ConnCAN yelps response to Sarah Darer Littman’s Commentary piece

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Provides stunning argument as to why Malloy does not deserve four more years!

Over this past weekend, public education advocate and CT NewsJunkie columnist Sarah Darer Littman published a scathing commentary piece on the Malloy administration, the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain and the tens of millions of taxpayer funds being wasted on charter schools in Connecticut.

You can read Sarah Darer Littman’s CTNewsJunkie column here – Don’t Let Foundation Money Be A Trojan Horse and the Wait, What? re-post and assessment of the piece here - Another MUST READ column on Jumoke/FUSE by Sarah Darer Littman.

But as incredible as Sarah Darer Littman’s original piece is, the response from the CEO of ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, is even more telling.

Wait, What? readers will recall that ConnCAN led the $6 million, record breaking, lobbying effort on behalf of Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s corporate education reform bill that undermined local control and attempted to do away with tenure for all public school teachers, while repealing collective bargaining for teachers working in the poorest school districts.

ConnCAN also played a pivotal role in the failed attempt to do away with an elected board of education in Bridgeport, their campaign becoming the most expensive charter revision effort in history.

And more recently, ConnCAN’s Board of Directors, and their immediate family members, has funneled more than $100,000 into Malloy’s re-election campaign operation — despite the fact that Malloy has taken $6.2 million in public funds to pay for his re-election effort.

Normally, when presenting an attack piece by the corporate education reform industry, some critique is required, but not in this case.

In this case, the response from Jennifer Alexander, ConnCAN’s CEO, is so absurd that it stands on its own without any introduction or review…

You can read ConnCAN’s full response here:

http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_lets_develop_solutions_to_connecticuts_toughest_problems/

Alexander writes,

Regarding Sarah Darer Littman’s Sept. 19, 2014, op-ed, “Don’t Let Foundation Money Be A Trojan Horse,” the egregious twisting of facts and history buries the important message at the core of Littman’s argument. Sadly, the piece is also a distraction from the real issue at hand, which is improving schools for all children in our state.

[…]

I encourage her to join a real dialogue about how best to achieve these goals. It’s time to move away from tired personal attacks and unfounded conspiracy theories, roll up our sleeves and get to the real work of improving public education. Our kids are counting on it.

It is, after all, our responsibility to ensure all kids have the opportunity to achieve their goals. Together, with hard work, dedication, and a bit of creativity, we can ensure Connecticut remains a place where people want to live, work, and invest in their future.

This from the individual and organization that recently sang the praises of Jumoke/FUSE and the man formerly known as “Dr.” Michael Sharpe.  Not to mention their unending efforts to divert taxpayer funds to privately run schools that consistently discriminate against Latinos, those who don’t speak English and those who need special education services.

The message from ConnCAN is loud and clear…..their message is – If you are satisfied with Malloy’s corporate education reform policies, then go ahead and vote for him.

If, on the other hand, you are tired of charter schools wasting millions of dollars of our scarce public funds, then Malloy is definitely not the one you want to vote for.

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Charter School champion, “OxyContin producer” gives Malloy operation over $200,000  

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This month Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy will be getting a check for $6.2 million in public funds through the Connecticut Public Financing Program to pay for part of his campaign for governor.

But Malloy’s fundraising operation goes far beyond that money.  Malloy and his political operatives are raising millions through various loopholes in Connecticut law.

Take for example, the following;

Jonathan Sackler helped Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, create Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company that owns and operates schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

Jonathan Sackler created ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group that led the record breaking $6 million lobbying campaign to pass Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiative in 2012.  The bill made Malloy the only Democratic governor in the nation to propose doing away with teacher tenure and unilaterally repealing collective bargaining for teachers in so-called “turnaround schools.”

Jonathan Sackler founded 50CAN, the ConnCAN knockoff, which is attempting to spread the charter school lobbying effort across the country.  Sackler is also a member of the board of directors of the NewSchools Venture Fund, a national hedge fund industry-funded organization that is promoting the corporate education reform industry’s activities.

Jonathan Sackler and his family also own a significant share of Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company made famous due to their product known as OxyContin.

In a stunning investigative report by the Hartford Courant’s Jon Lender, we now learn that Sackler and his family have given $91,000 to Malloy’s political operation while Sackler’s company has given another $106,000.

In the article entitled, Democrats Reap $91,000 From Charter Schools Advocate And His Family, Jon Lender explains,

There may be no better illustration of state Democrats‘ massive fundraising efforts in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election year than the political donations of Jonathan Sackler and his extended family.

