Counter-balancing Protectors of the K-12 Status Quo

  • Education
  • 2010

In 1996 a national group calling itself Stand for Children was founded as a broad, soup-to-nuts supporter of children’s causes. Over a period of years the group shifted toward education as their focus, and then increasingly toward an understanding that protecting children’s true educational interests would often require battling the forces of the status quo in education—which were much more interested in deflecting pressure from teachers, principals, and school administrations than in fixing urban schools. As it realized that more spending for public schools would have no effect unless the structure of public education was changed, Stand for Children created a 501(c)(4) public-advocacy wing to lobby for things like more rigorous teacher evaluations, performance-based teacher compensation, and improved parental choice. The group also established 527 political action committees devoted to electing pro-reform legislators and school-board members.

Around the same time this evolution was taking place, in 2010, Betsy DeVos and other education donors merged some groups to create the American Federation for Children. It has a similar mix of charitable, advocacy, and political branches, and a particular focus on school choice, charter-school authorization, and supporting vouchers and tax credits that help poor families send their children to private schools. The very same year, Michelle Rhee founded the group StudentsFirst, with parallel (c)(3) charitable, (c)(4) advocacy, and 527 political-action wings—and a charge to act as a direct counterbalance to the power of teacher unions while advocating for increased school excellence and parental choice. The group raised more than $62 million in charitable donations in its first few years, and aims to rely indefinitely on a mix of philanthropy and dues offered by its 2 million grassroots members.

Other donor-supported reform groups mixing charitable and political work in these same sorts of way include Democrats for Education Reform, EdVoice, state chapters of the group 50CAN, and others.

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