Archives for category: Connecticut

Achievement First Amistad in New Haven is known for two things: high test scores and high suspension rates.

Principal of New Haven charter school quits after video surfaces

But when a video captured the principal
exercising the usual harsh discipline, the principal stepped down and a former “behavior specialist” spilled the beans.

“The State Department of Education has reprimanded the leadership of AF Amistad in the past for what the state says amounts to three times more suspensions as any other New Haven public school. Now, a video obtained by the New Haven Independent, shows AF Amistad principal Morgan Barth grabbing a male student, who tried to leave his office, while discussing previous discipline.

“The school’s Chief External Officer, Fatimah Barker, calls the principal’s conduct “unacceptable,” in a statement. It continued:

“When this incident happened, we conducted an internal investigation, documented the incident in accordance with state laws, and worked with the student’s family – including sharing the video with them. In addition, Mr. Barth was disciplined and also required to attain additional restraint training.”

“From the time I met that man, very intimidating to the kids,” said Steve Cotton, a now former AF Amistad employee. “Multiple staff always referred to his style as intimidation, basically.”

Wake up, Connecticut! A small number of wealthy donors are attacking public schools, including Alice Walton, the richest woman in the world. She does not live in Connecticut. A major in-state donor is Jonathan Sackler, whose billionaire fortune was made by marketing opioids. A small number of wealthy donors are attacking public schools. Read and share with your friends, your school board, your teachers, and parents.

Common Cause in Connecticut has posted an important statement about the money fueling the attack on public schools in that state.

A small group of corporate executives, wealthy individuals, and advocacy groups for the charter school industry have collaborated to reshape Connecticut’s educational system by pumping more than a half million dollars into our elections in the last three years. The common thread among this group is their advocacy for charter schools — publicly funded schools that are run by private boards, independent of the local school district. Most of these donors have been involved in the management of charter schools or charter school advocacy groups as board or staff members. Thus, the charter school industry is spending large sums of money to influence public policy to make more money for itself, shift control of public education to private hands, and drive wedges between parents in communities of color and teacher unions.

The political action committees (PACs) that have funneled this money to support local candidates are not funded by small contribution s from concerned parents and educators who want to improve local educational opportunities. Rather, most of the small number of wealthy individual donors to these PACs have management ties to charter school advocacy groups or to the charter schools themselves. We are calling these political action committees charter school PACs.

As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, corporations, unions, lobbying organizations, and wealthy individuals can spend unlimited amounts money influencing elections, as long as this spending is not done in coordination with candidates. The Court also made clear that this unlimited money should be fully disclosed to the public, to provide “citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.” In Connecticut this year, super PACs are the primary channel for these “independent expenditures” and though the super PACs disclose their donors, some donors to charter school PACs are advocacy corporations that do not disclose their funders (i.e., dark money groups). Super PACs cannot contribute directly to candidates.

Through Connect the Dollars, our collaborative project to track independent expenditures in the state, Common Cause in Connecticut and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group have been tracking super PAC income and spending in Connecticut this year. Using campaign finance reports filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) through November 15, this analysis highlights income and spending by super PACs focused on charter schools in 2018. Since the intimate connections between the donors, advocacy groups and charter schools becomes even more apparent when reviewing super PACs over a longer period, we have also researched donors to all charter school super PACs from 2016 through the present.
The wealthy donors who provide most of the income for charter school super PACs in Connecticut are funding an electoral megaphone that drowns out the voices of Connecticut parents, citizens, and candidates who are concerned about the future of our schools. This special interest money also undermines the goals of Connecticut’s strong campaign finance laws, and damages public confidence in the integrity of our election system.

The shifting and vague names of these super PACs mask a thinly veiled shell game played by a small group of advocacy groups, wealthy donors, and charter school board members. Our report finds that since 2016:

• Six charter school super PACs in the state have received $512,958 in donations, with most of it (58%) coming from out-of-state sources.

• Just 26 donors have contributed virtually all of the half million dollars that have gone to these super PACs. A mere 10 donors account for 91% of these donations.

• The largest contributor by far is Alice Walton, heir to the Walmart fortune, who has donated $195,000 to local super PACs.

• Two-thirds of the individual donors have had a direct role in the management of charter school advocacy groups and/or the charter schools themselves, as current or former board members or staff of these organizations. In other words, wealthy individuals who privately manage the charter school industry are donating thousands of dollars to super PACs in an effort to gain favor with state legislative candidates and influence spending on education – privatizing public education with the ultimate goal of profiting from that change of focus.

• While charter school PACs and their donors have supported both Democratic and Republican candidates since 2016, they focused primarily on supporting Democratic candidates in 2018. One of them, Build CT, focused on currying favor among candidates in races that were not highly competitive, including districts of members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and the Senate majority leader, a Democrat.

• While not a charter school PAC, the Change Connecticut PAC has ties to the charter school industry. It may have been used to evade Connecticut’s campaign finance disclosure rules by indirectly funneling $250,000 from Brian Olson, a wealthy leader in the charter school industry to support Republican candidates in the state.

Several donors and officers of these PACs have clear ties to these local advocacy organizations and schools:

• Families for Excellent Schools (FES) was, until its closure this year, a 501(c)(3) charter school advocacy organization that focused on Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts. It spent $74,000 on lobbying expenses in Connecticut during the 2017-2018 legislative session, according to Office of State Ethics filings. Its 501(c)(4) “social welfare” arm, Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, had a much larger lobbying budget, spending $367,000 in this period. FES Advocacy spent nearly $20 million trying to pass a 2016 referendum initiative to expand charter schools in Massachusetts, which lost by a margin of 24 percentage points, a major setback for FES. The group violated Massachusetts election law by failing to disclose its donors and was fined $426,000, the largest campaign finance fine in state history. FES announced in February 2018 that it would close after it fired its executive director following an investigation of “inappropriate behavior toward a non-employee.”

• Achievement First is a network of 36 charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island. Several PAC donors are board members of Achievement First or its individual Connecticut schools.

• The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) is a charter school advocacy group that spent $370,000 on lobbying expenses in Connecticut during the 2017-2018 legislative session. Three of the five founding board members of ConnCAN were also board members of Achievement First at that time.

• The Northeast Charter Schools Network is an advocacy organization that represents the charter school industry in Connecticut and New York. It spent $97,000 on lobbying expenses in the state during the 2017-2018 session.
2018 Super PACs

There are three charter school PACs in Connecticut that have reported income and spending in 2018 and that have supported or opposed candidates this year — Build CT, Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, and Change Course CT. Super PACs are notorious for hiding their real agendas behind vague and innocuous names, and most charter school PACs are no exception. Few voters would have any idea that the Build CT and Change Course CT PACs are funded by the wealthiest woman in the world in her effort to rework the school system to shift control of public education to private boards.

Build CT PAC

The Build CT PAC, created in 2017, was formed and operated by staff from charter school advocacy organizations.

