Grant to N.J. Ed Dept. contingent on Gov. Christie’s tenure

Gov. Chris Christie ((AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The private Broad Foundation gave a grant of up to to $430,000 to the New Jersey Department of Education that includes this contingency: It can be withdrawn if Chris Christie (R) is no longer governor of the state.

If you have any doubt that wealthy private American citizens are helping to drive public education policy with their fortunes, this should dispel it.

Here is what The Broad Foundation (TBF) grant actually says:

2. Retention of “Key Personnel”
TBF was induced to make this grant largely on the basis of TBF’s confidence in the following individual(s) (the “Key Personnel”): The Honorable Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey. TBF reserves the right to suspend the disbursement of any remaining grant payments in the case of a material change in the employment status of any Key Personnel.

 

 

But that’s not all that is of deep concern.

This Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation grant was given to support an initiative of New Jersey’s education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, called the Regional Achievement Centers that are part of the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver plans. Last spring the state legislature explicitly deleted the department’s request for $1.7 million to support the centers, which were designed to deal with low-performing schools. So the grant is funding  with private dollars a New Jersey Education Department initiative that the legislature expressly declined to implement with public dollars.

Bob Braun, a columnist for the Newark-based Star-Ledger newspaper, first wrote about the grant, and quoted in this piece Erica Lepping, senior communications director for the Broad Foundation, as saying in an e-mail in regard to the Christie provision:

Research shows that American school systems making the greatest academic gains have certain ingredients in place, including strong leaders who champion strategies that are designed to create environments that support students and teachers, so we consider the presence of strong leaders to be important when we hand over our dollars.

 

Of course the longevity of a governor is entirely up to a state.

 

Braun also notes a benchmark in the grant that refers to the New Jersey Department of Education’s acronym, NJDOE:

 

The percent of high quality public charter schools in New Jersey, as measured by NJDOE’s” — New Jersey Department of Education’s — “definition of high quality, will increase by 50 (percent) by 2014-15.

 

That’s interesting, given that the state legislature is now reviewing the state’s charter school policies.

He also quoted David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, as calling for an independent review of the award, noting that it is “maybe precedent-setting” that a private grant include as a condition that an elected official must remain in office.

Actually, when Michelle Rhee was chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, she persuaded several private foundations to donate a total of more than $60 million to help cover a three-year labor contract she negotiated with the  teachers union that included an evaluation system known as IMPACT. It featured a pay-for-performance scheme that evaluated teachers largely on students’ standardized test scores. The foundations reserved the right to reconsider the funding commitments if there was a significant change in the leadership of the system, though Rhee was not mentioned by name and the funding arrangements were done between the foundations and the D.C. Education Fund, the official pass-through entity. So what do you think happened when Rhee quit as chancellor? The private money dropped by more than 80 percent.

Said Sciarra:

Some independent body, the Legislature or the state comptroller’s office, should look into the entire relationship between the Broad foundation and the state.”

Indeed, the Broad Foundation has a deep relationship with Cerf’s Education Department, Braun notes, including a foundation-run academy that trains educators hired in New Jersey (including Cerf).

Public education is increasingly being driven by private citizens with the funds to push their own agendas. This mindset is part of what education historian Diane Ravitch calls “The Billionaire’s Boys Club,  “the ideological convergence of the three foundations that spend the most money in the K-12 education sector: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.” You can read more about that here.

Here’s a link to the grant.

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · December 13, 2012

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