama than under eight years of George W. Bush. Funding for state charter school grants, for example, stayed between about $68 million and $81 million during Bush’s two terms, but jumped to $138 million during Obama’s first full budget year. This increase wasn’t accidental – it was keeping a promise that then-candidate Obama made on the campaign trail.

In September, 2015 Arne Duncan announced the USDOE is awarding $157 million to create and expand charter schools throughout the nation.  That brings the amount to more than $3 billion awarded to charters by the USDOE since fiscal year 1995.  

In 2012 the USDOE’s inspector general issued a highly critical report that cited deficiencies in how the department has handled federal grants to charter schools from 2008-2011. 

The audit found that millions in federal funds went to dozens of charter schools which never admitted students! There is no record of what happened to the equipment, supplies or anything else purchased with those federal dollars. 

USDOE officials toss it off, saying they only give grants to high-performing charter school operators, but they don’t have much control over states.  Do cronies accepting public funding for their charters not have responsibility for accountability? 

ESSA is providing the next round of federal funding for charters.  The inclusion of federal money for the broad expansion of charters, including pre-K charters, was a priority for President Obama and the GOP served it up on a golden platter!   

With federal funding going to cronies such as Broad and friends, we can expect more traditional school closings.  Look for federal charters to become the new public schools which will then be totally under government control -- pre-K-12 charters run by super rich operators with no responsibility to local communities and parents. 

Copyright @2016 Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. All rights reserved.


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