Here Are The Corporations And Right-Wing Funders Backing The Education Reform Movement

A Guide To The Funders Behind A Tangled Network Of Advocacy, Research, Media, And Profiteering That’s Taking Over Public Education

››› ››› PAM VOGEL

Media Matters outlines the many overlapping connections in an echo chamber of education privatization advocacy groups, think tanks, and media outlets that are increasingly funded by a handful of conservative billionaires and for-profit education companies -- often without proper disclosure. 

Education policy has long been recognized as a contentious, complicated political third rail that transcends a typically partisan divide, but this complexity hasn’t kept staunchly conservative funders from bankrolling education reform efforts that line up with business interests. With the rise of privately operated public charter schools, digital learning models, and voucher and scholarship tax credit programs in recent decades, the education debate has grown even more complex, and schools and students are increasingly regarded as an untapped market. Media should know that the education reform movement advocating for these policies often relies on the backing of corporate and right-wing funding. These conservative-backed policies aim to weaken labor unions by attacking teachers’ job protections and to push state-level education legislation that makes way for greater private profiteering -- while leaving traditional public schools further behind.

Below, we outline the many overlapping connections in this echo chamber of advocacy groups, think tanks, and media outlets that are increasingly funded by a handful of conservative billionaires and for-profit education companies -- often without proper disclosure. These groups are driving the education privatization movement forward by co-opting the education reform mantle.

Table Of Contents

ADVOCACY

MEDIA

PHILANTHROPY

CORPORATIONS

THINK TANKS

Read more about our methodology here.

50CAN

50 State Campaign for Achievement Now, widely known as 50CAN, is a network of state-specific organizations pushing for pro-voucher and free-market education policies across the country. It currently has affiliates in Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, and fellowships in California, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, and Wisconsin. It stemmed from the original success of the organization Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN). 50CAN’s “policy goals” for 2016 are primarily framed around passing legislation in these states that would encourage rapid charter growth or give more authority over local school districts to the states. It lists the Commonwealth Foundation (a member of the State Policy Network of conservative think tanks) and StudentsFirst among its partners, and is identified as a partner of right-wing think tank the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and of the Policy Innovators in Education Network, where ConnCAN’s former CEO sits on the board of directors. ConnCAN is a strategic partner of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Education Options, and 50CAN’s Pennsylvania chapter is a policy partner of the right-wing-fueled National School Choice Week campaign. The executive director of 50CAN’s New York chapter also serves on the board of directors of the conservative legal group Partnership for Educational Justice, which is currently challenging teacher tenure laws in several states. In March, 50CAN and StudentsFirst announced in an exclusive at The 74 that they would merge and begin operating under the 50CAN name nationally, although state chapters of StudentsFirst will, for the most part, retain their names. 50CAN’s founder and CEO will serve as the CEO of the larger organization, and StudentsFirst’s Jim Blew will stay on as a senior adviser at 50CAN. According to the reported announcement, the larger 50CAN will “run advocacy and lobbying campaigns in at least 11 states.”

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The 74

In 2015, former journalist and teachers union opponent Campbell Brown launched “non-partisan” education news website The 74, which purports to “challenge the status quo, expose corruption and inequality, and champion the heroes who bring positive change to our schools.” The website, which co-hosted a GOP presidential candidate forum in 2015 where Brown questioned six candidates about their views on education reform, is funded by staunch proponents of charter schools. Reports from The Wall Street Journal and Politico have questioned the site’s “non-partisan” label, tracing its funding to prominent tenure opposition and pro-privatization groups. The website lists the right-wing DeVos Family Foundation as one of its “partners,” as well as several prominent New York hedge fund managers. Brown sits on the board of the American Federation for Children, along with current chairman Betsy DeVos, and chairman emeritus William Oberndorf, a prominent private donor to education privatization groups, and to Brown’s website. Brown is also on the board of Success Academy Charter Schools, the largest charter network in New York City, along with chair Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund manager and donor to The 74. Brown is married to Dan Senor, who sits on the board of the New York chapter of StudentsFirst, an anti-teachers-union lobbying group -- a fact she has often failed to disclose in her earlier forays into union opposition under the auspice of cracking down on teacher sexual misconduct. Brown is also the founder of both the Partnership for Educational Justice, an advocacy organization that challenges teacher tenure laws in several states and is financially connected to the 74, and the Parents’ Transparency Project, an earlier effort geared toward weakening teacher protections in New York state.

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Alliance For School Choice/American Federation For Children

The American Federation for Children (AFC) is a school choice advocacy organization affiliated with the nonprofit Alliance for School Choice and the AFC Growth Fund. Its current iteration was formed in 2010, but it stems from the now-defunct All Children Matter (ACM), an organization created to support pro-school-voucher candidates through a network of state-level political action committees (PACs). ACM was started by conservative activists and philanthropists Dick and Betsy DeVos of the DeVos Family Foundation. Current members of AFC’s board of directors include chairwoman Betsy DeVos; teachers union opponent and former CNN anchor Campbell Brown of the Partnership for Educational Justice and education website The 74; and chairman emeritus William Oberndorf, a prominent private donor to many education reform causes. The AFC currently has “allies” or affiliate organizations in 25 states, and it has long invested millions in state-level elections to influence pro-privatization education legislation. AFC’s website also directs readers to visit websites for its “national allied organizations,” which include the State Policy Network of conservative think tanks (of which the Alliance for School Choice is listed as an associate member), the American Center for School Choice, the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the Cato Institute, the Center for Education Reform, Education Next, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), the Institute for Justice, K12 Inc., National School Choice Week (NSCW), Stand for Children, StudentsFirst, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The AFC website also lists “state allies,” many of which are also members of the State Policy Network.

AFC is a strategic partner of HCREO and an education partner of the conservative-backed National School Choice Week (NSCW) campaign, while the Alliance for School Choice is a NSCW policy partner. The Alliance for School Choice was an early member of right-wing corporate model legislation mill ALEC’s education task force along with Connections Academy (now owned by Pearson), the Institute for Justice, and K12 Inc., which pushed virtual school, voucher, and scholarship tax credit model legislation. The AFC co-hosted a GOP presidential “education summit” with The 74 in August 2015, an event featuring one-on-one, hour-long interviews with host Campbell Brown and six 2016 presidential candidates from the Republican Party. Questions featured in the conversations focused on candidates’ support for vouchers and opposition to teachers unions, and the perceived federal role in “incentivizing” state governments to expand school choice policies. According to tax filings, the Alliance for School Choice has received substantial funding from right-wing philanthropists, including at least half a million from the Gleason Family Foundation in 2014, at least $250,000 from the DeVos Family Foundation in 2013, $10,000 from “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust in 2014, and $25,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012.

 

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American Center For School Choice

The American Center for School Choice is a small conservative think tank focused on private vouchers and faith-based schooling under the guise of parental and family choice. The center claims to provide “conceptual clarity, intellectual acumen, practical know-how, and political savvy” to further “parental choice in education.” Its board members include Matthew Ladner, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Excellence in Education and senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, who also co-authors an annual state education report -- funded partly by the Gleason Family Foundation -- at the corporate-backed model legislation mill American Legislative Exchange Council. Another board member is Doug Tuthill, the president of a Florida tax-credit scholarship organization called Step Up For Students. The center collaborates with Tuthill’s organization to produce a Florida-focused education blog called RedefinED, which aims to re-focus “discourse” about public education away from “whether [an education program] undermines traditional neighborhood public schooling.” The organization’s 2014 tax filing indicates that its activities in 2014 focused largely on providing analysis of “an offensive legal strategy for the school choice movement,” and “identifying possible states where charter schools might eventually be able to operate as religious schools.” The American Center for School Choice has received at least $60,000 from the conservative Bradley Foundation since 2012, and is listed as a national allied organization of the right-wing-backed voucher advocacy group American Federation for Children.

