CT Leaders propose cutting funding for public schools while protecting charter school increases


In the face of yet another budget deficit, Governor Dannel Malloy and leaders in the Connecticut General Assembly have been laying out competing plans to cut the state budget.  All plans include cuts in state aid for public schools while protecting Malloy’s initiative to expand funding for charter schools in Connecticut.  Some of the proposed cuts to public education would simply shift the burden onto local property taxpayers, while others would reduce the level of services some public school students receive.

In this guest post, public school advocate and retired Connecticut educator explores the reasons why Governor Malloy and legislators are cutting funding for Connecticut’s public school children while still increasing support for charter schools.

BEYOND OUTRAGE!!!  By John Bestor

Wondering why charter school allocations have remained sacrosanct despite the serious budget issues facing our legislators and the citizens of our State?

In addition to the lucrative New Market Tax Credit that is available to investors who – in their philanthropic largess – receive “tax credits” that will enable them to double their philanthropic investment in seven years, there are other reasons why monies for charter school expansion remain an untouchable budget item.


In 2010, Steve Adamowski, then the Superintendent of the Hartford Public Schools and ever-since Governor Malloy’s “go-to” education disruptor, signed an agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “to expand access to a high quality education to advance college readiness” with the “goal to support communities in significantly boosting the number of students enrolled in high performing schools”.  The grant terms called for

  • Joint professional development for teachers in charter and district schools
  • Implementing CCSS with aligned instructional tools and supports for teachers
  • Creating personalized learning experiences for students
  • Universal enrollment system for all public schools, and
  • Common metrics to help families evaluate all schools on consistent criteria.

A signing bonus of $100,000 was paid to the signatory enabling Hartford to join 12 other cities in seeking further competitive grants under a District-Charter Collaboration Compact.

The Compact, as it is commonly referred to, has provided nearly $5 million for the express purpose of encouraging and creating more charter schools in our State.

According to a 2013 Interim Report published by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a monitoring arm of the Gates Foundation (www.crpe.org), the Hartford Public Schools have received the largest allocation of grant dollars of any of the other competing urban districts.

Quoting directly from their 47-page report (with Appendix VII specifically detailing the Hartford P.S. Involvement), the authors of the 2013 CRPE Interim Report found that:

“Mayoral control of a school board appears to have made the signing of a Compact more likely.” (p.6)

“The Gates Foundation required that Compacts be signed by key district and charter leaders and include agreements about specific collaborations.”  (p.7)

“Leaders in every Compact city were motivated to improve access to and the quality of special education services in schools.” (p.8)

“In places with a history of some portfolio management and collaboration, like Hartford and Denver, there was plenty of support for signing the Compact.” (p.9)

“Interviews with education leaders in Compact cities revealed that changing the tone of the conversation between school districts and charter schools and tackling a few mutually beneficial projects has been extremely important, especially in cities starting from scratch.” (p.10)

“A dedicated “Compact manager” oversees the committee [steering committees and subcommittees] and helps push the Compact agreements forward.”  (p.10)

“In Hartford, the Achievement First charter management organization trains residents for district school leadership positions through residencies in charter schools and district partner schools, intense individual coaching from the program director, and weekly professional development seminars.”  (p.13)

“In Hartford, new superintendent Christina Kishimoto has the same strong commitment to the Compact that her predecessor, Steven Adamowski, had when he signed, and the city has made progress in several areas since the transition.”  (p.14)

“Finally, in four cities – Denver, Hartford, New Orleans, and New York – both district and charter leaders came to the table with a deep understanding of what could be gained from collaboration and saw a long-term commitment pay off.  These ‘mature collaborations’, as we call them, signed Compacts in environments where districts had supported charter schools for many years and believed that the district’s job is not to run all schools directly but to instead manage a portfolio of public schools for the city’s students. For example, Denver Public Schools has been aggressively recruiting new charter schools for five years, and the Hartford Public Schools had been voluntarily sharing revenue with charter schools for six years.”  (p.18)

“As Compacts were signed across the country, there was generous media coverage and excitement.” (p.19)  [The Press Release by the Hartford Public Schools on 12.5.12 is available online and identifies Noah Wepman as Gates Foundation’s Portfolio Manager for College Ready Programs, Gov. Dannel Malloy, the disgraced Dr. Michael Sharpe, the ever-present Dacia Toll from Achievement First, and Matthew Poland, chairman of Hartford BOE, as present for this release.]