• The chair and treasurer of the Build CT PAC is Claudia Phillips, a Community Engagement Manager with the Northeast Charter Schools Network and a former organizer at Families for Excellent Schools.

• Samaris Rose, who was a paid canvasser this year for Build CT, was also an organizer at Families for Excellent Schools.

• Antonio Felipe, the PAC’s previous treasurer, is a former Connecticut Advocacy Intern for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.

The PAC’s income totaled $118,250 in 2018. Its major donor was Alice Walton, who contributed $100,000. She is the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton and is ranked by Forbes as the wealthiest woman in the world, with assets of $46 billion.
Alice sits on the board of the Walton Family Foundation, which is the largest donor in the country to state charter school advocacy groups, contributing $144 million to 27 organizations, according to the Associated Press. In 2016, it announced a plan to spend $1 billion over the next five years to expand charter school and school choice programs.
Walton has financially supported pro-charter and school choice candidates and organizations across the country, contributing more than $17 million. Among her donations was $750,000 to Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy in support of a pro- charter ballot measure. The Walton Family Foundation gave Families for Excellent Schools more than $13 million between 2014 and 2016.

Other 2018 donors to the Build CT PAC were:

• Richard Ferguson of Westport, retired, former Executive Vice President of Cox
Radio, chair of the board of the Elm City College Preparatory charter school,

• Michael D. Griffin of Indian River Shores, FL and New Preston, CT, a “community
activist” and treasurer of the board of the Amistad Academy charter school
board, $4,500.

• Kenneth Bartels of Greenwich, retired, $4,000.

• Anthony Roncalli of New Canaan, attorney at Norton Rose Fulbright, $1,000.

• Christopher Kunhardt of Weston, retired, former executive at J.P. Morgan, chair of
the board of the Achievement First Bridgeport Academy charter school, $1,000.

In 2018, our analysis indicates that the PAC spent $97,826, with much of that going to direct mail, Facebook ads, canvassing (door knocking), and consulting fees from RSA Strategies in New York. (This includes paid and unpaid expenses.)
However, the Build CT PAC did not target competitive elections. Nearly all of the Democratic candidates it supported won by overwhelming margins in safe districts where there was little chance they would lose, and three were unopposed in the general election. All but two of the districts are classified by the Secretary of the State as “party- dominant districts” — those in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least 20 percentage points. Rather than favoring candidates in tight races, the PAC’s spending appears to be aimed at currying favor among urban, Black and Latino legislators who have direct oversight of funding and policy for charter schools.

• Of the 12 incumbents supported by Build CT PAC, eight are members of the General Assembly’s Education and/or Appropriations Committees. An open seat candidate, Dennis Bradley, is a member of the Bridgeport Board of Education. Senator Bob Duff is the Senate Majority Leader.

• All of the candidates represent urban districts, which have been a major focus for charter school expansion by the industry.

• All but two are African-American or Latino candidates, and these communities have been a focus of organizing by charter school advocates, raising questions about why communities of color are being targeted by charter school PACs.

The PAC supported these Democratic state senate candidates with its spending, all of whom won their elections. The candidates’ share of the vote is also listed below (in general election, unless otherwise noted).

• Dennis Bradley (D-Bridgeport), 55% in primary (PAC supported only during primary election)

• Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), 63%

• Doug McCrory (D-Hartford), unopposed

• Gary Winfield (D-New Haven), 76%

It supported these candidates for state representative, who also won their elections with an overwhelming share of the vote:

• Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven), 88%

• Julio Concepcion (D-Hartford), 79%

• Brandon McGee (D-Hartford), 74% in primary (PAC supported only during
primary election)

• Patricia Billie Miller (D-Stamford), 83%

• Geraldo Reyes (D-Waterbury), 91%

• Robert Sanchez (D-New Britain), 98%

• Caroline Simmons (D-Stamford), unopposed

• Chris Soto (D-New London), unopposed

• Toni Walker (D-New Haven), 94%

In 2017, the PAC supported the Democratic mayors of Stamford and Norwalk, and Doug McCrory in his state senate special election. They also supported Liam Sweeney, a Democratic Town Councilor in West Hartford and a former staff lobbyist for ConnCAN.

Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC

While Build CT focuses its support on Democratic candidates, Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC, created in 2017, supports Republicans. Despite the distinction, they are two sides of the same coin. Connections between the two PACs and Families for Excellent Schools are obvious:

• Jasedia “Jessy” Toro, the chair and treasurer of the Leaders PAC, is a former organizer with Families for Excellent Schools and a board member of the Bridge Academy charter school in Bridgeport.

• Claudia Phillips, chair and treasurer of the Build CT PAC and former FES organizer, was paid by the Leaders PAC for her field coordination services. Two paid canvassers for the Leaders PAC share the same address as Claudia Phillips.

• Both the Build CT and Leaders PACs used RSA Strategies LLC as a consultant for strategy, mailers, printing door hangers, administrative assistance, and phone banks.

The PAC’s $25,251 in 2018 income came from:

• John Irwin of Greenwich, Managing Director at Hillside Capital and Brookside
International, $5,150. Irwin is a Board member of ConnCAN.

• Brian Olson of Greenwich, Investor at Kokino LLC, $4,900. Olson is a board
member of ConnCAN and of Civic Builders, a nonprofit that supports charter
school financing, design, and construction.

• Jill Olson of Greenwich, wife of Brian Olson, $4,900.

• Kenneth Bartels of Greenwich, retired, $4,000.

• Richard Ferguson of Westport, retired, former Executive Vice President of Cox
Radio, $3,800. Ferguson is chair of the board of the Elm City College Preparatory
charter school.

• Christopher Kunhardt of Weston, retired, former executive at J.P. Morgan $1,000.
He is chair of the board of the Achievement First Bridgeport Academy charter

• Peter Orthwein of Greenwich, Executive Chairman of Thor Industries, Inc., a
recreational vehicle manufacturer, $1,000.

• William Heins of New Canaan, retired, $500. Heins is a former board member of ConnCAN.

In 2018, the PAC spent $25,415, with much of it spent on consultants, direct mail, canvassing (door knocking), and printing. The PAC targeted its support solely on Pam Staneski, a Republican candidate for state senate from Milford who currently serves as a state representative on the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. The PAC supported Staneski during her Republican primary race, which she won with 65% of the vote. The spending in her district could have had a significant impact, since she received only $39,410 in Citizens Election Program funding prior to the primary. Staneski lost in the general election to James Maroney, a Democratic candidate supported by another charter school Super PAC. (See the profile of Change Course CT PAC below.)

In 2017, the Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC supported Republican candidates for the Groton Town Council and Bridgeport Board of Education.

Change Course CT IE PAC

Established in 2016, the Change Course CT PAC has close ties to Democrats for Education Reform, a PAC formed by hedge fund executives that advocates for charter schools and supports Democratic candidates. Its 501(c)(3) nonprofit arm, Education Reform Now, has a board of directors that is composed of finance industry executives. The PAC announced in August 2018 that it planned to spend $4 million on targeted state elections across the country. Governor Dan Malloy recently joined DFER’s national advisory board and spoke at a conference organized by Education Reform Now.

