Education reformers and charter school industry are jacking our legislature.

Yeah, jacking…. As in car-jacking…

One month into the 2016 session of the Connecticut General Assembly and the various front groups that work for the education reform and charter school industries have already spent more than $157,000 lobbying legislators in favor of their pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-SBAC testing and anti-teacher agenda.

Led by a group that calls itself “The Big Six,” at least 25 registered lobbyists are working the State Capitol in favor of a political and policy agenda that includes diverting more scarce public funds away from public schools and to privately owned and operated charter schools.

Their legislative agenda also includes taking away local citizen control of public schools and supporting the Malloy administration’s effort to punish school districts in which more than 5 percent of the parents opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme.

Not only do these “education reform” groups support the Common Core and the Common Core testing fiasco, they actively oppose the fundamental and inalienable right of parents to opt their children out of the SBAC tests.

These education reformers claim that SBAC testing is good for developing children’s “grit” and will determine if students are “college and career” ready – of course, the SBAC test is good for neither of those things.

In addition to their support for the massive and expensive standardized testing scam, the group supports using the SBAC test results to evaluate teachers, despite the fact that numerous academic studies have revealed that using standardized tests results is not an appropriate measure and should not be part of an effective teacher evaluation program.

“The Big 6” includes the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER).

In joint testimony this week, the lobbying alliance opposed a bill removing the discriminatory SBAC results from Malloy’s teacher evaluation program, claiming that they opposed efforts to “weaken” the system.

Weaken the system?

What about creating a system that actually services a mechanism to evaluate how well teachers are doing?

While “The Big 6” includes the state’s major charter school lobbying groups, it also includes three organizations that receive the majority of their funding from taxpayers.

The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) and the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) all get their primary funding from membership dues that are paid for by local property taxpayers via local school districts.

You know the political system is truly broken when taxpayer funded lobby groups are lobbying to undermine students, parents, teachers and taxpayers.

Since Governor Malloy introduced his “education reform” initiative in 2012, the charter schools and their education reform allies have spent well in excess of $7 million dollars lobbying for his agenda, which is a record breaking amount.

In addition to “The Big Six,” other organizations that are presently lobbying Connecticut legislators in favor of the charter school and “education reform” agenda include the Bronx Charter School for Excellence, the North East Charter Schools Network , Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and Families for Excellent Schools, the New York-based lobbing and political entity that bused in charter school students and parents from as far away as New York City and Boston last year to rally in support of Malloy’s efforts to hand charter schools even more public funds.

In their most recent state budget plan, Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Wyman proposed giving charter schools more money while, at the same time, proposing the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  Malloy and Wyman are calling on the legislature to cut cut about $60 million from Connecticut’s public schools.

This while Connecticut charter schools already collect well over $100 million a year in Connecticut taxpayer funds.

Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education

The Controversy goes well beyond the legal and ethical issues with Malloy’s recent nominee to the State Board of Education.

This week the Connecticut General Assembly is expected to vote on Governor Dannel Malloy’s appointment of Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education, despite what appears to be a major conflict of interest that should be keeping Mr. Clemons off the board that sets policy for Connecticut public schools and is responsible for the oversight of the companies that own and operate Connecticut’s charter schools at a cost of over $100 million a year to Connecticut taxpayers.

Clemons is not only a founding Board Member of the recently opened New Haven Montessori Charter School and served, up until last year, as a Board Member of one of the Achievement First, Inc. charter schools in New Haven, Clemons’s company was given a no-bid contract that was approved and funded by the Connecticut Board of Education, a contract that has already netted Clemons’ company more than $500,000 with a lot more public funds to come.

As a member of the Connecticut Board of Education Erik Clemons will be in a position to financially reward himself, the charter schools he is or has been associated with and his friends and colleagues in the charter school industry.

For Background See:

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education

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 

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education.

However, the most serious problem with Malloy’s appointment of Clemons goes well beyond the nominee and reaches right into the Governor’s Office.

In a breaking investigative story, fellow education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker lays out the troubling details about the “special relationship” between Malloy and those that own, operate and lobby for charter schools in the state.

In here weekend piece in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker writes;

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s 2016-17 education budget bears a striking resemblance to New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s: cutting public education funding while increasing funding to privately run charter schools. This budget proposal not only harms children, by cutting vital programs such as special education services, reading tutors and after-school programs, but, as legislators point out, it hurts local taxpayers since municipalities will be forced to fill in the gaps.

Connecticut charters have a questionable track record. They have been cited for abusive discipline practices, such as suspending 5-year-olds and violating the civil rights of students with disabilities, failing to serve needy populations, such as English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and even financial fraud, mismanagement and self-dealing scandals.

Like Malloy, his State Board of Education (SBE) routinely turns a blind eye to charter misdeeds, authorizing charters without proper investigation, reauthorizing charters when they fail to meet requirements in the law and their charter agreements- even allowing the Jumoke/FUSE charter chain to run a Commissioner’s Network school into the ground under the Board’s “supervision.”

In 2013, Malloy appointed Andrea Comer to the SBE, prompting conflict of interest criticism. Comer was the chief operating officer of the Jumoke/FUSE charter chain which, like all charters, must come before the board for authorization, oversight and funding. In the wake of the Jumoke/FUSE scandal, Comer was forced to resign.

Recent charter school scandals forced Connecticut legislators institute some anemic controls over the state board last year.

One might wonder why Malloy favors charters to the detriment of public schools. As blogger-former legislator Jonathan Pelto has uncovered, Malloy’s biggest contributors are charter founders and supporters.

Recent emails reveal the depth to which Malloy is beholden to the charter industry. In November, Malloy appointed three new members to the SBE. One, Erik Clemons, raised concerns for Pelto, as Clemons is a charter founder and board member, and a vendor with the State Department of Education. His company has received hundreds of thousands of dollars through a no-bid contract as part of the State Department of Education’s Turnaround Plan for New Haven’s Lincoln-Bassett elementary school- a plan that SBE approved and the Department funded. Once again, Malloy nominated someone to the State Board who has clear conflicts of interest.

Contrast this with Nevada, where the vice president of the State Board of Education just resigned to avoid a conflict of interest because she intends to work with a charter organization that might contract with the state.

Pelto submitted a freedom of information request to the governor’s office related to the nomination of Mr. Clemons. The emails he received revealed a shocking fact: Malloy relied on the charter lobby, ConnCAN, to find him appointees to Connecticut’s State Board of Education.

An email from Meg Green, of the governor’s office, to Liam Sweeney, ConnCAN’s head of lobbying, reads:

“Hey Liam, I’m doing outreach to some of the folks you recommended for appointments. Do you have good phone numbers for any of these people?”

The state then redacted the email to only show Clemons’ name. Other emails between ConnCAN and the governor’s office were similarly redacted. Thus, we do not know what else was communicated.

We do know several disturbing facts. Despite the fiasco that was Andrea Comer’s appointment, the governor not only appointed another charter operative to the State Board of Education, but actually let the charter lobby assume a governmental function by naming appointees to the board.

The emails also reveal that the governor knew Clemons’ status as a vendor of the State Department of Education posed a potential conflict of interest problem. In one email, Elizabeth Donohue, Malloy’s Director of Government Affairs, writes Meg Green, regarding Erik Clemons, “if he is vendor of the state that is less good.” Yet Malloy appointed Erik Clemons anyway.

Without any mention that Clemons was handpicked by the charter industry, Malloy presented Clemons to the Legislature, where a confirmation vote will occur within weeks.

