About this project
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.
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?
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.
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!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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