Calling themselves a “grassroots movement” in support of Governor Dannel Malloy’s plan to use taxpayer money to open two new charter schools while making historic cuts to Connecticut’s public schools, the New York based charter school industry group known as “Families for Excellent Schools Inc./Coalition for Every Child” paid at least $87,000 to rent buses to bring in charter school parents and students from as far away as New York and Boston for the pro-charter school rally that took place at the Connecticut State Capitol last week.
According to the group’s most recent filing with the State Ethics Commission (filed yesterday), the corporate funded education reform advocacy front group also spent $14,000 for subway sandwiches and $6,771 to Staples to pay for the signs demanding that Connecticut legislators hand over nearly $21 million in scarce taxpayer money so that the infamous Steve Perry can open a publicly funded, but privately owned charter school in Bridgeport and a Bronx, New York charter school chain can save Stamford by opening up a charter school there.
Although parents who “volunteer” for the rallies sponsored by Families for Excellent Schools Inc. are apparently given “parent stipends” for their efforts, the charter industry advocacy group failed to list any payments for the parents who were bussed in for the Connecticut demonstration.
According to their website, Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. “serves more than 50,000 families from over 90 schools in New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.”
The website adds, “Founded in 2011 through a partnership between schools and families, Families for Excellent Schools has built power in communities by engaging parents in the transformation of their schools.”
The group, of course, fails to explain that since it was founded, Families for Excellent Schools Inc. has collected an estimated $25 million from wealthy individuals and foundations to pay for its lobbying and advocacy work.
In New York State Families for Excellent Schools Inc. has become the single largest lobbying entity in the State of New York spending nearly $10 million in 2014 alone to support the funding and expansion of charter schools. [See Pro-charter group sets lobby record.] However, Families for Excellent Schools has repeatedly refused to release a list of its donors.
What is known is that among the group’s major sponsors is the Walton Family, owners of Walmart.
According to the foundation’s reports, “The Walton Family Foundation supports Families for Excellent Schools in its work to train parents to create and run advocacy efforts to improve school quality and give every student access to an excellent education.”
The use of “parent stipends” to induce charter school families to attend rallies has been one of the more controversial tactics used by Families for Excellent Schools.
The organization’s 2011 federal tax form stated that they spent $98,795 on “parent stipends.” Subsequent reports buried that spending item in other expenses but a 2012 American Enterprise Institute publication verified the groups use of parent stipends noting,
“other groups, such as Families for Excellent Schools, use side payments—financial stipends of $250–$1,000 per year—to give parents an incentive to participate in mobilization and advocacy efforts.”
Another way the charter school industry has successfully “persuaded” parents to attend their rallies is to actually close down their charter schools on the day of the rally. The Nation magazine recently reported on New York rallies sponsored by Families for Excellent Schools noting,
“The protests have benefitted from the controversial decision of charter operators like Success Academy to shut down their schools, bus thousands of students to protests and notify parents that they “must” come and protest. “It was cut and dry, they tell us if we can’t go to the rally, our kids won’t have anywhere to go,” said one Success Academy parent, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, “So you have to find childcare for them or take off work for their charter school propaganda.”
Although Families for Excellent Schools is new to Connecticut, it is closely associated with Connecticut’s original charter school advocacy group, ConnCAN.
In addition, Families for Excellent Schools receives funding from Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain co-founded by Governor Malloy’s initial Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor. Achievement First Inc. is based in New Haven with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. As a result of Malloy’s pro-charter school agenda, Achievement First, Inc. benefited more than any other charter school company in Connecticut over the past four years.
And when it comes to lobbying and advocating for charter schools — The sky is the limit.
Since Malloy introduced his corporate education reform initiative in 2012, charter school and education reform organizations have spent well over $7 million on lobbying and advertising – a record-breaking amount for Connecticut.
In just the first four months of the 2015 legislative session, Families for Excellent Schools has spent over $668,000 on its lobbying and advertising in support of Malloy’s plan to add two more charter schools in Connecticut. More than half a dozen other charter school groups have also spent funds to support Malloy’s plan.
To ensure the desired level of access to Connecticut’s elected officials; Families for Excellent Schools retained the services of both Governor Malloy’s chief adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, and Malloy’s former spokesman, Andrew Doba.
Of the money spent this year, more than $75,000 was paid to Occhiogrosso’s firm and another $133,000 to the New York public relations company that hired Malloy’s spokesman (Doba) when he left Malloy’s office four months ago.
For more coverage about the charter school industry rally check out – Charter Students Rally Lawmakers To Restore Funding (Newsjunkie), Charter School Lobbying: Where Is Money Coming From? (Hartford Courant), Hundreds Rally At Capitol For Expanding Charter Schools (Hartford Courant) and Aggressive charter school campaign descends on the Capitol (CT Mirror)