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

4 Comments

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.

ALERT – Lobbyists for the “Education Reformers” spend $1.9 million more in Connecticut.

1 Comment

While 2015 was a bad year for many Connecticut taxpayers and for those that rely on vital state services, it was a very, very good year for Connecticut’s charter school industry.

Making deep and significant cuts to a broad range of critical services, including funding for public education, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly actually handed even more public money over to the privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools.

While leaving Connecticut’s real public schools without sufficient funds, Malloy and Democratic legislators approved a deal to divert more than $100 million dollars this year to the companies that operate Connecticut’s charter schools.

Why would Malloy and Connecticut’s elected officials turn their backs on their own students, parents, teachers and public schools?

Maybe it had something to do with the record breaking amount of money that the “education reformers” and the charter school industry spent lobbying the Governor and the legislature.

Connecticut’s Democratic legislative leaders initially said they would not agree to giving Connecticut’s charter schools even more money, Malloy demanded that it was, “his way or else.” Rather than doing the right thing and standing their ground against the bully, Democratic legislators even gave Malloy the additional money he wanted to open two new charters schools – one in Bridgeport and one in Stamford. Both local boards of education in Bridgeport and Stamford had overwhelmingly opposed the proposed charter schools, explaining that they did not need or want additional charter schools in their district.

Ignoring Connecticut’s collapsing fiscal situation, the Governor and legislature actually handed the charter schools even more scarce public funds, even though those schools discriminate against Connecticut children by refusing to accept and educate their fair share of students who require special education services and those who aren’t proficient in the English language and therefore need additional English language services.

According to the latest lobbying reports filed by the various corporate education reform lobbying groups with the Office of State Ethics, the corporate-funded advocacy organizations that support charter schools, the Common Core and the absurd Common Core testing scheme spent more than $1.9 million lobbying Malloy and the legislature in 2015.

Leading the spending spree was the New York-based entity that calls itself, “Families for Excellent Schools, Inc.”  This is the group that bussed in parents and students from as far away as New York City and Boston to hold a rally at the Connecticut State Capitol demanding more money for the privately owned charter schools.

The additional $1.9 million in lobbying expenditures brings the total amount these groups have spent in support of Governor Malloy’s pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher initiatives to more than $9 million, making it the most expensive lobbying campaign in Connecticut history.

The list of corporate-funded education reform entities that reported lobbying Malloy and the legislature in 2015 included Achievement First, Inc., the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc.  (ConnCAN); Families for Excellent Schools Inc.; the Connecticut Council for Education Reform Inc. (CCER); the North East Charter Schools Network and the Bronx Charter School of Excellence.  A number of other charter school and education reform front groups, including Educators 4 Excellence, Excel Bridgeport and Achieve Hartford were active around the state but claim that they did not communicate with the governor or legislators and therefore do not need to reveal how they spent their money.

Connecticut has become a case study in how “big money” is changing how education policy and politics is conducted.

Education reform billionaire Paul Allen’s Yacht destroys vital coral reef in Cayman Islands

5 Comments

Billionaire, Microsoft founder, college drop-out and charter school champion Paul Allen’s yacht, the MV Tatoosh, severely damaged 14,000 square feet of coral reef in the Cayman Island’s Coral Replenishment Zone earlier this month.  Local officials have reported that, “about 80% of the reef, situated in a protected area, was destroyed by the ship’s chain.”

A spokesman for Allen initially claimed that published reports were exaggerated and that it was the Cayman Islands’ harbor master’s fault for mooring the boat in that location.  Now, faced with a possible $600,000 fine, Allen has apparently dispatched a team to help deal with the damage his yacht did to the coral reef.

Paul Allen, who is worth $18 Billion, sits at the #27 spot on Forbes’ list of American billionaires and #51 on list of all the billionaires in the world.  Allen, a childhood friend of Bill Gates, drop-out from Washington State University and formed Microsoft with Gates after Gates dropped out of Harvard.

