Figures that the super-rich would turn privatization of public schools into a game

Attention all charter school and education reform advocates! 

It’s not too late to get your tickets to the Seventh Annual Take’em to School Poker Tournament, a major fundraiser for Education Reform Now, a member of the charter school advocacy conglomeration that includes Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now Advocacy (and indirectly Students for Education Reform.)

Together, these corporate-funded education reform groups have spent tens of millions to push their anti-student, parent, teacher and public school agenda that includes support for the Common Core, the Common Core testing scam and the privatization of public schools through the massive expansion of privately owned, but taxpayer funded, charter schools.

Education Reform Now and its affiliated entities have also bankrolled anti-union, anti-teacher ads in Chicago, New York and elsewhere, as well as, funneling massive amounts of money to support or oppose candidates based on their position on education reform issues.

With Education Reform Now’s “Seventh Annual Take’em to School Poker Tournament” coming up on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at Gotham Hall in New York City, charter school owners and their funbders and allies have a plethora of sponsorship opportunities to choose from.

For $250,000 you can nab 10 seats at the poker tournament, 10 rebuys (a technique for expanding your winnings), 10 cocktail tickets for non-poker players and the honor of having not one, but two, “special guests” sit at your table.  [Education Reform Now hires famous people, usually sports stars and actors, to attend the event and sit and play with the wealthy donors]

For $100,000 you get the same benefits, but alas, the company of only one “special guest.”

Other Sponsorship levels include a $50,000 package, a table of 10 poker seats for $20,000 or a single poker seat for $1,000.

Last year’s Education Reform Now Event Chairs were education reform extraordinaire hedge-fund managers, John Sabat (SAC Capital Advisors LP), Michael Sabat (Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.) and Whitney Tilson (Kase Capital).  Other members of the event committee included John Petry and Joe Williams.

Petry is the co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform, the co-chair of Education Reform Now and a founding board member of Eva Moskowitz’s notorious Success Academy charter school chain.

Like Petry, John and Michael Sabat are closely associated with the Success Academy charter schools and both are members of the Education Reform Now Board of Directors.

Whitney Tilson is another co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform and has been a board member of the KIPP and Academy Charter Schools Chains.  In addition, Tilson has been a leader of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Joe Williams served as the president of Education Reform Now and Education Reform Now Advocacy.

In an article entitled, Inside A Big Poker Tournament With Hedge Funders, Poker Pros, And Legendary NYC Athletes, Business Insider reported that the event raises “funds for Education Reform Now, an advocacy organization that’s committed to making sure all kids can access high-quality public education.”

The article conveniently overlooks that fact that the charter school industry fails to provide equal educational opportunities for children who require special education services, those who aren’t fluent in the English Language and those who are forced out of charter schools for failure to survive the abusive disciplinary policies.

According to published reports, in addition to raising money for Education Reform Now, the education reform industry group sponsoring the poker tournament also provides a variety of prizes for tournament participants including seats at the World Series of Poker Main Event, vacations, golf outings, and “power lunches” with hedge fund managers like David Einhorn (Greenlight Capital), billionaire Seth Klarman, Leon Cooperman (Omega Advisors) and Bill Ackman (Pershing Square Capital Management.)

As Bloomberg News has reported, the Education Reform Now Poker Tournament also includes,

 “Blackjack tables, a putting hole, a silent auction offering a Joe Namath football jersey signed by him, models in cocktail dresses, and masseuses, clothed primly in what looked like hospital scrub tops. For food: hamburgers, fries, fajita bar, macaroni and cheese. Also John Allan’s, a salon for men, provided manicures and shoe shines for male guests.”

Over the years, some of the corporate sponsors of this boondoggle event include Eagle Capital Management, Capstone, Goldman Sachs Group, Tiger Global Management, Visium Asset Management, Hutchin Hill Capital, Magnitude Capital, SAC Capital Advisors, First New York Securities, Tricadia Capital Management, EcoR1 Capital, AB Bernstein, Point 72 Asset Management, Murdick Capital, Morgan Stanley, Magnitude Capital, Kase Capital and Greenlight Capital.

