Public Education Policy in the United States is rooted in controversy. Even in 1647, more than a century prior to the Declaration of Independence, when the General Court of Massachusetts decreed that every town of 50 families should have an elementary school and every town of 100 families should have a Latin school to ensure that Puritan children could read the Bible; non-Puritans were denied access to school. Regardless of time and place, experimental policies can have a far-reaching impact.  In 1848, Horace Mann borrowed from Prussia to introduce “age-based grades” in Massachusetts, which is still the norm in public education today.

Understanding the motives behind public education policy as well as the unintended consequences of so many unproven, often expensive experiments is vital to effective public education advocacy. It should be noted that there is a circular continuum of profit schemes, politicians, philanthropists, hedge-funders, vendors, chamber-types, lobbyists, media, legislation and heavily funded university/think tank “studies” used to justify almost every public education policy no matter how far-fetched.


The current Education Reform agenda is directly linked to Milton Freidman and his notions of a privatized public education system accessed by vouchers. In 1979, Freidman published the book Free to Choose which argued that public education should be controlled by the free market, not government. The impact of this idea is being fiercely felt today with state legislatures spending billions of tax dollars to fund separate, unfair and unequal systems of publicly funded education choices, including private school vouchers championed by Betsy DeVos and Jeb Bush.

Then, in 1983 along came A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform from President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education to tip the scales. Considered by many to be a landmark document, the report contributed heavily to the lore that American schools were failing; setting the stage for decades of local, state and federal experimental “reforms” that also embraced Friedman’s ideals. This report ignited the combustible stage already set in 1971 by the legendary Powell Memo which urged the U.S. Chamber to become corporate activists on a mission to expand an aggressive form of free market capitalism. The memo by Lewis Powell who President Richard Nixon appointed to the Supreme Court within months of its release, inspired the growth of conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute, Cato Institute and others who became strident supporters of public education reform and privatization.

Who Profits?

In total, states spend around $800 billion tax dollars per year funding public education. When Wall Street practically imploded due to the disastrous sub-prime mortgage/credit-default-swap scheme, frantic hedge-fund investors searched for another source of ready cash. What could be safer, more dependable than the taxes hard working citizens pay toward an investment in their public schools?

To be fair, there have always been opportunistic vendors vying aggressively for state or school district contracts.  This is different. Once Wall Street realized it could use free market “education reforms” to hollow out $800 billion in annual tax dollars for themselves, the game was on. Now large hedge funds push for-profit charter school investment schemes equipped with can’t lose tax breaks and real estate schemes. Foreign nationals are marketed to invest in charters in exchange for citizenship through the Federal EB 5 program, known as the “green carpet to citizenship.”

Additionally, for the past two decades “Return on Investment philanthropists” have teamed with corporations and school privatizers to create ready markets for high stakes testing, test prep, remediation, virtual charters, Competency Based Testing, tutoring, student data mining and many other lucrative products routinely forced on school districts by state legislators who value PAC dollars over constituents. Names like Broad, Walton, Gates, Bush, Bloomberg, DeVos, Koch, Pearson, News Corp, McGraw-Hill, Schwab, Helmsley, K-12 Inc., and Oberndorf are regular members of the constellation of school reform proponents willing to pour money and influence into the cause.

What is Model Legislation?

Model legislation is a template for a bill designed by education reformers, business leaders and lobbyists who work with state legislators to promote, sponsor and pass the bill.  Politicians who agree to file model legislation simply fill in the blank with their name and tailor the identifying state language.

In this set-up everyone wins. Politicians receive campaign funding and lucrative perks, corporations gain greater access to public funds and reformers move the needle on their collective goals.

“Reform” legislation almost always targets publicly funded services such as public education, health, juvenile justice and prisons and the overarching goal is privatization. This effort is guided by the free market theory that investing tax dollars in areas that serve the greater societal good unfairly robs business of its deserved access to these funds.

Who pushes Model Legislation?

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is one of the most successful purveyors of model legislation in the nation. ALEC meets several times a year with corporations, reformers and legislators from mostly Republican-led states using a pay to play strategy to broker deals and set legislative priorities.

