Chiefs for Change, an advocacy group created by former Florida governor Jeb Bush to promote many of his K-12 education policies around the country, is breaking away from its origins and expanding to try to attract big city school leaders.
Chiefs for Change announced Tuesday that it was splitting from the Foundation for Excellence in Education, created by Bush in 2008. The advocacy group said it will no longer receive financial support from the foundation.
John White, Louisiana’s state superintendent of education, will lead the newly independent Chiefs for Change while continuing his state job.
“Outdated rules, political fights, gridlock, ideology and bureaucracy have distracted our country from doing everything possible to expand opportunity and empower educators in our schools,” White said. “Now more than ever, we need bipartisan education leaders to give voice to the policies and practices that work for students in states, cities and classrooms.”
Since its creation, Chiefs for Change has represented a small group of state education officials who have loudly promoted an agenda shared by Bush: Common Core State Standards, using test scores to evaluate teachers, A-to-F report cards for schools, expanding charter schools and online learning, among other things. Many of those ideas are embraced by conservatives and opposed by teachers unions.
The group was created as a more aggressive version of the Council of State School Chiefs, a Washington-based organization that represents education commissioners in every state. The organization is bipartisan but leans Republican; most of its members have hailed from GOP-controlled states.
Until now, the organization had received all its funding from Bush’s foundation. In anticipation of a 2016 presidential run, Bush resigned in December as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, as well as every other foundation and corporate board on which he served.
But beyond dollars, the Foundation for Excellence in Education acted as a kind of de facto staff for the members of Chiefs for Change, holding biweekly conference calls and in-person meetings to craft policy, write regulations and shape larger national messaging for the group.
The foundation also connected state education officials with its corporate donors, facilitating private meetings between state decision makers and company executives at the foundation’s annual meetings.
That has led to some criticism that the arrangement serves as a back door for major corporations to urge state officials to adopt policies that would enrich the companies. For example, the foundation and Chiefs for Change have pushed states to embrace digital learning in public schools, a costly transition that often requires new software and hardware. Many of those digital products are made by donors to the foundation -- and funders of Chiefs for Change — such as Microsoft, Intel, News Corp., Pearson PLC and K12 Inc.
In addition to splitting from the foundation, Chiefs for Change said it plans to expand its membership beyond the state level to include education leaders in major urban school districts. Membership in Chiefs for Change has dwindled from peak of nine in 2012 to four. And one of those four current members, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, is stepping down from her job in June to become the school superintendent in Tulsa, Okla. In addition to White and Gist, the other members are New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera and Delaware Education Secretary Mark Murphy.