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Commonweal editors mark the departure of Scott Walker from the 2016 field with relief.

“The departure of Gov. Scott Walker from the Republican race for president should come as a relief to American working people. His campaign against public-employee unions in his home state of Wisconsin, underwritten by billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch, proved devastatingly effective, and his goal was to take it nationwide. Not that he was the only Republican candidate to take aim at what is, by general agreement, a fading target—organized labor as both a political force and an advocate for workers is perhaps weaker now than it’s ever been. But Walker, even more than fellow Republican Chris Christie, had been especially vocal in demonizing unions. That put him at odds with many of his fellow citizens: Support for unions has been rising since 2008, according to an August Gallup survey, with 58 percent of Americans—and 42 percent of Republican voters—now viewing them favorably.

“A plan Walker issued days before stepping down, costumed in the rhetoric of freedom, flexibility, and expanded opportunity, was essentially a proposal for finishing off organized labor once and for all. Its title was “Power to the People, Not the Union Bosses,” as if Walter Reuther and Albert Shanker still strode the land, legions of auto-workers and schoolteachers massed behind them. Empowering people, in Walker’s view, would mean abolishing the National Labor Relations Board, rewriting federal law to make Right to Work “the default position for all private, state, and public-sector workers,” replacing overtime pay with unpaid time off, and stripping employees of their ability to bargain collectively. The plan appears to have died with Walker’s candidacy. But its spirit is very much alive among many in the GOP—those who recall Ronald Reagan’s decision in 1981 to fire eleven thousand employees in the air-traffic controllers union the way some remember, say, the establishment of Social Security. That they speak so cynically about labor is not surprising. That Democrats seem to speak so little of it is not reassuring.

“According to the Economic Policy Institute, since the beginning of the “Reagan Revolution” in 1980, American workers have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline, while real gross domestic product has grown by nearly 150 percent and net productivity by 64 percent in this period. More and more of the jobs Americans hold today come without reliable, living wages or benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, training, and job security. Measures like Walker’s aren’t meant to improve things, but rather accelerate what began some time ago. The decoupling of wages and benefits from productivity has been evident over the past two decades, according to the EPI, a period that has “coincided with the passage of many policies that explicitly aimed to erode the bargaining power of low- and moderate-wage workers in the labor market.”

Most of the time, we engage in covil discourse, even with people whom we know are rigid ideologues whose minds are blted closed. but every once in a while, someone opens a window and yells out, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” And they say what’s really on their mind.

Rep. Brian Sims did that in Pennsylvania recently. He called out the conservative Comminwealth Foundation after he received a mailing from it. He wrote on his Facebook page:

“See, I already know that you are all racist, homophobic, sexist, classist, ableist, anti-American, bigots whose single driving motivation is to secure the wealth of your multimillionaire donors at the expense of every single working person and family in the Commonwealth. See, I told you I already get it so you don’t need to waste money sending me proof…actually go ahead and waste that money!”

Thanks to reader GST for bringing this important story to our attention: a court in Pennsylvania ruled that the School Reform Commission may not cancel the contract of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. This is a battle that has gone on for two years, as the unelected School Reform Commission looks for ways to cut the budget. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia schools are suffering from former Governor Tom Corbett’s deep budget cuts, and the Legislature has refused to fulfill its responsibility to the children of Philadelphia.


Commonwealth Court judges have handed a win to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, ruling that the School Reform Commission cannot throw out the teachers’ union’s contract and impose new terms.


The decision was confirmed by Jerry Jordan, PFT president, on Thursday morning.


“This is a very big victory,” Jordan said.


After nearly two years of negotiations, the district had moved on Oct. 6 to cancel the teachers’ contract and impose health-benefits changes that would save the cash-strapped system $54 million annually, officials said.
In the decision, judges said that neither the state Public School Code nor the Legislature have expressly given the SRC the power to cancel its teachers’ contract.


“This Court is cognizant of the dire financial situation which the Districtcurrently faces and the SRC’s extensive efforts to achieve the overall goal of properlyand adequately meeting the educational needs of the students,” Judge Patricia A. McCullough wrote for the court. “There have been numerous difficult decisions that the SRC has been forced to make in an effort to overcome these economic hurdles, including a one-third reduction in staff and theclosing of 31 schools in recent years.”


But the law does not give the SRC the power to cancel a collective bargaining agreement.

