Corporate Dollars Back New Education Advocacy Landscape

This week, my colleagues Stephen Sawchuk and Sean Cavanagh published the first part of a two-part package, “The Changing Face of Education Advocacy”. The legal intricacies and major players of modern education lobbying—a starkly different arena than even 10 years ago as education becomes a more influential political issue— are examined in the report (check out the video explainer above).

In one report, Stephen and Sean take a look at the corporate donations being made to groups like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), two of the major education advocacy groups (Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst does not disclose individual donors). In turn, those donations go to support various policies and like-minded candidates.

For instance, Stand for Children, a long-standing nonpartisan advocacy group in Portland, Oreg., with Political Action Committees in various states, has received millions of dollars in donations, through its Leadership Center, from former or current employees of Bain Capital, the Boston-based financial-services firm co-founded by Mitt Romney, and Madison-Dearborn Partners, a Chicago-based private-equity firm.

There is nothing inherently nefarious about the finance industry funding education advocacy efforts. One DFER donor, Charles H. Ledley, an analyst at Highfields Capital, a Boston-based investment firm, said he donated because he became exposed to high-performing charter schools and innovative teacher evaluation measures that couldn’t gain any political traction.

But the money is notable because it carries the potential to upend the traditional advocacy landscape that has been dominated by teachers’ unions (which, as Stephen and Sean report, use the same tactics as special interest groups). While teachers’ unions motivations have typically been easy to grasp, corporate entry into advocacy is murkier, without clear party and policy lines.

In another part of our coverage, the lobbying efforts behind a union-opposed educator-evaluation bill in Colorado is examined. Stand for Children supported the campaign of a Republican candidate who favored the bill (and drastically outspent his union-backed opponent), but it was a Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives that ultimately led the push to pass the bill.

I encourage a full read of the coverage, and keep an eye out for more on this topic in Education Week and on

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