In the Public Interest Releases Emails Showing Corporate Influence on State Education Policy

February 5, 2013 -- Partnership for Working Families

Emails between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), founded and chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and state education officials show that the foundation is writing state education laws and regulations in ways that could benefit its corporate funders.

The emails, obtained by In the Public Interest, a project of the Partnership, through public records requests, reveal that the organization, sometimes working through its Chiefs For Change affiliate, wrote and edited laws, regulations and executive orders, often in ways that improved profit opportunities for the organization’s financial backers.

“Testing companies and for-profit online schools see education as big business,” said In the Public Interest Chair Donald Cohen. “For-profit companies are hiding behind FEE and other business lobby organizations they fund to write laws and promote policies that enrich the companies.”

The emails conclusively reveal that FEE staff acted to promote their corporate funders’ priorities, and demonstrate the dangerous role that corporate money plays in shaping our education policy. Correspondence in Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Louisiana paint a graphic picture of corporate money distorting democracy.

To read the emails, please visit ITPI's database.

Most concerning are the findings that reveal:

  • In New Mexico, FEE acted as a broker to organize meetings between their corporate donors and individual Chiefs.
  • Maine moved the FEE policy agenda through legislation and executive order that would remove barriers to online education and in some cases would require online classes - including eliminating class size caps and student-teacher ratios, allowing public dollars to flow to online schools and classes, eliminate ability of local school districts to limit access to virtual schools.
  • In Florida, FEE helped write legislation that would increase the use of a proprietary test (FCAT) under contract to Pearson, an FEE donor.
  • In February 2012, FEE CEO Patricia Levesque urged state officials to introduce SendHub, a communications tool, into their state's schools. News reports indicate that Jeb Bush was an investor in the start-up by the fall of 2012.

“These emails show a troubling link between Jeb Bush's effort to lobby for ‘reforms’ through his statewide Foundation for Florida's Future, his national Foundation for Excellence in Education, and the powerful corporations who want access to billions of our tax dollars by reshaping public education policies just to create markets for themselves - none of which is in the best interest of our children,” said Kathleen Oropeza, a Florida parent.