CSI: We Got A Match

Turns out GNEPSA stands for the Great New England Public Schools Alliance.

Or, if you squint your eyes really tight, you might also see the words StudentsFirst.

Brian Lockhart, of the Stamford Advocate, Hearst Newspaper wrote a story entitled “StudentsFirst … I mean GNEPSA … sends out slick mailer” (click the title to read).

Lockhart is the first reporter to examine the intrigue behind the GNEPSA/StudentsFirst issue.

Linking to a Wait, What? blog post about GNEPSA, Lockhart, on his blog entitled Political Capitol, shines a bright light on the StudentsFirst connection writing “what’s interesting is while GNEPSA is a new name in what some have called the “education reform alphabet soup,” it’s not.  As others have also pointed out, GNEPSA’s filing with the Office of State Ethics lists seven in-house lobbyists on GNEPSA’s payroll with email addresses linking them to another group –California-based StudentsFirst. And one of those lobbyists is StudentsFirst’s founder, Michelle Rhee.”

Lockhart adds “I’m just wondering why StudentsFirst decided to create a new group – GNEPSA.  Are there legal and/or organizational reasons?  Or is there some concern the StudentsFirst brand has been a bit tainted in Connecticut?  And isn’t this all a bit too confusing?  And did they actually mean “Greater” – not “Great” – New England in their name?

It turns out that after calling around; Lockhart then received an unbelievably incredible response from StudentsFirst who issued a statement saying;

“You got us. When we listed the CEO of StudentsFirst on GNEPSA’s public disclosure forms, designed GNEPSA’s logo to be derivative of the StudentsFirst logo and had the GNEPSA website take you to the StudentsFirst website* where you saw a StudentsFirst TV ad, we were sure no one would know GNEPSA and StudentsFirst were connected. All joking aside, it’s not uncommon for advocacy groups to use different names when carrying out different functions. Our 13,000-plus Connecticut members have been working in the state for over a year organizing at the grass roots. And with this important legislation being debated now we are looking at a number of different vehicles to carry their voice to the legislature. You’ll be hearing more about GNEPSA and our other StudentsFirst effort in the coming days.”

–          Nancy Zuckerbrod, StudentsFirst spokesperson

Lockhart concludes “* There’s no mention of a GNEPSA website on the mailer and it’s hard to find on the Internet unless you specifically perform a Google search for GNEPSA.org. And then you are redirected to StudentsFirst. Phew!  I really need a drink).”

What Brian Lockhart has now dug up is what appears to be yet another set of violations of Connecticut’s Ethics Laws.

The lack of honesty and transparency in StudentsFirst’s ethics filing could carry a $10,000 per violation fine.  After reviewing their filing reports the number of potential violations was significant.

Now, the flippant response by the StudentsFirst spokesperson, raises yet a different set of issues.

StudentsFirst now claim that “All joking aside, it’s not uncommon for advocacy groups to use different names when carrying out different functions. Our 13,000-plus Connecticut members have been working in the state for over a year organizing at the grass roots. And with this important legislation being debated now we are looking at a number of different vehicles to carry their voice to the legislature”

First, according to their sworn ethics filings, StudentsFirst or GNEPSA or whoever they claim to be did not begin lobbying in Connecticut until February 2012.   If in fact they have been working in Connecticut for over a year they have been engaged in lobbying without registering, as required by the state ethic’s law.  Someone who did that last year was fined $10,000 by t he Ethics Commission.

Secondly, if there have been illegal subsidies taking place with one organization subsidizing another they have yet another set of problems.

By the way, there is a process for an organization to be doing business under different names (called DBA doing business as) but StudentsFirst has filed none of the documents necessary to allow them to function that way in Connecticut.

The status of any Office of State Ethics complaints or investigations will be covered in a separate blog later, but don’t forget there is also the potential illegal activities associated with the role the “Education Reformers’ played in the state’s failed attempt to take over the Bridgeport School System.  An organization called Excel Bridgeport and two individuals, Meghan Lowney and Nate Snow (who also serves as the Director of Teach For America’s Connecticut chapter engaged in a series of communications aimed at getting the state to take over the Bridgeport Schools but never registered to lobby for those activities.

For that issue check out wait, what’s posts http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/03/26/the-bridgeport-take-over-another-example-of-justice-for-some-rather-than-justice-for-all/

  • jonpelto

    Note:  StudentsFirst says they have been working in Connecticut for over a year .  In addition to the law the requires one registers BEFORE they begin lobbying there is the following;

    “…lobbyists generally file a quarterly financial report (ETH-2D) that gathers information such as compensation, sales tax and money expended in connection with lobbying; expenditures benefiting a public official or his/her staff or immediate family; all other lobbying expenditures; and the fundamental terms of any lobbying contract or agreement.”

    StudentsFirst nor GNEPSA neither registered nor filled its quarterly reports in 2011.

