Charter School Industry raised more than $24 million in 2016 record breaking defeat In Massachusetts

The final campaign finance reports have been submitted and the Charter School Industry raised and spent $24,476,132 in its losing effort to raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.

According to the Ballotopia website,

Question 2 would have authorized the approval of up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools per year.

Organizations in support of Question #2 in Massachusetts Total Raised
Yes on Two $710,100
Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools $2,418,570
Great Schools Massachusetts $21,198,748
Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools Ballot Committee $722,040
Expanding Educational Opportunities $575,002
TOTAL $25,624,360

An incredible 95 percent of the money that flowed into the Massachusetts charter school campaign came from out-of-state donors, with 84 percent of the total funds coming from New York based Families for Excellent Schools, a dark money charter school group that advocates in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

According to the official reports filed with the commonwealth of Massachusetts, a total of five political action committees engaged in the effort to fund the ballot proposition aimed at lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.  Together they reported raising a total of that $25,624,360, but that count reflects money funneled from one committee to another.  The actual amount raised was closer 24.5 million.

In addition to Families for Excellent schools, the list of corporate education reform donors included more than $1.8 million from Jim and Alice Walton of the Walmart fortune, $490,000 from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $250,000 from former Enron executive John Arnold.  Education Reform Now and a variety of other groups that refuse to release the names of their donors also contributed to the Massachusetts pro-charter school effort.

 

Major contributors to Question #2 Amount Donated
   
Families for Excellent Schools, (Advocacy) Inc. $20,803,679
Jim Walton $1,125,000
Strong Economy for Growth, Inc. $1,060,000
Alice Walton $710,000
Great Schools Massachusetts $501,000
Michael Bloomberg $490,000
Education Reform Now (Advocacy) $469,317
John Douglas Arnold $250,000
Edward Shapiro $250,000
Bradley Bloom $150,000
Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund $150,000
Ray Stata $125,000
Massachusetts Charter Public School Association $100,000
Paul Sagan $100,000
Charles Longfield $100,000
Cohasset VC LTD (TX) $100,000
Shari Redstone $100,000
Partners Healthcare $100,000
The Kraft Group $100,000
State Street Bank and Trust Co. $100,000
Suffolk Cares, Inc. $100,000
MassMutual Financial Group $50,000

Corporations donating to the anti-public education campaign included Partners Healthcare, The Kraft Group, State Street Bank and Trust, Co., Suffolk Cares and the MassMutual Financial Group.

The unprecedented effort to undermine public education in Massachusetts will go down as a stunning defeat for the charter school industry and the role of “dark” money in referendum politics.

The question was defeated with 62% voting against the measure and 38% voting in favor of lifting the cap and allowing more charter schools in Massachusetts.

Opponents of the measure included the Massachusetts Teachers Association, United States Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and many local mayors, boards of education and teacher unions.

Proponents included the biggest corporate entities and individuals behind the corporate education reform movement including Families for Excellent Schools, Education Reform Now, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Family and a who’s who list of donors from the charter school industry.

The official ballot summary from the State of Massachusetts read:

This proposed law would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools each year.

Approvals under this law could expand statewide charter school enrollment by up to 1% of the total statewide public school enrollment each year. New charters and enrollment expansions approved under this law would be exempt from existing limits on the number of charter schools, the number of students enrolled in them, and the amount of local school districts’ spending allocated to them.

If the Board received more than 12 applications in a single year from qualified applicants, then the proposed law would require it to give priority to proposed charter schools or enrollment expansions in districts where student performance on statewide assessments is in the bottom 25% of all districts in the previous two years and where demonstrated parent demand for additional public school options is greatest.

New charter schools and enrollment expansions approved under this proposed law would be subject to the same approval standards as other charter schools, and to recruitment, retention, and multilingual outreach requirements that currently apply to some charter schools. Schools authorized under this law would be subject to annual performance reviews according to standards established by the Board.

Opponents of Question #2 organized through a political action committee called Save our Public Schools which was made up of parents, teachers and unions, with most of the money coming from teacher unions.  Save our Public Schools ended up raising just over $15 million ($15,406,897) in opposition to lifting the cap on charter schools.

