February 17, 2009
Here’s a fact of interest in the KIPP vs. teachers union fracas, which looks increasingly like a war: The people who have been the charter school network’s major benefactors are also among the Republican Party’s most generous contributors.
Donald and Doris Fisher, the aging founders of the Gap clothing chain, each donated to George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004; maxed out at the $2,300 limit to Rudy Giuliani in 2007; made regular donations to Norm Coleman, the Minnesota senator Al Franken eventually (presumably) unseated, and poured money into the Republican Party war chest, recent campaign contribution filings show.
The Fishers did send some money to Democrats, too, including $5,000 to a group tied to Rep. George Miller, the chair of the House education committee and a supporter of No Child Left Behind and charter schools. But the overwhelming majority of their giving (especially their federal giving) went to Republicans.
Dave Levin, a KIPP co-founder who got flak when he and students appeared on stage at the 2000 Republican National Convention, said the donations have no bearing on KIPP. “The Fisher’s political activities and their philanthropic involvement in education and KIPP are independent of each other,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
Jay Mathews’ new book about KIPP, “Work Hard. Be Nice.,” describes Levin’s sister Jessica’s reaction to his decision to appear on stage at the Republican convention. “Why would you want to help Bush get elected?” she reportedly asked him. “He doesn’t care about those kids.” Mathews also gives an account of how Levin and KIPP cofounder Mike Feinberg answer perennial questions about their own party affiliation. Are you a Democrats or a Republican? they are asked. Each man’s reply: “I’m a teacher.”
The Fishers have given KIPP over $50 million since the network began with two schools in 2000, funding initiatives aimed at replicating the original schools around the country, such as principal training programs and professional development for teachers.
An interesting piece about Donald Fisher’s political giving in San Francisco, from 1997, is here. The key idea:
A paper trail of correspondence, appraisals, and contracts lays bare a simple fact: The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency cut a sweetheart deal with Fisher and The Gap, and forgot to attach any strings. When pressed, public officials are unable to provide a satisfactory — or even reasonable — explanation for their actions.