Charter School Industry – Big Donations to Malloy, No Oversight from Malloy administration

When it comes to Governor Dannel Malloy and the Charter School Industry, two things are certain.  The campaign money from charter school advocates has been flowing into Malloy’s political operation at record levels while Malloy’s administration has been turning a blind eye to the fact that charter schools are violating Connecticut laws, regulations and policies.

Even the most cursory review of state and federal campaign finance reports reveal that Malloy’s pro-charter school agenda continues to pay “big dividends.”

Major donors associated with ConnCAN, the Achievement First charter school chain and other corporate education reform entities have donated in excess of $250,000 to Malloy’s Democratic State Central Committee in just the last four years.

Leading the way has been Jonathan Sackler, a member of both ConnCAN’s and Achievement First’s Board of Directors.  Sackler and his immediate family have given Malloy’s state Democratic committee more than $116,000 and that doesn’t even count the donations that have come from Sackler’s political action committee, the Purdue Pharma PAC.

In addition to Sackler’s money, charter school executives and the financial backers of the corporate education reform movement have donated tens of thousands more to Malloy’s political aspirations in recent years

And as education advocate and school finance expert Wendy Lecker observed in an article last summer, Malloy’s education policies have led to, A void in oversight of charter schools

Writing in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker explained;

One would think that after the scandals involving Connecticut’s two large charter chains, Jumoke and Achievement First, Connecticut’s education officials would finally exert some meaningful oversight over Connecticut’s charter sector.

One would be wrong.

This week the Connecticut Mirror reported that Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell dismissed a complaint against Bridgeport Achievement First, for using uncertified teachers for 47 percent of its staff, in violation of Connecticut statute. Wentzell unilaterally decided that the law allowing complaints against public schools does not apply to charters; despite the fact that charters receive more than $100 million each year in public taxpayer dollars.

Wentzell disregarded the data showing Achievement First’s misdeeds, claiming the State Department of Education (SDE) will wait until the charter comes up for renewal. Wentzell apparently ignored the law allowing her to put a charter on probation “at any time.”

The laissez-faire attitude toward charter schools pervades this administration. At the June 1 State Board of Education meeting, where the board voted to grant waivers to six charters to increase their enrollment beyond the statutory cap, longtime State Board of Education member Joseph Vrabely stated that when it comes to charter oversight, “we operate in the dark” until the renewal process.

While SDE closes its eyes, the complaints against charters pile up. Last week, students at Achievement First’s Amistad High School in New Haven staged a mass walkout to protest racial insensitivity and harsh discipline. They might have also protested the abominable graduation rate which, counting attrition since ninth grade, was 53 percent in 2015 — well below New Haven’s.

Amistad is one of the schools granted an enrollment increase waiver on June 1; supposedly based on Amistad’s academic performance (a 53-percent graduation rate?). Recommending the increase, SDE declared that Amistad draws 100 percent of its students from New Haven. However, the New Haven Independent, in reporting the walkout story, noted “(a)t 10:20, students who live in Bridgeport went inside after they were told they would not be allowed to board buses home if they didn’t.” Indeed, students told reporter Paul Bass that half of Amistad students come from Bridgeport every day. Is anyone at SDE minding the store?

Students have well-founded complaints about Amistad’s discipline practices. While suspensions statewide decreased from 2010 through 2015, they skyrocketed at Amistad, from 302 to 1,307 suspensions. There were more suspensions in 2014-15 than there were students, who numbered 984. During that five-year period, enrollment increased by about 25 percent, while suspensions more than quadrupled.

Other charters granted enrollment expansion waivers on June 1 also have deplorable suspension rates. Bridgeport’s Achievement First had 1,641 suspensions, almost double the number of students, 977, in 2014-15. The number of suspensions more than tripled since 2010-11, when there were 456, and 409 students.

Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport, operating for just one year, had 154 suspensions, outpacing its enrollment of 127 students. Great Oaks received the waiver for the largest increase in seats. Explaining the basis for exceeding the statutory cap, Linabury stated that there was a strict focus on the school’s performance.