Colin Dowell of Westport, the PAC chair, filed registration papers with an email address at Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). He shares the same street address as Amy Dowell, DFER’s Connecticut State Director. Amy is also treasurer of Democrats For Education Reform CT PAC, a “traditional” PAC that has directed most of its modest spending to support state Democratic party PACs. In 2016, Amy served as a board member of Education Reform Now Advocacy (ERNA), a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization associated with DFER. ERNA contributed $65,250 to the Change Course CT PAC in 2016.
Change CT IE PAC’s sole donor in 2018 was billionaire Alice Walton, who donated $75,000. (See background on Walton in the profile above of the Build CT PAC.)

The PAC, which was formed in 2016, spent $54,203 this year, with the largest share going to:

• Facebook advertising, $18,3469 (34%)

• Consulting through Hilltop Public Solutions in D.C., $17,000 (31%)

• Polling, $14,781 (27%)

In addition to supporting Ned Lamont for Governor, it targeted its support to these Democratic state senate candidates, all of whom won their elections, and only one of whom (Steve Cassano) was an incumbent:

• Mary Daugherty Abrams (D, Meriden)

• Steve Cassano (D, Manchester)

• Christine Cohen (D, Guilford)

• William Haskell (D, New Canaan)

• James Maroney (D, Milford)

Change Connecticut PAC

The Change Connecticut PAC was funded almost entirely by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), a national PAC that supports Republican candidates. Change Connecticut could be considered a party-affiliated PAC — a partisan PAC that targets its funds to candidates of one party. While we are not classifying it as a charter school PAC like the others, it does have direct and indirect ties to the charter school industry, and may have been used to funnel money from a wealthy leader in that industry for local campaign use. The chair of the PAC is William Phillips, the former board chair of the Northeast Charter Schools Network and a donor to three charter school PACs. Brian Olson, who has donated to multiple charter school super PACs, also donated $250,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) in the 2018 election cycle. This was the largest donation from any Connecticut resident between January 2017 and September 2018. The RSLC, in turn, gave $1.2 million to Change Connecticut, a super PAC that supported GOP state legislative candidates in the state. Olson is a board member of ConnCAN and of Civic Builders, a nonprofit that supports charter school financing, design, and construction.

While Connecticut state law requires Connecticut super PACs to disclose their donors, wealthy donors can effectively avoid disclosure of how their donations were ultimately used by funneling their contributions through other organizations that then fund Connecticut super PACs. These difficult-to-trace funds are called “gray money.” So while the RSLC must disclose its donors, including Brian Olson, it is not possible to know if Olson’s contribution was earmarked in advance, in coordination with Phillips, for use in local races. In this way, charter industry advocates like Olson and Phillips might support their favored Republican candidates, while leaving responsibility for support of Democratic candidates to the super PACs that were overtly focused on charter schools. The Change Connecticut PAC spent more than $100,000 opposing James Maroney, the Democratic candidate who opposed Pam Staneski in her state senate race. Staneski, as described earlier in this report, was supported by the Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC, which received $9,800 from Olson and his wife.

Super PACs from 2016 through 2018

Three additional charter school super PACs were formed in 2016 and terminated in 2017. As we outline below, they share many donors with similar PACs, as well as connections to advocacy groups.

• Charters Care PAC. This PAC reported $86,615 in income. All of the officers of the PAC were staff with the Northeast Charter School Network. Jeremiah Grace, chair of the PAC, was the Connecticut State Director of the Network. The PAC’s treasurer, Christopher Harrington, was the Network’s Policy Manager, and the Deputy treasurer, Jose Alfar, was their Advocacy Manager. The PAC supported both Democratic and Republican state legislative candidates.

• Campaign for Connecticut’s Future PAC. The PAC received $87,100 in income from Real Reform Now Network, a charter school advocacy group, and a small number of individual advocates. It supported Democratic and Republican candidates for the General Assembly in 2016, as well as some municipal candidates in 2017.

• Equal Education for All PAC. Formed in 2017, this PAC also has charter school ties. The chair of the PAC for most of 2018 was Kadisha Coates, a former member of the Bridgeport Board of Education who is a charter school advocate. The PAC raised and spent little in 2018. It reported $1,510 in income this year, including $100 in small donations and $1,410 from Richard Ferguson, who is profiled earlier in this report. It spent $1,471, with most of that going to expenses incurred in 2017. It did not spend money for or against any 2018 candidates, so it is not included in our 2018 analysis. In 2017, it supported several Democratic candidates for City Council and both Democratic and Republican candidates for Board of Education in Bridgeport. The PAC has received $32,522 in donations since 2016.

In addition, the total donations since 2016 to the charter school PACs that were active in 2018 were $140,250 to Change Course CT, $126,950 to Build CT, and $39,521 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut.

Charter School Super PAC Donors, 2016-18

The following is a list of major donors to Connecticut charter school super PACs reported on filings with the State Elections Enforcement Commission from 2016 through November 15 2018. Of the 26 total disclosed donors, most of them (15) have contributed to more than one of these super PACs. Most are individual donors, but two of the organizational donors are “dark money” groups that are not required to disclose their donors. Most of the funding (58%) for these super PACs came from out-of-state donors.

Of the 22 individual donors, two-thirds (15) are current or former governing board members or staff of charter school advocacy organizations that operate in Connecticut and/or Connecticut charter schools. Specifically:

• Nine are current or former board members or staff of Achievement First or one of its 10 Connecticut charter schools.

• Seven are current or former board members or staff of ConnCAN or the Northeast Charter Schools Network.

The 22 major donors to charter school super PACs who have given at least $1,000 since 2016 are:

• Alice Walton, $195,000. Heir to Walmart fortune. See her profile in Build CT PAC section above. Donated $100,000 to Build CT, $75,000 to Change Course CT and $20,000 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future.

• Real Reform Now Network, $70,000. A dark money 501(c)(4) organization. Its officers in 2016 were Kyle Rosenkranz, currently Director of Strategic Initiatives for KIPP NJ, a charter school in New Jersey and former CEO of the Northeast Charter Schools network; William Phillips (see profile below); and Jeremiah Grace, chair of the Charters Care PAC and former Connecticut State Director of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. Donated $45,000 to the Charters Care PAC and $25,000 to the Campaign for Connecticut’s Future PAC.

• Education Reform Now Advocacy, $65,250. A 501(c)(4) dark money group associated with Democrats for Education Reform. Donated to Change Course CT PAC.

• Jim Walton, $25,000. Son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, brother of Alice, and part of the wealthiest family in the country. Chairman and CEO, Arvest Bank Group. Ranked by Forbes as the 11th wealthiest person in the U.S. with assets of $45 billion (as of 11/25/18). Donated to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future PAC.

• Anthony Davis, $24,750. CEO of Inherent Group, an investment firm. Board member of Achievement First. Donated $20,000 to Equal Education for All PAC and $4,750 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC.

