Broad, Walton, and Their LA-based Nonprofit, Great Public Schools Now
Los Angeles is the focus of a major billionaire-funded, astroturf effort to expand the charter sector. And where there is a major market-driven reform push, a new, billionaire-funded nonprofit is often on the horizon. So it is with the 2015-created nonprofit, Great Public Schools Now (EIN 47-4962715, which was actually granted nonprofit status in February 2016). As Los Angeles Times‘ Howard Blume reported in November 2015:
The new organization, called Great Public Schools Now, is based in Los Angeles and will take the next steps in a plan that initially was spearheaded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. A draft of that proposal, dated in June, called for raising $490 million to enroll half the students in the L.A. Unified School District [in successful charters and other high-quality public schools] over the next eight years.
The nonprofit will be run by two executives from ExED, a local company that specializes in helping charter schools manage their business operations. Former banker William E.B. Siart will chair the governing board; Anita Landecker will serve as interim executive director.
Blume continues the Great Public Schools Now story in June 2016, and he notes a suspicious shift in the kinds of schools the Broad-Walton-funded group supposedly wants to expand:
A controversial group that began with the mission of rapidly expanding charter schools in Los Angeles has named its board of directors, come out with a plan and publicly defined its mission as supporting new, successful public schools of any kind.
The board for Great Public Schools Now mostly includes faces and groups that are familiar in the education reform wars of L.A., including representatives from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.
The chair of the nonprofit is retired banker Bill Siart, the only board member who had been previously announced. …
Nearly all the other board members are widely regarded as pro-charter, even though their backgrounds are diverse. …
The group’s glossy, 16-page plan identifies 10 low-income, low-achievement neighborhoods as areas of focus. Clustered in the east San Fernando Valley and south and east of downtown, they include Boyle Heights, Pacoima and South Gate.
Although the plan is short on specifics, the group plans to announce its first grants Thursday. They could help schools in the targeted areas in a variety of ways. …
The newly released plan differs substantially from a draft obtained last year by The Times. That draft, which was not intended for public release, harshly criticized L.A. Unified and identified charter schools as the path forward, with the goal of moving half of district students into charters over eight years. The draft appeared to have been prepared to give to potential funders.
Critics probably will continue to view that draft as the real blueprint and the document released this week as public relations. …
Timed with the release of its plan, Great Public Schools Now will launch a six-figure TV and print campaign, including ads in the L.A. Times. …
While insisting that its focus will be on all schools, not charters alone, the group isn’t disclosing all pertinent details. It declined this week to provide information on its funders and how much money they are providing.
According to its website, Great Public Schools Now has a seven-member board and a three-member team. The board includes Walton Foundation K12 education program director, Mark Sternberg, and Broad Foundation executive director, Gregory McGinty. The team includes California Charter School Association (CCSA) senior VP of governmental affairs, Myrna Castrejon.
The Great Public Schools Now website includes no word on its funders. (There’s a link for funders, but no info.)
As for its “about/mission” page: It seems that Great Public Schools Now purports to expand all sorts of “successful public schools” (charter, magnet, pilot, and partnership schools)– even as it will offer startup grants only for charter schools:
Great Public Schools Now will fund the growth of high-quality public schools in high-need Los Angeles neighborhoods. To help support the growth of schools, grants will fund the identification and development of new charter school facilities, efforts to recruit and prepare public school teachers and provide support and coaching to public school leaders, and efforts to deepen conversations between educators and families to create more collaboration and public participation in creating more high-quality public schools.
Great Public Schools Now is a California not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring all Los Angeles students receive a high-quality education by accelerating the growth of high-quality public schools.
Today, more than 160,000 students in Los Angeles and surrounding cities attend schools that are failing to provide them with a quality education. Our goal is to help as many students as possible get the education they want, need and deserve by replicating successful public schools, such as charter, magnet, pilot, and Partnership schools, in high-poverty areas of Greater Los Angeles.
Again, Los Angeles, you don’t get to know where the charter startup money is coming from, though the Broad and Walton presence on the Great Public Schools Now board is clue enough. The Walton Foundation has specific areas in Los Angeles that it will fund for new charter schools. Note that the Waltons offer no option to fund any other type of school besides charter schools.
In October 2015, I wrote about the Walton Foundation’s 2016-20 strategic plan. Below is an excerpt that might help clarify the Walton intention in Los Angeles:
Here are excerpts from the Walton report, including what they supposedly learned on their way to buying what they want.
The Foundation seeks to attract and develop talent to staff teaching, school leadership, district and organizational leadership positions through the support of organizations such as Teach for America. … The Foundation supports national advocacy organizations in order to create policy environments that support reform. Key grantees in this area include the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Families for Excellent Schools, and Democrats for Education Reform. …
The Waltons view their “strategy” as somehow neutral. You know, “We fund all sorts of schools, without bias towards charters… But, oh, yeah, we really prefer charters, as our spending history clearly attests”:
The Foundation sees its strategy as agnostic with regard to sector (public charter schools, traditional public schools, private schools). … The Foundation’s funding history includes a significant amount of support for charter schools, however. In fact, roughly two-thirds of the Education Program’s investments support the growth of a high-quality charter sector in some way. This seeming preference for charter schools is in line with the Foundation’s theory of change that requires change agents, like new, high-quality charter schools, to increase competition in citywide school systems….
