New Mexico’s Education Secretary Hanna Skandera works closely with two Florida foundations sponsored by corporations that stand to gain millions for fees and services to help carry out the Public Education Department’s education initiatives.
Governor Martinez’s budget for the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) earmarks more than $12 million for out-of-state for-profit corporations that provide standardized tests and website services.
All the companies, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pearson, TeachScape and Educational Testing Services(ETS) donate money to Florida based Chiefs for Change and its parent organization Foundation for Excellence in Education. Both organization’s work to shape education policy. Skandera is Chair of Chiefs for Change and regularly attends a yearly summit sponsored by the organization’s corporate donors. Bush and Foundation for Excellence in Education [are] pushing initiatives meant to deregulate and privatize education–Diane Ravitch former U.S. Education Secretary
Out of the $12.5 million below-the-line budgetary allocations, $6 million will pay for NMTeach Evaluation System, $1.5 million for a parent portal website service and more than $5 million for assessments. Below -the-line means that school districts, such as Albuquerque Public School (APS), have little control over how the money is spent.
For the Statewide Formative Assessments, which measures fourth-grade to 10th-grade students’ grasp of the recently imposed common core standards, the department allows school districts, such as APS, to choose between three preapproved companies. The three approved vendors are Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, Riverside Publishing and Discovery Education. Two of those companies Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt and Riverside Publishing have ties to the nonprofit the secretary chairs.
An analysis released, last year by market research company, Outsell estimates the school districts across the nation will spend nearly $4.5 billion on standardized testing by the end of 2014.
The NMTeach Evaluation System is a website provided by Teach Scape, a San Francisco based company founded in 1999 and partnered with ETS in 2011. NMTeach is designed to track teacher observations by principals. ETS will also receive an additional $1 million for Advanced Placement and College and Career Readiness tests, according to the proposed budget.
Pearson Education will receive $1.5 million in the below-the-line budget for a service called Parent Portal. Parent Portal would give parents access to their students’ daily grades and attendance. Currently, APS schools are using iParent to provide this service to parents and students.
In the recently closed NM legislative session, lawmakers approved a slightly modified budget, from the one originally proposed by the governor, and came to an impasse on confirming Skandera as Education Secretary. As a result both the below-the-line funding funneled to these private corporations and Secretary-designate Skandera will remain.
Previous to her current position, Skandera served as Florida’s Deputy Commissioner of Education under former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, the founder of Foundations for Excellence in Education.
Critics of Bush, including former U.S. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch accuses Bush And Foundation for Excellence in Education of pushing initiatives meant to deregulate and privatize education.
Since 2010, the foundation has held a National Summit on Education Reform with strategy sessions and donor meetings. The foundation’s website lists ETS, Pearson, and Houghton-Mifflin prominently on their ‘Meet our Sponsors’ page. NM Education Designate Hanna Skandera has traveled to the summit and served as a panelist or moderator every year since its founding and her appointment to the position of NM Education Secretary.
Although she is not the “qualified, experienced educator” required by the NM State Constitution for the position of Education Secretary, Skandera is certainly qualified enough to push through corporate reforms orchestrated by those who see how much money can be made in education. In an email, FEE’s Patricia Levesque agrees that Chiefs for Change should pay for Skandera’s DC trip to testify before congress in favor of relaxed restrictions for use of federal funding of virtual education. In another email to Skandera, FEE’s National Director of Policy and Implementation Laura Bragg states “I’m at your beck and call,” to which Skandera replies “sweet.”