Archives for category: Massachusetts

Mercedes Schneider has been watching the money flowing in to Massachusetts from out of state to influence voters to lift the cap on charters.

While more than 100 school district boards have voted against Question 2, while the teachers’ union opposes it, it has the passionate support of hedge fund managers in New York City.

Thus far, about $12 million has been allocated to fight for charters; most of that money comes from out of state.

About half that much has been spent to defeat Question 2, mostly from the teachers’ unions, which understand that the charters will kill the union and remove teachers’ rights.

Will Massachusetts allow millionaires and billionaires in New York to create a dual school system in their state and privatize public money meant for public schools?

Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of education in Massachusetts, is a huge supporter of charter schools, Common Core, and PARCC testing (he was chair of the PARCC group). He approved a charter school for Brockton, despite loud community opposition. He recently met with parents at the Brockton High School, and when he mentioned the new charter for Brockton, he was met with boos and hissing. The Brockton charter was not ready on time, but received state permission to open in Norwood, 22 miles away. Chester defended the charter on grounds that it was able to recruit nearly 300 students from the Brockton public schools. Parents were unhappy because the Brockton public schools have seen budget cuts, which they attribute to the charter school.

Brockton High School, which has been repeatedly honored (including a front-page story in the NY Times) for excellence, enrolls more than 4,000 students. The charter school, New Heights, will enroll 315 (not there yet). The thousands of students at the public high school will lose programs so that the state can open a charter school to serve the same community.

If New Heights reaches an enrollment of 315 students by October, it will receive $3.96 million in state and local funds, based on early projections, Reis said.

Brockton parents like Dominique Cassamajor said that money would be better spent on Brockton Public Schools, including the elementary school attended by her 9-year-old daughter, especially when the district is already dealing with a difficult budget.

“I don’t like it at all,” Cassamajor said. “I know people who have kids in the new school, but it’s just taking away funds from Brockton Public Schools. Everybody has their choices. But to me, it’s taking away money from most of the kids. The classroom already has a deficit. That’s why we are doing the Brockton Kids Count campaign.”

So what is the logic in Brockton? Open a charter for 315 kids and take resources from the high school that serves 4,000+ kids?

Paul Sagan, the chair of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees and approves charter schools, gave $100,000 to the campaign to raise the cap on charters. This is a blatant conflict of interest. He is supposed to review and monitor, not cheerlead for them.

Please sign this petition to Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts calling to him to seek Paul Sagan’s resignation.

The petition says:

This year, 231 local school districts will lose more than $450 million to charter schools, even after state reimbursements. If Question 2 passes, it would more than triple the number of charter schools in just ten years, and take away more than $1 billion a year from our local public schools.

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.

We have had quite a lot of back and forth on this blog about Boston charter schools, in anticipation of the vote this November in Massachusetts about lifting the charter cap and adding another 12 charter schools every year forever. Pro-charter advocates argue that the Boston charters are not only outstanding in test scores but that their attrition rate is no different from that of the public schools, or possibly even less than the public schools.

Jersey Jazzman (aka Mark Weber) is a teacher and is studying for his doctorate at Rutgers, where he specializes in data analysis.

In this post, he demolishes the claim that Boston charters have a low attrition rate. As he shows, using state data,

In the last decade, Boston’s charter sector has had substantially greater cohort attrition than the Boston Public Schools. In fact, even though the data is noisy, you could make a pretty good case the difference in cohort attrition rates has grown over the last five years.

Is this proof that the independent charters are doing a bad job? I wouldn’t say so; I’m sure these schools are full of dedicated staff, working hard to serve their students. But there is little doubt that the public schools are doing a job that charters are not: they are educating the kids who don’t stay in the charters, or who arrive too late to feel like enrolling in them is a good choice.

