Note: Correspondence files below following summary.
1) “There are dozens of other companies that want access to host chiefs for change:” Chiefs for Change has close ties to the corporate and right wing donors of the Foundation.
Emails show the Foundation provides its donors—including for-profit digital education companies– with access to the chiefs. Specifically, a draft agenda for the Excellence in Action 2011 Summit blocked off two hours for “Chiefs for Change donor meetings” Another draft agenda for the meeting allocated nearly three hours to “Chiefs for Change donor meetings.” The donors for the summit were The Walton Family Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, The Broad Foundation, The Carnegie Corporation, Susan and Bill Oberndorf, GlobalScholar, Target, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Microsoft, State Farm, IQity, McGraw-Hill Education, Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, Intel, Pearson Foundation, Apex Learning, ETS, Electronic Arts, Koret Foundation, SMART Technologies, K12, Morgridge Family Foundation, Charter Schools USA, and Connections Academy. Demand for donor time was so high that Patricia Levesque had to turn down opportunities for the chiefs to meet other representatives from companies. The Foundation, funded by the same donors as Chiefs, has reimbursed New Mexico $3382.91 for expenses incurred by Skandera. This included a trip to DC to testify in front of Congress.
2) “I’m at your beck and call:” Foundation for Excellence in Education staff heavily influence New Mexico education policy, in some ways that could benefit FEE’s funders. While it has been widely reported that Bush wants to influence state education policy to make it similar to Florida, our emails show the extent that Foundation staff—either as announced advisors to an education head or in their capacity as Foundation staff members—help craft education policy. In New Mexico, Hanna Skandera—who has yet to be confirmed by the state Senate and will not even get a confirmation hearing until at least January 2013—leaned on two people from the Foundation to develop her education policy in 2011: Christy Hovanetz and Mary Laura Bragg.
Hovanetz was appointed to Skandera’s Education Advisory Team on February 9, 2011. Immediately prior to this appointment she was a Senior Policy Fellow for FEE. Not one of the members of Skandera’s Education Advisory Team was from New Mexico. Emails show Hovanetz advising Skandera to push school grading, teacher evaluation, school recognition, and social promotion policies in the legislature. Skandera sought Hovanetz’s advice even in cases where Hovanetz was not knowledgeable about New Mexico’s educational landscape such as the cost of a data/digital learning system. Emails also show Skandera handing over some legislative drafting and policy statement drafting to Hovanetz, including items requested by the governor and a state senator. Finally, Hovanetz made line-by-line edits to legislation pending in the New Mexico Legislature. Mary Laura Bragg stated at the Foundation in July 2011 as the Director of State Policy Implementation. She began to coordinate conference calls among the Chiefs for Change (another Bush-related education organization) and, based on Skandera’s solicitation, passed along to Skandera friendly studies about Florida’s education reforms. During an exchange about New Mexico’s new A-F school grading (based on Florida’s policy), Skandera asked Bragg, “Any chance I can get you out here sometime this fall to help advice [sic] us on our literacy initiative?” Bragg answered, “I’m at your beck and call.”
Also, the Chiefs are in development of a “talent pool” to exercise their influence at more levels of state education agencies. According to a memo circulated to the Chiefs, the talent pool developed because “many members of chiefs for change entered their state departments to find a lack of likeminded leadership personnel or vacancies in critical positions” and would serve to “determine core education reform principles that all candidates must share.” They name partner organizations for this such as TFA, New Leaders for New Schools, DFER, The Broad Superintendent Academy, Education Trust, and the Center for Education Reform.
The Foundation has also sought to extend its reach to allow Chiefs restricted access to foundation grants. Chiefs have been given access to funds for digital learning projects from the Hume Foundation—presumably without the knowledge of other heads of education agencies–that “must flow through the Foundation for Excellence in Education as a project-restricted grant.“
Finally, Bush himself has taken an interest in influencing state education board elections to extend the Foundation’s influence. In an email, Patricia Levesque—executive director of the Foundation and an advisor to Jeb Bush—informs the Chiefs that, “Governor Bush is lending his support/endorsement to the candidates Gov Jindal is supporting for the State Board of Ed.”
3) “I want to make sure Chiefs (reform-minded chiefs) are more in the drivers seat:” Chiefs Priorities and their true agenda
While the Chiefs have very publically acknowledged that they all want to adopt the “Florida model” in their respective states, our emails show which parts of that model they want the most. For example, an August 4, 2011 agenda conference call lists “voucher implementation (private school accountability, parent outreach)” as a topic for discussion. Moreover, a September 2011 (incomplete) internal survey of three chiefs (New Mexico, Louisiana, and Indiana) showed that the following were “top priorities:”
Finally, the Chiefs have also focused on keeping power at the state level as opposed to the district level. When discussing the ESEA waivers, Levesque emailed the group saying, “I want to make sure Chiefs (reform-minded chiefs) are more in the drivers seat with flexibility and accountability…we should make sure that chiefs can take the flexibility given to them through the waiver process to drive systemic change at the district level… I want to make sure districts cant go around the chiefs and blow the opportunity that flexibility provides.”