The story behind out-of-state contributions to Superintendent Tony Bennett's re-election campaign is sometimes simple, as in the recent $1,250 contribution from Edison Learning. The education management organization was tapped by Bennett's agency last year to lead the turnaround school effort at Gary Roosevelt High School.
The National Education Policy Center's most recent report on EMOs showed that only 15 of the 49 schools Edison operates made adequate yearly progress in 2010-11 – not a promising figure for students at Gary Roosevelt. But Edison Learning will collect millions of dollars in per-pupil tuition support to operate the school. Not a bad return on the $2,000 political contribution the company made to Bennett in 2009, even with the additional contribution this year.
A $1,000 contribution from Grand Rapids, Mich., resident Stephen J. Klotz is a bit more challenging to untangle, but still fairly transparent. Klotz is CEO of the Huizenga Group. Its founder, J.C. Huizenga, is also founder of National Heritage Academies, one of the largest charter school operators in the nation. Klotz is a director for the charter company.
Henry Levin, head of the national Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University, tells Michigan blogger Julie Mack that NHA is the only charter operator that's making money.
Here's how: While the charter school movement was largely predicated on pushing innovation, Levin said that National Heritage … understood there was a hunger among many American parents for a return to the kind of schools they had as children, schools that emphasized a back-to-basics curriculum and strict rules of behavior.
"There's lots of parents who don't want innovation," Levin said. "They just want a school where there's going to be discipline. ... They want their kids' butts kicked."
He said the company also tapped into church communities to promote their schools, put church leaders on their boards and spread the word that National Heritage schools would be all about "values."
The company runs the Andrew J. Brown Academy charter in Indianapolis, but clearly is looking to ensure the powerbrokers in Indiana continue to look favorably on for-profit education companies.