Charter School Industry – Big Donations to Malloy, No Oversight from Malloy administration

When it comes to Governor Dannel Malloy and the Charter School Industry, two things are certain.  The campaign money from charter school advocates has been flowing into Malloy’s political operation at record levels while Malloy’s administration has been turning a blind eye to the fact that charter schools are violating Connecticut laws, regulations and policies.

Even the most cursory review of state and federal campaign finance reports reveal that Malloy’s pro-charter school agenda continues to pay “big dividends.”

Major donors associated with ConnCAN, the Achievement First charter school chain and other corporate education reform entities have donated in excess of $250,000 to Malloy’s Democratic State Central Committee in just the last four years.

Leading the way has been Jonathan Sackler, a member of both ConnCAN’s and Achievement First’s Board of Directors.  Sackler and his immediate family have given Malloy’s state Democratic committee more than $116,000 and that doesn’t even count the donations that have come from Sackler’s political action committee, the Purdue Pharma PAC.

In addition to Sackler’s money, charter school executives and the financial backers of the corporate education reform movement have donated tens of thousands more to Malloy’s political aspirations in recent years

And as education advocate and school finance expert Wendy Lecker observed in an article last summer, Malloy’s education policies have led to, A void in oversight of charter schools

Writing in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker explained;

One would think that after the scandals involving Connecticut’s two large charter chains, Jumoke and Achievement First, Connecticut’s education officials would finally exert some meaningful oversight over Connecticut’s charter sector.

One would be wrong.

This week the Connecticut Mirror reported that Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell dismissed a complaint against Bridgeport Achievement First, for using uncertified teachers for 47 percent of its staff, in violation of Connecticut statute. Wentzell unilaterally decided that the law allowing complaints against public schools does not apply to charters; despite the fact that charters receive more than $100 million each year in public taxpayer dollars.

Wentzell disregarded the data showing Achievement First’s misdeeds, claiming the State Department of Education (SDE) will wait until the charter comes up for renewal. Wentzell apparently ignored the law allowing her to put a charter on probation “at any time.”

The laissez-faire attitude toward charter schools pervades this administration. At the June 1 State Board of Education meeting, where the board voted to grant waivers to six charters to increase their enrollment beyond the statutory cap, longtime State Board of Education member Joseph Vrabely stated that when it comes to charter oversight, “we operate in the dark” until the renewal process.

While SDE closes its eyes, the complaints against charters pile up. Last week, students at Achievement First’s Amistad High School in New Haven staged a mass walkout to protest racial insensitivity and harsh discipline. They might have also protested the abominable graduation rate which, counting attrition since ninth grade, was 53 percent in 2015 — well below New Haven’s.

Amistad is one of the schools granted an enrollment increase waiver on June 1; supposedly based on Amistad’s academic performance (a 53-percent graduation rate?). Recommending the increase, SDE declared that Amistad draws 100 percent of its students from New Haven. However, the New Haven Independent, in reporting the walkout story, noted “(a)t 10:20, students who live in Bridgeport went inside after they were told they would not be allowed to board buses home if they didn’t.” Indeed, students told reporter Paul Bass that half of Amistad students come from Bridgeport every day. Is anyone at SDE minding the store?

Students have well-founded complaints about Amistad’s discipline practices. While suspensions statewide decreased from 2010 through 2015, they skyrocketed at Amistad, from 302 to 1,307 suspensions. There were more suspensions in 2014-15 than there were students, who numbered 984. During that five-year period, enrollment increased by about 25 percent, while suspensions more than quadrupled.

Other charters granted enrollment expansion waivers on June 1 also have deplorable suspension rates. Bridgeport’s Achievement First had 1,641 suspensions, almost double the number of students, 977, in 2014-15. The number of suspensions more than tripled since 2010-11, when there were 456, and 409 students.

Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport, operating for just one year, had 154 suspensions, outpacing its enrollment of 127 students. Great Oaks received the waiver for the largest increase in seats. Explaining the basis for exceeding the statutory cap, Linabury stated that there was a strict focus on the school’s performance.

Apparently SDE does not consider abusive discipline worth investigating. It should. A recent UCLA report found that nationwide, suspensions lead to dropouts, costing more than $46 billion in lost tax revenue and other social costs.

SDE admitted that, academically, Great Oaks performs well below the state average, and worse than Bridgeport, its host district. Yet SDE still recommended Great Oaks for an increase, which the board rubber-stamped.