Massachusetts Ballot Question #2 – Charter School Industry pours record breaking $26 million into stunning loss

As Diane Ravitch reported,

Voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly defeated Question 2, by a margin of about 62%-38%. Question 2 would have permitted the addition of 12 charter schools every year into the indefinite future.

A vibrant coalition of parents, educators, and students withstood a barrage of dark money and won. They organized, mobilized, knocked on doors, rallied, and they won. More than 200 school committees passed resolutions against Question 2. None supported it.

The bottom line that unified opponents of the measure was that charters would drain funding from the public schools.

As of November 1, 2016, the charter school industry had raised in excess of $26 million to fund their effort to undermine public education in Massachusetts.  Much of the money came from the infamous New York based billionaires and hedge fund managers who have been funding the charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform privatization “movement.

The following chart identifies the major sources of money that drove the record spending by the charter school industry.

 

TOTAL RAISED IN SUPPORT OF CHARTER SCHOOL QUESTION #2 (as of 11/1/16) $26,066,640  
Charter School Industry Entity Amount Raised Major Sources of Funds
Yes on Two $710,100
Alice Walton $710,000
Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools $2,418,518.04
Jim Walton $1.125 million

 

Alice Walton (Transfer from Yes on Two $710k)
MA Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund $150k

 

Massachusetts Charter Public School Assoc., Inc.  $100k

 

Great Schools Massachusetts $100k
Paul Sagan $100K
Charles Longfield $100k
Lawrence Coolidge $25K
Charles  Ledley $26k (Plus $40k to Great Schools Massachusetts
Great Schools Massachusetts  

$21,640,982

 

Families For Excellent Schools Inc. and Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, Inc. (NY)  $17.2 million

 

Strong Economy For Growth $1.1m

 

Expanding Educational Opportunities  575k

 

Great Schools For Massachusetts $501k

 

Michael Bloomberg (NY) $490K
Education Reform Now Advocacy (NY) $314k

 

John Arnold (TX) $250k
Edward Shapiro $225k

 

Bradley Bloom $150k
Ray Stata $100
Campaign For Fair Access To Quality Public Schools $100K

 

Cohasset Vc, Ltd (Dallas TX) $100k

 

Shari Redstone $100k
Robert Small $75k
Abigail Johnson $60k
Stephen Mugford $60k
Daniel Loeb (NY) $50k
George Conrades $50k
Longwood Ventures Partners $50k
Ross M Jones $50k
Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools Ballot Committee $722,040
Education Reform Now Advocacy         $155K

 

Campaign For Fair Access To Quality Public Schools $567k
Expanding Educational Opportunities $575,000
Suffolk Cares, Inc.                   $100K

 

State Street Bank and Trust Co.       $100K

 

Partners Healthcare            $100K

 

The Kraft Group$100k

 

Emc Corporation         $75K

 

Massmutual Financial Group  $50K

 

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated   $50K

 

 

As for why the Charter School Ballot Question #2 went down to a stunning defeat, Edushyster, the Massachusetts based education blogger, provides a full analysis in the recent blog post entitled, What Went Down in Massachusetts.

Edushyster writes;

I could give you a long list of reasons why Question 2 went down in flames. It was a complicated policy question that should never have made it onto the ballot. Yes on 2, despite outspending the ‘no’ camp 2-1 couldn’t find a message that worked, and was never able to counter the single argument that most resonated with voters against charter schools: they take money away from public schools and the kids who attend them. #NoOn2 also tapped into genuinely viral energy. The coalition extended well beyond the teachers unions that funded it, growing to include members of all kinds of unions, as well as social justice and civil rights groups, who fanned out across the state every weekend. By Election Day, the sprawling network of mostly volunteer canvassers had made contact with more than 1.5 million voters.

One, two, three part strategy
Question 2 was just one part of an elaborate three-pronged strategy dreamed up by charter advocates in Massachusetts, most notably our own Secretary of Education, James Peyser, to get rid of the charter cap. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s education reform eminence Chester Finn helpfully explaining in his new book how Massachusetts charter advocates had decided that things would go down:

There we see a coherent three-part strategy, beginning with a legislative move to amend the Bay State’s charter law. In case lawmakers balk, a ballot initiative is in the works, as is a legal move involving a prominent Boston firm that has filed a class-action suit to lift the charter cap, arguing that it unconstitutionally denies children access to an adequate education. As part of all three efforts, Families for Excellent Schools is organizing parents and other charter supporters to participate in an advocacy campaign.

