They Come Bearing Gifts
If you’re headed to Oklahoma City next week for the third and final Vision 2020 Conference (whoever wins the election will probably rename it), you may have received an invitation to an open house being held off-site for a new statewide service entity, the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center. Before you succumb to their promises of help to your beleaguered school district, however, here’s a little background information.
Last September, if you’ll recall, the State Chamber of Commerce applied for a Walton Family Foundation grant. While the creation of the OPSRC is separate from that effort, it does involve a lot of the same people. At the time, here’s how the Chamber described the purpose of their application:
This grant request will provide funds in the amount of $300,000 over three years for the Oklahoma State Chamber to establish a new 501 (c) 3 education reform advocacy organization under its auspices that is geographically diverse and ambitious in its aims to advocate for an aggressive change agenda within Oklahoma’s K-12 education system. The first year’s grant is for $100,000 to be evaluated and renewed based on fulfilled outputs and outcomes, as specified below.
The new organization under the umbrella of the State Chamber will seek to educate key stakeholders and policy makers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and statewide on the need for additional reforms that emphasize protecting and expanding school choice, embracing innovative models, data-driven accountability for schools and school leaders, transparency from school districts, addressing the performance of chronically low-performing schools, and an unwavering commitment to improved student achievement. An annual report will measure progress on outputs and outcomes, with quarterly updates to keep WFF informed along the way.
The Oklahoma State Chamber will seek out additional philanthropic and business community support and funding to ensure the new reform advocacy organization achieves financial sustainability. WFF expects to be joined in supporting the effort by other anchor funders within Oklahoma. The State Chamber will seek support from the Inasmuch and George Kaiser Family Foundations, as well as funding commitments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Arnold Foundation, among others.
The first six months will be spent establishing non-profit status, appointing a board and hiring an executive director. As the new entity hires and executive director and executes its own business plan, the Oklahoma State Chamber will continue to provide staff, office space and other resources for the new entity, and will bring its reputation and strong credibility both at the State Capitol and in the business community.
For more on the State Chamber’s ongoing educational pursuits, see this Tulsa World piece.
I’ve written multiple times about how being a non-profit is not the same as being a charity. Technically, ACT and The College Board are non-profits. So is Measured Progress – our state’s currently in-limbo testing company. Non-profit corporations make money – in some cases a lot of money – without having to pay taxes for it.
The OPSRC is trying to recruit members (they aim for charter school members and rural school districts) but they have recently sent invitations to every school superintendent to come visit them in their new offices during Vision2020 because they are the “most helpful educator support organization you never heard of.”
The application also said that the Chamber was looking for a “super star” from the national reform movement. Again, though it’s a different organization, OPSRC’s “rock star” executive director is Brent Bushey, who arrived in Oklahoma last year. Aside from being a former Teach for America teacher, he has shallow experience in public education. (I know – I had you at TFA). A glance at his LinkedIn resume reveals a career mostly in IT. Actually, if you Google “Brent Bushey Walton Family Foundation,” the first hit is Damon Gardenhire’s LinkedIn profile. Seriously – it’s not even Bushey’s own LinkedIn page. How does that happen? I Googled myself last night (for fun) and the results were all about me (real me, not blogger me).
Gardenhire, if you’ll recall, used to work for Superintendent Barresi – first unofficially, then officially. When he left for the WFF, here were his comments about Oklahoma school administrators in an email acquired by the Tulsa World.
Just keep in mind that the local supts will keep doing this on every reform until choice is introduced into the system. Until then, they will continue to play these kinds of games. Only choice can be the fulcrum to make them truly responsive. A big part of why I took the Walton gig was because I see real promise for bringing positive pressure to bear that will help cause a tipping point with enough (superintendents) that the ugly voices like Keith Ballard will begin to be small and puny.
As the OPSRC website shows, the Walton Family Foundation is not the only funding source for our new friend in Oklahoma. If my information is correct though (and it usually is), WFF provides the vast majority of money for this venture. Having the involvement of other organizations gives the Center in-state credibility. Without Walton money, the Center would cease to exist. As a member of the tangled web, Bushey’s marching order this past legislative session was to get Senate Bill 573 (which would have opened up all school districts in Oklahoma for profiteering charters school companies) passed. It failed, but will surely resurface next year.
The real danger of OPSRC is they are currently recruiting members – mostly rural school districts. Their model is that charter schools and districts join them and receive services related to finance, legal, technology and communication. These, of course are services that districts already receive from a variety of other acronyms – groups that don’t aim to turn public schools into a revenue stream. It’s what they previously have done in Arkansas – with strings attached.
The mission of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center is to support the improvement of public education by providing technical support and advocacy services on behalf of public schools with a special emphasis on charter schools and rural districts.
APSRC’s values reflect what the organization expects of itself through the services provided to members and the values of the charter schools and rural districts serving the students of Arkansas.
Members of APSRC sign a commitment to the following values:
If you sign on with the OPSRC, you get the WWF. You get Gardenhire. You get the honor of working with people dedicated to silencing the “ugly voices” and selling school choice throughout Oklahoma. Choice sounds harmless enough, but it is code for vouchers and charters – and not the kind of charter schools we see in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, either. The Foundation, and by proxy, the Center, want to open the door for profiteering charter school companies to take over schools in urban, suburban, and rural areas. That’s always been the end game of the reform movement.
One other thing I want to add is that a group I treasure, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, published a guest post from Sarah Julian, the Director of Communications for the OPSRC, yesterday. What Julian wrote is consistent with OPI’s submission policies, but I want whatever overlap there is between my readers and theirs to fully understand what’s happening here. When someone offers you a smile and a piece of candy, it might be wise to get your Stranger Danger alerts ready.
Willfully entangling your school district with the OSPRC is more or less hopping into bed with the Walton Family Foundation – a group that wants to replace us all with charter schools (until robots become a viable option). It’s not paranoia if it’s true. If you want information about how to get charter school startup money from the WWF, visit their website. This is their priority. This is why they’re here.
Proceed with caution.