Beyond its appalling lack of oversight, SDE made blatant misrepresentations in its quest to expand charters. SDE’s CFO, Kathleen Demsey, declared that before these charters opened, “local approval and support” were required. For Great Oaks and another school granted a statutory increase, Stamford Charter School for Excellence, that statement is false. The public and the local boards of education opposed these charters.

Some state board members feigned dismay that there was ample funding for charter increases while the state slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from vo-tech, magnets and public schools. They then approved the enrollment increases, without any investigation into discipline abuses, uncertified teachers or other misdeeds.

The members declared it would be unfair not to expand enrollment because the charters already held the lotteries for these seats. When asked why the charters held lotteries for seats before they were even approved, SDE again abdicated responsibility, claiming SDE has no say over charter lotteries.

With billions of dollars and student well-being at stake, Connecticut’s children and taxpayers deserve better than officials who sit idly by while charter schools call all the shots.

Connecticut charter schools violate state law with use of uncertified teachers and administrators

As a result of Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-public school agenda, Connecticut taxpayers hand over more than $110 million a year to the state’s charter school industry.  This largess comes despite the fact that Connecticut’s charter schools refuse to accept and educate their fair share of students with special education needs and those who require extra help learning the English language.

Equally appalling is that these privately owned, but publicly funded, schools refuse to follow Connecticut law when it comes to the use of certified teachers and school administrators.

Connecticut State Law is extremely clear.

For public schools, 100% of the teachers, administrators and service staff MUST hold an appropriate certification and authorization for the position in which they are serving.  State certification not only ensures that teachers and school personnel have appropriate training but it also means these individuals have gone through background checks before being allowed to teach children.

State law even mandates that public schools cannot even pay non-certified teachers and administrators.

However, thanks to aggressive lobbying by the charter school industry, charter schools “play” by a very different set of rules.

In charter schools, only 50% of the teachers, administrators and professionals must hold a traditional state certificate such as an initial, provisional or professional educator certificate.

This means that up to 50% may serve under a “temporary authorization” process or have what is deemed a “quick and easy” certification from a charter school preparation program.  In no case are charter schools allowed to use teachers and staff who don’t hold permanent or temporary certification.

Yet despite this enormous flexibility, Connecticut’s charter schools are notorious for still having a significant percentage of their staff “out of compliance” with Connecticut’s statutes and regulations.

This result is that parents of charter school students cannot be sure whether their student’s teachers and administrators are meeting the most basic requirements to be in a classroom and that taxpayers are paying for staff who should not even be hired by the charter schools.

The data on the magnitude of the problem in charter schools can been found at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

According to official reports filed with the State Department of Education, and current as of March 2016, 14 out of 24 (58%) Connecticut charter schools are were violating the law when it comes to ensuring students have properly authorized staff in the building.

It will not come as a surprise to those who follow “education entrepreneur” Steve Perry, that the greatest violator of the law is the Capital Prep Charter school chain.  As of March 2016, 80% of Bridgeport Capital Prep Harbor School’s staff did not have any certification what-so-ever and were therefore in violation of state law.

A number of other charter schools had staffing operations in which at least 30% of the staff were teaching or administrating illegally.  This list included Achievement First Amistad, Achievement First Bridgeport, Achievement First Hartford Academy, Achievement First Elm City, the Stamford Academy and the Stamford Charter School for Excellence.

Other charter schools in which at least 10% of the staff were in violation of Connecticut law included Booker T. Washington Charter School, Brass City Charter School, Highville Charter School, New Beginnings Family Academy charter school and Path Academy Charter School.

Rather than giving Connecticut charter schools even more state money, state officials should be withholding funds until charter schools fulfill their legal duty to their students, parents and the taxpayers of Connecticut.

Sackler ponies up $8,000 more in Charter School Industry’s effort to influence legislative races in Connecticut

As the 2016 Election came to a close, charter school aficionado and big-time campaign donor – Jonathan Sackler – whose company makes OxyContin, dropped $8,000 into the Charter Cares Political Action Committee, the entity that raised more than $86,000 to support a handful of pro-charter school legislative candidates during this year’s election cycle.  Sackler’s latest contribution comes on top of a $10,000 donation he already made to the charter school PAC.

During the General Election, Charter Cares PAC devoted their resources in support of two legislative campaigns, one effort for incumbent State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester) and the other for incumbent State Representative Andre Bumgardner (R-New London/Groton).

Cassano squeaked out a narrow victory while Bumgardner lost to his Democratic opponent.

Of the total amount of money Charters Care raised, the majority came from Education Reform Now, a shadowy New York based “Dark Money” group that refuses to identify its donors.