Blogger Jersey Jazzman is an experienced teacher and graduate student at Rutgers, where he has learned how reformers play games with data. He is better than they are and can be counted on to expose their tricks.

In this post, he blows away the myth of the “success” of Boston charter schools.

The public schools and the charter schools in Boston do not enroll the same kinds of students, due to high attrition rates in the charters (called Commonwealth charter schools).

He writes:

“As I pointed out before, the Commonwealth charter schools are a tiny fraction of the total Boston high school population. What happens if the cap is lifted and they instead enroll 25 percent of Boston’s students? What about 50 percent?

“Let’s suppose we ignore the evidence above and concede a large part of the cohort shrinkage in charters is due to retention. Will the city be able to afford to have retention rates that high for so many students? In other words: what happens to the schools budget if even more students take five or six or more years to get through high school?

“In a way, it doesn’t really matter if the high schools get their modest performance increases through attrition or retention: neither is an especially innovative way to boost student achievement, and neither requires charter school expansion. If Boston wants to invest in drawing out the high school careers of its students, why not do that within the framework of the existing schools? Especially since we know redundant school systems can have adverse effects on public school finances?”

Conclusion: Jersey Jazzman opposes Amendment 2, which would lead to an unsustainable growth in charter schools, free to push out the students they don’t want.

Historian Jack Schneider fears that charter schools in Massachusetts have lost their capacity to innovate. Instead, they have a single-minded focus on test scores and “no-excuses” discipline. They have lost sight of the original vision of charters as laboratories of innovation.

He writes:

“Yet an emphasis on the original vision of charter schools—charters as experimental hubs in an integrated network of public schools—might do a great deal to reestablish common ground. Perhaps more importantly, by thoughtfully regulating the charter sector with the aim of fostering system-wide innovation, policy leaders might make it possible to reap the benefits of charter schools without paying the steep associated costs.

“Of course, Massachusetts charter schools are regulated. The number of charter seats in each district is limited by the state—a cap being challenged by Question 2. And charters are held accountable by the state for their performance. But current regulations do little to support charters as laboratories. In fact, current state regulatory practices have fostered a climate hostile to innovation.

“The chief problem with current regulatory practices is that the state relies chiefly on standardized test scores to determine charter performance—a practice that severely undercuts any impulse to innovate. Additionally, given some high-profile charter implosions, the state has become increasingly risk-averse, and now only approves “proven providers.” Thus, rather than a thousand flowers blooming, we instead have seen the proliferation of a single model—one oriented towards rigid discipline and test-oriented instruction; three-quarters of the charters in Boston, for instance, are so-called “no excuses” schools. This kind of monoculture is fine for parents who desire it. But it hardly reflects the wishes of most parents, and it certainly isn’t going to promote systemic improvement.
Eliminating the cap on charter schools won’t solve this problem. In fact, it will exacerbate it, as a small number of chain operators will be in the strongest position to take advantage of the new opportunities to expand. Simply put, another KIPP, MATCH, or Uncommon school is not going to bring new ideas to Massachusetts, or to Boston, where most of the expansion is likely to occur….

“Charter schools were supposed to be places of innovation—something we have not seen in practice. This vision, however, can still be rescued. Charters can play a critical role in the strengthening of all public schools. But not if Question 2 passes and we eliminate the cap. However ironic it may seem, then, a vote against charter expansion may be the only way to save the original promise of charter schools—as places for innovation.”

Elizabeth Warren is a very smart woman. She knows that charters divide communities and destroy community support for education. This is her statement. 

““ ‘I will be voting no on Question 2. Many charter schools in Massachusetts are producing extraordinary results for our students, and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools. 
” ‘But after hearing more from both sides, I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind. 
” ‘I hope that the Legislature, the teachers, and the parents can come together to find ways to make sure all kids in Massachusetts get a first-rate education without pitting groups against each other.’ ”


Senator Elizabeth Warren announced today that she would vote NO on Question2, the proposal to expand the state’s charter schools by 12 a year forever.

I received the following message from Save Our Schools:

“We are excited to announce that Elizabeth Warren has joined the ever growing movement to vote NO and we are hoping you can help us get the word out! We know the best way to do that are one on one conversations. Below we have provided a suggested email blast that includes links to RSVP to our upcoming events. We have also provided links to retweet and share on your social media channels.

