The Teat: Is Leadership for Educational Equity getting TFA’s dirty work done?

In our last segment of the The Teat, we discussed how education reformers have exploded 501(c)3 organizations to push corporate education reform.  Now we’ll focus on its big bad cousin: 501(c)4 organizations.

But first, as is tradition, our cow haiku:

Two cows in pasture

A steak and a glass of milk

Dinner is served now

501(c)4 organizations have recently been discussed in the mainstream media, but what are they and how are they different from 501(c)3 organizations?

According to an IRS publication:

501(c)(4) provides for exemption from federal income tax of civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.”

One major distinction between each is that:

501(c)(4) may engage in political campaign activities if those activities are not the organization’s primary activity. In contrast, organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) are absolutely prohibited from engaging in political activities. 

Also important, 501(c)4 organizations are exempt in providing a list of donors. Thus, 501(c)4 organizations are very similar to a Political Action Committee (PAC) but with less transparency.

So, what do 501(c)4 organizations look like in the word of education? For this post I will focus on the Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE).

LEE, which was founded in 2008, mission is:

To foster the individual and collective leadership of our members by inspiring them, developing their capacity, and increasing their effectiveness to shape policies and set priorities to ensure that all children have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

LEE has a famous (and greedy) cousin (drumroll)… Teach for America (TFA)! The Teat has previously covered TFA and their enormous success in raising money as a 501(c)3 organization. Then why the need for LEE? As it turns out, TFA needed a politically-oriented “right hand man” helping assure their interests, such as placing TFA alum into elected offices and helping push education policy that would benefit TFA.

James Ceronsky put it best:

If all goes as planned, LEE could shift control over American education reform to a specific group of spritely college grads-turned-politicians with a very specific politics.

So LEE states that their mission is to “shape policies,” so what is their stance on education policy? Barbara Miner interviewed Jen Bluestein Lamb, VP of TFA’s Political Leadership Initiative and overseer of LEE in 2010.

We have never, and never will, take a policy position ourselves.

Wait. What? Why a c(4) then?

Let’s fast forward to 2012 and see what LEE executive director, Michael Buman, said about their policy stance:

LEE does not have any kind of litmus test about any policies. We’re completely policy-agnostic.

Huh? LEE is policy-neutral?  This is hard to believe.  As the adage says, actions speak louder than words.  Thanks to James Ceronsky, who was able to access to LEE’s “Members In Action” site by an existing members account, we are able to see what education policies LEE members support. Here are a few:

Getting to know LEE is a conundrum.  For an organization whose name includes Equity, the policies they support are ones that have proven to be divisive and exasperate inequity in affected school communities. So, ironic instead.

In 2012, LEE’s budget was $3.5 million and even though they state that they limit any funds to politics:

In total, as of August 2011, LEE counts 56 TFA alums in office: 14 on school boards, 13 on local school councils, 24 on neighborhood councils or other local boards, two state senators, a constable, a judge, and a justice of the peace.

Now the need for TFA to create LEE is overwhelmingly clear.  LEE, with its 501(c)4 status, is to TFA what Nicky Santoro was to Sam “Ace” Rothstein in the movie Casino.


Lee, the guy who gets the dirty work done. No questions asked.

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  • Reblogged this on Rise & Shine and commented:
    The picture becomes clearer.


  • What you describe is very close to the relationship between Democrats For Ed Reform, Ed Reform Now! Inc., and Ed Reform Now! Advocacy.


  • Hi SJ! Provocative article! I’m a TFA alum and from my perspective, LEE doesn’t actually do anything. I know that it exists, and that its purpose is to step into the political arena but I’m unclear if it actually accomplishes anything at all. I’d love to see an investigation into its activities. Anything like that planned for the future?


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