In addition to Jonathan Sackler, who is Governor Dannel Malloy’s biggest contributor, other major donors to Charters Care were individuals directly associated with Achievement First, Inc and ConnCAN.

Achievement First, Inc. is the large charter school management company that owns and operates charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.  ConnCAN is Connecticut’s leading charter school advocacy group that has led the record breaking lobbying effort in favor of Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-public school initiative.

According to reports filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Achievement First and ConnCAN connected donors to Charters Care included Brian Olson who donated $10,000 and Andrew Boas who contributed $4,500.

For more about Charters Care, Education Reform Now Network and their Connecticut campaign effort check out;

New York Dark Money, Pro-Charter Group pours another $15,000 into Connecticut legislative races

Charter School Industry drops $63,000 plus into Connecticut legislative races

Hey Malloy, what’s the deal with the new Common Core SBAC test results?

With great fanfare and self-congratulations, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration recently released the results of last springs’ Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. Their claim is that the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-charter school agenda is succeeding.

The SBAC test is succeeding?

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory national testing system that the Malloy administration instituted and are now being used to evaluate and label students, teachers and public schools.

As if to give the charade some credibility, Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and their team call it Connecticut’s “Next Generation Accountability System.”

However, the testing and evaluation system is a farce that fails to properly measure how students, teachers and schools are really doing, nor does it properly evaluate the impacts that are associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs.

To showcase the extraordinary problems with Malloy’s testing scheme, the following chart highlights the results from two of Malloy’s favorite charter schools, the Achievement First Hartford charter school and the Achievement First New Haven charter school, which is called Amistad Academy.

Percent of students reaching “proficiency” in Math as measured by the 2015 SBAC tests;

DISTRICT GRADE 3 GRADE 4 GRADE 5 GRADE 6 GRADE 7 GRADE 8
Achievement First Inc. Hartford  

56.8%

 

44.4%

 

16.2%

 

20.3%

 

17.5%

 

33.9%

Achievement First Inc. New Haven – Amistad Academy  

63.3%

 

54.4%

 

34.4%

 

40.0%

 

46.1%

 

46.9%

 

Here are the core results;

  • Approximately 60% of students in both charter schools were labeled “proficient” in MATH in grade 3.
  • The percent deemed “proficient” dropped by about 10 points in Grade 4.
  • The percent “proficient” dived in Grade 5, with only 1 in 6 students deemed “proficient” in Hartford and only 1 in 3 at the “proficient” level in New Haven.
  • The number reaching a “proficient” level remained extremely low at Achievement First Hartford in grades 6, 7 and 8.
  • While the percent of students labeled proficient in at Achievement First New Haven was slightly better than its sister school in Hartford, less than 50% percent of Amistad Academy’s 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were deemed to be “proficient.”

According to Malloy’s policies, these SBAC results allow us to determine how students are doing, whether teachers are performing adequately and whether any individual school should be labeled a great school, a good school, a school that is doing fairly well or a failing school.

So, according to Malloy, which of the following statements are true;

  1. As measured by the SBAC proficiency number, while students at these two Achievement First schools are doing “okay” in grade 3, the two schools are falling short in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  1. The results indicate that Achievement First Inc. has apparently hired talented teachers in grade 3, but the results prove that teachers in grade 4-8 are simply not equipped or capable to do their job. Grade 5 teachers are particularly weak, but the data indicates that Achievement First’s teachers should be evaluated as ineffective and the charter school chain should remove and replace all teachers other than those teaching in grade 3.
  1. Achievement First, Inc. proclaims that their students do much better on standardized tests, however, the SBAC results reveal that they are failing and should be labeled as failing schools.

According to Connecticut policymakers, all three statements are true, but of course, the truth is much more complex and the test results provide no meaningful guidance on what is actually going on in the classrooms.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that these results provide no useful information about the impact of poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs

One question rises to the top.

What if the students and teachers are not the problem? What if the problem is that the testing scam really is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory and that the entire situation is made worse by Malloy’s absurd “Next Generation” Accountability system?

DFER, Achievement First Inc and the flow of charter school money into Connecticut campaigns

The Charter School industry and their corporate education reform allies continue to ramp up their effort to impact the political landscape in Connecticut.  Closely associated with Governor Dannel Malloy and his anti-public education policies, the elite behind the education reform and privatization movement are engaged in a broad based effort to control the dialogue and votes in the Connecticut legislature.