Tellingly, Finn’s explication of Team Charter’s strategerizing is in a section entitled *From Grass Tops to Grass Roots.* A model of the *new parent power,* Families for Excellent Schools has successfully organized parents in NYC, most of whom already send their kids to charter schools, to demand more and more charter schools. Here they are marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, 30K strong. Now here they are, arriving in Albany by the busload. Theirs is a powerful spectacle, until one looks too closely and notices that the guys on the walkie talkies are all white and that the parents were told that they had to attend, or that the mayor wants to close their schools, and that their own charter schools had to be closed for the day in order to create the powerful spectacle.

In the spring of 2014, Peyser, who sat on the national board of Families for Excellent Schools, was imploring Boston’s charter schools to *take control of their own destiny by becoming a more potent political force.* By that summer, FES had a Boston offshoot, *seeded* thanks to the largesse of the New Schools Venture Fund, where Peyser worked, and the same Republican philanthropists who would get the #YesOn2MA ball rolling. And yet FES was an expensive flop from the start. What went so wrong? Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the group’s astonishing odiosity. Like refusing to say what they were about. Their first big event, a lavishly choreographed rally at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, made no mention of charter schools. Then there was *Unify Boston,* a months-long petition drive in which organizers gathered signatures from parents who wanted great neighborhood schools. When group leaders informed staff members that the actual goal of the campaign was to lift the charter cap, a revolt broke out. *It’s like they think people of color are stupid,* said one former FES organizer.

In the end, charter advocates couldn’t marshal a parent army for the same reason that has undone one ambitious #edreform vision after another: their logic model was flawed. *People aren’t against charter schools,* Yawu Miller, the managing editor of the Bay State Banner, Boston’s African American newspaper, told me when I interviewed him earlier this fall. *But they don’t want to see the kind of expansion that’s being proposed now. They think there’s a threat to the district school system if that happens.* As Miller pointed out, his son is on the waitlist for several charter schools. So is Save Our Schools parent organizer Malikka Williams. In fact, it turns out that almost everyone in Boston is on some kind of waitlist. Calculate the number of students who are waiting for in-demand Boston district schools the same way that charters do and you end up with a number in excess of 20,000.

You can read more of Edushyster’s analyses at: http://edushyster.com/what-went-down-in-massachusetts/

Additional Background on this nationally significant effort can be found via the following articles

How Long-Time Charter Funders Are Upping the Ante in Their Bid to Blow the Bay State’s Charter School Cap

Playing Three Card Monte With Dark Money

As MA Question 2 Funding Nears $32 Million, DFER Files a New Ballot Committee

 

Look out Massachusetts taxpayers! The charter school industry wants your tax money!

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016 (Election Day 2016), Massachusetts voters will have to opportunity to cast their vote in favor or against Question 2, a referendum that would lift the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts taxpayers are already coughing up move then $450 million a year to fund the more than 70 privately owned and operated charter schools in the Commonwealth, despite the fact that these schools refuse to accept or educate their fair share of students that require special education services or those who needed extra help learning the English Language.

But skimming nearly a half a billion dollars from Massachusetts taxpayers instead good enough for the charter school industry.  If Question 2 passes, the cost to Massachusetts residents could skyrocket by another $300 million dollars a year.

Opponents of Question 2 say the amount of money lost will grow if Question 2 passes: $100 million more the first year, more than $200 million the next year, more than $300 million the year after that. In some cities and towns, charter schools can already take as much as 18 percent of a school district’s budget. That, say public school advocates, would result in the elimination of classes such as music, art technology and foreign language courses and leads to larger class sizes.

As Wait, What? reported earlier this month in, Charter School Industry targets Massachusetts,

A group of billionaires and corporate executives are using a front group called Great Schools Massachusetts and the New York based charter school advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, to pour an unprecedented amount of money into a campaign to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.