“CRPE will continue to monitor and help support the next phase of Compact Implementation.  As described above, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has recently provided a significant infusion of financial as well as programmatic support to seven Compact cities – Boston, Denver, Hartford, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch – to expand and deepen their collaborative efforts.” (p. 21)

Your guess is as good as mine as to who reported out to these report writers on the progress that the Hartford Public Schools had made prior to release of the Interim Report.


It seems quite obvious that to renege on charter school expansion plans would be contrary to the terms of the Compact and would undoubtedly put in jeopardy any unspent or future dollars under this philanthropic entity.

It leads one to wonder how the signing bonus was disbursed.  Where the grant monies reside? In what account and maintained to who?  With regulatory irregularities associated with charter school oversight well known, just how have these grant monies been spent?  On what and to what purpose?  Who benefits and who profits?  Are Senator Sharkey and Representative Looney aware of this commitment during their “inside” budget negotiation sessions with the Governor’s men?  Are rank-and-file democratic legislators also aware that charter cuts must be left off the table?  Maybe someone should ask them and force them to go on the record before they continue cutting essential services to vulnerable citizens.  Does it extend to minority legislators as well?  Promises made, promises kept, governing corrupt, citizens kept “in the dark”.

Further investigation into the CT charter school scandal was quietly released in 1/2015 (conveniently the day after New Year’s) as Attorney Frederick Dorsey revealed fiscal mismanagement without oversight, nepotism, and questionable real estate shenanigans in his scathing report that had been called for by former Education Commissioner Pryor at the height of the scandal.  Dorsey’s investigation was requested just before a more extensive FBI investigation took over; though the FBI investigation is probably far from finished, a progress report in the The Progressive (8/2015) pointed out that charter school finances nationwide were ripe for graft and corruption.  As reported: “The troubled Hartford charter school operator FUSE was dealt another blow Friday when FBI agents served it subpoenas to a grand jury that is examining the group’s operations. When two Courant reporters arrived at FUSE offices on Asylum Hill on Friday morning, minutes after the FBI’s visit, they saw a woman feeding sheaves of documents into a shredder. The Hartford Courant, 7.18.14.”

Diane Ravitch called it an “Outrage!” in her recent blog (11.09.15) on the prospective Boston school closings, but it is truly BEYOND OUTRAGE!!! and impacts under-resourced urban school systems across this country: a veritable “Who’s Who?” of struggling school communities which have either lost local control of its school board or are at risk of losing local control.  At the same time, local school boards are simply unwilling to exert their authority and ask the important questions while complying with directives of the State Department of Education while CABE, CAPSS, CAS, CBIA, CCER, and ConnCAN – working in collusion as Big Six Partners follow a roadmap designed by The Common Core Funder’s Working Group in the Fall 2012 – continue to work behind scenes and in the media to lobby for “corporate education reform” with its top-down imposed Common Core State Standards and their unproven destructive test protocols.


Press Release: Gates Foundation Invests Nearly $25 Million in Seven Cities Dedicated to Bold Collaboration Between Public Charter and Traditional Schools  www.gatesfoundation.org

2013 CPRE Interim Report by Sarah Yatsko, Elizabeth Cooley Nelson, & Robin Lake www.cpre.org

Press Release: Hartford Public Schools to Expand Partnerships with Charter Schools www.hartfordschools.org

CT Post article (1.02.15): “State report details problems with FUSE management” by Linda Conner Lambeck. www.ctpost.com

Diane Ravitch – “Connecticut: state investigation finds rampant nepotism and lack of oversight at charter chain.”  www.dianeravitch.net

The Hartford Courant (1.02.14) “Probe of Charter School Group Blasts ‘Suspect’ Conduct, ‘Rampant Nepotism’.” by Matthew Kauffman, Vanessa de la Torre, & Jon Lender.

The Progressive (8/20/14). “FBI Tracks Charter Groups.”