A total of $91,000 in donations has rolled into Connecticut Democratic Party coffers in 2013 and 2014 from four people: Sackler, a Greenwich businessman, investment executive and charter schools advocate; his wife; mother and father.

Lender adds,

Also, a privately held pharmaceutical company in Stamford with which Sackler family members have long been associated — Purdue Pharma — contributed $56,050 in 2013 and $50,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, a national group that spends its money to help elect Democratic governors across the country.

Lender lays out in stark detail the flow of money from the Sacklers to Governor Malloy’s political operation.  Donations that include,

•$55,000 to one of the two Connecticut Democratic Party’s accounts.

Jonathan Sackler and his wife, Mary Corson, each gave a maximum $10,000 donation to the Democratic Party’s state account in 2013 and already have given the same amount in 2014, for a total of $40,000 between them. Also, Sackler’s mother and father, Raymond and Beverly Sackler, have given $15,000 — $10,000 and $5,000, respectively — to that same party account this year.”

•$36,000 to the other Connecticut Democratic Party account

“Jonathan Sackler and Mary Corson each have given $10,000 to that account in 2014, and each gave $8,000 in 2013.

As Wait, What? readers may recall Jonathan Sackler also hosted a fundraiser for a political action committee associated with Malloy the day that Malloy’s “education reform” bill became a public act.  That fundraising netted more than $40,000 making it the most successful of the 14 fundraisers the Prosperity for Connecticut PAC held with Malloy and Wyman.

Sackler’s fundraiser was a “who’s who” in the corporate education reform industry including many of the board members of Achievement First, Inc. and ConnCAN as well as representatives of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy.

You can find Jon Lender’s MUST READ article at:  http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-lender-major-givers-0622-20140621,0,3261788.column

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

NEWS FLASH: Malloy allied corporate education reformers may bring lawsuit to end teacher tenure in Connecticut

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The nation’s leading public education advocate, Diane Ravitch, is reporting today that,

“Spokespersons for the corporate reform movement hope to launch legal attacks on tenure and seniority in Connecticut, following the example of the Vergara case in California.”

The Vegara case is the one in which a California judge ruled, last week, that California’s teacher tenure law was illegal.

The decision is being appealed, as public school teachers and public school advocates fight to preserve the fundamental due process rights that teachers have in this country.

Earlier today, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, sent out an email earlier saying,

“By attacking the rules that protect and support teachers, the Vergara decision destabilizes public education…While the decision was not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, well-reasoned opinion are disturbing…The judge seems to think teachers are the core of the problem facing public education. We know that teachers hold our schools together, especially in the toughest times.”

Weingarten is right.

As teachers, parents and public school advocates know, the corporate education reform industry has been putting out inaccurate and misleading statements, along with outright lies, to persuade the public that teacher tenure is bad.  Their goal is nothing less than destroying the due process rights that teachers have and deserve.

And as we know, Connecticut has been a prime target for the anti-teacher, anti-public education forces.

In 2012, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy actually proposed doing away with teacher tenure in his “education reform” bill.  The Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly removed Malloy’s anti-tenure provision before passing most of the rest of his initiative.

Although Malloy’s proposal to end tenure failed, we are now learning that the CEO of ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, is working to file a lawsuit to end teacher tenure in Connecticut.

When it comes to the corporate education reform industry’s effort, ConnCAN and its leaders have been Malloy’s biggest supporters.

  • ConnCAN led the $6 million dollar lobbying effort to pass Malloy’s education reform bill.  Their overall lobbying campaign was the most expensive effort in state history.
  • Malloy’s 2012 education reform bill not only called for doing away with teacher tenure, but proposed eliminating collective bargaining for teachers in turnaround schools.  When the legislature’s education committee rejected Malloy’s anti-collective bargaining language, ConnCAN issued a statement claiming that allowing teachers to have collective bargaining rights, “will not only make it impossible to enact reforms necessary to boost student performance, but it will likely prevent the most promising local and national leaders from choosing to run a [Commissioner’s] Network school.”
  • ConnCAN, and its related entity which is called A Better Connecticut, also played a leadership role in the $561,000 campaign to eliminate the democratically elected board of education in Bridgeport and replace it with one appointed by the pro-charter school mayor.  The education reforms pour so much money into their  failed campaign to change Bridgeport’s charter that it became the most expensive in Connecticut history.
  • At the start of the 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly, ConnCAN paid for a $38,500 poll that was conducted by Malloy’s chief advisor.  The poll claimed that, “There is broad support for continuing education reforms. Connecticut voters are overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the education reforms passed last year…”  The poll was an attempt to stop any efforts to fix the problems with Malloy’s bad education reform bill.
  • In the fall of 2013, ConnCAN’s A Better Connecticut also hired Malloy’s advisor and his political consulting company to campaign for Bridgeport’s Democratic slate of anti-public education candidates for the Bridgeport Board of Education.  Thankfully, the pro-public school candidates, that had the support of the Connecticut Education Association and the Working Families Party, won the Democratic primary and the general election.  Their victory allowed the pro-public education candidates to take control of the Bridgeport Board of Education.
  • ConnCAN has also played an increasingly large role in raising money for Malloy, despite the fact that Malloy is participating in Connecticut’s public financing system and will be getting a taxpayer-funded check for $6.2  million to pay for h is 2014 campaign for governor.
    • ConnCAN’s co-foudner, Jonathan Sackler, held an extremely lucrative fundraiser for the Malloy connected Prosperity for Connecticut PAC the day Malloy’s education reform bill became a public act in 2012.  The fundraiser netted in excess of $40,000 for Malloy’s political operation.
    • In addition, over the past eighteen months, present and former members of ConnCAN’s Board of Directors have also funneled more than $70,000 to Malloy’s political operation via the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee.

