Corporate Education Reform Industry – Just too important to follow the ethics laws

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Watch the bouncing ball… as the Corporate Education Reform Industry, Families for Excellent Schools, the Coalition for Every Child, Governor Malloy’s former press secretary Andrew Doba, Achievement First Inc. and the other charter school lobby groups try to divert even more public funds away from Connecticut’s public schools and into the coffers of charter school companies…

This weekend’s CTNewsJunkie features an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism written by fellow public education advocate Sarah Darer Littman.

Entitled, Are Charter Advocacy Groups Skirting CT Ethics Laws?, Littman provides readers with a detailed look at some of the recent lobbying activities of the corporate funded charter school advocacy group known as Families for Excellence Schools.

Her article comes on the heels of the Wait, What? blog post entitled, Buying Public Policy in CT – Corporate Education Reform Industry spends $6.8+ million and counting which described the unprecedented lobbying effort behind Governor Malloy’s anti-public education, anti-teacher, pro-privatization “education reform” agenda.

While the Wait, What? article focuses on the outlandish amount of corporate money that has been spent to corrupt Connecticut’s public education policies, Sarah Darer Littman’s piece is a shocking reminder that the nearly $7 million that has been spent in support of Malloy’s policies are merely the tip of the iceberg because some of the key players and organizations that make up the corporate education reform industry simply refuse to follow Connecticut law when it comes to disclosure of their lobbying expenses.

To fully appreciate what is happening here in Connecticut the first step is to review a Crain’s New York Business article that was published one year ago.  The New York articles explains,

“In early March, charter school supporters held a huge rally at the state Capitol featuring Gov. Andrew Cuomo and hundreds of students it had bused to Albany for the protest. But the nonprofit that organized the charter rally is declining to disclose any of its spending on the event, maintaining none of it was actually lobbying.

The undisclosed spending is one omission from a lobbying disclosure by Families For Excellent Schools that sheds little light into the group’s millions of dollars in recent outlays.

[…]

The rally came after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio nixed plans to co-locate three charter schools with traditional public schools, and more broadly, amid plans to charge rent to some charters occupying city school buildings. The rally, which dwarfed a long-planned de Blasio event to push for his prekindergarten plan, helped swing momentum to the charter supporters.”

And why didn’t Families for Excellent Schools report the fact that they were spending millions of dollars to push their pro-charter schools agenda?

Because their Spokesperson, Stu Loeser, simply claimed that their activities weren’t lobbying.

But according to Billy Easton, the executive director of the pro-public education Alliance for Quality Education, the charter group’s spending was exactly the type of expenditure that needed to be reported.

Easton told the newspaper, “It’s outrageous and unacceptable that these charter lobbyists refuse to disclose all the money they have spent on a lobbying campaign in the past month.”

After repeatedly ducking New York’s ethics laws, Loeser and his Families For Excellent Schools eventually reported that they also spent more than $4 million on a television advertising campaign to promote their pro-charter school agenda in New York.

And surprise – Families For Excellent Schools and Stu Loeser have now arrived in Connecticut.

One of the initial actions was to hire Governor Malloy’s out-going press secretary, Andrew Doba, to be their Connecticut point person.

Families for Excellent Schools also put up the money to pay for a multi-million dollar pro-charter school television advertising campaign here in Connecticut.

The only problem…Families For Excellent Schools failed to report their expenditure.

Enter Sarah Darer Littman who writes,

Earlier this week, a pro charter school organization called Coalition for Every Child sent a letter to Connecticut legislators complaining that the $20 million increase in funding for charter schools over the next two years in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget isn’t enough and that charter students are being treated like “second class citizens.”

Meanwhile, the Educational Cost Sharing Grant for public school districts is flat funded, which means that in real terms public school funding is being cut.

When I clicked on the link on the Coalition for Every Child website to read the letter, I was curious that its url started with www.familiesforexcellentschools.org. Curiosity led to further research.

If you haven’t heard of Coalition for Every Child, that’s because it appeared out of nowhere last December for a pro-charter rally on New Haven Green and then immediately announced a multi-million dollar TV ad campaign to highlight “an education inequality crisis barring 40,000 Connecticut children from good schools.”

