On the eve of Jeb Bush's annual Summit on Education Reform in Boston, a liberal New Mexico organization has accused Bush's Florida-based education foundation of violating IRS rules for nonprofits.
Calling the foundation an "education ALEC," ProgressNowNM filed a complaint alleging that Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education improperly paid thousands of dollars to public officials including New Mexico education secretary Hanna Skandera, who then met with for-profit education companies seeking to influence public education policy. Skandera is a former high level official in the Florida Department of Education.
"This tax-exempt organization is serving as a dating service for corporations selling educational products – including virtual schools – to school chiefs responsible for making policies and cutting the checks," ProgressNowNM executive director Patrick Davis said in a release. "Just like ALEC brought together gun manufacturers with legislators to pass 'stand your ground' laws, FEE is using it's tax-exempt status to hide thousands of dollars it's using to connect big private education businesses to government policy makers and the time has come for it to stop."
Foundation spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof denied any improprieties in a statement released late Tuesday. She suggested the group had political motivations.
"It's not surprising that Progress Now New Mexico, a partisan organization that has a history of opposing education reforms that put students first, would attack efforts to improve the quality of education for children across America," Emhof said. "The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) openly offers its expertise to legislators and policy makers interested in improving schools and raising student achievement. We fully comply with IRS rules when providing policy research and expertise and will continue to do so. This is nothing more than a politically motivated complaint by opponents of education reform."
Bush and his foundation have regularly come under attack for their efforts in support of vouchers, charter schools, online schools, parent trigger and testing-based accountability. Several states have adopted Bush's Florida model, which lately has had its credibility questioned amid a variety of problems related to school grading and tests.
Read more about this latest controversy in Mother Jones and the Santa Fe Reporter.