As reported yesterday in, Charter School Political Action Committees target Connecticut legislative races, two new corporate funded political action committees (PACS) are have recently been created and are spending money to elect pro-charter school candidates and defeat public school advocates in races for the Connecticut General Assembly.

Change Course CT, a front-group for Democrats for Education Reform, was formed on July 18, 2016.

Charters Care, a new appendage of the Northeast Charter School Network, was formed a few days earlier on July 13, 2016.

Both Democrats for Education Reform and the Northeast Charter School Network are corporate-funded charter school advocacy groups based in New York City and both receive the bulk of their money from the billionaires and millionaires who are trying to privatize public education in the United States.

According to forms filed with the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission, all the funds collected by Change Course CT come from Education Reform Now Advocacy, a non-profit 501 (c) 4 corporation that is operated in conjunction with New York City based Democrats for Education Reform Now and Education Reform Now.

Signing the official documents on behalf of Change Course CT has been Jenna A. Klaus, who appears to be the daughter of Jeff Klaus and Dacia Toll.  Toll is the CEO of Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company that owns and operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  In addition to collecting the bulk of the $110 million in Connecticut taxpayer funds paid to charter schools, Achievement First, Inc. earned its infamy from suspending record numbers of kindergarteners in an apparent attempt to push out children who don’t fit the company’s limited definition of appropriate students.  Jeff Klaus is a regional president for Webster Bank and can often be found, throughout the day, attacking education advocates and posting pro-charter school comments on various Connecticut media websites.

The Charters Care election documents are being signed by Christopher Harrington, the Connecticut Policy Manager for the Northeast Charter School Network and the PACs money has come from OxyContin’s Jonathan Sackler and from yet another New York based corporate education front group called Real Reform Now.

Not surprisingly, Jonathan Sackler, a Greenwich, Connecticut multi-millionaire is one of Governor Dannel Malloy’s biggest campaign contributors and is on the Board of both the Northeast Charter Schools Network and Achievement First, Inc., as well as, being the founder and board member of ConnCAN, Connecticut’s leading pro-charter school lobbying group.

The charter school industry has spent in excess of $9 million lobbying on behalf of Governor Malloy’s charter school and education reform agenda.

In addition they have provided massive amounts of campaign funds to Malloy and other pro-charter school candidates at the federal, state and local level in Connecticut.

Connecticut Charter School Industry spends another half a million dollars on lobbying elected officials

According to the latest lobbying reports filed with the Connecticut Ethics Commission, the charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies spent another $555,000 during this year’s legislative session in their ongoing effort to support Governor Malloy and persuade Connecticut legislators to divert even more public money to the privately owned and operated charter schools in the state.

While Governor Malloy and the Democratic controlled General Assembly instituted the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools, Malloy and the Democrat’s new budget actually increased the amount of scarce public funds going to the charter schools.

At the same time, the charter school front groups were working with Malloy to fight off efforts to fix Connecticut’s flawed teacher evaluation program.

Malloy and the charter schools are intent on keeping the scores that student receive on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC standardized tests as a prominent factor in determining teacher quality, despite the fact that every major academic study has revealed that individual teachers have an extremely small impact on how individual students do on standardized tests.

Rather than develop a teacher evaluation system based on how well that educator is actually doing, Malloy and the education reformers want to stick with a faulty system that will unfairly judge teachers on factors beyond their control.

Meanwhile, as Wait, What reported earlier this year, the charter school industry and their corporate funded front groups have spent in excess of $9 million on lobbying since Governor Malloy took office in 2011.  See: Charter School Industry “invests” more than $9 million in Connecticut lobbying

The latest ethics reports indicate that, once again, the New York based Families for Excellent Schools continue to spend the most on lobbying in Connecticut, having reported an additional $300,000 in lobbying expenditures since the beginning of this year’s legislative session.  The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) took the 2nd and 3rd spots on the charter school lobbying chart.

While Families for Excellent Schools and the entire charter school industry continue to expand their lobbying efforts, Neil Vigdor, of the Hearst Media Group, reports that Families for Excellent Schools and other so-called education reformers have set up another Political Action Committee that they will be using to reward and punish candidates who support or oppose their agenda.

In Charter schools step up political action Vigdor reports;

The charter school movement — backstopped by a billionaire club that includes Michael Bloomberg, Paul Tudor Jones and Ray Dalio — wants to put its stamp on the Legislature in Connecticut.

CT Forward, a newly launched nonprofit advocacy group, will survey House and Senate candidates across the state on their support for public charter schools. The litmus test will determine which candidates receive financial and grassroots support from the group’s dues-paying members, who will be made up heavily of parents.

