Parents, Teachers and Taxpayers – Beware the Achievement First Inc. Money Grab in New Haven

[This is the first in a series of articles about Achievement First Inc.’s proposed New Haven Elm City Imagine School]

Aka – The Charter School Industry’s step by step dismantling of public education in Connecticut.

This Wednesday, February 18, 2015, Governor Malloy will play his hand as to whether he will insert taxpayer funds into next year’s state budget in order to fund Steve Perry’s dream of opening a privately-owned, but publicly-funded charter school in Bridgeport.  An out-of-state company is also counting on Malloy to come through with the cash needed to expand their charter school chain into Stamford, Connecticut.

Both charter school applications were vehemently opposed by the Bridgeport and Stamford Boards of Education.

However, despite that opposition from the local officials responsible for education policy and despite the fact that Connecticut doesn’t even fund its existing public schools adequately and the fact that the State of Connecticut is facing a massive $1.4 billion projected budget deficit next year, Governor Malloy’s former Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education approved four new charter school proposals last spring.

Initial funding for two of the four applications was included in this year’s state budget, New Haven’s Booker T. Washington charter school and yet another charter school for Bridgeport.

Now the charter school industry is counting on Malloy to divert even more scarce public funds away from the state’s public schools so that Steve Perry can start pulling in a $2.5 million management fee from a charter school in Bridgeport and the out-of-state company can open up a revenue stream from a new charter school in Stamford.

While most public education advocates are focused on the Malloy administration’s ongoing attempt to privatize public education via policies at the state level, the politically connected Achievement First Inc. Charter School chain is using a completely different approach as it seeks to pull off a deal in New Haven that would shift existing funds away from New Haven’s public schools and into the coffers of the Achievement First operation.

Of course, Achievement First Inc. is the charter school chain founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s former commissioner of education.

Achievement First Inc. is also the charter school chain that gets the lion’s share of the $100 million in public funds that are already diverted to charter schools in Connecticut.

Achievement First’s latest gambit is called the Elm City Imagine School.  Achievement First already owns and operates the following taxpayer-funded New Haven Charter Schools;

Amistad Academy Elementary School

Amistad Academy Middle School

Amistad Academy High School

Elm City College Preparatory Elementary School

Elm City College Preparatory Middle School

Achievement First Inc. also owns charter schools in Hartford, New Haven, New York City and Rhode Island.

With the New Haven proposal, Achievement First, Inc. is attempting to side-step the entire state charter school authorization process.  They are trying to use a mechanism whereby state and local taxpayer funds would be allocated by the New Haven Board of Education directly to Achievement First’s new “experimental school.”

The only hurdle that Achievement First Inc. needs to overcome is getting the approval of the New Haven Board of Education…and it appears that they are well on the way to do just that as early as their February 23, 2015 meeting.

The New Haven Board has scheduled a second and final public hearing on the proposal tomorrow, Tuesday 2/17 at 5:30, nicely timed to take place during school vacation.

The New Haven Board of Education is not democratically elected by the citizens of New Haven.  It is one of the only boards of education in Connecticut to be appointed by the mayor of the community.

In this case, the New Haven Board of Education is appointed by Mayor Toni Harp – who, thanks to an earlier sweetheart deal – happens to sit on the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors for the Amistad Academy schools.

Another member of the New Haven Board of Education is Alex Johnston who is the former CEO of ConnCAN.  Johnston now, “develops and implements strategies for philanthropists on education reform advocacy and political initiatives.”

ConnCAN is the charter school advocacy group that is not only associated with Achievement First Inc. but it is the entity that led the record-breaking $6 million dollar lobbying campaign in support of Malloy’s 2012 Corporate Education Reform Initiative.

ConnCAN is also the charter school advocacy group that recently held a rally on the New Haven Green to “save kids trapped in local failing public schools.

And ConnCAN is the charter school advocacy group that was created by Jonathan Sackler, who is the multi-millionaire who played such a pivotal role in helping Stefan Pryor with the creation of Achievement First Inc.

Sackler now serves on the Board of Directors for Achievement First Inc.  and the Board of Directors for ConnCAN

Most recently, Sackler and his family were the largest contributors to Malloy’s re-election effort, pumping well over $100,000 into the various committees that paid for the Governor’s campaign activities.

Achievement First’s Elm City Imagine

Achievement First’s Elm City Imagine (designed to become a K-4 school) will be Achievement First Inc.’s initial foray into the “Greenfield” model. The model designed with the help of the inventor of the computer mouse.”