Apparently SDE does not consider abusive discipline worth investigating. It should. A recent UCLA report found that nationwide, suspensions lead to dropouts, costing more than $46 billion in lost tax revenue and other social costs.

SDE admitted that, academically, Great Oaks performs well below the state average, and worse than Bridgeport, its host district. Yet SDE still recommended Great Oaks for an increase, which the board rubber-stamped.

Beyond its appalling lack of oversight, SDE made blatant misrepresentations in its quest to expand charters. SDE’s CFO, Kathleen Demsey, declared that before these charters opened, “local approval and support” were required. For Great Oaks and another school granted a statutory increase, Stamford Charter School for Excellence, that statement is false. The public and the local boards of education opposed these charters.

Some state board members feigned dismay that there was ample funding for charter increases while the state slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from vo-tech, magnets and public schools. They then approved the enrollment increases, without any investigation into discipline abuses, uncertified teachers or other misdeeds.

The members declared it would be unfair not to expand enrollment because the charters already held the lotteries for these seats. When asked why the charters held lotteries for seats before they were even approved, SDE again abdicated responsibility, claiming SDE has no say over charter lotteries.

With billions of dollars and student well-being at stake, Connecticut’s children and taxpayers deserve better than officials who sit idly by while charter schools call all the shots.

Malloy administration fails to properly regulate Connecticut charter schools.

Charter schools are privately owned, but publicly funded organizations that grab more than $110 million a year from Connecticut taxpayers.

But thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school policies, charter schools are allowed to violate Connecticut laws and walk away from their obligations to Connecticut’s students, parents and teachers.

For example, charter schools fail to hire certified teachers and employees.  See Wait What? post entitled Connecticut charter schools violate state law with use of uncertified teachers and administrators

In addition;

Charter schools refuse to educate their fair share of students who require special education services or those who need help learning the English language

And

Charter schools maintain inappropriate and unfair discipline policies that lead to unacceptably high numbers of students being suspended from school.

Instead of stepping up and ensuring these corporations are following the laws, regulations and policies, Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration simply looks the other way.

Earlier this year, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education made her position extremely clear.

As the CT Mirror reported;

 The state education commissioner says she does not have the same obligations in investigating complaints from parents, students and teachers against charter schools that she does for regular public schools.

The state says charter schools are not subject to what is known as a 10-4b process, which lays out mandatory steps the state must follow to respond to complaints. The state said it has more discretion about whether and how to proceed with complaints against charter schools than it does for schools operated by local school boards.

[…]

The issue is a symptom of a larger controversy over whether charter schools should be given the increased latitude they have to run their schools while still receiving millions of dollars in state education aid

The failure to properly regulate charter schools has become so severe the national financial experts are now calling for greater charter school oversight.

A national publication recently covered this very issue in NFMA Calls for Detailed Charter School Disclosures.

The National Federation of Municipal Analysts is urging charter schools to provide detailed financial, academic, and staffing information in primary and secondary disclosure documents.

The news article added;

“The charter school sector has been very active in the last … four to five years [and] it traditionally has not had a lot of public rating coverage,” said Gilbert Southwell, vice president at Wells Capital Management and co-chair of the NFMA disclosure subcommittee that drafted the paper. “[The RBP] is both educational for our membership but also helps to establish our disclosure expectations when we’re looking at these deals.”

Dean Lewallen, vice president and senior analyst at AllianceBernstein L.P. and co-chair of the subcommittee with Southwell, said the RBP is the product of a year-long vetting process with a variety of market participants and thus reflects “an industry consensus.”

The document’s recommendations begin with key information that should be included in a primary offering statement (POS). According to the RBP, a charter school’s POS should disclose all material financial agreements, including the proposed indenture, loan agreement, capital leases, management agreements, and tax regulatory agreements. It should also include information from twelve other broader topics, like descriptions of facilities and their financing, pledged revenues, and projected cash flows. NFMA also wants descriptions of debt service, repair and replacement, operating and deficit, as well as insurance and property tax reserve funds.

The RBP lists disclosures in a successful charter school POS related to academic performance as well as school management and operations.

“A charter school’s academic performance has been identified as an especially important factor in charter school long-term stability and success,” NFMA said in its RBP. “Consequently, the POS should disclose all relevant aspects of the charter school academic performance.”

