Less than twelve hours after Governor Dannel Malloy took the stage to declare victory on Election Night 2014, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education met to unanimously endorse a proposal to open eight new charter schools in Connecticut.
A CT Mirror article at the time entitled “State education board wants to open eight new charter schools” reported that while the State of Connecticut faces a $1.4 billion projected budget deficit for next year, “The State Board of Education is asking the state for $11 million to fund eight new charter schools to open over the next two school years…The request, put forward by Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and approved unanimously by the state board…”
The CT Mirror added that, “Allan B. Taylor, chairman of the 13-member state panel, said expanding school choice for students makes sense.”
The Hartford Courant covered the story as well noting;
Of the eight new charters proposed to open over the 2015-16 and 2016-17 fiscal years, two proposals were approved by the board at a lengthy meeting in April amid much testimony for and against new charter schools.
The charters already approved to open in 2015-16 include Stamford Charter School for Excellence and Capital Prep Harbor School in Bridgeport. Those proposals, however, are contingent on the availability of funding.
After funding for Steve Perry’s proposed Bridgeport charter school, along with money for seven others charter schools, won the full support of the State Board of Education, Melodie Peters, the President of the Connecticut Federation of Teachers, submitted a hard-hitting commentary piece to the CT Mirror entitled, “Plan for more charter schools flawed in many ways.”
Peters, one of Malloy’s biggest supporters began her article by saying, “The state education department commissioner’s proposal last week to hand over more public education resources to privately managed charter schools deserves an ‘F’ as both ‘incomplete’ and tone deaf.”
“Now is not the time to ask taxpayers for another $21 million on an experiment whose record of ensuring a quality education for all has yet to be demonstrated.
It has been just six months since the scandal involving the charter management outfit Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) and the schools it operated in Hartford and Bridgeport made headlines. Recall that the extent of the alleged corruption and nepotism quickly led to a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of FUSE and its affiliated Jumoke schools that today is still ongoing.”
Having told members that Lt., Governor Nancy Wyman would be Malloy’s point person on education in Malloy’s second term, Peters added,
“In August, the Malloy-Wyman Administration rightly responded to the crisis by ordering a thorough review of the department of education’s policies governing charter management companies. The department quickly agreed to changes that echo what parents, educators, and advocates have been urging for years: charters should be held accountable to the same standard as traditional public schools.”
The AFT -CT President went on to blast Pryor’s decision to seek funding for eight more charter school saying, “The state should not green-light more charters or expand their reach without first verifying that education department oversight of charters has actually improved.
Of the various issues associated with President Peters’ “blistering attack” on the decision to approve Pryor’s proposal for eight more charter schools, perhaps the most interesting is that Peters completely and utterly failed to mention that the newest member of the State Board of Education, Meriden Federation of Teachers President Erin Benham, voted IN FAVOR of the resolution to fund eight new charter schools.
In a political move to reward the AFT-CT for ramming through an endorsement of Dan Malloy, without even granting the other candidates [like myself] the opportunity to fill out a candidate questionnaire, meet with the AFT-CT PAC or address the AFT-CT Board of Directors, Malloy announced on August 21, 2014 that he was taking the unprecedented step of appointing Meriden AFT President Erin Benham to a four year position on the State Board of Education.
As the time, Peters wrote,
“We applaud the administration of Governor Dannel Malloy and Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman for selecting Erin Benham to serve on the State Board of Education. They have appointed a committed classroom educator and trusted labor leader with a long, successful record of direct engagement in grassroots efforts to improve schools in Meriden and across Connecticut.
“The SBOE, as well as the state’s education department, will greatly benefit from Erin’s experience in Meriden Public Schools. There, she and her fellow educators have proven that collaboration — not confrontation — is the way to form a productive working partnership with their district’s administration.
“Erin will bring tremendous value to the board with real-world teacher-student, educator-parent and labor-management experience. I have seen firsthand Erin’s passion for her vocation, and I have no doubt she will make a significant contribution to the board’s mission.
“We expect Erin to ensure that the voices of educators are heard and respected, and to play a role in helping to shape policy in all our state’s schools.
“We congratulate Erin on her appointment and look forward to her service on the SBOE throughout her four-year term.”
Two weeks later, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten came to Connecticut to endorse Governor Dannel Malloy for re-election, despite the fact that Malloy was, and is, the only Democratic governor in the nation to propose doing away with tenure for all public school teachers and unilaterally repealing collective bargaining rights for teachers in the poorest school districts in Connecticut, including some of the teachers who worked in Meriden.
And to drive home the special relationship between the AFT and Malloy – and Malloy and the AFT – AFT President Weingarten, AFT-CT President Peters and Malloy started their day with a tour and press conference at a Meriden public school, with none-other-than the newest member of the State Board of Education, Meriden AFT President Erin Benham.
Yet exactly sixty-one days later, Erin Benham, the teacher who Peters promised would, “ensure that the voices of educators are heard and respected, and [who would] play a role in helping to shape policy in all our state’s schools,” joined Malloy’s other political appointees on the day after the election to vote in favor of diverting millions of dollars to even more privately run, publicly funded charter schools.
In her commentary piece a week after the vote, AFT-CT Peters wrote,
“Another unanswered question is why we aren’t investing education resources in community schools that will educate all children, instead of cherry-picking students to boost standardized test scores. An investigation by Reuters in 2013 found charters across the country imposing “significant barriers” that result in “skimming the most motivated, disciplined students and leaving the hardest-to-reach behind….Wouldn’t we all be better served investing our tax dollars in traditional neighborhood schools that do not exclude our special education, ELLs, and children with behavioral disorders?”
And AFT President Peters concluded her commentary piece with the observation, “And until the department can demonstrate that it can, the State Board of Education should deny the outgoing commissioner’s request.”
Over the course of Malloy’s 2014 campaign for re-election, the American Federation for Teachers Federal Political Action Committee donated $10,000 to the Committee Democratic State Central Committee “Federal Account,” the fund that the Malloy campaign used to launder lobbyist, state contractor and political action committee funds into a program to assist the Malloy campaign.
In addition, the American Federation of Teachers Federal Political Action Committee threw in $600,000 to the Democratic Governor’s Association’s $5.7 million Independent Expenditure campaign to support Malloy’s re-election.
But putting aside, for the moment, AFT President Melodie Peters’s anti-charter school editorial of November 17, 2014, when the real vote on the motion to adopt the Malloy administration’s proposal to fund eight more charter schools was taken, it passed the State Board of Education unanimously….with the support of AFT’s representative along with Chairman Allan Taylor, Vice Chair Theresa Hopkins-Staten, Charles Jaskiewicz, Patricia Keavney-Maruca, Maria Mojica and Joseph Vrabely.
That is a lot of teacher’s money for an investment that appears to be ending in disaster.
Some would even call the whole thing yet another Wait, What? moment.