Earlier this week I received a mailer from School Choice Ohio, a non-profit that promotes charter schools and private school vouchers. The mailer discusses Kasich’s new private school voucher program which lets any student in kindergarten or first grade get a voucher to a private school if their family meets certain financial requirements. The mailer was targeted at me, but used my kid’s name on the mailers. This freaked me out a little bit.
According to Columbus City Schools, anyone can request information about CCS students from their student directory, this include includes name, address, phone number and even date and place of birth. The requester simply has to promise not to “use the information in a profit-making plan or activity.” Not all districts release this much information as part of their student directory. In fact, School Choice Ohio is actually suing two other school districts (Cincinnati and Springfield) that refused to provide them with detailed student directory information.
School Choice Ohio effectively operates as a marketing and lobbying organization for private schools and for-profit charter school operators, and the use of student data is a big part of the marketing efforts. According to tax documents for 2012, School Choice Ohio took in over one million dollars in grants and contributions, and spent the majority of it on salaries, advertising and promotion ($304,681) and lobbying ($65,048). Spending on advertising in 2012 was nearly double that in 2011.
The group does not disclose its donors, but given the connections and history of the organization and its people, it is likely that many of these contributions came from large, for-profit school operators like White Hat’s David Brennan and ECOT’s Bill Lager.
The group’s executive director, Matthew Cox, was paid $150,000 in 2012. Cox has a long history in Republican politics in Ohio and he currently operates a lobbying firm. He and his lobbying partner serve as two of seven individuals registered to lobby the legislature and executive branch on behalf of School Choice Ohio. One of the other lobbyists is our old friend Tom Needles.
Needles, you may remember, is also a lobbyist for David Brennan’s for-profit charter school company White Hat. And also he managed Go-Go Pac, the political action committee Brennan used to funnel money to Republican candidates in excess of the legal campaign finance limits. And when Kasich was looking for someone to help write pro-charter school language into his first budget, he turned to Needles who authored language that would lift limits on the number of schools White Hat can operate, allow White Hat to legally run schools as for-profit entities and remove existing oversight and regulations that keep the schools in check.
School Choice Ohio was founded in 2007 with Republican Lawyer Bill Todd as the assistant vice president. That same year, Todd ran for mayor of Columbus and received nearly a quarter of his funding from White Hat’s Brennan. Todd later defended Brennan for those illegal campaign contributions Brennan and his wife made to Ohio Republicans using Go-Go Pac.
School Choice Ohio claims they want to give parents and kids choices in education. In reality, their mission in twofold. First, they spend big money from undisclosed donors lobbying the legislature and the governor to expand and fund the ever-growing private and for-profit charter school industry in Ohio. This is an industry whose schools cost more, and often perform much worse than traditional public schools. An industry that, through successful lobbying, has exempted itself from over 150 state education laws that apply to traditional public schools.
Second, they run slick marketing campaigns aimed at driving kids out of public schools and into private and for-profit schools, stealing money away from public school districts while filling the pockets of big, for-profit school operators like Brennan and Lager. And they are doing it with student data obtained from the school districts that they are helping to damage.
School Choice Ohio is organized as a non-profit and they claim to be “educating” the public on their options about schools. In reality, they act like a tax-exempt lobbying and marketing arm of the for-profit education industry. And because they are a non-profit, they are able to get personal student data to conduct marketing campaigns that ultimately benefit the industry. This certainly seems like a “profit-making plan” to me.
Images of the mailers are included below