Regular sponsor and participants also include Charles and Rebecca Ledley.  Charles Ledley has been on the Board of Education Reform Now (former chair) and Democrats for Education Reform, while Rebecca Ledley has been on the board of a Massachusetts charter school chain and the board of Students for Education Reform. (See Wait, What? posts, SFER – The $7 million+ “student run” Corporate Education Reform Industry Front Group and MORE ON SFER – Corporate Money in the 2015 Denver Board of Education Election)

For additional background on Education Reform Now and its related organizations  see the 2013 Salon article, Wall Street is designing the future of public education as a money-making machine,

  • Democrats for Education Reform: Since its inception in 2006, this PAC has opened chapters in 13 states, funneling millions of dollars to candidates who support charter schools, vouchers, performance pay, parent trigger laws, and other neoliberal “reforms.”DFER’s board members are mostly hedge fund managers with vested interests in charter schools. Boykin Curry, whose portfolio is valued at $20 billion, co-founded Public Prep, a network of charters in Manhattan and the Bronx. Whitney Tilson, also a hedge fund manager, sits on the board of KIPP-NYC, a cluster of schools in a national charter franchise founded by TFA alumni. It’s no surprise then, that one of their first projects as members of DFER was to successfully push to raise the cap on charter schools in New York City.
  • Education Reform Now: The nonprofit arm of DFER that advocates for the same “reforms,” with a budget of over $6 million. ERN was the face of DFER’s push to increase charter schools in New York, and has funded similar campaigns everywhere that DFER has peddled its influence. ERN has also proselytized market-based education reforms through projects like DoneWaiting.org, a campaign to promote the documentary Waiting For Superman. (That domain name now leads to a spammy-looking blog about gambling.)DFER and ERN share an executive director and two board members, one of whom, Charles Ledley, is married to Rebecca Ledley. She sits on the board of a charter school management organization in Massachusetts, as well as the board of Students for Education Reform.
  • Students for Education Reform: Founded in 2009 by two Princeton undergrads who made the Forbes 30 under 30 list—possibly because their organization’s revenue skyrocketed from $30,000 to $1.8 million in one year. SFER purports to be a “student-led movement to end educational injustice.” But their work seems to come down to shuttling politically ambivalent students around to lobby against teachers’ unions. SFER is also connected to Teach For America: Its latest tax records list TFA CEO Matt Kramer as a board member, though according to a SFER representative, his term has ended. Other board members of note include Jonathan Sackler, who sits (along with Dave Goldberg) on the board of New Schools Venture Fund, which invests in charter schools and education technology companies.
  • Education Reform Now Advocacy, Inc.: This outfit is a shell of a nonprofit created by the same folks who started DFER and ERN in 2006. The organization seems to have been dormant for awhile, perhaps in part because its name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Interestingly, its 2008 tax return contains a pointed statement of purpose that diverges from the feel-good rhetoric espoused by its more active sibling organizations. This shady quadruplet does not aim to “return the Democratic Party to its rightful place as a champion of children,” as DFER’s website claims. It is concerned simply with, “Promoting policies and state and federal level [sic] to increase the number of charter schools and strengthen teacher evaluations in K-12 public schools.”

Fellow education blogger Peter Greene has also written about Education Reform Now’s poker extravaganza.  See Reformster Poker Benefit

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

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)

Wendy Lecker’s latest column – The importance of listening to students

In a commentary piece entitled Heeding the lessons of teenagers, fellow Education Advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker used her latest article in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media Group outlets to remind us that when it comes to the so-called “education reform” agenda it is critically important that student voices be heard above the din of politics and the greed of the corporate education reform industry.

The Corporate Education Reformers and their allies in the charter school industry are so desperate to hijack the voices of public schools students that they actually create front groups with names like Students For Education Reform.

