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John White Co-Founds His Own Nonprofit: Propel America

May 26, 2019

On June 06, 2018, Louisiana state superintendent John White filed this business registration in order to co-found his own nonprofit, Propel America (EIN 83-1867782), with former Camden, NJ, superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard.

White mentions himself as a Propel America “officer” on his 2018 Louisiana ethics disclosure form.

john white 2

John White

Both Rouhanifard and White are Teach for America (TFA) alumni, and both were officials at the New York Department of Education (White, from 2006 to 2011, and Rouhanifard, from 2009 to 2012).

In April 2018, Rouhanifard resigned as Camden’s superintendent effective June 30, 2018; according to his Linkedin bio, he then became a Walton Family Foundation “entrepreneur in residence.”

The point of White’s and Rouhanifard’s Propel America nonprofit is “supporting high school students transition to career”:

Propel America connects employers, high schools, training providers, industry-experienced mentors and technology in a scalable, low-cost system of skill-building, job training and placement that engages young adults at the critical transition between high school and post-secondary life.

Propel America is not a program operated in certain sites by one non-profit organization. Instead it is a model that brings together local, pre-existing institutions into unified systems of job training, job placement, and ongoing education. The Propel America model can be adopted in any community, urban or rural, red or blue.

Here is White’s and Rouhanifard’s letter promoting their successes as superintendents in concert with failure to make that *equipping students for college and career* transition. But it is no failure– just an opportunity to bridge the gap with a new ed-reform nonprofit:

We have served at the forefront of the nation’s most ambitious efforts to improve education for children of all backgrounds – in New York City, Camden, New Orleans, and across Louisiana. Because of those efforts, more young people in those communities are proficient readers, have high school diplomas, and have gone on to higher education.

At the same time, we realize these improvements within the four walls of classrooms have yet to translate into a more equitable system of income mobility for our country’s most economically disadvantaged students.

America’s education and workforce systems have been failing to support low-income Americans, and it is hurting employers and our economy alike. Despite progress in national high school graduation and college enrollment rates, college dropout rates are tragically high – 40% at 4-year institutions and 70% at 2-year institutions – with the average dropout burdened by significant debt. Meanwhile, many employers struggle to find and sustain entry-level talent, especially in mid-skill jobs requiring a postsecondary credential.

We believe the answers to addressing these systemic challenges already reside within local communities throughout our country. High schools, employers, community colleges, and other training organizations have yet to maximize their collective impact because each institution, while uniquely powerful, is siloed and disconnected from the other.

Propel America brings together these local, pre-existing institutions into a unified system of career navigation, job training, job placement, and ongoing education. By systematizing the transition from high school to a career, we believe we can develop a new generation of upwardly mobile young adults throughout our country.

And we will do this by leveraging America’s greatest local assets, which simply need to be reoriented — and not “disrupted” or “reinvented.” Ultimately, we believe our work will allow for the whole of communities to be greater than the sum of their current parts, ensuring the next generation of low-income youth will fulfill their potential and lead prosperous lives.

John White
Propel America Co-Founder, Board Chair

Paymon Rouhanifard
Propel America Co-Founder, CEO

Both White and Rouhanifard list their association with Propel America as “volunteer experience” on their Linkedin bios.

As CEO, Rouhanifard will likely draw a paycheck; as board chair, White will likely not.

And now, let us consider the Propel America “approach”:

Propel America connects employers, high schools, training providers, industry-experienced mentors and technology in a scalable, low-cost system of skill-building, job training and placement that engages young adults at the critical transition between high school and post-secondary life.

Propel America is not a program operated in certain sites by one non-profit organization. Instead it is a model that brings together local, pre-existing institutions into unified systems of job training, job placement, and ongoing education. The Propel America model can be adopted in any community, urban or rural, red or blue.

Propel America has a three phase approach to supporting high school students transition to career:

1. Core

During the senior year of high school, selected participants engage in a high school course to prepare them to transition into a career pathway when they graduate. This includes exploration of their job interests, selection of a career path, and professional skills development.

2. Specialization

Fellows enroll in a 3 – 9 month credentialing program provided by a community college bootcamp, or private training provider. While out of high school and not drawing down a paycheck, they benefit from a stipend to minimize opportunity cost, one-on-one navigator supports, and ongoing peer-support meetings.

3. Credential, Interviews, and Transition

Fellows who earn a credential through the specialization period are guaranteed an interview with a partner employer. Navigator, industry mentorship, and cohort supports continue for the first 6 months of employment, so that Fellows persist in their jobs and plan for the next phase of education and professional advancement.

