Foundation for Excellence in Education
The Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) is the younger of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s two foundations devoted to education privatization. While the original organization, the Foundation for Florida’s Future (FFF) remains focused on education reforms in Florida in an attempt to protect Bush’s legacy, FEE takes a more nationwide approach which “was launched… in response to requests for assistance from lawmakers and policymakers who were interested in advancing reforms that are a part of the Florida Formula for Student Achievement.”
FEE is dedicated to pushing Bush’s “success” in Florida in privatizing education. Reuters explains that “the Bush foundation touts the Florida test gains as ‘perhaps the greatest public policy success story of the past decade’ and aggressively presses its formula on other states.”
However, Reuters went on to detail that the scores that Bush has cited as proof of that success have not withstood the test of time, with “huge numbers” of high school graduates still needing remedial assistance in math and reading. That article further notes that “annual studies commissioned by the state have found no evidence that low-income students who receive vouchers to attend private schools do any better at reading or math than their peers.”
In fact, while “Bush has been particularly vigorous about promoting online education,” studies “in several states… have found that online students fare far worse than their peers in reading and math.” In what has been a familiar refrain with Bush’s educational foundations, the answer may lie in the fact that FEE’s online-education policy ideas were “written with input from companies that stand to profit from expanded cyber-schooling.”
Much like FFF, the Foundation for Excellence in Education has had questions raised about its relationship between its donors and FEE’s lobbying efforts. In The Public Interest reports that in its role offering assistance to lawmakers and education officials, “the foundation is writing state education laws and regulations in ways that could benefit its corporate funders.” Emails between FEE and state education officials “conclusively reveal that FEE staff acted to promote their corporate funders’ priorities in… Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Rhode Island, and Louisiana.” In The Public Interest’s analysis of those emails expose that:
- “In New Mexico, FEE acted as a broker to organize meetings between their corporate donors” and educational officials.
- “In Florida, FEE helped write legislation that would increase the use of a proprietary test (FCAT) under contract to Pearson, a FEE donor.”
- FEE “urged state officials to introduce SendHub, a communications tool, into their state’s schools.” SendHub was founded by a former Bush staffer, and Tech Crunch revealed that SendHub was “the first startup investment for the former Republican governor, and one which saw the politician approaching SendHub, instead of the other way around.”
In addition to lobbying on behalf of policies which would benefit its corporate benefactors, FEE also assisted its sister organization in circumventing Florida’s lobbying laws. The Tampa Tribune detailed that FFF took corporate donations from companies that would benefit from contracts with Florida’s Department of Education, then invited representatives from those companies and Florida DoE officials to education “summits.” As the report noted, “in some cases, [the government officials’] flights, hotel stays, meals, and incidentals were paid for with money that came partly from the foundation’s corporate donors.”
The practice of lobbyists paying for lawmakers expenses is typically banned, but FFF actually had no registered lobbyists. Instead, former Bush staffer Patricia Levesque, who heads both FEE and FFF, was only registered as a lobbyist for FEE. As a result, the law was circumvented because FFF, not FEE, paid for the lawmakers’ expenses using corporate donations. One lawmaker who reported the reimbursements made sure the trip was signed off on by Florida’s state House counsel: George Levesque, Patricia’s husband.
FEE additionally has deep ties to some of the most questionable organizations at the heart of the far-right conservative network. As the Washington Post reports, there are “strong connections” between FEE and the Koch Brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council. The Center for Media and Democracy expanded:
“Aptly named FEE, Bush’s group is backed by many of the same for-profit school corporations that have funded ALEC and vote as equals with its legislators on templates to change laws governing America’s public schools. FEE is also bankrolled by many of the same hard-right foundations bent on privatizing public schools that have funded ALEC. And, they have pushed many of the same changes to the law, which benefit their corporate benefactors and satisfy the free market fundamentalism of the billionaires whose tax-deductible charities underwrite the agenda of these two groups.”
FEE and ALEC have collaborated in the past on ALEC’s annual “Report Cards” on the state of American education, which Bush endorsed as “a helpful guide for anyone who wants to achieve a quality education for all students.” As the Orlando Sentinel revealed, “Matthew Ladner is on staff with Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and also wrote the past two ALEC report cards.” Ladner presented a report on education privatization at the Koch-backed James Madison Institute, which also has deep ties to the former Governor, having once combined with FFF.
Additionally, the Center for Media and Democracy detailed that at FEE’s 2011 Education Summit, seven of the eleven lawmakers featured on FEE’s panels were “known members of ALEC,” and several FEE staff members served as “part of ALEC’s Education Task Force.”
As noted, both FEE and FFF are headed by former Bush staffer Levesque, and, according to tax documents, both outsource “management services” to Meridian Strategies, which is owned by… Patricia Levesque. In 2013, Levesque made $204,022 in compensation from FEE, $103,000 in compensation from FFF, and an additional $66,000 combined was paid to Meridian Strategies by both organizations. Familiar names on FEE’s board include: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, conservative megadonor Elisabeth DeVos, Charles Schwab, former Bush staffer Brian Yablonski, Laurene Jobs (Steve Jobs’ widow), and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation’s Joel Klein.