Long-time observers of the reformster scene are familiar with the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) the advocacy group that was, among other things, supposed to help Jeb Bush leverage his reformy career into a Presidential run.
At various times they have promoted specious arguments for testing, tried to use aging demographics to sell choice, jumped on the honesty gap train to nowhere, held a regular reformster-palooza gatheration, and tried to harness fake-ish social media presences to tout the whole reformy package. They are a one stop shop for reformster baloney, sliced to whatever thickness you prefer.
One thing they have not previously done is actually admit where their funding comes from. Until now.
In an act that appears related to Jeb Bush's Candidature Data Dumpage, FEE has finally coughed up their donors list. And it is a revelation, a shock, a stunning surprise of-- well, actually, no. It's pretty much exactly who you'd guess would be backing the mess.
FEE's list now occupies a corner of their website. John Connor of NPR broke the list down to make it a little more searchable.
It is not an exact list in that donors are organized by ranges. So we know that Bloomberg donated somewhere between $1.2 million and $2.4 million, which is quite a margin of error. But it's still a chunk of change, either way.
Joining Bloomberg Philanthropies in the Over a Cool Million Club are these folks, a completely unsurprising list:
Walton Family Foundation (between $3.5 mill and over $6 mill)
B&M Gates (between $3 mill and over $5 mill)
Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation (between $1.6 mill and $3.25 mill)
News Corporation (between $1.5 mill and $3 mill)
GE Foundation (between $2.5 mill and over $3 mill)
Helmsley Trust (at least $2 mill)
The Might Have Hit a Million Club includes
The Broad Foundation
Jacqueline Hume Foundation
Carnegie Corporation of New York
The Arnold Foundation
Beyond those, we find Florida businesses and a fair sampling of folks who have a stake in the FEE mission, like McGraw Hill and Renaissance Learning.
FEE's website breaks things down by year, which helps create a picture of FEE's growth. The first reported year is 2007 (that's the same year that Bush's run as Florida's governor ended), and while Bloomberg was still one of the top donors, that was with a measly five figures. This shift to private advocacy on public policy matters was not just an education thing-- in 2007 Bush also joined the board of Tenet Healthcare.
2008 was also a modest year, with no million-dollar and most donors targeting their contribution to particular FEE programs such as Excellence in Teaching or the annual Reformster-palooza Summit.
But 2009 was a great year for reformster-preneurs. Race to the Top was unveiled and the Common Core was looking so good that states were signing up for it even though they didn't know what the hell it was! FEE was looking less like a retired governor's hobby group and more like a one stop shop for people interested in making serious education money.
So it's in 2009 that FEE starts to draw the big bucks-- The Walton Family was in for six big figures, and that, like many of the support checks, was for FEE to use as it saw fit, not earmarked for a particular program. By 2010 Gates, Schwab and Broad had joined in, and by 2011 there were five donors in the $500K to $1 mill range. In 2012 GE became the first over-a-million donor, and in 2013 Gates and Helmsley joined the club.
2014 marked the first downward trend at the top end. Gates, Schwab, News Corp and GE all dropped back to the under-a-million category. Make of that what you will.
This is a ho-hum story. There are no surprises, nothing special revealed that we hadn't all already guessed. The curtain has been pulled back to reveal exactly who we thought was back there all along.
But it's still important because now we're not just guessing--we have confirmation. Yet one more reformster advocacy group is revealed to be a small club of high rollers, many of whom have vested interests in how this all shakes out.
The truth about FEE is a reminder-- for the gazillionth time-- that we have yet to see an actual hard-core full-on grass roots movement in support of reformster policies. It's also a reminder that if education issues were being decided on merit, or if all the Rich Person money just dried up tomorrow, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Ed reform is a big delicate rosebush in the middle of the desert, and money is the water that keeps it alive. Shut off the water, and it's done.