Friday, July 3, 2015

Is Someone Thinking About Giving Me a Few Million to Start an Education News Network? Not Likely.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 3, 2015 at 3:23 PM

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No one would be foolish enough to give me a couple million to start an online education news network. I'm the wrong guy for the job, in spades. But it would be nice if someone on the progressive side of education got that kind of money to put together a slick, comprehensive website to cover education news, staffed with serious, experienced journalists.

I don't see that happening. But ex-CNN and NBC anchor Campbell Brown is getting big money to start an online news network with a privatization/"education reform" slant. It must be nice to have friends in high financial places.

Brown's nonprofit news site is supposed to go live in mid July. She's hired 13 people so far, including a former editor at Time magazine and a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. It takes a decent chunk of change to pay 13 quality staff members while also taking care of general startup costs. But money isn't really a problem when your funding comes from the likes of Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Walton Family Foundation, among others.

As in the world of politics, there's a financial imbalance between the people supporting conservative and progressive education agendas. In education, the big money is on the anti-union, anti-tenure, pro-charter, pro-voucher side. They have the means to package and disseminate their message. There's just not the same kind of money on the progressive side.

This isn't Brown's only educational venture. She also runs another nonprofit with deep pockets devoted to fighting teacher tenure and seniority laws in court. And she's hardly a lone voice crying in the wilderness. A number of well funded organizations push a similar agenda. For instance, there's Students First, the group started by Michelle Rhee who built her educational reputation on lies and half truths about her successes as a teacher and as chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools. She raised lots of money before she got kicked out of her own organization. Students First also has a high powered Board of Directors. One of the board members is Dan Senor, who was an aide to President George W. Bush, chief spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, foreign policy advisor for Mitt Romney during his 2012 presidential bid — and Campbell Brown's husband.

And speaking of the Bush family, there's Jeb's group, Foundation for Excellence in Education, which he had to leave when he began his presidential run. Donations to the group totaled $46 million from FEE's beginnings in 2007 until 2014. Some of the donors, whose names Jeb disclosed in the past few days, are: Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill Gates Foundation, Rupert Murdoch's New Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., Duke Energy and BP America. And let's not forget the for-profit education concerns that also contribute: Pearson Publishing and Renaissance Learning, among others.

Between money from gazillionaires' foundations and donations from hedge fund managers and other very wealthy people, Campbell Brown, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush and others have all the funding they need, and more, to mount a multi-pronged attack to spread their privatization message. There's no comparable funding on the progressive side. The only counterbalance with any financial heft are the teachers unions, and they're spread thin with their need to put out fires and advocate for their affiliates across the country, as well as working to get politicians who support their agenda elected. There's not a whole lot left for pure PR work. And, no surprise here, one of the main targets of the hydra-headed education privatization movement is weakening the unions.

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