POLITICS

Private funding influenced public education policy

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michal Conger

Education watchdogs are raising concerns over the Gates Foundation’s involvement in shaping public education policy, saying the private foundation’s influence in public education policy interferes with the democratic process and local input.

The foundation, owned by Bill and Melinda Gates, is the world’s largest philanthropy and has been heavily involved in funding states’ new Common Core curriculum, the Heartland Institute reported on Monday.

Gates has spent $173 million in grants to develop Common Core standards and win support for the curriculum, according to a Heartland analysis of the Foundation’s grant database.

The Foundation’s funding amounts to a marketing campaign for Common Core, Jane Robbins, a senior fellow with American Principles Project, told The Washington Examiner.

The Gates Foundation “has determined what it thinks education policy should be” and funded efforts to put that policy into effect, Robbins said.

“It’s the way [Gates is] doing it that we think is curious,” said Scott Thomas, dean of Claremont Graduate University’s education school, according to Heartland. “It’s an intrusion into the public sphere more directly that has not been seen before. They’re jumping into the policy process itself. That’s an interesting position, for a nonprofit to be involved in things that look a lot like lobbying.”

The problem with this expensive marketing campaign is that the policies Gates helped fund were created “under the radar,” without input from stakeholders or legislators, said Robbins. Now the curriculum is taught to students across the country.

The grants were made to nonprofit organizations whose policy-making meetings were conducted behind closed doors, including the the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, according to Heartland.

“Nobody really knew what was going on,” said Robbins.

The timeline of states’ Race to the Top applications, which included a requirement for a standard core curriculum that essentially excluded programs other than Common Core, was also problematic, she said.

Applications for Race to the Top funding were released by the U.S. Department of Education in November 2009 and were due in January 2010, even though most state legislatures aren’t in session during that time. Common Core standards were not released until June 2010, when states were given two months to sign off on them, again at a time when most state legislatures are not in session.

Instead, states’ boards of education signed off on the standards, and the majority of legislatures did not give their stamp of approval to Common Core at all, Robbins said.

“There was no chance to look at these standards, or to sign off on them,” she said.

The lack of transparency and local input is the primary problem APP and other education watchdogs have with Common Core and the Gates Foundation’s funding of it.

“There’s no accountability there,” Robbins said. “That’s the threat to the democratic process.”

The Gates Foundation told The Washington Examiner it did not fund Race to the Top, but did not speak on the record for this story.

Updated 3:30 p.m.:

The Gates Foundation has sent a statement about their involvement in Common Core policy development:

“Like all 501(c)3 organizations, the Gates Foundation does not engage in lobbying. The foundation does, however, use its voice to advocate for policy that supports its overall goal of ensuring all students graduate school prepared for college and career.”

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