Gov. Malloy has consistently refused to adequately fund public schools; a stance he now must defend in the landmark school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell, on trial currently in Hartford. At the same time, he has dramatically increased public funding for privately owned charter schools, which only serve 1 percent of Connecticut students, without imposing any accountability. But now, Malloy has gone too far in ceding to the charter lobby the responsibility to appoint members to the state board responsible for regulating the charter schools themselves. This corruption, at the expense of taxpayers and our children, must end.

 

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s article at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Malloy-Christie-on-similar-6870576.php

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education.

Last November, Governor Dannel Malloy appointed Erik Clemons of New Haven, along with two other individuals, to the State Board of Education.  See: Gov. Malloy Appoints Three to Serve on the State Board of Education.

As interim appointees, the three immediately became voting members of the State Board of Education, although they must now be confirmed by the Connecticut General Assembly.  The legislature’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee will be holding a hearing, followed by an immediate vote, on Mr. Clemons and Malloy’s other appointees to the State Board of Education this Thursday, February 18, 2016.

When making the announcement, Governor Malloy and his press operation conveniently failed to reveal Erik Clemons’ close association with Connecticut’s charter school industry.

Clemons served on the Board of Directors’ of Achievement First Elm City Charter School until 2015.  Following his departure from Achievement First Inc., his company’s Director of Programs at CONNCAT, Genevive Walker, was appointed to serve on that same Achievement First Board.

Clemons is also a founding member and continues to serve on the Board of Directors of the Elm City Montessori Charter School, a charter school that opened last fall after receiving approval from the State Board of Education. 

Both of these privately owned, but state funded, charter schools receive their operating money through the State Board of Education and the State Board is responsible for overseeing and regulating these and Connecticut’s other charter schools.

Of even greater concern, however, is that when Malloy appointed Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education, the Governor failed to report that Erik Clemons is the president of a nonprofit corporation that is collecting in excess of $500,000 in state funds as a result of a lucrative no-bid contract funded through the State Department of Education.

The 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).  As head of ConnCAT, Clemons’ compensation package is well over one hundred thousand dollars 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.

In addition, using the state’s Lincoln-Bassett turnaround funds, the New Haven Board of Education also hired a New Haven architectural firm for $42,224 for “ConnCAT Project Design Services.”

Unfortunately, the only coverage of these issues has been here at Wait, What? in an article co-written with public education advocate Wendy Lecker, Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education.

With the General Assembly’s Legislative and Executive Nominations Committee about to decide whether or not to confirm Mr. Clemons to serve on the State Board of Education, one would hope that other media outlets or legislators would step up and investigate the extremely serious conflicts of interest that should be keeping Mr. Clemons from serving on Connecticut’s Board of Education.

Cha-Ching! Wealthy Charter School backers give big to Malloy – Malloy gives big to charter schools

Call it the new American Way.  The billionaires, millionaires and corporate elite who fund charter schools give generously to Democratic and Republican politicians and the politicians return the favor by shifting public funds into the coffers of the privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools.

Here in Connecticut the system was clearly on display last week when Governor Dannel Malloy and his sidekick, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, rolled out their new “austerity budget” for 2016-2017.

In classic fashion, their plan slashes a full array of vital services while giving the wealthy yet another tax break.  Their plan makes absolutely no effort, whatsoever, to require Connecticut’s richest resident to pay their fair share in taxes.

But their budget certainly targets the middle class and all of Connecticut’s working families, along with those who rely on state services to lead more fulfilling lives.

Failing to even identify where 40 percent of the budget cuts would actually come from, Malloy proposed a spending plan that would provide $720 million less than what would be necessary simply to maintain the current level of state services.

Malloy targeted some of his deepest cuts to programs that help children in crisis, the developmentally disabled, those with mental illness, Connecticut’s public schools, the state’s public colleges and universities, and municipal aid.

Of course, the Governor promised – yet again – that he would not raise taxes … overlooking the fact that his budget would force cities and towns across Connecticut to raise property taxes.

But while everyone else loses under Malloy’s budget, charter schools win!

In the midst of their budget slashing frenzy, Malloy and Wyman are actually increasing the amount of taxpayer funds going to Connecticut’s privately owned charter schools.

The CT Mirror explained the situation in a story entitled, Malloy: Increase charter school, cut neighborhood school funding;

“Charter schools have escaped Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget knife and are slated for a $9.3 million boost in his newly proposed state budget.

But the Democratic governor also wants a $52.9 million cut in funding for special education, after-school programs, reading tutors and other services in low-performing public schools across the state.

Malloy also wants to rescind an $11.5 million funding increase in the Education Cost Sharing grants for the next school year. It is the state’s principal education grant to municipal public schools, and the idea of a reduction is not sitting well with some of the lawmakers who helped approve the ECS money last year.

The Democratic governor and Lt. Governor who used to decry the lack of adequate funding for the state’s public schools are now proposing the deepest cuts to public education in Connecticut history.

At the same time, their “generosity” toward charter schools only grows.

The reason seems pretty obvious.  Connecticut’s charter schools and their supporters have become a “golden egg” for Malloy’s political aspirations.

In the months leading up to and through his re-election campaign, corporate education reform proponents and the charter school industry poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Malloy’s various campaign entities and organizations.

Take, for example, Greenwich millionaire Jonathan Sackler.

Sackler, whose company brought the world OxyContin, likes charter schools … a lot.

Sackler serves on the Board of Directors of Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island and the Board of Directors of ConnCAN, the Connecticut charter school advocacy front group.  Sackler helped bankroll the formation of Achievement First Inc. and was the founder of ConnCAN.  He is also a major player in the national charter school movement.

During Malloy’s re-election campaign, Sackler and his immediate family donated well in excess of $100,000 to Malloy’s campaign operation and the spigot didn’t stop when Malloy won a second term as governor.  Since the 2014 election, the Sacklers have donated an additional $50,000 to Malloy’s political activities.

According to reports filed with the Federal Election Committee and the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission, over the past few years, Dannel Malloy’s fundraising operatives have collected more than $330,000 from the people who serve on the Achievement First, Inc. Board of Directors, the ConnCAN Board of Directors or play a leadership role in Connecticut’s charter school and corporate education reform organizations.

The truth is that the corporate elite behind the Pro-Common Core, Pro-Common Core testing, Pro-Charter School and Anti-teacher agenda that Dannel Malloy has been pushing have become Malloy’s most important sources of campaign cash.

During the very same time, Malloy and Wyman have turned their backs on the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers that actually support and fund Connecticut’s public school system.

Since taking office, Team Malloy/Wyman have dumped over $450 million in scarce taxpayer funds into charter schools in Connecticut, although these schools consistently discriminate against children who require special services, children who aren’t fluent in the English language and children who won’t adhere to the charter school’s abusive “no-excuses” disciplinary policies designed to push out children with behavioral issues.

While public schools in every town will suffer from Malloy’s budget cuts, and local taxpayers will be forced to pick up some of the lost state funding, the charter schools will continue to wallow in more state support.

The CT Mirror noted;

In Stamford, the governor’s proposal means the public schools will not get the $225,000 increase they would have received, but the new charter school in town will get about $3 million more so enrollment can increase. That charter school and another in Bridgeport are to expand by about 650 seats.

Other towns in line not to receive previously scheduled increases include Danbury ($1 million), Rocky Hill ($450,000), Shelton ($500,000), Southbury ($600,000), West Hartford ($1.6 million) and Wethersfield ($530,000).

Of course, the charter school supporters who donated and worked for Malloy are overjoyed by the news that Malloy was coming through, yet again, for the charter school industry.