According to the press release for the ad campaign, “The ads, which come on the heels of a major rally in New Haven last Wednesday with 6,000 people calling for ‘excellent schools for every child,’ urge viewers to ‘take a stand for Connecticut kids’ by joining the push to fix the crisis.”

That sounds like lobbying, doesn’t it? Yet the Coalition for Every Child isn’t registered with the Connecticut Office of State Ethics.

And the story only gets better…

To truly understand the magnitude of the corporate education reform Industry’s attack on public education in Connecticut go read Sarah Darer Littman’s MUST READ piece.

You can find it at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_are_charter_advocacy_groups_skirting_ct_ethics_laws/

Sarah Darer Littman’s piece will undoubtedly lead to ethics complaints being filed against these corporate education reform advocacy groups and those, in turn, should lead to fines being levied against the groups by Connecticut’s Office of State Ethics.

And last but not least, guess who is one of the corporations funding Families for Excellent Schools?

None other than Achievement First Inc, the charter school chain co-founded by Governor Malloy’s former Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor…

The very same Achievement First Inc. that is presently lobbying to get more Connecticut taxpayer funds for their charter schools, while using the funds that they have to help an charter school front group that won’t even follow Connecticut’s ethics laws.

Buying Public Policy in CT – Corporate Education Reform Industry spends $6.8+ million and counting

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The uncomfortable truth is that Governor Dannel Malloy and key members of the Connecticut General Assembly continue to side with the Corporate Education Reform Industry rather than with Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, public schools and taxpayers.

The most recent indicator of the warped approach being taken by Connecticut’s “political leaders” was the outrageously inappropriate and misleading memo that was sent out this week by Governor Malloy’s Interim Commissioner of Education.

The Education Commissioner’s directive sought to further harass and scare Connecticut parents into falsely believing that they do not have the right to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Testing Program.

See: Malloy’s Education Commissioner seeks to stamp out parental rights on Common Core SBAC Testing opt out

The question that arises over and over again is why Connecticut’s elected and appointed public officials are engaged in their ongoing effort to undermine and privatize public education in Connecticut, denigrate teachers and turn our public schools into little more than taxpayer funded testing factories.

The answer, sadly, is rather simple…

The Corporate Education Reform Industry has spent a record-breaking $6,767,957 plus in support of Governor Malloy’s “education reform” agenda – – – An Agenda that includes forcing the Common Core and the Common Core testing scheme on Connecticut’s public schools while cutting taxpayer support for public education and increasing public funding for privately owned and operated charter schools.

Since Malloy introduced his “Education Reform” agenda, the charter school industry and the corporate funded “education reform” advocacy groups have hired dozens of lobbyists and spent nearly $7 million, or more, to “persuade” Connecticut officials to adopt policies that are diametrically opposed to what is in the best interests of Connecticut students, parents, teachers and public school system.

Corporate funded and affiliated groups like Achievement First, Inc.; A Better Connecticut; Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc.  (ConnCAN); Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy; StudentsFirst/GENEPSA (Michelle Rhee); Families for Excellent Schools Inc.; Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy Inc.; Connecticut Council for Education Reform Inc. (CCER); North East Charter Schools Network ; Bronx Charter School of Excellence; Students for Education Reform; Educators 4 Excellence; Excel Bridgeport, Inc.; Achieve Hartford, Inc. and  their newest front group, the Coalition for Every Child, are pumping more and more money into lobbying and advertising programs.

This year, more than two dozen paid lobbyists are running around the State Capitol and Legislative Office Building working to divert more money to charter schools, while supporting the Common Core SBAC testing scam and other “education reform” agenda items.

According to the latest filings with State Ethics Commission, Corporate Education Reform Industry front groups will spend more than a quarter of a million dollars on lobbying during this legislative session.  These groups are dropping millions more on advertising.

Connecticut’s Parents, teachers, public education supporters and taxpayers deserve better from their elected officials but Governor Malloy has made his position clear.

Malloy has said he is “staying the course” on his “education reform” agenda even if his education policies “aren’t popular.”