Finally, in what may will recognize as the most bizarre twist of all, while teachers and public education advocates all across Connecticut fight to save teacher tenure and collective bargaining, the American Federation of Teacher’s state chapter, the AFT-CT, endorsed Dannel Malloy last week without ever allowing me to meet with their political action committee or their executive committee.

Instead, the  AFT-CT Executive Committee threw their support behind the only Democratic governor in the nation who PROPOSED doing away with teacher tenure AND repealing collective bargaining rights for selected teachers.

And now, where Malloy left off, his allies at ConnCAN are carrying on with that agenda.

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Corporate Education Reform Industry remains in “attack mode“

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Or alternative headline:  File in “reasons to run” folder

The latest headline from the education reform blog “Education Bridgeport” reads,

“Pelto Using Governor’s Race to Make Money.”

The blogger explains,

So Jon Pelto is talking about a run for governor. The reason why is pretty clear: Money.

Unless his ego is larger than any continental plate, which is a possibility, Pelto does not believe he can win. A cursory glance at the numbers proves that.

Education Bridgeport is the third effort to give to give Malloy’s education reform initiative “air cover” on the internet.

In a newly acquired email dated November 12, 2012, political consultant Pat Scully wrote to Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s, $180,000 a year, chief advisor and spokesman, Roy Occhiogrosso.  The email was sent to Occhiogrosso’s official state account and his personal account.

In his email, Pat Scully wrote,

As you know, I was a strong supporter of the governor’s ed reform package–all of it, not just the parts that passed.

It occurs to me there is no voice out there countering the nonsense spewed by Jonathan Pelto, et al.  I intend to become that voice. I was hoping you could help me with two things:

1. I want to reconnect with you and from time to time get information from within the administration on ed reform issues and where the governor stands.

2. I’d like to be connected to the “go-to” person in the administration as far as ed reform. If that’s you, all the better.

A week after the email interchange with Malloy’s alter-ego, the blog entitled CTEDUCATION180 appeared on the scene.  The blog introduced its mission with the following;

The education reform bill passed last year by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Dannel P. Malloy raises standards for educators, allows immediate action to improve failing schools, increases access to high-quality public school choices, and improves how education dollars are spent.

Unfortunately, bold steps forward on education reform have spawned a vocal chorus of opponents that are willing to say and do anything in order to maintain the status quo and prevent children from attending the high-quality public schools they deserve.

Soon after starting the blog, Scully turned the day to day operations of CTEDUCATION180 over to ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group that led the $6 million, record-breaking lobbying and public relations campaign that helped pass Malloy’s “education reform bill.”

A few months later, in May 2013, ConnCAN stopped maintaining the blog.

However, soon after, a new blog appeared on the scene to continue the education reform PR mission.

This time the blog was called Education Bridgeport.  Its author wrote, “I’m just a 20-something with a political background, time on my hands and a keen interest in education and all of the competing reform ideas floating around.”

Over the course of at least 46 posts, EducationBridgeport has sought to support Governor Malloy’s education reform and privatization policies through name calling and attacks on me and Wait, What?.

Now comes the latest attack.  It is almost as if they are committed to reminding us why a challenge to Malloy’s reelection is so important.

In the latest post, Education Bridgeport reports,

Therefore, why all the talk about a run for governor? Well, what better way to jack up your political consulting fees than to present yourself as a former gubernatorial candidate?