Families for Excellent Schools, which has wrangled with Bridgeport administrators over education reform, is behind the election-year initiative.

[…]

For giants of the hedge fund industry such as Jones and Dalio, both Greenwich residents, charter schools have become a favorite cause. Each has contributed to Families for Excellent Schools, which reported $17.6 million in contributions and grants for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, to the IRS. [FES Director] Kittredge’s compensation was $222,297 for that time period, more than Connecticut’s state education commissioner and New York City’s schools chancellor.

A spokesman for Jones declined to comment. Multiple requests for comment were left for Dalio, whose Westport hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, is the largest in the world. Bloomberg has not contributed directly to FES, but has been strongly linked to the charter school movement.

Lobbying legislators, handing out campaign cash…it is all part of the effort to privatize public education in Connecticut and across the country.

Charter School Industry “invests” more than $9 million in Connecticut lobbying

Since taking office in January 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy has been able to count on the consistent and lucrative support of the charter school industry and their pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher corporate education reform allies.

In addition to being one of Malloy’s largest sources of campaign cash during his 2014 re-election campaign, the owners and operators of Connecticut’s charter schools, along with the corporate elite who support Malloy’s “education reform” initiatives have dumped more than $9 million into the lobbying effort to support Malloy’s agenda to undermine public education in Connecticut.

This lobbing frenzy makes the corporate education reform effort the most expensive lobbying campaign in Connecticut history.

Funneling money through a variety of different organizations and front groups, the charter school advocates have been able “transform” public education in Connecticut by promoting Malloy’s plans to divert hundreds of millions of dollars in scarce public funds to privately owned and operated charter schools.

While Malloy and the Democratic controlled General Assembly are instituting unprecedented cuts to public schools, thanks to the  “reformers” lobbying effort, more than $110 million in public dollars will be handed over to charter schools this year alone.

In addition, these groups have spent their millions pushing the Common Core and Common Core testing scheme, a program designed to label a vast number of Connecticut’s children, teachers and schools as failures.

The following chart highlights the Step Right Up, Buy Public Policy organizations that have lobbied on behalf of Malloy’s charter school and anti-public education agenda.

Organization Lobbying Expenses
A Better Connecticut (ConnCAN front group)  $2.3 million
ConnCAN  $1.9 million
Families for Excellent Schools  $1.8 million
GNEPSA (StudentsFirst/Michelle Rhee)  $891,000
CT Council for Education Reform  $349,000
Students for Education Reform  $16,000
Achievement First  $422,000
NE Charter School Network/Charter School Network  $132,000
Bronx Charter School $35,000
CT Business & Industry Assoc. (CBIA)  >$1.2 million
TOTAL $9 Million+

This past legislative session, these charter school and education reform entities spent in excess of $500,000 successfully persuading legislators to cut their own district’s public school funding, at the same time they were sending even more taxpayer money to Connecticut’s charter schools, despite the fact that these private institutions have traditionally refused to educate their fair share of students who need special education services, children who require help learning the English Language or those who have behavioral issues.

More taxpayer money for the private sector, less public funds for public schools.

Malloy and the Democratic controlled General Assembly should be sent packing and replaced with people who will put our children ahead of political and private interests.

DFER NEWS: Adam Goldfarb, former Chief of Staff to Governor Dannel Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, lands COO post at Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)

Having become a great weight around Democrat Dannel Malloy’s desire to serve a second term as Connecticut’s governor, in the run-up to Connecticut’s 2014 gubernatorial election, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, announced that he was leaving his post in search of new opportunities.  (See Wait, What? post –Commissioner Pryor and entourage are the biggest threat to Malloy’s Re-election…)

Pryor quickly announced that he was headed east to become Commerce Secretary for his friend, the newly elected Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo.  Pryor, Raimondo and her husband, hedgefund executive Andy Moffit, all attended Yale together.  Moffitt was roommates with Cory Booker and Pryor ended up serving as Booker’s economic adviser for five years until joining the Malloy administration as Commissioner of Education in 2011.

While at Yale, Pryor co-founded Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company that owns and operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

As Governor Malloy’s point person on education, Pryor led the effort to undermine Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools.

It was Governor Malloy, with the help of Pryor and a series of no-bid contracts with out-of-state corporate education reform industry consultants, which produced the most anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public education bill of any Democratic governor in the country.

