The budget impasse created by Bruce Rauner is a predictable outcome of his anti-union and anti public education history. At the last Board of Trustees meeting, my colleague Dr. Beverly commented that he thought appeals to Rauner to end the budget deadlock were a waste of time and energy (or words to that effect). I have to agree. After all, we know that Rauner does not like unions and we know that he has no regard for our public institutions of higher education.
I believe Dr. Beverly’s comment stems from his understanding that Rauner is not a politician, that no appeal for reasonable compromise will sway him on the budget issue. I agree. He hates unions and he does not give a damn for public higher education. These sentiments are not politically expedient positions, they are part of his core belief system. Although this seems patently obvious, Rauner is an ideologue, unfortunately for the people of Illinois, one wealthy enough to get him elected to the state’s highest executive position.
To this point, I have said nothing we do not already know. However, the analysis of his intransigence and its motivations comes from observation and interpretation. There is a more tangible way to understand the depth of his convictions—he puts his money where his mouth is.
Rauner and his wife administer a charitable organization, The Rauner Family Foundation. An examination of the charity's tax returns going back to 2007 enables us to get a firms sense of the personal commitment he has to his current attacks on faculty unions and public higher education. As you would expect from persons with the fabulous wealth of the Rauners, the foundation is flush with money. As of late 2014, its assets totaled $51 million. Since 2007, its contributions to various charitable causes total $18.4 million.
The Rauner Foundation’s contributions to “education” charities since 2007 total $11.3 million, or 61 percent the charity’s total contributions. Of that total, $7.59 million went to private/charter K-12 schools, elite projects designed to “transform” K-12 education, private universities, and virulently anti-union organizations. In contrast, the Rauner Foundation contributed $1.3 million to public K-12 systems, public universities, and the Chicago Public Library.
In the last two years, the Rauner Foundation’s contributions have skewed even more toward the public/charter schools and private higher education. The charity has disbursed just under $9.5 million in total contributions, with $4.8 million (51 percent) going to education. The Foundation contributed $4.1 million to the private/charter K-12 schools, private universities, “transformational” efforts, and anti-union organizations. Conversely, during the same time period, the Foundation contributed $230,000 to a public university and the Chicago Public Library.
Looking at the Rauner Foundation’s contributions in greater detail sharpens the picture of its pro-privatization, anti-union focus. Five organizations have received over $750,000 since 2007. The largest single recipient of the Foundation’s largesse is the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago. The Rauner Foundation has given the Noble Network $1.55 million since 2007, with $850,000 in the past two years. In fact, the $800,000 contribution by the Foundation to the Noble Network in 2012 is the largest single contribution by the charity since 2007. Next on the list is Teach For America, an organization devoted to taking graduates from the country’s most elite institutions and placing them in “low performing” urban schools. The Rauner Foundation has contributed $1.15 million to Teach For America. A public school organization, the Chicago Public Schools Fund For Children is next, receiving $872,000 from the Rauner Foundation. Notably, the Foundation has contributed nothing to this organization in the past two years. Dartmouth College follows closely with $850,000 in contributions from the Rauner Foundation. The last of the top five, The Academy of Communications and Technology in Chicago, received $770,560 from the Rauners.
Seven additional organizations have received between $400,000 and $750,000 from the Foundation. Heading the list is the Chicago Public Education Fund, $682,000; followed by The Stand For Children Leadership Center and the Academy For Urban School Leadership at $600,000 apiece. Next come the Chicago International Charter School at $575,000, and Yale University with $500,000. Rounding out the group are National Louis University and Education Reform Now at $450,000. These 12 groups account for just over $9 million of the Rauner Foundation’s $11.3 million education contributions.
An examination of some of these groups reveals what the Rauner Foundation gets for its money. The Noble Network includes 18 charter schools in Chicago. Teach For America’s purpose includes taking the “best and brightest” students from top universities and placing them in urban public schools, primarily in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. This organization spends millions on marketing and has drawn intense criticism for its failure—many from its alums. Articles in the Washington Post and Slate detail some of the critiques. A former Teach For America participant said: “TFA members do not work in service of public education . . . They work in service of a corporate reform agenda that rids communities of veteran teachers, privatizes public schools, and forces a corporatized, data-driven culture upon unique low-income communities with unique dynamics and unique challenges.”
The criticisms also describe the program’s performance and retention problems, its questionable teacher placements, and adverse effects on existing faculty: “its teachers are largely unprepared and fare no better than regular educators. It has a high drop-out rate . . . TFA sends its volunteer teachers to school districts in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, places now facing teacher layoffs and hiring freezes. Some school districts have even rescinded contracts with TFA, citing teachers’ lack of preparation and low retention rates.”
Criticism of the Chicago Public Education Fund, linked to the recent scandal involving the SUPES Academy and Barbara Byrd-Bennett, characterized the Fund as part of the elite agenda to “transform” public education by applying corporate principles. “Remember all the talk during the April 7 mayoral runoff of the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent? It would be difficult to assemble a board that screams 1 percent louder than CPEF’s—from the schools its members attended to jobs held to marriages made.” And, “That CPEF’s board is much heavier with finance titans than educators shouldn’t surprise anyone. CPEF is designed to mimic a private equity or a venture capital firm in the way it raises money.” The Chicago Public Education Fund’s links to Bruce Rauner and Teach For America also came under scrutiny: “CPEF’s current board chairman, Brian Simmons, a managing partner at Shorehill Capital, told me when I interviewed him about his friendship with Bruce Rauner.” Simmons went on to talk about “CPEF’s role in raising money to bring Teach for America to Chicago. (CPEF’s President and CEO, Heather Anichini, is a TFA alum.)”
The Stand For Children Leadership Center is an anti-union group that claims “inexperienced teachers are just as good if not better than experienced teachers.” Its anti-union stance and focus on standardized testing aims “to put an end not only to teachers’ unions but to the teaching profession. They want teachers to be evaluated by test scores.” Major funding for the group came from the Walton and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations.
The Rauner Foundation has not contributed anything to the Academy of Community and Technology Charter High School since 2012. Perhaps charter school’s performance has something to do with their withdrawal of support, as one web site that rates schools by their test scores graded it as an “F” performing school, writing: “The overall school rating shows that Academy of Communications & Technology Charter High School performed on average much worse than most other schools across the state on ISAT and PSAE state exams” in Math, Reading, and Science. However, the Rauner Foundation continues to support the Charter International Charter School despite its “D” grade on the same web site. Perhaps their days are numbered.
Finally, the Rauner Foundation supports Education Reform Now, run by 4 hedge fund managers and a charter school devotee. An investigative piece on the group from 2013 discovered its connections to various conservative causes: “Education Reform Now, whose PAC, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), shelled out $1 million to attack the Chicago Teachers Union.” Further, “DFER worked with the Koch brothers and ALEC to push Proposition 32, which if passed, would have blocked labor unions from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes.”
So there is Bruce Rauner’s “vision” for Illinois education reflected in his Foundation’s contributions to groups that villify unions, worship at the altar of standardized testing, and embrace the corporate dream of a privatized system in which only the deserving receive a real education. While I think we should express our displeasure to Rauner, I believe that we must pressure the vulnerable members of the Republican party to break the deadlock that exists in Springfield. It is my view that the only way this stalemate will end is through legal action (injunctions and court orders to fund higher education and social services), or when enough Republicans join with Democrats to create a real veto-proof majority. The damage being done to the state is enormous and someone needs to start governing.