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A new documentary exploring the growing privatization of public schools, and the impact on America's most vulnerable children.
A new documentary exploring the growing privatization of public schools, and the impact on America's most vulnerable children. (The campaign is now over, but click below to get involved.)
A new documentary exploring the growing privatization of public schools, and the impact on America's most vulnerable children. (The campaign is now over, but click below to get involved.)
403 backers pledged $34,249 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

BACKPACK FULL OF CASH: a new film, narrated by Matt Damon project video thumbnail
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BACKPACK FULL OF CASH: a new film, narrated by Matt Damon

$34,249

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THANK YOU!! We did it!! We made our goal early thanks to so many people's generosity.

With your help we can go even further using your pledges to help with color correcting the film and also buying DCP and Blu-ray copies that will allow us to show the film at festivals and screenings. So don’t stop! Read our story and help take us even higher!

You all are absolutely fabulous–really.

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THE STORY

BACKPACK FULL OF CASH is a new 90-minute documentary, narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Matt Damon, that examines the growth of market-based education reforms such as privately-run charter schools, student testing and vouchers—and their impact on America's most vulnerable children. Watch the new trailer!

 In America today, privately-run school options are growing, backed by a powerful movement that includes some of the country's wealthiest billionaires. This coalition of free-market devotees believe that every child should take their "backpack full of cash"—their share of public education dollars—to the school of their choice: charter, religious, online, or public. 

As students leave America's public schools for these "alternatives," the public system's resources diminish, which compromises its ability to deliver quality education to all students. Education in America was founded on the idea that quality education would be open to the rich and poor alike, yet now with the advent of these “alternatives," this idea is in danger. At the same time, funding for public education in many places across the country is shrinking.

What we learned in the course of making this film is that the movement for free-market “reform” has largely ignored the larger challenges that need to be addressed—child poverty, racial segregation and unequal funding. 

BACKPACK takes viewers to Philadelphia, where in 2013-14, the charismatic principal of South Philadelphia High worries about the upcoming school year—his school has no music teacher, no librarian, and just two counselors for over 1,000 students. Across town, the C.O.O. of a brand new charter school welcomes students to gleaming, high tech classrooms.

In North Philly, a 10th-grader performs a virtual frog dissection on her computer, in her bedroom. Her cyber charter school is run by the biggest for-profit online education company in the world.

In Nashville, TN, a teacher is giving standardized tests to her eight-year-old students.  This is their 30th Test Day of the year. Testing companies reap huge dividends.

And in Louisiana, a Bible school headmaster teaches creationism to students who pay tuition with tax-funded vouchers.

Our team filmed in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Nashville—cities at the chaotic center of the battle over school privatization. We interviewed education specialists of every kind—and with a wide range of viewpoints—from public school principals to policy analysts, funding activists, students and teachers. We tried to understand the impact of these education reforms on the most vulnerable students, including ESL learners, and marginalized youth.

We focused on controversial reforms like:

  • Charter schools that screen out the neediest students
  • Religious schools that accept vouchers paid for with taxpayer dollars
  • Standardized tests used to rank students, teachers, and schools
  • "Cyber schools," where children learn at home on their computers while entrepreneurs reap huge profits.

One of our central questions, after four years of work on this film is: Why dismantle the public school system?  Why not make it work well for every child instead?

THE GOAL

Our team of award-winning documentarians has spent four years making BACKPACK. We have shot it. We have edited a fine cut. We are so, so close to the finish line. And we need your help.

We are deeply grateful for the incredible support we've received so far from The  Ford Foundation, the Schott Foundation for Public Education, the Open Society Foundations, and Atlantic Philanthropies, among others.. Thanks to them, we've been able to shoot top-quality footage across the country and bring the film very close to completion.

But before BACKPACK can be distributed, there are still a lot of costs to cover. Our carefully-considered Kickstarter goal is $31,600. This amount will pay for licensing fees for important pieces of archival footage from NBC, ABC and Learning Matters. This archival footage is crucial to our film. It's very expensive, and clearing these rights is absolutely key to our being able to share the film with the public.

Your pledge, large or small, brings us closer to finishing the film. Any amount you can give—whether $10, $100, or $1,000—will make a difference in bringing this critical story to the public eye.

And in addition, YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS TAX-DEDUCTIBLE!

Our production company is a nonprofit 501(c)3, so all your donations are deductible to the full extent of the law. Check out our gold star rewards!

If we manage to raise more than $31,600, don't worry, we have BIG plans! 

$50,000 over our goal will allow us to pay for final technical costs, including color correction and a mix of the archival materials, plus administrative and insurance costs, and fees for our hardworking collaborators who will help us complete this work.

In addition, if we raise more than our goal we will pay for promotion and distribution costs—the trailer, poster, website and staff to help us get the word out.  Promoting BACKPACK will also help to fuel the nationwide impact campaign developed by Active Voice Lab's Ellen Schneider.  This campaign is poised to advance discourse and action around education equity through the lens of social justice. 

Obviously, donations are crucial—but equally important is sharing awareness about BACKPACK across the country and beyond. Like and share us on Facebook and Twitter and help spread the word!

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WHO WE ARE:

Matt Damon (Narrator) is an Academy-Award winning actor—and son of Nancy Carlsson-Paige, nationally known writer and expert on early childhood education. Thanks to a longstanding commitment to public education, Matt has generously taken the time out of his busy schedule to narrate BACKPACK.

Stone Lantern Films, Inc., and Turnstone Productions (producers): Stone Lantern Films has produced, among other films, the award-winning PBS series SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education, narrated by Meryl Streep. Turnstone Productions was founded by Vera Aronow and BACKPACK cinematographer, Roger Grange, both longtime collaborators with Stone Lantern Films.