 

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American Enterprise Institute

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a prominent right-wing think tank that produces reports across a number of issue areas, including education, and is considered “one of the country’s main bastions of neoconservatism.” Recent AEI research on education reform has focused on education philanthropy, higher education reform, federal education legislation, and early childhood education, with articles defending vouchers in Tennessee and advocating for online education programs for “school choice” in rural areas. AEI frequently places op-eds from its fellows in mainstream media outlets, and its researchers have testified before Congress and held high positions in past presidential administrations. Tax filings show that AEI has received millions from reliably right-wing donors, including more than $1.6 million from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2011, just over $5 million from conservative “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund since 2012, at least $1.7 million total from the Sarah Scaife Foundation since 2012, $480,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012, and $425,000 from the Coors Foundation since 2011, to support general operations and education-related research. AEI is listed as a partner of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an allied organization of the American Federation for Children, and an associate member of the State Policy Network of conservative think tanks.

 

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American Legislative Exchange Council

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate-funded “membership organization” that connects “nearly one quarter” of state legislators across the country with model legislation that represents “the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism” and corresponds with corporate interests on a given policy issue. Its most recent annual conference included appearances from three GOP presidential hopefuls at the time: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. ALEC’s corporate-minded model policies tackle issues from K-12 education to “academic freedom” in higher education, as well as tax reform, social programs, environmental and infrastructure policies, and health care. Its corporate-sponsored model legislation on education issues is heavily focused on scholarship tax credits, vouchers, and other “school choice” programs that would lessen support for traditional public school systems. ALEC archives show that The Institute for Justice, Connections Academy (now owned by Pearson), the Alliance for School Choice, and K12 Inc., were early members of its education task force, which pushed virtual school, voucher, and scholarship tax credit model legislation. ALEC is known for its promotion of “parent trigger” laws, which allow for public school takeovers under the guise of parental empowerment, and frequently result in school closures or conversion to charters. ALEC is also behind so-called “right to work” legislation that severely weakens unions -- including teachers unions -- and has so far been adopted in 26 states, although the law was struck down as unconstitutional by a Wisconsin state court in April. ALEC is an associate member of the conservative State Policy Network (SPN) of think tanks and a sponsor of SPN’s most recent annual meeting, and its legislative models are often based on its own research and research from many SPN members or associate members. It is funded by several Koch brothers philanthropic organizations, and it boasts having “nearly 300 corporate and private foundation members,” who pay for memberships in order to influence the proposed model policies. ALEC has received more than $350,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2012, $150,000 from the Allegheny Foundation (one of several Scaife Foundations) to support programs since 2012, $50,000 from the Coors Foundation in 2011, $225,000 from the Gleason Family Foundation since 2012, and $323,300 from conservative “dark money ATM” pair DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund since 2012 to support general operations costs, including $17,500 in 2012 earmarked for “SPN’s membership.” ALEC is also identified as an ally of the American Federation for Children, and a partner of both the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the right-wing-fueled National School Choice Week campaign.

 

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Amplify

Amplify is a company that creates digital learning tablets with curriculum and testing software. Until October 2015, Amplify was the education division of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire News Corp. It was created in 2011, following News Corp.’s $360 million acquisition of education technology company Wireless Generation, and Murdoch’s hiring of Joel Klein, former chancellor of New York City schools, as an adviser in 2010. Murdoch wrote of the acquisition, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” After several years of struggling to secure contracts with schools and to turn a profit, News Corp. sold Amplify to “a management team supported by a group of private investors” following substantial layoffs. This group of investors includes Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, and is backed by Klein, who now sits on its board of directors and serves as a strategic adviser. Many of the policies and model legislation produced by the conservative State Policy Network of think tanks and the American Legislative Exchange Council corporate bill mill -- of which News Corp. was reportedly a member as of 2012 -- push for greater focus on “digital learning,” which would drive demand for products such as those sold by Amplify.

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Bellwether Education Partners

Bellwether Education Partners is a nonprofit educational consulting organization that works primarily with charter schools and education companies to provide “strategic support,” hiring and organizational services, and policy research. Bellwether frequently places policy op-eds in national media outlets, and it launched the education news aggregating site RealClearEducation in late 2013 in partnership with RealClearPolitics. Its website provides a “comprehensive” list of past and current “clients and funders” that ranges from public school districts, to charter school networks, to private and corporate foundations, to private companies. This list includes the American Center for School Choice, the American Enterprise Institute, the American Federation for Children/Alliance for School Choice, Amplify, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Chiefs for Change, ConnCAN, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, K12 Inc., the PARCC Consortia, the Policy Innovators in Education Network, Stand for Children, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Wireless Generation.

 

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Bill Of Rights Institute

The Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) is a Koch-funded conservative nonprofit that “develops educational resources for a network of more than 50,000 educators and 30,000 students nationwide” that emphasize free market and limited government ideology through curriculum on the United States’ founding documents. BRI’s board includes a Koch Industries senior vice president, the Charles Koch Foundation’s director for higher education, and a senior scholar at the Koch-founded Mercatus Center at George Mason University. BRI reportedly counts 31 corporations among its funders and has received grants totaling more than $1.4 million from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2011, $70,000 from the Scaifes’ Allegheny Foundation since 2012, more than $84,000 from the conservative “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund since 2012, and $25,000 from the Bradley Foundation in 2014. In 2014, it was reported that BRI held a $100,000 contract to develop social studies curriculum for the state of North Carolina, following the 2011 passage of a state law generated from corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council model legislation that added a requirement for all high school students to pass a course on the “founding principles of government.”

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Black Alliance For Educational Options

The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) is a nonprofit organization representing black leaders and communities that support free-market school choice and voucher programs nationwide, and it includes a number of “local chapters, advocacy sites, and mobilization sites” in Alabama, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. BAEO was instrumental in defending an embattled D.C. voucher program found to be “lack[ing] oversight” by the Government Accountability Office and in pushing state legislation creating and expanding private school vouchers. Its chair and co-founder also sits on the advisory board of the anti-teacher-tenure group Partnership for Educational Justice. BAEO is listed as an allied organization of the conservative-backed American Federation for Children, an advocacy partner of the Policy Innovators in Education Network, and a strategic partner of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options. The Washington, D.C., chapter of BAEO is also listed as an education partner of the right-wing-fueled National School Choice Week campaign. According to tax documents, BAEO received at least $185,000 from the conservative Bradley Foundation since 2012 and at least $10,000 from the DeVos Family Foundation in 2013. BAEO frequently cites research from the right-wing State Policy Network-affiliated research groups, and itself is listed in the SPN directory but does not appear to have membership or associate membership.

 

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Lynde And Harry Bradley Foundation

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is a private foundation considered to be “one of the chief funders of the conservative nonprofit world,” and “a bigger, darker rightwing funder” than the Koch brothers, operating with assets estimated to top $800 million amassed from defense contracts. The Bradley Foundation grants millions to conservative organizations ranging from advocacy groups to think tanks specializing in a number of issues, including education; the foundation was estimated to have given “as much money as the seven Koch and Scaife foundations combined” from 2001 to 2009. Investigative writer Jane Mayer wrote that the Bradley Foundation “virtually drove the early national ‘school choice’ movement, waging an all-out assault on teachers’ unions and traditional public schools.” Evidence shows the Bradley Foundation has also used its home state of Wisconsin as a testing ground for its privatization efforts; a 2015 report from the nonprofit One Wisconsin Now concluded that the foundation had spent “over $108 million in support of education privatization from 2005 to 2014” in Wisconsin and nationwide. The Bradley Foundation is credited as a major backer and influencer of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, whose tenure as Wisconsin governor has included the expansion of voucher programs, severe cuts to funding for public education, and the passage of corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) “right to work” model legislation that severely weakened unions and was found to be unconstitutional by a Wisconsin state court in April. The Bradley Foundation has also been identified as “the true author” of the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, a failed attempt to bust unions that went to the Supreme Court after being litigated by the Bradley- and Koch-backed Center for Individual Rights and was supported with amicus briefs filed by several members and affiliates of the right-wing State Policy Network of think tanks, many of which also received funding from the Bradley Foundation. The foundation awards an annual Bradley Prize for journalism -- past recipients include conservative columnist George Will and several Wall Street Journal columnists and editorial board members.