• Jonathan Sackler, $21,500. Heir to the Purdue Pharmaceuticals fortune. Managing Partner at Kokino LLC. Founding chairman of ConnCAN. Board member and founder of 50CAN, a national charter school advocacy organization. Former board member of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. Former board member at the NewSchools Venture Fund, which funds charter schools. Former board member of Achievement First, and of Students for Education Reform, a charter school advocacy group. Sackler is a major donor to charter school advocacy organizations. For example, he contributed $70,000 to Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy during their Massachusetts referendum campaign. Donated $18,000 to Charters Care PAC and $3,500 to Build CT PAC.

• Richard Ferguson, $19,960. Retired, former Executive Vice President of Cox Radio, chair of the board of the Elm City College Preparatory charter school. Donated to five of six charter school PACs: $5,910 to Equal Education for All, $4,800 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, $4,750 to Build CT, $3,000 for Charters Care, and $1,500 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future.

• Brian Olson, $17,400. Investor at Kokino LLC. Olson is a board member of ConnCAN and of Civic Builders, a nonprofit that supports charter school financing, design, and construction. Donated $10,000 to Charters Care, $4,900 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, and $2,500 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future.

• John Irwin, $14,650. Managing Director at Hillside Capital and Brookside International. Board member of ConnCAN. Donated $7,650 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC and $7,000 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future PAC.

• Kenneth Bartels, $13,500. Retired. Donated $7,500 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC, $4,000 to Build CT PAC, and $2,000 to Equal Education for All PAC.

• Andrew Boas, $9,000. General Partner, Carl Marks Management, LLC, an investment firm. Board member of ConnCAN. Board chair of Achievement First (charter school network). Former board chair of Achievement First Bridgeport Academy and former board chair of Amistad Academy charter school. Donated $4,500 to Charters Care, $3,500 to Build CT, and $1,000 to Equal Education for All PAC.

• Michael Griffin, $7,500. “Community activist” and treasurer of the board of the Amistad Academy charter school. Donated $4,500 to Build CT PAC and $3,000 to Equal Education for All PAC.

• Joyce Critelli, $5,000. Retired. Former member of advisory board (though not the governing board) of ConnCAN. Donated to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future PAC.

• Jill Olson, $4,900. Wife of Brian Olson (see above). Donated to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC.

• Andrew Balson, $4,500. Managing Partner, Cove Hill Partners, a private equity investment firm. Former executive at Bain Capital. Balson, who lives in Massachusetts, donated $300,000 in 2016 to Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy during their campaign to pass a pro-charter school referendum initiative in that state. As described earlier in this report, FES Advocacy was fined for violating the law and failing to disclose its donors. Balson also contributed $200,000 to Strong Economy for Growth, another organization that supported the referendum campaign and was also fined for failing to disclose its donors. Finally, Balson was a major donor to the Connecticut’s Bright Future PAC, contributing $25,000 this year to the Connecticut super PAC that supported Republican Gubernatorial candidate David Stemerman. Donated to Charters Care PAC.

• William “Bill” Phillips, $3,900. President, Future Generations Advocacy Project. Former board chair of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. Phillips is the chair of the Change Connecticut PAC, one of the largest super PACs in the state. It received $1.2 million from the Republican State Leadership Committee in 2018 to support Republican candidates for the General Assembly. Donated $2,400 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, $1,000 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future, and $500 to Charters Care.

• Prepare Our Future Workforce, $3,000. This donor was listed with an address at a Hartford apartment building, but does not appear to be registered as a business, lobbyist, or nonprofit in the state. Donated to Build CT PAC.

• Christopher Kunhardt, $2,500. Retired, former executive at J.P. Morgan. Chair of the board of the Achievement First Bridgeport Academy charter school. Donated $1,000 to Build CT, $1,000 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, and $500 to Equal Education for All.

• Carolyn Greenspan, $1,500. CEO of Blue State Coffee. Board chair of the Amistad Academy charter school and former board member of Elm City College Preparatory charter school. Donated to Build CT PAC.

• Peter Orthwein, $1,200. Executive Chairman of Thor Industries, Inc., a recreational vehicle manufacturer. Donated $1,000 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, $100 to Build CT, and $100 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future.

• Alex Johnston, $1,000. President and founder of Impact for Education, a philanthropic advisory organization. Co-founder and former CEO of ConnCAN. Board member of FaithACTS for Education. Board member and former chair of the Policy Innovators in Education Network, a network of education advocacy organizations that includes many charter school groups. Donated to Charters Care PAC.

• Anthony Roncalli, $1,000. Attorney at Norton Rose Fulbright. Donated to Build CT PAC.
The PACs collectively received only $948 in donations of $500 or less, including $133 in small donations below the level required for public disclosure of the donors. Three disclosed donors under $1,000 were also current or former board or staff of charter schools or advocacy organizations. In addition to these monetary donations, these super PACs received additional support from these sources since 2016:

• William Phillips, a $2,656 loan to Build CT.

• CT Forward, $550 in in-kind support to Equal Education for All.

• Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, a $9,887 in-kind contribution to Equal Education for All.


This report shows how monied interests, specifically the charter school industry, games our electoral system in a way that undermines peoples’ votes and hides the duplicitous manner in which they operate.

In Connecticut in 2018 this included:

• Setting up so called independent PACs for each of the major parties and even spending to support candidates opposing one another in one State Senate district.

• Utilizing a strategy to spend in races that were not competitive in an attempt to curry favor with the winners, a cynical ploy. Many of the so-called beneficiaries would have preferred money be spent improving their local public school systems.

• Masking their strategy by establishing multiple committees, using misleading names, and participating in hiding their activities through a legislative party super PAC.

Since candidates are not permitted to coordinate with independent expenditure efforts, candidates did not affirmatively agree to this spending. What candidate would affirmatively want mountains of money spent on their behalf by Alice Walton, the nation’s largest spender on efforts to destroy public education and whose fortunes are based on a business model that undermines small businesses and keeps people in poverty?

The question is whether the shady practices of the charter school industry – spending large sums of money to influence public policy to make more money for itself, shift control of public education to private hands, and drive wedges between parents in communities of color and teacher unions – will help them advance their agenda, or is sunlight really the best disinfectant? This behavior is at odds with our democracy.


Data on income, donors, and spending by Connecticut super PACs are from PAC filings with the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) from January 2016 through November 15, 2018. PAC expenses include those that are paid, as well as those incurred but unpaid as of the last filing. Paid expenses figures were generated using SEEC’s disbursement search tool. Outstanding incurred but unpaid expenses were from the PACs’ final reports. Donations were summarized from SEEC’s receipts search tool. Many additional sources are in hyperlinks above.

About Us

Common Cause in Connecticut is a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizens’ lobby working for open, honest, and accountable government for everyone. Our activism helped secure and continues to protect the strongest campaign finance law in the nation, the Citizens’ Election Program, while also working to protect voting rights and advance racial and economic justice. We have over one million members and activists nationwide.

The Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) is a statewide membership based organization dedicated to actively engaging the residents of Connecticut in altering the relations of power in order to build a more just society.
For our previous reports on super PAC spending, see our website at Visit our Facebook page at

Michael Sullivan contributed research and writing assistance for this report.

Peter Greene asks us to imagine a country that cared about the loss of innocent lives.


Has it been six years? It seems forever, and yet it seems yesterday.

There will be many retro pieces today, looking at the events at Sandy Hook, the children, the families, the killer, the damaged whack jobs who have denied its existence, and of course many reflections about the turning point where we chose as a culture not to turn.

I’ll leave all of that to others. I just want to imagine.

Imagine a country where people rose up and said decades ago, “Guns are nice and important and all, but nothing is more valuable than the lives of innocents. We’re going to have reasonable gun controls in this country before another young life is lost.” Don’t imagine it happening after Sandy Hook. Imagine it years earlier, after the death of just one or two children by gunfire. In this world, Sandy Hook is just one more small school most people never heard of.

Imagine that when people marched against abortion, they simultaneously marched against gun violence. “We are pro-life,” they yelled, “and that means that we want to see every step necessary to preserve the lives of children.” Imagine a world in which pro-life activists chained themselves to the gates of gun factories and shamed gun company executives on their way to work every day.

Imagine that these attitudes were part of a culture wide valuing of children, a culture that loved children so much that it took extraordinary steps to preserve their lives. The government provided free health care for every single child, regardless of family income. People brought their children here from other countries for our free health care and we said, “Great. Bring them. Children are so precious and valuable that we wouldn’t sleep knowing that there was a suffering child in the world that we could have helped, but didn’t.”

Imagine that this love of children extended to education. In fact, imagine that education was one of the biggest budget items for federal and state spending. “Nothing is too good for our children,” said political leaders. “We will make sure that every school has nothing but the newest and best facilities and enough qualified teachers that class sizes can be small. Every child has the personal attention of excellent teachers, and that goes double for children growing up in poor neighborhoods.” Not all the politicians believed this, of course, but in this world, the only way you could get elected was by being a good friend to public schools. And no, there aren’t any charters or vouchers in this world– why would you need them when every public school had the very best in resources, staff and facilities, with the necessary resources to meet the individual needs of each child. “Man,” groused the Pentagon in this world. “I wish we could get the kind of unwavering support public schools get. We have to fight and scrape and argue for every cent.”

The richest woman in Connecticut no longer gives to charter schools and Teach for America. Barbara Dalio has shifted her giving to public schools.

She fell in love with public education.

She fell in love with the schools that take everyone, even the least of them, the children that the charters reject.

She got woke.

In the past three years alone, the foundation, which Barbara co-founded with her husband, has donated $50 million to public education programs in Connecticut.

“I never thought I would get into education because it’s not my background, so I am learning as I go along,” she said. “I love it. I don’t play golf or tennis. This is my passion.”

Connecticut Adds Two More Billionaires To The Forbes 400 List. Here’s A Look At All Nine Members.
Dalio, 70, who is universally described as humble and hands-on, said in an interview last week that her shift toward traditional public school districts came about as she learned more about education and became concerned about the achievement gap and students who are disengaged from school.

Dalio said she observed that the kids who go to public charter schools have parents who are often more involved and have the initiative to seek out an alternative for their child.

But many parents, she said, don’t have the time to do that.

“It’s not that they don’t care about the kids,” Dalio said of those parents. “It’s that they are burdened in many instances with just one parent having two or three jobs. That really struck me.”

It’s a shift that some of the wealthy donors that have focused on charters and other reform efforts are also making in recent years, some experts say.

A few years ago, there was a feeling among some wealthy donors that giving to local neighborhood schools might be a waste of money, said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies with the American Enterprise Institute.

“Now the zeitgeist has changed,” said Hess. “TFA [Teach for America] and charter schooling are more controversial than they were eight or 10 years ago for various reasons and after the teacher strikes, teachers are more sympathetic. There’s a sense that if you’re a wealthy person and you’re trying to give away dollars in a way that you feel good about, you might make different choices in 2018 than you did in 2008.”

When Dalio arrived as an immigrant from Spain in her 20s, she knew very little about the American educational system except that she saw it is as inspiring.

“One of the things that struck me was all the people that succeeded or were able to have a very good education just through the public schools,” Dalio said. “I just admire that democratic side that the United States has. I don’t know if it still has it but I thought it was so amazing that anyone of any social class can just go to a public school and get a great education.”

Dalio, who lives in Greenwich, learned more about the public schools as she raised her four sons who attended both public and private schools and had very different needs and learning styles.

“I didn’t have a formula that would work for all of them, so I had to be very nimble and had to rely on teachers to help me help them,” Dalio said. “So that’s how my love for teachers started because they were always really there for me and for them. They were very caring.”

As the family’s foundation was expanding, Dalio said, “I really felt for the public schools and I really wanted to be helpful.”

But she realized she needed to be educated. So she began volunteering at an alternative high school in Norwalk where she started coming in once every two weeks and soon was up to two or three times a week.

“I learned really how many needs the kids have because they had kids with learning differences, kids that have had trauma in their lives, kids with emotional needs,” Dalio said, as well as kids who are hungry. “So it really is challenging for the school, the teachers to address all of those needs, especially with [budget] cuts” that eliminate social workers or mental health programs, she said.

Dalio said she learned through the alternative school and also with her own children, one of whom has bipolar disorder, that all children can succeed if given the right the services and help.

Her own son is in very good shape now, she said, “but it took a lot of resources and patience and time and you know if we didn’t succeed, he could have been just one of those kids.”

“So I always feel a bit for the underdog … or the kids that don’t have opportunities and I see that if you give them what they need, which is sometimes not that much, [with] just a little attention and love, you can really turn them around…”

David Callahan, editor of Inside Philanthropy, said he hopes “other philanthropists will pay attention to what (Dalio is) doing and the hands-on immersive approach she’s taken, which is how philanthropy should operate if it doesn’t want to alienate the people it needs to engage to succeed.”

“If Barbara ever gets focused on the national level,” Callahan said, “I think that could be a big deal, given her mindset and the sensibility she brings to this space.”

Public education should not have to depend on the goodwill of philanthropists. It is a civic duty to educate all children through taxation.

But billionaires have banded together to destroy education and to promote choice instead of raising taxes.

Thank you, Ms. Dalio, for putting your money where it does the most good for the most children.

This is an amazing story of a town in Connecticut where parents looked at Mark Zuckerberg’s ideas about how to educate their children and said “Hell, no.”

We live in a strange era where a handful of billionaires have taken it upon themselves to transform education. Think Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Laurene Powell Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. They decided, not based on their own experience but based on their inflated egos, that they alone know how to re-engineer the nation’s schools, the schools that enroll 50 million children.

