By Adam Andrzejewski
Looks like the cowboys are going in a new direction…
Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Education Brian Schroeder just announcedthat state education is terminating its relationship with Panorama Education. After a deliberative process, which involved an opinion from the Wyoming Attorney General, Schroeder posted the decision on the state website:
Per Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder, the Wyoming Department of Education will not be renewing the current contract with Panorama Education in Spring 2023. After weeks of consideration, the Superintendent has determined that this action is in the best interest of Wyoming. An RFP soliciting proposals from potential future vendors will be issued.”
Panorama is co-founded by Xan Tanner, the son-in-law of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. Panorama received national attention last fall after Garland sicced the FBI on parents objecting to decisions at their local school board meetings. Many of those parents were pushing back on ‘critical race theory’ (CRT) in their children’s curriculum.
Critics say that Panorama’s survey business is the gateway drug for the controversial CRT teachings. Allegedly skewed survey questions generate ‘problems’ solved by new curricula which paint America as fundamentally racist, introduces children to radical concepts of gender and sexuality, and encourages social activism.
Using information gathered from Wyoming State Auditor Kristi Racines’ transparency website, our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found $257,250 in state payments to Panorama between 2016-2021. Panorama was paid to survey all students in every K-12 school district across Wyoming.
As far as we can tell, this is the only Panorama contract ever cancelled by a state education agency. We reached out to Panorama for comment, background, or additional information. They responded with this statement:
We are proud to support the academic, social, and emotional growth of students in Wyoming. Panorama does not provide curriculum or anything related to CRT. We help schools and school districts understand what kids need academically, which is especially important in the pandemic.”
Panorama Education first contracted with the Wyoming education agency in 2016under education superintendent Jillian Balow. Amendments, modifications, and extensions on the contract through 2023 were not competitively bid.
While serving as Wyoming education superintendent, Balow was also president of the board at the left-leaning Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) from November 2019 through November 2020. CCSSO is a national organization that espouses certain ideologies of CRT including “anti-racism” and “equity.” The organization believes that systemic racism permeates the education system and every other institution in America.
CCSSO leadership published this statement in June 2020 while Balow was the President of the Board:
We ask you to stand with us by affirming our commitment to listen, learn, and take action that will ensure racism does not continue to permeate the education system and every other institution that governs this country… (emphasis added)
Despite contracting with Panorama in Wyoming and leading a professional society committed to CRT, on January 15, 2022, newly elected Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin appointed Balow as the state’s 26th Superintendent of Public Instruction, where she also serves as Secretary of the State Board of Education.
It was an odd choice considering Youngkin’s victory was largely on a platform of parent empowerment and anti-CRT. We reached out to Balow for comment and will update the piece if she responds.
Meanwhile, in Wyoming, new state superintendent Brian Schroeder is undoing Balow’s controversial work.
Appointed by Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon in February 2022, Schroeder moved with deliberate speed to terminate the Panorama relationship. He first asked the Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill for a legal opinion on termination and then made his decision after the opinion was rendered. (Unfortunately, AG opinions are not subject to FOIA in Wyoming.)
Today, Schroeder is running statewide for election to the state education superintendent post. His primary opponent, Megan Degenfelder served under Jillian Balow as Chief Policy Officer and was also an appointed cabinet member to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction from August 2017 to 2019.
During this period, critics contend that Degenfelder oversaw the fulfillment of the Panorama agreements and the other state education contracts within the purview of the standards, assessment, and accountability divisions.
We reached out to Degenfelder for her position on the Panorama contract and she responded:
“I had absolutely nothing to do with implementation or execution of this contract. The contract was implemented prior to my employment at the WDE and within a completely separate division of which I had no oversight whatsoever.
However, the contract was pursuant to the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act (WAEA) and Degenfelder’s resume lists that she not only oversaw legislative affairs, but the “standards & assessment and accountability divisions” at the state education department. In 2018, she was a highly paid executive making $123,699.96.
After asking for more information, Degenfelder gave this clarification:
Yes, I did oversee the accountability division which used data from the survey written by the State Board of Education and executed by Panorama. However, the contract with Panorama was bid out, selected and executed entirely by another division, under the Chief Operations Officer. Department staff or a FOIA request will show that the contract was executed and signed off entirely from that division and not under me.
However, it looks like Degenfelder now supports termination of the Panorama relationship — and described the contract as “damaging.” Via email, Degenfelder stated:
In fact, I have been questioning publicly for the past several weeks why the Superintendent has been in office for as long as he has and has done absolutely nothing to pull out of this damaging contract. His actions are clearly a response to my pressure to do so. As I have repeatedly stated publicly, I would work to pull the contract on day 1 in office as Superintendent.”
Panorama’s prominent investors from California can’t be happy about the Wyoming situation. Our previous oversight of Panorama published at Forbes listed their key funders involved in raising $76 million in venture capital:
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan were investors through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) in at least two rounds of multi-million dollar capital raises.
Laurene Powell Jobs – the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, invested through her Emerson Collective fund.
The wealthy cousins of Illinois governor JB Pritzker – Regan, Nicholas, Joseph, Isaac and Jacob Pritzker – through their Tao Capital Partners investment arm.
Panorama has built a large K-12 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.”
Panorama Education has friends in high places. But the cowboys don’t care.
In Wyoming, Brian Schroeder — or maybe even Megan Degenfelder — just might be their terminator.
Forbes: Panorama Education, Co-Founded By U.S. AG Merrick Garland’s Son-In-Law, Contracted With 23,000 Public Schools & Raised $76M From Investors
Wyoming Department of Education — contracts with Panorama Education (2016-2023):
1. Original contract, modifications, and extensions 2016-2021
2. 2021 Contract extension through 2023