Sarah Darer Littman, who writes about education issues in Connecticut, tells a shocking story here of power and money.
The Hartford, Connecticut, schools are under mayoral control; the mayor appoints 5 of 9 members of the board of education. The other four are elected by the public. But the Board is bound by its bylaws to act as a whole. The five are not supposed to hold secret meetings to make policy.
But that is exactly what happened. The mayor’s five appointees met in secret with the Gates Foundation and charter school advocates. The Gates Foundation announced a $5 million grant in December 2012.
“On June 29, 2012, staff members of the Gates Foundation came to Hartford for a meeting. According to a memo former Hartford Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto sent to the Board on October 12, 2012 — which was the first time the wider board knew of the meeting — “Participants included Board of Education Chair Matthew Poland, Mayor Segarra, Hartford Public Schools, Achievement First and Jumoke Academy senior staff members, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Connecticut Council for Education Reform, ConnCAN, and other corporate, community and philanthropic partners.”
“The grant was paid through the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which receives 3 percent of the total ($150,000) for serving as fiscal agent. $150,000. Just think of all the Donors Choose literacy programs in Hartford that money would fund, saving teachers the indignity of having to beg donations for sets of classroom books.
“But that’s not the worst part about the Gates grant. What’s really disturbing is that by funneling a grant through another foundation, a private foundation was able to impose public policy behind closed doors, and what’s more, impose policy that required taxpayer money — all without transparency or accountability.”
“I had to file a Freedom of Information request in order to get a copy of the paperwork on the Gates grant and what I received was only the partial information, because as Connecticut taxpayers will have learned from the Jumoke/FUSE fiasco, while charter schools consistently argue they are “public” when it comes to accepting money from the state, they are quick to claim that they are private institutions when it comes to transparency and accountability.
“But what is clear from the grant paperwork is that Hartford Public Schools committed to giving more schools to Achievement First and Jumoke Academy/Fuse, a commitment made by just some members of the Board of Education in applying for the grant, which appears to be a clear abrogation of the bylaws. Further, as a result of the commitment made by those board members, financial costs would accrue to Hartford Public Schools that were not covered by the grant — for example, the technology to administer the NWEA map tests, something I wrote about back in December 2012, just after the grant was announced.
“One of the Gates Foundation grant’s four initiatives was to “Build the district’s capacity to retain quality school leaders through the transformation of low-performing schools, replicating Jumoke Academy’s successful model of a holistic education approach.”
Littman wrote to Gates to ask whether they had conducted any “due diligence” review of Jumoke Academy before imposing these conditions of replicating it. This far, the foundation has not responded to her inquiry.
As you may recall, Jumoke Academy and its parent organization FUSE are now under FBI investigation. It no longer manages any schools in Connecticut. It is also under state investigation. “Those investigations were prompted after Michael Sharpe, the charter school management group’s CEO, resigned following news reports revealing his criminal past. Sharpe also admitted to a Hartford Courant reporter that he had lied about his education credentials.”
Littman also points out that the alphabet soup of corporate reformers had been enthusiastic supporters of Jumoke. The chain was in line to get two more charter schools from the state, and $1 million from the Gates Foundation.
“Aren’t these the same people who are telling us to run schools like businesses? Isn’t due diligence part of doing business?”
“Let’s recognize that just because someone is a wealthy business person doesn’t mean they always make the right choices. Look at Microsoft’s performance during the stacked ranking years. By accepting a gift from the Gates Foundation in this manner, Hartford admitted a Trojan horse to disrupt public education and disable democracy, submitting voters to the dictates of one wealthy man.”