In the small world department, Donald Trump purchased Paul Allen’s Boeing 757-200 in 2011.  Now called “Trump Force One,” the plane serves as the visual backdrop for many of Trump’s photo ops.  The plane, retrofitted to Trump’s demands includes, “A master bath with 24-karat gold fixtures… In fact, virtually every fixture in the plane is 24-karat gold plated! Even the seat belts!”

But back to Paul Allen…

Widely recognized for his philanthropic generosity of conservation projects and programs to improve health care and educational opportunities for girls in the 3rd world, Allen won acclaim in December 2013 when he sold his private island in Washington State and donated $100 million to help with the emerging Ebola Crisis.

Allen owns the Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders, a leading American soccer team.  He also ranks as the 8th wealthiest yacht owner in the world with three mega-yachts including; the Tatoosh, the 49th largest private yacht in the world; the Octopus, which is even larger than the Tatoosh, and the smaller Méduse.

While Paul Allen uses some his money to expand educational opportunities for girls in poor nations, when it comes to public students of the United States, Allen, like his childhood buddy Bill Gates, is using his fortune to undermine public education by promoting the charter school industry and the corporate education reform agenda.

Grants from Allen’s private foundation include, $150,000 for Stand for Children Leadership Center, a major political front group for the charter school industry.

“Reforming” the nation’s teacher training system has also been a top priority for Allen.  His donations include $2.8 million to The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, $550,000 to The Alliance for Education, $325,000 to a teacher training reform group funded through Foundations For A Better Oregon  and $150,000 to the Business Education Compact, an entity that supports “proficiency-based teaching and learning.”

Digital Learning Commons, an effort to shift children to online courses has received $350,000 from Paul Allen, while Teach For America has collected at least $400,000 from the billionaire.

When it comes to promoting the charter school industry, Allen’s donations include $275,000 to the Washington State Charter Schools Association, along with massive lobbying and campaign expenditures in support of efforts to build charter schools in Washington State.

After Washington State voters rejected a major charter school initiative in 1996 by a two to one margin, Bill Gates and the Charter School Industry turned to the Washington legislature to try and force Washington State to approve and fund charter schools.  However, those legislative effort failed in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000.

As the Associated Press reported in 2000, the pro-charter school corporate education reform lobby tried to get both the legislature and the electorate to approve and fund charter schools.

Employees from Paul Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc., were dispatched to help pass pro-charter school legislation and Allen donated his lobbyist to help with the effort. Allen also put up the $700,000 to help get Initiative 729 onto the Washington State ballot.  The initiative would have legalized charter schools in Washington State and required taxpayers to fund 80 new charter schools.

This time the initiative lost 52 percent to 48 percent.

Undaunted, Bill Gates, Paul Allen and the super-rich continued to fund efforts to undermine Washington State’s public school system.  In a 2012 article entitled Bill Gates, other billionaires funding charter effort in Washington state, the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss highlighted their activities reporting;

To get an understanding of how America’s wealthiest people are using some of their fortunes to drive school reform, take a look at a list of the contributors to the pro-charter school initiative on the Washington state ballot in November. The first few pages — the ones with the biggest donations — is a who’s who of billionaires.

The money is being donated to support Initiative 1240, which, if passed, would allow public charter schools to open in the state for the first time.  Washington voters have rejected the opening of public charter schools three times — in 1996, 2000 and 2004 — but supporters are nothing if not persistent.

First on the list (which starts with the biggest donations and goes down) is Microsoft founder Bill Gates, with a $2 million gift dated Oct. 4, 2012. He is also third on the list — with an $800,000 donation dated June 19, 2012, and he is No. 11 on the list — with a donation of $200,000, dated June 7.  His aggregate total, according to the Oct. 4. report, is $3.053 million.

Another billionaire occupies the No 2 spot — Alice Walton of Walmart Stores, Inc., fame, who, unlike Gates, doesn’t live in the state. Her Oct. 5 donation is listed at $1.1 million. She is also fourth on the list, with a July 11 donation of $600,000, giving her an aggregate total of $1.7 million.

Walton is listed on the Public Disclosure Commission form as a resident of Bentonville, Ark., so you might wonder why she cares so much about charter schools in Washington State. The Walton Family Foundation has been instrumental in funding charter school and voucher initiatives around the country over the past several years.