According to published reports, the charter school industry is on track to dump up to $18 million into a record-breaking campaign in support of Massachusetts Question 2, a referendum question on this year’s ballot that would effectively lift the legislative mandated cap on the number of charter schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

But exactly who are the billionaire charter school proponents who are seeking to buy a larger foothold in Massachusetts?

The public will never know the full extent of this farce.

Mercedes Schneider, an education advocate and education investigator and blogger extraordinaire, has written extensively about the big money behind the effort to pass Question 2.

In her post blog entitled, MA Question 2 Gains Another $1.5 Million, Mostly from NY, Mercedes Schneider reports,

On September 20,2016, one committee in support of Q2, Great Schools MA, has added another $1,029,193— with most of it– $1 million– coming from the largest funder by far of Massachusetts’ ballot measure for charter expansion: New York-based lobbying nonprofit, Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy.

What this means is that as of September 20, 2016, the New York-based lobbying nonprofit has spent $6,750,000 to expand charters in Massachusetts.

Also, as of September 20, 2016, the total amount of unique, non-overlapping money spent in support of Q2 is $12.1 million. New York-based Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy has provided 56 percent of that total.

Meanwhile, Schneider explains that Jim and Alice Walton, owners of Wal-Mart, have donated in excess of $1.8 million to the campaign to pass Question 2 and that,

The Waltons are not the only out-of-state billionaires using their wealth to influence the charter cap in a state in which they do not reside. According to the September 09, 2016, filing of the Question 2 ballot committee, Great Schools Massachusetts, other out-of-state billionaire/lobbying nonprofit contributors include the following:

  • John Arnold (Texas), $250,000

  • Michael Bloomberg (New York), $240,000

  • Education Reform Now (ERN) Advocacy (New York), $250,000

  • Families for Excellent Schools (FES) Advocacy (New York), $5,750,000

Schneider adds that since Education Reform Now Advocacy (ERNA) and Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy (FESA) are registered as non-profit foundations and not campaign groups, neither is required to disclose who they collect their money from.  It is perfectly possible that the Walton’s gave to these two committees as well.

Consider that so much of the big money flowing into Massachusetts is “dark money,” meaning that its source does not have to be revealed, the harsh reality that that whether or not a Massachusetts resident votes on Election Day 2016 is a matter of public record, but these same voters will never know exactly which billionaires were responsible for the record breaking effort to mislead them into voting Yes on Question 2.

With so much outside money being spent in support of the charter school industry, it makes one wonder … just whose pockets are these billionaires trying to pad.

Charter School Industry targets Massachusetts

A group of billionaires and corporate executives are using a front group called Great Schools Massachusetts and the New York based charter school advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, to pour an unprecedented  amount of money into a campaign to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.

According to published reports, the charter school industry is on track to dump up to $18 million into a record-breaking campaign in support of Massachusetts Question 2, a referendum question on this year’s ballot that would effectively lift the legislative mandated cap on the number of charter schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter school, pro-Governor Andrew Cuomo, anti-teacher group has led a series of expensive advocacy campaigns in New York State and Connecticut on behalf of the charter school industry.

Expanding first to Connecticut and then to Massachusetts, Families for Excellent School has become the preferred money pipeline of choice for a group of corporate elite who seek to anonymously fund the effort to privatize public education in the United States.

Thanks to the demise of campaign finance laws at the federal and state level, Families for Excellent Schools can accept unlimited donations from those who profit from or support the rise of charter schools, the Common Core and the Common Core testing scheme.

While most of the money flowing into the Massachusetts Question 2 campaign can’t be traced, public documents reveal that a handful of hedge fund managers and corporate executives donated $40,000 each to kick start the campaign aimed at diverting even more scarce public funds from public schools to charter schools.

Most of the key players in the Question 2 operation are directly or indirectly associated with a handful of hedge fund companies including, Bain Capital, the Baupost Group and Highfields Capital Management.

Leading the effort from Bain Capital is Josh Bekenstein, the managing partner at the infamous company.  Bekenstein is a long-time charter supporter having donated massive amounts of money to pro-voucher, anti-teacher, pro-charter school groups including Stand for Children, Teach for America, and the KIPP and Citizen charter school chains.

