Diatribune and Daily Kos, March, 30, 2007
Title: “Bush Profiteers Collect Billions From NCLB”
Researchers: Alan Scher and Sam Burchard
Faculty Evaluator: Karen Grady, PhD
The architect of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), President Bush’s first senior education advisor, Sandy Kress, has turned the program, which has consistently proven disastrous in the realm of education, into a huge success in the realm of corporate profiteering. After ushering NCLB through the US House of Representatives in 2001 with no public hearings, Kress went from lawmaker—turning on spigots of federal funds—to lobbyist, tapping into those billions of dollars in federal funds for private investors well connected to the Bush administration.
A statute that once promised equal access to public education to millions of American children now instead promises billions of dollars in profits to corporate clients through dubious processes of testing and assessment and “supplemental educational services.” NCLB—the Business Roundtable’s revision of Lyndon Johnson’s Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—created a “high stakes testing” system through which the private sector could siphon federal education funds. The result has been windfall corporate profit. What was once a cottage industry has become a corporate giant. “Millions of dollars are being spent,” says Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, “and nobody knows what’s happening.”
The wedding of big business and education benefits not only the interests of the Business Roundtable, a consortium of over 300 CEOs, but countless Bush family loyalists. Sandy Kress, chief architect of NCLB; Harold McGraw III, textbook publisher; Bill Bennett, former Reagan education secretary; and Neil Bush, the president’s youngest brother, have all cashed in on the Roundtable’s successful national implementation of “outcome-based education.” NCLB’s mandated system of state standards, state tests, and school sanctions has together transformed our public school system into a for-profit frenzy.
Kress, former president of the Dallas School Board, began “A Draft Position for George W. Bush on K-12 Education” as early as 1999. Working successfully with then-Governor Bush in Texas for years, the Democrat bolstered bipartisan support behind the compassionate marketing promise to “leave no child behind” through the adoption of high state standards measuring school performance. Signed into law in early 2002, NCLB dramatically extended the federal role in public education, mandating annual testing of children in Grades 3 to 8, providing tutoring for children in persistently failing schools, and setting a twelve-year timetable for closing chronic gaps in student achievement. Having then crafted the legislation, Kress transitioned from public servant to corporate lobbyist, guiding clients to the troth of federal funds. By 2005 he had made upwards of $4 million from lobbying contracts.
While the Business Roundtable maintains that the high-stakes tests administered nationwide hold schools accountable to “Adequate Yearly Progress,” NCLB has instead benefited the testing industry in the amount of between $1.9 and $5.3 billion a year. NCLB requires states to produce “interpretive, descriptive, and diagnostic reports,” all of which are provided at a price by members of the industry. Among these are the top four or five players in the textbook market, including the Big Three—McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin, and Harcourt General—who have, since the passage of NCLB, come to dominate the testing market. Identified by Wall Street analysts in the wake of the 2000 election as “Bush stocks,” all three represent owners like Harold McGraw III, who has longstanding ties to the Bush administration and the lobbying efforts of Sandy Kress.
Other Kress clients, including Ignite! Learning, a company headed by Neil Bush, and K12 Inc., a for-profit enterprise owned by Bill Bennett, tailored themselves to vie for NCLB dollars.
Under NCLB, as school districts receive federal funding they are required by law to hold 20 percent of those funds aside, anticipating that its schools will fail to meet its Annual Yearly Progress formula. When that “failure” is certified by test scores, the district is required to use those set-aside federal funds to pay supplemental education service (SES) providers. Ignite! has placed products in forty US school districts, and K12 offers a menu of services “as an option to traditional brick-and-mortar schools,” including computer-based “virtual academies,” that have qualified for over $4 million in federal grants. Under NCLB, supplemental educational services, whose results are being increasingly challenged, reap $2 billion annually.
Nationally, there are over 1,800 approved providers of supplemental educational services, but little in the way of regulation. To the contrary, Michael Petrilli, former member of the Department of Education, purports, “We want as little regulation as possible so the market can be as vibrant as possible.” To that end, Kress is currently lobbying on behalf of another bipartisan coalition to win reauthorization of NCLB for another six years.