The Hartford Courant headline read – “The Great Charter School Conspiracy.”
Well actually it read “Jonathan Pelto and The Great Charter School Conspiracy”.
The column described a recent Wait, What? piece I wrote as a “rambling blog post that suggests that Malloy, charter school proponents and wealthy investors are part of a vast conspiracy to destroy public education.”
I’m not exactly sure what was meant by that sentence but I get the sense it wasn’t a compliment.
When I think “conspiracy,” I think of things like the cover up of the alien UFO crash at the Roswell Army Air Field or the notion that the moon landing was a hoax and was actually filmed on a LA sound stage.
That said, Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines a conspiracy as “a planning and acting together secretly, esp. for an unlawful or harmful purpose… a group taking part in such a plan a combining or working together”
I don’t know about whether there is anything unlawful going on and harmful is a subjective concept at times like these but the Hartford Courant story does provide us with an opportunity to take a moment to review what we do know about the charter school and education reform effort.
In this case, I will follow the King’s instruction to Alice when he said “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop”
What we do know is that Achievement First Inc. (the Charter School Management Company), the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc (ConnCAN), the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. and 50CAN Inc are – as the saying goes – closely related entities.
- Connecticut’s present Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor along with Achievement First’s President and CEO Dacia Toll led the effort to create the Amistad Academy.
- Jonathan Sackler and Alex Troy, two Fairfield County corporate executives, were early supporters of the effort and in 2003 they helped create Achievement First, Inc.
- Pryor, Toll, Sackler and Troy were four of the key founding members of Achievement First’s Board of Directors, along with other corporate leaders like William Berkley who became Chairman of the Board.
- Achievement First was created as a charter school management company dedicated to developing and opening other charter schools. Today they run 20 schools in Connecticut and New York and their plan is to expand that number to 35 in the next few years.
- The following year, in September 2004, Jonathan Sackler and Alex Troy formed the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc. (ConnCAN). Sackler served as Chairman and Troy served as President of the Board. They were joined by fellow businessmen Brian Olson. Andy Boas, John Irwin III and others. Alex Johnston was selected as the organization’s Executive Director.
- Three months later, in December 2004, Jonathan Sackler and Alex Troy formed the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc.(ConnCAA?) with Jonathan Sackler as Chairman and Alex Troy as Secretary.
- The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy retained the services of Gaffney, Bennett, one of the state’s premier government relations and lobby firms.
- Over the next six years the lobbyists were paid over $540,000 to lobby Connecticut’s Executive and Legislative Branches of Government. Since the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy was set up in such a way as to limit public scrutiny it remains a mystery where the half a million dollars to pay for the lobbyists came from.
- Last year the $100,000 plus lobbying contract with Gaffney, Bennett was moved from the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy to the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN).
- Also in 2011, Jonathan Sacker formed 50CAN Inc. Sackler serves as a Director of 50CAN and Marc Magee who served as ConnCAN’s chief operating officer for six years, is the President of 50CAN. The organization’s mission is to create ConnCAN like organizations in other states. 50CAN presently has state chapters in Rhode Island, Minnesota, New York and Maryland and has announced that they will have 12 state campaigns by 2013 and at least 25 chapters by 2015.
- RI-CAN, 50CAN’s Rhode Island affiliate has been running the public relations and lobbying effort to get approval for Achievement First to open schools in Providence Rhode Island.
The situation as of 2012:
- As of today, Alex Troy serves as the Chairman of the Board for Achievement First’s Amistad Academy and the Elm City College Preparatory School.
- Jonathan Sackler is a member of Achievement First’s Board of Directors and 50CAN’s Board of Directors.
- William Berkley remains Chairman of Achievement First and Andrew Boas is Chairman of Achievement First – Bridgeport.
- Brian Olson is chairman of ConnCAN’s Board of Directors while Andy Boas and John Irwin III also continue to serve on ConnCAN’s Board.
- Over this same time period, Jonathan Sackler and his wife have been major benefactors of these various efforts. Sackler’s foundation has donated at least $435,000 to the Amistad Academy and $250,000 to ConnCAN Inc.
- Sackler also donated $60,000 to the National Alliance for School Choice and more than $112,000 to the Black Alliance for Educational Options.
- Interestingly conservative columnist RiShawn Biddle who is listed as a consultant to the CT Parent’s Union (the group running the March 14th rally at the Connecticut State Capitol) also lists the Black Alliance for Educational Options as one of his other clients.
- It was Biddle who last month spoke at a Minnesota Tea Party training workshop on Education Reform.
- In addition, Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J. is a Director on the Black Alliance for Educational Options Board. Mayor Booker is also a member of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board.
- Stefan Pryor was Deputy Mayor under Booker until he left that job to come to Connecticut to become Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.
- The individuals who are directly associated with Achievement First and ConnCAN (either as board members or senior staff) are also very active campaign contributors. Over the past five years these individuals have donated at least $689,000 to political candidates and political action committees at the federal level and have given another $34,000 or so to candidates and PACs here in Connecticut.
- The beneficiaries from this generosity runs the spectrum from conservatives to liberals although the Connecticut donations have been much more focused on those who play a leadership role when it comes to Connecticut’s education policy.
- Although Tom Foley, the Republican’s 2010 nominee for Governor, received the largest amount of campaign donations from this group, Ned Lamont came in second and a number of these charter school supporters also donated to Dan Malloy’s effort to reach the qualifying threshold for public financing. Not surprisingly a number of the board members hedged their bets giving to Foley, Lamont and Malloy.
I don’t know whether this web of interconnections reflect some “conspiracy” but they certainly make you realize how good a job Achievement First and ConnCAN are doing to push their agenda forward.
Oh, one last tidbit.
As part of their public relations campaign, ConnCAN gives out “awards” to school districts that they deem are doing a good job.
Yesterday, Trumbull teachers and their Trumbull Education Association rejected ConnCAN’s award as a way to protest Governor Malloy’s education reform bill and ConnCAN’s work to get it passed.
In response, Patrick Riccards told the Connecticut Post that although ConnCAN does get some funds from charter schools, “he adamantly denied his organization advocates in their favor.”
According to Riccards “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
And now you get my reference to Alice in Wonderland because a comment like Riccard’s makes me think that we’ve all fallen down the rabbit hole.