Home > Uncategorized > They Come Bearing Gifts

They Come Bearing Gifts

July 11, 2014

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:

  • Accountability
  • Collaboration
  • Choice
  • Diversity
  • Innovation
  • Integrity
  • Quality
  • Sustainability

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.

  1. joeddins
    July 11, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Thank you. Joe Eddins


  2. Brooke
    July 11, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Thank you for this post. In regards to “school choice” and all it’s underlying meanings, it is important to note that only ONE of the candidates for State Superintendent has been vocal about his support for traditional PUBLIC schools. Obviously, by the gender reference, it is John Cox, who I am wholeheartedly supporting. Deskin runs a charter and Joy has publicly vocalized her support for “all forms of school choice”, including vouchers.

    Dr. John Cox needs our support in his run-off on Aug 26 and again in November if we want to truly bring the focus back to public schools.

    I am glad that you pointed out that “not-for-profit” doesn’t mean that the company doesn’t make millions for itself and it’s higher level employees.


  3. July 11, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Actually Brooke, I have 43 years as an educator and the majority isn’t in public charters. I do NOT support the expansion of charters outside the inner city for which they were designed.

    ASTEC refused to join the OPSRC a year ago. Believe me, they have tried to court us. They do not share our goals for children in any way. I believe they are about making money and not about helping children.

    I am the product of a small rural school and spent much of my career in the rural areas and I have also had experience in the inner city. I am a public school supporter and will fight groups like this no matter what it takes.

    Oklahoma is eager and ready to work together for ALL the children of Oklahoma and I hope I get to lead that effort in a positive way.


  4. July 11, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Wow. Great post. While I suspect that when I say, though I don’t support charter schools (using public money to support private boards and pull kids out of private schools) in any way, or vouchers (which pull the federal government into private schools via IDEA at which point they then get the whole school entangled in the federal mess teachers and students left public schools for in the first place), I do support Education Savings Accounts I won’t receive tons of atta boy’s, I think what you’ve divulged here is very important. Those of us that pay taxes to support public schools are being manipulated by a growing chambercrat/statist cadre who care nothing for students excepting their ability to become employable and drive the economic engine that keeps them at the top of the food chain. If we’re not wise, we’ll soon be asked to genuflect and kiss their rings. I’m not talking entitlement, I’m talking individual liberty. School reform should be local, individual and parent-driven – not predicated on automaton-generating sameness tidied up with a red bow to fool the legion ignorants who believe their children should be going to school solely to get a job when they graduate. True education elevates the individual and provides the foundation for a free society. Today’s education ‘reform’ is the exact opposite.


  5. July 11, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    One candidate has stated on many occasions that he believes high school is for job preparation, and he’d ask the employers ! This is a concern of mine, because, I know too well what happens when students aren’t prepared for life! I support Freda Deskin, because her passion for children is unwavering, & she supports curriculums for living!


  6. AAE (Another Anonymous Educator)
    July 11, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    Thanks once again, OKEdTruths — you are always out there looking to see what the emperor is really wearing. Can’t say how much we appreciate everything you do.


  7. Brooke
    July 12, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Freda, thank you for clarifying your opinion on that. I think my main concern is that charters don’t have to take every child. I understand that charters accept all students into a lottery & that the inner-city charters often serve a low-income population, but I haven’t seen any data regarding special needs students. I feel like if we funded public schools better, they could better serve the 90%+ students that attend them, rather than allocating money (that is so scarce) to expand charters. Barresi requested a 300% increase in funding for charters. Where will that come from? OK has CUT funding for public education more than any other state since 2008. So, to me, adding charters only exacerbates the funding challenge for public schools.

    Please note, I am not trying to be mean or argumentative. I just think the focus needs to be serving the students that attend public schools (over 90%) and not the 5-10% that attend private/charter/other schools.

    Another concern of mine arose a few months ago when I watched a press release and learned that you do not currently hold certifications for public school administration (principal, superintendent). I understand that you have a lot of experience and those “papers” are not required to be a CEO of a charter, but why did you not persue them? I would not go to a physician who wasn’t certified.

    I think you would be a much better choice than Joy, but for now, I’m supporting Cox, who has over 20 years of superintendent experience. I know that he does not have urban experience, but this position is not about micromanaging each school district. It’s about understanding the unique needs of our state and collaborating with school administrators. He has garnered the support of nearly 400 superintendents, which says to me that they trust him to lead public education.

    Those are my thoughts & rationale, but I will continue to follow you so that I can share information about you if Dr. Cox does not get the democratic nomination.

    Good luck & God bless!


  8. July 12, 2014 at 7:59 am

    I had lunch with one of the employees of this new organization back in April at a work event. At the time, I thought I would be out of a job in July because my grant was ending. So I was also trying to network. She started discribing the company as a tool and resource for rural schools. Since my grant focused on rural schools as well, I was interested. It Sounded great and I was thinking how great it would be to work for
    Then she started talking about supporting charters (a little reluctantly btw, like she knew it would not be popular) . I got a little suspicious as I do every time charters are mentioned.
    Then she mentioned their funding in mainly from WFF and all my warning bells went off.
    It does sound so appealing… But it is a slippery slope Into something we don’t want/need in OK.


    • Amy U
      July 12, 2014 at 8:39 am

      Just curious…would this be the same Sarah Julian that used to head up Instructional Tech for OKCPS?


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