In addition, Bekenstein has played an instrumental role for both New Profit, Inc. and the NewSchools Venture Fund, two of the major funders behind the charter school movement in Massachusetts and across the nation.

New Profit, Inc.’s “investments” include major donations to underwrite the faux teacher advocacy group called Educators 4 Excellence, which is actually another New York based, anti-union front group.  New Profit, Inc. also funds Achievement First, Inc., a charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the Achievement Network and Turnaround for Children, two more pro-charter school lobby and public relations organizations.

Through Bain Capital, and on his own, Bekenstein’s has also helped fund and lead Bright Horizons, yet another charter school chain with operations in multiple states.

Another Bain executive helping to fund Question 2 is Paul Edgerley, Bain Capital’s former managing director.  Edgerley has also donated millions in support of the privatization of public education, including hundreds of thousands of dollars to New Profit, Inc. and Strategic Grant Partners, a Massachusetts based foundation that has been funding the expansion of charter schools and charter school advocacy groups in that state.

Edgerly has also donated heavily to the Excel Academy Charter School system, which is managed by the for-profit National Heritage Academies.

Seth Klarman, President of the Baupost Group is a major Republican campaign donor at national level, and yet another key player in the Massachusetts pro-charter school campaign.  Klarman, who gave in excess of $3 million during the 2014 federal elections cycle, was also a major donor to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a political action committee created to benefit Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo and ensure Republican control of the New York State Senate.

Klarman has close ties to Eli Broad, serving with the billionaire on the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In addition, Klarman has been a major source of cash for a series of charter schools and pro-charter school sponsors including EdVestors, a Boston-based operation that, in turn, has funneled millions to a variety of charter school chains including the KIPP charter school chain.

Brian Spector, like Klarman, heralds from the Baupost Group and is another major Republican donor.  Spector’s involvement includes a leadership position with The Boston Foundation, an entity that funds a variety of charter schools in Massachusetts including Excel Charter Academy.

Charles Ledley, of Highfields Capital Management, is the groups token Democrat, having served as key donor and operative with Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now and Students for Education Reform, Ledley also provided funding for the successful effort to pass a major anti-teacher evaluation law in New Jersey, a law that requires that teacher evaluations in the Garden State be based on the results their students get on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory common-core standardized tests.

Using Education Reform Now as his funding vehicle, Ledley played a pivotal role in providing the money that Families for Excellent Schools needed to set up its operation in Massachusetts.  In addition to a six figure donation to Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Ledley loaned Education Reform Now $250,000 to subsidize Family for Excellent School’s operating expenses in Massachusetts.

In addition to his own involvement in the charter school industry, Ledley’s wife, Rebecca Ledley, served as a board member of Students for Education Reform and the UP Academy Charter School chain.  She was also a director for K12, Inc., the major on-line, for-profit education company that has made millions from the corporate education reform movement.

Another $40,000 contributor to the Question 2 campaign in Massachusetts is Joanna Jacobson, the managing partner of Strategic Grant Partners.  Like the Boston Foundation, Strategic Grant Partners is a leading pro-charter school foundation that has provided funding to charter schools and advocacy groups supporting charter schools.  The entity has donated to Families for Excellent Schools, Stand for Children, Educators 4 Excellence and Teach for America’s Leadership for Educational Equity.

Jacobson is married to Jonathan Jacobson, the founder of Highfields Capital Management.  She also serves on the board of directors of the Brooke charter schools, a position she shares with Charles Ledley.

Meanwhile, billionaire Abigail Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments, also provided a $40,000 check to the Question 2 campaign.   Johnson, yet another major Republican donor, has also donated to a variety of charter schools including the Steppingstone Foundation, which operates College Success Academy. A fellow member of her family, Allison Johnson, serves on the Steppingstone board, while Joanna Jacobson, the managing partner of Strategic Grant Partners serves on the charter school’s advisory board.

Finally, yet another player in the Question 2 campaign is Paul Severino, , a major Republican donor who also matched the original $40,000 donation to kick off the Question 2 operation.

Together these corporate elite are part of an unprecedented effort to privatize public education at the state level.