We move to No. 5 on the list, billionaire entrepreneur Nicolas J. Hanauer of Seattle, with a $550,000 gift dated Sept. 14, which adds to his $250,000 gift on July 11, his $175,000 donation on June 28 and his June 5 donation of $25,000, for an aggregate of $1 million.

No. 6 and No. 7 are Jackie Bezos and her husband, Mike, who happen to be the parents of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. They each gave $250,000, for a total of half a million, dated Aug. 28. But wait, they are also No. 13 and 14 on the list too, each with a $125,000 donation dated June 13. They are listed as living in Mercer Island, Wash.

At No. 8 is the fabulously wealthy Anne Dinning, a powerhouse at the hedge fudge giant DeShaw & Co., who gave $250,000, as did her husband, Michael Wolf, for a total of half a million for the couple. They live in New York. Wolf is No. 10 on the list.

Rounding out the top 15 is another Microsoft billionaire, Paul Allen of Seattle, who donated $100,000 on June 14.

The latest public disclosure forms show that cash contributions to the pro charter effort amount to $8.3 million. Opponents of the charter initiative say they have no wealthy donors and far less money.

This all helps illustrate what education historian Diane Ravitch referred to as “the billionaire boy’s club” (which apparently has expanded to include females) in her  bestselling book, “The Life and Death of the Great American School System,” and her in subsequent writings. In this post, she wrote: “Today, the question of democracy looms large as we see increasing efforts to privatize the control of public schools. There is an even more worrisome and allied trend, and that is the growing influence of money in education politics at the state and local levels.”

This time the “big money” forces won, passing the pro-charter school initiative by a vote of 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent.

However, pro-public education advocates challenged the law in the courts and Washington State’s Supreme Court recently ruled the new law was unconstitutional.

But have no fear, Bill Gates, Paul Allen and the other the corporate elite behind education reform continue their fight to force Washington State voters to accept and pay for charter schools.

As for Allen and his collection of mega yachts, Boat International magazine explains;

Tatoosh, a five-deck yacht displacing 3,616 tonnes, was built for cellphone magnate Craig McCaw and later sold to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. A model of understated luxury, she has a huge owner’s suite with a full-beam bedroom, family room, observation lounge, office, gymnasium and two cabins for children. Six guest cabins are located on the lower deck. Aside from the main and dining saloons, there are a panoramic lounge and cinema.

Other facilities include two helipads with refueling equipment, one for the yacht’s own McDonnell Douglas MD500 and one for guests’ helicopters; a 12 metre speedboat and a Frers-designed 13 metre sailboat positioned in davits to port and starboard; a swimming pool; and a diving room with decompression chamber in the stern.

Tatoosh is manned by a full-time crew of 30, with facilities available for visiting staff and the helicopter pilot.

The Tatoosh is the yacht that damaged the Cayman Island coral reef.

Then there is the Octopus which is “one the world’s largest yachts.” Superyachtfan.com notes;

Octopus has a large helicopter hangar on the main deck, giving shelter to two helicopters. The yacht has a large glass bottom pool and a 10 person submarine. The submarine and the main tender (named Man of War) float into the yacht through a large hatch. The yacht has a music recording studio on the bridge deck. Other features include an observation lounge, a cinema, a juice bar near a gym, a salon and a medical centre. The owner has his dedicated deck, with a large study, a walk-in closet and an outside bar with whirlpool. There is a large VIP cabin, 4 guest cabins, a children’s cabin and two additional staff/doctors cabins.

And finally, the Méduse, a smaller 60 meter superyacht which is equipped with a “large helicopter and with a diving recompression chamber, elevator, cinema, gymnasium and two staterooms on deck, plus 4 other guest suites, and a nanny cabin.”

Oh, and last but not least – needless to say – none of these mega yachts are registered in the United States.  In order to avoid paying US Taxes they are all registered at “off-shore” locations.

