The AJC has been following the money in the high-powered, high-profile campaign for the charter school amendment, which would give the state the power to overrule local school boards and approve and fund charter schools. Presumably, that would lead to more charter schools in Georgia. Voters will decide the question on Nov. 6.
The AJC reports:
Groups backing the charter schools constitutional amendment have again pulled in far more money than amendment opponents, the most recent campaign filing statements show. Families for Better Public Schools, which supports the amendment, raised $1.28 million during the filing period that ends 15 days before the election. Families’ haul was 70 times more than the $18,164 the main opposition group, Vote Smart! No to State-Controlled Schools, raised during the same period.
A second amendment supporter, Georgia Public School Families for Amendment One, raised $55,000. Despite the group’s name, all of its money came from a single donation made by PublicSchoolOptions.org of Arlington, Va.
Indeed, most of the money that has gone to amendment supporters came from outside Georgia. Families for Better Public Schools’ filing, for example, shows that 71 percent of the money raised during this filing period came from outside sources.
As she did earlier in the campaign, Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton of Arkansas contributed another $350,000. J.C. Huizenga of Grand Rapids, Mich., gave $250,000. Students First of Sacramento, Calif., also gave $250,000.
“Wow, ” said Jane Langley, campaign manager for the Vote Smart opposition group. “This gives new meaning to ‘families.’ Those out-of-state corporations, more than two out of every three contributions, must badly want to change permanently our constitution.”
Many traditional public school officials — superintendents, board members and teachers — have opposed the amendment, arguing that it would lead to the creation of more charter schools that would sap money from traditional public schools. Supporters argue that passing the amendment would protect from legal challenge the state’s ability to authorize charter schools, which are public schools that are granted flexibility as they pursue specific education goals spelled out in their charter.
Traditional education officials and those tied to school systems dotted the Vote Smart contribution list. Jeanne “Sis” Henry, executive director of the Georgia School Boards Association, gave $3,000. Victoria Sweeney, an attorney who represents the Gwinnett County Public School District, donated $1,000.
Families for Better Public Schools collected $250,000 from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and $100,000 from Richard Gaby, chief executive officer of Peter Island Resort and Spa. Real estate developer Tom Cousins gave $20,000.
My AJC colleagues Jay Bookman and Kyle Wingfield each followed the money pouring into the charter school amendment and ended up in a different place.
Reading the list of out-of-state contributors to the campaign to pass Amendment 1, the state charter-schools amendment, you get the sense that an old-fashioned gold rush would begin in Georgia the moment the amendment is approved.
J.C. Huizenga, founder of Michigan-based National Heritage Academies, a for-profit charter school operator, has contributed $25,000; his company contributed a matching $25,000. Charter Schools USA, based in Florida, contributed $50,000 as well. D.A. Davidson, a financial services firm based in Great Falls, Mont., that touts itself as “a recognized leader in charter school financing, ” has so far given $5,000. And K12 Inc., a for-profit provider of online classes and “full-time online public schools, ” has kicked in $100,000.
Those account only for contributions made through Sept. 21; the final campaign-disclosure reports may include additional big-dollar donations from companies eager to enter Georgia’s public-school marketplace. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong about for-profit companies operating in the education sector. However, despite the fervor of those who preach that competition solves all problems, there’s nothing inherently good about it, either. No countries that outperform the United States in education, for example, do so through the for-profit model.
In addition, the overall shoddy performance of for-profit colleges and universities here in the U.S. provides stark evidence that when the profit motive conflicts with academic standards, profit takes precedence…There’s every reason to worry that similar dynamics will play out in k-12 education. Take K12 Inc., the company that has so far contributed $100,000 to opening up the Georgia market. In Florida, where the company operates in 43 school districts, a typical K12 high school teacher may have as many as 275 online students per class, which enhances profitability if not education. Last month, Florida officials launched an investigation into charges that K12 also uses teachers uncertified for the classes they teach and that company officials asked employees to cover up that fact.
Looking at the same list of donors, Wingfield had a far different response:
After its latest report, filed Tuesday, the anti-amendment group Vote SMART! had a donor base comprising 146 people and eight companies that had given a combined $104,263 (along with almost $19,000 in gifts not itemized). Who are they?
Thirty-four of them are current or former superintendents. That group gave more than $16,000. Another 30 are other types of school-system administrators: area superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors of some kind or another. These folks contributed an additional $14,000.
Eleven members of various school boards around Georgia gave almost $4,000. Ten principals shelled out $2,576. In all, almost 60 percent of the Vote SMART! donors and more than a third of its donations came from people who run our traditional public schools. That’s one bit of turf. Then there are the professional organizations: the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association and Georgia School Superintendents Association. Fifteen employees of these groups donated more than $15,000.
Now let’s look at companies that do business with school systems… In fact, 35 people or firms who do business with traditional public schools, from attorneys and consultants to architects and contractors, have given more than $32,000 to the anti-amendment campaign. Now, am I missing any job description in the education field? Hmmm, let’s see …
From what we can see, though, almost 90 percent of the donors and $4 of every $5 donated come from the people running our schools and the firms they do business with. It’s a campaign of the educational establishment, by the educational establishment, for the educational establishment.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog