Truthout: The Uber Rich Are Funding “National School Choice Week” to Attack Public Schools
Reporting for Truthout, Alyssa Bowen, Ansev Demirhan, and Lisa Graves tell the story of the Gleason family and their pet project, National School Choice Week.
National School Choice Week is the pet project of a superrich family, the Gleasons, whose fortune dates back to 1865 when William Gleason created a machine shop to make gears in Rochester, New York. By 1999, the business was valued at $332 million. As of March 2022, a 501(c)(3) private foundation funded by that industrial fortune, the Gleason Family Foundation, had net assets of nearly $140 million on hand. Its primary activity is promoting National School Choice Week.
Since 2008, the foundation has been paying Gleason’s great-great granddaughter, Tracy Gleason, to be its president. In 2022, with the approval of the family-dominated board, Gleason, an heir to her family’s industrial fortune, paid herself $586,167 in total compensation for overseeing the foundation. Her spouse, Jeffery Robinson, who spent an average of 30 minutes a week on the foundation, received $42,000 that year, about the same amount as four other board members. That is only $844 less than the average starting salary for a full-time public school teacher in 2023. Gleason’s executive assistant receives total annual compensation of more than $176,000, about four times the average pay for a new full-time teacher.
At a rare public speech at a gala for the Center for Education Reform, a major beneficiary of the Gleason Foundation, Tracy Gleason explained the mindset of the foundation she is using to inject tens of millions of dollars into glossy PR campaigns: “It’s not enough to be right,” she said, adding, “We actually have to sell the notion of school choice … and bring everyone around to our way of thinking.”
Gleason’s foundation has spent nearly $58 million to promote National School Choice Week events since the week of celebration was launched in 2011. No other foundation appears to have spent nearly as much as Gleason.
How it promotes the event through various nonprofit and for-profit vehicles is curious, however.
According to the Gleason Family Foundation’s most recent IRS filing, between mid-2021 and mid-2022, it gave nearly $14.5 million to another nonprofit private foundation called the “National School Choice Awareness Foundation Inc.” (NSCAF) — that new group’s entire budget. The NSCAF, which initially listed its website as schoolchoiceweek.org, is chaired by Andrew Campanella, who reported no pay from it in that period. Tracy Gleason sits on NSCAF’s three-person board alongside Campanella.
In that same period, the Gleason Family Foundation also paid a contractor called “NSCW Management, Inc.” more than $3.5 million for “project consulting and expenses.” That for-profit firm was run by Campanella and does not publicly disclose how it spent those charitable funds or how much Campanella paid himself or others. Between 2013 and 2021, the Gleason Family Foundation paid an additional $16,583,234 combined to NSCW Management, Inc. and three other for-profit entities tied to Campanella. He is listed as a registered agent for two of these entities, which are fictitious names for his LLCs. The third one is not listed as a fictitious or legal name for any entity in the Florida Division of Corporations database, but shares an address with the other two firms on the Gleason filings.