There has been a great deal of discussion in recent months about spending to influence education policy in Minnesota by outside interests. The loudest of the chatter has denounced “corporate” efforts to privatize public education.
It’s indisputably true that money has flowed into Minnesota to influence education efforts representing a variety of philosophies and candidates for office who hold divergent views.
But in bandying about the term “corporate” the discourse has painted with a broad brush indeed, making the debate sound like a David and Goliath contest pitting big money against grassroots. Sometimes that’s the case, but more often the whole story is much more nuanced.
Your Humble Blogger is going to begin biting these off not as broad conspiracy theories to be proven or debunked, but as individual, discrete money trails worthy of the same level of scrutiny as any other effort to influence public policy.
Final tallies are out now
Today, we revisit a Minneapolis School Board race that last fall sparked controversy for record expenditures. In one of the hardest fought, emotional contests of the year, Josh Reimnitz bested Patty Wycoff for a pivotal seat on the Minneapolis board.
At the time, his spending was reported to be a record-setting $37,000, versus about $5,000 by Wycoff. But both sets of numbers were incomplete.
With final tallies now reported, Reimnitz raised and spent almost $39,000. Some 87 percent of the money spent to promote his campaign came from individuals whose donations were capped at $300.
In addition, a so-called independent expenditure of $6,000, which paid for a mailing, was made on behalf of his campaign by the education reform organization 50CAN, parent of local effort MinnCAN. 50CAN Board Chair Matt Kramer is also co-CEO of Teach for America, the teacher corps program in which Josh Reimnitz served before moving to Minneapolis.
(Kramer is also the son of MinnPost founders Joel and Laurie Kramer, who do not assign or edit stories involving their family members.);
Both 50CAN and MinnCAN receive financial support from a number of corporate, family and community foundations. Its Minnesota backers include foundations associated with General Mills, Hubbard Broadcasting and The Travelers Companies, in addition to large players in the local philanthropic community.
Gates, Walton foundations
On the national level, the CANs are supported by two of the country’s largest education philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. None of the backers on either level operates any for-profit educational ventures.
In addition to the $5,000 raised from individuals, Wycoff’s campaign got boosts from two political action committees. In addition to providing shoe leather, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers’ Local Political 59 Fund spent $10,452 on mailings in support of her campaign. The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation contributed a little more than $1,000 more in the form of voter lists.
In addition to $16,000 in donations to numerous state and local candidates, the MFT also contributed almost $22,000 to political party units. It gave the DFL House and Senate caucuses $10,000 each and an additional $1,950 to the Minnesota State DFL Central Committee.
The PAC had more than $82,000 on hand at the Jan. 1, 2012, start of the reporting period in question and received another $43,488 in donations [PDF] in 2012. All but about $100 of the total comes from its national parent, the American Federation of Teachers.