How will CT legislators vote on Malloy’s ethically challenged State Board of Education appointee?

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The Connecticut House of Representatives will be meeting tomorrow – Wednesday, March 16, 2016.  On their agenda is a vote to confirm Erik Clemons, Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent nominee for a position on the State Board of Education.

When Governor Malloy appointed Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education he failed to reveal that Clemons was a founding member of a new charter school in New Haven or that he served, up until recently, on the Board of another New Haven charter school, this one owned by Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain that operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  When Clemons left the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors he was replaced by an aide that works for Clemons’ company.

In addition, Malloy appears to have intentionally kept secret the fact that Erik Clemons’ company received a lucrative, no-bid contract that is funded by the State Department of Education, the very board that Malloy has appointed him to serve on. The State Board of Education is required to monitor this contract and could continue to fund it in the years ahead.

As reported in previous Wait, What? articles, this incredible story dates back to May 7, 2014 when Governor Malloy’s political appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education voted to adopt a “Turnaround Plan for the Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School in New Haven.

The plan REQUIRED that the New Haven School System contract with Erik Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT).  Erik Clemmons is the founding executive of ConnCAT and his compensation package is well in excess of $100,000 a year.

The Turnaround Plan read;

“While Boost! Will continue to deliver community resources to students at Lincoln-Bassestt, the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) shall serve as the schools’s anchor partner for afterschool programing.”

The Turnaround Plan required that the New Haven Public Schools “initiate a performance-based contract with ConnCAT by May 27, 2014.”

As a result of the State Board of Education’s action, the New Haven Board of Education approved Agreement 649-14 with Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) to “provide after-school programming, family and community engagement programs and school environment transformation at Lincoln-Bassett School from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.  The funds to pay for the $302,197.50 contract came from the State Department of Education’s “School Turnaround Program.”

A second contract (Agreement 478-13) between the New Haven Board of Education and ConnCAT, again using State Turnaround Program funds, authorized an additional $214,930.50 to pay for ConnCAT activities form July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.

This annual contract is expected to be extended, yet again, in the summer of 2016.

However the ethical issues challenging Erik Clemons ability to serve on the State Board of Education go well beyond the no-bid contract that remains under the purview of the State Board.

Considering Clemons’ close relationship with the charter school industry, he shouldn’t be voting on any issue related to the oversight and funding of charter schools in Connecticut.

Furthermore, since the “Turnaround School” process was manipulated to grant Clemons a no-bid contract, he certainly shouldn’t be voting on any turnaround plans for any schools in New Haven or any other city.

Considering his company’s contract with the New Haven Public Schools will depend on adequate funding from the State of Connecticut, Clemons shouldn’t be voting on any issue that will provide New Haven schools with funding.

In Malloy’ world of “power politics,” it may be understandable that he wants to reward the charter school industry and its lobbying front group, ConnCAN, but the students, parents, teachers and citizens of Connecticut deserve better.

With the Connecticut General Assembly voting on Mr. Clemons’ appointment as early as tomorrow, the question is whether state legislators will stand with their constituents by supporting proper ethical standards for elected or appointed officials or will they throw ethics aside and vote in favor of Malloy’s nominee for the State Board of Education?

More about this issue can be found in the following articles, a number of them written or co-written with fellow education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker.

Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 3-5-16)

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-18-16)

It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education (Wait, What? 2-17-16)

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-16-16)

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education (Wait, What? 1-5-16)

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 12-23-15)

Education reformers and charter school industry are jacking our legislature.

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Yeah, jacking…. As in car-jacking…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weaken the system?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridgeport Board of Education member Maria Pereira slams Malloy/ConnCAN plan to undermine local school boards

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Bridgeport’s Maria Pereira has been one of the most powerful voices fighting on behalf of parents and local residents in the battle to defeat Governor Dannel Malloy’s ongoing efforts to privatize public education through the massive expansion of charter schools and the Malloy administration’s strategies to destroy local control of schools, undermine the role of parents and teachers, and turn public schools into Common Core testing factories.

In response to the outrageous provisions of HB 5551, Maria Pereira submitted the following testimony to the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee, which is holding a public hearing on the latest maneuver by Malloy and the corporate education reform group, ConnCAN, to strip local citizens of their most fundamental and Constitutional right to oversee local public education.

Pereira writes;

I am urgently writing to you regarding this outrageous and completely undemocratic revision to the Commissioner’s Network of Schools.