Sarah Mondale (Director/Producer) is president and co-director of Stone Lantern Films, as well as a public teacher in New York. She directed and co-produced the four-part series SCHOOL (2001), narrated by Meryl Streep. Sarah won an Emmy nomination for directing ASYLUM: A History of the Mental Institutions in America.

Vera Aronow (Producer/Editor) is an accomplished producer and director in her own right. Recent works include co-directing & producing the feature-length documentary, MEGAMALL (2010) about suburban development in the age of sprawl, produced with Stone Lantern and now available on Vimeo On Demand. 

Our Kickstarter team: Sarah Patton (Executive Producer), Patty Romeu (Consulting Producer) Nadia DeLane (Social Media) and Dana Kalmey (Kickstarter Consulting)

Risks and challenges

1.) Our estimation of costs is as accurate as we can make it-- and obviously it’s not a small amount. If we’re fully funded, we anticipate finishing the film by the end of 2016! But if a delay comes up, we promise to keep our supporters fully informed. If that happens, our reward fulfilment dates related to the completed film will be adjusted accordingly.

2.) The content of BACKPACK may also bring some controversy our way. We set out to make a film that brought genuine curiosity to a complicated issue. There are many good, committed people on both sides of the debate, and we believe that raising key questions helps people make more informed choices.

3.) But people-- rightfully!-- have very strong opinions about education in America, and it’s possible that we’ll get some pushback from groups that support free-market education reforms. We’ll see!

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Back to School

    You'll receive our eternal gratitude and continued updates on the film! Thank you!

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    Pop Quiz

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    Student of the Month

    Along with our eternal gratitude, a personalized thank-you email, and continued updates on the film, we'll give you a shout-out on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

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    Spelling Bee Champion

    In addition to everything listed above, you'll make our Kickstarter Honor Roll!

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    A+ Homework

    A signed copy of the POSTER for award-winning PBS series, SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education!

    You'll also make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

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    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    Top of the Class

    A signed copy of the companion book to the award-winning PBS series, SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education. This critically-renowned book is an extraordinary gift for the teachers, scholars, or students around you.

    You'll also make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

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    Teacher's Pet

    BACKPACK FULL OF CASH will be screening at schools, universities, and community groups across the nation. At this level of funding, you'll receive two tickets to the screening of your choice-- and a public thank-you at the screening for your generous support!

    You'll also make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

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    Straight A's

    A signed copy of "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education" by bestselling author, NYU Professor, and former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch. Ravitch is a long-time education expert— and the new edition of her book is a crucial read for parents, children, teachers, and politicians across America.

    In addition, you'll make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

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    An Apple for Teacher

    A signed copy of UC Berkeley education and public policy expert David Kirp’s book, "Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools". Kirp spent a year in the classrooms of New Jersey to research this compelling tale of Union City's public school system, and this book, detailing his year across the country, is a pragmatic, compelling analysis of what's needed in modern education.

    In addition, you'll receive two tickets to a screening of your choice, make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

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    Arts and Crafts Reward

    Artist and animator Patrick Smith will send you an exclusive, high-resolution print from a piece of original animation! Patrick has worked at PBS, the Lincoln Center, and Esquire Magazine-- check him out at blend-films.blogspot.com!

    In addition, you'll receive two tickets to a BACKPACK screening of your choice, you'll make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

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    Gold Star

    A complete DVD set of the award-winning PBS series, SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education. Narrated by Meryl Streep, this four-part series weaves archival footage, rare interviews, and live action footage into an astonishing, comprehensive portrait of public education in America from the one-room schoolhouse to the year 2000.

    This is a rare opportunity for access to the full SCHOOL series-- don't miss out! You'll also receive two tickets to a screening of your choice, make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

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    Field Day

    LIMITED AVAILABILITY: Not available after October 27

    Two VIP tickets to BACKPACK's premiere at the Philadelphia Film Festival on October 29th! Includes attendance to the film premiere, the following Q and A, and exclusive meetup with the film team afterwards.

    In addition, you'll make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

    *Note: Estimated delivery is by OCTOBER 29, 2016, the day of the premiere screening. Kickstarter does not allow us to select this option, so we're letting you know that here. Thank you!

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    Certificate of Excellence

    Interested in documentary filmmaking or looking for a great present for a young person who needs mentoring? This exclusive opportunity is for you! Ask questions and pitch ideas to BACKPACK's renowned Director and Producer in a one-hour meeting to discuss the process of making a documentary. Available either in-person or by Skype!

    In addition, you'll receive two tickets to a screening of your choice, make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

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    Movie Night

    The filmmakers’ participation in a screening and Q&A, hosted by you, in the New York City, Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia area. Includes a Blu-ray copy of the film to keep!

    In addition, you'll make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

    *Note: Reward does not include costs associated with travel, screening venue, setting up and publicizing the screening.

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    Principal for the Day

    Beautiful BACKPACK FULL OF CASH poster designed by Brandon Schaefer at Jump/Cut Creative - signed by the Director and Producer and framed.

    You'll also receive the full set of SCHOOL DVDs, two tickets to a screening of your choice, make our Kickstarter Honor Roll, receive a social media shout-out, a personalized thank-you email, continued updates on the film, and our undying gratitude.

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    Valedictorian

    You will be included as a Kickstarter Donor with our list of funders on the film! In addition, we’ll send you a signed, exclusive movie poster; two tickets to the screening of your choice; a handwritten thank-you note; a public thank-you on social media, the complete set of SCHOOL DVDs, and your name on printed materials and publicity, and of course our undying gratitude!

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Funding period

- (30 days)