Netflix billionaire Scott Hastings, the teacher union hater who brought us the Vergara decision, announced he is giving $2M to a privately-run, Palo Alto-based charter school network.
According to SeattlePI.com:
The $2 million will jumpstart a $17 million fundraising campaign that Rocketship is launching in order to open new schools over the next three years to serve thousands more “Rocketeers,” as the non-profit refers to its students.Rocketship is a low-budget charter operation that relies on young and inexperienced teachers rather than more veteran and expensive faculty, reduces its curriculum to a near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and that replaces teachers with online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of the day. What supposedly set Rocketship apart from other charters was a financial model that allowed it to operate on government payments without continual infusions of cash from private donors. Most charters require additional funds to cover the costs of a longer school day, intensive tutoring and other expenses.
But facing a drop in student enrollment, the company recently announced it had scaled back its ambitions of rapidly enrolling 1 million students in 50 cities and went begging to their billionaire patrons like Hastings. Rocketship has been around for eight years and was celebrated early on for its ability to produce high test scores from a predominantly minority and immigrant student-base, but test scores have fallen in recent years. CEO and Co-Founder Preston Smith indicated that this was one of the reasons for slowed expansion.
Rocketship is organized as a 501C3, with a separate land holder, Launchpad LLC. The company suffered through a leadership transition after the exit last year of co-founder John Danner, who began a firm to supply software to schools. In the business world, it's called vertical integration.
"What happens when you have a relatively secretive organization that has an unelected board and has large growth plans?" asked Brett Bymaster, of San Jose, who organized his Tamien neighborhood to oppose a proposed Rocketship school there, filed a successful land-use lawsuit that has slowed the charter network and now runs a "Stop Rocketship" website that has attracted a local and national following.
Hastings is a powerful philanthropist for charter schools, currently serving on the board of the California Charter Schools Association and KIPP. He has also leveraged his power and money to push anti-immigrant legislation, including more English language testing on non-English-speaking students.