Maurice Cunningham: Dark Money Combines to Privatize Public Schools

The Diane Ravitch blog, June 21, 2017
Maurice Cunningham, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, began investigating the millions of dollars pouring into the state during the referendum on charter schools last fall. He wondered why so many billionaires from other states wanted to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. He continued his investigation after the election and has lifted the curtain on groups like Families for Excellent Schools, Stand for Children, and Educators4Excellence, and Leadership for Educational Excellence (a group connected to TFA).

He began researching the intersection between philanthropy and dark money.

My descent into darkness led me to decipher the hidden funding of Families for Excellent Schools, a New York based organization that poured over $17 million in dark money into the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot committee for 2016’s Question 2 on charter schools. That brought me to the initial funding to get FES up and running in Massachusetts, which came from a Boston based Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) charity called Strategic Grant Partners. The investments from SGP are consistent with the practice of wealthy individuals using charitable entities to influence the direction of public policy, a topic I explored in Unmasking the Philanthrocapitalists Who Almost Bought Massachusetts Schools. One way for wealthy individuals to grease the path to their public policy goals is to fund organizations that undermine teachers unions, a topic I took up in Philanthrocapitalists Brandish BEANball at BTU.

In the course of this research I have created a database of all Strategic Grant Partners’ publicly available grants since its inception, from its Form 990PF tax returns. The non-profit has dispensed many grants for family support and educational purposes over that time to about seventy grantees, only five of which I would characterize as engaging in political activities: advocacy/organizing/mobilizing for three of them, adding lobbying activities for two, Stand for Children and Families for Excellent Schools. There were no grants to political activities organizations until Stand for Children in 2009, and then no other such organization received a grant until 2013 when Education Reform Now and Families for Excellent Schools received funding.

He concludes:

The Stand for Children and Families for Excellent Schools initiatives both led toward the ballot box and thus we could look at OCFP reports; but these days the reports only tell us which dark money front is laundering for which elegantly named shell. That’s the tip of the iceberg. But there is much more.

Professor Cunningham, keep up the research. Check out Donors Trust, another group that bundles dark money for school privatization. Add ALEC and its donors.

Dark Money wants to destroy our public schools and our democracy.

The people behind these activities use “civil rights” rhetoric to advance anti-democratic goals. They are thieves of democracy.

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