I cannot speak for any other municipality, but as someone born and raised in Bridgeport that received my entire K-12 public education from the Bridgeport Public Schools, a member of the Bridgeport Board of Education, the lead plaintiff in the CT Supreme Court decision which ruled the takeover of the BPS in 2011 was illegal, and an absolute defender of democracy and true public education in Bridgeport, I ask every single one of you to oppose this blatant power grab which undoubtedly is backed by our Fairfield County billionaires, millionaires, Wall Street executives, ConnCAN, FES, CERC, Northeast Charter Schools, etc.

The residents of Bridgeport have been absolutely clear on the issue of democracy, an elected school board, and local control. Although FORMER Mayor Finch and his billionaire/millionaire supporters spent close to $600,000 in November 2012 to approve a change to our Charter eliminating an elected BOE and granting the Mayor sole authority to appoint our BOE, the voters soundly rejected this initiative at the polls. The Bridgeport community came together to fund a lawsuit to remove the ” Michael Jordan of Education Reform” Paul Vallas as our Superintendent. Bridgeport accomplished what Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia could not.  Many of us to this day firmly believe Paul Vallas  was brought to Bridgeport to convert our entire public school system to charter schools.

Should Bill 5551 pass, the Commissioner of Education will have sole authority to choose an UNLIMITED amount of schools in the bottom 5% to enter the Commissioner’s Network for an UNLIMITED period of time without the approval of the elected school board, or the turnaround committee which apparently would now be appointed by the Commissioner of Education. The School Governance Councils are completely eliminated from any involvement in this critical decision.

Do you think it is a coincidence this Bill is being introduced in the first year where the developmentally inappropriate SBAC test scores, which is based on the incredibly flawed Common Core standards, are being used to measure school performance? The SBAC cut scores were specifically chosen to ensure between 60-70% of our students failed which certainly impacts the number of schools that meet the criteria to qualify for the Commissioner’s Network Schools.

The Turnaround Committee serves in an “advisory” capacity only. The agreement between the DOE and the BOE is NOT decided by the local elected board but by the Turnaround Committee. Should the Turnaround Committee vote to reject the plan, the Commissioner of Education will have sole authority to circumvent the Turnaround Committee’s decision. How convenient.

During a potential “planning year” the Commissioner may designate a “receiver” or “ANY other entity to operate the commissioner’s network school.” These “designees” may be granted “the powers of the superintendent and school board” and reports directly to the commissioner. The Commissioner of Ed. has sole authority to identify a ‘receiver,” “school leader” or “operator” to oversee schools in the commissioner’s network.”

The Commissioner of Ed. also has sole authority to withhold funds from a local school district, and the piece de resistance; they have sole authority to CLOSE a school and reassign those students.

BILL 5551 is an absolute insult to DEMOCRACY, ELECTED school boards, and LOCAL control.

The legislature has willingly and knowingly severely underfunded urban school districts like Bridgeport for decades, but now wants to potentially point their finger at those very same cities and claim they are at fault for the performance of their public schools while allowing the proliferation of charter schools,  which this year alone drained $5 million dollars from the BPS.

Those who live the realities of cities like Bridgeport every day, and have dedicated their lives to the well-being of our BPS students know what is best for our children, not those who work in Hartford. As a legislator, do you believe that the legislators of Massachusetts could possibly know what is in the best interest of CT when compared to you? Our urban school districts aren’t struggling because school administrators and dedicated staff don’t know what they are doing. They are struggling because of severe and chronic underfunding and because of social issues most suburban districts will never face.

This Bill is an insult to every resident, taxpayer, parent, grandparent, and educator that lives and breathes Bridgeport every day. Therefore I urge all of you to vehemently reject its passing.

As Malloy Admin seeks massive new powers to take over local schools, two Windham parents explain what takeover actually means

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Yesterday’s Wait, What Post — WARNING Connecticut – They are coming for your schools and your democratic rights! — was A Breaking News Alert from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker.

Please Read if you haven’t already at http://jonathanpelto.com/2016/03/06/warning-connecticut-coming-schools-democratic-rights/

Today  – Monday, March 7, 2016 the Education Committee will be holding a public hearing on HB 5551, a new proposed bill that would grant Governor Malloy and his administration unprecedented and far-reaching powers to take over local public schools, undermine democratically elected school boards, suspend existing Connecticut laws and union contracts and unilaterally institute policies without the input from parents, teachers, school administrators, local elected officials and citizens.

Such a measure should be unconstitutional.  It certainly violates the most basic principle of democracy and local control of education.

In response to this new proposal, two Windham, Connecticut parents speak out and explain what happened when the state of Connecticut took over the Windham Public Schools.

This is a MUST READ for every legislator and voter in Connecticut

Testimony of Dr. Mary Gallucci, Windham Parent;

As a parent of two children attending Windham Public Schools, I wish to testify regarding the negative effects of the Commissioner’s Network.  One of my sons was at Windham Middle School when it was admitted into the Network.  My husband was on the Turnaround Committee that completed a plan for the school, tailored to the needs of our community.  Teachers played a crucial role in formulating a plan appropriate for our students, among whom are many bilingual children. Unfortunately, many of the most important features of the plan, such as extended learning time in core subjects and a longer school day to include enrichment in art, music, and academic tutoring, were never funded at adequate levels by the state.  In requiring a longer school day but by not paying teachers enough additional salary, Windham teachers (who are among the lowest paid in the state) ended up earning the lowest pay for the longest day.  Although the plan specified that additional math teachers and tutors should be hired, this did not occur—at first due to shortages in these areas among job candidates; later due to the state-appointed Special Master’s introduction of Teach for America, which brought corps members with no particular specialty and no education background; and, finally, because of the persistent lack of funds.

The goals of the Commissioner’s Network appeared to be to circumvent collective bargaining agreements; to hire outside consultants such as Mass Insight; and to increase the amount of time devoted to a bewildering variety of standardized test packages and pilots (some estimate that there are 37 different standardized tests administered per student in certain grades).  During the first two years of Windham Middle School’s membership in the Commissioner’s Network, teacher, staff, and administrator turnover reached a new high, while student morale and “achievement” declined significantly.  At the same time, outside agencies, lobbyists, and others attempted to bring charter schools into the district in order to drain badly needed monies from public schools to private charter management companies and consultants.

I am disheartened and alarmed to see that a bill to expand such a questionable (if not harmful) Network is before the Education Committee.  Committee members and legislators should do a more thorough examination of the effects of the interventions, such as on Milner School in Hartford, Curiale in Bridgeport, and Windham Middle School in Windham, for a start.  The Committee should also be mindful of the longer history of attempts to waive or suspend laws enacted by our legislature.  I am incensed that, if this bill is passed:

Not later than July 1, 2016, the commissioner shall identify a standard set of waivers from laws that hinder the ability of the Department of Education, or its designee, to effectively implement the provisions of this subsection in a commissioner’s network school.

How can this be legal, let alone moral?  Historically, the suspension of law is associated with martial law, and martial law is typically exercised by tyrants and despots.  Poor children and children of color already suffer from insufficient academic resources; they attend inadequately maintained school buildings; and they are often taught by the lowest-paid and least experienced teachers.  Now the State of Connecticut is going to take the protections of law away from them?  Such an outrage is a blatant example of oppression and would never be allowed in wealthier, whiter school districts—nor should it be.  Such tactics belong in the annals of history, to which tyranny, slavery, racism, and other forms of oppression should be relegated, for the purposes of study and as negative examples.

My son’s school has not been elevated out of poverty, lack of resources, high teacher and staff turnover, and low morale due to its time in the Commissioner’s Network.  I ask that you, elected representatives, stand with the children of poor communities and, rather than siphon off state monies, promote researched-based and humane reforms for our schools.  Do not strip poor children and their families of laws and legal protections just because well-funded lobbyists would like you to do so.

Testimony of Dr. Jerry Phillips, Windham Parent

It is my understanding that the Committee on Education for the Connecticut General Assembly is being asked to consider a bill that proposes the expansion (and deregulated operation) of the Commissioner’s Network, established to promote the turnaround of “low-performing schools” in the State of Connecticut. The General Assembly conceived of the Commissioner’s Network as a partnership between the State and the local educational district: the State would provide additional resources and managerial leadership whereas the local district would supply the human creativity and energy needed to put the turnaround plan into effect. It was assumed by those who crafted the legislation that “local knowledge” was an invaluable factor in designing appropriate turnaround models, as officers at the State Department of Education could not be expected to have the same degree of familiarity with the problems on the ground as the local educators and parents and other key agents in the local community. It was clear that the legislature intended to preserve the ethos of community participation in local education democracy, even as the local education board conceded sovereignty to the State in managing the turnaround schools in question. However, it might well be asked if the legislative intent to preserve democracy actually achieved that result when the law regarding the Commissioner’s Network went into effect.