The schools of Cheshire, Connecticut, are fine schools. The parents are happy with their public schools. But the schools’ administration decided to adopt the Summit Learning Program, putting students on Chromebooks for their lessons. Things went south, and eventually parents rebelled. At some point, they realized that “personalized learning” is actually “depersonalized learning.” Worse, they learned that their children’s personal data would no longer be private, and that the learning program was data mining their children.

And Mark Zuckerberg’s Summit Learning Program was kicked out of the schools of Cheshire, Connecticut.

Read the article to learn how it happened.

Last year, several classes in Cheshire, Connecticut’s elementary and middle schools switched to a new classroom model, where lessons were supposed to be tailored to every student. The kids and their parents were caught off-guard that first week of school. “We walked into math class,” recalled Lauren Peronace, now an eighth-grader, “and my math teacher said, ‘Everyone open up your Chromebooks. We’re going to go on a website — Summit.’”

Reactions were mixed. Most everyone in Cheshire, which is between New Haven and Hartford, is there for the public schools, which are among the area’s best. Some parents were skittish about the creep of more technology into the classroom, especially when they found out Facebook engineers had helped build the software and Mark Zuckerberg was spending millions promoting it. Others were at least cautiously optimistic. “My son initially thought it sounded cool,” said one parent, Theresa, who asked to have her last name withheld because of all the drama that followed. “The teachers told him, ‘You’re going to be on your own; you’ll be independent; you’re going to move at your own pace.”

The program had come with money for 130 Chromebooks, so every student could have one — courtesy of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Zuckerberg’s philanthropic LLC, and Summit’s other wealthy backers. But to hear the administrators explain it, the technology would be only one piece. The Summit Learning Program, which originated at a series of West Coast charter schools between 2012 and 2013, is conceived as a comprehensive program of “personalized learning” that promises to put students in charge of their own education. It’s now being used in some 380 districts and charter schools nationwide. Rather than having a teacher stand at the front of the room and talk, it emphasizes group projects, dialogue between students, and one-on-one time with teachers, guaranteeing at least a ten-minute “mentoring” session for each student every week. It also makes use of specialized software for regular lessons and assessments. Cheshire’s teachers had gone to training that summer in Providence, Rhode Island, at an event also funded by Summit.

But the implementation over the next few months collapsed into a suburban disaster, playing out in school-board meetings and, of course, on Facebook. The kids who hated the new program hated it, to the point of having breakdowns, while their parents became convinced Silicon Valley was trying to take over their classrooms. They worried Summit was sharing their kids’ data (it is, with 19 companies at present, including Amazon and Microsoft, according to its website), or, worse, selling it. It isn’t, but given that the guy who’d helped buy them all laptops had created a $500 billion company out of vacuuming up data and creating economic value from it, it seemed reasonable to have suspicions that the learning platform backed by CZI might also be data-hungry. Concern turned into exasperation when bizarre and sometimes inappropriate images appeared on their kids’ screens on third-party websites used as reading assignments: a pot plant, a lubricant ad, and then the coup de grâce, an ancient Roman statue of a man having sex with a goose.

Ultimately the superintendent halted the program, making Cheshire the only one out of hundreds to do so. To the program’s supporters, this makes it a fluke, the only one that never got past the learning curve. To detractors, the Cheshire parents are among the most articulate voices on Summit’s perils, the model of successful resistance.

Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney with the Education Law Center, writes about a major legal defeat for the charter industry in Connecticut, where they sought a “constitutional right” for students to attend a privately managed charter school. Charter lobbyists tried the same maneuver in Massachusetts and were rebuffed by state courts.


By Wendy Lecker

A pro-charter group has lost its Connecticut lawsuit seeking a federal constitutional right to attend a charter school. California-based Students Matter filed the case, Martinez v. Malloy, in 2016. The case was dismissed on September 28 by Judge Alvin W. Thompson of the United States District Court in Hartford.

Students Matter, founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, is a major proponent of charter school expansion. The organization initiated, and lost, the Vergara case in California, which unsuccessfully challenged that state’s laws governing teacher tenure.

In Martinez, Students Matter challenged in federal court Connecticut laws governing public school “choice” programs, specifically charter and magnet schools. Those laws determine funding levels and set limits on the expansion of charters and magnets. The Martinez complaint asserted that these laws violate the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the United States Constitution.

Education as a Right Under the U.S. Constitution

In bringing this case, the Martinez plaintiffs faced two hurdles: establishing education as a fundamental right under the United States Constitution, and then securing a court ruling that public school “choice” is an element of the federal right.

The State moved to dismiss the case, contending that while there is a right to education under Connecticut’s constitution, there is no federal constitutional right to education based on the United States Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in San Antonio v. Rodriguez. Further, the State contended that it is rational for Connecticut to decide to fulfill its obligations under the state constitution’s education guarantee by funding a system of public schools governed by local school districts. Any alternatively-governed schools, such as charter schools, are not constitutionally required, but rather are a policy choice left to the State, and which the State can discontinue or restrict at any time.

The District Court concluded that there is no federal constitutional right to education. The Court further agreed with the State that Connecticut’s policy toward providing school governance options is rational. As the Court correctly noted, “the legislature could rationally believe that the best and most effective way to address [any shortcomings in some district public schools] is to take steps to improve the education opportunities provided in those schools, as opposed to creating and funding an entirely new and more expensive system of charter and magnet schools.” [Emphasis added.]

Charters as a Constitutional Right?

In other states, charter advocates have unsuccessfully attempted to incorporate charter schools as an element of the right to public education guaranteed by state constitutions. In Massachusetts, New York, Arizona, and New Jersey, courts have consistently ruled that while states are obligated to provide an adequate education, “this obligation does not mean that Plaintiffs have the constitutional right to choose a particular flavor of education,” as a Massachusetts court held. In fact, a New York appellate court opined that choice may undermine that state’s right to education and that diverting “public education funds away from the traditional public schools and towards charter schools would benefit a select few at the expense of the ‘common schools, wherein all the children of this State may be educated.’”

Charters in Connecticut

The Connecticut charter school program has been cited for undermining education equity for all public school children. A 2014 Connecticut Voices for Children report found that these schools underserve English Language Learners, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students. The report further found that the majority of Connecticut charter schools are hyper-segregated. In Hartford, segregation in charter schools has hampered achieving integration targets established by the settlement in the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation case. Connecticut charter schools have also been cited for civil rights violations against students with disabilities, and for suspending children as young as five years old at alarming rates.

As in other states, Connecticut concentrates charter schools in the state’s highest poverty districts, posing a fiscal threat to district school systems. Credit agencies have determined that charter expansion lowers district bond ratings. Staunch opposition by Bridgeport district officials to charter expansion has been repeatedly ignored by the State education agency. State-approved charter expansion has resulted in an increasing diversion of Bridgeport funding to charters, leaving the district unable to provide essential educational resources, such as guidance counselors, bilingual education, and interventions for the district’s high need student population.