Tax filings show that the Bradley Foundation has donated to ALEC, the Alliance for School Choice, the American Center for School Choice, the American Enterprise Institute, the Bill of Rights Institute, the Black Alliance for Education Options, the Cato Institute, the Center for Education Reform, the Center for Individual Rights, the Daily Caller News Foundation, DonorsTrust, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heritage Foundation, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, the Hoover Institution, the Institute for Justice, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the Partnership for Educational Justice, the State Policy Network, the Reason Foundation, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, between 2012 and 2014.

 

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Cato Institute

The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles Koch in the 1970s. It produces policy papers across many issue areas including “education and child policy,” which tend to focus on vouchers, charter management, and other privatization-centered policies. The Cato Institute is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN) of conservative think tanks. The think tank also recently joined a number of other SPN affiliates in filing amicus briefs supporting the Supreme Court case challenging teachers unions’ use of fair-share “agency fees,” a case that could have drastically weakened all public-sector unions had it not been decided in unions' favor. The institute is listed as a policy partner of the right-wing-fueled National School Choice Week campaign, it is an ally of the American Federation for Children, and it shares four board members with the Reason Foundation, including David Koch. The Cato Institute has received more than $1.6 million in grants from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2011, $130,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation to support domestic policy programs since 2012, more than $660,000 from the conservative “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund combined to support general operations since 2012, $75,000 from the Coors Foundation in 2012, at least $25,000 from the Bradley Foundation in 2012, and at least $130,000 from the Gleason Family Foundation since 2012.

 

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Center For Education Reform

The Center for Education Reform (CER) is a pro-charter-school and pro-voucher research and advocacy organization that produces annual state-level ratings of “parent power,” which reflect a state government’s regulatory preferences for “school choice,” “charter schools,” “online learning,” “teacher quality,” and “transparency.” CER also identifies a “core pillar” of its mission as “ensur[ing] issue accuracy by challenging convention and stimulating all forms of media coverage and discussion to promote accountability in the public interest.” CER runs Media Bullpen, a “virtual newsroom,” that claims to rate education news coverage on “objectivity, proper context, its exploration of data, and search for accuracy.” CER’s “News & Analysis” page also includes press releases, opinion pieces, and weekly news round-ups -- including a recent one that advocated for a lift of Massachusetts’ charter cap, lamented a proposed moratorium on a state voucher program in Indiana, and expressed concerns about a union-friendly outcome in the Supreme Court. The center also has numerous ties to other mainstay education privatization groups. In 2003, CER celebrated its 10th anniversary by honoring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Rod Paige, the former secretary of education under George W. Bush. Its board of directors includes Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage, the executive counsel to the American Federation for Children (AFC) -- the center is listed as a national allied organization of AFC -- and several CEOs of for-profit education companies. Its advisory board includes members affiliated with the Alliance for School Choice, four charter schools, and Glenn Beck’s media outlet, The Blaze. The center also lists AFC, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and the conservative-backed National School Choice Week campaign as partners on its website. Tax filings reveal that the center has received nearly $200,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012, $90,000 from Donors Capital Fund since 2012, and at least $1 million from the Gleason Family Foundation since 2012. The group counts these foundations and many other high-profile conservative donors among its “longest-running and most prolific givers.”

 

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Center For Individual Rights

The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) is a nonprofit conservative legal organization known for its work on federal and state court cases dismantling affirmative action and civil rights protections. It is funded by a network of “dark money” donors connected to the Koch brothers. Most recently, the center was party to the Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that could have potentially harmed all public sector unions by ruling against the use of an “agency fee” charge to cover bargaining benefits extended to non-union members. CIR attorneys declined to argue the case in lower courts, instead pushing for the courts to issue decisions that would allow the case to move exceptionally quickly to the Supreme Court. CIR's funders constitute "a who's who of the right's organized opposition to labor,” including DonorsTrust, the Bradley Foundation, and the DeVos Family Foundation. Tax filings show that CIR has received a combined more than $2 million in support from the conservative “dark money ATM” groups DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund since 2012, at least $330,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation to support general operations since 2012, $305,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012, and $25,000 from the Coors Foundation in 2012. Several State Policy Network-affiliated conservative think tanks also filed amicus briefs in support of the Friedrichs challenge to unions, including the Cato Institute, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, and a group of state-level SPN members.

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Center On Reinventing Public Education

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington is a “research and policy center” listing its current research focus areas as education governance, “making school choice work,” increasing digital learning, “special education and charter schools,” school discipline models, and “new approaches to leadership and talent development.” CRPE is a national policy partner of the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network of state-based education privatization groups. CRPE lists the Bradley Foundation as a past funder, along with a number of corporate philanthropic arms including those of Exxon and Boeing.

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Adolph Coors Foundation

The Adolph Coors Foundation is the private family foundation of the Coors family, and it’s one of several private charitable foundations that invest reliably and heavily in conservative causes. The foundation lists its funding priorities as “programs that help youth prosper, encourage economic opportunities for adults and advance public policies that reflect our nation’s founding principles,” but it gives substantially to many prominent right-wing think tanks that produce reliably pro-education-privatization research and reports. Among the foundation’s grant recipients from 2011 to 2013, according to its IRS filings, are the American Legislative Exchange Council, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Center for Individual Rights, DonorsTrust, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the Reason Foundation, and the right-wing State Policy Network and several of its members and associate members.The Coors Foundation is also heavily involved in Colorado philanthropy across a number of issue areas, including donating substantial funding to local and state-based school choice groups.

 

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Daily Caller

The Daily Caller is one of several right-wing media outlets founded and supported by Koch-affiliated operatives and organizations; investigative writer Jane Mayer described it as “an outlet for opposition research paid for by the donor class.” The Daily Caller was founded by financial investor Foster Friess, a major Koch donor who has attended many of the Kochs' annual summits and donated at least $1 million to conservative causes that the Kochs support. Tucker Carlson, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, joined the Koch-founded Cato Institute in 2009 and is currently listed as a senior fellow there. The Charles Koch Foundation has supported the Daily Caller News Foundation with more than $160,000 in grant funding since 2012, and The Daily Caller News Foundation is currently listed as a "partner organization" of the Charles Koch Institute. In 2014, the conservative “dark money ATM” group DonorsTrust gave $60,000 to the Daily Caller News Foundation, and the right-wing Bradley Foundation supported the foundation with $100,000. The Daily Caller’s education editor, Eric Owens, is also listed as a contributor at Campbell Brown’s education news site, The 74, although he has not published content on The 74 since October 2015. Owens and The Daily Caller both have a long history of mocking LGBT students, sexualizing teachers, and driving misinformation in education-related news.

