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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Gist seeks right-wing "research" funding

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has sought several reform-oriented grants through a group closely connected with ALEC, according to the Washington Post.

The Post reported Wednesday on the connection between Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, a conservative education group of which Gist is a member, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which has “strong connections” with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the shadowy corporate-funded bill mill widely regarded as one of the strongest and shadiest right-wing forces in state politics.

According to the WaPost story :

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.
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 … and school accountability systems based on standardized tests.

Gist is a member of Chiefs for Change, and the emails made public this week indicate she sought the FEE’s help in procuring funding for local initiatives. You can read Gist’s emails here.

From the WaPost story:

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.”

He said companies ask the 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 show, Cohen said, that Bush’s foundation would often do this with the help of Chiefs for Change and other affiliated groups.

The Post says, “There are strong connections between FEE and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).” The Washington Post cites an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy that detailed the connection:

Aptly named FEE, Bush’s group is backed by many of the same for-profit school corporations that have funded ALEC and vote as equals with its legislators on templates to change laws governing America’s public schools. FEE is also bankrolled by many of the same hard-right foundations bent on privatizing public schools that have funded ALEC. And, they have pushed many of the same changes to the law, which benefit their corporate benefactors and satisfy the free market fundamentalism of the billionaires whose tax-deductible charities underwrite the agenda of these two groups.

FEE and ALEC also have had some of the same “experts” as members or staff, part of the revolving door between right-wing groups. They have also collaborated on the annual ALEC education “report card” that grades states’ allegiance to their policy agenda higher than actual student performance. That distorted report card also rewards states that push ALEC’s beloved union-busting measures while giving low grades to states with students who actually perform best on standardized knowledge tests.

Gist’s emails were one of six from conservative state education leaders across the country. The others were Oklahoma, New Mexico, Maine, Louisiana and Florida.

Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.