Charter schools cost taxpayers huge amounts of money.  Malloy’s gift to Connecticut’s charter schools are closing in on half a billion dollars in public fund.  It is time that elected officials make sure these corporate entities meet the same basic standards that public schools must adhere too.

Connecticut charter schools violate state law with use of uncertified teachers and administrators

As a result of Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-public school agenda, Connecticut taxpayers hand over more than $110 million a year to the state’s charter school industry.  This largess comes despite the fact that Connecticut’s charter schools refuse to accept and educate their fair share of students with special education needs and those who require extra help learning the English language.

Equally appalling is that these privately owned, but publicly funded, schools refuse to follow Connecticut law when it comes to the use of certified teachers and school administrators.

Connecticut State Law is extremely clear.

For public schools, 100% of the teachers, administrators and service staff MUST hold an appropriate certification and authorization for the position in which they are serving.  State certification not only ensures that teachers and school personnel have appropriate training but it also means these individuals have gone through background checks before being allowed to teach children.

State law even mandates that public schools cannot even pay non-certified teachers and administrators.

However, thanks to aggressive lobbying by the charter school industry, charter schools “play” by a very different set of rules.

In charter schools, only 50% of the teachers, administrators and professionals must hold a traditional state certificate such as an initial, provisional or professional educator certificate.

This means that up to 50% may serve under a “temporary authorization” process or have what is deemed a “quick and easy” certification from a charter school preparation program.  In no case are charter schools allowed to use teachers and staff who don’t hold permanent or temporary certification.

Yet despite this enormous flexibility, Connecticut’s charter schools are notorious for still having a significant percentage of their staff “out of compliance” with Connecticut’s statutes and regulations.

This result is that parents of charter school students cannot be sure whether their student’s teachers and administrators are meeting the most basic requirements to be in a classroom and that taxpayers are paying for staff who should not even be hired by the charter schools.

The data on the magnitude of the problem in charter schools can been found at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

According to official reports filed with the State Department of Education, and current as of March 2016, 14 out of 24 (58%) Connecticut charter schools are were violating the law when it comes to ensuring students have properly authorized staff in the building.

It will not come as a surprise to those who follow “education entrepreneur” Steve Perry, that the greatest violator of the law is the Capital Prep Charter school chain.  As of March 2016, 80% of Bridgeport Capital Prep Harbor School’s staff did not have any certification what-so-ever and were therefore in violation of state law.

A number of other charter schools had staffing operations in which at least 30% of the staff were teaching or administrating illegally.  This list included Achievement First Amistad, Achievement First Bridgeport, Achievement First Hartford Academy, Achievement First Elm City, the Stamford Academy and the Stamford Charter School for Excellence.

Other charter schools in which at least 10% of the staff were in violation of Connecticut law included Booker T. Washington Charter School, Brass City Charter School, Highville Charter School, New Beginnings Family Academy charter school and Path Academy Charter School.

Rather than giving Connecticut charter schools even more state money, state officials should be withholding funds until charter schools fulfill their legal duty to their students, parents and the taxpayers of Connecticut.

Charter lobby chases cut of public funds (By Wendy Lecker)

Beware parents, teachers, school administrators, local education officials and Connecticut taxpayers! 

Not satisfied with diverting more than $110 million a year to privately owned, but publicly funded, charter school companies in Connecticut, the charter school industry is about to make a massive grab for even more public funds via a gimmick called “Money Follows the Child.”

Counting on the support from the ally, Governor Dannel Malloy, the charter school industry is intent on leaving Connecticut public schools will fewer resources and Connecticut residents with higher tax bills.

In her latest commentary piece entitled, Charter lobby chases cut of public funds, and first published in the Stamford Advocate, public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, lays out the issue.

As soon as Connecticut’s school funding decision in the CCJEF case was rendered, charter lobbyists in Connecticut began salivating at the prospect of using their political influence to craft a new school funding system that would benefit charter schools. Families for Excellent schools planned a rally for “fair funding” for charter schools and ConnCAN kicked its propaganda machine into high gear with polls and statements about the horrors of inequitable funding in Connecticut. The case is now on appeal, but the charter lobby is pressing its agenda now.