At present, there are approximately 155 pieces of model legislation listed on the ALEC website.  These include many reforms familiar to public education advocates such as Teacher Merit Pay, Parent Trigger, Education Savings Accounts, Charter expansion, Central Charter School Authorizer, Corporate Tax Scholarships, Universal Vouchers, Collective Bargaining, Innovation Schools/Districts, Virtual Charters, Data Mining, District Report Cards/School Grades, Personalized Learning, Open Enrollment, and the conveniently bundled “Indiana Education Reform Package.”

For years ALEC operated in relative anonymity, pushing and passing the same often radical laws across the nation, excluding voters from the process.  Stories began appearing about a shadow organization striking deals to pass and enact laws that often went against the public interest. Thanks to those early efforts, organizations and individuals began pushing back and informing the public about ALEC. As a result, ALEC Exposed mounted a series of consumer boycott campaigns forcing members to leave the organization. To date, 108 corporations and 19 non-profits were compelled to cut ties with ALEC.  Sadly, many of these entities found more secretive ways to engage in “bill mill” activity.

Foundation for Florida’s Future (FFF)/James Madison Institute (JMI) is the effective tag team in Florida responsible for monopolizing and executing the legislative agenda for public education reform.  The JMI was established in 1986 by Dr. Stanley Marshall and ardent Milton Friedman devotee, following his failed quest to be elected Floirda commissioner of education. Marshall was eventually tapped to serve as president of Florida State University. During the 90’s, JMI pushed charter schools as competition, calling public education a “marketplace.”  Jeb Bush became a JMI board member in 1990. After losing to Gov. Chiles in 1994, he established the Foundation for Florida’s Future and opened what would become a failed charter school in Liberty City near Miami. In 1999, JMI and FFF legally merged to become the James Madison Institute – A Foundation for Florida’s Future, separated in 2007, working together on their common goals.

FFF enjoys unparalleled access to on every political level in Tallahassee and is the driving force behind the effort to privatize Florida public education. The organization works with ALEC to write and promote education reform policies such as school grades, mandatory grad retention, high stakes testing, unmitigated charter growth, corporate tax scholarships, competency based education, personal learning accounts, virtual learning, tying student test scores to teacher evaluations, weakening teachers unions and attacking the constitutional authority of school boards.  No parent, teacher, superintendent or school board member has ever advocated for “reform legislation.”  While FFF works to expand Jeb Bush’s school reform agenda in Florida and other states, JMI issues positions and talking points to legislators and represents Florida as a member of the State Policy Network.

The State Policy Network (SPN), created in the early 90’s, by wealthy investors is a secretive right leaning group of mini think tanks that were eventually established in every state. By 2012 its aggregate worth was $87 million dollars. This organization works closely with ALEC and the Koch Bros./Americans for Prosperity to promote passage of model legislation and influence political outcomes, so it was natural that after ALEC came under fire for its secretive nature, participants sought shelter within the SPN.  The James Madison Institute serves as the State Policy Network affiliate in Florida.

Why are Florida education “reforms” spreading to other states?

In order to maximize profits from reforming and privatizing public education, it’s essential that as many states as possible adopt reform legislation as quickly as possible. Once Jeb Bush was elected Governor of Florida in 1999, he quickly passed a menu of “bold” controversial public “education reforms.” Floridians did not object since the national narrative since the 1986 A Nation At Risk report was that public schools were failing. Before parents and teachers could react, unproven concepts such as a high stakes tests mandatory grade retention, for profit charter schools, vouchers, A-F school/district grades and tying teacher evaluations to test scores were signed into law at a rapid pace.

Afterwards, politicians and experts began to marvel how the Florida Formula for Education Achievement which showed a big bump in 4th grade test scores. What Bush failed to acknowledge is that the results were artificial. The “bump” occurred because those 3rd graders who did poorly on the test were retained and the 4th grade was filled with children that scored high on the 3rd grade test and children who had two years of 3rd grade under their belt. Sadly, this bump in achievement routinely disappeared by 8th grade.