    • sharewhut

       They’ll probably wiggle around that one by claiming they were ‘organizing at a grassroots level’… they weren’t actually ‘active’ yet- just a bunch of individuals (who may have been ‘lobbying’ as INDIVIDUALS) networking to form what eventually became GNEPSA in 2012.
      Kinda like a few foursomes playing golf at same time and comparing scores for a year, deciding to become a league the next season…

  • Linda

    There emails show up quite clearly when enlarged on the ipad. Send them a message about your thoughts in reference to their devious campaing for school “reform” in CT.

    [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

    • Linda

      sorry typo – THEIR emails..and campaign..I wish I could edit, but too late.

  • George Peterman

    Former ConnCAN head Alex Johnston snidely claimed in an email to me last year that their 501(c)(3) group routinely shares “staff and resources” with associated 501(c)(4) groups such as ConnAD, who sent around glossy mailers with the weepy-eyed kids, wondering why they can’t get good teachers.  Isn’t that a violation of the law here? 

    The COO of ConnCAN, Ann Marcucio, comes straight from the American Federation for Children (sounds so wholesome, doesnt’ it?), where she served as Legislative Director.  This group was recently fined for violations of Wisconsin law, including recently disclosed attempts to gerrymander.  So much for the focus on children and academic achievement.  The AFT swollowed a sister group, All Children Matter, after it was fined $5.5 million for violating Ohio’s election laws.  A senior lobbyist for ACM and the AFT, and cohort of Marcucio’s, Scott Jensen, is a former Wisconsin rep who was forced out after pleading guilty to 3 felonies of abusing state resources. 

    Ethically and legally-challenged they are, butthese people claim they  “are proud of all they’ve done,” according to Patrick Riccards.  I am in total agreement with you, someone will be in court before this mess is done.

    • jonpelto

      You are 100%.

      Didn’t know the wisconsin connection. Will have to dig around on that one. There are some real right wing tea bag types in the “education reform” industry there.
      I’ve been looking for info on ConnAd. They claim to only do grassroots and ads but I think they’ve crossed over to lobbying and they haven’t registered.
      Maybe all the fines will help balance the budget.

      Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

      • CONconn

        “Maybe all the fines will help balance the budget.”

        LOL! Good one! I’m glad we can all find some moments of comedy within this disgusting insanity. 

        As Pat Riccards would say, it’s time to kick the CAN down the road…

        • jonpelto

          Good one kicking CAN

          Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

      • George Peterman

        ConnAD disappeared shortly after sending out the mailings; I had to dig around at the state web site and talk to a few people before I found a filing for them.  This group and a few others all list their “offices” as 1 Stamford Forum, the home of Pardu Pharma and – surprise! – Jonathan Sackler.  When I spoke with his secretary last year, she told me the groups were all listed as baeing housed there and to call ConnCAN in New Haven if I wanted to talk to anyone about those groups.  The whole movement is a steaming pile of lies and obfuscation.

  • It is so sad that they can get away with this deceit – and that’s what this is – just plain lies. A collection of $10,000 fines mean nothing to these power hungry individuals. Cui bono? Not the students, parents of teachers of CT?

  • ConcernedTeacher

    Thanks for getting the answer to my question!

    The paper trail for these companies is intentionally so vast. If you have to trace through literal miles of paperwork to find out who is in fact “in charge” or leading the lobbying done then most investigations into said companies will cease in order to save time and resources in finding out who is in fact culpable.

    I can only HOPE that when an investigation is launched into GNEPSA/StudentFirst/ConnCan (whoever the heck else is in bed with these people) that the investigator is one diligent bloodhound who will stop at virtually nothing find the responsible person(s).

    Call me a ridiculous skeptic, but I can’t help but think that the appearance of all these organizations showing up in Connecticut under different names but either the same purpose or parent company are just patsy companies that can be dissolved easily when the “heat” shows up and the state and the people affected are left with nothing but a disconnected phone number and a lot of unanswered questions.

    Why can’t there be a CLEARLY defined structure to these people trying to demonize and abolish the teacher unions? CEA and AFT have come forward and it’s CLEAR as day that Apruzzese and Loftus Levine are heading the fight. There is no smoke and mirrors, no misdirection.It’s also REAL grassroots where hardworking TEACHERS are paying for the efforts, NOT corporate sponsors!

  • CT_Dad

    13,000-plus Connecticut members???


    Hits on their website?

    Blades of grass in their office building’s front yard? 


  • ConcernedTeacher

    Did anyone else notice that Michelle Rhee’s email listing on the picture from Lockhart was actually [email protected]:twitter.org?
    Screening through some poor lacky? Or is she too busy changing test answers to make her company look better?
    Melton and Rhee are two of the most common names I have seen associated with StudetnsFirst and the email addresses associated with the names are not Melton and Rhee (DMakle and shawn @….)

    • Linda

      Yes, I sent an email and there was an autoreply that she was on vacation..  apparently she is Michelle’s assistant. She is too busy trashing teachers to read emails I suppose.