CT Charter Schools collect $100 million+ from taxpayers despite discriminating and abusing children

1 Comment

Hidden by the holidays, Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman trotted out their budget chief, Ben Barnes, last week to quietly announce another $93 million in state budget cuts, many of which were targeted at the most critical services and vulnerable citizens in Connecticut.

As CT Newsjunkie reported in Malloy Administration Identifies Savings, But Not Everyone Is Pleased, the Malloy/Wyman administration’s latest cuts target municipal aid, mental health care, services for the developmentally and intellectually disabled, and healthcare services.

The most despicable cut may very well be Malloy’s expanded effort to refuse group home placements for citizens and their families who are in crisis.

However, while vital programs are cut, the companies that own Connecticut’s twenty-three (23) charter schools will be given more than $100 million in scarce public funds this year even though these privately owned, but publicly funded, schools refuse to educate their fair share of students who require special education services and students who need additional help with the English Language.  Furthermore, the “no-excuses” discipline strategies used by Achievement First, Inc. and other charter schools are nothing short of child abuse.

If a Connecticut public school consistently abused children or discriminated against Latinos and other English Language Learners or students with special needs, investigations would be conducted, people would lose their jobs and local boards of education would be sued.  But that simply isn’t the case when it comes to the charter school industry – thanks to their special relationship with the Malloy/Wyman administration.

While Governor Dannel Malloy receives accolades for his “Second Chance” initiative, the truth about his administration’s discriminatory policies speak louder than its rhetoric.

Sarah Darer  Littman, an education advocate and CT Newsjunkie columnist, examined the issue in a recent piece entitled, Second Chance’ Malloy Should Revisit First Term Malloy’s Policies.

Sarah Darer Littman wrote;

“The disconnect with second-term Malloy’s Second Chance Society is that he spent his first term pushing for costly legislation that contradicts the research on keeping young people out of the juvenile justice system in the first place.

study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that one out of every four black K-12 students with disabilities was suspended out of school at least one time in 2009-10. This high risk for suspension is a full 16 percentage points higher than the risk for white students with disabilities.

According to a report by the National Center on Disability, 85 percent of incarcerated youth have learning and/or emotional disabilities, yet only 37 percent of these young people received special education in school. Most were either undiagnosed or didn’t receive adequate support in school.

Tell me about it. Bridgeport has had two complaints filed with the state Department of Education in the last two years alleging failures to provide special education services. Regarding the first complaint, state investigators found that under then-Superintendent Paul Vallas, Bridgeport “systematically violated” its IDEA Child Find mandate.

Meanwhile in Hartford, “no-excuses” Achievement First Hartford Academy settled a lawsuit alleging that it had failed to provide special education services and had punished students for behaviors relating to their disability. They promised to “do better,” yet in November a lawsuit was filed in New York citing similar issues at a Brooklyn AF school. Achievement First also topped the chart for elementary school suspensions in 2013.

At that time co-CEOs Dacia Toll and Doug McCurry wrote they’d received a wakeup call: “We recognize that our suspension numbers are simply too high, and we are committed to significantly reducing the numbers.”

The state Board of Education renewed Achievement First Hartford Academy’s charter for 3 years despite these concerns. On Oct. 4, the Courant reported that “only one student has been suspended so far at the Achievement First Hartford Academy Elementary School.”

Yet according to a recent Connecticut Department of Education Report, Achievement First schools still occupy four out of the five top elementary school slots in elementary school suspensions and expulsions and three of the top five in the middle and high school categories. Hartford Academy Elementary School is number two in the state.

Overall, according to the state Department of Education report:

  • the suspension rate in the elementary grades in the Public Charter Schools (14 percent) is almost twice that in the 10 Ed-Reform districts (7.3 percent), both of which are substantially greater than the state average (3 percent).
  • the suspension rates in the middle grades in the 10 Ed-Reform districts (22.3 percent), the Public Charter Schools (26.3 percent), the Endowed Academies (18.5 percent), and the State School Districts (24.3 percent) are substantially greater than the state average (10.1 percent).
  • the suspension rates in the high secondary grades in the Public Charter Schools (29.9 percent) and in the 10 Ed-Reform districts (25.6 percent) are substantially greater than the state average (12.3 percent).