As in other states, Connecticut concentrates charter schools in the state’s highest poverty districts, posing a fiscal threat to district school systems. Credit agencies have determined that charter expansion lowers district bond ratings. Staunch opposition by Bridgeport district officials to charter expansion has been repeatedly ignored by the State education agency. State-approved charter expansion has resulted in an increasing diversion of Bridgeport funding to charters, leaving the district unable to provide essential educational resources, such as guidance counselors, bilingual education, and interventions for the district’s high need student population.

The Real Fight for Educational Justice in Connecticut

Advocates for education equity in Connecticut waged a decade-long legal fight to increase funding and resources in high poverty districts in the CCJEF v. Rell litigation. Unfortunately, in a January 2018 ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court rejected the CCJEF claim for adequate school funding.

In ruling against the CCJEF plaintiffs, the Court acknowledged that Connecticut’s poorest districts suffered severe deprivations in educational resources, especially resources to help at-risk students. The Court also acknowledged that “the lack of such support services makes it extremely difficult for many students in the state’s neediest school districts to take advantage of the state’s educational offerings.”

Yet Connecticut’s high court ruled that these proven deprivations do not amount to a constitutional violation. Instead, the Court held that the State is only obligated to provide the “bare minimum” of teachers, facilities, curricula and instrumentalities of learning, such as books, computers and desks.

In his dissent, Justice Palmer articulated the central principle that must drive the fight for educational justice in Connecticut. He declared that “[i]t is not enough to seek success in some places, for some children.” Justice Palmer lays bare the stark difference between the strategies in the Martinez and CCJEF cases. Expanding a parallel, selective system of charter schools is a piecemeal approach that results in the exclusion of at-risk students, leaving district school systems with fewer resources to meet their needs. As Justice Palmer made clear, “the educational system must be reasonably designed to achieve results in every district and neighborhood. Our state constitution simply will not allow us to leave our neediest children behind.”

The CCJEF ruling is a major blow to efforts to improve outcomes and opportunities for Connecticut’s most vulnerable school children. With the Connecticut courts now on the sidelines, advancing education equity for all – and not a few – public school children now requires a concerted and sustained effort to hold the Legislature and Governor accountable to provide vulnerable students with more than the “bare minimum.”

Wendy Lecker is a Senior Attorney at Education Law Center.

Ann Cronin, a retired educator in Connecticut, is outraged that Governor Dannell Malloy, who pretends to be a Democrat and was even chair of the Democratic Governors Association, has presented a tax plan to benefit his rich campaign contributors. He is a big charter supporter, because his supporters–like opiod king Jonathan Sackler–love charters. (Wouldn’t it be nice if the Sackler family were held personally responsible for the thousands of deaths caused by their deadly but profitable opioids?)

Malloy’s tax plan sounds surprisingly like Donald Trump’s. Maybe he would consider changing parties?

Cronin writes:



Governor Malloy’s proposed budget gives a tax break to the rich.

Here’s what it is:

He advocates extending the 529 college savings plans, called CHET (Connecticut Higher Education Trust), to savings plans that can be used for K-12 education as well as college. As reported in the well-researched and comprehensive article in The CT Mirror by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on January 16, 2018, the state currently allows parents to avoid paying state income taxes each year on up to $10,000 that they put into a college savings account. In addition, they don’t have to pay taxes on the earned income when the money is withdrawn to pay for college


Using 529 accounts to fund K-12 education in addition to college is part of the new Republican/Trump tax plan. States can go along with that tax plan or become decoupled from it. Governor Malloy has chosen to keep the state and federal tax plans coupled and go along with Donald Trump. The Connecticut General assembly will decide whether or not to go along with Dan Malloy.

Here’s how it will work:

According to figures compiled for The CT Mirror by the financial services company Vanguard, this is the picture for Connecticut families:


  1. Family A has a baby and, as soon as the baby is born, puts $200,000 into a 529 savings account for the future education of that baby. The family then withdraws $10,000 a year to pay for the child’s K-12 private school education. The family avoids paying $49,800 in federal taxes over the 13 years. At the end of the high school years, the family will have $382,000 in the account to pay for the child’s college education.


  1. Family B has a baby and, as soon as the baby is born, puts $66,000 into a 529 savings account for the future education of the baby. The family withdraws $10,000 a year to pay for the child’s private school K-12 education. The family avoids paying $18,200 in federal taxes over the 13 years. But the family will have no money left in the account to pay for college.


  1. Family C has a baby and does not have any money to deposit in a chunk to a 529 savings account at the baby’s birth but saves what it can over the following 18 years for college expenses. All savings are needed for college; there is no money available for private K-12 education. There, probably, is not enough to fully fund college education.


  1. Family D has a baby and has no ability to save in any way for college.



So the only people who will profit from the plan that Governor Malloy is proposing are the very wealthy, only those who qualify as Family A. Donald Trump’s tax plan and Dan Malloy’s budget proposal have no benefit for Family B, Family C, and Family D.

The gap between the haves and the have-nots widens. The rich get richer and the poor stay poor – and the middle class struggles.

And here’s the real kicker: The rest of us will pay for that tax break for the rich. The Governor’s Office of Policy and Management estimates that 529 plans for K-12 education will cost the state $39 million per year.

Here’s why the Governor’s proposal is wrong:

  1. We barely have enough money to keep the lights on in the state, yet the Governor is asking all of the citizens in Connecticut to fund this substantial tax break for its wealthiest citizens.


  1. There will be less money available to fund public schools, especially those in high poverty areas that depend on state funding because of the added strain on the state budget caused by the state supporting the extension of the 529 savings plans for K-12 education.


  1. The access to private school will not be extended to middle income families. In Connecticut, private high schools cost day students between $43,600 and $48,080 for tuition alone. Catholic high school tuition is between $14,300 and $19,800 per year. Private elementary schools cost over $40,000 per year, and Catholic elementary schools charge about $8,000 for tuition.    


Middle-income families cannot fund a private K-12 education; it is clearly an option for only the wealthy. The total cost of a private K-12 education in Connecticut is between $260,000 and $570.000. Even an education at a local K-8 parochial school and a regional Catholic high school costs between $130,000 and $150,000. Paying for any of these schools is out of reach for middle-income families who are saving for college. So those who claims that Donald Trump’s tax plan and Governor Malloy’s proposal is extending school choice to anyone other than the incredibly affluent are not realistic. In fact, they are wrong.


  1. Lastly, there are questions about exclusion of students based on sexual orientation and learning disabilities in non-public schools. Some religious schools have been found to be discriminatory concerning the sexual orientation and life style of their employees.  A case about that kind of discrimination in a Connecticut school is currently in the courts. State funds should not support schools that do not meet state standards for anti-discrimination.


  1. Connecticut has excellent public schools. Connecticut also has a problem with poverty. State funds are best directed to address the underlying causes of poverty which inhibit the learning potential of children mired in poverty.


Here’s what you can do:

Call or email your state legislator ( and tell him or her to reject the Trump and Malloy proposal. Tell your state legislator to reject the extension of the 529 college savings accounts to 529 savings accounts for K-12 education. Tell your legislator that having 529 savings accounts for K-12 education is unfair, undemocratic, and fiscally irresponsible. Resist!