Malloy continues to coddle Connecticut’s Charter School Industry

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The massive financial investment the charter school industry made in Malloy’s last gubernatorial campaign appears to be paying off yet again as Governor announces a new plan to cut state spending.

As the CT Mirror is reporting in an exclusive article entitled, Malloy pitches $350M in cuts; GOP wants mix of cuts, labor savings;

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy presented legislators Thursday with almost $350 million in budget-cutting options that would fall heavily on social services, education and municipal aid, according to documents obtained by The Mirror.

Details are scarce, but in classic fashion, Malloy is targeting the majority of his new budget cuts on health care, human services, education and Connecticut’s Public institutions of higher education.

Malloy’s list of “cuts” includes $2.3 million “less” for Connecticut’s privately owned but taxpayer funded charter schools…but such a claim obscures the truth.

According to the CT Mirror, the Charter School “cut is possible because fewer students enrolled in charter schools than the state budget provided. This happened because the State Board of Education approved a smaller expansion of charter schools than initially anticipated.”

However the real truth is that as a result of Malloy’s demand that charter schools get the money they wanted, the present Connecticut budget includes $8.6 million more for Charter Schools this year and an additional $13.1 million more in next year’s budget.

Lest people fall for the claim that Charter Schools are being “cut,” even if Malloy’s latest proposal is adopted, the Charter Schools – which refuse to educate their fair share of students with special education needs and those who aren’t fluent in English – will still be getting $6.3 million more this year and a total of $19.4 over the two year budget period.

While protecting charter schools, who proved to be among his largest campaign donors, Malloy’s new spending plan actually includes a variety of significant cuts to public education programs including a $15 million cut in the school transportation grant which will simply shift the burden for those costs onto local property taxpayers.

In addition, while protecting charter schools and cutting public schools, Malloy returns to one of his favorite targets, proposing an additional $28 million in cuts to UConn and the Board of Regents (Connecticut State University and Community Colleges).

Malloy is also proposing to cut an additional $16.5 million to Connecticut’s hospitals, many of which are already unable to maintain their present level of services due to Malloy’s previous budget cuts.

The CT Mirror is also reporting that;

Meanwhile, leaders of the legislature’s Republican minority offered an array of spending cuts and new restrictions on state employees’ wages and benefits, all of which presumably would require negotiations with labor unions.

You can read the full CT Mirror article at: http://ctmirror.org/2015/11/12/malloy-pitches-350m-in-cuts-gop-wants-labor-concessions/

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

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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.


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;




Families for Excellent Schools, Luke Bronin and the expansion of the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry in Hartford Connecticut.


Families for Excellent Schools (FES) is a major New York City based, corporate funded, charter school and education reform advocacy group.

In recent months the group and its allies have played an increasingly powerful role on behalf of Greenwich native and political newcomer Luke Bronin’s campaign for mayor of Hartford.

The work for Bronin is only part of the organization’s effort to expand into Connecticut.

So far this year FES has spent well in excess of a $1.5 million to push Governor Malloy’s successful effort to divert scarce public funds to charter schools rather than adequately funding Connecticut’s public schools.  The net effect of Malloy’s pro-charter school, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher agenda is that charter schools are getting even more public funds while local Connecticut communities are being forced to raise property taxes and cut public school programs just to balance local budgets.

Families for Excellent Schools also have their hand in Luke Bronin’s recent win in the Democratic Primary for Mayor of Hartford and a recent job post announces that the group is also hiring a Hartford, Connecticut organizer “to work with its Connecticut team.”

Andrew Doba, Governor Dannel Malloy’s former mouthpiece, who also served as Hartford mayoral candidate Luke Bronin’s spokesman, is the lead consultant for Families for Excellent Schools in Connecticut.  Doba works for a New York based public relations group that is headed by the former spokesperson for Michael Bloomberg.

Not only has Families for Excellent Schools been paying Malloy/Bronin’s spokesperson but the organization has also handed hundreds of thousands of dollars over to Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s top advisor and the managing director in Connecticut for another New York-based public relations firm called Global Strategies.