Win or lose his “campaign” for governor, Pelto ends up with more money in the bank.

Pelto is a self-described political “communications strategist,” with a focus on “public relations, media relations and advocacy programs.” He lists his clients as “corporations, associations and unions.”

His ”blog” is a tool, nothing more. And considering that his focus of late has been education, particularly Common Core, charter schools and teachers unions, one need not have x-ray vision to guess who his major clients are right now.

Well, those clients should get ready to pay through the nose.

As political strategist Tanya Meck said on FoxCT’s Capitol Report, “What’s interesting to me about this is that Jonathan obviously has an agenda. And whether you agree with his agenda or not the fact of the matter is, you get a bigger platform when you talk about running for governor.”

As much as Pelto would like you to believe that he is running for governor out of some altruistic, good-of-all-humanity motivation, the reality is he’s using a run for the governor’s office as a negotiating tactic.

[…]

The sooner he gets out of the race, the better.

So there you have it…

You can read the latest EducationBridgeport blog, as well as their earlier posts at: http://educationbridgeport.com/pelto-using-governors-race-to-make-money/

Malloy administration considered “restraining order” to stop FOI requests?

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In what may be the single most bizarre development yet in the Malloy administration’s war on teachers and public education and their ongoing commitment to secrecy, a recent Freedom of Information request has produced an email between Governor Malloy’s Director of Communications and a senior official from ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, in which they discuss what appears to be the Malloy’s administration’s effort to get a restraining order to prevent FOI requests about Malloy’s education reform efforts.

In the email to Governor Malloy’s Director of Communications, ConnCAN’s Jordan Fenster wrote,

Andrew,

Just following up on our conversation today. Any info you may have on a restraining order of any kind against Jon Pelto, (requested by the administration) would be great. It may have something to do with SDE, considering all the FOI requests and negative press he’s been throwing in that direction. 

My cell number, if you lost it, is XXX-XXX-XXXX.

Thanks,

Jordan

The email is dated April 23, 2013, which coincides with a series of Wait, What? posts about the $35,500 public opinion poll that ConnCAN conducted to help make Malloy’s education reform initiative appear more popular.

It was also the time-period in which Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, was engaged in his extended effort to help Paul Vallas circumvent Connecticut law so that Vallas could remain as head of Bridgeport’s School System.

While getting “negative press” may be annoying to politicians, the notion that Governor Malloy’s administration would consider pursuing a “restraining order” to prevent Freedom of Information requests is extremely disturbing considering the fundamental right that citizens have to get access to public information.

Even the notion that government officials would consider corrupting the legal system to quell political opposition is chilling.

Interestingly, the disk of emails that was released by Malloy’s office as a result of the recent FOI request does not contain any other communication that mentions a possible “restraining order” against me or the Wait, What? blog.

However, an FOI request that was submitted to Commission Pryor and the State Department of Education on the same subject remains unanswered.

ConnCAN is the charter school lobbying group that led the record-breaking $6 million lobbying and public relations effort in support of Malloy’s education reform initiative.

Jordan Fenster is the senior writer and editor for ConnCAN.  Before he worked for ConnCAN, Fenster worked as the political reporter for the New Haven Register.

Corporate Education Reform Industry pours money into Malloy campaign operation

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Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy is the most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic governor in the nation…And to see how appreciative the corporate education reform industry is, one need only look at Malloy’s campaign fundraising program which has already raised more than $100,000 from the anti-public education industry.

As a participant in Connecticut’s public financing system, candidate Malloy is only supposed to rely on the taxpayer dollars that he will receive as a qualified candidate for governor.  But thanks to a gigantic loophole in the law, the Malloy political operation has been raising money for the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee in order to augment the millions in public funds he will get to pay his campaign expenses.

By the end of February 2014, Malloy’s fundraising program had already collected more than $2.4 million into just one of the two accounts managed by the Connecticut Democratic Party.

Not surprisingly, Malloy has turned to the corporate funded pro-charter school, anti-teacher, anti-public education forces to help him raise record amounts of money.

The infamous Democrats for Education Reform, an anti-public education political action committee based in Washington D.C., has already provided Malloy with a check for $5,000.

Jonathan Sackler and his wife have donated a total of $36,000 to Malloy’s operation in just the past six months.  Sackler is the one who helped Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, create and expand Achievement First Inc., the large charter school management company.  Sackler was also a co-founder of the Connecticut charter school advocacy group ConnCAN and went on to create the national charter school advocacy group called 50 CAN.  When Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch tried to eliminate the democratically-elected board of education in that city, he turned to Sackler for a last-minute campaign donation of $50,000 to help pay for what proved to be his failed effort to undermine democracy.

