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Jeanne Allen’s Beef with Backpack Full of Cash

October 8, 2017

Center for Education Reform (CER) founder Jeanne Allen and I appear in the same film: Backpack Full of Cash, produced by Stone Lantern Films, a Washington, DC, nonprofit specializing in documentary film production and founded in 1986 by filmmakers Sarah Mondale and Sarah Patton.

While filming in New Orleans in March 2014, Mondale and her associate, Vera Aronow, contacted me to see if I would be available for an evening of filming about the education reforms ushered in by then-Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, and the 2012 Louisiana legislature.

I was already familiar with Mondale because I used her documentary on the history of American education, School: The Story of American Public Education (2001), as part of the curriculum in a course I taught for high school students interested in becoming teachers.

The day of our March 2014 filming, I understood my rights as set forth in a release that Mondale and Aronow had me sign regarding the intellectual property that was my filmed interview.

Here is a copy of that release, which I could have chosen not to sign had I any concerns, doubts, or reservations about my filmed interview– or about how Mondale and Aronow might choose to use the interview:

stone lantern release


By signing the above release (which I did not have to sign), I realized that my hour-plus filmed interview could have been used a lot, a little, or even not at all. It was Mondale’s and Aronow’s call.

I also knew that the working title of the film was School Reform, which meant that Mondale and Aronow could have used my interview (in whole or in part) in a film production that was kinder to school choice than I might have preferred.

It was their call, and I signed a release to allow it to be their call.

Jeanne Allen would have also had to sign Stone Lantern’s release prior to her interview (in whole or in part) being used by Mondale and Aronow in the film with the working-title, School Reform, and which, as it turns out, would be entitled, Backpack Full of Cash, after Allen used the phrase in her interview.

In fact, Allen says the following in her interview, and that part of her interview is now part of the trailer for the film:

Our children have a backpack full of cash, and the school should vie for the privilege of having that backpack turned over to them.


Allen has since expressed her upset over the usage of her quote in the trailer, and she maintains that her words have been taken out of context. According to the October 05, 2017, Boston Globe, Allen responded in part:

“This movie is all about smearing us as anti-public education,” Allen said. “It’s a backpack full of hypocrisy. [Film narrator] Matt Damon’s kids go to a private school, and the people praised in the film get paid from taxpayer dollars. The teachers unions spend $300 million a year on political races. We don’t have that kind of money.”

I’m not sure if I get “praised in the film,” but I do get paid using taxpayer dollars. However, Allen’s privately-funded salary has mine beat. According to CER’s 20132014, and 2015 tax returns, as CER’s president emeritus, Allen earned $190,000, $115,000, and $95,000, in 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively, for working 10 hours/week.

And Allen might not have teacher union connections (in which teachers unions are funded by teachers who earn nowhere near $100K for 10 hours of work per week), but she does have Walton Family connections, with the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) an acknowledged CER funder, and the late John Walton Allen’s “dear friend” who “used to say to me, Keep up the pressure.”

As for those loaded teachers unions, well, Allen must have forgotten her more loaded Walton friends, two of whom (siblings Alice and Jim Walton) contributed $2 million of the roughly $19 million scraped together for a November 2016 ballot initiative supporting raising Massachusetts’ charter school cap versus the $12 million raised by those opposed, including the unions.

Despite the 2-to-1 spending in favor of raising the cap, the Massachusetts cap remains in place. Voters rejected raising the cap 2-to-1.

Allen’s friends, the Waltons, also ponied up some major cash in Louisiana’s 2014 state education board elections: As I reported on October 01, 2015:

According to Empower Louisiana’s campaign finance report (07-17-15 to 09-14-15), Jim and Alice Walton each donated $200,000 on August 20, 2015, and Broad contributed $250,000 on September 10, 2015.

The total on the above report is $763,710, which means that as of September 14, 2015, money from two billionaires from Arkansas and one billionaire from California constitutes the principal funding for [Louisiana millionaire, businessman Lane] Grigsby’s efforts to preserve a BESE majority known for supporting charters and vouchers without equally supporting adequate oversight; supporting high-stakes testing without supporting timely, clear, comprehensive reporting of testing results, and for allying with a state superintendent known for hiding and manipulating data, refusing to honor public records requests, and refusing to consistently audit the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).