The embrace of the CCJEF decision by the charter lobby was extremely disingenuous, given that since the case was filed in 2005, neither ConnCAN nor any of the charter advocates even acknowledged the existence of CCJEF.

CCJEF was never about funding privately managed charter schools serving 1 percent of Connecticut students. The CCJEF plaintiffs seek adequate and equitable funding for the vast majority of children who attend Connecticut’s public schools — particularly in Connecticut’s poorest school districts.

However, ConnCAN, Families for Excellent Schools and Northeast Charter Network now see their opportunity to use the language of equity to serve their interests.

If you think it is illogical to call diverting public money intended for poor school districts serving the many to privately managed schools that serve the few “equity,” you are not alone.

In a growing body of case law, courts across the country are rejecting attempts to use their state constitutions to obtain equal funding for charter schools.

The most recent loss was suffered this month in New York by Northeast Charter Network — a well-funded lobby active in Connecticut — where an appellate court dismissed its attempt to get equal facilities funding for charter schools in Buffalo and Rochester.

New York’s decision is consistent with decisions in Arizona and New Jersey, where charter advocates sued for equal funding, and in Massachusetts, where charter advocates attempted to force the state to lift the charter cap. Washington State’s Supreme Court also ruled that charter schools are not entitled to equal funding, though on different grounds.

Charter advocates used similar arguments in these cases. They claimed that poor school districts have low student outcomes, so if a child chooses to go to a charter school they claim has better outcomes, that charter school has the right to equal funding.

In deciding these cases, courts have exposed the claims of charter schools as being at odds with the nature and purpose of the constitutional right to an adequate education.

First and foremost, these courts point out, charter schools do not have a constitutional right to anything. State constitutions protect children, not schools.

Choice is not a constitutional right, either. As the Massachusetts court explained, while the state must educate all children, there is no “constitutional right to choose a particular flavor of education.” Charters are the prime example of how school “choice” undermines constitutional notions of equality, as they often increase segregation, fail to serve English Language Learners, students with disabilities and other vulnerable children, and impose disproportionately harsh discipline on children of color.

The courts also note that while a state must adequately fund public education, there is no right to two parallel public school systems. They ruled that if a child can attend a district public school that is fully funded, then her right to an education is sufficiently safeguarded.

The courts emphasize that if the public school is not fully funded, the solution is certainly not to divert public funds to a charter school. As the New York court observed, funneling public dollars into a charter school is inconsistent with the State’s constitutional obligation, because “to divert public education funds away from the traditional public schools and toward charter schools would benefit a select few at the expense of” the majority of students in public schools.

These courts also note that charter schools are not like public schools. They are exempt from requirements that traditional public schools must follow. Most notably, they do not have to serve all children in a district nor provide all programs that public schools must provide. They were always envisioned as transitory, and can have their charter revoked if authorizing agencies conduct proper oversight.

Connecticut must reform its school funding system. But it cannot be misled by the charter lobby’s warped “save a few, forget the rest” mentality. Our leaders must ensure a well-funded public school system that serves all children, no matter what their needs. True equity means an adequate education for all.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s commentary piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Charter-lobby-chases-cut-of-public-10594980.php

Sackler ponies up $8,000 more in Charter School Industry’s effort to influence legislative races in Connecticut

As the 2016 Election came to a close, charter school aficionado and big-time campaign donor – Jonathan Sackler – whose company makes OxyContin, dropped $8,000 into the Charter Cares Political Action Committee, the entity that raised more than $86,000 to support a handful of pro-charter school legislative candidates during this year’s election cycle.  Sackler’s latest contribution comes on top of a $10,000 donation he already made to the charter school PAC.

During the General Election, Charter Cares PAC devoted their resources in support of two legislative campaigns, one effort for incumbent State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester) and the other for incumbent State Representative Andre Bumgardner (R-New London/Groton).

Cassano squeaked out a narrow victory while Bumgardner lost to his Democratic opponent.

Of the total amount of money Charters Care raised, the majority came from Education Reform Now, a shadowy New York based “Dark Money” group that refuses to identify its donors.