Another nationally-recognized corporate education reform advocate to pour money into Malloy’s campaign is billionaire Stephen Mandel Jr.  Mandel, who was behind the creation of the corporate-funded education reform advocacy group, Excel Bridgeport, Inc., has already written two $10,000 checks for Malloy’s political activities.

Los Angeles, anti-public education billionaire Eli Broad has also gotten in on the act donating $8,000 to Malloy so far in this campaign cycle. Broad’s foundation is one of the three major national foundations funding the corporate education reform effort across the country.

And Sackler isn’t the only member of Achievement First Inc. and ConnCAN’s Board of Directors to have ponied up for Malloy.

To date, board members of these two Connecticut-based education reform groups have donated well in excess of $50,000 to Malloy’s political aspirations and that doesn’t even count another $50,000 that these same people dumped into another political action committee affiliated with Malloy.

So much for campaign contribution limits…and with Election Day still seven months away, we can be sure that Malloy will continue to cash in on his anti-public education agenda.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor gets an “A” for stacking the deck (By Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker)

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Pryor packs Connecticut’s Comprehensive Education Plan Advisory Committee with charter school and corporate reform advocates.

As mandated by Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-4(c), every five years the Connecticut State Board of Education must develop a new five-year Comprehensive Plan for Elementary, Secondary, Vocational, Career and Adult Education in Connecticut. Upon adoption by the State Board of Education, the plan is submitted to the Governor and the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

In the past, this process has been developed with the broad-based consensus of public educators from throughout Connecticut.

In December 2005, the State Board of Education appointed an advisory committee that included a broad array of organizations and individuals engaged in promoting public education in the state.  Narrowly focused special interest lobbying groups such as the Connecticut Charter Schools Network (CCSN) were allowed to present testimony but were not put on the Advisory Committee.

The 2005 committee represented the wide spectrum of Connecticut’s public education community:  teachers, principals, superintendents, parents, public school students, Connecticut’s technical schools and institutions of higher education made up the core of the committee along with some representatives of Connecticut’s business community.

Advisory committee members had a long track-record of expertise in Connecticut public schools working with a diverse population of Connecticut students.  This is just the type of group we would want to determine the long-term vision for our school districts.

A comprehensive plan requires a broad thinking group that looks out for the interests of all our children.

But now that Governor Dannel Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor have taken the helm, those days are gone. Instead of appointing members dedicated to the long-term development of quality public education in Connecticut, they have poisoned the Advisory Committee and the process for developing the new five-year comprehensive plan by packing it with corporate education reform groups that have consistently revealed their narrow political agendas.

Public education has been a primary target of America’s growing corporate education reform industry.  Over the past three years, these so-called reformers have spent a record breaking $6 million plus lobbying on behalf of Governor Malloy’s education reform initiatives, many of which have been aimed at promoting the privatization of public education in the state.

The corporate reformers also dumped record amounts into elections in Bridgeport, first in a failed effort to change the City’s charter to do away with a democratically-elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the mayor and then in a failed effort to elect members of the board of education who support Bridgeport’s faux superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas.

Now it has become painfully clear that all that money has paid off, at least when it comes to trying to control the discussion around Connecticut’s Comprehensive Education Plan for 2013-2018.

The new Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee has been packed with pro-corporate reform organizations.

When the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee meets for the first time tomorrow from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm at the Legislative Office Building many of the seats will be filled with corporate education reform industry representatives.

New members of the State Board of Education’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee include representatives from:

  • Achieve Hartford!
  • Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN)
  • Connecticut Council on Education Reform
  • Excel Bridgeport
  • Northeast Charter Schools Network
  • Students for Education Reform – Connecticut
  • Teach for America – Connecticut

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), the charter school lobby group formed by the board members of Achievement First, Inc. has spent more than any other organization lobbying for Malloy’s Education Reform bills. Of course, ConnCAN’s relationship with Achievement First, Inc. is especially noteworthy since Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company was co-founded by Stefan Pryor.

Connecticut Council on Education Reform is the New Haven-based, corporate-funded education reform organization that joined ConnCAN and Michelle Rhee’s Students First/GNEPSA in running television ads supporting Malloy’s reforms.

The Northeast Charter School Network is the New York based charter school advocacy group that recently merged with the Connecticut Charter School Network.

Students for Education Reform – is the quintessential corporate “astro turf” lobbying organization bankrolled by a variety of education reform groups. Recall that in 2012, Students for Education Reform  organized a “ student demonstration” in favor of Malloy’s reforms on the Capitol steps but when students at the demonstration were questioned about why they were there, they had no idea what they were demonstrating about.