Given this data, and the fact that AF Hartford Academy’s charter is up for renewal this spring, it’s particularly troubling that Gov. Malloy appointed Erik Clemons, a board member of an Achievement First school in New Haven, to the state Board of Education. We trust he will recuse himself on AF’s charter renewal votes based on his conflict of interest.

Sarah Darer Littman goes on to explain more about Malloy’s “two-faced” approach when it comes to the issue of “education reform” and “social justice reform.”

Read her full piece at:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_second_chance_malloy_should_revisit_first_term_malloys_policies/

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

3 Comments

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

4 Comments

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.”

MORE ON SFER – Corporate Money in the 2015 Denver Board of Education Election

Comments Off on MORE ON SFER – Corporate Money in the 2015 Denver Board of Education Election

Last week’s Wait, What? post entitled, “SFER – The $7 million+ “student run” Corporate Education Reform Industry Front Group,” provided an update on how charter school advocates and the broader education reform industry is using a variety of advocacy groups to back their effort to privatize public education and undermine the teaching profession.

In addition to background about SFER, using information from the Minnesota Post, the Wait, What? post included a review of how the conglomerate of entities (e.g. SFER, SFER Action Network, DFER, Education Reform Now, Education Reform Advocacy, 50CAN, MNCAN and its leaders) funneled campaign donations into Minnesota to support pro-education reform candidates running for the Minneapolis Board of Education.

The “student-led” SFER and many of the same education reform elite were deeply involved in trying to impact the political outcome in Colorado as well.

Colorado 2014-2015

When parents, teachers and public school advocates in Denver, Colorado decided to challenge the city’s pro-education reform school board in this year’s local election, the corporate-funded “education reformers” kicked into high gear.

Helping to lead the campaign effort was none other than Students for Education Reform (SFER), the corporate-funded, pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher “education reform” advocacy group.

On June 19, 2015, SFER staff set up a new political action committee aptly named “STUDENTS FOR EDUCATION REFORM (SFER) ACTION COMMITTEE.”

According to the registration documents filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Campaign Finance Division, the purpose of the new SFER PAC was simple enough;

“SUPPORTING PRO-EDUCATION REFORM CANDIDATES FOR THE DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION.”   

Registered at SFER headquarters in Manhattan, the Colorado Students for Education Reform (SFER) PAC listed Alexandra Wolk as the entity’s registration agent and Edda Veloz as the PAC’s filing agent.

Edda Veloz works as SFER’s national Finance Director in New York City.

Andrea Wolk, a long-time member of the SFER organization, served a spokesperson for yet another SFER front group called CCEJ.  One online report produced by SFER states that,

 “Community Campaigns for Educational Justice (CCEJ) is a not-for-profit project of Students for Education Reform, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit group. SFER (Students for Education Reform) is a student-led movement that champions educational equity…SFER organizes students to be a powerful force for K-12 education policy and political change, through campus chapters that work at the national, state, and local levels to organize and advocate for great teachers and quality school choices for all kids.”

In the 2013 Denver School Board race, the CCEJ and SFER campaign efforts actually generated a complaint with the IRS that charged the group with violating its 501(c) (4) non-profit status by engaging in prohibited campaign activities.

The group apparently learned their lesson because for the 2015 campaign cycle SFER formed a Colorado Political Action Committee.

That said, the money to pay for their campaign activities still came from SFER’s national organization.

In the case of Colorado’s Students For Education Reform (SFER) PAC, the national SFER Action Network transferred $40,000 to pay for the campaign to support “pro-education reform” candidates with another $1,300 plus coming from Education Reform Advocacy Now, Inc.

Education Reform Advocacy Now Inc. is part of the massive three-headed corporate education reform behemoth that includes Education Reform Advocacy Now, Inc.; Education Reform Now, Inc. and Democrats for Education Reform, the related Political Action Committee that donates directly to pro-corporate education reform candidates and supports opponents of candidates who don’t support the reformer’s efforts to turn schools into little more than testing factories, while diverting scarce public funds away from real public schools and redirecting them to privately owned charter schools.