“Jeremiah Grace, Connecticut state director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, applauded the governor’s proposed budget.”  (CT Mirror 2/5/16)

Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading public school advocate pointed out the harsh reality in her blog yesterday, Connecticut Governor Malloy Increases Funding for Charters, Cuts Funding for Public Schools;

Connecticut Governor Dannell Malloy is faithful to his state’s hedge fund managers, who supported his campaigns. But he is not faithful to the children, parents, and educators of his state.

Malloy is offering a nice increase for charter schools, but budget cuts for the public schools that educate the vast majority of students.

The truth is that the charter school industry has put an unprecedented amount of money on the political table.  Dannel Malloy and Nancy Wyman happily took that money and continue to produce for their favored donors.

It may be the new American Way, but it is a disgusting style of politics that shouldn’t be tolerated here in Connecticut.

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education

Ethics for public officials?  Not so much.

One of Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education is not only a representative of the charter school industry but his company is collecting a multi-million dollar contract that is funded and managed by the State Department of Education and the very board he has been appointed to.

Although this article was first published at Wait, What? on December 23, 2015, the Malloy administration has refused to comment.

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education

A News Update from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

While Connecticut’s public schools continue to suffer from inadequate state funding and Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration strive to undermine, dismiss and destroy the CCJEF school funding lawsuit that would finally ensure that Connecticut meets its State Constitutional obligation to provide all students with a quality education, Malloy’s corporate education reform initiative has fueled an unprecedented growth of charter schools in Connecticut.  The Charter School Industry now collects in excess of $100 million a year from Connecticut taxpayers.

Privately owned and operated, but funded with taxpayer dollars, Connecticut’s Charter Schools have consistently failed to educate their fair share of students that require special education services and English Language Learners who aren’t fluent in the English Language.

Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, earned national notoriety when news broke about the shocking number of kindergarten and first graders suspended at their schools.  The charter school company’s failure to provide special education students with appropriate services has generated investigations in both Connecticut and New York.

The truth is that while the Connecticut State Board of Education is legally obligated to regulate charter schools, they have had a very shoddy track record when it comes to fulfilling those duties.

After taking office, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor (a co-founder of Achievement First, Inc.) and the Governor’s political appointees to the State Board handed approximately $50 million to charter school operator Michael Sharpe and his Jumoke/FUSE’s charter school chain without bothering to uncover that fact that “Dr.” Sharpe didn’t actually have the advanced academic degree he claimed or that he had spent time in federal prison for embezzlement of public funds.

The State Board of Education even bestowed upon “Mr.” Sharpe control of Hartford’s Milner school which, under their not-so-watchful eyes, he ran into the ground.

In addition to “overlooking” state requirements that charters serve a requisite number or special education and English Language Learners, and that charters are not supposed to be over-concentrated in a limited number of municipalities, the State Board has rubber-stamped charter renewals, even when they fail to meet the standards set forth in their charter authorization.

The State Board of Education has done such an abysmal job overseeing charters that the legislature was forced to pass a law tightening charter oversight rules last session and added a layer of legislative oversight to the Department of Education’s charter authorization process.

But SURPRISE – thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent action, Achievement First, Inc. and Connecticut’s Charter School owners, operators and advocates are celebrating the fact that one of their own has quietly been appointed to Connecticut’s State Board of Education, the very state entity that remains responsible for overseeing and regulating charter schools.

Although the potential conflict of interest is obvious, this isn’t the first time Governor Malloy has used his appointing authority to put a charter school person on the State Board of Education.

His last such appointee, Andrea Comer, the COO of the Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain, resigned from the State Board of Education and her job as the FBI and state investigators closed in on allegations of wrongdoing by “Jumoke/FUSE’s CEO, “Dr.” Sharpe.

This time the appointment of a charter school insider to the State Board of Education occurred when Malloy appointed three new members to Connecticut’s State Board of Education last month.

While the legislature will eventually have an opportunity to vote on the nominations, as interim appointees, the individuals have already taken their seats on the Board and will serve until confirmed or rejected by the General Assembly.

Media coverage of the appointments was minimal and limited to what was contained in the press release that was issued by Malloy’s Office in November.  Gov. Malloy Appoints Three to Serve on the State Board of Education began,

Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that he is appointing Erik Clemons of New Haven, William Davenport of Litchfield, and Malia Sieve of Norwich to serve as members on the Connecticut State Board of Education.

“We are making significant progress as we raise the bar like never before.  Connecticut’s State Board of Education plays a critical role in ensuring that our students receive a world class education that prepares them for careers in the 21st century,” Governor Malloy said.  “Erik, Bill, and Malia are the right candidates for these roles, and I look forward to having them contribute their experiences and expertise as members of the board.  We are going to continue moving our schools forward.”

The Press Release added;

Clemons is the founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), a nonprofit career training institution that aims to prepare youth and adults for educational and career advancement through after-school arts and job training programming.

But there is much more to the story;

Knowing that Malloy and his administration have the propensity to duck the truth, it will not be surprising to many people that Malloy failed to inform the media, the public or the legislature that the State Board of Education’s newest member, Erik Clemons, has an extensive and long-standing relationship with the charter school industry and is the President and CEO of a company that directly benefits from a large state contract that is funded through the State Department of Education.

  • Erik Clemons served as a member of Achievement First Inc.’s Elm City Charter School Board of Directors from 2013-2015.
  • Erik Clemons is also a founding member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School, a charter school that opened earlier this fall after receiving approval from the State Board of Education.
  • Erik Clemons is the President of a non-profit corporation that received a lucrative contract last year that is paid with taxpayer funds through the State Department of Education.

Malloy’s new appointees to the State Board of Education replace out-going members who resigned or didn’t seek re-appointment, including former State Board of Education member Andrea Comer.

As noted, Comer, the former Chief Operating Officer of the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain,t quit both her job and her position on the State Board of Education when the charter school company became the target of the investigation into financial wrongdoing. When Malloy appointed Comer, Wendy Lecker and I raised alarms about the potential conflict of interest that comes with having a charter school executive on the state committee that regulates that charter school industry.  (See Pelto and Lecker’s March 15, 2013 commentary piece, Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education.)

At the time, both the Hartford Courant and Stamford Advocate followed up with editorials.  In an editorial entitled, Conflict on state school board, the Stamford Advocate wrote;

Andrea Comer is a successful executive in the state charter school business. She has worked for the charter management company Achievement First, and in October was appointed chief operating officer of Family Urban Schools of Excellence, a management/expansion company created by Hartford’s Jumoke Academy charter school.

And she is poised to add another title to her substantial resume: member of the state Board of Education.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has appointed Comer to the board — raising eyebrows and questions about a conflict of interest. The board has direct oversight of the charter school industry, decides whether to reauthorize charters and votes on funding and the creation of new charter schools.

As former state legislator Jonathan Pelto and Hearst Connecticut Newspapers columnist Wendy Lecker wrote in a blog post regarding Comer’s appointment: “The conflict is obvious!”

Yet the state Ethics Commission somehow sees it another way. It ruled that Comer’s professional position would not pose a conflict on the state school board. Apparently, the position of COO does not rank high enough for a conflict to exist.

Comer as recently as last month lobbied the General Assembly for greater charter school funding. To put her on a body that helps determine that funding, well, as Pelto and Lecker said:

[…]

Now it is up to the members of the Connecticut General Assembly to stand up and be counted on this vital issue.  As a corporate officer in a charter school company, Comer has a significant and clear conflict of interest. Legislature has a duty to reject her appointment to the State Board of Education.