Achievement First Inc. is also using public funds to insert the “Greenfield Model” into its Elm City College Prep Middle School.

Among the many controversies associated with this new proposal is that Achievement First Inc. has successfully prevented the unionization of its schools and is now looking to use even more public funds to hire employees who would have no collective bargaining rights.

Achievement First Inc. is also notorious for relying on Teach For America recruits in an effort to promote the churning of staff to keep expenses down and limit the likelihood of unionization.

Alex Johnston, the former ConnCAN CEO who and member of the New Haven Board of Education is quoted as saying

“We need statewide policies that allow educational innovations like Teach for America or Dacia’s schools [The Achievement First Inc. Charter School chain] to spread far and wide.”

[Article Update at 3pm 2/16/15 – Johnston has announced the due to the conflict of interest he will not be voting on application, although it doesn’t change much considering the political dynamics surrounding the project.]

Of course, Achievement First Inc. also made national news when it was reported that their “zero-tolerance” discipline policies led to an extraordinary number of kindergartners being suspended.

Check back for the next installment of this series.

You can also read more about the Achievement First Inc. plan via the following New Haven Independent articles;

Teachers, Parents Organize Against Charter Deal

The School Of The Future Gets A Dry Run
Teachers Union Prez Pens “Imagine” Critique
Charter Plans Detailed; Parents Weigh In
Elm City Imagine Sparks Debate
NHPS, AF Team Up On Experimental School
Elm City Charter Eyed For Futuristic “Conversion”
City’s Charter Network Hires San Francisco Firm To Design The K-8 Public School Of The Future

 

  • Jenn

    Bills currently proposed in the CT General Assembly Education Committee related to Charter Schools.

    REPEALING THE CONDITIONS THAT LIMIT THE APPROVAL OF NEW CHARTER SCHOOLS.
    REPRESENTATIVE PISCOPO, 76TH DIST.

    FUNDING FOR CHARTER SCHOOL CAPITAL EXPENSES.
    REPRESENTATIVE CUEVAS, 75TH DIST.

    A MORATORIUM ON NEW CHARTER SCHOOLS AND A REVIEW OF EXISTING CHARTER SCHOOLS.
    REPRESENTATIVE VARGAS, 6TH DIST.
    REPRESENTATIVE GONZALEZ, 3RD DIST.
    REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON, 49TH DIST.

    CHARTER SCHOOL TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND PERFORMANCE.
    REPRESENTATIVE ROJAS, 9TH DIST.
    REPRESENTATIVE VARGAS, 6TH DIST.
    REPRESENTATIVE D’AGOSTINO, 91ST DIST

    A LOCAL CHARTER SCHOOL OFFERING AN ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION PROGRAM IN NEW HAVEN.
    REPRESENTATIVE LEMAR, 96TH DIST.
    REPRESENTATIVE DILLON, 92ND DIST.
    REPRESENTATIVE WALKER, 93RD DIST.

  • Charlie Puffers

    Charter Schools and Steve Perry’s CapPrep need to find other sources for their funding. Then, if they want to continue to be selective and exclusive they won’t be using PUBLIC education tax dollars on discriminatory policies. New Haven BOE can you address the fraud of charter schools that the Hartford and CT BOE’s are ignoring? Mr. Johnston you aren’t planning to vote on this are you?

  • Judith

    So glad, Jonathan, that you’re going after the treacherous AF – ConnCAN actions in CT. Their favoritism by the New Haven BOE has for too long tainted all the other good advances made by the city’s school system and its hard-working teachers. Mayor Harp needs to purge the BOE of Alec Johnston and anyone else who’s a privatization partisan.

  • readdoctor

    Imagine if Connecticut decided to stop being one of 49 states who spend more money on their wealthy schools than their poor schools? Charter schools and choice have only provided cover for a state that refuses to give every child an equal start and finish.

  • Pingback: Jonathan Pelto: Beware the Charter Money Grab in Connecticut | Diane Ravitch's blog()

  • John Kennedy

    Children aren’t little profit centers! If the State and City want schools to succeed, hiring more teachers is the correct direction. Number one determinate for academic success is low student to teacher ratio, see Marzano.

  • RDE

    So this article is more about AF not being unionized and no mention of the academic successes that have been noted in the City, State and Nationally. Its a hack job in other words!

    • jonpelto

      Good suggestion I’ll highlight the truth about AFs failed record on academic performance