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Does education reform actually work from a blue playbook?

Influence

Do school reformers sound Republican but vote Democrat?

The findings arrive as the issue dominates Florida politics..

Is education reform a right-wing cause fueling a left-wing agenda? A new academic study indicates a level schizophrenia within the movement. And the findings arrive as the issue dominates Florida politics.

The analysis by Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas and Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute finds disparity in the image and foundation of school choice.

The full report, Education Reform’s Deep Blue Hue: Are school reformers right-wingers or centrists—or neither?, is scheduled for release this morning. Education Next, an education reform where Hess serves as senior editor, announced the report.

Findings include the fact 87 percent or more of political contributions by staff at school-reform organizations go toward Democratic candidates and causes.

Of course, that breakdown may have to do with who the study authors included in its donor pool. The analysis looks at contributions from employees getting grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Walton Family Foundation, as well as scholars focused on education reform.

The authors found 99 percent of staff for Gates Foundation grantees like Achieve, Teach For America, Chalkbeat and KIPP back Democrats. Just eight out of 2,625 contributions made by that set of donors went to Republicans. In dollars, that’s $719,946 worth of support for the blue team and $5,500 for the red one.

Things weren’t quite so lop-sided among Walton Foundation grantees, which include 50CAN, the 74 Million and the Education Trust. About 87 percent of those donations went to Democrats. But of note, those donors who favored Republicans did give substantially more, so $445,249 of the $1,682,207 donated went to GOP candidates and causes.

Education scholars whose spending habits earned scrutiny donated 97 percent of contributions to Democrats, the study found.

Indeed, the staffers and leaders for these education reform groups tilt far more left than the teaching profession, often considered a reliable Democratic constituency. The analysts note a recent Education Week poll that showed 41 percent of educators identify as Democrats, 27 percent as Republicans and 30 percent as independents.

“The leftward tilt of the school-reform community is wholly at odds with the popular narrative that school reform is the project of ‘right-wing privatizers’—as well as with reformers’ claims that theirs is a ‘centrist, bipartisan” movement,” said Greene and Hess.

A press release for the report says “education reform turns out to be neither a red nor purple enterprise—but a deep blue one.”

But what’s it mean? After all, a look at Florida’s political landscape shows the most vocal school choice advocates remain Republican.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed school choice options, naming conservative ex-Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran as Education Commissioner. The Florida-based School Choice Movement boasts a leadership team made largely of former Republican officials, with ex-Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds at the helm.

But the analysts suggest the politics around school choice policy simply don’t jive with the political inclination of those setting school reform into motion.

“This ideological homogeneity may create an echo chamber that hinders the movement’s ability to detect and address political and practical challenges,” the report suggests.

“These risks are heightened by the fact that reformers labor under the mistaken impression that their coalition is politically and ideologically diverse—when the data suggests that it is not.”

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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