“Massachusetts public schools will lose $450 million in funding to charter schools this year. Our students can’t afford to lose anymore.

“For a full list of campaign events, please visit our website’s events page.

“Here are our top cities and towns we will be canvassing and pushing for this Saturday, Oct. 1:

Boston Canvass with Tito Jackson – 1:00 PM
Grove Hall Library
41 Geneva Ave.

For all other canvasses please click here to RSVP.

Everett – 10:30 AM
Glendale Park, near Everett Park

Fall River – 10:30
Fall River Educators Association
178 4th St.

Fitchburg – 10:00 AM
Fitchburg Education Association
78 Franklin Rd.

Lowell – 4:00 PM
Riley School
115 Douglas Rd.

Northampton – 10:30 AM
Potpourri Plaza
243 King St.

Pittsfield – 2:00 PM
188 East St.

Quincy – 10:00 AM
MTA Office

Worcester – 11:00 AM
Sweets Kitchen and Bar, 72 Shrewsbury St.

Thank you for your support,

Russ Davis
Coalition Director Save Our Public Schools
Cell: 617-413-0713

Suggested Retweet:

Suggested Facebook Share:

Suggested Email Blast:

We have great news – Senator Warren is officially #NoOn2.

“I will be voting no on Question 2…I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters.”

It’s time to stand up to the out-of-state billionaires and join Senator Warren and the Democratic State Committee to fight for quality education for ALL Massachusetts students.

“Sign up for a canvass shift this Saturday, Oct. 1 near you:

“Boston Canvass with Tito Jackson – 1:00 PM
Grove Hall Library
41 Geneva Ave.

Pittsfield – 2:00 PM
188 East St.

Worcester – 11:00 AM
Sweets Kitchen and Bar, 72 Shrewsbury St.

Click here to see a full list of all neighborhood canvasses. Question 2 is bad for our schools it’s time we stand up united to vote NO.”

Jonathan Pelto reports on the big money that will flow into the Massachusetts referendum on expanding charters. Most of it will flow from the coffers of hedge fund managers, who never showed any prior interest in improving public schools but get excited by the opportunity to privatize them.

He writes:

A group of billionaires and corporate executives are using a front group called Great Schools Massachusetts and the New York based charter school advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, to pour an unprecedented amount of money into a campaign to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.

According to published reports, the charter school industry is on track to dump up to $18 million into a record-breaking campaign in support of Massachusetts Question 2, a referendum question on this year’s ballot that would effectively lift the legislatively mandated cap on the number of charter schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter school, pro-Governor Andrew Cuomo, anti-teacher group has led a series of expensive advocacy campaigns in New York State and Connecticut on behalf of the charter school industry.

Expanding first to Connecticut and then to Massachusetts, Families for Excellent Schools has become the preferred money pipeline of choice for a group of corporate elites who seek to anonymously fund the effort to privatize public education in the United States.

Thanks to the demise of campaign finance laws at the federal and state level, Families for Excellent Schools can accept unlimited donations from those who profit from or support the rise of charter school, the Common Core and the Common Core testing scheme.

While most of the money flowing into the Massachusetts Question 2 campaign can’t be traced, public documents reveal that a handful of hedge fund managers and corporate executives donated $40,000 each to kick start the campaign aimed at diverting even more scarce public funds from public schools to charter schools.

Most of the key players in the Question 2 operation are directly or indirectly associated with a handful of hedge fund companies including, Bain Capital, the Baupost Group and Highfields Capital Management.

Leading the effort from Bain Capital is Josh Bekenstein, the managing partner at the infamous company. Bekenstein is a long-time charter supporter having donated massive amounts of money to pro-voucher, anti-teacher, pro-charter school groups including Stand for Children, Teach for America, and the KIPP and Citizen charter school chains.

In addition, Bekenstein has played an instrumental role for both New Profit, Inc. and the NewSchools Venture Fund, two of the major funders behind the charter school movement in Massachusetts and across the nation.

New Profit, Inc.’s “investments” include major donations to underwrite the faux teacher advocacy group called Educators 4 Excellence, which is actually another New York based, anti-union front group. New Profit, Inc. also funds Achievement First, Inc., a charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the Achievement Network and Turnaround for Children, two more pro-charter school lobby and public relations organizations.

Through Bain Capital, and on his own, Bekenstein’s has also helped fund and lead Bright Horizons, yet another charter school chain with operations in multiple states.

