Thanks to the Louisiana Division of Administration’s commitment to transparency, I discovered some interesting things. While skimming through recent expenditures of the Department of Education, I came across a payment to Bellwether Education Partners for the amount of $44,000. Knowing that Bellwether is another one of those “well-funded” non-profits in the education reform market, I was driven to search for the reason for this payment.
A brief search through the “Contracts” page of the DofA website revealed the consulting contract and the purpose it served. It turns out, the $44,000 fee was to assist in the writing of an application for a Teacher Incentive Fund grant. Also known as a TIF grant.
You may remember that U.S. Secretary of Education, John King, recently made an ESSA bus tour around the country; with several stops in Louisiana. Shortly after his visit, Supt. John White announced that Louisiana had been awarded a $66,758,458 TIF grant. There was a media blitz announcing it across the state.
By submitting an FOIA request to the USDOE, I was able to obtain copies of the state’s application and narrative, as well as the comments from the application reviewers. These items have since been posted on the USDOE TIF Grant page. The narrative is quiet lengthy and contains a lot of mumbo jumbo. Your standard “we’re gonna do this” and “it will help these folks” sort of stuff. The one thing I did note was that the application for the TIF grant was specifically for 16 rural school districts which included Allen Parish, Assumption Parish, Caldwell Parish, Catahoula Parish, Concordia Parish, Grant Parish, JS Clark Leadership Academy, Lincoln Parish, Morehouse Parish, Red River Parish, Richland Parish, St. Helena Parish, St. Landry Parish, Tallulah Charter School, Tensas Parish, and West Carroll Parish. The purpose of the grant is to help cover the expenses of becoming a certified teacher and/or principal in those districts by paying the expense to commute, tuition, fees, etc. Well, low and behold, in recent weeks Supt. White sought to get approval for his revised teacher preparation programs and his preferred online fast-track teacher certification school, Relay Graduate School of Education. The chief reason that many, including the Board of Regents, objected was because there was no evidence of sustained funding. Well, wouldn’t you know it? White found funding to cover the first three years. I think we know where the money is coming from. What was intended to be for 16 high-need rural districts will now partly fund a statewide program.
Before I go on to connect the dots, for you, I have more to share on the grant. In reading through the reviewer’s comments, I found something strange. Neither of the reviewers awarded points for “Competitive Preference Priority-Supporting High Needs Students.” What? I don’t understand. If you go to the Bellwether Education Partners website, the first thing you see in bold letters is…
“We are a non-profit dedicated to helping educational organizations become more effective and achieve dramatic results, especially for high-needs students.”
Did you catch that? The one thing that they claim to focus on is the one thing that didn’t get awarded points for in the application that LDOE paid them $44,000 to assist. Furthermore, why were they paid out of general funds instead of out of the grant? That doesn’t sound like money well spent. In fact, I’m having a difficult time understanding why LDOE would need help to write that grant anyway. Isn’t grant writing what some of LDOE’s employees are hired to do? Well, then there’s this…
While scouring through the Bellwether website, I made some interesting discoveries. The co-founder and president of the organization is Mary K. Wells. Ms. Wells commands a salary of $280,000. Co-founder, Andrew Rotherman, receives a $260,000 salary and also runs the website EduWonk. The organization is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has received $7.4 million since 2010.
On the website, they make available a long list of people and organizations that they have worked with and supported which include Amplify, Chiefs for Change, CCSSO, Great Minds (creator of Eureka Math), Kipp Schools and every other ed reform group you can think of. You can read the entire list by clicking here.
Now, honestly, I’ve been doing this long enough that these sorts of things do not surprise, anymore. It wasn’t any of this that caught be off guard. It was the realization that we will never be able to unwrap the complexity of the education reform effort. With every turn, I find new reason to support the belief that none of these organizations have ever had “improving education” in mind. There is only one goal. The goal is to convert public education entirely into private enterprise that will, in turn, line their pockets with cash. When this happens, we will have lost all control over the education of our children. We will have no input as to what is taught. They are all intertwined, and they are already redirecting money as they see fit and manipulating data to support their efforts. You see, one of the associate partners of Bellwether is Melissa Steel-King. She happens to be the wife of none other than Secretary of Education, John King.