This is a serious issue, and the voters of Massachusetts should be made aware of it before they cast their votes. We know that charter schools have had detrimental effects on the finances of their host school systems in other states. Massachusetts’ charter law has one of the more generous reimbursement policies for host schools, but these laws do little more than delay the inevitable: charter expansion, by definition, is inefficient because administrative functions are replicated. And that means less money in the classroom.

Is it really worth expanding charters and risking further injury to BPS when the charter sector appears, at least at the high school level, to rely so heavily on cohort attrition?

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.

Mercedes Schneider watched the debate about Question 2 in Massachusetts and read the transcript.

The Charter Lady, former Representative Marty Walz, who is now associated with the hedge funders DFER, thinks that the schools of Massachusetts are in awful trouble. Why? Because they have elected school boards. If only Wall Street financiers and friends of the Walmart-Waltons ran all the schools, then the state might amount to something.

How stupid is that? Massachusetts is far and away the top scoring state in the nation.

School boards across the state are furious. More than 112 have passed resolutions opposing Question 2. Not a single school board supports it.

If Walz had her way, then there would only be individual, non-elected boards comprised of corporate and financial executives to oversee a school or a network of schools. So, if any students leave a school or network (whether encouraged to do so by that school/network or not), then the school (or network) responsibility ends there.

Massachusetts would be free to emulate Louisiana’s all-charter Recovery School District (RSD), a “portfolio” district (one where “there is no single entity responsible for all children”)– and one where assistant superintendent Dana Peterson publicly admitted that he doesn’t know how many students just disappear from those portfolio-ed, New Orleans schools.

Mercedes adds:

Walz does not like that Boston Public Schools receives funds to offset its losing students to charter schools. Yet if there is to be compulsory education, there must be a system of schools in which students might enroll at any time. There must be a default system, a “catch all.” Otherwise, there will be students without a school to attend, for whatever reason, including the fact that Massachusetts charters are not required to backfill empty seats in all grades– which means the charters are off the hook for adding a single latecomer student to a number of grade level cohorts.

Unfortunately, the need for a catch-all combined with non-locally-controlled charters tends to create a dual school system– and a dual school system tends to foster segregation.

The Charter Lady is thrilled that out of state money is pouring in to destabilize communities and privatize public schools.

Her reasoning is seriously flawed, as is her knowledge of education and research.

Our reader Jack Covey watched the Boston Globe debate about Question 2 closely and reports here, with links. Question 2 seeks to add a dozen charter schools every year without end. The state board already demonstrated in Brockton that it is willing to impose a charter school even if the community opposes it. The “choice” is made by the state board, not by parents.

Charter critics complained that charter boards have few if any parents of the children or members of the local community on them. The charter advocate explained that it’s a very good thing to have school boRds run by financiers because democracy is the problem. Charters can simply close if they don’t produce test scores. Of course, we know that’s not true. There are thousands of charter schools that have lower scores than the neighborhood public schools, and the charters are not closed. As many readers on this blog have noted, scores are not the only or best way to measure the value of community public schools. Closing public schools doesn’t help them, and a policy of charter churn doesn’t help children or communities.

What the charter advocates seem to say is that affluent communities can have democracy, but poor communities are not ready for self-governance. I think that’s called colonialism.

How embarrassing for Massachusetts that the “reformers” there rely on the Waltons and Wall Street to extinguish democracy in black communities.

Jack Covey writes:

The Boston Globe covered the debate:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/09/13/charter-debate-focuses-funding-equity-issues/IHBTlPng50nj2eqSB7V36L/story.html

At one point, the Female Moderator cites how,
with rare exceptions almost none of the Board
Members for charter schools are parents, or
live in the community. Instead, they are
corporate and financial executives who are
not elected by onyone. The charters are in
low income communities, and everyone on
their boards of directors are businesspeople
from upscale communities. Therefore, there’s
no mechanism by which thisparents or taxpaying
citizens in the communities in which these
charters are locatedcan execute any kind of
decision-making power, or that those charter
boards can be held accountable.

The response from Charter Lady Marty Walz is
basically.

“So what?”