Students for Education Reform’s Board of Directors includes Jonathan Sackler who is also on the Boards of Achievement First, Inc. and ConnCAN.  Another one of Students for Education Reform Directors is Justin Cohen.  Cohen is the President of MassInsight, the out-of-state consulting company that recently received a $1 million contract from Pryor.  Cohen also served as a moderator for Malloy’s education reform conference before Governor Malloy introduced his reform bill and Cohen traveled to Connecticut to submit testimony in support of Governor Malloy’s education reform bill when it was first introduced.

Prior to becoming President of Mass Insight Education’s School Turnaround Group, Justin Cohen was the Director of the Office of Portfolio Management and senior advisor to Chancellor Michelle Rhee at the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

Excel Bridgeport and Achieve Hartford! are two corporate affiliated organizations that have worked toward expanding charter schools.

And Teach for America – Connecticut Chapter is the vendor that is making millions of dollars thanks to contracts in Bridgeport, Hartford, New London, New Haven, Windham and elsewhere to place minimally trained recent college graduates to fill jobs that should be held by certified Connecticut school teachers who have graduated from Connecticut’s college and universities.  It should be noted that the Chairman of Excel Bridgeport’s Board of Directors is none other than the Executive Director of Teach for America – Connecticut Chapter.

Perhaps even more disturbing, Teach for America, along with ConnCAN, Excel’s leadership and State Board of Education President Allan Taylor, were the behind-the-scenes architects of the secret and illegal 2011 state takeover of Bridgeport’s democratically elected board of education

Many of these groups, like Teach for America and the charter lobbies, have been singularly focused on using public funds to expand their businesses in Connecticut.

Charter schools serve 1% of Connecticut’s students. Yet they have been given SEVEN seats on the new Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee

Although some of these corporate education reform organizations have been plaguing our state for several years, others have absolutely no history in Connecticut.

All of these groups are primarily funded by national networks.  Why should these narrow groups, dedicated to serving outside interests, be determining the future of Connecticut’s public education system?

Why should groups standing to gain contracts with the State Department of Education even be allowed to serve on this committee?

When it comes to pushing their pro corporate education reform industry agenda, there has been no doubt where Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor stand, but this latest move to ensure their agenda becomes part of Connecticut’s five year comprehensive education plan is perhaps their most offensive move yet.

Connecticut Charter School Front Drops $50,000 into Bridgeport Democratic Primary

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A case study on how the Corporate Education Reform Industry is trying to buy up American Democracy

A Better Connecticut, the charter school advocacy group formed by the present and previous CEOs of ConnCAN, the charter school lobby group, has spent $50,708 so far in support of the endorsed slate of candidates for the Bridgeport Board of Education.

The endorsed slate is the group loyal to Mayor Bill Finch, Bridgeport’s faux superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Malloy’s education reform initiatives.

A Better Connecticut’s “independent” expenditure is part of a broader $2 million plus public relations campaign designed to support Governor Malloy and his education reforms.  Earlier this year, A Better Connecticut and ConnCAN hired Malloy’s chief advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso and his campaign consulting firm, Global Strategy Group, to poll Connecticut voters about education reform issues and then conduct a multi-million dollar television advertising campaign to “thank” Governor Malloy for his education reforms.

With seven days to go in the Bridgeport Board of Education Democratic Primary, a portion of the $50,000 in expenditures that have been made by A Better Connecticut went to Occhiogrosso and Malloy’s campaign consulting company for what was euphemistically called an “Education Policy Survey.”

A recent public opinion poll conducted in Bridgeport included questions about Malloy, Mayor Bill Finch, Paul Vallas, members of the Working Family Party who serve as the outspoken minority on the Bridgeport Board of Education and Carmen Lopez, the former Connecticut superior court judge who brought the lawsuit that determined that Paul Vallas lacked the credentials necessary to serve as a superintendent of schools in Connecticut.  That suit is presently before the Supreme Court for review.

The campaign finance report submitted by A Better Connecticut only reports an expenditure of $2,280 for the poll, but polls of this nature traditional cost in excess of $25,000 leaving one to question who may have actually paid for the poll and why it isn’t reported as an official expenditure in this report.

It appears that in addition to paying Global Strategy Group, A Better Connecticut’s money was used for mailings and voter contact efforts in support of the three endorsed Democratic candidates in the September 10th Democratic Primary; Simon Castillo, Brandon Clark and Kathryn Roach Bukorsky .