Although one would have hoped that Governor Malloy had learned his lesson about keeping the charter school industry off the board that regulates them, Malloy failed to heed those warnings.

The Facts speak for themselves;

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons connection with Achievement First, Inc.

As the minutes of the November 25, 2013 meeting of the Achievement First, Elm City College Preparatory Charter School Board of Directors note;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT, the Board of Elm City College Preparatory elects Mr. Erik Clemons to an initial term as a Class II Director expiring on 6/30/2014, eligible for reelection for a subsequent 3-year term.

Carolyn Greenspan moved to elect Erik Clemons to the Board, and Laura Saverin seconded. The Board voted unanimously to approve Erik Clemons as a Director.

According to Achievement First records, it appears Erik Clemons remained on the Achievement First Elm City Directors until the charter school’s meeting on 1/21/15 meeting.

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons is a founding board member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School.

From the New Haven Independent, State OKs “Pioneering” Local Charter

The approval came Monday at a meeting of the state Board of Education in the Legislative Office Building. The board unanimously approved a proposal to create a new pre-K to 8 charter school called the Elm City Montessori School, starting with 51 New Haven kids ages 3 to 5 in the fall of 2014 (Later changed to fall 2015).

[…]

The state will kick in an extra $3,000 per pupil, as well as an undetermined amount of start-up money, in return for extra scrutiny: The school’s existence will depend on the state renewing its charter every five years.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who sits on the state school board, said state law has allowed for “local charters” in prior years, but no proposals ever got off the ground. The state’s education reform law of 2012 revised the “local charter” distinction to require staffing flexibility and to add the $3,000-per-pupil incentive, he said. Pryor commended the New Haven group for an “outstanding application.”

“We are very pleased to see the pioneering effort that you have organized taking shape,” said Pryor, a former New Haven alderman and founding member of New Haven’s Amistad Academy charter school.

[…]

The new investment in charters comes under a new education commissioner, Pryor, with a record of charter support: In 1999 he helped found Amistad Academy, which later grew into the state’s largest charter network…

And while Malloy noted that Erik Clemons is founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), the Governor failed to explain that the company has a major contract funded through the Department of Education.

From the New Haven Register;

Lincoln-Bassett was added this year to the state Commissioner’s Network for underperforming schools, joining the city’s High School in the Community and Wilbur Cross High School. The network seeks to significantly improve struggling schools through collaboration between local stakeholders and the state Department of Education.

[…]

The school received $1.4 million in operating and capital improvement grants and secured partnership with ConnCAT to facilitate the before- and after-school programs.

“It was really important that Mayor Toni Harp, and Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries were aligned on this idea that families and children can rise through the advent of provided services,” said ConnCAT CEO Erik Clemons.

Finally, Malloy failed to mention that Erik Clemons is affiliated with Billionaire Steven Mandell’s Zoom Foundation, the organization that played a key, behind-the-scenes role in persuading the Malloy administration to illegally take over the Bridgeport Public School System.

Mandell is not only a major Malloy campaign donor, but is a leading financial funder of the charter school industry. Mandell’s pro-“education reform” activities include paying for an education “policy staff” person housed in Malloy’s Hartford Office and another one who was stationed in former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s Bridgeport Office.  (See Wait, What?   NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office2/3/14)

In Erik Clemons case, we learn from the Zoom Foundation – The ZOOM Foundation’s new Prize for Parent Organizing supports nonprofit organizations inspired by the potential of parent power to contribute to the achievement of educational equity in Connecticut.  The Program Selection Committee for The ZOOM Foundation’s Prize for Parent Organizing includes:

Erik Clemons: Erik is CEO and President of ConnCAT, an organization he established in New Haven in 2011. The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, ConnCAT, is a post-secondary career training hub committed to connecting a world-class facility and resources to local need. Currently ConnCAT provides market-relevant job training and placement services to under and unemployed adults and multimedia arts education to 6 under-achieving youth from low-income families…

Also on the Zoom Foundation’s Program Selection Committee…

None other than Andrea Comer;

Andrea Comer is Executive Director of The Connecticut Business & Industry Association’s Education Foundation. In this role, Andrea stewards the efforts of CBIA’s nonprofit affiliate, which is responsible for promoting the development of Connecticut’s workforce through education and training, particularly as it relates to the manufacturing and energy sectors.

[…]

A former member of the Hartford and State Boards of Education, Andrea has spent the past two decades working to improve the lives of children and strengthen communities. Prior to joining CBIA, Andrea served as Chief Development Officer for an education management organization, where she oversaw communications, strategic planning and development.  (Apparently the Zoom Foundation couldn’t even bring themselves to reveal that the “education management organization” they highlight is the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE organization.

The bottom line is that when Dannel Malloy had the opportunity to set a proper course for the State Board of Education, one in which conflicts of interest were not allowed, he instead chose Erik Clemmons.

And so as Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

 

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education

A News Update from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

While Connecticut’s public schools continue to suffer from inadequate state funding and Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration strive to undermine, dismiss and destroy the CCJEF school funding lawsuit that would finally ensure that Connecticut meets its State Constitutional obligation to provide all students with a quality education, Malloy’s corporate education reform initiative has fueled an unprecedented growth of charter schools in Connecticut.  The Charter School Industry now collects in excess of $100 million a year from Connecticut taxpayer.

Privately owned and operated, but funded with taxpayer dollars, Connecticut’s Charter Schools have consistently failed to educate their fair share of students that require special education services and English Language Learners who aren’t fluent in the English Language.

Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, earned national notoriety when news broke about the shocking number of kindergarten and first graders suspended at their schools.  The charter school company’s failure to provide special education students with appropriate services has generated investigations in both Connecticut and New York.

The truth is that while the Connecticut State Board of Education is legally obligated to regulate charter schools but they have had a very shoddy track record when it comes to fulfilling those duties.

After taking office, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor (a co-founder of Achievement First, Inc.) and the Governor’s political appointees to the State Board handed approximately $50 million to charter school operator Michael Sharpe and his Jumoke/FUSE’s charter school chain without bothering to uncover that fact that “Dr.” Sharpe didn’t actually have the advanced academic degree he claimed or that he had spent time in federal prison for embezzlement of public funds.

The State Board of Education even bestowed upon “Mr.” Sharpe control of Hartford’s Milner school which, under their not-so-watchful eyes, he ran into the ground.

In addition to “overlooking” state requirements that charters serve a requisite number or special education and English Language Learners, and that charters are not supposed to be over-concentrated in a limited number of municipalities, the State Board has rubber-stamped charter renewals, even when they fail to meet the standards set forth in their charter authorization.

The State Board of Education has done such an abysmal job overseeing charters that the legislature was forced to pass a law tightening charter oversight rules last session and added a layer of legislative oversight to the Department of Education’s charter authorization process.

But SURPIRSE – thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent action, Achievement First, Inc. and Connecticut’s Charter School owners, operators and advocates are celebrating the fact that one of their own was quietly been appointed to Connecticut’s State Board of Education, the very state entity that remains responsible for overseeing and regulating charter schools.

Although the potential conflict of interest is obvious, this isn’t the first time Governor Malloy has used his appointing authority to put a charter school person on the State Board of Education.

His last such appointee, the COO of the Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain, resigned from the State Board of Education and her job as the FBI and state investigators closed in on allegations of wrongdoing by “Jumoke/FUSE’s CEO, “Dr.” Sharpe.

And this time, the appointment of a charter school insider to the State Board of Education occurred when Malloy appointed three new members to Connecticut’s State Board of Education last month.

While the legislators will eventually have an opportunity to vote on the nominations, as interim appointees, the individuals have already taken their seats on the Board and will serve until confirmed or rejected by the General Assembly.