I had the privilege to serve on the turnaround committee that devised a plan for Windham Middle School, as the school was brought into the Commissioner’s Network. As I’m sure you are aware, Windham is an economically distressed community, with powerful needs in bilingual programming and in Special Education. Like other urban communities in the State of Connecticut, Windham has a range of social and economic problems that impacts the systemic delivery of: unemployment and underemployment are by no means negligible; home foreclosures are not uncommon; and the local tax base is woefully inadequate to provide for schools at the appropriate level. I don’t mean to provide here a sociology or economics lesson, I am only trying to paint you a portrait of the truly difficult circumstances in which Windham schools are obliged to operate, and the real challenges these pose to school turnarounds.

The Windham Middle School turnaround Committee made a good faith effort to come up with a plan that best served our children, while also meeting the formal requirements of the Commissioner’s Network. But the process was protracted and stressful to all concerned, because powerful figures at the State Department of Education (including the Commissioner) disavowed the recommendations of the Committee and tried to steer the turnaround plan in directions they preferred. This rejection of democracy could have been justified had we devised a plan that was entirely hopeless, with no chance of success; but such was not the case. Our plan had precedent in other turnaround models, and it seemed to us most appropriate to Windham’s specific needs. There was no evidence to be had to prove its likely ineffectiveness.

It soon became clear that the State Department of Education was resistant to our turnaround plan on purely ideological grounds, because our plan made no room for privatizing initiatives of any sort. As a committee, we were convinced that a Charter School Management Company or any such player in the new educational market would not have the expertise, the long-term commitment or the social vision to aid in turning around the local Middle School.  There is a weighty and still growing body of evidence that Charter Schools do no better—and often worse—than local education districts in improving student achievement at “low performing schools.” But the question is larger than just student achievement: Charter School Management Companies, as private entities, have a devastating and demoralizing effect on local democracy. Indeed,  the establishment of a charter school in place of a public institution has the real practical effect of diminishing the rights of parents to be involved in their children’s education; it curtails the parents’ standing as “citizens” and leaves them only as “consumers” or “stakeholders,” at best. Once the market takes over from community, as the guardian of education, in too many instances it becomes a matter of “buyer beware.”  The scandals in Connecticut and all over the nation regarding the financial, ethical and pedagogical practices of Charter School Management Companies are too common to be lightly dismissed. It’s revealing that the Windham Middle School turnaround Committee was invited (by State officials) to consider a “lead partner” turnaround plan with Jumoke-FUSE, presided over by the disgraced Michael Sharpe. The children in Windham have significant and urgent needs, and playing roulette with their education—that is, gambling on finding competent and trustworthy charter school operators—is not a reasonable or moral course of action

Now comes ConnCAN, the major sponsor of HB 5551, asking for more deregulation and for more schools to be included in the Commissioner’s Network. It’s clear that giving the State Department of Education more power to grant waivers on budgeting, staffing, programming and so on is a not only a recipe for allowing in all sorts of bad possibilities, it also represents an assault on the local control of schools, as the State (not being bound by certain statutory mandates) could, in essence, allow things to be done at Commissioner’s Network Schools that most parents would profoundly disagree with, and yet the parents would have no form of redress. At this point, Connecticut would de facto have two educational systems: one in which parents were active participants with a voice, the other in which parents would be voiceless and could be actively ignored. It does not help matters that many of the schools in the Commissioner’s Network are overwhelmingly populated by ethnic and racial minorities. The perception and reality of “separate and unequal” schools would be hard to disavow. ConnCAN and other charter schools advocates wish to empower the State to undertake “high level interventions” in the name of “bold changes” and dramatic positive effects. But in truth the State of Connecticut already has considerable sovereign powers in the field of education. Giving more power to the State (by leave of the Commissioner’s Network) would be tantamount to the complete disenfranchisement of local communities. In other words, it would be profound and unwarranted assault on democracy.

No one doubts that the education system in Connecticut is in need of certain reforms, but school privatization (with the beneficiaries as Charter School Management Companies of dubious competence) does not exhaust all reform measures. For example, it’s clear that the funding structure in Connecticut is unjust and unsustainable and one can easily see that a more efficient educational system would involve more school regionalization, as well as other initiatives.

