Nancy Rodriguez is a social worker, parent volunteer, and special education advocate who ran for a seat on the Dallas ISD school board in November of 2020 where she received the highest number of votes, but not enough to receive the majority over her two opponents. That led to a runoff election with Dustin Marshall, the incumbent. His campaign spent more than $500,000 resulting in his re-election on December 8, 2020. His endorsements came from a web of political “gatekeepers” in Dallas. They are part of the Dallas patronage network that includes PACs, chamber organizations, politicians, social impact investors, and non-profit leaders.
As Sidra Morgan-Montoya wrote in an article on the non-profit industrial complex, “These entities, and the way the relationships between them advances their interests rather than the public good, make up the nonprofit industrial complex. The result is a labyrinth that restricts how we can move within nonprofits, funneling our work in certain directions and walling off others. It turns radical possibilities into dead ends, ensures that the path of least resistance is one that doesn’t challenge those in power, and amplifies corporate and state interests over the voices of those most impacted by inequity.”
The Dallas ISD District 2 “business seat” is an important one in the history of the corporate education reform agenda. Sandy Kress once served as a DISD D2 trustee until he was pegged by George W. Bush to be an architect of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 which brought in the test-and-punish culture of high-stakes assessments. Kress went on to become a lobbyist for the testing giant, Pearson where he made millions.
The DISD D2 seat was also held by Mike Morath, a controversial software entrepreneur appointed by Governor Greg Abbott to serve as the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency. The seat is coveted by business leaders who seek to privatize Dallas ISD and have “one of their own” in that role. They work behind the scenes to divert public dollars to education technology companies, public-private partnerships, consultants, and nonprofits using euphemisms and buzzwords like “equity” to garner support for their social impact investing schemes.
Nancy’s concern about these “gatekeepers” is the amount of power and influence they have in the non-profit and social services sector. There is a clear shift away from traditional social services to impose data-driven language and metrics. The social impact change agents view the social services and non-profit sector as an opportunity to capitalize on any social ill. They seek out investors and establish metrics for a financial return. This model reduces people to data points in a human experiment that lines the pockets of investors, as well as de-professionalizes social workers by replacing them with inexperienced agents.
A key player in the local social impact scene is Dallas Social Venture Partners. They host luncheons and conferences to engage Dallas leaders wanting to learn more about their for-profit lens applied to solving social issues. Most people see this tidal wave of impact investing as a way to galvanize support around critical issues and a way to bring change. Doing good while making money could be a good thing, right? But are there unintended consequences to tracking people in a for-profit model that commodifies poverty, homelessness, or early childhood?
More information about Nancy Rodriguez can be found at https://nancy4disd.com.
Lynn Davenport is an education researcher and advocate for parental rights regarding education technology, data privacy and predatory impact investing schemes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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