 

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Dick And Betsy DeVos Family Foundation

The private foundation of Amway heir Dick DeVos and his wife, Betsy, members of the “ultra-rich, ultra-conservative,” Koch-allied DeVos family, focuses its philanthropy on right-wing causes under the umbrellas of “education,” “community,” “arts,” “justice,” and “leadership.” Betsy DeVos is also the co-founder and current chair of the boards at the anti-teachers-union state advocacy groups Alliance for School Choice and American Federation for Children (AFC) and a close friend of teachers union opponent Campbell Brown, who also serves on AFC’s board. DeVos also sits on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Through the DeVos Family Foundation, the DeVoses have given millions to anti-teachers union and pro-privatization education groups; recent tax filings show donations to the Alliance for School Choice, the American Enterprise Institute, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Heritage Foundation, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, and the Institute for Justice. The foundation is listed as a supporter of Campbell Brown’s The 74 education website. Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children further connects the DeVos family to right-wing corporate reform groups; it is listed as an education partner of the right-wing-fueled National School Choice Week campaign and counts at least 19 additional groups in this guide as national allied organizations, and its affiliated Alliance for School Choice group is an associate member of the State Policy Network of conservative think tanks.

 

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DonorsTrust And Donors Capital Fund

DonorsTrust and the affiliated Donors Capital Fund (DCF) are “donor-advised funds” that have been labeled “the dark money ATM for the conservative movement.” DonorsTrust and DCF allow individuals and philanthropic organizations to donate to causes with anonymity, and their funding connections amount to an almost encyclopedic list of conservative organizations, the vast majority with ties to the Koch network of organizations. The groups have been identified as a major funder of state-based efforts to push free-market policies through the Franklin Center’s Watchdog.org outlet, which is also funded by the Koch brothers, the Center for Individual Rights, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the conservative State Policy Network and its members and affiliated organizations. DonorsTrust is itself an associate member of the State Policy Network. Many of the groups’ executives and board members have current or past affiliations with other Koch-backed organizations or conservative organizations funded by DonorsTrust, including the Cato Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, and the Reason Foundation. DonorsTrust tax forms from 2012 to 2014 detail contributions to the Alliance for School Choice, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Bill of Rights Institute, the Cato Institute, the Center for Individual Rights, the Daily Caller News Foundation, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the Libre Initiative Institute, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the State Policy Network, and the Reason Foundation, as well as several grants made to universities to support scholarship on free market, limited government policies. Donors Capital Fund, which shares many of DonorsTrust's board members, listed donations to AEI, ALEC, the Bill of Rights Institute, the Cato Institute, the Center for Education Reform, the Center for Individual Rights, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Mercatus Center, the State Policy Network, and the Reason Foundation between 2012 and 2014, including a notable $19.6 million to the Franklin Center, mostly earmarked to support conservative journalism efforts in targeted states. In 2013 and 2014, DonorsTrust granted a total of $55,000 to the Heritage Foundation to support the work of a higher education writer who was fired from The Chronicle of Higher Education after mocking black studies courses.

 

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Education Next

Education Next is an education policy journal and a publication of the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and is additionally sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the education policy program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Education Next also publishes daily online commentary at the EdNext Blog, and its polling is sometimes cited in mainstream news outlets and more frequently cited by conservative media and think tanks. The publication’s editor-in-chief is a prominent conservative education scholar whose work focuses on “parental choice” privatization measures. Education Next executive editors include leading scholars at conservative State Policy Network-affiliated think tanks, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute. Education Next is listed as an allied organization of the pro-privatization state advocacy group American Federation for Children. Tax filings show that the Hoover Institution received $145,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012, the vast majority of which funded a K-12 education "taskforce."

 

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Thomas B. Fordham Institute

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is an education-focused conservative think tank with a stated mission to “advance high standards” and “quality education options for families,” through research and advocacy. Its board of trustees includes former George W. Bush-era Secretary of Education Rod Paige, the CEO of a controversial Los Angeles public charter school group, and the head lobbyist for College Board. The current president of the Fordham Institute, Michael Petrilli, is also an executive editor of Education Next, and the Fordham Institute co-sponsors Education Next’s publication. The institute produces education news commentary through a weekly newsletter and a well-known blog called Flypaper, and it pushes its original research through opinion pieces placed in various state and national media outlets. While the institute is based in Washington, D.C., it also manages two “on-the-ground” offices in Ohio, where it has sponsored charter schools since 2004, and produces Ohio-specific school choice research and advocacy materials.The Fordham Institute is listed as an associate member of the State Policy Network of conservative think tanks, an allied organization of the American Federation for Children, and an education partner of the right-wing-fueled National School Choice Week campaign. The Fordham Institute is a national policy partner of the Policy Innovators in Education Network, and Petrilli serves on the network’s board. It lists many additional partners on its website including 50CAN, the American Enterprise Institute, Education Next, several charter school associations, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, StudentsFirst, Stand for Children, and the American Legislative Exchange Council. Tax filings show that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has received $182,500 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012.

 

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Foundation For Excellence In Education

The Foundation for Excellence in Education is a conservative education reform think tank founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) following his term as governor. Bush resigned as chairman of the foundation in anticipation of his 2016 presidential run, appointing former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to chair the board. Its board members include prominent privatization-minded right-wing philanthropists like Betsy DeVos and corporate executives like Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor and current strategic adviser and former CEO of Amplify. The foundation’s “reform agenda” advocates for digital and online learning, vouchers, high-stakes teacher evaluation models, and high-stakes testing for students. It is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN) of conservative think tanks, and is listed as partnered or allied with other SPN affiliates American Federation for Children and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The foundation is also an education partner of the conservative-backed National School Choice Week campaign and a national advocacy partner of the Policy Innovators in Education Network, where the foundation’s CEO Patricia Levesque also serves on the board of directors.

In early 2015, The Washington Post reported that Bush’s foundation “has forged an unusual role mixing politics and policy -- drafting legislation and paying travel expenses for state officials, lobbying lawmakers, and connecting public officials with industry executives seeking government contracts.” The foundation’s advocacy arm Chiefs for Change, which formally split from the foundation in March 2015 into an independent nonprofit, is a “small group of state education officials who have loudly promoted an agenda shared by Bush.” The group also advocates for digital learning products, many of which are made by companies that donate to the foundation, such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which previously owned digital education company Amplify, Pearson PLC, and K12 Inc., which all have supported the foundation’s annual national summit. Records indicate that in states where the foundation and its advocacy efforts were active, state contracts and regulations favored these companies’ interests in opening virtual charter schools or providing testing materials.

The foundation discloses its donors by contribution level; among the higher levels of giving in recent years are the News Corp., the DeVos Family Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, K12 Inc., and Pearson PLC. The foundation also lists a number of other education technology and textbook companies and major corporations as donors, primarily in support of their annual national summit, including GE, McGraw-Hill Education, Amplify and Joel Klein, Scholastic, ACT Aspire LLC., Intel, ETS, ExxonMobil, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Tax filings reveal that the foundation has received nearly $100,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012, and at least $150,000 from the DeVos Family Foundation since 2012.

 

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Franklin Center For Government And Public Integrity

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity -- and its Watchdog.org project -- is one of several right-leaning media organizations founded and supported by Koch-affiliated operatives. The center’s Watchdog.org oversees “state-based investigative reporters in more than 40 states” and aims to expose “government waste, fraud and abuse of power,” publishing articles online and placing them in state newspapers and on partner sites. Watchdog.org affiliates have a long-documented history of pushing misinformation and engaging in misleading reporting that favors conservative policies and politicians across the country. The Franklin Center has itself funded several members and associate members of the State Policy Network (SPN) of conservative think tanks, and its work often reflects the agendas of both SPN and the American Legislative Education Council (ALEC). The center is listed as a policy partner of the right-wing-fueled National School Choice Week campaign. The Franklin Center was reported to have received 95 percent of its revenue from two Koch-affiliated organizations known as “the dark money ATM of the conservative movement,” DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. Tax documents from the groups list more than $23 million in combined support for the Franklin Center since 2012, often earmarked for conservative journalism projects in targeted states, such as a nearly $107,000 grant from DonorsTrust in 2013 for Pennsylvania education reporting. Tax filings show that the Charles Koch Foundation has additionally supported the center with more than $67,000 since 2012. The center has also received $415,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012, and $35,000 in 2014 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation to support journalism programs.