Horace Mann, the great American educator who played such a vital role in helping to establish common schools, once said: “I believe in the existence of a great, immutable principle…the absolute right of every human being that comes into the world to an education; and which, of course, proves the correlative duty of every government to see that the means of that education are provided for all.” It is my sincere conviction that the expansion and deregulation of the Commissioner’s Network (called for by ConnCAN) will not meet the standard outlined by Horace Mann. And for this reason I urge you to reject the passage of the proposed bill.

WARNING Connecticut – They are coming for your schools and your democratic rights!

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A Breaking News Alert from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

When it comes to public education in Connecticut, a new piece of legislation before the Connecticut General Assembly (H.B. 5551) would be the most far-reaching power grab in state history – a direct attack on local control of schools, our democracy and Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, local school officials and public schools.

The legislation would enable Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education to takeover individual schools in a district, remove the control of the elected board of education, “suspend laws” and eliminate the role of school governance councils which are the parent’s voice in school “turnaround plans.

The bill is nothing short of an authoritarian maneuver by grossly expanding the Commissioner of Education’s powers under the Commissioner’s Network.  The bill destroys the fundamental role of local control because it allows the state to indefinitely take over schools and even entire districts, without a vote of local citizens.

The bill removes any time limit on Commissioner’s Network Schools. It removes the cap on how many Commissioner’s Network schools can be taken over by the state.  It removes the right of the local community to appoint their own turnaround committee.  It eliminates the requirement that local parents, through their school governance council are included in the process.

This plan contravenes all the evidence on state takeovers.

State takeovers of schools and districts have been an abject failure across the country.

In Newark and Paterson New Jersey, where state takeover has been in effect for years, the districts are plagued by fiscal crises, lack of improvement in student outcomes and charges of mismanagement.

A recent report issued by the Center for Popular Democracy found that state takeovers in New Orleans, Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, and Tennessee’s Achievement School District, have all been plagued by mismanagement, instability and high turnover and hiring of inexperienced teachers, and virtually no student improvement. https://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/National%20Takeover%20Ed%20Report.pdf

In fact, even the federal government has found that states do not have the expertise to successfully turn around low-performing schools.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/most-states-lacked-expertise-to-improve-worst-schools/2015/05/05/0eb82b98-f35f-11e4-bcc4-e8141e5eb0c9_story.html

Connecticut’s track record on taking over schools is anything but stellar. In fact, one of the first Commissioner’s Network schools, handed over to Jumoke/FUSE failed miserably under the supposed watchful eye of the Commissioner and State Board of Education.  The charter network admitted it was “winging it,” hiring ex-convicts, mismanaging funds and allowing student test scores to drop precipitously.  Even the current principal, Karen Lott, admitted that the takeover was a failure, with only 13% of Milner’s students scoring proficient in Language Arts and a shocking 7% in Math.  Lott declared that what the school needed was experienced staff, additional resources and community support, particularly wrap-around social services. http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Failure-as-a-model-for-Connecticut-6267220.php.

None of these inputs require state takeover. In fact takeovers have been characterized by hiring inexperienced teachers, and disenfranchising the local community.

Where would such an un-American, anti-democracy and anti-local control idea come from?

This bill is virtually a carbon copy of ConnCAN’s proposal for the Commissioner’s Network schools. http://webiva-downton.s3.amazonaws.com/696/7c/c/2766/255496644-ConnCAN-Turnaround-Report.pdf  ConnCAN cherry picked and misrepresented certain “case studies” and, as per usual, passed it off as “research.”

For an example of ConnCAN’s misrepresentation of its case studies, read the truth about Lawrence Massachusetts here. http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-collateral-damage-of-a-district-6295743.php

ConnCAN not only wrote a proposal shockingly identical to this bill , the charter lobby also sponsored a “forum” for legislators in 2015 where it invited Ms. Lott of the failed Milner school and others, such as the deputy superintendent of Lawrence to speak to legislators.

However the true examples of following  ConnCAN’s prescription can be found in places like Detroit, where the emergency manager left under a cloud and Detroit’s schools are on the brink of collapse, and in Tennessee where the superintendent, Chris Barbic, resigned, admitting turnaround was  “much harder”  than he thought.

Why would ConnCAN, the charter lobby, push this proposal?

