No PR Agency Left Behind

A Florida State U. center has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting President Bush's school choice policies, The Palm Beach Post reports.
February 7, 2005

President Bush said last week that his administration was going to stop paying columnists to promote his policies. But colleges may be helping him with PR now, another matter, according to a report in The Palm Beach Post.

The article said that the School Choice Center at Florida State University has used more than a half-million tax dollars to promote school choice, with some of the funds going to hire a public-relations firm to educate charter schools on how to woo reporters.

Although President Bush (and Florida's governor, First Brother Jeb Bush) strongly back school choice, researchers are divided on it. Some say it works; others dispute that. Some say it favors wealthy children; others say it can help the poor.

But the Post examined all of the material that the School Choice Center publishes for citizens and found that nearly all of it backed school choice -- with enthusiasm. And links from the center's Web site led only to groups that back school choice.

According to the newspaper, the center also hired a Tallahassee public relations firm to help charter schools and private schools. The firm received $45,000, the paper said, "to create template advertisements for choice programs, hold workshops and offer tips such as 'Never lie' to editorial boards and 'Never screw up on a slow news day.' "

In an e-mail interview, the dean of Florida State's education school defended the program and said that the article "missed the reality of the purpose of the project."

Richard C. Kunkel, the dean, said that his school has all kinds of programs in which school choice can be debated and analyzed from a variety of perspectives. But he said it was legitimate for the university to obtain federal and state funds for an effort "that supports a federal law" (No Child Left Behind) and helps school districts "prepare and publicize their choice programs."


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