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New Education Advocacy Organizations in the U.S. States: National Snapshot and a Case Study of Advance Illinois

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New Education Advocacy Organizations in the U.S. States: National Snapshot and a Case Study of Advance Illinois

Our broad overview strongly suggests that new education advocacy organizations have contributed to the discussion of policy issues and the machinations of the legislative and regulatory processes in states. The burgeoning number of these groups suggests how individuals interested in agitating for policy change in education have found new education advocacy organizations to be useful vehicles for moving their agendas forward. The 62 new education advocacy groups we studied fall into two broad categories. The first are groups that operate as stand-alone entities within individual states. The second are state groups associated with national umbrella organizations. The total number of groups operating has expanded rapidly since the year 2000.

Key findings on LEADERSHIP are:

  • Not all new education advocacy organizations operate with a board of directors or advisors. Among those that do, the size of these boards vary with most maintaining between 6 and 15 members.
  • Among the board members for which we have biographical information, the evidence shows that these individuals come from a variety of professional perspectives. They bring diverse prior experiences working in education, for example. Additionally, 54.5 percent have business experience and another 29.2 percent have worked in politics either in staff positions or as elected officials at local, state, or federal levels.
  • In terms of partisan political involvement, board member bios indicated an equal split between those who have worked as or for members of the nation's two major political parties. Where evidence of partisan affiliation was available, we found 13.5 percent affiliating with Democrats and the same percentage with Republicans.
  • Patterns of campaign contributions from board members tended to favor Republicans, although the number of contributions was more balanced. During the 2012 federal election cycle, we found evidence of 36.3 percent of board members making a total of 1,238 contributions to candidates or groups, with some contributing to both. Of those contributions, 502 favored Democratic candidates or groups, 569 favored Republican candidates or groups, and 167 (all to other groups) did not have a partisan affiliation. The amount of the contributions favored Republicans by more than a 2 to 1 margin. Contributions to Democratic candidates or groups totaled $686,383, contributions to Republican candidates or groups totaled $1,693,213, and contributions to groups not affiliated with a party amounted to $343,022.
  • Organizational leaders, meaning the individuals who direct and oversee the daily operations of these groups tend to have titles such as “executive director” or “president” and are compensated typically between $100,000 and $200,000 per year, based on available data in IRS filings from 2011. In general, leader compensation represented a relatively small part of overall organizational budgets.
  • The most common professional experience of these organizational leaders is prior work in the non-profit sector, with 60.7 percent of leaders having worked in a non-profit before joining their new education advocacy organization. Additionally, 54.1 percent had political experience either as an elected official or staff member. Numerous leaders had prior experience in education with 31.1 percent having been teachers, 27.9 percent working to support school choice efforts, 18.0 percent in education research or consulting, and 16.4 percent in traditional school or school district administration.
  • Organizational leaders tended to have stronger affiliations with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. We found evidence of Democratic affiliations among 26.2 percent and Republican affiliations at half that rate, 13.1 percent. Our analysis discovered extremely few political contributions from organizational leaders in the 2012 election cycle, unlike board members where there was much more data to analyze.
  • Regarding their educational backgrounds, 76.6 percent of organizational leaders had graduate training, with most having completed a Master's degree.

Key findings on FUNDING AND STAFFING are:

  • Based on available data in IRS filings from 2011, the majority of groups tend to have operating expenses and revenues hovering at or below $2 million.
  • Foundation support, although inconsistently reported, appears to be an important source of revenue for new education advocacy organizations. In addition, 75.8 percent of these groups invite donations from individuals to support their efforts. Among the stand-alone groups, which lack a national umbrella office, 48.1 percent had a donate option, while 97.1 percent of the state affiliates of national organizations did.
  • The modal category is for these groups to have only one staff member. Beyond such groups, the number of staff varied widely. Some clustering appears in a few spots (around 4, 8, and 12 staff members), but clear patterns are not apparent, suggesting that these organizations have adopted diverse staffing models.

Key findings on ISSUE PRIORITIES are:

  • Most of the groups' mission statements suggest a broad focus, encompassing numerous facets of education policy. Many groups refer to the general aims of improving student achievement and increasing the quality of their states' education systems. Another common theme is improving college and career readiness. Many also mention a focus on the achievement gap and the imperative to address the specific needs of disadvantaged students.
  • The five national organizations with state affiliates that we examined (50CAN, Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, The Education Trust, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute) have policy portfolios that embrace wide-ranging topics. These organizations commonly address policies involving teachers including evaluation, hiring and firing practices, and teacher distribution. The groups also share a focus on policies involving standards, testing, and accountability. Multiple groups have addressed school choice as an issue, but not all groups embrace all versions of choice. Other issues, which frequently touch on the theme of equity, also emerge.
  • Our examination also included brief reviews of five new education advocacy organizations that are not state affiliates of a national group: the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the Texas Institute for Education Reform, Mass Insight Education, and DC School Reform Now. These groups embraced some of the same priorities just described. Yet their priorities and their approach to advocacy varied, with some being more active at the state level and others focusing more on the local level, with one group, Mass Insight Education, proving to be equally active in both arenas.

Three OVERALL CONCLUSIONS about new education advocacy organizations emerge from our national snapshot and the policy entrepreneur framework that we used to study them.

  • First, there is interesting variation in how these groups appear to act as strategic team builders. Some build coalitions along more narrow partisan lines while others seek to be more inclusive.
  • Second, the groups also vary in the degree to which they seem able to mix in a variety of social and political settings. Some groups appeared to focus more heavily on treetops policy advocacy work, interacting mainly with decision-makers and those working at the state level on developing and passing legislation. In contrast, other groups seemed to engage much more in outreach activities on the district or school level, involving themselves in the ground-level implementation of education policy initiatives.
  • Third, these groups are not necessarily coming up with new ideas of their own because they seem to share many of the same issue priorities and reform preferences, which themselves carry much weight in national reform debates. Examples include advocacy to support the various elements of the federal Race to the Top agenda and the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Yet while the ideas may not be novel, these groups still appear to be making strong efforts to draw out potential implications of these approaches by adapting them and explaining what they could mean for their individual states.

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