But what about state legislators?

Will the members of the State Senate and House of Representatives continue to turn their backs on the people who elected them?

The answer will come in the coming weeks, along with even more spending on lobbying and public relations by the charter school and corporate education reform industries.

The following chart reveals just how much money has been spent to push through Governor Malloy’s anti-public school, anti-teacher and anti-parent agenda.

Corporate Education Reform Organization Amount Spent on Lobbying
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) $1,731,504
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD) $1,113,587
   
A Better Connecticut $2,326,391
   
Students First/GNEPSA (Michelle Rhee) $911,950
   
Achievement First, Inc. (Dacia Toll/Stefan Pryor) $292,684
   
Connecticut Council for Education Reform  (CCER) $277,987
   
Students for Education Reform (Michelle Rhee) $15,954
   
Connecticut Charter School Association/N.E. Charter School Network $62,900
   
Families for Excellent Schools Inc. and Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy Inc.Note:  Does not count the recent multi-million dollar television advertising campaign that Families for Excellent Schools failed to report, despite state laws requiring full disclosure $35,000
EDUCATION REFORM LOBBYING EXPENDITURES as of 2/1/2015 $6,767,957

Achievement First Inc. New Haven charter money grab tabled

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Public opposition to another privately run, publicly funded charter school in New Haven has led to the City’s pro-charter superintendent of schools withdrawing his plan to turn over even more scarce public funds to Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

As reported in an article entitled, Charter Deal Tabled, the New Haven Independent writes;

“Elm City Imagine” died Wednesday—at least the version that would have had New Haven’s Board of Ed entering into a partnership this year with the Achievement First charter network on a new school.

Superintendent Garth Harries announced, through a memo sent to Board of Education members, that he has tabled the proposal.

Controversy over the plan had drowned out the public schools’ other efforts at improving education, Harries said in an interview. He said the proposed deal got swallowed in the broader national debate over the role of charter schools.

“This began to threaten the foundation of school change, which is collaboration on behalf of kids,” Harries said.

[…]

Elm City Imagine began as an effort by Achievement First (AF) to design, with the help of the inventor of the computer mouse, an experimental K-8 school of the future. AF, which runs local charter schools such as Amistad Academy, planned to open Imagine in the fall as a K-1 at first, eventually expanding to fourth grade. Saying it couldn’t raise enough money privately to launch the school, AF negotiated a “partnership” with Harries under which New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) would provide $700 in cash and in-kind services per student for a school that AF would run and staff (not including the legally required contribution for transportation and special education services).

The proposed deal sparked intense opposition. Teachers began organizing against it. So did school administrators. Opponents lined up for hours at public meetings to blast the deal. They said it shifted needed money and autonomy to well-funded charters. They argued that the deal didn’t represent a true partnership—but rather the first step toward a private takeover of public schools.

You can read the full article at:  http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/charter_deal_canned/

You can read the earlier Wait, What? posts about the money grab at:

The “done deal” to divert scarce public funds to another Achievement First Inc. hits a road block

New Haven (& CT) Taxpayers to subsidize Achievement First’s corporate development plan?

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

Moales and Charter School Industry go down to crushing defeat in Bridgeport – Again

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Despite the support of Governor Malloy’s political operatives, including Bridgeport Mayor Finch and the ConnCAN/Achievement First Inc. charter school industry, pro-charter school candidate Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. couldn’t even muster enough voters to impact yesterday’s Special Election for a seat in the Connecticut State Senate.

The infamous Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. came in a distant 3rd place in yesterday’s Special Election collecting only 503 votes compared to the winner, Working Families Party candidate and former state senator Ed Gomes, who received 1,504.  The Democratic Party endorsed candidate Richard DeJesus, who Finch initially supported before turning to Moales, garnered 791 voters.

According to the Working Families Party, Ed Gomes becomes the first candidate in the country to win a legislative seat running only on the Working Families Party line.

Kenneth Moales Jr. has been one of the most outspoken supporters of Governor Malloy’s Corporate Education Reform Industry initiatives.