There are many more financiers and bigwigs piling on to advance privatization. Read Jon’s post to see the cast of characters.

Jon’s post was written before we learned of the $1.8 million donated by two members of the Walton family of Arkansas. I wonder why they don’t fix the low-performing schools of Arkansas instead of telling the nation’s top state how to “reform” its successful public schools by opening up a dual school system.

Charles Pierce blogs for Esquire, where he turns out spot-on posts about many issues. He lives in Boston, so he is well aware of the millions of dollars being spent to deceive the public into thinking that more charter schools means more money for public schools.

In this post, he explains that the issue is about siphoning money from public schools and sending it to privatized schools.

He writes:

The people seeking to blow up the cap on the number of charter schools here in the Commonwealth (God save it!) have turned on the afterburners in recent weeks, as we get closer to balloting in which a referendum on lifting the cap will be placed before the voters. The airwaves are thick with commercials about how lifting the cap on charter schools will provide more money to public schools, which is a dodge, because charter schools are not in any important sense public schools.

There is no public oversight. There is little public input. They are privately run and funded with public money. This is the same principle that has worked out so well with prison food.

In New York on Monday, Jonathan Chait jumps into the issue with both feet. (To his credit, Chait is quite clear that his wife works for a charter company.) He argues no less a case than that the referendum is “one of the most important tests of social justice and economic mobility of any election in America this fall.” Glorioski! And, of course, he characterizes the opposition to lifting the charter cap as wholly influenced by the all-powerful teachers union, which he casts as a thoroughgoing villain, and which he comes dangerously close to accusing of enabling racism—or, at the very least, as heedless to the concerns of the poor and disadvantaged.

This is noxious garbage; the great majority of the people represented by the teachers union work in classrooms that most of us wouldn’t walk into on a bet. And, anyway, as the very excellent Diane Ravitch points out, a huge number of local school boards have lined up against lifting the cap. These are not all puppets of the evil teachers union. Many of them are composed of people who have looked around the country and seen that an untrammeled charter system is an amazing entry vehicle for waste and fraud. Chait dismisses these people as the heirs to Louise Day Hicks or something.

Pierce reviews the millions pouring into the state from billionaires who live elsewhere, and he writes:

Call me crazy, but I don’t think Michael Bloomberg and the Walton family give a rat’s ass about educating children in Roxbury or Mattapan. I think they are running for-profit businesses that want to increase their profits and, in Massachusetts, they see a chance to make themselves more money, the way they have in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Arizona, and all those other places where education is considered an industry and children, essentially products. (Especially Sacramento, where Michelle Rhee, Queen of the Grifters, is married to Kevin Johnson, a truly horrible person.)

They are not campaigning for freedom of choice for Massachusetts children. They are campaigning for their own freedom to gobble more and more from the public trough. See also: Privatization, all forms of.

In fairness, I don’t think Bloomberg or the Waltons expect to make a profit. They don’t need the money. I think they have a dedication to the free market (it works for them), and you can be sure that the opening of more charters will attract profiteers and entrepreneurs. It has happened everywhere else. Why would Massachusetts be immune? Deregulation and privatization will undermine Massachusetts’ excellent school system. School board members understand the threat, which is why more than 100 school boards have passed resolutions against Question 2, and not even one school board supports it.

Two days ago, the Massachusetts Democratic Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing Question 2, which seeks to lift the cap on charter schools.

Massachusetts teacher and daily reader Christine Langhoff expands on my early report (which she kindly sent to me as soon as the resolution passed). Thanks to Christine, I was able to circulate the good news before the daily press. It is kind of amusing seeing the complaint by the representative of DFER, the hedge fund managers’ group. Hedge funds are not generally viewed as champions of those without power; they lack numbers, but they are loaded with money and power. Parents and educators anticipate that the hedge funds and corporate interests will pour close to $20 million into their campaign for Question 2. Supporters of public schools can’t match the dollars, but they can knock on every door and alert every parent that the real goal of this deceptive campaign is privatization, not helping public schools.