Although state laws shields organizations like A Better Connecticut from having to reveal the amount of money they have raised from individual donors, they are required to identify their top five funders.

In this case, A Better Connecticut is claiming that their five largest funders were Education Reform Now Advocacy of New York City, 50CAN Action Fund, Inc. of New York City, Real Reform Now Network, Inc. of Loudonville, New York, Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc. of New York City and Students for Education Reform (SFER- Action Network Inc.) of New York City.

A Better Connecticut was created at the beginning of this year by ConnCAN, which was created by the original funders behind Achievement First, Inc.

As readers know, Achievement First, Inc. is the large charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor who served on Achievement First’s Board of Directors until he resigned to become Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

Education Reform Now – Advocacy is the lobbying and political action arm of Education Reform Now.  Education Reform Now claims credit for New Jersey’s draconian anti-teacher tenure law that was designed to undermine the rights of teachers and the teaching profession.

Education Reform Now’s Board of Directors is made up of hedge fund managers Charles Ledley (Highfields Capital Management), John Petry (Sessa Capital), Sidney Hawkins Gargiulo (Covey Capital), Brian Zied (Charter Bridge Capital), John Sabat (SAC Capital).  John Petry is not only the former Chairman of Education Reform Now, but was co-founder of the right- wing Democrats for Education Reform and currently serves as a co-chair at the Success Academies network of charter schools.

50CAN Action Fund, Inc. is the lobbying and political action arm of 50CAN.  50CAN was created by Jonathan Sackler who not only founded ConnCAN but has been a leading member of Achievement First, Inc. since Pryor and Dacia Toll founded the company.  Sackler chairs the 50CAN Board.  Other Board members include Dacia Toll (Co-CEO & President, Achievement First), Marc Porter Magee (former COO of ConnCAN), Rebeca Nieves Huffman (State Director, Democrats for Education Reform Illinois), and Richard Barth (CEO & President, KIPP Foundation).   Until recently Matthew Kramer, the President of Teach for America served as 50CAN’s Board Chair.

Students for Education Reform Action Network Inc. is the lobbying and political action arm of Students for Education Reform.  SFER was created by 50CAN and its Board of Trustees includes April Chou (Chief Growth Officer, KIPP Bay Area Schools), Christy Chin, (Portfolio Director, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation), Adam Cioth (Rolling Hills Capital, Justin Cohen, (President, Mass Insight Education School Turnaround Group), Shavar Jeffries, (Newark Public Schools Advisory Board) and Jonathan Sackler (ConnCAN, 50CAN, Achievement First).

Readers will also note that the Board includes Mass Insight, the out-of-state consulting company that Stefan Pryor hired to run Connecticut’s Alliance District and Commissioner’s Network programs at the same time he let go the seven experienced State Department of Education experts including Connecticut four leaders in residence and three retired superintendents.

The other two primary funders of the A Better Connecticut’s Bridgeport campaign are Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc., the lobbying and political arm of Families for Excellent Schools.  Families for Excellent Schools is a charter school-funded organizing group that reports to have an organizer in Connecticut although they don’t appear to be registered.  Last but not least is a group called Real Reform Now Network, Inc. of New York which doesn’t appear to be registered anywhere but may be Real Reform Now Corporation which was a New York entity that lost its tax exempt status after failing to file the proper reports with the IRS for 3 consecutive years.

Oh, and lest readers forget.  Prosperity for Connecticut, a political action committee associated with Governor Malloy has held fifteen fundraisers in Connecticut, New York and Washington D.C.  since Malloy took office.  Malloy has attended all or nearly all of these events.  The most successful was held at the home of Jonathan Sackler who founded or helped create Achievement First, ConnCAN, 50CAN, and Students for Education Reform.  Sackler’s successful fundraiser featured contributions from John Petry and his wife (Education Reform Now, DFER, Success Academy Schools) as well as numerous other corporate education reform industry players.

In addition, in the closing days of Finch’s failed charter revision campaign, Sackler provided the charter revision campaign with a check for $50,000.

As we’ll see in the coming days, A Better Connecticut is NOT THE ONLY vehicle Sackler and his friends are using to try and influence the Bridgeport Democratic Primary.

But don’t worry, as the corporate education reform industry likes to explain…”It’s All About The Children.”

Commissioner Pryor, can you tell us which laws are “laws” and which are “bureaucratic technicalities”?

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It looked pretty simple.   Governor Malloy and his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, wrote up a special law to allow Paul Vallas to serve as Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools, despite the fact that Vallas wasn’t certified to hold the position nor has he ever taken an education course.

