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.

Charter School Operators – Want taxpayer funds – just don’t want to explain how they spend it.

Earlier this month, Sarah Darer Littman had a column in CT Newsjunkie reminding readers to be on the lookout for an attempt by the charter school industry and Governor Dannel Malloy to undermine efforts to hold charter school companies accountable for the public funds they get.

In an article entitled, Keep An Eye Out for Mischief in Implementer When It Comes to Transparency, education advocate and commentator Sarah Darer Littman warned about the charter school industry’s unwillingness to be transparent.  She wrote,

“In her testimony to the Education Committee opposing SB 1096 in March, Achievement First President Dacia Toll complained that “it would be incredibly burdensome to CMOs, as FOIA compliance would significantly distract, undermine, and obstruct non-profit CMO resources and manpower from its most important work: providing high-quality support to charter schools, students and staff.”

In other words, Ms. Toll is more than happy to take taxpayer money, but would find it “incredibly burdensome” to comply with FOIA requests that come with being held accountable for it.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah Grace, the Connecticut Director for Northeast Charter School Networks complained in his testimony that “this bill requires background checks for school staff and boards. Backgrounds are a safety issue that we take extremely seriously. Most of our members have been running them for all staff already, and making sure it’s the law is an important step for our children. It is worth noting that requiring charters to wait for these to be completed before hiring someone subjects charters to more stringent rules than district schools for no reason.”

I’m not sure how Mr. Grace can make the statement that “charters are being subjected to more stringent rules than district schools for no reason” with a straight face. First, we have already seen evidence that the background check issue hasn’t been taken seriously. Second, to say that having to wait for those to be completed before hiring is more stringent than in the public schools is just plain bunkum. Just to teach an after-school creative writing class in a district school, I had to undergo a full background check, including fingerprinting, and I had to ensure the background check was completed before I could commence instruction.

With the General Assembly returning to the Capitol to adopt legislation needed to implement next year’s state budget, it would be nice to believe that Connecticut’s elected officials won’t fold under the pressure to back off the demand for transparency on the part of the privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools and their holding companies.

But knowing the propensity to do the wrong thing at times like this, Connecticut’s taxpayers should make a special effort to read Sarah Darer Littman’s piece and keep a careful eye on their state legislators in the week ahead.

You can read Littman’s piece at:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/keep_an_eye_out_for_mischief_in_implementer_when_it_comes_to_transparency/