Calling themselves SFER, the group claims to be a “student run” organization but turns to the power elite for money and guidance.  An early member of the SFER Board of Directors was none other than Connecticut’s own Jonathan Sackler, the man behind the education reform groups ConnCAN, ConnAD, 50-CAN, as well as a key funder in the large charter school chain, Achievement First, Inc.  Sacker is also among the largest funders of Governor Dannel Malloy’s 2014 campaign for re-election.

Present members of SFER’s Board of Directors includes a Chief Growth Officer from the  gigantic KIPP charter school chain, the founder of Rolling Hills Capital, a major hedge fund, the Deputy General Counsel of Unilever, the President of the major education reform consulting company called Mass Insight Education, that got a lucrative contract from the Malloy administration,  and the list goes on.

Although Students For Education Reform has yet to file their IRS forms for this past tax year, in their first three years of business the group collected at least $6 million from corporate education reform groups, including a major start up grant form Democrats For Education Reform, an anti-union, anti-teacher, pro-charter group that have run attack ads against the Chicago Teachers Union and other groups speaking out for the rights of teachers and students.

Claiming to have chapters on 100 college campuses, SFER is among the organizations that joined in the record breaking lobbying campaign in support of Governor Dannel Malloy’s education reform agenda.

In 2012 the group dropped $15,000 in support of a pro-Malloy student rally.  However, following an ethics complaint it was later revealed that the money appeared to actually come from StudentsFirst, a national corporate education reform group that was headed, at the time, by Michelle Rhee.

By comparison there are the very real and very genuine voices of students, students who aren’t being paid to parrot the phrases of corporate executives like Jonathan Sackler.

And when you listen to real students, you hear a very different set of opinions and concerns.

As Wendy Lecker writes;

Although reformers and pundits like to pretend the interests of teachers are at odds with children’s best interests, those who know understand that their interests are aligned. Teachers know teaching conditions are learning conditions. In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for, among other things, smaller class size, art, music and wraparound services for children. In their recent victorious strike, Seattle teachers won mandatory recess for elementary school children.

Students also know that they and teachers want the same things. A fine example is the recent, unprecedented filing by Houston high school students of an amicus brief in the Texas school funding case now on appeal to that state’s Supreme Court.

In researching their brief, written entirely by them, the students visited schools across Houston, and spoke to students, teachers and administrators. They also drew on their own experience. As they point out, by the time they graduate, they will have spent 16,000 hours in public school. These kids are the experts.

Their research and experience led them to the same conclusions that courts across the country found: Schools need certain essential resources for kids to succeed, including: small class size, teacher training and support, extra-curricular activities and a rich curriculum.

The students stressed the need for small class size to help English Language Learners (“ELL”), a large population in Texas. The authors point out that individualized attention is necessary because for these students, “every class is a language class.”

Small class size is vital for all students. The authors remark that in large classes, teachers cannot provide feedback that is essential so students learn from their mistakes. As one student said, “it’s demotivating for us to spend hours on an assignment knowing that the teacher can only afford to spend a few minutes (if even that) checking for completion before putting a grade on it. It’s also demotivating for teachers to spend hours grading assignments that don’t require any of their expertise.”

Small class size is also essential to develop a personal bond with a teacher. This need is especially strong for disadvantaged students who face trauma in their daily lives. The personal connection prevents “children from falling through the cracks.”

The students note that private schools advertise their small classes. “This factor is a selling point for well-off parents who want the best for their kids, but isn’t available for those less fortunate.”

The authors stress that they need trained teachers, not novices. They show how teacher training is vital to help ELL teachers navigate the different cultures they encounter, and how the lack of funds for training hurts students and teachers alike.

Enrichment activities are often the first resources to be cut in a budget crunch, as they are viewed as extra. The authors here provide real-life examples of how these “extras” provided a vital outlet for students experiencing personal crises, enabling them to stay in school and focus on their studies.

The students’ authentic voice shines through in their writing. They confess:

“Most of us do not wake up in the morning excited to attend school and learn math. Many of us attend school because we look forward to ROTC, band, or orchestra, and while we’re there, we might as well learn math too. That mindset is useful to understand arts education as a pragmatic method of retaining students, boosting grades, and improving education for all.”