Moales was not only a leading champion of education reformer extraordinaire Paul Vallas but has been a major proponent of Steve Perry’s plan to open a charter school in Bridgeport.

The Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. sits on the Board of Directors for Perry’s charter school and was a lone voice on the Bridgeport Board of Education when the democratically-elected board asked the Malloy administration NOT TO approve Perry’s charter school application.

However, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and his political appointees on the State Board of Education overlooked the position taken by the Bridgeport Board of Education and last spring and approved Perry’s plan to open a privately-owned but publicly-funded charter school in Bridgeport.

Although Governor Malloy’s proposed state budget actually cuts funding for public schools in Connecticut, the governor’s plan adds funding for four new charter schools in the state, including Steve Perry’s charter and one in Bridgeport that will be owned by an out-of-state company.

Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr. previously served as Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer and his loss yesterday marks the fourth time in a row that Bridgeport voters rejected Finch and the charter school industry agenda.

Finch is up for re-election this fall and opposition to granting him another term is gaining steam.

Pelto renews challenge to Corporate Education Reform Industry Leaders to Debate

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A week ago I issued a request to the paid spokespeople of the Corporate Education Reform Industry in Connnecticut to set up a debate to discuss the educational issues facing Connecticut.  Their response has been silence.

Therefore, I am renewing my request and sent the following email to Jennifer Alexander, Chief Executive Officer, ConnCAN and Jeffrey A. Villar, Executive Director, Connecticut Council for Education Reform

Ms. Alexander, Mr. Villar;

Considering neither of you list your email address on the ConnCAN or CCER websites, I assuming that you may not have received my February 17, 2015 email challenging you to meet and discuss the educational issues that are confronting Connecticut.

As paid representatives of the Corporate Education Reform Industry you have been making a variety of statements to Connecticut  media outlets that I consider to be extremely misleading.  In many cases, those statements have gone unchallenged because there is no readily available mechanism to refute your unsubstantiated claims.

The people of Connecticut deserve an open discussion about these important issues and so I am renewing my request that you agree to a public debate about these issues.

I am hopeful that one or more of Connecticut’s media outlets would be willing to provide a venue for this important discussion.

The clock is ticking on this year’s legislative session so please get back to me so that we can work through any logistics or issues that need to be addressed prior to such a debate.

Jonathan Pelto

Education Advocate

Education Blogger

February 17, 2015:  Pelto Challenges Connecticut’s Corporate Education Reform Industry Leaders to debate

After spending record amounts of money lobbying for Governor Dannel Malloy’s Corporate Education Reform Industry Initiatives, Connecticut’s corporate funded education reform advocacy groups continue to spend millions of dollars misleading parents and policy makers, denigrating teachers and the teaching profession and promoting the discriminatory, inappropriate and unfair Common Core and Common Core Testing Scheme.

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform Inc. (CCER) are two of the leading entities behind the wholesale assault on public education in Connecticut.

As the paid ambassadors for those seeking to profit off of our children and our public schools, these so-called “education reformers” have constantly and consistently resorted to misleading statements and outright lies to back up their anti-public education agenda and rhetoric.

Unfortunately for Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, public schools and taxpayers, these apologists for Governor Malloy and his corporate education reform agenda have gone unchallenged.

That situation has got to stop.

Today I am asking WNPR’s Where We Live, WFSB’s Face the State, FOXCT’s The Real Story, CT Report with Steve Kotchko and other appropriate news forums to host a debate between myself and any one of the leaders of these corporate advocacy fronts such as Jeffrey Villar, the Executive Director of Connecticut Council for Education Reform and Jennifer Alexander, the Chief Executive Officer of ConnCAN.

The people of Connecticut deserves the truth and a discussion on television or radio about the truth behind the corporate education reform industry’s efforts will provide Connecticut’s citizens with the information they need to tell fact from fiction.

 

 

Another effort to stamp out democracy in Bridgeport – What is it with Mayor Finch and the Charter School Industry?

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What is it with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Connecticut’s Charter School Industry?

We already know these people have a problem with democracy, but here we go again!

First Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and his Corporate Education Reform Industry allies persuaded Governor Malloy’s administration to illegally take over the Bridgeport School System.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ended up intervening and forcing the state of Connecticut to hand Bridgeport’s Schools back to the voters of Bridgeport.

As a result of Malloy’s illegal action, the Supreme Court even had to order a new election to fill the seats on Bridgeport’s democratically elected Board of Education.

But not to let a little thing like the law stand in the way, Bridgeport Mayor Finch and his supporters then tried to jam through a change in Bridgeport’s City Charter that would have completely eliminated a democratically elected Board of Education.

Mayor Finch’s solution was to replace democracy with a board of education appointed by him.

The Charter Revision campaign failed, but not before Finch and his Charter School buddies spent a record breaking amount of money.

Political Action Committees affiliated with the Corporate Education Reform Industry spent over $560,000 trying to convince Bridgeport voters to give up their democratic rights.

Major contributors to the anti-democracy campaign included the Charter School front group Excel Bridgeport ($101,803); Michele Rhee and the charter school advocacy group StudentsFirst ($185,480); Achievement First Bridgeport Chairman Andy Boas’ personal foundation ($14,000); ConnCAN ($14,000); Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment ($14,442); Pullman & Comely law firm ($7,000); Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg ($25,000); Achievement First and ConnCAN founder Jonathan Sackler ($50,000); and a who’s who of the Bridgeport’s business community.

After failing to persuade Bridgeport voters to hand their schools over to a non-elected Board of Education, Charter School Team Finch went on to lose both a Democratic Primary and the General Election for the Bridgeport Board of Education.

But apparently Finch and the Charter School elite that have been targeting Bridgeport over the past few years just won’t rest until they actually destroy democracy in Bridgeport

Their next target appears to be Bridgeport’s Parent Advisory Council, an organization that has been around for 45 years and has become a strong and effective voice for Bridgeport’s parents and students.

And an effective voice for parents is apparently just too much democracy and power for the Finch loyalists who are now engaged in an undemocratic strategy to derail this important vehicle for parent involvement in Bridgeport’s schools.

Late last Friday a “special notice” was sent out announcing that the Bridgeport Board of Education would be holding a “Special Meeting” to deal with the Bridgeport Parent Advisory Council tomorrow – Monday, February 23, 2015.

The notice for a special meeting comes despite the fact that the Bridgeport Board of Education already has a regular meeting scheduled for 6:30 P.M.

Issuing an updated agenda would have been easy enough, but the pro-charter school, anti-democracy crowd went with the “Special Meeting” tactic.

Why would they want a “Special Meeting” instead of taking up whatever clandestine effort they are going to attempt at the Bridgeport Board of Education’s regular Monday Meeting an hour and a half later?

Because under their rules, the public is not allowed an opportunity to speak to the Board of Education at Special Meetings, whereas at regular meetings public input is allowed.

No really…

While it appears true that we are called the United States of America where the notion of freedom and democracy is supposed to be among our most cherished fundamental and inalienable rights, but when it comes to the Charter School Industry’s agenda and tactics, nothing is sacred.

Apparently “simply” undermining democracy isn’t enough for the charter school advocates.

They are not only engaged in a strategy to undermine Bridgeport’s Parent Advisory Council, but they want to do it in a way that completely and utterly destroys the notion that Bridgeport’s parents even have Freedom of Speech or the right to be heard before their government takes action against them.

Adding further insult to the already absurd farce is that the “Special meeting” is scheduled for 5:00 PM, a time many parents and community members are still working or are busy fulfilling child raising duties and unable to make it to a hastily scheduled Board of Education Meeting.

The agenda for the “Special Meeting” is ominously entitled, “Discussion and Possible Action on District PAC Leadership.”

The agenda item being a not so hidden reference that the Board of Education may take “action” against Bridgeport’s Parent Advisory Council.

The entire development is just one more disgusting reminder that while we claim to be fighting the enemies of freedom abroad, some of the most serious threats to our American principles can be found right here at home.

If you happen to know Mayor Finch or his Charter School Allies…

Oh, never mind, it is no use talking to them, they simply don’t care about notions like democracy and Freedom of Speech.