Occhiogrosso, who played a key role in Malloy’s 2010 and 2014 campaigns and worked in the Governor’s Office during Malloy’s first term, collected millions from Malloy’s various re-election campaign accounts in 2014. Occhiogrosso and his firm are also one of the highest paid consultants to Luke Bronin during his recent campaign for Mayor.

Formed in 2011, the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy group Families for Excellent School’s fundraising has skyrocketed from $642,042 in 2011 to $1,000,053 in 2012 to $12,264,668 in 2013.  The entity’s IRS 2014 filing is not yet available.

According to a recent article in the Nation magazine entitled, 9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York’s Public Schools—Here’s Their Story, both the Chair and Vice Chair of the Families for Excellent Schools Board of Directors are among the super elite that are funding the extraordinary effort to undermine public education in the United States.

Though Families for Excellent Schools presents itself as a grassroots parent education reform organization, four of its five original board members are Wall Street titans like Bryan Lawrence and Paul Appelbaum, who made their millions in the hedge fund and private equity worlds respectively.

Other FES Board members also come to the table having made millions as hedge fund and private equity managers.

Of the $12.3 million that Families for Excellent Schools collected in 2013, $9.1 million was spent on television, radio and direct mail campaigns in support of pro-charter school initiatives like those proposed by Democrat Governors Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy.

Since its inception, Families for Excellent Schools has been involved in some of the most controversial pro-charter lobbying efforts in recent years.

As part of its 2015 effort to support Governor Malloy’s charter school funding initiative, the group bussed in charter school parents and students from as far away as New York and Boston for a rally on the lawn of the State Capitol in Hartford.  More recently, the group sent out glossy mailings to voters in a number of Connecticut legislative districts “thanking them” for their pro-charter school vote – a vote that will actually end up costing state and local property taxpayers even more money.

Families for Excellent Schools also spent approximately $6 million in 2014 to “prevent Mayor Bill de Blasio from regulating the charter school sector and won passage of a law that forces the city to pay the rent of charters “not located on public school grounds.”

Like many of the leading Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry front groups, the organization uses a series of loopholes to keep from having to divulge its list of donors.  In addition, these groups often set up more than one corporate entity to hide donations, reduce the potential to track funds or use the tax code to get around restrictions on lobbying.

In the case of Families for Excellent Schools, they actually have two different entities; Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. and Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, Inc.

In Connecticut, both organizations have filed with the Office of State Ethics as lobbying entities, although the two groups are used very differently under the law.

According to research conducted by fellow education blogger and activist Mercedes Schneider, some of the biggest donors to Families for Excellent Schools are:

The Walton Family Foundation, Inc.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

StudentsFirst New York, Inc.

Tapestry Project, Inc.

Moriah Fund, Inc.

Hertog Foundation, Inc.

Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, Inc.

Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program

You can find out  more about FES’s fundraising operation via a WNYC story by reporter Robert Lewis – WNYC March 2014 report:

WNYC’s Robert Lewis determined that The Walton Family Foundation provided much of the early start up money for Families for Excellent Schools.

Even Connecticut’s richest billionaire and recipient of well over $50 million from Governor Dannel Malloy’s taxpayer funded corporate welfare program, Ray Dalio, is a donor to Families for Excellent Schools.

While it is difficult to determine where Families for Excellent Schools and other Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry groups get all their funding, some of the major players behind the organization are much easier to identify.

For example, as WNYC reported, the Tapestry Project is one of the organization’s major donors.  As Mercedes Schneider noted in her research, the Tapestry Project’s Executive Director is Eric Grannis who is the husband of the infamous charter school operator, Eva Moskowitz.

The Tapestry Project’s Board of Directors also includes Gideon Stein, who is a member of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy board. Stein is also a member of the Moriah Fund Board of Directors, another major contributor to Families for Excellent Schools.

And not only is Students First NY a donor to Families for Excellent Schools but the group shares an office with Families for Excellent Schools and Eva Moskowitz is a member of the Board of Directors for Student’s First NY.

A number of the other Board members of Families for Excellent Schools have equally incestuous relationships with other entities in the charter school industry and the corporate education reform effort.


Look out Hartford, not only is the newly crowned Democratic Mayoral nominee Luke Bronin basking in the sunshine thanks to the money and players behind Families for Excellent Schools, but the charter school lobbying group is now hiring political operatives to “organize” in Hartford.