Propel’s navigator function is integrated throughout the program and leverages technology, industry mentors, teachers and Propel Staff to support fellows in their transitions


Students participating in Propel as high school seniors will identify a pathway of interest. The pathways are based on the opportunities within a community and will leverage existing public funding streams to cover costs where possible. For more information on our 2019 Pathways, please visit People and Places.

In reading the Propel America “approach,” it seems as if White is already assuming that Louisiana will participate, with participation including White’s overseeing a high school course tied to his nonprofit and “leveraging public funding streams to cover costs where possible.” Also, the Propel America plan includes a post-secondary stipend and a post-secondary credentialing program. Whether White’s nonprofit plans to collect fees from participating businesses is unclear.

What is clear is that White is a current state superintendent who has started a nonprofit that promotes high school seniors taking a class tied to his nonprofit– which puts oversight of the program just out of the reach of a publicly-elected board and into the hands of White in double-dipping fashion: White is chairman of the Propel America board. He is also in a position to promote his nonprofit in his position as state superintendent.

Propel America has no pilot and no detailed business plan available for the public, but it is ready to jump in, as its “people and places” page notes:


Propel is working to connect communities and build systems of low-cost and publicly funded pathways for young people to obtain credentials and economic mobility. To do this we are building prototypes of a funding and programmatic model that can be replicated by any community in the U.S.

Propel is launching in New Jersey and Louisiana in 2019 with pathways in skilled trades and healthcare. We are excited to engage with a number of employers and training partners as we strive to create a system that seamlessly connects education and work, equipping young people with the skills, social networks, and supports they need to attain economic stability and upward mobility

The site then lists six “pathways” to date: pipefitting, mental health technician, pharmacy tech, sterile processing technician, medical assistant, and electric, and three more “future pathways”: retail banking, advanced manufacturing, and cybersecurity.

At the bottom of the page is this note:

These pathways provide Propel graduates with jobs that make between $30k-40k per year with benefits

By creating a nonprofit, White is able to sell an idea that looks fine on a website but has no pilot program backing its sale– just a statement implying a desire to scale the program.

There are a lot of critical components that appear assumed to fall into place and remain in place over the long term, including but certainly not limited to approval and delivery of a high school course (e.g., state and local funding for a teacher for the course; curriculum for the course), criteria for student acceptance into the program, fiscal controls for tracking stipend funds, suitable philanthropic funding, public funding, sufficient and committed business sector involvement.

This Propel America “approach” is complex, unproven, and immediately on the market–

–with Louisiana apparently set to be an official Propel America guinea pig.

guinea pig


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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.

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  1. Jenny permalink

    This sounds an awful lot like Job Corps. Cyber security jobs need a lot more than 6-9 months of training. There are 4 year degrees for this. Looks like a way to keep feeding at the trough for White.

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink
    There is not much original in this plan.
    There is a huge push to make the career readiness, part of the original Gates agenda, a major focus of middle and high school in addition to post secondary education.
    A new Gates-led campaign will gather metrics on the economic value of any post secondary program, whether certificate-oriented or a degree program. Gates and his cronies will be providing the new rankings of the worth of such programs to Congress, and publicity channels ranging from US News and World Report to Univisions Communications.
    The end game is shifting public funding of post secondary education programs to those programs with the highest ROI ratings for completers at age 32-34. The rating scheme will also influence how Gates I’ll make future investments in postscondary “success.”
    Much of information on the economic payoff of programs is already available in federal databases and those connected with college recruiting and applications. The use of enhanced data on “return on investment” has been part of the Gates -funded Data Quality Campaign with a branch of that on Workforce data.
    In any case, publicity about the costs of post secondary education is not trivial. It is already doing a triage on programs known not to produce graduates who earn top-tier income. Among these are teacher preparation programs for instruction in any of the arts, foreign languages, history, early childhood education in addition to collegiate studies in the arts and humanities.
    Publicity for the economic value of a degree or certificate comes from the student loan problem and still pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. As usual the Gates Foundation is not acting alone in seeking more precise data about the economic value of specific majors and studies. The Lumina Foundation is among others working on this agenda.
    Not recently have we heard much about the cost to students of huge compensation packages for university administrators and especially the head coaches of major sports, and the accoutrements for those activities.
    Gates has not yet acknowledged that post secondary programs and job markets are not determined by specific majors or enrollment choices of students.

    By the way, have you noticed that the Gates database of awarded grants only displays 12 entries? I have to do multiple year by year entries to retrieve information that used to come up easily. If there is a trick I am missing, please let me and perhaps others know.

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