By 2007, Jeb Bush launched the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) to act as a vehicle to sell his “reform” vision to other states. In addition to an annual national summit, FEE staffers travel to other states to get legislators and governors embark on a fast-paced strategy of reform. Predictably, Republican-led states followed Jeb’s lead and rapidly passed their assigned list of school reforms often before voters understand what’s happening. FEE has since expanded from three states in 2008 to 48 states by 2015.

What does the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) mean?

Congress finally passed the ESSA, bringing the era of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to its much deserved close.  NCLB featured harsh absolutes like Adequate Yearly Progress, the unreasonable mandate that every, single child in the nation would read at 100% proficiency by 2014. It also doubled down on high stakes testing, teaching to the test, grinding the curriculum down to math and reading, disrespecting teachers, data mining and shaming schools whose students struggle daily with poverty by labeling them failures.

ESSA mitigates much of NCLB, by giving oversight responsibility to the states. Unfortunately, ESSA only means a softening of test and punish education reform if a state chooses to do so. Since many states expanded many of the negative aspects of NCLB and codified them into statute, it will be hard to undo the years of damage.  The good news is that because of ESSA, state legislatures can no longer blame the federal government for or claim they can’t dial back privatizing our public schools because their hands are tied. The spotlight will be on governors, state senators and representatives who have the newfound authority, thanks to ESSA, to reduce or eliminate much of the test and punish culture they’ve spent decades building.

Here are some of the changes ESSA could mean for the children and teachers in our public schools:

  • General: ESSA allows states greater authority over their public school systems and expects states to bear more responsibility for their success.
  • Ends Adequate Yearly Progress
  • Drops “core academic subjects,“ replacing it with “well rounded subjects” to prevent states from abandoning social studies, science or electives.
  • School closings: Punitive sanctions are gone, leaving it up to states and districts to provide support and comprehensive improvement
  • Tests: still required, however, the stakes are not. It’s concerning that ESSA still maintains that 95% still must take required tests, yet allows states broad interpretation regarding whether or not punishment is appropriate. Still, this approach will not close the achievement gaps, still punishes the most vulnerable and continues to ignore poverty.
  • Teacher evaluation systems: states are allowed to set up their own evaluation systems, but such a system is not required.
  • Accountability: states have more authority over school improvement, must develop multiple measures to examine student growth. States must identify and provide support to struggling school. Requires states to include parents in developing plans to monitor student progress.

FERPA & Student Privacy

 “Privacy is rarely lost in one fell swoop. It is usually eroded over time, little bits dissolving almost imperceptibly until we finally begin to notice how much is gone.” Daniel Solove

Protecting Florida Student/Teacher Privacy from Invasive Legislation

During the 2013 Legislative session, a grassroots, non-partisan alliance of nearly 1 million Florida voters battled and defeated the infamous Florida K-20 Data Warehouse Bill (SB878).  Bills to exploit student data, including personal identifying information (PII) for profit are off the shelf “model legislation” designed to accommodate the wishes of specific vendors.  This legislation has been tried in multiple states to date.

The FL K-20 Data Warehouse Bill/SB 878, was deemed a “must pass” priority by leadership.  Due to the enormous grass roots efforts of FL parents, SB 878 died in conference committee on the last day of session, despite passing the house with zero objections. We organized pushed back, shared our FERPA research, wrote letters, made calls and informed the press in a determined effort to protect our children. Despite this defeat, Florida politicians are certain to bring it back.

Student Data – Profit Bonanza

The “education industry” is comprised of investors and speculators who believe all the money taxpayers set aside for public education is theirs for the taking, ie. InBloom/Amplify/Wireless Generation.   Please see: K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents, Reuters

FERPA No Longer Protects Student Privacy

Florida +Legislators Hiding behind FERPA: Florida lobbyists and lawmakers used the Federal government to defend themselves.  They said FERPA (Family Education and Family Rights Act) still protected our children’s privacy and not to worry about the disturbing SB878 language regarding sharing, selling and re-assigning our student’s most personal information.  Not true.

FERPA was drastically altered In 2011, to allow the widest possible interpretation of the word “research,” allowing states to decide who could receive the Personal Identifying Information (PII) of students. Note below that the “authorized users/entities” are not prevented from re-disclosing the PII (personally identifying information) in FERPA.