The students recognize how the absence of support services affects the futures of disadvantaged children. They note that the lack of guidance counselors deprives impoverished students of information about “four-year residential colleges, two-year associates degree programs, or even summer internships and academic camps.”

These students illustrate with real-life examples how teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that cannot be reduced to one data point. Thus, schools need comprehensive services and programs.

The authors do not blame teachers. They know that school personnel care about them. Rather, they call out the state, which communicates to children that it does not care by ignoring the severe lack of resources in schools.

The brief is also remarkable for what it omits. These students do not ask for choice. They do not want teachers to be rated on their standardized test scores, or replaced by untrained recent college graduates, a la Teach for America. Current fashionable education reforms are irrelevant to these real students.

Politicians would do well to heed the wisdom of these teenage experts, who know what’s best for them and their teachers.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  You can read and comment on her full piece via: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Heeding-the-lessons-of-teenagers-6545659.php

“Education Reform’s” Corporate Advocates spent $2.2 Million and counting in support of Malloy’s bill

Over the first 120 days of the 2012 Legislative Session, corporate lobby groups spent over $2.2 million (and counting) in their effort to pass Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill.  These numbers reveal that corporate reformers outspent those supporting district schools by at least two to one.

Under Connecticut law, corporations and organizations must report how much money they spent on lobbying, although they don’t need to reveal where they got their advocacy funds.  Unions, on the other hand, may only use funds provided by their union members.

The reports (or lack thereof) also reveal that some of the groups involved in the lobbying effort on behalf of Malloy’s “reform” bill failed to register to lobby and failed to report their activities as required by Connecticut law.  Individuals and groups involved in lobbying who fail to register can be fined up to $10,000 per violation.

An assumption can be made that investigations into these illegal lobbying activities have or might begin in the near future.

Michelle Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst (called, as we now know GNEPSA in Connecticut) led the way spending nearly $700,000 to back Malloy’s bill.  ConnCAN, the charter group advocacy firm set up by Achievement First, the charter school management company spent a half a million dollars.  The newly formed Connecticut Council for Education Reform added over $100,000 to the effort.

CBIA, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, also spent close to half a million dollars on television ads supporting Malloy and his “education reform” proposal.

As to those annoying and misleading phone calls people got, you have Patrick Riccards and ConnCAN to thank.  They sank over $107,000 into a contract with a Chicago firm for calls to Connecticut voters urging them to contact their legislators in support of Malloy’s bill.

Some of the lobbying violations appear significant enough that I’m sure we’ll hear more about it.

Lobbying Expenses January – April 2012 Notes
GNEPSA(aka StudentsFirst) $669,589 Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization in “disguise”
ConnCAN $499,9009 Patrick Riccards
Connecticut Council for Education Reform 109,195 Rae Ann “poverty is not an issue” Knopf
Students for Education Reform $15,159 Buses and food for the 60 student rally at the State Capitol
Connecticut Association of Board of Education (CABE) $6,132 Robert Rader
CT Association of Public School Superintendents $20,997 Joseph Cirasuolo
Achievement First $55,482 Charter School Management Company formed by Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s and others
Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) $798,995* *$487,224 was for education reform television ads.  A major chunk of the remainder was to lobby other business issues.
CT Association of Schools $10,000
CT Parents Union $0 Despite sponsoring the rally that Michelle Rhee attended, CT Parents Union claimed no expenditures for lobbying
Excel Bridgeport DID NOT REGISTER Excel Bridgeport engaged in a variety of efforts to promote the state takeover of Bridgeport and persuade others to communicate with legislators about Malloy’s education reform” bill but they did not register to lobby.
Teach for America – CT Chapter DID NOT REGISTER Teach for America -CT Chapter – Engaged in a variety of efforts to communicate with  State Department of Education Officials but did not register

Now wait, who is that grassroots group Students for Education Reform?

