Another E-mail Trail: Jeb Bush’s Foundation and Ed Privatization

Bush

January 30, 2013; Source: Washington Post

Foundation e-mail communications are proving very interesting for those trying to better understand how private philanthropy interacts with public school systems. The NPQ Newswire commented on the e-mail exchanges between representatives of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Newark Mayor Cory Booker during the planning stages of the Facebook billionaire’s $100 million donation to the Newark, N.J. school system. Now a group called In the Public Interest has done the same favor for the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), founded by former Florida governor and potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

The e-mails number in the thousands, but In the Public Interest seems to focus strongly on those pointing to privatization trends. The key information revealed in these e-mails involves the foundation’s work in connecting the members of a Bush-created council of current and former state education commissions with corporations interested in privatizing state education functions. According to Donald Cohen, head of In the Public Interest, corporations have been using Jeb Bush’s 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 describe FEE activities such as helping to write legislation in Florida that would lead to more use of a proprietary test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), marketed by Pearson, which is a FEE donor. E-mails also describe FEE pitching SendHub, a communications tool, for use in Florida schools and Rhode Island schools. Jeb Bush is an investor in SendHub. The e-mails also showcase FEE pushing for Florida to adopt a “parent trigger” law, which could benefit for-profit FEE allies such as Charter Schools USA, a school management firm. In addition, the e-mails point to discussion about a Maine push for a cyber-schooling executive order from the state’s Republican governor, designed by Digital Learning Council, which is co-chaired by Jeb Bush and funded by for-profit firms K12, Pearson, and McGraw-Hill.

In addition to corporate funders such as Microsoft, Intel, Pearson, K12, Target, State Farm, and McGraw-Hill, the e-mails reveal a number of private foundations supporting FEE or FEE events. Many of the funders are those on the hard right that one would expect to be supporting school choice issues and privatization or corporatization strategies, such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Hume Foundation. However, others were much more in the line of “mainstream” or liberal funders.

NPQ notes the following patterns of recent funding from private foundations for Jeb Bush’s foundation:

Foundation

Grant Amounts

Years

Notes

Walton Family Foundation

$2,292,200

2009-2010

 

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

$1,501,487

2010-2011

$1,000,000 for general support and $501,487 for the Digital Learning Council

Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation

$625,000

2010-2011

General support

Carnegie Corporation

$400,000

2011-2012

General support and for FEE’s Digital Learning Now initiative

Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation

$340,000

2010-2011

General support and for the National Summit on Education Reform

Cobb Family Foundation

$65,000

2008, 2009, 2011

 

Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation

$60,000

2009-2010

General support

Koret Foundation

$50,000

2008-2010

Education reform summits

Doris and Donald Fisher Fund

$50,000

2011

 

The economy may have been tough in the past few years, but not for Jeb Bush’s FEE, whose revenues and fund balances, as reported on its Form 990 filings, have increased consistently and dramatically:

Year

Total Revenues

Total Expenditures

End of Year Fund Balance

2007

$243,655

$207,769

$35,886

2008

$1,660,710

$1,323,813

$346,252

2009

$2,829,188

$1,679,954

$1,499,486

2010

$6,075,987

$2,684,231

$4,892,223

2011

$8,498,554

$3,930,451

$9,460,325

In 2011, FEE’s two highest paid independent contractors were both firms affiliated with the former director of the Gates Foundation’s education programming, Thomas Vander Ark: Vander Ark Associates (which was paid $105,000) and Vander Ark/Ratcliff (which was paid $150,000 for digital learning consulting). Vander Ark/Ratcliff pulled in $216,774 in 2010 in FEE consulting fees as well.

Education is a big thing with the Bush clan. President George W. Bush’s most significant domestic policy achievement is undoubtedly the No Child Left Behind program that in many ways ushered in the high-stakes testing regimens that bedevil so many school systems. Brother Neil Bush had a firm, Ignite, which marketed educational software to public school systems; interestingly, the Neil Bush firm sought to sell its software to Florida to help students prepare for the FCAT exam that e-mails show FEE helped to write legislation for.

But No Child Left Behind has been slammed by people on both sides of the political spectrum and Neil Bush’s business dealings left a lot to be desired. The foundation established by Jeb Bush is making its mark on the privatization of public education. It remains to be seen whether the founder may pursue his education agenda via pursuit of the Oval Office someday.—Rick Cohen

About

Rick Cohen

Rick joined NPQ in 2006, after almost eight years as the executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Before that he played various roles as a community worker and advisor to others doing community work. He has also worked in government. Cohen pursues investigative and analytical articles, advocates for increased philanthropic giving and access for disenfranchised constituencies, and promotes increased philanthropic and nonprofit accountability.

  • Steve

    What concerns me is corporate control for the sake of selling a product or ideology instead of a general education that includes a multiplicity of ideas, concepts and subjects.

  • Ed

    Seems from their website that they have a large number of reforms they support, most of which would be very difficult to make money from. I’m not sure that receiving more donations is a smoking gun. Or successful organizations supposed to attract fewer donors?

  • Deb

    I am impressed with the Foundation’s long term planning in order to raise bucks for their pals. The problem is that thousands of school children and their teacher have to live with the outcome-testing, testing, and more testing. The story will be told five years from now when Florida’s graduation rate plunges. Unless, of course, somebody tinkers with those numbers.

  • Dee Thomas

    As a lifelong Republican who held my nose and voted for members of your family, I WILL NOT SUPPORT YOU IN YOUR EFFORTS TO ENTER POLITICS ON THE NATIONAL LEVEL. WE HADE HAD “ENOUGH” OF THE BUSH FAMILY. THEY ARE NOT CONSERVATIVES AND WITH THEIR IMMIGRATION IDEAS THEY ARE DEAD IN THE WATER TO CONSERVATIVES!!!

  • Dee Thomas

    I am tired of your family and their opinions!!!!! Many of us who are CONSERVATIVE think you and your minions are “stupid”!!! I am sorry to insult you northeasteners but you can be “stupid”. My mother-in-law thought Barbara was the best and studied her book to the ultimate. In the years since her death and your mother’s insights I have found you to not listening to your mother. She said that it was time for the Bush’s to stop being public entities and she is right!!! You need to step back and live life as as normal individual and just set yourself aside as a normal person. Just get over!!!!! I know it is hard, but just live a normal life.!!!!

  • ernest bethel jr

    if you are going to legalize the immigrants that are here illegally then what support i have for you has seriously evaporated.
    i liked you a our governor of Florida but i cannot and will not support you with this immigration stand.
    you politicians take a oath to protect the United States both foreign and domestic.
    i really find this immigration to be a invasion and guess what ? THEY ARE WINNING WITHOUT FIRING A SINGLE SHOT.you politicians are selling our country down the tubes for votes.
    SHAME ON YOU.