There is a close association between the push for more charter schools in every state, including Texas, and several national organizations. One of these organizations is the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella organization with the purpose of founding and nurturing local “think tanks” in every state. Another key organization, and a member of the SPN, is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or, as it is commonly known, ALEC.
SPN and ALEC work closely together. The purpose of ALEC is to develop, draft and disseminate model legislation that supports the conservative agenda of its members and benefactors. The regional members of SPN then lobby for passage of ALEC’s proposed legislative agenda in their respective states.
One of the top priorities of ALEC and SPN is the expansion of charter school enrollment throughout the U.S., just below that of getting states to adopt school vouchers. Perhaps the major SPN member in Austin is the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). Although TPPF is not required to report its sources of revenue, any non-profit that makes grants to it is required to reveal those amounts. It was therefore determined, from publicly available tax return data, the TPPF received over $4 million from non-profit funding sources alone, between the years 2003 to 2013. These non-profit sources are known to provide only a fraction of its total revenue. Among the SPN donors contributing to TPPF were the Charles Koch Foundation ($53,000), the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation (also controlled by the Koch brothers) ($374,500), the Public Welfare Foundation, Inc. ($900,000), Searle Freedom Trust ($295,000), Union Pacific Foundation ($100,000), and Verizon Foundation ($139,550), among others.
The Texas Charter School Association (TCSA), the chief advocate for charter schools in Texas, does not appear to be a member of SPN, but it receives significant funds from many of the same non-profit foundations that contribute to SPN members. Over the years 2008 to 2012 SPN donor contributions to TCSA included $75,000 from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, $1,600,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and $3,125,000 from the Walton Family Foundation, Inc.
The Texas Tribune reported on June 26, 2012, “A $425,000 grant from the Walton Foundation will cover a significant portion of the legal expense,” referring to TCSA’s court suit to try to force the State of Texas to provide an additional $1,000 per student to its member schools.
This, then, is the connection between SPN, ALEC, their financial supporters, and the alleged $1,000 per pupil charter school funding gap. The $425,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to the TCSA in support of its lawsuit is seed money. If they should succeed in their suit Texas charter schools, with some 208 thousand students, would get an additional $208 million from the state treasury.
The next link on the left—“Paper: State Policy Network”— will present you with a more detailed description of the SPN, its members, and some of their funding sources.
The link labeled “Interactive SPN diagram” will bring up a page that shows the SPN in both a network diagram format as well as represented on a map of the U.S. These diagrams are interactive, in that not only can the member organizations be identified, but also the amounts they gave, or received, can be shown. Please read the comments brought up by clicking on the [Help] button for instructions on interacting with the diagrams.
Since the work described above was completed a similar study was carried out in which the SPN’s associate members were also included, their non-profit funding sources identified, and the data then assembled to create a diagram of this expanded network. The associate members include many of the well-known national think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute, among many others. The interactive network diagram, and map, associated with this expanded network is at http://polinetworks.com/spnbig .