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Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice is a free-market voucher advocacy nonprofit, founded by neoliberal economists Milton and Rose Friedman in 1996, that serves as a research and marketing resource for pro-voucher state-level organizations across the country. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the Friedman Foundation has collaborated with the American Legislative Education Council (ALEC) and the Alliance for School Choice to draft model legislation expanding voucher programs, and has attended at least one ALEC annual meeting. The foundation’s website points “media,” “researchers,” “policymakers,” and “parents and educators” to pro-voucher research, explainers, and news releases. The site also features a “speakers bureau” of policy analysts and leaders at a number of right-wing State Policy Network member and affiliate think tanks and state and national corporate reform groups. The foundation is a strategic partner of the Hispanic Council on Reform and Educational Options and an education partner of the conservative-fueled National School Choice Week campaign. Tax forms show the foundation has received funding from a handful of reliably conservative donors, including $609,000 from the Gleason Family Foundation since 2012, a $25,000 grant from the Coors Foundation in 2011, and a $10,000 grant from conservative “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust in 2014.

 

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Gleason Family Foundation

The Gleason Family Foundation is the secretive private family foundation of a machine tool manufacturing company that is credited for funding and launching the National School Choice Week (NSCW) campaign in 2011. It has spent millions supporting the campaign since. Tax forms show that the foundation spent $1.7 million on NCSW in 2012, and ramped up spending to nearly $2.7 million in 2013. It is currently listed as a philanthropic partner of the campaign. The foundation also gives to a number of education privatization and Koch-affiliated groups that oppose unions. Tax filings show that, in 2014, the foundation gave at least $500,000 to the Alliance for School Choice, $75,000 to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and $350,000 to the Institute for Justice. Nine additional groups discussed in this guide -- many of which are partners of National School Choice Week -- have also received grants from the Gleason Family Foundation since 2012. The Gleason Foundation’s tax records from 2012 and 2013 -- 2014 records do not appear to be publicly available in their entirety -- show that the Gleason Foundation gave to ALEC, the Cato Institute, the Center for Education Reform, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the Reason Foundation, and the State Policy Network (SPN) of conservative think tanks, as well as a number of individual SPN members and state-based school choice groups. The foundation has funded a "Teachers Union initiative" at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, where Stefan Gleason served as vice president from 1999 to 2010.

 

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Heartland Institute

The Heartland Institute is a libertarian think tank known primarily for its environmental and tax reform stances, but it also operates a Center for School Transformation which advocates against the Common Core state standards and in favor of vouchers through research, editorials, and press releases and American Legislative Education Council (ALEC)-modeled parent trigger laws. The institute calls these controversial laws that pave the way for “transformation” of public schools -- often in the form of closures or conversion to charters -- “the most powerful education reform policy since Milton Friedman advocated the school voucher." It also operates the website TheParentTrigger.com that tracks the status of parent trigger legislation across the country, encouraging parent visitors, “It’s time to pull the Parent Trigger.” In 2014, the Heartland Institute’s climate science denial came under fire after its inclusion in Texas textbooks published by McGraw-Hill. The Heartland Institute is a policy partner of the right-wing-backed National School Choice Week campaign and an associate member of the State Policy Network of conservative think tanks, and is heavily funded by Donors Capital Fund and the Bradley Foundation. Tax filings list at least $4 million in funding from Donors Capital Fund since 2012 to support general operations at the institute, a $30,000 grant from the Coors Foundation in 2013, a $50,000 grant from the Gleason Family Foundation in 2013, and a $25,000 grant from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011.

 

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Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation is one of most prominent conservative think tanks in the nation, and it produces research on a number of issues, including education. The foundation’s education focus areas are education savings accounts (ESAs), which operate similarly to traditional vouchers; the Common Core state standards; and areas for federal and state legislative reform. The foundation is a policy partner of the conservative-fueled National School Choice Week campaign, an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN) of right-wing think tanks, and a sponsor of SPN’s most recent annual meeting. A Heritage Foundation fellow is also listed in the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice’s speakers bureau. The foundation operates The Daily Signal, a “multi-media news platform” that “provides policy and political news as well as conservative commentary and policy analysis” on education and other issues. It has received general and education-specific support from a substantial list of reliably right-wing donors, including $1.8 million from the Sarah Scaife Foundation from 2012 to 2014, $125,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012, $375,000 from the Roe Foundation since 2012, $350,000 from the Coors Foundation from 2011 to 2013, at least $250,000 from the Gleason Family Foundation, and at least $15,000 from the DeVos Family Foundation from 2012 to 2013. Tax filings from 2013 and 2014 show that, in addition to substantial funding to support general operations at the Heritage Foundation, DonorsTrust also gave at least $55,000 specifically to support the work of a higher education writer who was fired from The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012 after writing a controversial piece mocking dissertation topics from black studies programs, and an additional $100,000 was earmarked to support The Daily Signal.

 

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Hispanic Council For Reform And Educational Options

The Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO) is a nonprofit “school choice” advocacy organization geared toward the Hispanic community. The organization has substantial connections to right-wing privatization groups and private funders. The council is a national organization, but it focuses its operations in Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and Texas. HCREO lists several conservative State Policy Network-affiliated groups as “strategic partners” including the Black Alliance for Educational Options, National School Choice Week, the American Federation for Children, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, and ConnCAN, as well as StudentsFirst. Tax documents show that HCREO was granted $100,000 by the conservative Bradley Foundation in 2014 and at least $5,000 from the DeVos Family Foundation in 2013.

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Institute For Justice

The Institute for Justice is a Koch-funded “libertarian public interest law firm” currently litigating five high-profile state school voucher cases. The organization has previously litigated numerous state and federal cases on the matter, including two at the Supreme Court. The group was co-founded in 1991 by prominent anti-affirmative-action lawyers Chip Mellor and Clint Bolick, with initial seed money provided by Charles Koch. The institute is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN) of right-wing think tanks, shares two board members with the conservative Reason Foundation, and is an education partner of the right-wing-backed National School Choice Week campaign. According to its website, the group is currently involved in ongoing high-profile cases in Montana, Nevada, Florida, Colorado, and Georgia. Since 2011, it has succeeded in opposing teachers unions to preserve voucher programs in North Carolina, New Hampshire, Alabama, Arizona, and Indiana. The Institute for Justice was an early member of the corporate-driven model legislation mill American Legislative Education Council’s (ALEC) education task force, along with Connections Academy (now owned by Pearson), the Alliance for School Choice, and K12 Inc., which pushed virtual schools, voucher, and scholarship tax credit model legislation. According to tax filings, the group has been granted at least $520,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012, $310,000 in general operational support from the Sarah Scaife Foundation since 2012, at least $240,000 from the Coors Foundation since 2011, $30,000 from the Roe Foundation since 2012, nearly $1.7 million from the Gleason Family Foundation since 2012, and nearly $1.2 million from conservative “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund since 2012.

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K12 Inc.

K12 Inc. is a for-profit digital education company that sells online curriculum materials to local schools and state governments, and it’s the largest online charter school operator in the U.S. The company was founded by a former Goldman Sachs executive, Ron Packard, and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, a controversial conservative media figure. The disastrous results of K12’s schooling model have been well-documented in investigative reports by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and PolitiFact, and in research from left-leaning and right-leaning organizations including the Center on Reinventing Public Education. The most recent reports from Mathematica Policy Research, Stanford University’s Center for Research in Education Outcomes, and the Center on Reinventing Public Education all concluded that “students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.” BuzzFeed News’ coverage of the reports concluded that the “abysmal results” of the reports “united in scorn” both charter school advocates and teachers unions. K12 Inc. calls itself a “proud” member of the corporate-driven bill mill American Legislative Education Council (ALEC), which has pushed virtual schools legislation that would create greater demand for products like those produced by K12, and has contributed financially to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a pro-privatization think tank that also frequently touts digital learning tools in its policy recommendations. The majority of its executives hail from the corporate world or from other for-profit education companies, and the head of K12’s “curriculum and products organization” previously spearheaded product development at Pearson Publishing.