Media coverage of the appointments was minimal and limited to what was contained in the press release that was issued by Malloy’s Office in November.  Gov. Malloy Appoints Three to Serve on the State Board of Education began,

Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that he is appointing Erik Clemons of New Haven, William Davenport of Litchfield, and Malia Sieve of Norwich to serve as members on the Connecticut State Board of Education.

“We are making significant progress as we raise the bar like never before.  Connecticut’s State Board of Education plays a critical role in ensuring that our students receive a world class education that prepares them for careers in the 21st century,” Governor Malloy said.  “Erik, Bill, and Malia are the right candidates for these roles, and I look forward to having them contribute their experiences and expertise as members of the board.  We are going to continue moving our schools forward.”

The Press Release added;

Clemons is the founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), a nonprofit career training institution that aims to prepare youth and adults for educational and career advancement through after-school arts and job training programming.

But there is much more to the story;

Knowing that Malloy and his administration have the propensity to duck the truth, it will not be surprising to many people that Malloy failed to inform the media, the public or the legislature that the State Board of Education’s newest member, Erik Clemons, has an extensive and long-standing relationship with the charter school industry and is the President and CEO of a company that directly benefits from a large state contract that is funded through the State Department of Education.

  • Erik Clemons served as member of Achievement First Inc.’s Elm City Charter School Board of Directors from 2013-2015.
  • Erik Clemons is also a founding member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School, a charter school that opened earlier this fall after receiving approval from the State Board of Education this fall.
  • Erik Clemons is the President of a non-profit corporation that received a lucrative contract, last year, a contract that is paid with taxpayer funds through the State Department of Education.

Malloy’s new appointees to the State Board of Education replace out-going members who resigned or didn’t seek re-appointment, including former State Board of Education member Andrea Comer.

As noted, Comer served as Chief Operating Officer of the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain but quit both her job and her position on the State Board of Education when the charter school company became the target of the investigation into financial wrongdoing.

When Malloy appointed Comer, Wendy Lecker and I raised alarms about the potential conflict of interest that comes with having a charter school executive on the state committee that regulates that charter school industry.  (See Pelto and Lecker’s March 15, 2013 commentary piece, Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education.)

At the time, both the Hartford Courant and Stamford Advocate followed up with editorials.  In an editorial entitled, Conflict on state school board, the Stamford Advocate wrote;

Andrea Comer is a successful executive in the state charter school business. She has worked for the charter management company Achievement First, and in October was appointed chief operating officer of Family Urban Schools of Excellence, a management/expansion company created by Hartford’s Jumoke Academy charter school.

And she is poised to add another title to her substantial resume: member of the state Board of Education.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has appointed Comer to the board — raising eyebrows and questions about a conflict of interest. The board has direct oversight of the charter school industry, decides whether to reauthorize charters and votes on funding and the creation of new charter schools.

As former state legislator Jonathan Pelto and Hearst Connecticut Newspapers columnist Wendy Lecker wrote in a blog post regarding Comer’s appointment: “The conflict is obvious!”

Yet the state Ethics Commission somehow sees it another way. It ruled that Comer’s professional position would not pose a conflict on the state school board. Apparently, the position of COO does not rank high enough for a conflict to exist.

Comer as recently as last month lobbied the General Assembly for greater charter school funding. To put her on a body that helps determine that funding, well, as Pelto and Lecker said:

[…]

Now it is up to the members of the Connecticut General Assembly to stand up and be counted on this vital issue.  As a corporate officer in a charter school company, Comer has a significant and clear conflict of interest. Legislature has a duty to reject her appointment to the State Board of Education.

Although one would have hoped that Governor Malloy had learned his lesson about keeping the charter school industry off the board that regulates them, Malloy failed to heed those warnings.

The Facts speak for themselves;

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons connection with Achievement First, Inc.

As the minutes of the November 25, 2013 meeting of the Achievement First, Elm City College Preparatory Charter School Board of Directors note;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT, the Board of Elm City College Preparatory elects Mr. Erik Clemons to an initial term as a Class II Director expiring on 6/30/2014, eligible for reelection for a subsequent 3-year term.

Carolyn Greenspan moved to elect Erik Clemons to the Board, and Laura Saverin seconded. The Board voted unanimously to approve Erik Clemons as a Director.

According to Achievement First records, it appears Erik Clemons remained on the Achievement First Elm City Directors until the charter school’s meeting on 1/21/15 meeting.

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons is a founding board member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School.

From the New Haven Independent, State OKs “Pioneering” Local Charter

The approval came Monday at a meeting of the state Board of Education in the Legislative Office Building. The board unanimously approved a proposal to create a new pre-K to 8 charter school called the Elm City Montessori School, starting with 51 New Haven kids ages 3 to 5 in the fall of 2014 (Later changed to fall 2015).

[…]

The state will kick in an extra $3,000 per pupil, as well as an undetermined amount of start-up money, in return for extra scrutiny: The school’s existence will depend on the state renewing its charter every five years.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who sits on the state school board, said state law has allowed for “local charters” in prior years, but no proposals ever got off the ground. The state’s education reform law of 2012 revised the “local charter” distinction to require staffing flexibility and to add the $3,000-per-pupil incentive, he said. Pryor commended the New Haven group for an “outstanding application.”

“We are very pleased to see the pioneering effort that you have organized taking shape,” said Pryor, a former New Haven alderman and founding member of New Haven’s Amistad Academy charter school.

[…]

The new investment in charters comes under a new education commissioner, Pryor, with a record of charter support: In 1999 he helped found Amistad Academy, which later grew into the state’s largest charter network…

And while Malloy noted that Erik Clemons is founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), the Governor failed to explain that the company has a major contract funded through the Department of Education.

From the New Haven Register;

Lincoln-Bassett was added this year to the state Commissioner’s Network for underperforming schools, joining the city’s High School in the Community and Wilbur Cross High School. The network seeks to significantly improve struggling schools through collaboration between local stakeholders and the state Department of Education.

[…]

The school received $1.4 million in operating and capital improvement grants and secured partnership with ConnCAT to facilitate the before- and after-school programs.

“It was really important that Mayor Toni Harp, and Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries were aligned on this idea that families and children can rise through the advent of provided services,” said ConnCAT CEO Erik Clemons.

Finally, Malloy fails to mention that Erik Clemons is affiliated with Billionaire Steven Mandell’s Zoom Foundation, the organization that played a key, behind-the-scenes role in persuading the Malloy administration to illegally take over the Bridgeport Public School System.

Mandell is not only a major Malloy campaign donor, but is a leading financial funder of the charter school industry. Mandell’s pro-“education reform” activities including paying for an education “policy staff” person housed in Malloy’s Hartford Office and another one who was stationed in former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s Bridgeport Office.  (See Wait, What?   NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office 2/3/14)

In Erik Clemons case we learn from the Zoom Foundation – The ZOOM Foundation’s new Prize for Parent Organizing supports nonprofit organizations inspired by the potential of parent power to contribute to the achievement of educational equity in Connecticut.  The Program Selection Committee for The ZOOM Foundation’s Prize for Parent Organizing includes:

Erik Clemons: Erik is CEO and President of ConnCAT, an organization he established in New Haven in 2011. The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, ConnCAT, is a post-secondary career training hub committed to connecting a world-class facility and resources to local need. Currently ConnCAT provides market-relevant job training and placement services to under and unemployed adults and multimedia arts education to 6 under-achieving youth from low-income families…

Also on the Zoom Foundation’s Program Selection Committee…

None other than Andrea Comer; Andrea Comer is Executive Director of The Connecticut Business & Industry Association’s Education Foundation. In this role, Andrea stewards the efforts of CBIA’s nonprofit affiliate, which is responsible for promoting the development of Connecticut’s workforce through education and training, particularly as it relates to the manufacturing and energy sectors.

