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Jeff Bryant

How Charter-School Billionaires Corrupt School Leadership

It’s rare when goings-on in Kansas City, Missouri schools make national headlines, but in 2011 the New York Times reported on the sudden departure of the district’s superintendent John Covington, who resigned unexpectedly with only a 30-day notice. The main reason Covington left Kansas City was not because he was pushed out by job stress or an obstinate resistance: He left because a rich man offered him a job. What caused Covington’s exit, Kansas City Star reporter Joe Robertson later reported, was “a phone call from Spain.” That call, Covington told Robertson, was what led to Covington’s departure from Kansas City—because it brought a message from billionaire philanthropist and major charter school booster Eli Broad. “John,” Broad reportedly said, “I need you to go to Detroit.” It wasn’t the first time Covington, who was a 2008 graduate of a prestigious training academy funded through Broad’s foundation (the Broad Center), had come into contact with the billionaire’s name and clout. Broad was also the most significant private funder of the new Michigan program he summoned Covington to oversee, providing more than $6 million in funding from 2011 to 2013, according to the Detroit Free Press. But Covington’s story is more than a single instance of a school leader doing a billionaire’s bidding. It sheds light on how decades of a school reform movement, financed by Broad and other philanthropists and embraced by politicians and policymakers of all political stripes, have shaped school leadership nationwide.

Jeff Bryant is a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy.

DeVos Sent $11m In Student Aid To Unaccredited For-Profit Colleges

Trump administration let nearly $11 million in student aid go to unaccredited for-profit colleges. WaPo: "A trove of documents released Tuesday by the House Education and Labor Committee shows the Education Department provided $10.7 million in federal loans and grants to students at the Illinois Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Colorado even though officials knew the for-profit colleges were not accredited and ineligible to receive such aid. The documents build on prior reports from the committee describing efforts by Education Department officials to shield Dream Center Education Holdings, owner of the Art Institutes and Argosy University, from the consequences of lying to students about the accreditation of its since-closed schools. Now it appears the Education Department tried to shield itself from an ill-fated decision to allow millions of dollars to flow to those schools. Rep. Robert C. 'Bobby' Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education Committee, is threatening to subpoena Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for more documents related to the department’s role in Dream Center’s actions. Scott says the agency has obstructed the committee’s investigation and refused to answer questions, as emails and letters paint a picture of a federal agency complicit in an effort to place profits before students. By law, for-profit colleges must be fully accredited to participate in federal student aid programs. Neither the Art Institute of Colorado, the Art Institute of Michigan or the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago and Schaumburg held that seal of approval from their accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, in the 2018 spring semester. In reviewing Dream Center’s 2017 acquisition of the chain, the accrediting commission raised concerns about the quality of education at the campuses and downgraded their status for up to four years."

Taylor Deals Crushing Blow To Trump Impeachment Defense

A true public servant deals Trump a crushing blow. Bloomberg: "A career civil servant who is a West Point graduate, soldier, officer, military attache and veteran diplomat told Congress on Tuesday that President Donald Trump personally and explicitly tried to force Ukraine’s president to investigate Trump’s political opponents by withholding crucial military aid and a coveted White House meeting. William Taylor testified that the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told him that “everything” Ukraine wanted depended on whether its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, pursued an investigation. Sondland also told Taylor that Trump wanted to squeeze Zelenskiy into “a public box” by forcing him to commit openly to a probe. Taylor said Sondland told him that tying military aid to efforts to kneecap political opponents didn’t amount to a quid pro quo. But it was exactly that, of course, and in his testimony Taylor didn’t hesitate to describe it as such. He said Sondland told him he needed to understand the give-and-take with Ukraine as a business transaction because Trump was a businessman. 'When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something,' Taylor quoted Sondland as saying, 'the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.' Sondland told Taylor that he even coached Zelenskiy to tell Trump he would 'leave no stone unturned' in pursuit of Trump’s political opponents."

Ambassador Runs Rogue Strategy In Hungary

In Hungary, a freewheeling Trump ambassador undermines U.S. diplomats. NYT: The annual Independence Day celebration at the United States Embassy in Budapest is usually a modest garden party, a chance for the ambassador to celebrate American freedom, democracy and the rule of law. This year, the ambassador, David B. Cornstein, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a blowout gala for 800 guests. He flew in the singer Paul Anka from California. The guest of honor was Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who has curtailed the very freedoms the event was meant to highlight Standing at a lectern, Mr. Cornstein declared Mr. Orban 'the perfect partner' and 'a very, very strong and good leader.' Mr. Anka serenaded the Hungarian leader with a personalized rendition of 'My Way.' For many in the room, it was a bewildering spectacle: an American ambassador lavishing praise on a far-right leader whose party has methodically eroded Hungarian democracy and pushed anti-Semitic tropes. But it was just another demonstration of Mr. Cornstein’s pattern of emboldening Mr. Orban. Since becoming ambassador in June 2018, Mr. Cornstein has assiduously courted Mr. Orban, giving the Hungarian leader unexpected influence in the Trump administration. Mr. Cornstein used his decades-long friendship with President Trump to help broker a coveted Oval Office meeting for Mr. Orban last May — a meeting now under scrutiny by impeachment investigators in Washington."

Corporate America Fears Warren's Rise

Corporate America freaks out over Elizabeth Warren. Politico: "Democratic-leaning executives on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and across the corporate world are watching Elizabeth Warren's rise to frontrunner status in the Democratic primary with an increasing sense of existential panic. And they feel mostly paralyzed to do much about it — other than throwing money at other candidates and praying. Warren's grassroots fundraising prowess shows she doesn't need big corporate money. She’s got $26 million in the bank. And taking her on directly just makes her stronger with her populist base. Any attack on Warren from the tech or Wall Street worlds just turns into an immediate Warren talking point. When CNBC host Jim Cramer did a piece on money managers freaking out about Warren, the candidate grabbed the clip and tweeted above it: 'I’m Elizabeth Warren and I approve this message.' It’s led to fairly widespread frustration that Warren’s rise seems unstoppable. 'There’s really not a damn thing you can do about Warren. There is nothing,' said one prominent Wall Street hedge fund manager and Democratic bundler who is raising money for a Warren rival. 'It’s the same thing Republicans went through with Trump. You look at her and think what she is going to do is going to be horrible for the country. But if you say anything about it you just make her stronger.'"

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