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.
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.