Mergers and acquisitions

NYC-based education reform group folds into Stand For Children

John Legend Talks About Stand for Children from Stand for Children on Vimeo.

With both of its founders off the education stage, the Education Equality Project gracefully closed its doors this week when its remaining board members joined Stand for Children, a national school reform advocacy group.

Board members announced the news in a press release today, although insiders said the partnership was considered a done deal for several months. EEP has been without a staff since December and has been looking for suitors to meet its lofty national ambitions ever since.

By tapping into EEP, Stand For Children will gain three board members — including Grammy Award-winning R&B singer John Legend — and access to a powerful and diverse Rolodex of influential people who could help it establish beachheads in more states.

Unlike some reform groups that frequently challenge teachers unions, Stand For Children, founded in 1996 in Oregon, has prided itself on generating local support and collaborating with unions as it promotes legislative change. That reputation was challenged this summer after the group was revealed to have lobbied aggressively against Illinois teacher unions to get a reform bill passed.

Jonah Edelman, Stand For Children’s founder and CEO, said today that the new partnership with EEP would help the groups extend their influence in more states, particularly southern states where the influence of reform groups has been less strong.

“Together, we’re positioned to shape the national debate on public education while building powerful statewide organizations across the country that will make a profound impact for students, from the state capitol to the classroom,” Edelman said in a statement.

EEP had national ambitions when former New York City Chancellor Joel Klein and the Rev. Al Sharpton forged a partnership in 2008 to close the racial gap in student achievement. The group immediately assembled a powerful advisory board and quickly collected hundreds of signatures of support from education officials and advocates from around the country.

But the field of states-based national organizations — such as Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, and 50 Can —was growing crowded, and EEP failed to gain traction. Last year, the Klein-Sharpton partnership dissolved when Sharpton left the board. After that, the coalition’s spirit as a bridge-builder also dissipated.

Two EEP board members who run their own national advocacy groups — StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee and DFER’s Joe Williams — did not join Stand For Children’s board. Nor did Klein, who now runs an education division at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. A person who works in the education advocacy field said he thought Klein “wanted to throw his eggs in a new basket.”

In an interview, Edelman said that too often education advocacy organizations “work in silos.”

“This is the opposite,” Edelman said. “These are two organizations with a similar mission deciding to come together and work together.”

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”