Education Reform Now, Inc. also serves as the mothership for SFER and its political arm, the SFER Action Network, having served as SFER’s original funder and original fiscal agent.

In addition to collecting over $41,000 from the national education reform organizations, the Students For Education Reform (SFER) PAC in Colorado also received more than $17,000 via in-kind services from SFER itself, most of which was to pay for SFER staff assigned to the Colorado campaign, along with the payments for voter lists, rent and other costs related to their “independent” expenditure in support of Denver’s pro-education reform candidates.

Among the invoices paid by the national SFER Action Network to benefit the Colorado campaign was a check to the NYC based media company, Greenlight Media, although, despite state law, none of SFER’s reports indicate which candidates these expenditures were meant to help or hurt.

Among the individuals who received compensation for their Colorado campaign work was a SFER “Field Specialist” out of Washington D.C.; SFER’s “Colorado State Captain,”; a former-charter school employee who listed his occupation as a campaign organizer for the Flores for Denver campaign and a series of workers, some of whom list their title as “SFER Fellow” in their online public biographies.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Denver campaign work being funded through the SFER PAC, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) was also engaged in a major effort to support the same set of pro-education reform candidates running for the Denver school board.

Filing under the name of “Raising Colorado,” the DFER PAC spent $87,667.

The registration documentation listed DFER’s State Director as the registration agent and all of the money used to fund the campaign activities came via a donation from Education Reform Advocacy Now, one of DFER’s two related nonprofit corporations.

Interestingly, according to their campaign finance reports, DFER’s “Raising Colorado” PAC also made a payment to New York’s Greenlight Media.

Unlike the SFER PAC, the DFER PAC actually fulfilled its legal obligation by reporting that the funds were spent in support of pro-corporate education candidate Lisa Flores.

The DFER report highlights the potential violation of law by SFER’s failure to attribute its expenditures to Flores, even though money went to the same vendor and one of those being paid by SFER PAC continues to list their job title as a Flores Campaign Organizer in an online resume.

Those who are watching the education reform industry’s massive effort to “transform” public education in the United States won’t be surprised to learn that the influx of SFER, DFER money into the Denver Board of Education election was just the tip of a much bigger attempt by the Corporate Education Reform Industry to control the outcome of recent Colorado elections.

As Chalkbeat, the online education media outlet explained;

Since Raising Colorado first registered with the secretary of state in June 2014, it has raised $765,020 and spent $603,047 in various races over the last two election cycles.

The group spent more than $200,000 to back one successful and one losing Democratic candidate in November 2014 State Board of Education races. Raising Colorado also spent money to oppose GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and supported some Democratic legislative candidates. The group also spent more than $47,000 supporting another unsuccessful Democratic state board candidate during the primary election earlier in 2014.

According to the State of Colorado campaign finance reporting system, DFER also has at least two other PACS registered in Colorado; Democrats for Education Reform Political Committee and Democrats for Education Reform Small Donor Committee.

Donors to Colorado’s Democrats for Education Reform Political Committee include contributions from Enron Billionaire-turned charter school and education reform financier Texan John Arnold and his wife, along with Connecticut’s Alex Johnston, the former CEO of Jonathan Sackler’s ConnCAN charter school advocacy group.  Johnston is presently an education reform consultant.

Campaign finance filings for Democrats for Education Reform Small Donor Committee indicate a significant number of its contributions actually came from DFER staff from around the country including DFER’S out-going executive director Joe Williams.  Connecticut’s Alex Johnston also shows up as a donor what is, in essence, DFER’s third PAC in Colorado.

While Students for Education Reform (SFER) will pontificate that they are “all about the children,” their political activities in Minneapolis, Denver and elsewhere tell a very different story.

Check back for more about SFER’s role in political campaigns.

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

5 Comments

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.

CONSIDER THIS:

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.

BACK TO WHY CHARTERS ARE UNTOUCHABLE:

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.

REFERENCES:

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

1 Comment

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

3 Comments

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.

Older Entries