Connecticut Ed Reform Leader urges business leaders to say something when poor have too many children


“Speak your mind, if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support one through four – right –speak it …”

 – Paul Diego Holzer, Executive Director of Achieve Hartford! Achieve Hartford! is the leading corporate education reform and charter school advocacy group in Connecticut’s capital city.

The well-paid spokespeople for the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry are usually pretty good at staying on “message.”  Surrounded by public relations staff and consultants and aided by “media training” sessions, the proponents of charter schools, the Common Core, the Common Core Testing scam and various anti-teacher initiatives exude the aura of well-prepared snake oil salesman.

But from time to time, they drop their guard and their true opinions, philosophies, arrogance and ignorance come shining through loud and clear.

One of the most recent examples occurred last week, on September 17, 2015, when the Hartford Metro Alliance, which serves as the Hartford region’s major chamber of commerce, held their annual “Hartford Metro Rising Star Education Breakfast.”

The event was moderated by Oz Griebel, a one-time gubernatorial candidate and the President & CEO of the Hartford Metro Alliance.  The event featured a presentation by Hartford Superintendent of Schools Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, followed by a discussion with the superintendent and Paul Diego Holzer, the Executive Director of Achieve Hartford!, the Connecticut‘s Capital City’s leading corporate funded education reform advocacy group.

As Paul Diego Holzer addressed the status of Hartford’s public schools he began by complimenting Superintendent Schiavino-Narvaez, decried and then mislead the audience about value of the recent Common Core SBAC results and then turned his attention to the issue of poverty.  A partial transcript of the comments follows, the full video can been seen via the link below;

On the problem of poverty, Paul Diego Holzer explained;

I think there is a question that comes up often about poverty which is are we really going to fix this if you know the situations at home are what they are and I challenge us to think about our own expectations of families in poverty


If you don’t speak your mind on to this issue of poverty and on families and where responsibility lies –right – you’re not helping.

Speak your mind – right – if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support 1 through four – right –speak it – we have to come together on this issue, but also at the same time think about what we are going to do for that family…

Putting aside the reality that the actual number of poor parents with four or five children in the school system is extremely low, the stunningly ignorant and disturbing approach to “doing something” about the crippling impact of poverty in Hartford is a stark reflection about how out-of-touch many in the Corporate Education Reform Industry actually approach the real issues that are limiting educational achievement in Hartford and other poor communities across Connecticut and the nation.

We know one overriding truth – poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs are what limit educational achievement.

Anyone who would suggest that the problem is that people need to speak up, “if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support one through four,” should not be part of any discussion about public education, poverty, children and American society.

Additional Background;

Achieve Hartford! is the corporate funded charter school and Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy group that spends more than $1 million a year lobbying and advocating for more charter schools and the implementation of Governor Dannel Malloy’s “education reforms” in Hartford.

Achieve Hartford! even has a Chief Branding Officer.

The organization’s Executive Director Paul Diego Holzer collects upwards towards $150,000 to coordinate the organization’s activities. Holzer and Achieve Hartford! have been among the most vocal proponents of diverting scarce public taxpayer funds to Achievement First, Inc, the large charter school management company, to former charter school operator Dr.” Michael Sharpe and his disgraced FUSE charter school chain and Steve Perry, the controversial anti-teacher former Hartford school administrator and  self-described “most trusted educator in America,” who, thanks to Governor Malloy is opening his own privately owned but publicly funded “boutique” charter school company.

With an MBA in Education Management from Yale, Paul Diego Holzer, served as Achieve Hartford!’s Director of Education Programs where he managed the organization’s research and community engagement programs, before becoming the organization’s Executive Director.  Holzer was a founding board member of the YouthBuild Public Charter School in Washington DC

Achieve Hartford!’s Board of Directors is made up of corporate executives and business leaders heralding from the biggest corporations in the greater Hartford area including Travelers, New York Life Retirement Services, Hartford Healthcare, Prudential, Webster Bank, The Hartford Financial Services Group, MetroHartford Alliance, UnitedHealthcare, and others.