[…]

A former member of the Hartford and State Boards of Education, Andrea has spent the past two decades working to improve the lives of children and strengthen communities. Prior to joining CBIA, Andrea served as Chief Development Officer for an education management organization, where she oversaw communications, strategic planning and development.  (Apparently the Zoom Foundation couldn’t even bring themselves to reveal that the “education management organization” they highlight is the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE organization.

The bottom line is that when Dannel Malloy had the opportunity to set a proper course for the State Board of Education, one in which conflicts of interest were not allowed, he instead chose Erik Clemmons.

And so as Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

SFER – The $7 million+ “student run” Corporate Education Reform Industry Front Group

An update on Students for Education Reform, Inc.

SFER is a model of how the Pro-Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry works to control the narrative surrounding public education while seeking to “win the hearts and minds of federal, state and local policymakers.

Dedicated to promoting the privatization of public education, more taxpayer funds for privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools, the Common Core, the Common Core testing scheme and a host of anti-teacher initiatives, Students for Education Reform, Inc. (SFER) was created in late 2009,  according to their narrative, by a couple of undergraduate students at Princeton University.

Claiming to have over 100 chapters across the country, the “student run” advocacy group has, as of late last summer, collected more than $7.3 million since its inception to fund their “education reform” activities.

According to the organization’s most recent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 reports (2014), in addition to the $5.7 million that has flowed into SFER’s coffers as of September 1, 2014, an additional $1.6 million has been collected by a closely-related company called the SFER Action Network Inc. which appears to serve as the political arm of SFER and formed in 2013.

Although Students for Education Reform is “run” by students, the self-described “grassroots” group is governed by a Board of Directors that is made up of some of the biggest corporate executives and players associated with the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

SFER’s website reports that the present Students for Education Reform Board of Directors includes;

April Chou (Chair) – The Chief Growth Officer at the KIPP Bay Area Charter School chain.

Adam Cioth (Treasurer) – The founder of Rolling Hills Capital hedge fund and a major funder of the public school privatization movement.

Christy Chin – The Managing Director of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, the philanthropy arm of the venture capital firm, Draper Richards.  The Foundation is one of SFER’s funders.

Stuart Cobert – The Deputy General Counsel at the Unilever Corporation.

Justin Cohen – The President of Mass Insight, a major corporate education reform consulting company.

Shavar Jeffries – Recently appointed President of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Jeffries was recently the unsuccessful “education reform” candidate for Mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Nancy Poon Lue – A Partner in the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund

And Chris Stewart, Director of Outreach and External Affairs for the Gates Foundation funded Pro-Corporate Education Reform Blog called Education Post.

Until recently the SFER Board also included acclaimed education reform financier Jonathan Sackler (Whose activities include funding the Achievement First Inc. charter school chain, forming ConnCAN and 50CAN and serving on the Board of The New Schools Venture Fund) and Rebecca Ledley (A member of the UP Academy Charter School Company and spouse of Charles Ledley, who serves on the Board of Directors of Education Reform Now (ERN) and its affiliate, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER.)

Earlier SFER Board members included Brian Olson, who presently serves as Chairman of ConnCAN and Matthew Kramer, President of Teach for America. Kramer also served with Sackler on the 50CAN Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors for SFER’s political arm, SFER Action Network Inc. is chaired by SFER’s Board Treasurer, Adam Cioth.  SFER Action Network’s Board also includes SFER Board members Chris Stewart a Rebecca Ledley.

Other members of the SFER Action Network Inc. Board include Meg Ansara and John Petry.

Ansara is a Washington D.C. consultant who worked with the education reform group Stand for Children for many years.

Petry is infamous for his relationship with Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter school chain and his role in getting her company off the ground and supporting it through the years.  Perty is also the co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER.) and previously served as Chairman of Education Reform Now. (ERN)

So where is SFER getting its money?

Although SFER claims to have sprung up on its own, its formation  can be traced directly to Education Reform Now (ERN) which served as SFER’s initial fiduciary and has provided SFER with at least $1.6 million since its inception.

Education Reform Now (ERN) is actually a conglomerate of three different corporate entities.

As Nation Magazine and others have reported, Education Reform Now (ERN), Education Reform Now Advocacy, Inc. and Democrats For Education Reform (DFER) are all part of the same “Education Reform” advocacy apparatus.

DFER, the group’s Political Action Committee has spent millions to undermine public education and support pro-corporate education reform candidates and initiatives.

For example, DFER spent about $1 million on television attack ads against the Chicago Teachers Union during that union’s successful strike.

DFER also joined with the Koch brothers, ALEC and a series of anti-union, right-wing groups to fund efforts to limit the ability of organized labor to use payroll deductions for political activities.

Like many other corporate education reform groups, SFER has been especially aggressive in working to keep people from identifying where the front group gets its funds.

An earlier version of SFER’s website reported that the entity’s “funding partners” included 50CAN, ConnCAN, Teach for America, Stand for Children, Kickboard and the Breakthrough Collaborative.”

However that information has disappeared from SFER’s present website.

What is known is that the Walton Foundation (Wal-Mart Family) gave SFER $250,000 in 2012, $650,000 in 2013 and $300,000 in 2014.

During the same time period, the Walton Foundation also gave 50Can $8.5 million and another $6 million to Education Reform Now.  Some of those funds may have made their way to Students for Education Reform (SFER.)

SFER may also have collected Gates Foundation funds, Gates provided 50CAN with more than $2.4 million between 2012 and 2014.

Another donor of record to SFER is The New Schools Venture Fund which is not surprising since Jonathan Sackler served on both organizations’ boards and Adam Cioth and Brian Olsen are members of the New Schools Venture Fund Leadership Council.

A description of how SFER works can be found in a 2014 Minnesota Post article entitled, “A ‘crazy’ amount of money is being spent on Minneapolis school-board races;  Reporting on massive amount of outside money was being spent on the race for the Minneapolis school board, the Minnesota paper reported;

The Student for Education Reform (SFER) Action Network Fund reported receipts of $26,000, $23,500 of which was a single donation from Adam Cioth and the remainder from Ben Whitney.

An investment banker, Cioth sits on SFER’s board. He is active both in the charter and traditional public school sectors, as well as the nonprofit startup New Schools Venture Fund. Ben Whitney headed up George Bush’s 2004 Minnesota campaign and chairs the board of the education advocacy group MinnCAN.

According to the disclosures, the SFER effort donated $16,000 worth of canvassing to MinnCAN’s political committee, the 50CAN Action Fund. It also paid for $4,350 worth of 50CAN literature and spent $5,000 for voter files and organizing software.

In addition to SFER’s contributions, the 50CAN Action Fund reported receiving $4,305 in cash from the student group and $10,000 from Arthur Rock, a San Francisco venture capitalist who sits on the board of Teach for America.

The 50CAN Action Fund took in a total of $35,000 and spent some $13,000 on campaign materials.

Local Republican financier Benson Whitney, chair of the board of the education reform organization MinnCAN (the state-level branch of 50CAN) and a supporter of Samuels, gave $2,500 of the $26,000, while California charter school investor and SFER board member Adam Cioth provided the other $23,500 in funds.