In addition to the millions of dollars that Commissioner Pryor wasted on out-of-state consultants and his successful effort to divert hundreds of millions in scarce taxpayer funds to Connecticut’s charter school industry, another one of Pryor’s controversial actions was to hire his close personal friend and former Newark aide, Adam Goldfarb, to serve as his chief of staff.  (See Wait, What? post –IMPORTANT UPDATE: Oh, it’s good to be King, or at least Commissioner of Education.)

In order to get around the State of Connecticut’s hiring rules, Pryor actually hired Goldfarb under one job classification and then immediately bumped up his salary and made him chief of staff.

Goldfarb’s credentials?

Like Pryor, Goldfarb went to Yale.

Like Pryor, Goldfarb worked on economic development issues in Newark for then mayor Cory Booker.

Like Pryor, Goldfarb had no real public education experience.

And like Pryor, Goldfarb was a big fan of charter schools despite their unwillingness to provide equal educational opportunities to students who require special educational services, those who aren’t proficient in the English Language or those who fail to adhere to the abusive and degrading harsh disciplinary policies that are the staple of charter school operations.

In Goldfarb’s case, he has served as the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of People’s Prep Charter School in New Jersey since the privately owned, but publicly funded charter school opened. (See Wait, What? post – What is Commissioner Pryor’s Chief of Staff doing as the Vice President of a Charter School Board of Directors?)

While Goldfarb’s boss, Stefan Pryor, has spent the last year hiring even more out-of-state consultants and plunging Rhode Island’s governor into one controversy after another (Check back soon for more about that), Goldfarb has been treading water as a consultant for Michael Bloomberg’s Bloomberg Philanthropies and America Achieves project.

However, although no official announcement has yet been made, it appears that Adam Goldfarb has recently landed the job of Chief Operating Officer for the education reform and charter school advocacy group known as Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

DFER is the corporate and elite funded pro-education entity that serves as the political wing of Education Reform Now and its sister organization, Education Reform Now Advocacy.

DFER is used as a political action committee and a “dark-money” bundling group that has poured millions of dollars into political campaigns on behalf of candidates who support the Common Core, the Common Core testing scam and the privatization of public educations through the massive expansion of charter schools.

A darling of the education reform industry, DFER’s new National President, Shavar Jeffries, joined DFER after a stunning defeat against Newark councilman and community activist, Ras Baraka, for mayor of Newark when Booker became a United States Senator.

Jeffries has now brought in Adam Goldfarb to so serve as DFER’s Chief Operating Officer.

As for DFER, The Center for Media & Democracy’s Executive Director, Lisa Graves, recently published a investigative piece entitled, How DFER Leaders Channel Out-of-State Dark Money, in which she wrote;

DFER is actually the more well known PAC arm of Education Reform Now, Inc. (ERN), a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit, and Education Reform Now Advocacy, Inc. (ERNA), a 501(c)(4) social welfare group. Their acronym not only sounds like the word “earn,” but also it has the backing of some really huge earners.

DFER co-founder (and founder of the T2 Partners hedge fund) Whitney Tilson explained the hedge funders interest in education noting that “Hedge funds are always looking for ways to turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital.”

The Board of Directors for ERN consists almost entirely of Wall Streeters who made their fortunes through financial groups and hedge funds, such as Sessa Capital, Gotham Capital, Covey Capital, Charter Bridge Capital, Maverick Capital, Cubist Systematic Strategies, and Sanford C. Bernstein.

As the New York Times reported: DFER’s supporters have included “the founders of funds like Anchorage Capital Partners, with $8 billion under management; Greenlight Capital, with $6.8 billion; and Pershing Square Capital Management, with $5.5 billion.”

However, ERN and ERNA do not disclose who its major donors are and how much those big donors give to fund its operations and ambitions.

It is known, though, that FOX‘s Rupert Murdoch gave at least $1 million to ERN. Murdoch has expressed his desire to get in on education “reforms,” stating “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone….”

The most recent federal tax filings of ERN/ERNA show that it had more than $12 million available to push education reform ($7.4 million for ERN and $5 million for ERNA) in 2013. Its non-profit filings from the most recent major election year, the 2014 mid-terms, or last year are not available.

What is known from the 2013 is filings is that, in that year, ERNA disclosed that it spent $1.7 million in political expenditures, nearly all of which went to DFER. These funds were used for expenditures, like mass mailings or ads supporting particular politicians but that were “independent” and not to be coordinated with the candidates’ campaigns.

ERN/ERNA’s leader Joe Williams has been paid a for-profit like salary as its executive, with $398,500 in total annual compensation in 2013. He’s also listed as “Executive Director Emeritus” for DFER and on DFER’s board. Williams stepped down from his staff position at DFER in 2015 and also became a director at the Walton Education Coalition that year. That’s Walton as in Walmart’s Walton family.