As stunningly disgusting and inappropriate as Holzer’s comments were, equally telling is that neither Oz Griebel, the moderator, nor Hartford Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez made any attempt to challenge Holzer’s outrageous comment or even sought to set the record straight about the poor families or that telling poor women not to have “too many” children is not a useful, meaningful or appropriate way to go about dealing with Hartford’s extraordinary poverty problem.

You can see Achieve Hartford!’s Executive Director Paul Diego Holzer’s comments via the following YouTube link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV4siK2XNtI  The Achieve Hartford! portion begins about 47 minutes into the video.

The Problem:  Some believe what isn’t true and others refuse to believe what is…


And then there are those people who do both.

As we contemplate how it is possible that elected officials like Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy remain steadfastly committed to his anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-Common Core testing and pro-charter school corporate education reform initiatives we might do well to remember the words of the great Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, who observed that fools are those who “believe what isn’t true [and/or] refuse to believe what is true.”

The damage that Malloy and his cadre of “reformers” have done to public education in Connecticut, and continue to do, has been significantly exacerbated by the utter failure of the Democrat controlled Connecticut General Assembly to stand up to Malloy’s bullying.

Incredibly, the majority of State Senators and State Representatives have abdicated their responsibility when it comes to promoting public education.

Rather that step forward and fulfill their constitutional and moral duty as participants in our representative democracy, they have relegated themselves, doing little more than rubber stamping the very policies that are hurting Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, public schools and taxpayers of their districts.

With little to no support from the Legislative Branch of Government, the role of the Judicial Branch becomes all the more important.

Public education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker had another MUST READ column in this past weekend’s Stamford Advocate.

In her column, Wendy Lecker alerts us to the fact that we’ve apparently and unfortunately reached the point where the courts must step in and guide our elected officials toward policies that help, not hurt, public education in Connecticut.

Wendy Lecker’s piece, entitled, “Do courts need to guide Malloy about education?” was first published in the Stamford Advocate and can be found at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Do-courts-need-to-guide-Malloy-6514492.php

Wendy Lecker Writes;

Charter schools want it both ways. To get taxpayer dollars, they want to call themselves public schools. However, they do not want to educate the same children as public schools, or be subject to the same rules. Courts are beginning to challenge this duplicity. In Texas and Arizona, courts have ruled that charters are not entitled to the same funding as public schools. Now, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that charter schools not public schools at all and it is unconstitutional to divert any money intended for public schools to them.

Central to the Washington court’s decision was the connection between public schools and local democracy. The court noted that local control is the “most important feature” of a public school because it vests in local voters the power, through their elected agents, to run the schools that educate their children.

Charters in Washington are authorized by state agencies and governed by unelected boards. The court concluded that charter schools are not true public schools because they are “devoid of local control from their inception to their daily operation.”

This ruling follows another major decision by Washington’s Supreme Court, holding the legislature in contempt for failing to adequately fund its public schools, and fining it $100,000 a day.

The refusal to fund public schools and simultaneous willingness to divert money to privately run charter schools has parallels to Connecticut.

In January, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will have to defend the state’s failure to fund our public schools as the CCJEF school funding trial he has failed to thwart finally begins.

While spending millions of taxpayer dollars trying to prevent children in underfunded school districts from having their day in court, the Malloy administration has aggressively expanded privately run charter schools and funded them at levels higher than schools in our poorest districts receive. Charter schools receive $11,000 per pupil annually from the state, while children in Bridgeport public schools, for example, receive less than $9,000 per pupil annually in ECS funding. New Britain Schools receive less than $8,000 per pupil. Connecticut charter schools also tend to serve less needy, therefore less expensive-to-educate, students than their district counterparts.

Moreover, the state, in violation of its own laws, concentrates charters in a few districts, forcing those financially strapped districts to pay additional millions to the charter schools for special education and transportation.

The Malloy administration applies a double standard to charters on one hand and underfunded public schools on the other. As I have documented, the State Board of Education routinely reauthorizes charter schools despite their failures, while poor districts are subject to state takeover despite the state acknowledging that the districts’ troubles are financial . The SBE even blindly handed over tens of millions of dollars to a convicted embezzler/charter operator, Michael Sharpe.