Another leading example of how SFER works can be found via the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), the corporate funded group seeking to “transform” the teaching profession by undermining teachers, teacher education programs and attacking teacher unions.

NCTQ’s dedicates a page on their website to proudly proclaim their allies and partners include…. Students For Education Reform (SFER) along with a list of other education reform groups including;

50CAN

ConnCAN

Democrats for Education Reform

DFER Colorado

DFER Illinois

DFER Massachusetts

DFER Michigan

DFER New Jersey

DFER New York

DFER Rhode Island

DFER Tennessee

DFER Washington

DFER Wisconsin

Education Reform Now

Educators 4 Excellence

MarylandCAN: Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now

Mass Insight Education & Research Institute

MinnCAN: Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now

NYCAN: New York Campaign for Achievement Now

PennCAN: Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now

RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now

StudentsFirst

When Diane Ravitch was asked about SFER in an interview she responded;

“I find it bizarre that students at any level would demand more standardized tests, and would demand that teachers be held accountable based on student test scores…Why would students promote a method that testing experts say is inaccurate for measuring teacher quality and that promotes narrowing the curriculum and teaching to the test?” – Diane Ravitch

To read more about Students for Education Reform (SFER) check out the following links;

Astroturf Activism: Who is Behind Students for Education Reform? (The Nation)

$tudent$ for Education Reform  (EduShyster)

How $tudent$ 4 Education Reform Jumped the Shark (EduShyster)

How to spot a fake ‘grassroots’ education reform group (Washington Post)

Students For Education Reform? Not the Change We Need (Good Magazine)

Rethinking “Youth-Led” – Students for Education Reform (Gen Y Not)

Another Charter School Front Group in Connecticut? Naw…Same people just different name

As Connecticut faces yet another massive state budget crisis, even more Pro-Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry money is flowing into Connecticut to help grease the charter school operators’ efforts to grab additional public funds courtesy of charter school aficionado and “education reform” groupie Governor Dannel Malloy.

This time the corporate funded charter school lobbyists are calling themselves “Fight for Fairness CT” and are rallying in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford.

Charter school organizers are using www.fightforfairnessct.org, a website that was created by a New York City advertising company on October 23 2015.

Although they are calling themselves by a different name, the group is actually the same controversial New York based charter school lobby group known as “Families for Excellent Schools” http://www.familiesforexcellentschools.org/ except when they call themselves “Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy.”

While their primary purpose has been to support Eva Moskowitz and the other New York Charter School operators, Families for Excellent Schools arrived in Connecticut from New York last year and registered both Families for Excellent Schools AND Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy as lobbying entities with Connecticut’s Office of State Ethics.

However, Families for Excellent Schools immediately created a new front group called Coalition for Every Child, setting up a website named http://www.foreverychildct.org/

When slapped for failing to register Coalition for Every Child with the Connecticut’s ethics office, the New Yorkers quickly changed their name to Families for Excellent Schools/Coalition for Every Child.

This year Families for Excellent Schools has spent nearly $1.2 million lobbying in favor of Governor Malloy’s charter school and education reform initiatives.

A quick glimpse at the newly formed www.fightforfairnessct.org will reveal the same logo as the old http://www.foreverychildct.org/, although they did change the color from Yellow to Blue to go along with the new t-shirts that Families for Excellent Schools are handing out to charter school parents and students in New York and Connecticut.

If the name changes seem confusing, no worries because even the highly paid consultants who work for the charter school industry appear to be confused.

According to www.fightforfairnessct.org,

“For all Press and Media inquiries, please contact Andrew Doba at [email protected].”

However, the actual press releases themselves go out from Andrew Doba at [email protected]

Doba was also listed as the media contact for Families for Excellent Schools, Coalition for Every Child and Families for Excellent Schools/Coalition for Every Child.

Just last year, Doba was working as Governor Dannel Malloy’s spokesperson but left that post this past January to join Stu Loeser and Company, a New York City public relations firm owned by the former press secretary of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Stu Loeser and Company are paid to run the Families for Excellent Schools’ public relations campaigns in New York and Connecticut.

Since leaving the state payroll and joining Stu Loeser and Company, Doda has also been serving as the spokesperson for Greenwich native Luke Bronin’s campaign for Mayor of Hartford.

And to bring the whole thing full circle, as previously reported in the Wait, What? article Billionaires for Bronin, one of Luke Bronin’s most noteworthy campaign contributors is Paul Tudor Jones II, the Greenwich Billionaire who is also one of the biggest donors to Families for Excellent Schools and was a charter school owner.

Although Families for Excellent Schools, now known as Families for Excellent Schools/Coalition for Every Child, was using www.fightforfairnessct.org last year as their online organizing website and have now shifted to http://www.foreverychildct.org/, they charter school advocacy group is sticking with the Twitter handle @FIGHTForFairnessCT.

@FightforFairnessCT got its start last year when Families for Excellent Schools bused in charter school parents and students from as far away as New York and Boston to rally at the Connecticut State Capitol in support of Governor Dannel Malloy’s ill-conceived proposal to divert scarce public funds away from public schools so that two new companies could open up charter schools in Connecticut.

A cursory review of @FightForFairnessCT will lead the casual observer to ConnCAN, Connecticut’s primary and original charter schools advocacy group which was founded by Greenwich millionaire Jonathan Sackler.  Sackler, whose company makes OxyContin, was a pivotal player in the creation of Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school chain with schools in New York Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Sackler and his wife are among Luke Bronin’s biggest campaign contributors having donated the maximum allowable amount to the Bronin mayoral campaign not once, but twice, in the last few months.

The Twitter Account @FightForFairnessCT’s first Tweet was actually a Re-Tweet of Jennifer Alexander’s excitement about being at last year’s Families for Excellent School’s Capitol rally.

Alexander is the CEO of ConnCAN, although the name of their lobbying and advocacy organization is actually the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc. except when they call themselves the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc.

Two years ago, ConnCAN added yet another front group to the mix forming A Better Connecticut, Inc. but have since dropped that name and the use of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., sticking instead with Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. corporate name.

Over the last three years, ConnCAN and its related entities have spent in excess of $3.5 million lobbying in favor of Malloy’s anti-public school and pro-charter school agenda.

Of course, none of those organizations should be confused with Connecticut’s other Pro-Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry lobby groups which include Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) or their new front-group called the Connecticut School Finance Project.  The New England Charter Schools Network (NECSN) is yet another advocacy group, although like ConnCAN, NECSN is closely aligned to Achievement First, Inc.

CCER and NECSN have spent well in excess of $800,000 promoting Malloy’s charter school and reform agenda.

None of those groups are directly connected to the “other” charter school and Corporate Education Reform Industry groups that have spent money lobbying in Connecticut, including StudentsFirst and Students for Education Reform, which together dropped in over $1 million on behalf of Malloy’s proposals.

Meanwhile, according to ​Andrew Doba’s latest press release from Fight for Fairness CT (but sent out from [email protected]),

“Parents, Teachers and Students Call For Fair Funding of Public Schools Announce “Fight for Fairness” March to Take Place Tuesday, November 10th in Bridgeport.”

Doba’s media statement goes on to explain that “Coalition members supporting” today’s march include ConnCAN, the New England Charter Schools Network (NECSN), Achievement First, and Families for Excellent Schools….

PS:  There will be a standardized test on this material and your teachers will be evaluated on how well you score.

Achievement First Inc. pledged to do better with special education students but didn’t

Last week, Achievement First Inc. the large charter school chain with schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island was hit with a lawsuit about its failure to fulfill its legal obligation to special education students at its Crown Heights, New York Charter School.