Because nonprofits like ERN/ERNA do not have to disclose their major donors to the public, even when ERNA is active in supporting electoral activities the public is left in the dark about which hedge funder is actually helping to fund state and local ads and mailers during the election.

Even though privately held corporations and hedge funders do not have to disclose their donations to operations like ERN/ERNA, a CEO’s charitable foundations does have to disclose to whom they give grants.

That’s how it is known that the Walton family, of Walmart fame or infamy, has backed such efforts. In 2011, for example, ERN/ERNA received $1.1 million from the Walton Family Foundation. The total amount from all such CEO-controlled foundations given to ERN/ERNA to date is not known.

As Matthew Fleischer noted in the Frying Pan News (reprinted by the Huffington Post) that hedge funder Tilson has followed the Waltons’ lead: “in a 2010 documentary, A Right Denied, Tilson suggested that DFER was created because of Walmart patriarch John Walton’s support of vouchers and “school choice.'”

It has been investigative journalists who have helped expose the billionaire network behind ERN/ERNA/DFER, despite the opacity on the surface, as noted by George Joseph in the Nation:

“[A]ccording to Steven Brill in his book Class Warfare, around this time [in 2010] the hedge-fund alliance for education reform really began to take off. That April, for instance, Education Reform Now’s Joe Williams and Bradley Tusk schmoozed over drinks with Paul Tudor Jones II and other hedge-fund billionaires at Home Depot founder Kenneth Langone’s Five Avenue apartment, where they planned a successful campaign to secretly spend millions through a 501(c)(4) political action fund and win the charter cap increase [in New York]. As with Families for Excellent Schools’ mostly secret financing today, Brill notes that Education Reform Now’s donations never became public, and that in May a room full of eager billionaires was able to push the legislature to authorize increased charter-school expansion.”

(The Nation‘s exposé on ERN/ERNA/DFER in New York includes emails and a slide deck about the billionaires and foundations behind such efforts that were leaked to the magazine.)

Despite or perhaps because of this reality, the DFER arm in a state where ads are run merely discloses to the state authority that it received contributions from ERNA, not the hedge funders.

So, the ERN/ERNA/DFER operation is like a shell game when it comes to the public being able to pierce through the layers of nonprofits to find the name of a particular billionaire or uber-rich hedge funder whose money is propping up a particular electoral candidate being backed by DFER.

Similarly, DFER in the states has been known to partner with other groups that have similarly murky or occluded funding sources.

Most recently, DFER and its related entities have been particularly involved in campaigns and political activities aimed at supporting politicians committed to privatizing public education and promoting charter schools in California, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York and in other targeted states and cities.

10 courageous Democrats almost stop ethically challenged Erik Clemons from serving on State Board of Education…but small group of Republican legislators save Malloy’s nominee

Thanks to ten courageous Democratic members of the Connecticut House of Representatives, Governor Dannel Malloy’s ethically challenged nominee for the State Board of Education, Erik Clemons, was on the verge of being rejected by the General Assembly earlier this afternoon.

It would have been a huge victory for honesty and ethics in government, as well as for those who believe in public education.

However, Governor Malloy won this stunning battle – an issue that received no media coverage except here at Wait, What? – thanks to ten Republican legislators who crossed over to vote with the majority of Democrats and in favor of Malloy’s choice to serve on the state board that sets education policy in Connecticut.

As has been repeated reported on this blog, Erik Clemons is the charter school advocate whose company is benefiting from a lucrative, no-bid contract that is funded through, and monitored by, the very government entity that Malloy has appointed him to serve on.

As reported yesterday, the House vote on Erik Clemons’ and the ethical issues that should have prevented him from serving on the State Board of Education were scheduled for a vote today.  (See How will CT legislators vote on Malloy’s ethically challenged State Board of Education appointee?)

When the vote was taken, ten Democratic Members of the Connecticut House of Representatives put ethics, honesty and Connecticut’s children, students, parents and public schools above Malloy’s political agenda.  The Democratic legislators voting no were;

Representative Baker

Representative Conroy

Representative Gonzalez

Representative Hampton

Representative Morin

Representative Nicastro

Representative Rose

Representative Sanchez

Representative Tarcyak

And Representative and Deputy Speaker of the House Godfrey

 

However, Malloy’s victory came thanks to the following Republicans who voted to disregard the serious ethics issues and in favor of Malloy’s nominee and their anti-public education agenda.  Republican legislators voting to put Erik Clemons on the State Board of Education were;

Representative Hoydick

Representative Kokuruda

Representative Legeyt

Representative Noujaim

Representative O’Neill

Representative Pavalock

Representative Perillo

Representative Piscopo

Representative Wood

Representative Yaccarino.