Thus, the more Allen tries to explain herself as being ill-used by Mondale and Aronow in her film interview excerpt, the more fodder she offers for those who realize that Mondale and Aronow represent her ed reform perspective and intentions spot-on.

Mondale and Aronow offered this October 06, 2017, public response to those on the mailing list (

There’s been a lot of positive press, although as you can imagine, there’s push back from advocates of school privatization. Just yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter published an interview with Jeanne Allen, founder of the Center for Education Reform who formerly worked for the Reagan administration and the Heritage Foundation, and who was interviewed for the film. Although she has yet to see “Backpack Full of Cash”, Allen attacks it, Matt Damon, and us, personally.  She also attacked our film today in The Boston Globe.

We stand by our reporting and believe Ms. Allen’s words are used in their proper context in BACKPACK. We regret that she doesn’t like her portrayal in a film that she hasn’t seen, but also appreciate that she’s kept the conversation going on the national level about the health of our public school system.

Allen signed a release to have all or part of her interview included in Mondale and Aronow’s film; she did not have to sign that release. Even so, if Allen continues to view herself as misunderstood via her “backpack full of cash” metaphor, I invite her to publicize the entire conversation so that she might provide the context that she believes Stone Lantern Films has omitted.

I’d be happy to publish it in full, as is, without edits.

jeanne allen  Jeanne Allen


 Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.


  1. Great

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Thanks, Mercedes. Here is more on Allen’s “Center for Education Reform”

  3. Jack Covey permalink

    The idea that Damon sending his kids to private school is some kind of ultimate “GOTCHA” is the biggest bunch of baloney.

    Damon said that he’s avoiding those public schools because he believes, with some foundation, that the last two decades of “reform” have led to a disgusting over-emphasis on testing and test prep, with an accompanying de-emphasis on the creative curriculum, project-based learning, etc.

    This, by the way, is where I respectfully part company with “Good Will Hunting”, as this is a partial misperception on his part. What he says is true for some, BUT NOT ALL PUBLIC SCHOOLS — not the schools in more upscale communities.

    Just off the top of my head, I can name four LAUSD public schools that offer everything that Damon claims he wants in a school. Had he toured these with his wife, he would have discovered this to be so and sent his daughters there, and we wouldn’t have to endure this specious non-GOTCHA being vomited up over and over and over by privatizers such as Stewart and others (It’s not too late to do so, Matt. Check these schools out.)

    Mind you, these are schools that prominent LAUSD privatizers send their kids: Ivanhoe (privatizer Steve Barr, who notoriously bombed in his efforts to privatize a New Orleans high school), Warner Avenue (privatizer Ben Austin), Wonderland, and Third Street. Why aren’t those charter-loving’ privatizers Austin, Barr, and others sending their kids to the “No Excuses” charters such as KIPP, where the kids have to wear those god-awful ugle uniforms, and walk in straight lines?

    Hmmmm … now there’s some REAL hypocrisy. If public schools are so miserable, and charters are so great, why aren’t your own kids in one of your beloved charters?

    Part of the reason that these traditional public schools can provide the things that Damon desires is because the parents are wealthy, and contribute at fundraisers that enables them to fund things such as a dedicated Music teacher with instruments for all, and on and on. Those parents can and have petitioned for those schools to be waived from following the same onerous curriculum forced on schools in non-wealthy neighborhoods.

    • annat permalink

      Absolutely true. In my district, I taught at a school in a poor neighborhood and my daughter attended a school in the middle class neighborhood where we live. The resources the families can offer make a world of difference in the quality of education.

  4. annat permalink

    Thank you, Mercedes, for another great piece.

  5. Anyone with any understanding of what has happened to public education money over the past decade knew EXACTLY what she meant when she said that kids have/are a backpack full of $$$$.

  6. Sometimes all press is good press. Don’t let this flap deter you from showing a good film. Most of the public assumes stars use private schools for security reasons. Meanwhile, the Waltons are no doubt pressuring Allen to recant. Too late, it’s already on film.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider Gets Out the World’s Smallest Violin for Corporate Reformers Who Object to “Backpack Full of Cash” | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Jeanne Allen and Her Center for Education Reform (CER) | deutsch29
  3. Betsy DeVos’ “Backpack Full of Cash” Portable Funding Flop | deutsch29

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