In addition to Jonathan Sackler, who is Governor Dannel Malloy’s biggest contributor, other major donors to Charters Care were individuals directly associated with Achievement First, Inc and ConnCAN.

Achievement First, Inc. is the large charter school management company that owns and operates charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.  ConnCAN is Connecticut’s leading charter school advocacy group that has led the record breaking lobbying effort in favor of Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-public school initiative.

According to reports filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Achievement First and ConnCAN connected donors to Charters Care included Brian Olson who donated $10,000 and Andrew Boas who contributed $4,500.

For more about Charters Care, Education Reform Now Network and their Connecticut campaign effort check out;

New York Dark Money, Pro-Charter Group pours another $15,000 into Connecticut legislative races

Charter School Industry drops $63,000 plus into Connecticut legislative races

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

As Diane Ravitch reported,

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

$21,640,982

 

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

 

Strong Economy For Growth $1.1m

 

Expanding Educational Opportunities  575k

 

Great Schools For Massachusetts $501k

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cohasset Vc, Ltd (Dallas TX) $100k

 

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

 

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

 

State Street Bank and Trust Co.       $100K

 

Partners Healthcare            $100K

 

The Kraft Group$100k

 

Emc Corporation         $75K

 

Massmutual Financial Group  $50K

 

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated   $50K

 

 

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

Edushyster writes;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing Three Card Monte With Dark Money

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

 

New York Dark Money, Pro-Charter Group pours another $15,000 into Connecticut legislative races

Called the Real Reform Now Network, a New York based charter school front group, that won’t reveal the names of its donors, is expanding its effort to convince Connecticut voters to vote for pro-charter school candidates in this year’s general election.

Connected to the Northeast Charter School Network, the Real Reform Now Network pumped another $15,000 into Charters Care late last week.  Charters Care is a political action committee that is also tied to the Northeast Charter School Network.

In their latest filing, the PAC reports that their expenditures continue to be made in support of State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester).

As noted in an earlier Wait, What? post, the Center for Responsive Politics defines Dark Money organizations in the following way;

Politically active nonprofits – principally 501(c) (4) s and 501(c) (6) s – have become a major force in federal elections over the last three cycles. The term “dark money” is often applied to this category of political spender because these groups do not have to disclose the sources of their funding – though a minority do disclose some or all of their donors, by choice or in response to specific circumstances.

These organizations can receive unlimited corporate, individual, or union contributions that they do not have to make public, and though their political activity is supposed to be limited, the IRS – which has jurisdiction over these groups – by and large has done little to enforce those limits.

Charter School Industry drops $63,000 plus into Connecticut legislative races

With $30,000 in “Dark Money” from a New York-based entity called Real Reform Now Network and thousands more from Connecticut’s deep-pocketed charter school players, a political action committee in Connecticut is funneling tens of thousands of dollars into its effort to promote the election of a handful of candidates running for the Connecticut General Assembly.

Charters Care, a political action committee registered with the Connecticut State Elections Committee and tied to the Northeast Charter School Network, was formed in July 2013.  NECN’s Connecticut Director, Jeremiah Grace, serves the PAC’s Chair.

The dark money Real Reform Now Network is also affiliated with the Northeast Charter School Network.  The group’s contact of record is Jill Shahen, who also serves as the Managing Director of the New York based Northeast Charter School Network.

As for the rising role of Dark Money group, the Center for Responsive Politics explains;

Politically active nonprofits – principally 501(c) (4) s and 501(c) (6) s – have become a major force in federal elections over the last three cycles. The term “dark money” is often applied to this category of political spender because these groups do not have to disclose the sources of their funding – though a minority do disclose some or all of their donors, by choice or in response to specific circumstances.

These organizations can receive unlimited corporate, individual, or union contributions that they do not have to make public, and though their political activity is supposed to be limited, the IRS – which has jurisdiction over these groups – by and large has done little to enforce those limits.