Had the Republicans stood together on this critically important issue of principle and refused to allow an individual to sit on the State Board of Education when that person and their company benefits from funding that is overseen and approved by the State Board of Education, Clemons nomination would have lost by a vote of 68 in favor of Malloy’s choice and 72 opposed.

More on this breaking story as it becomes available.

For the full vote go to:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/VOTE/h/2016HV-00014-R00HJ00027-HV.htm

 

NOTE:

Fellow public education advocate Wendy Lecker and I have written extensively about Clemons’ conflict of interest and Malloy’s attempt to, once again, throw ethics aside.  Here are links to those articles:

Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 3-5-16)

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-18-16)

It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education (Wait, What? 2-17-16)

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-16-16)

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education (Wait, What? 1-5-16)

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 12-23-15)

How will CT legislators vote on Malloy’s ethically challenged State Board of Education appointee?

The Connecticut House of Representatives will be meeting tomorrow – Wednesday, March 16, 2016.  On their agenda is a vote to confirm Erik Clemons, Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent nominee for a position on the State Board of Education.

When Governor Malloy appointed Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education he failed to reveal that Clemons was a founding member of a new charter school in New Haven or that he served, up until recently, on the Board of another New Haven charter school, this one owned by Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain that operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  When Clemons left the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors he was replaced by an aide that works for Clemons’ company.

In addition, Malloy appears to have intentionally kept secret the fact that Erik Clemons’ company received a lucrative, no-bid contract that is funded by the State Department of Education, the very board that Malloy has appointed him to serve on. The State Board of Education is required to monitor this contract and could continue to fund it in the years ahead.

As reported in previous Wait, What? articles, this incredible story dates back to May 7, 2014 when Governor Malloy’s political appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education voted to adopt a “Turnaround Plan for the Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School in New Haven.

The plan REQUIRED that the New Haven School System contract with Erik Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT).  Erik Clemmons is the founding executive of ConnCAT and his compensation package is well in excess of $100,000 a year.

The Turnaround Plan read;

“While Boost! Will continue to deliver community resources to students at Lincoln-Bassestt, the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) shall serve as the schools’s anchor partner for afterschool programing.”

The Turnaround Plan required that the New Haven Public Schools “initiate a performance-based contract with ConnCAT by May 27, 2014.”

As a result of the State Board of Education’s action, the New Haven Board of Education approved Agreement 649-14 with Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) to “provide after-school programming, family and community engagement programs and school environment transformation at Lincoln-Bassett School from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.  The funds to pay for the $302,197.50 contract came from the State Department of Education’s “School Turnaround Program.”

A second contract (Agreement 478-13) between the New Haven Board of Education and ConnCAT, again using State Turnaround Program funds, authorized an additional $214,930.50 to pay for ConnCAT activities form July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.

This annual contract is expected to be extended, yet again, in the summer of 2016.

However the ethical issues challenging Erik Clemons ability to serve on the State Board of Education go well beyond the no-bid contract that remains under the purview of the State Board.

Considering Clemons’ close relationship with the charter school industry, he shouldn’t be voting on any issue related to the oversight and funding of charter schools in Connecticut.

Furthermore, since the “Turnaround School” process was manipulated to grant Clemons a no-bid contract, he certainly shouldn’t be voting on any turnaround plans for any schools in New Haven or any other city.

Considering his company’s contract with the New Haven Public Schools will depend on adequate funding from the State of Connecticut, Clemons shouldn’t be voting on any issue that will provide New Haven schools with funding.

In Malloy’ world of “power politics,” it may be understandable that he wants to reward the charter school industry and its lobbying front group, ConnCAN, but the students, parents, teachers and citizens of Connecticut deserve better.

With the Connecticut General Assembly voting on Mr. Clemons’ appointment as early as tomorrow, the question is whether state legislators will stand with their constituents by supporting proper ethical standards for elected or appointed officials or will they throw ethics aside and vote in favor of Malloy’s nominee for the State Board of Education?

More about this issue can be found in the following articles, a number of them written or co-written with fellow education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker.

Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 3-5-16)

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-18-16)

It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education (Wait, What? 2-17-16)

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-16-16)

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education (Wait, What? 1-5-16)

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 12-23-15)