And tomorrow they will try to prove that point yet again.

To them, the end always justifies the means and the Corporate Education Reform Industry won’t stop until they truly destroy public education in our country.

Here is to the hope that our fellow citizens in Bridgeport can fight back against the anti-democracy movement that is out to get them.

The “done deal” to divert scarce public funds to another Achievement First Inc. hits a road block

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At last night’s New Haven Board of Education meeting, New Haven Board of Education President Carlos Torre and member Alicia Caraballo, “peppered proponents with skeptical questions and declared themselves unprepared to vote yet” on the plan to divert even more New Haven and Connecticut taxpayer funds to Achievement First Inc., the large charter school management company with operations in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

Of course, the corporate education reform industry won’t withdraw without a fight and will be relying on New Haven Mayor Toni Harp to line up the votes in favor of the project known as Achievement First Elm City Imagine.

As documents have revealed, getting public funds for the school is part of Achievement First Inc.’s corporate expansion plan.

New Profit, Inc., a financial group that invests in Achievement First Inc. and other private companies associated with the education reform industry, told investors in their annual report last year that, “Over the next five years, Achievement First plans to grow to a network of 38 schools serving more than 12,000 students.”

Achievement First Inc.’s expansion plan to become one of the largest charter school chains in the country actually goes back to before Achievement First Inc. co-founder and board member Stefan Pryor left Achievement First, Inc. to become Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

With Pryor serving as Commissioner of Education from 2012 through last month, Achievement First Inc.’s revenue from the State of Connecticut skyrocketed.

Over the past six years, Achievement First Inc. has dramatically expanded its operations in Connecticut and has seen New Haven as particularly fertile ground for their privatization efforts.

Two Achievement First Inc. employees or operatives are actually members of the New Haven Board of Education and Mayor Toni Harp, who sits on the Board of Education and appoints its members, also sits on one of Achievement First Inc.’s Board of Directors.

Adding to Achievement First Inc.’s political might is the fact that New Haven Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries and his leadership team are strong proponents of the Corporate Education Reform Industry agenda in general and Achievement First Inc. in particular.

Before arriving in New Haven, Harries worked as top official in the New York City Department of Education where he “led the creation of new school opportunities.” In that capacity Harries was responsible for the development of 63 new charter schools in New York City, including some of the notorious Success Charter Schools run by Eva Moskowitz.

Prior to taking the job in New York, Harries worked for McKinsey & Company, a leading education reform industry consulting company.

Harries received his “superintendent training” as a member of the 2009 class of the Broad Academy, the corporate education reform foundation that is funded by billionaire Eli Broad who is one of the three largest donors behind the education reform movement, along with Bill Gates and the Walton Family of Wal-Mart fame.

The new Chief Financial Officer for the New Haven School System, Victor De La Paz, is another graduate of the Broad Academy and Siddhartha Chowdri, who is presently a Broad Academy’ resident was placed by the Broad Foundation in New Haven to help De La Paz.

Victor De La Paz took a leadership role at last night’s board meeting in trying to persuade the members of the New Haven Board to approve the Achievement First Inc. agreement.

CFO De La Paz was backing up Superintendent Harris who has been the leading advocate behind the effort to divert New Haven and Connecticut taxpayers funds to Achievement First Inc.’s new “experimental school.”

According to the New Haven Independent,

“Last week, Harries released a draft of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) delineating the terms of the proposed agreement between AF and the district. The district would provide $700 in cash and in-kind services per student for a school that AF would run and staff—not including the legally required contribution for transportation and special education services…”

The newspaper further explains that,

The proposal “will cost New Haven Public Schools $202,000 in year one and ramp up to $459,000 after year 4 (excluding special education and transportation as required by law)”

Since nearly two-thirds of New Haven’s local education budget is paid for by the state of Connecticut, the diversion of public funds to the privately run Achievement First Inc. would mean state taxpayers would actually be paying for the majority of the proposed give-a-way program.

Among those raising concerns about the Achievement First Inc. project during the public portion of last night’s meeting were Dave Cicarella, the President of the New Haven Federation of Teachers and Keisha Hannans of the New Haven School Administrators Association.