In addition to the money collected from anonymous donors via Real Reform Now Network, Charter Cares PAC also raised $10,000 from both Jonathan Sackler and Brian Olson.  Sackler is a member of the Northeast Charter School Network’s Board of directors and both Sackler and Olson are founding members of ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy front group that has led the effort to promote Governor Dannel Malloy’s corporate education reform initiatives.  Other Major donors to Charter Cares PAC include Andrew Boas ($4,500), Andrew Balson ($4,500) Richard Ferguson ($3,000) and Alex Johnson ($1,000).  Boas and Ferguson are board members for Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Johnson is the former CEO of ConnCAN.

This isn’t the first time Real Reform Now Network has made an appearance in Connecticut.  The group also contributed significant funds to a failed effort to promote a charter school agenda in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

According to campaign finance reports filed by with the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission by Charters Care, the bulk of the PAC’s money has been spent in support of State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester) and State Representatives Charlie Stallworth (D-Bridgeport); Terry Adams (D-Stamford) and Andre Bumgardner (R-Groton/New London).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • John Arnold (Texas), $250,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Malloy, what’s the deal with the new Common Core SBAC test results?

With great fanfare and self-congratulations, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration recently released the results of last springs’ Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. Their claim is that the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-charter school agenda is succeeding.

The SBAC test is succeeding?

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory national testing system that the Malloy administration instituted and are now being used to evaluate and label students, teachers and public schools.

As if to give the charade some credibility, Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and their team call it Connecticut’s “Next Generation Accountability System.”

However, the testing and evaluation system is a farce that fails to properly measure how students, teachers and schools are really doing, nor does it properly evaluate the impacts that are associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs.

To showcase the extraordinary problems with Malloy’s testing scheme, the following chart highlights the results from two of Malloy’s favorite charter schools, the Achievement First Hartford charter school and the Achievement First New Haven charter school, which is called Amistad Academy.

Percent of students reaching “proficiency” in Math as measured by the 2015 SBAC tests;

DISTRICT GRADE 3 GRADE 4 GRADE 5 GRADE 6 GRADE 7 GRADE 8
Achievement First Inc. Hartford  

56.8%

 

44.4%

 

16.2%

 

20.3%

 

17.5%

 

33.9%

Achievement First Inc. New Haven – Amistad Academy  

63.3%

 

54.4%

 

34.4%

 

40.0%

 

46.1%

 

46.9%

 

Here are the core results;

  • Approximately 60% of students in both charter schools were labeled “proficient” in MATH in grade 3.
  • The percent deemed “proficient” dropped by about 10 points in Grade 4.
  • The percent “proficient” dived in Grade 5, with only 1 in 6 students deemed “proficient” in Hartford and only 1 in 3 at the “proficient” level in New Haven.
  • The number reaching a “proficient” level remained extremely low at Achievement First Hartford in grades 6, 7 and 8.
  • While the percent of students labeled proficient in at Achievement First New Haven was slightly better than its sister school in Hartford, less than 50% percent of Amistad Academy’s 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were deemed to be “proficient.”

According to Malloy’s policies, these SBAC results allow us to determine how students are doing, whether teachers are performing adequately and whether any individual school should be labeled a great school, a good school, a school that is doing fairly well or a failing school.

So, according to Malloy, which of the following statements are true;

  1. As measured by the SBAC proficiency number, while students at these two Achievement First schools are doing “okay” in grade 3, the two schools are falling short in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  1. The results indicate that Achievement First Inc. has apparently hired talented teachers in grade 3, but the results prove that teachers in grade 4-8 are simply not equipped or capable to do their job. Grade 5 teachers are particularly weak, but the data indicates that Achievement First’s teachers should be evaluated as ineffective and the charter school chain should remove and replace all teachers other than those teaching in grade 3.
  1. Achievement First, Inc. proclaims that their students do much better on standardized tests, however, the SBAC results reveal that they are failing and should be labeled as failing schools.

According to Connecticut policymakers, all three statements are true, but of course, the truth is much more complex and the test results provide no meaningful guidance on what is actually going on in the classrooms.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that these results provide no useful information about the impact of poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs

One question rises to the top.

What if the students and teachers are not the problem? What if the problem is that the testing scam really is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory and that the entire situation is made worse by Malloy’s absurd “Next Generation” Accountability system?