… or that such a “local control” democratic system —
via democratically elected school boards — sucks
and should be done away with anyway.

BOSTON GLOBE:

“It is local control that got us into this situation that we’re in, where tens of thousands of children are being left behind by their local district schools,” said Marty Walz, a former Democratic state representative, fending off a question about the large number of corporate and financial executives who sit on the boards of Massachusetts charter schools.

MARTY WALZ:

“The reason charter schools exist is because local school districts have wholly failed to educate far too many children in this state,”

Walz said at the debate, which featured an audience of partisans hissing and clapping at various points.

Walz then says that the accountability mechanism — the only one needed, she claims — is that if the charter schools fail to perform, they can be closed. That’s ultimate accountability, she argues.

That’s like recommending the Death Penalty — going only to that — rather than fixing the schools while the schools are alive.

I guess the response to that is …

“How about parents and taxpaying citizens being able to hold charter governance accountable WHILE THOSE CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE STILL IN OPERATION… before the “ultimate accountability” of closing those schools occur?

As every critic from John Oliver …

to (yesterday) Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce …
http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a48531/california-charter-schools/

… is complaining about. The scenario that Charter Lady Walz is defending and promoting creates a scenario for major corruption and egregious mis-management … and discovery and correction of such malfeasance can only happen IF— and it’s a big IF — the charter industry operates with some transparency in regards to the tax money is is spending, which they, as a rule, most certainly DO NOT. Indeed, it’s a big IF because those same charter folks fight tooth-and-nail any attempts to audit their books, or their admissions and expulsions policies, etc.

Eva at Success Academy has sued multiple times to prevent any examination of her organization.

The whole controversy regarding funding S.A.’s Pre-K is about this.

KIPP got Arne Duncan’s Ed. department’s okay to hide all this information from the public

Laura Chapman: Who Allowed KIPP to Hide Data?
Laura Chapman: Who Allowed KIPP to Hide Data?

The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch reported that the KIPP charter chain received permission from Arne Duncan and U.S. Dept. of Education one that can only be discovered and corrected AFTER these outrages occur.

Here’s that part from the debate:

(34:30 – )

(34:30 – )

FEMALE MODERATOR: “Representative Walz, for some who oppose Question 2, one of the issues that it comes down to is this, and I’m going to paraphrase Carol Burris, she’s a former New York high school, and she says:

CAROL BURRIS:

” ‘The democratic governance of our public schools is a American tradition worth saving.’

” … and then the Annenberg institute for school reform at Brown University earlier this year released a study, and they analyzed EVERY board for EVERY charter school in the state of Massachusetts. and they found that ..

“31% of trustees (school board members) statewide are affiliated with the financial services or corporate sector. Only 14% were parents.

“60% of the charter boards had NO parent representation on their boards WHATSOEVER.

“Those that DID were largely confined to charter schools that served MOSTLY WHITE students.

“Here’s an example: City on a Hill (Charter) Schools in Roxbury — again, this is according to the Annenberg Institute Report — has schools in Roxbury and New Bedford, (has a) 14-member board, trustees for all three of those schools.

“ONLY ONE member of the board lives in New Bedford. Three live in Boston, but NONE in Roxgury. The rest live in (upscale communities) Brookline, Cambridge, Cohasset, and Hingham.

“So they (at Annenberg) ask:

” ‘How can those charter schools be considered locally controlled and locally accountable?’ ”

Charter Lady Walz responds by claiming — and winning applause from the charter folks stacked in the audience — that local control through school boards has “wholly failed’ to produce quality schools and educate children, and need to be wiped out. Those in the audience are cheering the end of democracy? Really?

Wait. Isn’t Massachusetts the highest achieving state in the U.S.? Really? She says that democratically-governed schools with elected school boards in Massachusetts have “wholly failed” students? Really?

At another point in the debate, Charter Lady claims their group is about improving all types of schools, but here she is recommending replacing all of them with privately-managed charter schools. So which is it?