The Waltons do not see themselves as buying up democracy in order to shape it into the Image of Walton. And they are concerned about building grass roots support for their imposed reform. It seems that they thought the grass roots support would just happen and would manifest itself in automatic “competition” between charters and traditional public schools. Such competition has not happened; so, the Waltons want to increase their funding (and presence) in three key cities in order to petri-dish their latest strategic plan, which will now include grit and determination:
The Walton Family Foundation’s original theory of change was that expanding choice would spur competition, and consequently create system-wide improvements. The Foundation thought that once choice options reached a critical mass or sufficient “market share,” transformational, system-wide change would begin to occur.40 With over 20 years of learning from grantees and their communities, the Foundation’s theory of change is evolving and expanding. As Marc Holley describes it, “We have come to the realization that choice in and of itself is necessary but not sufficient to drive change at scale. We are more deliberate in thinking about what needs to be in place in order to promote functioning choice.” …
From their perch at the top, the Waltons need to get the parents (the bottom) on their side:
One area where the Foundation has received criticism is in the area of community engagement. It has been accused of having a top-down approach that does not adequately address the needs and desires of parents, local advocacy groups, and community groups. This is an issue the Foundation is grappling with. “The provision of choice, and the publication of data on school performance, has sometimes had little impact, especially in districts where reform lacks adequate local ownership, community and wider civic involvement, and parent engagement,” [Walton Foundation Senior Advisor] Bruno Manno notes. He identifies two levers in engaging local partners and communities more thoroughly: 1) building an active coalition of supporters, and 2) cultivating local advocacy partners. “We need a local and civic base of support for the work that’s going on. The work we support requires a stable constituency to be advocates for schools over time. There is a political dimension as well, the community and families need to understand what options are available.”
It seems that the Walton-funded writing on the Los Angeles wall might well entail expanding charters as the answer to making all Los Angeles schools better. It also believes in bringing traditional school districts around to its market-driven-reform thinking via corporate-reform-group infiltration. Too, it seems that the Walton Foundation believes that grass roots support for its effort is a matter of getting the public mind in line with the Walton charter expansion priorities.
The Walton intentions in incubating and expanding corporate reform fit hand-in-glove with the Broad intentions for Los Angeles. On its website, the Broad Foundation generously tosses around the term “public schools” even as it features KIPP, Success Academies, and Teach for America among its handful of “key grantees.” Furthermore, the Broad listing of current grantees is for the most part a corporate reform festival:
Achievement School District
Bellwether Education Partners
Bright Star Schools
Broad Center for the Management of School Systems
Building Excellent Schools
Center for American Progress
Central Michigan University Foundation
Charter School Growth Fund
Common Sense Media
Education Reform Now
Great Public Schools Now
Green Dot Public Schools
IDEA Public Schools
Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)
Leadership for Educational Equity
Michigan Education Excellence Foundation
Michigan State University – College of Education
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
National Center on Education and the Economy
National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)
Noble Network of Charter Schools
Orange County Public Schools
Partnership for Los Angeles Schools
Policy Innovators in Education Network
Progressive Policy Institute
Results in Education (RIE) Foundation
Scholarship Management Services
School of Visual and Performing Arts
Silicon Schools Fund, Inc.
Success Academy Charter Schools
Teach For America
Note that Broad is currently funding ExED, and that Great Public Schools Now has two ExED reps on its board/team: William Siart and Anita Landecker. What this illustrates is the all-too-common corporate reform funding incest. (According to the Walton 2013 tax form, Walton has also given ExED $50,000, and the Waltons loaned ExED $5 million for Los Angeles charter school facility financing.)
Like Walton, Broad expands choice, and it funds corporate-reform-minded organizations that can provide the minions and leadership transplanting necessary to transform a traditional school district into a decentralized, under-regulated, market-fed, billionaire-directed farce.
Broad and Walton are likely the chief funders of Great Public Schools Now. If there were other notable funders, they would also have a seat on the Great Public Schools Now board.
One of the Great Public Schools Now goals is to drum up more “public participation in creating more high quality public schools”– a goal already noted in the Walton strategic plan referenced above.
Given the top-down direction of corporate reform, that “grass roots” support is likely to be fabricated– as is the case in of a charter school rally held in Pacoima on September 17, 2016, and sponsored by CCSA:
The participants leading this rally were logo-shirt-clad, current charter school admin, teachers, parents, and students– not the public outside of charter schools demonstrating to get more charter schools, but those already associated with such schools. The participants were bused to the event, and some students told education activist Karen Wolfe (who produced the included video) that they would be receiving extra credit for attending the rally.
In order to collect information on crowd members, one principal suggested they complete a CCSA information card. The enticement was participation in a raffle for prizes. The information cards could come in handy to provide *proof positive* that *the Los Angeles public wants choice.*
There was even a charter-principal-led, charter school pledge of allegiance:
Pledge of the Northeast San Fernando Valley Charter Schools
We pledge allegiance to the high-quality public schools in the Northeast Valley, where all students can succeed, where all parents can choose, where hope never expires.
I wonder how many individuals in the crowd were not already associated with CCSA. My guess: Not many.
Great Public Schools Now has a Walton- and Broad-financed “team member” whose job it is “leading our efforts and strategy around Community Outreach and Engagement.” In other words, she is being paid to convince those being acted upon by Broad and Walton to publicly unite behind what Broad and Walton want– even as her employer refuses to publicize its Broad, Walton, and possibly other funders.
I challenge her to do so without the use of logo t-shirts, chartered buses, raffles, or extra credit.
And I challenge Great Public Schools Now to disclose its funders on its website.