On April 19, 2012, 60 college students held a rally at the State Capitol demanding that the Legislature pass Governor Malloy’s“Education Reform” bill.

Students For Education Reform’s Connecticut director claimed that students were coming from a dozen different Connecticut campuses and that the cost of the rally included $10,000 for all the buses and then some for sandwiches for all the participants.

Although the Governor could not make time for Michelle Rhee’s “Education Reform” Rally last month, he was able to come out and speak to the students at this rally saying “this package that we put together will move Connecticut from where it is in the back of the pack to where it should be at the front of the classroom.”

Now, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the event but had I been there; here is the interview I believe I would have had with the event’s coordinators.

 

**Question:         So you are from Students for Education Reform?

SFER Answer:           Yes, yes we are.  We’re Students for Education Reform but you can call us SFER.  We are a grassroots organization that has become “the nation’s largest student-led education advocacy group.”

 

**Question:         That’s impressive.  So what’s your policy agenda?

SFER Answer:           As Connecticut college students we “are calling for education reform that includes teacher tenure reform, strong school choice, and turnarounds in the schools and districts that need it most.” Oh and our “policy agenda includes ensuring teacher and school leader effectiveness, quality school choices for every family, and meaningful standards and assessments in every state.”

 

**Question:         That sounds sort of like what ConnCAN has been saying.

SFER Answer:           ConnCAN?

 

**Question:         Yes, ConnCAN (the charter school advocacy group) that was set up by Achievement First (the charter school management company that runs 20 schools in Connecticut and New York).  Achievement First is on track to collect millions if Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill passes.

**SFER Answer:           Ah, no you have it wrong.  We are Students for Education Reform, “the nation’s largest student-led education advocacy group” and we are for “teacher tenure reform, school choice and turnaround programs” like the Commissioner’s Network plan.

 

**Question:        OK, who is on your Board of Directors and how did you get set up?

SFER Answer          We have lots of supporters and partners.  Some of the most successful corporate leaders are on our board.  For example Brian Olson, Co-founder or Viking Global Investors, Jonathan Sackler, a director at Purdue Pharma and Matthew Kramer, President of Teach for America are all on our board.

 

**Question:         So let me get this right.  Brian Olson, the Chairman of ConnCAN is on your Board of Directors.  Jonathan Sackler, who set up Achievement First, set up ConnCAN and set up 50CAN to bring the ConnCAN message to other states is on your board.  And Matthew Kramer who is also on the 50CAN’s Board are all Board members for Students for Education Reform.

 SFER Answer:           Ah, yes, we are a grassroots group.

 

**Question:         And where do you get your funds?

SFER Answer:           Well I can’t tell you that exactly but I can proudly say our funding partners are 50CAN, ConnCAN, Teach for America, Stand for Children, Kickboard and the Breakthrough Collaborative?

 

**Question:         And you have paid staff?

SFER Answer:           Yes we do, we have at least seven full-time people including Catharine Bellinger, Co-founder and Co-Executive Director; Alexis Morin, Co-founder and Co-Executive Director; Jerelyn Rodriguez, National Program Director; Matt Stern, NY State Program Director; Kevin Coughlin, CT State Program Director; Adam Roof, MA State Program Director and James Chang, MN State Program Director.

 

**Question:         Finally, I see Students for Education Reform registered to lobby as of February 21, 2012 and by March 30th had only spent $344.25.

SFER Answer:           Yes, that is correct.

 

**Question:         And yet two weeks later you held a rally that you had been working on for quite some time.  You spent $10,000 for busses and additional money to feed students and none of the activities took place in March since you would have had to file those expenses on the March 30th Ethics Filing.

SFER Answer:           Ah, we’re are a grassroots group.

 

**Question:         Do you understand that like a number of other “education reform” groups you’ve now broken Connecticut law and could be fined $10,000 per violation?

 SFER Answer:           Ah, we’re a grassroots group?

 

 Let’s see, I wonder how many investigations the Ethics Commission can have going at one time?