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Charles Koch Foundation

The Charles Koch Foundation is the private philanthropic organization of Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, and it gives grants to “universities and other non-profit organizations to explore the institutions that foster societal well-being.” Reports indicate that the Charles Koch Foundation is one of several Koch funding groups donating to universities and think tanks to “forward their political goals and to build a ‘talent pipeline’ of libertarian-minded students.” The foundation supports free-market teachings at the university level, and its tax forms from 2014 list single grants ranging from $301 to more than $11 million, awarded to a wide range of institutions of higher education as well as major conservative-leaning think tanks and news outlets. In 2014, the foundation gave a total of more than $24 million for use in “educational programs,” “educational grants,” and “general operating support” at these schools and organizations, including more than $11.8 million in 2014 to George Mason University, which hosts the Mercatus Center. On April 1, it was announced that George Mason University would rename its law school as The Antonin Scalia School of Law, following a $10 million contribution from the Charles Koch Foundation and an anonymous gift to the university of $20 million.

Since 2012, the foundation has also awarded several million dollars in grants to support conservative and libertarian think tanks and media outlets, including the State Policy Network of conservative think tanks and several of its affiliates, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the American Enterprise Institute, the Bill of Rights Institute, the Cato Institute, the Daily Caller News Foundation, DonorsTrust, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the Reason Foundation. The president of the foundation, who also heads the Charles Koch Institute, previously directed the Mercatus Center and is now reportedly a board member of the newly formed Koch nonprofit Stand Together.

 

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Libre Initiative

The Libre Initiative purports to be a “non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization” that aims to “empower the U.S. Hispanic community” by advocating for “a constitutionally limited government, property rights, rule of law, sound money supply and free enterprise.” Far from a grass-roots movement, Libre is largely supported by various Koch funding streams and is staffed by long-time GOP operatives. The group’s policy agenda includes many stances that effectively hurt the Hispanic and Latino community -- especially poor and young Hispanics -- such as supporting school voucher programs and voter ID laws that “disenfranchise Hispanic voters,” and opposing strong unions, the Affordable Care Act, and a federal minimum wage increase. The Libre Initiative pushes for vouchers and other education privatization efforts disguised as “school choice” in opinion pieces placed nationwide in newspapers and in frequent conservative media appearances. The group also hosts community events, like free driver’s license classes in Spanish, and scholarships and raffles designed to build “goodwill in the Latino community” for proselytizing on libertarian ideas, a frequent tactic of Koch-backed philanthropic efforts. Libre is one of many groups in this guide to back events for National School Choice Week in recent years, encouraging legislators to expand privatization-focused policies. Tax documents list a $200,000 grant in 2014 from conservative “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust to support general operations at the Libre Initiative Institute.

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Manhattan Institute For Policy Research

The Manhattan Institute is a conservative think tank that produces research on a number of topics, including education and urban policy. Its education focus areas are “school choice, teacher quality, curricular standards, and school accountability,” and it produces research and commentary consistently favoring high-stakes evaluations for students, teachers, and schools; vouchers; and other privatization policies; and opposing teachers unions. In 2012, one of the institute’s senior education fellows wrote a book advocating for high-stakes teacher evaluation models featuring a foreword by Amplify adviser and former New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein. The Manhattan Institute is an associate member of the State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks, and it counts the Bradley Foundation and the Koch-backed “dark money ATM” groups DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund among its top donors. The institute has received at least $720,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012, more than $460,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2011, $500,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation since 2012, $20,000 from the Coors Foundation in 2012, at least $150,000 from the Gleason Family Foundation from 2012 to 2013, and nearly $200,000 from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund combined since 2012, all to fund education-related projects and general operations.

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Mercatus Center At George Mason University

The Mercatus Center is a conservative research center focused on “how markets solve problems,” based at George Mason University, and is an associate member of the State Policy Network of conservative think tanks. It was founded and is funded by the Koch brothers, and it is one of several centers and departments at George Mason that together have received just under $80 million from Koch foundations from 2005 to 2014. George Mason has been called “the center of the Koch college universe” and is by far the largest beneficiary of the Kochs’ recent philanthropic focus in higher education. An investigation into these efforts by the Center for Public Integrity noted that the center’s research on tax policies, deregulation, social programs, and health care is widely cited by Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity and increasingly used in congressional reports. The Mercatus Center has received more than $9 million from the Charles Koch Foundation, and a combined $9.3 million from “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund in recent years. Charles Koch is also a board member at the center, along with the current president of the Charles Koch Foundation, who previously served as Mercatus’ director and CEO and also reportedly serves on the board at the newly formed Koch nonprofit Stand Together. Its “sister organization,” the Institute for Humane Studies, serves as “a libertarian recruitment firm, identifying, developing, and supporting ‘talented students, scholars, and other intellectuals who share an interest in liberty and in advancing the principles and practice of freedom.’” The institute has received nearly $24 million in support from the Charles Koch Foundation, more than $4 million from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund combined, and $2 million from David Koch’s foundation in recent years, as well as $225,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation since 2012.

 

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National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) is the nonprofit arm of the union opposition group the National Right to Work Committee. Together, these organizations have long been a “national leader in the effort to destroy public and private sector unions,” with the NRTWLDF participating in litigation to harm unions since the late 1960s, including several major cases that advanced to the Supreme Court. The NRTWLDF’s stated mission is to “eliminate coercive union power and compulsory unionism abuses through strategic litigation, public information, and education programs.” The NRTWLDF is an associate member of the State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks, and its legal actions work in concert with the National Right to Work Committee to push and defend “right to work” model legislation created by the American Legislative Education Council (ALEC). Right to work legislation has so far been adopted in 26 states, although Wisconsin’s right to work law was struck down as unconstitutional by a Wisconsin state court in April. The organization’s legal staff includes four former associates at the Charles Koch Institute, and former staffers at the Institute for Justice, the Cato Institute, and the offices of four Republican congressmen. All but one of the staff attorneys are listed as members of the conservative Federalist Society. The Gleason Family Foundation, the private funder behind National School Choice Week, has strong ties to the NRTWLDF; Stefan Gleason previously served as vice president of the NRTWLDF from 1999-2010, and the Gleason Foundation has funded a “teachers union initiative” at the NRTWLDF. In addition to grant support from the Gleason Family Foundation totaling $200,000 in 2012 and 2013, the NRTWLDF has also received funding totaling more than $386,000 from “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund combined since 2012, $50,000 from the Scaifes’ Carthage Foundation since 2013, and $250,000 from the Bradley Foundation since 2012 to fund general operations.

 

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National School Choice Week

National School Choice Week (NSCW) is a “massive public relations campaign” pushed primarily by the corporate-driven bill mill American Legislative Education Council (ALEC), the State Policy Network (SPN) of right-wing think tanks, and several major private and corporate funders in the education reform world. NSCW was started by the Gleason Family Foundation in 2011. The foundation reported spending $1.7 million on the campaign in 2012, and nearly $2.7 million in 2013. The campaign lists the American Federation for Children, the DC chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the Center for Education Reform, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, the Institute for Justice, and StudentsFirst, as its “education” partners. NCSW also lists the Alliance for School Choice, ALEC, the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the conservative group FreedomWorks, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, PennCAN, the Reason Foundation, and a number of SPN members among its “policy” partners. During 2016 National School Choice Week, ALEC pushed for a “revolutionary” voucher bill introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). NSCW is listed as an allied organization of the American Federation for Children and a sponsor of SPN’s most recent annual meeting. The Koch-funded Libre Initiative also backed a number of NCSW events in 2015 and 2016.