It was only two years ago that a Hartford Courant headline read, “Achievement First Pledges To Do Better With Disabled Students.” The paper added, “Civil Rights Complaint Said Too Often Students With Disabilities Suspended, Given Demerits.”

The complaint against Achievement First Hartford was filed by Greater Hartford Legal Aid against Achievement First’s Connecticut operation.  The lawsuit alleged;

“Achievement First’s failure to provide accommodations, modifications, and specialized instruction per 504 plans or IEPs, and AF’s pervasive discriminatory discipline practices violated violate federal and state law.”

The specific allegations included Achievement First’s violation of Title II of the American with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act.

Following a federal investigation, Achievement First, Inc. signed a “Voluntary Resolution Agreement” on May 30, 2013 in which it promised to do a better job providing students with services and improving training for administrators, teachers and staff to ensure with special education requirements were treated appropriately.

Among the long list of action items in the Resolution Agreement was the overhaul of Achievement First Inc.’s “School Culture Manual” so that parents not only understood their fundamental rights but were properly informed on how to access services for their children.

But despite the promises to do better, Achievement First is back in the news with yet another failure to provide legally required special education services.

On November 5, 2015 the New York Times reported, Lawsuit Accuses Brooklyn Charter School of Failing to Provide Special Education Services

As fellow bloggers Diane Ravitch explained in her follow up blog;

A lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of five students at Achievement First Crown Heights, claiming that the charter school did not provide mandated services “and were punished for behavior that arose from their disabilities.”

The lawsuit charged that the students did not get physical therapy and other services for weeks, and that a student with autism “was disciplined for not looking in the direction a teacher instructed or for hiding under his desk.”

Achievement First is a “no-excuses” charter chain with schools in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Its backers include some of the wealthiest supporters of privatization.

The families are also suing the New York City Department of Education and the New York State Education Department for permitting Achievement First to avoid its legal responsibilities to the children.

Pedido Street School, another leading education blog added,

The suit, filed on behalf of five students at Achievement First Crown Heights, described a “systemic failure to provide them a free appropriate public education, in violation of their rights.”

The systemic failure to provide services is especially troubling considering the Hartford Courant’s June 2013 story entitled, Achievement First Pledges To Do Better With Disabled Students.

The Hartford Courant reported;

A new federal civil rights agreement aims to get better and more appropriate services for children with disabilities who have been continually suspended or excluded from class at Achievement First Hartford Academy Middle School for disciplinary reasons.

Maria Morelli-Wolfe, a lawyer with Greater Hartford Legal Aid Inc., which last year filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on behalf of children with disabilities at the public charter school, said that very often those students spend too many hours out of the classroom — suspended in school or out of school — because of behaviors they weren’t necessarily able to control.

“Many, many days, they couldn’t catch a break, particularly those kids with disabilities that result in behavioral issues,” said Morelli-Wolfe. “They would get caught up in the cycle of the rigid discipline policies of Achievement First and they just couldn’t break free of them, sometimes for very small behaviors, even like tapping pencils. … Some of the cases were just heartbreaking.”

[…]

As part of its agreement with the Office for Civil Rights, Achievement First has promised to train staff not only in the federal education requirements for disabled students, but in the characteristics of disabilities such as autism, mood disorders, attention deficit disorder, and childhood trauma. It has also agreed to develop a centralized data system to track removal of disabled students from classrooms.

[…]

The agreement, which was released Monday, comes less than a week after the release of a report from the state Department of Education that showed that Achievement First charter schools have among the highest rates of suspension or expulsion in the state for all students, not just those with disabilities.

The report said that 49.4 percent of the students at Achievement First Hartford Academy Middle School had received at least one in-school or out-of-school suspension or expulsion — the highest percentage noted in the state report.

Johanna Rodriguez, whose eighth-grade son was included in the civil rights complaint, said her son was suspended and at home for most of last year, while this year she said he was suspended in school most of the time in a room set aside for students who are removed from class because of a behavior issue.

For lesser offenses, he was given “re-orientation” where he could remain in class, but had to wear a white shirt and other students were not allowed to talk to him.

Rodriguez said she got called “just about every day” and told that her son was being removed from class because he had been fidgeting or not promptly carrying out directions or talking to himself or humming in class.

She said her son has a variety of disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other problem behaviors. She said she warned Achievement First before her son enrolled in the sixth grade. “I told them he’s a handful,” Rodriguez said. She said she asked “Are you sure you can handle him?”

Over the past two years, she said, the academy had promised special accommodations for her son in various ways but didn’t follow through.

According to the complaint filed by the Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Achievement First has a “no excuses” philosophy that says, “We must refuse to make excuses for our students because of their prior education, their family situation, their community, or other potential excuses.”

The complaint said that “based on our experiences with Achievement First, learning, emotional or behavioral disabilities are often viewed as just another ‘potential excuse.'”

Achievement First Inc., like most charter schools, consistently fail to enroll their fair share of students who require special education services.

The following chart using data from 2012-2013 provides just a glimpse of Achievement First’s unwillingness or inability to accept and service special needs students in Connecticut.  In addition, when it comes to the special education students that Achievement First Inc. and other charter schools do accept, they are tend to be special education students who require fewer services.

 

SCHOOL DISTRICT/SCHOOL % STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Hartford Public Schools   14.2%
Achievement First Hartford  7.8%
Bridgeport Public Schools 12.7%
Achievement First Bridgeport 8.0%
New Haven Public Schools 11.1%
Achievement First – Elm City 6.5%
Achievement First – Amistad 5.0%

NOTE:  Considering THAT charter schools get reimbursed for any and all special education expenses, in addition to their per pupil grant, there is absolutely no excuse for charter schools to refuse to enroll students with special needs or push out those who require additional services.

The harsh reality is that while Achievement First Inc. and other charter schools like to apply a “no excuses” mantra for students, the record of lawsuits and media reports make it clear that when it comes to their own policies and actions these charter schools like to “talk the talk” but utterly fail to “walk the walk” when it comes to being real public schools.

Dumping Children – The immoral and unethical Charter School tactics to push students back to public schools

The undeniable truth is that while gobbling up massive amounts of scarce public funds, the vast majority of charter schools refuse to accept their fair share of students who need special education services and children who aren’t proficient in the English Language (So-called ELL students.)

And when “the unwanted” do get into charter schools, the companies running the schools use immoral and unethical tactics to push out students that don’t fit their corporate profile.

No real public school could ever engage in the abusive and unfair dumping practices that have become the norm in the charter school industry.

In Connecticut, a leading example of a push-out strategy was the one utilized by the Achievement First Inc. charter school chain. (See The “Shocking Numbers Of Kindergarten, First Grade Suspensions” at Achievement First Schools.)

The depth to which charter schools will lower themselves became apparently last week with a New York Times expose on Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy charter schools in New York City where a “Got to Go” list was developed to target specific students for dismissal.

As the article revealed, students on the “Got to Go” list were routinely suspended until their parents withdrew them. The suspension rate for elementary students at Success Academy charter schools is seven times the rate of New York City’s public elementary schools and, like Achievement First, Inc. the charter school was targeting and abusing children as young as kindergarten.

New York’s Alliance for Quality Education has begun an online petition to focus attention on Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy charter school chain and the abusive practices that charter school utilizes to “dump” the children they don’t want.

You can add your name and then help distribute this important petition via the following link;

TELL THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION TO STOP FUNDING THE KINDERGARTEN TO PRISON PIPELINE

Or

http://iam.colorofchange.org/petitions/tell-the-u-s-department-of-education-to-stop-funding-the-kindergarten-to-prison-pipeline