The law required that Vallas works as an acting superintendent for one year and complete a “school leadership program” at a Connecticut university or college.

Instead of enrolling and completing a school leadership program, Paul Vallas took a single independent study course and pretended it was a program.

Last Friday, when Connecticut Judge Bellis ruled that Paul Vallas and Stefan Pryor had violated Connecticut law and that Paul Vallas did not have the credentials necessary to serve as a superintendent in Connecticut; Commissioner Pryor was one of the first to blast the judge and the ruling.

Pryor told the media “We disagree with and are disappointed by the court’s decision…”

Although the law that Pryor helped write said “school leadership program” apparently in Pryor’s mind it meant an” independent study course” and rather than a school leadership program.

So clearly, some laws are meant to be laws and therefore, as a nation of laws, they must be followed while other laws are apparently more like technicalities or optional guidelines.

Since Stefan Pryor graduated from both Yale University and Yale’s Law School, perhaps he could shed some light on the issue for the rest of us.

Which laws are laws and which are bureaucratic technicalities.

For guidance he might want to rely on the pronouncements of other “education reformers.”

Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of the charter school advocacy group called the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) issued the following statement after the court ruling.

“Today’s ruling is unfortunate…it was made based on a bureaucratic technicality…We’re hopeful that in the end, justice will prevail and Superintendent Vallas will be able to continue his work to help ensure a better future for kids in Bridgeport.”

Maria Zambrano, the executive director of Excel Bridgeport, a corporate-funded Vallas fan club also released a comment after the ruling.

“This is an unfortunate ruling… As a community, we also need to have a conversation about what qualifications are necessary to lead a struggling urban school district. Is it a piece of paper declaring someone “certified?” Or is it a track record of results for improving the educational outcomes of students? We believe it to be the latter.”

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform wrote, “That’s why CCER advocates for changing Connecticut’s law to allow the Commissioner of Education to waive the statutory requirements for superintendent certification to allow people like Mr. Vallas to help turn around Connecticut’s lowest-performing school districts. The current statutory scheme serves to protect the interests of adults in our state, instead of prioritizing the interests of 200,000 children who attend schools in Connecticut’s lowest performing districts.”

The renowned chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education, Kenneth Moales, told the media;

“Only in Bridgeport would the likes of Mr. Paul Vallas not be qualified to serve as superintendent… This ruling crosses the line;”

And Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who described Vallas as a knight on a white horse and complained that people were throwing mud on the horse explained;

“We disagree entirely with the substance of the judge’s decision. We believe it goes against the great weight of facts presented at trial and the applicable law.”

So Commissioner Pryor, you testified at the trial.  You know the facts.  You know the applicable law because you helped to write it.

What again makes this law not a law?

And for those who want to read a bit about Vallas’ real “record of success,” check out some of the following links

Uh-Oh. New Orleans “Miracle” Crumbles

The Vallas Record in Philadelphia, Revisited

Why Is Philadelphia in Crisis?

Insiders’ Report on History of Chicago Teachers Union

Is Chicago a National Model for School Reform?

Education reform industry becomes cash cow for former Malloy aide

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When Roy Occhiogrosso left his job as Governor Malloy’s $160,000 a- year-advisor and mouth-piece late last year, he re-joined Global Strategy Group, a political consulting firm that had worked on Malloy’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

And with that move, the education reform industry’s cash started pouring into Occhiogrosso’s company.

In just the last few months, Occhiogrosso and Global Strategies Group have signed contracts with Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) and A Better Connecticut, the new education reform front group that was co-founded this year by ConnCAN’s CEO.

ConnCAN is the charter school advocacy lobby group that was created by the same donors who helped Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor; develop Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company that now runs schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.

Occhiogrosso and Global Strategies were first hired by ConnCAN for $35,800 to develop a survey that would show widespread support for education reforms and Malloy.  The profit for a survey like the one completed is in the range of $25,000 or more.

Then, with the survey in hand, A Better Connecticut provided Occhiogrosso and Global Strategies with a $200,000 contract to coordinate a PR campaign which spent $2,138,700 in April and May.

The official reports filed by A Better Connecticut with the Office of State Ethics fail to disclose whether Occhiogrosso and company are also collecting the traditional “buyers fee” for placing the advertising.  Usually advertising companies collect a 15% fee when placing television and other advertising.  Whether that $300,000 fee is on top of or part of the $200,000 contract isn’t clear.

What is clear is that education reform organizations are spending record amounts to thank Governor Malloy and lobby for his education reform initiatives and as a result of those efforts no one is benefiting more financially than Malloy’s former chief advisor and his company.

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