 

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Parent Revolution

Parent Revolution is a Los Angeles-focused advocacy organization claiming to represent grass-roots parent advocates for “kids first” policies in the state of California. Parent Revolution was and remains instrumental in the push for American Legislative Education Council-modeled “parent trigger” laws in several cities in California, which allow for the takeover and “transformation” of traditional public schools, typically resulting in closures or conversions into charter schools with fewer accountability mechanisms. The group is a national advocacy partner of the Policy Innovators in Education Network.

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Partnership For Educational Justice

The Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ) was founded by former journalist and anti-teachers-union advocate Campbell Brown in 2013. The PEJ, formerly known as All Kids Matter, is a nonprofit legal advocacy group that primarily works to challenge teachers union protections in courts and currently is party to a lawsuit filed in New York that attempts to weaken teacher tenure laws. In April, the group also moved forward with a similar legal challenge to tenure job protections in Minnesota. Its board of directors includes, in addition to Brown, a member affiliated with the pro-reform group NYCAN. Its advisory board includes leaders from StudentsFirstNY and the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Though the group does not disclose its financials, it was reported to have raised more than $3 million in 2014, and received $200,000 from the Bradley Foundation in 2014.

 

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Pearson PLC

Pearson is an international publishing and education company based in London; its North American division does about $4 billion in sales annually, primarily through the U.S. testing and curriculum markets. Pearson sells its products to states and school districts, contracting out curriculum, testing materials, teacher evaluations, and school management software, utilizing “aggressive lobbyists, top-notch marketing and a highly skilled sales team” to often secure multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts. In 2012, New York Times columnist Gail Collins highlighted two of Pearson’s five-year testing contracts at the time -- $32 million with New York state and “nearly half-a-billion dollars” with the state of Texas -- to underscore the growing for-profit testing industry in the U.S. Collins concluded that, “An American child could go to a public school run by Pearson, studying from books produced by Pearson, while his or her progress is evaluated by Pearson standardized tests. The only public participant in the show would be the taxpayer.” A Politico investigation of Pearson’s contracts concluded, “It writes the textbooks and tests that drive instruction in public schools across the nation. Its software grades student essays, tracks student behavior and diagnoses -- and treats -- attention deficit disorder. The company administers teacher licensing exams and coaches teachers once they’re in the classroom. It advises principals. It operates a network of three dozen online public schools. It co-owns the for-profit company that now administers the GED.” In response to stalling financial performance in recent quarters, an alliance of pension funds with shares in Pearson -- including the American Federation of Teachers national educators union -- has called for the company to “end its over-reliance on high-stakes testing” in the U.S., which the resolution says accounts for 60 percent of Pearson’s profits.

Textbook imprints owned by Pearson include Scott Foresman, Prentice Hall, Addison-Wesley, Harcourt, and Adobe Press, among others. Pearson has held a contract to score the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test since 1989, and produces materials for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing consortium, the Stanford Achievement Tests, and the GED, among others. Pearson additionally owns and operates a number of digital curriculum, assessment, and learning management companies and programs including Schoolnet teacher assessments, PowerSchool online school management, eCollege, and numerous others geared toward both K-12 students and teachers and higher education students and professors. Pearson also owns and operates Connections Education virtual charter schools, the second largest online charter operator after K12 Inc. Connections is also a former member of the American Legislative Education Council (ALEC)’s education task force along with the Alliance for School Choice, the Institute for Justice, and K12 Inc. Pearson has also donated to the Foundation for Excellence in Education to support its annual national summit. Both the ALEC task force and the Foundation for Excellence in Education have pushed virtual school model legislation, which encourages greater demand for digital education materials and services such as those owned by Pearson. Penguin Random House, the global trade book publisher, is also a joint venture of Pearson, which operates Penguin, and Bertelsmann, which runs Random House.

Pearson is an international company, and its dominance of the education market extends beyond U.S. borders. As Wired recently reported, Pearson is also expanding operations of low-fee for-profit schools -- that also use Pearson instructional and testing materials -- in developing countries. “Pearson would like to become education’s first major conglomerate, serving as the largest private provider of standardized tests, software, materials, and now the schools themselves,” reporter Anya Kamenetz wrote in Wired in April. “To this end, the company is testing academic, financial, and technological models for fully privatized education on the world’s poor.”

Pearson began as a publishing company and has evolved and narrowed its focus, now describing itself as “focused solely on education.” In the summer of 2015, Pearson sold The Financial Times and its stake in The Economist in order to focus on “consolidating its place as the world’s leading education company,” and subsequently announced a rebranded logo reflecting the corporation’s shift to a “100% focus” “on global education.” In February, the company also announced that it would narrow its focus away from its learning management systems like OpenClass and LearningStudio to “pour resources into course materials and other products that have the most ‘direct impact’ on students and faculty members.” Pearson’s now-defunct nonprofit, the Pearson Charitable Foundation, was shuttered in 2015 following an investigation that found numerous instances where its grant-making efforts were “intertwined with the Pearson corporation’s business interests, potentially in violation of tax laws.” The investigation into the foundation’s activities followed a legal settlement in 2013 requiring the foundation to add board members with no ties to the company, or to limit its efforts to grant-making rather than its own programs. The settlement came after accusations of misconduct from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, including regarding an instance where the foundation developed online courses “with the intent of letting Pearson sell them nationwide.” Pearson’s chairman of global assessments and virtual learning, Doug Kubach, is married to the executive director of the Policy Innovators in Education Network.

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Policy Innovators In Education Network

The Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network is a membership organization of 48 state-level “education reform organizations in 31 states and the District of Columbia,” which encompasses a number of corporate reform and pro-privatization groups with right-wing funding connections. The network draws on policy research and advocacy support from national organizations to assist its state members. PIE Network lists the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute as “policy partners,” and 50CAN, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Parent Revolution, StudentsFirst, and Stand for Children as “advocacy partners.” The group’s executive director, Suzanne Tacheny Kubach, is the former board chair of a charter school in Minnesota and the wife of Pearson’s chairman of global assessments and virtual learning. Its high-level staff also includes the former national communications director for BAEO and a staffer at Stand for Children. Its board of directors includes the president of StudentsFirst, the co-founder and CEO of Stand for Children, the former CEO of ConnCAN, the CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the CEO of the billionaire-funded League of Education Voters, and the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who is also the executive editor of Education Next.

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Reason Foundation

The Reason Foundation is a libertarian think tank that produces research on a number of policy issues, including education, and also publishes the monthly magazine Reason and the politically focused blog Reason.com. The foundation is closely tied to the corporate-driven bill mill American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch brothers’ philanthropic foundations. David Koch sits on its board of trustees, along with a DonorsTrust board member, three Cato Institute board members, entertainer Drew Carey, a board member of the conservative Federalist Society, and two board members of the Institute for Justice. Board member Walter Williams also sits on the boards of the Cato Institute, the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity Foundation, and the Hoover Institution, and appears as a ”regular substitute host for The Rush Limbaugh Show.” The Reason Foundation is a policy partner of the conservative-driven National School Choice Week campaign and an associate member of the State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks, and ALEC regularly cites the foundation in its policy work. According to tax documents, the Reason Foundation has received at least $130,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2012 to support general operations and “educational grants,” just over $1.47 million from “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund combined since 2012 (some earmarked for college campus-targeted campaigns), $300,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation since 2012, at least $150,000 from the Gleason Family Foundation from 2012 to 2013, $100,000 from the Coors Foundation since 2011, $25,000 from the Bradley Foundation in 2014 for research on public-sector union (such as teachers union) pension reforms, and $15,000 from the Roe Foundation since 2012.