She writes:

On Tuesday evening, August 16, the Massachusetts State Democratic Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution, by voice vote, in opposition to Ballot Question #2, which would eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools permitted in the Commonwealth. Here is part of the text of the resolution, which was offered by Steve Tolman, President of the MA AFL-CIO:

Democratic State Committee Resolution Regarding Question 2

WHEREAS, the Massachusetts Democratic Party platform states that “Massachusetts Democrats are committed to investing in public education”; and

WHEREAS, the national Democratic Party platform states that charter schools “should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools”; and

WHEREAS, more than $400 million in taxpayer money was diverted to charter schools statewide last year from local school districts, forcing cuts to programs that families and students value; and

WHEREAS, charter schools typically serve far fewer special needs students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students than the traditional public school districts they are located in and use hyper-disciplinary policies and suspensions for minor infractions to push out students; and

For more, see:

Liam Kerr, director of Democrats For Education Reform Massachusetts, was not amused.

“Tonight, a small group of state Democratic Party insiders hijacked a meeting and passed a resolution with little warning and no debate or discussion. Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton and President Obama support high-quality public charter schools. The Massachusetts party insiders are so out of step they won’t even listen to those who stand with low-income families and families of color desperate for a better education for their children. There was nothing democratic about this vote.”

The vote flew in the face of predictions by the pro-charter Boston Globe on Monday that it would be a divisive resolution:

“…forcing activists to take sides between two traditional party constituencies: minority and low-income families versus teachers unions…

A ballot proposal to expand charter schools across the state could drive a further wedge between Democratic Party factions when state committee members gather Tuesday night in Lawrence…

‘The charter school issue shows a genuine disagreement within the party, that there’s no consensus,’ said one party insider, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal Democratic dynamics. ‘And both sides are really intractable. The notion of a middle ground on charter schools within the Democratic Party, or among the people that are going to be showing up to this meeting, it just doesn’t exist.’ ”

The Globe got it wrong about a lack of consensus, as today’s report indicated only a “smattering” of opposition to the resolution. It also quoted New England NAACP head Juan Cofield who thanked state Democrats:

“In an emailed statement, NAACP New England Area conference president Juan Cofield, who also chairs the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools, said, ‘We applaud the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee for joining the campaign to save our public schools and opposing Question 2. They join more than 70 local communities and a broad coalition of families, parents, educators, students, and local leaders who understand that Question 2 is bad for our schools.’ ”

Even Boston’s pro-charter Mayor Walsh, himself a founder of a charter school, has publicly opposed Question 2, due to the projected $158 million it will siphon from Boston’s public schools next year without lifting the cap:

Here’s further reporting from State House News Service, much behind a paywall:


The Massachusetts Democratic Party on Tuesday night voted to oppose a ballot question that would expand charter schools in Massachusetts, putting the party at odds with some of its members in the Legislature.

“Our local communities cannot afford to lose even more money to charter schools,” said former Rep. Carol Donovan, a Democratic State Committee member from Woburn, in a statement. “Already, cities and towns [are] forced to make budget cuts every year due to the state’s underfunding of education and the money lost to charters. If this ballot question passes, it will create budget crises in hundreds of Massachusetts communities, and hurt the students who remain in our local district public schools.”

The party’s definitive position differs from the verdict of Democrats who run the Legislature and have differing opinions of charter schools. Legislative leaders were unable to broker a charter school compromise and have left the issue for voters to settle.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, and Rep. Frank Moran, a Lawrence Democrat, have both taken on prominent roles backing passage of Question 2, which would allow up to 12 new charter schools or charter expansions in Massachusetts annually regardless of a statutory cap.

The Senate this year passed “The Rise Act,” tying charter cap increases to additional investment in local education, at an estimated cost of $203 million to $212 million annually for seven years.

The bill knocked by critics who noted the lack of dedicated funding in the bill, which they described as placing on unfeasible burden on increasing access to a form of public education that operates outside the control of local school committees.
Rather than seek compromise with the Senate, House leaders abandoned hope of a legislative solution, allowing the question to be decided by voters on Nov. 8.

The RISE Act mentioned here would have made charters more transparent, holding them to standards similar to those for public schools, and was bitterly opposed by the charter lobby on those grounds, while public school advocates opposed the further funding of charters it would have enabled. The House failed to take up the measure.

On Twitter, head of the MassTeachers Asociation, Barbara Madeloni used the hashtags #alltheygotliesand$ and #wegotpeoplepoweranddemocracy, pointing out the dark money flowing in from out of state to fund charter growth. Maurice Cunningham, a professor of Political Science at UMass Boston has been tracking that money:

So far, not a great ROI in MA for the hedge funders.