Parents in Cheshire, Connecticut, took the lead in ousting the Summit Online Learning Platform developed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as part of CZI’s plan to remake American education.

The Summit Program was developed by Summit “Public Schools,” which in fact is a privately managed charter chain that pretends to be public. It describes its approach as “personalized learning,” which is a euphemism for machine learning that moves at a different pace for each student, depending on algorithms. The parents preferred human teachers to machines.

“The fast-growing online platform was built with help from Facebook engineers and designed to help students learn at their own speed. But it’s been dropped because parents in this Connecticut suburb revolted, saying there was no need to change what’s worked in a town with a prized reputation for good schools.

“The Summit Learning program, developed by a California charter school network, has signed up over 300 schools to use its blend of technology with go-at-your-own-pace personalized learning.

“Cheshire school administrators and some parents praised the program, but it faced criticism from others who said their children were spending too much time online, some content was inappropriate, and students were not getting enough direct guidance….”

“The reversal was vindication for parents who started a petition drive against the program and blasted it at public meetings.

“What was broken in the Cheshire school system, a highly successful system, that they needed to experiment with our children?” parent Heidi Wildstein said in an interview.”

The superintendent believes that the parent Revolt was caused by misinformation circulated on social media.

For many years, Karin Klein wrote editorials about education for the Los Angeles Times. She took a buyout and now writes freelance on education and other topics. With occasional diversions, the L.A. Times faithfully followed Eli Broad’s lead on education. The billionaire is living proof that being very rich qualifies you as an expert on most everything. He spends lavishly on art and medical research and has anointed himself an education expert. His foundation gives the L.A. Times $800,000 for its education coverage, which may be his way of guaranteeing he will never be exposed as a know-nothing in his hometown paper.

Now that Klein is free, she writes that miracle schools are mirages. Her case in point: Ballou High School in D.C., which claimed that all its graduates were accepted into colleges.

“It shouldn’t surprise anyone to read about another supposedly phenomenal school accomplishment that ended up being more mirage than miracle.

“The latest example comes from Washington, D.C., where in June, it was widely reported that Ballou High School, where few students tested as proficient in math or English, had nonetheless, incredibly sent all its seniors to college.

“Incredible, indeed. When NPR and the local public radio station WAMU joined forces to re-examine the Ballou miracle, they found that half of the graduates had missed at least three months of classes in a single school year. A fifth of them had been absent for more than half the school year. Teachers complained that they had been instructed to give students a grade of 50 percent on assignments they hadn’t even handed in, and that they were pressured to pass students whose work didn’t remotely merit it.

“Students complained that they were utterly unprepared for the colleges that everyone had been so proud of them for entering. And credit recovery courses – which have been criticized as too easy – played a big role in their graduations. The NCAA rejects most of these courses for college athletes; why shouldn’t colleges have the same requirements for other students?

“More than anything else, though, the Ballou High case teaches us once again that when we place intense pressure on schools to meet certain numbers, they’ll find a way to do it – one that might not involve providing a superior education. Carrots and sticks alone don’t improve schools, certainly not in the absence of funding to reduce class sizes (and teacher workloads), or to help low-income students overcome obstacles.”

Will the L.A. Times editorial board acknowledge that intense pressure to raise test scores and graduation rates corrupts not only the measure but the process being measured?

Will someone tell Eli Broad or has he surrounded himself by yes-persons?

This is Campbell’s Law, which is inexorable.

Read more here:

If you read the previous post, you know that the Sackler family became fabulously wealthy by developing, manufacturing, and marketing a painkiller called OxyContin, an opioid. You also know that there is an opioid crisis in the nation that kills 50,000 people a year.

Sarah Darer Littman here explains how Jonathan Sackler has used his wealth to destroy and privatize public schools, replacing them with privately managed charter schools.

Littman, a journalist in Connecticut, write that Sackler:

“founded the charter school advocacy group ConnCan, progenitor of the nationwide group 50CAN, of which he is a director. He is on the Board of Directors of the Achievement First charter school network. Until recently, Sackler served on the board of the New Schools Venture Fund, which invests in charter schools and advocates for their expansion. He was also on the board of the pro-charter advocacy group Students for Education Reform.

“Through his personal charity, the Bouncer Foundation, Sackler donates to the abovementioned organizations, and an ecosystem of other charter school promoting entities, such as Families for Excellent Schools ($1,083,333 in 2014, $300,000 in 2015 according to the Foundation’s Form 990s) Northeast Charter School Network ($150,000 per year in 2013, 2014 and 2015) and $275,000 to Education Reform Now (2015) and $200,000 (2015) to the Partnership for Educational Justice, the group founded by Campbell Brown which uses “impact litigation” to go after teacher tenure laws. Earlier this year, the Partnership for Educational Justice joined 50CAN, which Sackler also funds ($300,000 in 2014 and 2015), giving him a leadership role in the controversial—and so far failing cause—of weakening worker protections for teachers via the courts.

“Just as Arthur Sackler founded the weekly Medical Tribune, to promote Purdue products to the medical professional who would prescribe them, Jon Sackler helps to fund, the “nonpartisan” education news website founded by Campbell Brown. The site, which received startup funding from Betsy DeVos, decries the fact that “the education debate is dominated by misinformation and political spin,” yet is uniformly upbeat about charter schools while remarkably devoid of anything positive to say about district schools or teachers unions.”

Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of OxyContin, was masterful at marketing OxyContin. According to a critical GAO REPORT, IT handed out “lavish swag” for health care professionals.

The charter movement has adopted some of the same techniques.

“The description of “lavish swag” will sound familiar to anyone who has witnessed one of the no-expenses-spared charter school rallies that are a specialty of Sackler-funded organizations like Families for Excellent schools. Then there is the dizzying array of astroturf front groups all created for the purpose of demanding more charter schools. Just in Connecticut, we’ve had the Coalition for Every Child, A Better Connecticut, Fight for Fairness CT, Excel Bridgeport, and the Real Reform Now Network. All of these groups ostensibly claim to be fighting for better public schools for all children. In reality, they have been lobbying to promote charter schools, often running afoul of ethics laws in the process.

“Take Families for Excellent Schools, a “grassroots” group that claims to be about parent engagement, yet was founded by major Wall Street players. In Connecticut, the group failed to register its Coalition for Every Child as a lobbying entity and report a multimillion-dollar ad buy expenditure and the costs of a rally in New Haven.

“In Massachusetts, Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy (FESA) recently had to cough up more than $425,000 to the Massachusetts general fund as part of a legal settlement with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the largest civil forfeiture in the agency’s 44-year history. Massachusetts officials concluded that FESA violated the campaign finance law by receiving contributions from individuals and then contributing those funds to the Great Schools Massachusetts Ballot Question Committee, which sought to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in the state, in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the money. As part of the settlement, the group was ordered to reveal the names of its secret donors. Jonathan Sackler was one of them.”

Why does Jonathan Sackler hate public schools?