Panorama Education, Owned By U.S. AG Merrick Garland’s Son-In-Law, Contracted With 23,000 Public

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 22: Federal Judge Merrick Garland testifies before a Senate Judiciary … [+] Committee hearing on his nomination to be US Attorney General on Capitol Hill on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Did U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland direct the FBI to investigate alleged threats against school boards to serve his son-in-law’s business interests?

Some critics say yes — there is a conflict of interest.

Last week, AG Garland sent a memo to the head of the FBI, directing him to work with local law enforcement “to address threats against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff.”

Garland made the move in response to parents vocally opposing mask mandates and race-related teaching implemented by local school boards, some successfully. In Southlake, Texas, voters elected new school board members this past spring after a citizen-led investigation exposed “critical race theory” in the curriculum.

Garland’s son-in-law is Xan Tanner, co-founder and president of Panorama Education. Panorama Education sells surveys to school districts across the country that focus on the local “social and emotion climate.” These surveys are then used as justification for new curriculum that some parents are finding objectionable.

Tanner’s company has a large footprint with contracts in 50+ of the nation’s 100 largest school districts. The company describes its business as supporting “13 million students in 23,000 schools and 1,500 districts across 50 states.”

Critics say it’s a conflict of interest for Garland to instruct the FBI to investigate parents who might pose a financial threat to his son-in-law’s business.

Raised $67 million from powerful investors since 2017

In 2017, Panorama raised $16 million in a private funding led by Emerson Collective, with participation from Spark Capital, Owl Ventures, SoftTechVC, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — owned by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan.

The capital raised, along with the changing political landscape, likely helped Panorama grow from 400 school systems in 2017 to 1,500 systems today – a nearly four-fold increase in business.

Just last month – weeks before the Garland directive to the FBI – Panorama closed on a $60 million private financing raise with venture capital firm General Atlantic.

General Atlantic is an international financial firm with deep ties to the Chinese. For example, the firm was an early financial backer of the Chinese conglomerate Alibaba Group. The group is politically connected with a $4 billion investment in climate change companies.

In the OpenTheBooks government expenditure library posted online, there are at least $27 million in payments to Panorama from states, school districts, and local boards of education across 21 states between the years 2017 and 2020.

Contracts with the New York City Department of Education; Dallas Independent School District; Seattle Public Schools; District of Columbia; and the San Francisco Unified School District are showcased in company materials, and are known.

However, records posted by our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com reveal that school districts in Texas, Michigan, Florida, Indiana, Rhode Island, Oregon, Iowa, Utah, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Georgia, New Mexico, Illinois, Wyoming, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maine, Virginia, and Ohio all hired Panorama Education for training and/or surveys.

Taxpayer expensive surveys

The 2017 contract between Panorama and Arlington Public Schools in Virginia was for three school-wide surveys over a five-year period costing taxpayers $288,750.

Built into the 28-page contract is an expensive fee schedule. For example, there are 345 hours billed at $250 per hour for consultants to design surveys and renderanalysis and reporting.” Project managers bill at a rate of $125 an hour for 1,230 hours.

The Arlington social and emotional climate survey is posted online. Questions included: “how clearly do you see your culture and history reflected in your school?”; and “how often do you feel that you are treated poorly by other students because of your race, ethnicity, gender, family’s income, religion, disability, or sexual orientation?”

Fee schedule by contract between Panorama Education and Arlington Public Schools in VA.

OpenTheBooks.com

Here is a brief review of Panorama’s payments in selected states:

Texas – The top five districts signing with Panorama included the Dallas Independent School District ($640,400); Education Service Center Region 3 ($436,000); Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District ($223,102); Fort Worth Independent School District ($217,575); and Spring Branch Independent School District ($196,875).

California – The El Dorado County Office of Education paid $1.4 million in the year 2020 to Panorama in an effort to meet their local control and accountability plan (LCAP) goals. In part, the objective is to: “Reduce the achievement gap by ensuring that all systems are culturally, linguistically, and equitably responsive to the needs of our students.” (emphasis added)

Florida – The top five Florida districts signing with Panorama included the Orange County Public Schools ($364,000); Collier County Public Schools ($81,185); and St. Lucie Public Schools ($72,650).

Illinois – There were 76 Illinois districts paying nearly $1 million in fees to Panorama. The top districts included Valley View Community Unit School District ($180,525); Woodridge School District 68 ($75,925); and Peoria School District 150 ($63,500).

Iowa— the Department of Education in Iowa paid Panorama $2.4 million between 2017 and 2020. The State of New Mexico paid out $1.3 million.

New York— Approximately 30 NY school districts paid $12.1 million to Panorama. The largest payments came from the New York City public schools with approximately $10.5 million in contracts.

Background

Critical race theory usually teaches that America, its supporters, and her institutions are inherently racist and discriminatory, and that race is used as a social construct to oppress and exploit people of color.

While some programs and institutions come right out and admit this, most don’t quite say it that way.

The tenants of “culturally responsive” teaching they say are “building academic and social-emotional skills”; “affirming students’ social and cultural histories”; and “helping students recognize, analyze, and address social inequality and racist policies.

Critics say the terms “social-emotional learning” and “culturally responsive training” introduce controversial ideas about race and identity that are associated with critical race theory.

Shortly after George Floyd was killed in police custody, Panorama Education put out a statement committing to combat systemic racism in the educational system.

“We commit to dismantling systemic racism, we commit to embodying and spreading anti-racist practices, and we commit to building systems of opportunity and possibility for students of color,” Panorama Education CEO and co-founder Aaron Feuer wrote. “Important areas of impact include student voice, social-emotional learning and mental health, anti-racism practices, diversity and inclusion practices, equitable [Multi-Tiered System of Supports] and behavior practices, conversations around race and identity, recruiting and supporting teachers of color, and systemic approaches to equity.

While the company doesn’t use the term critical race theory (CRT) on its website, Asra Nomani of Parents Defending Education, an anti-CRT parent group at the forefront of recent protests, claims that Panorama Education is using data collection as a pretext for school officials to push controversial ideas about race, identity and sexuality.

So, last week, when the Attorney General of the United States suddenly called in the FBI to look at parents’ behavior around local education controversies, people took notice.

Garland is accused of weaponizing the DOJ by bringing in the FBI to investigate alleged threats from parents. Critics say he is trying to intimidate political opponents and silence parents who are concerned with what their children are being taught in schools.

While Garland cites threats of violence against school officials, parents and other activists say they’re exercising their constitutional right to object to school practices.

The Critic

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the Garland-directed crackdown was part of a “disturbing trend” in which Democrats try to stop parents from having a say in their children’s education, The New York Post reported.

“Parents have a fundamental right to be lawfully involved in their children’s education,” McCarthy said. “We should encourage family participation in our school systems, not baselessly attack opposing views because some liberal education officials and special interest groups see it as a threat to the power they want to have over what children learn in America’s classroom.”

Panorama, AG Garland, and several school districts mentioned didn’t return requests for comment by our deadline.

Further reading

Office of the Attorney General memo

DOJ press release

GOP rips AG Garland for ‘weaponizing’ DOJ in anti-CRT crackdown

Liberals were losing the argument over critical race theory in schools — time to call in the FBI

Parents group: AG Garland has conflict of interest with Facebook, critical race theory

Garland asks FBI to address recent ‘disturbing spike’ in threats against educators

 

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