By Anthony Cody.
As the corporate reform project begins to fray around the edges, one of the main sponsors is resorting to more overtly political tactics.
The Gates Foundation is ostensibly a charitable enterprise, and enjoys significant tax benefits as a result of this status. Bill Gates himself described the organization’s work a year ago as “R & D,” and asserted that they stay out of the political process. But two cases from opposite sides of the country show the Gates Foundation playing a growing role in the political process, especially when their most prized strategies are in danger.
The first case is in the Gates Foundation’s home state of Washington. Full credit for the investigation that reveals the facts that follow goes to Dora Taylor, an intrepid parent activist and blogger in Seattle.
Expanding the reach of charter schools has been a central focus of Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation for years. The Gates Foundation has provided millions of dollars to districts willing to sign onto something called the “Gates Compact.” With this agreement, the school districts agree to embrace the expansion of charter schools within their domain, and in exchange get millions from the Gates Foundation.
In spite of this support, charter schools have been a contentious issue in Washington state. Voters rejected ballot measures that would have brought charters to the state three times – in 1996, 2000, and 2004. But in 2012, Bill Gates rallied fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Alice Walton to donate, and ponied up $3 million of his own money – to buy heavy publicity in favor of a new charter initiative, and this time it passed by a narrow margin.
The initiative was challenged by a coalition of education advocacy groups and the state teachers’ union, and last fall was ruled to be unconstitutional, because it diverted public funds to schools that were not “common schools” subject to public oversight.
So how did the Gates Foundation respond to this setback?
Emails uncovered by Dora Taylor tell the tale. Taylor reports:
Within days of the Supreme Court determining that charter schools are unconstitutional in Washington State, the Gates Foundation got busy working with the Washington State Charter School Association (WA charters). WA charters contacted Superintendent Kevin Jacka with the Mary Walker School District (MWSD) as well as the State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to get the ball rolling on keeping charter schools open.
This is how it went. The Gates Foundation, contacted the Washington Charter Association and had them contact the Mary Walker School District to discuss with the Superintendent, Kevin Jacka, the idea of taking on the charter schools that had opened in the state and placing them under the umbrella of the Alternative Learning Experience program (ALE).
As a result of this workaround, public funds would continue to flow to charter schools, in violation of the decision of the highest court in the state.
Just yesterday, Taylor posted new emails showing that the Washington state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has also been actively helping to coordinate this rescue of public funding for charter schools.
Case number two comes to us from across the nation, in the state of Massachusetts. Another pet project of the Gates Foundation is the Common Core standards and associated tests. The Gates Foundation sponsored the Common Core in order to work around laws that prevented the federal Department of Education from enacting national standards. Massachusetts has long led the nation in student achievement, so it was a challenge to convince policy makers there to jettison the state’s standards in favor of the Common Core.
There is currently an effort under way to place an initiative on the state ballot which would reverse the state’s embrace of the Common Core. But individuals associated with the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) have filed a lawsuit to block the initiative from being voted upon. The MBAE last year received a $375,000 grant for general operating expenses from the Gates Foundation – on top of $250,000 it received in 2013, and $151,431 in 2010. The New Boston Post reports:
End Common Core Massachusetts, the citizens group behind the ballot question, earlier this year garnered enough signatures to advance the measure. But on Jan. 22, ten plaintiffs sued to stop the question from reaching the voters. Plaintiffs include William Walczak who is a director of the [Massachusetts Business] Alliance, and Jack Dill, who is on its advisory council.
It is worth noting that the first of these stories does not come from any paid journalists. Rather, Dora Taylor is an unpaid, unsponsored blogger, working on her own time and her own dime. Sadly, the organization that brings together education writers, the Education Writers Association, continues to limit independent writers like Dora Taylor to a “community member” status, which makes her ineligible to stand and ask questions at EWA seminars, and ineligible for their awards competition.
So does the Gates Foundation focus on R & D, as Bill Gates asserted a year ago? These stories suggest otherwise.