The Moderator interrupts by insisting that Charter Lady answer the question about accountability, and Charter Lady brings up the only method needed — the Death Penalty AND THAT’S IT…. but no accountability while those schools are actually open. And we need to watch John Oliver again to find out how well that works out:

Watch the whole debate here:

Charles Pierce is an incisive blogger for Esquire. Whenever he writes about schools, he is right on. In this post, he warns people in Massachusetts against a Question 2, which would expand the number of charters by 12 a year forever. Pierce knows that hedge fund managers and billionaires the funding this campaign, and the proposal is deliberately deceptive, appealing to people to improve their public schools. The real purpose, as we know, is to undermine public schools and fund privately managed schools that do not answer to the community that pays the taxes to support them.

Pierce quotes liberally from Carol Burris’s excellent report on the lack of oversight of charters in California.

He writes:

“There’s now a bill before Governor Jerry Brown that would tighten the public accountability standards for charter operators within the state. The evidence is now abundantly clear in a number of states: As it is presently constituted, the charter school movement is far better as an entry vehicle for fraud and corruption than it is for educating children. The fact that the charter industry is fighting to maintain its independent control over taxpayer funds is proof that the industry knows it, too.”

http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a48531/california-charter-schools/

Wow! I have seen billionaires put money into elections on behalf of charter schools around the country, but this one takes the cake.

Alice Walton and Jim Walton of Arkansas really want Massachusetts to have more charter schools. They must be very unhappy that the public schools of the Bay State are #1 in the nation. Clearly, the state needs disruption and market forces to shake up its highly successful school system.

Mercedes Schneider writes that the two Waltons gave $1.828,770 to the campaign in Massachusetts to increase the number of charters in the state by a dozen a year in perpetuity.

Mercedes writes:


According to the September 09, 2016, filing of the Massachusetts ballot committee, Yes on 2, billionaire Arkansas resident Alice Walton is one of two individuals providing the $710,100 in funding to promote MA Question 2, raising the charter school cap.

Alice Walton provided $710,000.

A second contributor, Massachusetts resident Frank Perullo provided $100 in order to establish the committee.

And then, the Alice Walton cash was moved to another Question 2 ballot committee: $703,770.29 of Alice Walton’s Yes on 2 committee money was expended to fund Question 2 ballot committee, Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools, where it was combined with billionaire Arkansas resident Jim Walton’s contribution of $1,125,000, thus making the total Walton contribution to the two committees $1,835,000 (and total Walton contribution to the latter committee, $1,828,770.29).

The Campaign for Fair Access total on its Sept 09, 2016, filing was $2,292,183 for 43 contributors– with 79 percent of that money ($1,828,770 / $2,292,183) arriving from two out-of-state billionaires.

In other words, 95 percent of contributors (41 out of 43) provided only 21 percent of the total funding on the Campaign for Fair Access Sept 2016 report.

I can almost hear the conversation between Alice and Jim:

“You buy this Massachusetts ballot committee, and I’ll buy that one.”

“Done.”

The Waltons are not the only out-of-state billionaires using their wealth to influence the charter cap in a state in which they do not reside. According to the September 09, 2016, filing of the Question 2 ballot committee, Great Schools Massachusetts, other out-of-state billionaire/lobbying nonprofit contributors include the following:

John Arnold (Texas), $250,000

Michael Bloomberg (New York), $240,000

Education Reform Now (ERN) Advocacy (New York), $250,000

Families for Excellent Schools (FES) Advocacy (New York), $5,750,000

She points out that the lobbying groups need not report their donors, so no one will know which billionaires chipped in to the campaign to privatize the public schools of Massachusetts.

This is a disgusting display of oligarchs undermining not only public education but democracy.

People of Massachusetts, send the Waltons and their ill-gotten gains, squeezed out of the wages of underpaid employees at Walmart, back to Arkansas. Let them fix their own state’s low-performing schools. Tell them to go away by voting NO on Proposition 2 on November 8.