Furthermore, despite strong Connecticut legal precedent barring school segregation, the state does nothing to stop rampant charter segregation. Ironically, the state recently claimed stellar progress on desegregation and asked to be released from court oversight in the Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation case.

Like Washington, Connecticut has a long tradition of local control over its public schools. In 2012, our Supreme Court voided the illegal state takeover of the Bridgeport board of education. The decision highlighted the importance of local control over education. The court stressed that Connecticut law has long recognized need to protect the democratic will of the people who elect their local boards of education. The court noted that local boards are most responsive to the needs of the local district and the will of the local population. The court further emphasized that local control “fosters a beneficial and symbiotic relationship between the parents, students and local school administrators, a relationship that should not be lightly disregarded.”

Yet in its zeal to expand and dole out taxpayer dollars to privately-run charters, the state has run roughshod over local control. Connecticut’s State Board of Education authorizes charter schools, which often appoint outsiders to their unelected boards. SBE steamrolls the will of the people. Last year, the SBE authorized new charter schools in Bridgeport and Stamford, disregarding the vociferous opposition of the elected school board in each city.

While the Malloy administration fights fair funding and desegregation of public schools, it has nearly doubled financial support for privately run, segregated charters.

Perhaps it is time for our courts to step in, like they did in Washington, and remind the governor of the true nature of public schools: Schools that serve every child and are accountable to the voters in every district.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

Sarah Darer Littman’s latest MUST READ PIECE – Connecticut Legislators Take Note, West Coast Rulings Are Going Against Charter Schools

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Fellow education advocate and CT Newsjunkie columnist Sarah Darer Littman has written another Must Read article about charter schools and Corporate Education Reform Industry’s unrelenting assault on public education.

In her latest piece, Littman challenges Connecticut legislators to pay “close attention to several interesting legal developments on the West Coast, which could have significant implications here in the Nutmeg State.”

Sarah Darer Littman writes,

The first came Sept. 5, when the state Supreme Court in Washington ruled 6-3 that charter schools don’t qualify as “common” schools under the state’s constitution, and therefore can’t receive public funding intended for traditional public schools.

“Our inquiry is not concerned with the merits or demerits of charter schools,” Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the majority opinion. “Whether charter schools would enhance our state’s public school system or appropriately address perceived shortcomings of that system are issues for the legislature and the voters. The issue for this court is what are the requirements of the constitution.”

Charter schools have always tried to play the public/private issue both ways. The acts of calling themselves “public” when it comes to claiming funds from the public purse, yet immediately claiming to be private entities the minute accountability and FOIA matters are raised, have created several interesting conundrums, as we have observed right here in our own backyard. (See FUSE, ConnCAN)

In the Washington State case this play it both ways strategy finally went pear-shaped:

“The words ‘common school’ must measure up to every requirement of the constitution . . . and whenever by any subterfuge it is sought to qualify or enlarge their meaning beyond the intent and spirit of the constitution, the attempt must fail . . . Bryan established the rule that a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.”

The court listed all the ways charters fail to meet these qualifications. Namely, they are:

1) “governed by a charter school board,” which is “appointed or selected . . . to manage and operate the charter school.”

2) The charter school board has the power to hire and discharge charter school employees and may contract with nonprofit organizations to manage the charter school.

3) They are “free from many regulations” that govern other schools.

4) Charter schools are “exempt from all school district policies,” as well as “all . . . state statutes and rules applicable to school districts” except those listed in I-1240 section 204(2) and those made applicable in the school’s charter contract.

In other words the Washington state court finally issued a ruling confirming what many of us here in Connecticut have been saying for years: charters are siphoning off taxpayer money from the public school system without sufficient (if any) accountability. Calling them “public schools” is merely convenient political fiction.

Sarah Darer Littman goes on to raise attention on the appeal of Vergara v. State of California and the education reformers attempt to force school districts to use test scores to evaluate teachers in yet another lawsuit.