Teachers have not been allowed to unionize at Achievement First Inc. schools and without collective bargaining rights, teachers working for Achievement First Inc. schools have reported that the company has violated some of the most basic rights that are given to employees working in public schools.

Read more at New Haven Independent’s article about last night’s New Haven Board of Education meeting at: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/torre_caraballo_demand_details_before_imagine_vote/

New Haven (& CT) Taxpayers to subsidize Achievement First’s corporate development plan?

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Second in a series on the attempt by Achievement First Inc. to collect even more money from Connecticut’s taxpayers.  Part 1 can be found here: Parents, Teachers and Taxpayers – Beware the Achievement First Inc. Money Grab in New Haven

As the New Haven Board of Education considers approving the deal to hand over money to help fund Achievement First Inc.’s new Elm City Imagine school, a question that arises is who exactly is behind the proposal to divert scarce taxpayer funds from New Haven and Connecticut residents to subsidize Achievement First Inc.’s effort to create the Elm City Imagine School in New Haven?

If you ask the corporate education reform industry executives who are pressuring the New Haven Board of Education to vote yes they will tell undoubtedly tell you that they are doing it – “For the Children!”

But when you begin to pull back the curtain, you’ll find a very different story.

Here is just part of the reality facing the people of New Haven;

The Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors is chaired by William Berkley, the Chairman and CEO of W.R. Berkley Corporation of Greenwich, Connecticut and Doug Borchard, the Chief Operating Officer of New Profit, Inc., a financial investment company that “invests” in companies and entities associated with the corporate education reform industry.

Pulling in over $219 million in salary and compensation over the past five years from his insurance company, the Chairman of Achievement First Inc. ranks #29 on Forbes’ highest paid CEO list and Berkley is the #1 highest paid CEO in the insurance industry.  Berkley was recently appointed to head New York University’s Board of Trustees, where the tuition and fees are now in excess of $75,000 a year.

One of William Berkley’s claims to fame in Connecticut is the controversy surrounding Berkley’s role in giving free plane trips to disgraced Governor John Rowland and the curious appearance fees his company gave to Rowland’s wife while Berkley’s company had state contracts with the Rowland administration.   Bloomberg.com puts Berkley among America’s billionaires club.

Achievement First’s Vice Chair may not be in the same financial league yet, but he is a well-recognized force in the corporate education reform industry thanks, in part, to his leadership role at New Profit, Inc.

It turns out that Achievement First, Inc. is a particular darling of the New Profit Corporation.

In their most recent annual report, New Profit Inc. brags that Achievement First Inc. is a key investment for New Profit Inc, telling investors that its relationship with Achievement First Inc. goes back a number of years and noting that Achievement First Inc. already collects in excess of $130 million a year in revenue from its charter school operations.

According to New Profit, Inc.

“Achievement  First has grown into a network of 22 public charter schools in New Haven, Bridgeport, and Hartford, CT, and Brooklyn, NY, serving 7,000 students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Over the next five years, Achievement First plans to grow to a network of 38 schools serving more than 12,000 students.”

And who exactly is New Profit Inc?

The Chairman of the New Profit Inc. Board of Directors is Josh Bekenstein, a managing director of famous, or infamous, Bain Capital.  The Board includes two other senior corporate officers of Bain Capital, the Global CEO of Deloitte Touche, the President of Carlin Ventures Inc., the Chairman and Managing Director of Raptor Capital Management and a variety of other corporate elite.

New Profit, Inc. also “invests” in a variety of other corporate education reform industry companies and front groups including Educators 4 Excellence, a New York based anti-union advocacy group that recently opened offices in Connecticut; the Kipp Charter School Chain, a company that runs well over 100 charter schools around the nation; the “Achievement Network” and “Turnaround for Children,” two other corporate education reform organizations.

New Profit also “invests in “New Leaders,” the education reform entity that was formerly known as “New Leaders for New Schools,” which claims that since 2001, it has “trained more than 800 principals and vice principals who now serve more than 250,000 students…Principals trained by New Leaders fundamentally improve school and student achievement through innovative and results-based leadership.”