Because state takeovers have been characterized by conversion of public schools into charter schools; schools unaccountable to elected boards, with little duty to report on its finances, yet they receive millions in public funds. Charters also tend to exclude a district’s neediest children, without any accountability for these practices.

This is the second recent example of the Malloy administration ceding governmental tasks to ConnCAN.  As was reported Friday, the Malloy administration allowed ConnCAN to choose at least one candidate for State Board of Education. (link)

Now, ConnCAN is writing legislation to determine the fate of our poorest schools.  ConnCAN is a lobby for charter schools.  The world outside Hartford recognizes ConnCAN as a charlatan organization. It has received the Bunkum Award for shoddy research from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.

It is beyond troubling that our education policy is being set by this lobbying front group.

Without any evidence that destroying local control will help students (in fact with most evidence pointing the other way) why would we cede more power to the Commissioner?

Why do we think people who live and work in poor communities do not know what their children and schools need?  As longtime teacher, professor and writer Mike Rose has written,

“We have a long-standing shameful tendency in America to attribute all sorts of pathologies to the poor… We seem willing to accept remedies for the poor that we are not willing to accept for anyone else.”

Our neighbors in our poorest communities know what their children need.  Their teachers and principals and all the dedicated staff in their schools know, too.  In fact, since early February they have been testifying, along with real national experts, in front of Judge Moukawsher in the CCJEF case about what their schools need to improve: smaller classes, more teachers, social workers, prek, wraparound services for kids and families, adequate facilities and more.

As Milner’s principal stated, struggling schools need money, a stable staff and community support. State takeover will not accomplish these goals.

What will?

Providing schools the supports Ms. Lott mentions; supports that have been proven to improve schools. https://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/Community-Schools-Layout_e.pdf

How do we provide these resources?

Several recent longitudinal studies prove that school finance reform where states substantially increase funding for struggling schools raises achievement. http://eml.berkeley.edu/~jrothst/workingpapers/LRS_schoolfinance_feb2016.pdf; http://www.nber.org/papers/w20847.

The legislature can truly impact student performance by settling the CCJEF case and enacting real finance reform to fund Connecticut schools adequately.

What the legislature should NOT do is replicate failure. And that is what Raised Bill 5551 will do.

Governor Malloy and his administration are apparently doing the bidding of ConnCAN and the rest of the charter school industry.

It is the legislature’s duty to act on behalf of the children in this state, on behalf of taxpayers, and on behalf of democracy.

Connecticut needs elected officials with integrity and clarity of vision, once and for all, to examine the evidence and protect the interests, not of high-priced lobbyists, but of those children most in need of protection.

For more about how ConnCAN, the charter school industry and the corporate education reformers that are corrupting Connecticut politics and policy read – Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education

The General Assembly’s Education Committee will be holding a public hearing on this outrageous proposed law on Monday, March 7, 2016 starting at 11am in the Legislative Office Building

House Bill 5551:

Testimony can be submitted online via [email protected]

Citizens can also contact the leadership of the Education Committee;

Senate Chair Democrat Gayle Slossberg – http://www.senatedems.ct.gov/Slossberg-mailform.php

House Chair Democrat Andrew Fleischmann – [email protected]

Senate Ranking Member Republican Toni Boucher – [email protected]

House Ranking Member Republican Gail Laveielle – [email protected]

Education Committee

Legislative Office Building, Room 3100

Hartford, CT 06106

(860) 240‑0420

To find contact information for your legislators go to: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/cgafindleg.asp

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

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

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

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

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

For Background See:

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

It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take, for example, Greenwich millionaire Jonathan Sackler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CT Mirror noted;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado 2014-2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Chalkbeat, the online education media outlet explained;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An update on Students for Education Reform, Inc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where is SFER getting its money?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50CAN

ConnCAN

Democrats for Education Reform

DFER Colorado

DFER Illinois

DFER Massachusetts

DFER Michigan

DFER New Jersey

DFER New York

DFER Rhode Island

DFER Tennessee

DFER Washington

DFER Wisconsin

Education Reform Now

Educators 4 Excellence

MarylandCAN: Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now

Mass Insight Education & Research Institute

MinnCAN: Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now

NYCAN: New York Campaign for Achievement Now

PennCAN: Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now

RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now

StudentsFirst

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

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

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

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

$tudent$ for Education Reform  (EduShyster)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to www.fightforfairnessct.org,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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