Anyone concerned about threat to public education posed by the corporate education reformers and its allies like Governor Dannel Malloy should read Littman’s latest piece which can be found in its entirety at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_ct_legislators_should_take_note_of_west_coast_rulings_on_charters/

Adequate resources, not more testing, is the way to improve public schools

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The challenges associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs are the factors leading to the educational achievement gap between the haves and have nots.  The Corporate Education Reform Industry, with the help of elected officials likes of Dannel Malloy, Andrew Cuomo, Jeb Bush and others, have used the problems facing public schools in poorer communities to institute an agenda of more standardized testing, inappropriate teacher evaluation programs and the privatization of public education through the creation of privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools.

In yet another powerful commentary piece, Wendy Lecker goes to the root of the problem with the Common Core SBAC testing scheme and strategies being foisted on public school children, parents and teachers.

Wendy Lecker writes;

The SBAC results are out. With them will come recriminations about how our students, teachers and public schools are failing. Those who make these accusations hope the public has a short memory. They do not want us to remember that the SBAC has not been externally validated and therefore, according to the Vermont State Board of Education, does “not support valid and reliable inferences about student performance.” They hope we forget that the arbitrary SBAC proficiency levels set in Washington, D.C., guaranteed ahead of time that the majority of Connecticut students would fail.

Standardized tests are universally recognized to be unreliable and unhelpful in determining how well students learn. Experts routinely caution to therefore never use test results for any consequential decisions about schools, teachers or students.

Decades of testing evidence show that the only stable correlation that exists, whether it is the CMTs or the SATs and likely the SBACs, is between test scores and wealth. Researchers such as Sean Reardon at Stanford note that wealthy parents not only can provide basic stability, nutrition and health care for their children, but also tutoring and enrichment that gives affluent children an edge over poorer children.

The wealth advantage extends beyond test scores. Two studies, by St. Louis Federal Reserve and by the Boston Federal Reserve, demonstrate that family wealth is a determining factor in life success. The St. Louis report, published in August, revealed a racial wealth gap among college graduates. A college degree does not protect African-Americans and Latinos from economic crises as it does for whites and Asians. Employment discrimination figures into the disparity, but a major role is played by family wealth. Without a safety net of family assets, graduates of color must make more risky loan and other financial decisions. Last year’s Boston Fed study noted that wealthy high school drop-outs stay in the top economic rung as often as poor college graduates remain in the bottom economic rung. As a Washington Post article put it, rich kids who do everything wrong are better off than poor kids who do everything right. These reports, coupled with the fact that most job openings in the United States are for low-skilled workers, expose the uncomfortable truth that education is not the great equalizer.

These truths should inform education policy. To attempt to level the playing field, we should at least be equipping schools to provide supports to needy children that affluent parents provide their children.

Instead we spend billions on testing that tells us what we already know — rich kids are better off than poor kids; without addressing that inequality. Education reformers deflect attention from the supports poor kids need and tell us that all kids have to do is develop some “grit” to succeed. In his best-selling book, “How Children Succeed,” Paul Tough claims there is “no antipoverty tool we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable than the character strengths” like grit. Connecticut policy makers are trying to develop tests to measure the degree of “grit” our kids have. We are even told that if students have enough “grit” to get high test scores, our economy will be more competitive.

This is American individualism taken to its absurd extreme. Not only are children supposed to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, they have to bootstrap the entire national economy. The Fed studies show us that grit does not determine success in today’s highly stratified society — privilege does. And our nation’s economic health — surprise! — does not depend on test scores. The United States has remained competitive while our international tests scores have always been middling. Moreover, former U.S. Department of Education analyst Keith Baker compared 40 years’ worth of nations’ per capita gross domestic product and international test scores and found that test scores actually dropped as the rate of economic growth improved.

Those who push this false narrative of individualism also fight efforts to fund schools in order to give poor kids the support they need. Last month, the Washington Supreme Court held the state’s legislature in contempt, fining it $100,000 a day, for failing to adequately fund the state’s schools. Interestingly Microsoft, whose chief Bill Gates is a major player in test-based education reform, lobbied heavily against state taxes that would have helped finance the public schools.

Robber-baron education reformers such as Gates fight to protect their wealth to pass on their success to their children. For other people’s children their message is clear, as teacher/blogger Joe Bower remarked: “Let ’em eat grit.”

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  Her complete commentary piece can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Education-is-not-the-great-6487019.php

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