      Shawn V. Branch*Executive Assistant to the Founder & CEOStudentsFirst825 K Street, 2nd Floor
      Sacramento, CA 95814

      • George Peterman

        I received the same response.  I’m assuming “Shawn” was inundated with messages after having the address posted.

    • Linda174

      Send emails telling them what you think of their mailer campaign and let’s invite them to the teacher rallies next Tuesday and Wednesday at the Capitol. Rhee says she support great teachers and we are GREAT!

      • sharewhut

        Emails won’t work on these characters- they’ll twist it…

        “We’ve received ‘x’ number of emails, a vast majority (under breath in our eyes) enthusiastically supporting our efforts. Some of which will be available for review after the press conference”

        • sharewhut

           s/b ‘waving a stack of printouts’ I musta “html’d” it somehow.

  • NMI

    What’s not mentioned anywhere—and certainly not on the mailer—is that GNEPSA/StudentsFirst/AchievementFirst/K-12,Inc. is a for-profit “alliance.”  So far no one has raised the question of who and/or what are included in the “alliance.”  GNEPSA is a .org, suggesting that they are non-profit.  

    Good job, Jon.  They keep throwing up masks and divergencies, but you keep peeling them away.

  • Guest

    Does anyone really think that the ethics commission will pursue any violations committed by Studentsfirst and GNESPA? It’s not like Rell is in office making sure everyone is in compliance.

    The ethics commission let Prior right on through the nomination process when it was clear there were conflicts. I hear there are still conflicts. Jonathan, can you look into a possible secret bank account set up by Conncan that is allegedly holding stock options for Prior when he “withdrew” from that organization? 

  • guest

    Jonathan, You should send this to Diane Ravitch!  Note how one becomes a member of StudentsFirst–by visiting the website you are automatically a member!  Voila’–13,000 members in Connecticut, and counting!

  • ConcernedTeacher

    I agree….I doubt any investigation will be launched at all and if there is some “internal” investigation is it going to be a giant surprise to anyone that either nothing is found or that the culpable party(s) are left with just a slap on the wrist?
    It’s sad that we (teachers and the general public) have to be put through this three-ring circus.
    I have tried to research (on my own to try to reduce the bias or influence) the validity of charter schools. The data I have found so far points to the charter schools (over time) end up petering out to be on par with the “status quo” of public schools. Some in fact have been shown to end up worse off than the public institutions in the same districts.

    If Malloy wants to REALLY reform education and do some good before he gets booted out of the next election, focus on full-day Pre-K and Kindergarten programs in each district. Start ’em early, start ’em everywhere.

  • sharewhut

     Ethics Commission will do nothing but give a no details opinion “We see nothing wrong here”. The laws give a lot of leeway/discretion, they’re appointed, and well, they have issues of their own…
    They’ll okay anything that they feel doesn’t overtly indicate a DIRECT financial gain to an individual.
    Friends, family, former (yeah, right!) business associates/partners? NO PROBLEM! No conflict here.

    • jonpelto

      Maybe Ethics is one of those things you have to see to understand? ??? ??
      Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

      • sharewhut

         Depends on your definition of ‘see’… State gov watchdog agencies graduated from the ‘Sergeant Schultz School of Investigation”…
        ” I SEE NOTHINK!!!”

        • jonpelto

          Good one!
          Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

        • sharewhut

           I’ll preface this with a disclaimer-
          Legislature/Ethics: Sgt Schultz (witless overseers)
          Gov. Malloy: Col. Klink (In charge???)
          Roy Ochio et al: : Mjr Burcholter/Gestapo (the muscle)
          Michelle Rhee and Co. : Hogan’s crew. ( REALLY running the show!)

  • sharewhut

    Tagline should have been “CSI We Need a Match”
    A pile of papers sitting at LOB.

  • Linda174

    I need to vent. I just found this and I can’t stand her pathetic attempts to get $$$ from hard working people.

    Is this another tactic to get grass roots support?

    Rhee is sending emails to teachers in Massachusetts asking for support in CT. Please read this email Rhee sent (link at the very bottom) and the response she received.

    She is trying to offset her millions from Murdoch and Gates with a few thousand to fake
    her “grass roots” movement and say she has “supporters”. 

    Dear Ms. Rhee,

    Please STOP sending mail to this address. First of all, you are not “my friend”.  I work as a public school teacher and have for nearly 25 years. Wouldn’t that make ME one of your targets, a public school slacker? 

    Just FYI, it  is a vacation week here in Massachusetts. I am not paid for this ”vacation” nor is any other public school teacher here in Massachusetts. However, I AM here on my own time working hard to prepare a learning environment for my students when they return to their studies next Monday.  

    I don’t have time for this kind of nonsense on my WORK email account. I feel that your solicitations, and I have received 3 so far, are inappropriate for the workplace.  I have no intention of donating $10 to your Political Action Committee or you rconsulting firm – however you wish to define your
    money-making scheme today.

    Remove my name from your list permanently.

    Amy Bisson


  • Kryptoman102

    When did we stop talking about childrens education and start all the mud slinging?