One of New Profit’s most recent “investments” is in “New Classrooms Innovation Partners,” a company that bills itself as an on-line, personalized learning technology company that will serve as an “innovative partner for learning.”

New Classrooms Inc. is led by Joel Rose, the company’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer.  Rose previously worked as the Chief Executive Officer of School of One, “an initiative within the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) that uses a mix of live, collaborative, and online instruction in order to provide students with instruction customized to their unique academic needs and learning styles.”  Rose also worked as senior executive at the massive public education privatization company known as Edison Schools where he served as the company‘s Associate General Counsel, Chief of Staff, General Manager, and Vice President for School Operations

The Board of Directors for this company not only includes corporate education reform industry champion Mike Bezos of Amazon, but none-other-than Doug Borchard, the executive at New Profit Inc. and Vice Chair of Achievement First Inc.

Meanwhile, as Achievement First, Inc. continues to claim that they need the scarce funds from New Haven in order to help the City, the company stays mum on its multiple relationships with the billions of dollars associated with the corporate education reform industry.

Achievement First Inc.’s Board of Directors also includes James Peyser, a senior official at the NewSchools Venture Fund; Jonathan Sackler whose family owns PurduePharma (the maker of Oxycontin); Elisa Villanueva Co-CEO for Teach For America; and Ariela Rozman the CEO of TNTP ( The New Teacher Project.)

Sackler, who financed the creation of Achievement First, Inc. ConnCAN and 50CAN coincidently also serves on the Board of Directors of the NewSchools Venture Fund, while the TFA Board includes such notables as one of Connecticut’s other billionaires, Stephen Mandel, who not only donated more than $50 million to Teach for America and serves as the Treasurer of the TFA Board but is also a major donor to Achievement First Inc., ConnCAN and Excel Bridgeport, the pro-charter lobby group that has been working with Mayor Bill Finch to divert Bridgeport’s public funds to Achievement First, Inc. – Bridgeport and other charter schools in that city.

And the inter-relationships go on and on.

Yet with all of these billionaires and multi-millionaires and investment companies and corporate elite, Achievement First, Inc. is claiming, with a straight face, that it can only help reduce class sizes in New Haven’s Public Schools if the public school system hands over more money to fund the company’s expansion plans.

Now just who is zooming who in this charade?

Check back tomorrow for more on Achievement First’s money grab.

Pelto Challenges Connecticut’s Corporate Education Reform Industry Leaders to debate

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Pelto Challenges Connecticut’s Corporate Education Reform Industry Leaders to debate

After spending record amounts of money lobbying for Governor Dannel Malloy’s Corporate Education Reform Industry Initiatives, Connecticut’s corporate funded education reform advocacy groups continue to spend millions of dollars misleading parents and policy makers, denigrating teachers and the teaching profession and promoting the discriminatory, inappropriate and unfair Common Core and Common Core testing scheme.

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform Inc. (CCER) are two of the leading entities behind the wholesale assault on public education in Connecticut.

As the paid ambassadors for those seeking to profit off of our children and our public schools, these so-called “education reformers” have constantly and consistently resorted to misleading statements and outright lies to back up their anti-public education agenda and rhetoric.

Unfortunately for Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, public schools and taxpayers, these apologists for Governor Malloy and his corporate education reform agenda have gone unchallenged.

That situation has got to stop.

Today I am asking WNPR’s Where We Live, WFSB’s Face the State, FOXCT’s The Real Story, CT Report with Steve Kotchko and other appropriate news forums to host a debate between myself and any one of the leaders of these corporate advocacy fronts such as Jeffrey Villar, the Executive Director of Connecticut Council for Education Reform and Jennifer Alexander, the Chief Executive Officer of ConnCAN.

The people of Connecticut deserve the truth and a discussion on television or radio about the truth behind the corporate education reform industry’s efforts will provide Connecticut’s citizens with the information they need to tell fact from fiction.

Jonathan Pelto

Education Advocate

Education Blogger

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

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[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

 

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