  • Excerpted from complete FERPA ruling regarding “research” :

Amend § 99.31(a)(6) to clarify that FERPA-permitted entities are not prevented from re-disclosing PII from education records as part of agreements with researchers to conduct studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies and institutions;

Lobbyists convinced Federal policy leaders to weaken FERPA by making “research” so open-ended that it grants states the right to decide whether or not to protect the privacy of children. Why? 

To give individual states the power over student/teacher PII.  Far from protecting student privacy, politicians become immediate parties to transforming student PII into a profitable commodity.  In 2013, Florida politicians tried mightily to pas SB 878 which sought to EXPAND the list of WHO can qualify under FERPA to receive personally identifiable information to anyone in the universe that the state of Florida designates as worthy. Due to parent efforts to expose the truth and push-back, the bill died.

Personal information is a genie in a bottle.

Who’s going to defend the disaster when this information gets into the wrong hands?  There is no argument that can convince parents to let our children’s most personal information pass into the hands of “researchers” who can “reassign” it to other unknown parties for undefined purposes.

This is not an objection to “blind” studies used to interpret scores.  There are plenty of ways for teachers to used performance data in classrooms while maintaining student privacy.  Parents and children have a right to expect true privacy.  FERPA should be restored to the power it once held. Barring that, parents should have a penalty-free way to opt their children out of state-led data mining schemes.

What the Feds did by making “research” so open-ended was pass the responsibility for protecting the privacy of children on to the states.  So, Florida politicians are in charge.  They have a choice.  They can choose to protect the kids and their information, or they can choose to mine our children’s data for profit – without our permission.

With the continued push to broaden every child’s digital backpack, the potential for monetizing this information looms large.

Must read links:


Complete FERPA ruling changes 2011, page  3,

K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents| By Stephanie Simon|Reuters|Tue, Feb 26 2013

Klein, Wireless Generation Questioned Again in NYC Media EDWEEK By Ian Quillen on June 10, 2011

Confidential Student And Teacher Data To Be Provided To LLC Run By Gates and Murdoch  By: Leonie Haimson Posted: 12/19/2011 12:10 pm

Amassing Student Data and Dissipating Privacy Rights, EduCause Review, by Khaliah Barnes, January 28, 2014

EPIC v the U.S. Department of Education, Challenging the Department of Education’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) 2011 Regulations,



Florida’s Education Revolution Summary, FEE,

Powell Memo

Landmark education report – nation at risk, Edutopia,


James Madison Institute 25 Years:

Jeb Bush’s Longstanding ties to the Koch-backed James Madison Institute, Bridge Project, April 1, 2015

James Madison Institute FORM 990

Charter School hailed by Jeb Bush ended in ruin, New York Times, March 8, 2015

The Friedmans on School Choice

Fanatical, not reasonable: A short correspondence between Walter E. Block and Milton Friedman, M. (2006).

Only Solution: Competition,

American public education: An origin story,

Public education: Who are the corporate reformers?

Diane Ravitch: Must read revelations of a disillusioned reformer,

Backers of Bush nonprofit include banks, schools, lottery,–election.html?ref=gs

How Jeb Bush’s firm made him rich – and created a nest egg for his family,

Report Questioning “Crisis” in Education Triggers an Uproar, EdWeek, by Julie Miller, October 9,1991

ALEC ed model bills:

Report shows link between Jeb Bush’s education reforms and corporate interests, FCIR, Ashley Lopex, February 1, 2013

Corps who have left ALEC:

Rachel Burgin forgets to remove ALEC boilerplate language from FL bill:

Alec Model Policy,

Taxpayer enriched companies back Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education,

Donors Trust: Donor capital funds dark money, Koch, Bradley, DeVos,


State Policy Network :


How a shadowing network of corporate front groups distorts the marketplace of ideas,

James Madison Institute funding request: $40K to do a paper and present findings on Education Savings Accounts. Choice 2.0 by Matthew Ladner

State Policy Network National Report

Here’s what Jeb Bush’s reforms really did to public education in Florida, Washington Post, Valerie Strauss