 

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Thomas A. Roe Foundation

The Thomas A. Roe Foundation is a private charitable foundation started by Thomas Roe, a businessman and Republican party operative, and now managed by his estate. Roe was the founding chairman of the State Policy Network (SPN) of right-wing think tanks and an early funder of the conservative Heritage Foundation along with Joseph Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife. The Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Economic Studies is funded by the Roe Foundation and named in Roe's honor. The Roe Foundation continues to fund SPN and donates to many of its members, associate members, and other affiliated organizations. According to recent tax documents, the Roe Foundation has donated to a number of SPN-affiliated groups and state-based members, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the Reason Foundation, and SPN itself. As of its 2014 tax filings, board members of the Roe Foundation included a former president of the Heritage Foundation, the current chairman of SPN, the current president and CEO of SPN, and two additional SPN board members.

 

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Scaife Foundations

The Scaife Foundations are a group of private foundations founded and run by the family of the late Richard Mellon Scaife, billionaire heir of the Mellon banking fortune and a major funder of conservative candidates, think tanks, and news outlets. Tax filings from 2012 to 2014 show donations from the foundations to a range of State Policy Network members and nationally focused conservative think tanks, many of which concentrate efforts on school voucher and privatization policies. These include donations from the Sarah Scaife Foundation to support general operations at the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Individual Rights, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and the Reason Foundation; and to support domestic policy programs at the Cato Institute and journalism programs at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. These also include donations from the Allegheny Foundation to support programs at the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Pennsylvania Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the Bill of Rights Institute, and support from the Carthage Foundation for programs at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation from 2013 to 2014.

 

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Stand For Children

Stand for Children is a pro-privatization organization focused on state-level advocacy for policies and candidates in 11 states: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. Stand for Children and its state affiliates have been criticized for downplaying their connections to corporate interests and funding streams as the organization has grown. Stand for Children’s board of directors is comprised almost entirely of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers. Stand for Children is a national advocacy partner of the Policy Innovators in Education Network, and its co-founder and CEO Jonah Edelman serves on the network’s board of directors.

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Stand Together

Stand Together is a new “venture philanthropy” effort, launched by the Koch brothers’ philanthropic arm in early 2016 and geared toward grant-making to address “poverty and educational quality.” The new initiative is in its “start-up phase,” but it plans to raise at least $15 million in 2016 to fund education and poverty-related grants. Stand Together’s executive director is a longtime Koch operative and former tea party congressional candidate who previously spearheaded the anti-Affordable Care Act group Generation Opportunity. The president of the Charles Koch Foundation, who previously directed the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and currently serves on the center’s board, is also reportedly a board member of Stand Together. Although little is known about Stand Together’s funding priorities, its first project indicates it will involve pushing a "free-market" ideology; the group will partner with Bob Woodson, a prominent conservative “poverty guru” who is notably opposed to federal welfare and disability programs.

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State Policy Network

The State Policy Network (SPN) is a network of affiliated “independent, non-profit, market-oriented, state-focused think tanks,” partly funded by Charles and David Koch, that produces and pushes research backing free-market policies in state and local media outlets. As Media Matters first noted in 2013, SPN-affiliated groups purport to be independent, but they frequently share reports and resources with one another and are aligned across many policy issue areas, including education, and with the corporate-funded bill mill American Legislative Education Council (ALEC). SPN’s education policy agenda substantially centers on “digital education” expansion, which corresponds with corporate-backed ALEC model legislation pushing the same policies, and school voucher expansion. SPN currently lists 64 state-focused think tanks as “members” and more than 100 state- or nationally focused think tanks as “associate members,” including 15 groups discussed in this guide. Membership is described as “voluntary and by invitation-only.” SPN also includes a number of other research organizations in its directory, although these are labeled as “other organizations” that do not appear to have a membership. Members of SPN include at least one group in each of the 50 states, often vaguely titled state “policy centers” and “policy institutes.” Associate members of SPN include the Alliance for School Choice, the American Enterprise Institute, ALEC, the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Center for Education Reform, DonorsTrust, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the conservative nonprofit FreedomWorks, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the Reason Foundation, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Other organizations” listed in the SPN directory apart from members and associate members include 17 local chapters of Americans for Prosperity, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the Charles Koch Foundation, the anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council, and 10 state chapters of FreedomWorks. Beyond sharing resources and connections that push the same free-market policy agenda on privatizing education, many of its affiliates are financial supporters of SPN. Sponsors of SPN’s 2015 annual meeting include ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, and the National School Choice Week campaign. Top donors to SPN include Donors Capital Fund, DonorsTrust, the Roe Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation. From 2012 to 2014, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund gave a total of more than $8.7 million to support SPN’s general operations, as well as numerous grants to state-level SPN member think tanks, many of which were earmarked to bankroll ALEC participation.

 

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StudentsFirst

StudentsFirst is a lobbying organization founded by former D.C. public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who imposed a series of controversial teacher firings and school closings as head of the D.C. public school system. The organization supports many of the same types of reforms advocated by Rhee during her tenure as schools chancellor or shortly after her resignation – weakening teacher tenure laws, lifting limits to charter schools, and supporting voucher programs driving students to private schools. Since its founding in 2010, StudentsFirst has lent financial and strategic support to local and state elections across the country in support of overwhelmingly Republican candidates and policies that oppose unions. The Democratic Party of California has formally denounced StudentsFirst, writing that the group’s “so-called ‘reform’ initiatives … rely on destructive anti-educator policies that do nothing for students but blame educators and their unions for the ills of society” and “see public schools as potential profit centers and children as measureable commodities.” In 2014, Rhee stepped down as CEO of StudentsFirst; her replacement, Jim Blew, is a former staffer at the Alliance for School Choice. As of the organization’s tax filings for 2013 -- the most recent available -- its board of directors has included Rhee, former New York City schools chancellor and StudentsFirst “co-founder” Joel Klein, Bill Cosby, sports analyst Jalen Rose, and journalists Connie Chung and Roland Martin. StudentsFirst is a listed partner of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an allied organization of the American Federation for Children, an education partner of the National School Choice Week campaign, and a strategic partner of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options. StudentsFirst is also an advocacy partner of the Policy Innovators in Education Network, and Blew sits on the network’s board of directors. StudentsFirstNY and teachers union opponent Campbell Brown also have extensive ties: Brown’s husband, Dan Senor, sits on the board of StudentsFirstNY, and StudentsFirstNY’s director of organizing is on the advisory board of Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice. Tax filings show grant funding amounting to at least $5,000 from Donors Capital Fund in 2013. In the time since Rhee’s departure, StudentsFirst has reportedly significantly downsized its operations. In March, 50CAN and StudentsFirst announced in an exclusive at The 74 that they would merge and begin operating under the 50CAN name nationally, although state chapters of StudentsFirst will, for the most part, retain their names. Blew will stay on as a senior adviser at 50CAN. The report also noted that the more autonomous StudentsFirstNY “will not be affected by the merger,” and the larger 50CAN will “run advocacy and lobbying campaigns in at least 11 states.”

 

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Methodology

Media Matters obtained organizations’ tax filings (IRS Forms 990) using the Guidestar nonprofit database, a paid service. When they are available, we have provided links to publicly accessible 990 forms or reports that list an organization’s specific grants.

Unless otherwise noted, funding totals in this guide include general operations or generalized program support, funding for which a purpose was not specified, and/or funding earmarked specifically for education policy. We ommitted funds that were specifically earmarked for programs unrelated to education policy in calculating totals.

Beth Cope and Timothy Johnson contributed research and editing support for this project. 

Graphics by Sarah Wasko. 

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