Archives for category: Massachusetts

This post was published by the Network for Public Education. The authors remind us that the only thing innovative about charter schools is their marketing practices.

Cynthia Roy and Richard Rosa are co-chairs of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our School. In this op-ed for SouthCoast Today, they explain why a newly proposed charter school is not something that Massachusetts needs.

One of the most morally disturbing aspects of the Innovators Charter School proposal for New Bedford and Fall River is the joining of considerable political and economic power to withdraw resources from public education systems that have been historically underfunded. What is appalling is the deliberate indifference to the impact on our public school systems in New Bedford and Fall River which, together, serve 22,563 students. As students and families are seduced to exit their public schools, the operating costs in these schools remain the same. This proposal is just more of the same looting of the public school system that we have seen with charter schools.

The Innovators Charter School is not an incubator of innovation for public education reform; rather, it is part of a movement to treat public education as a market opportunity for entrepreneurs and business that has proven to be catastrophic for communities across the state.

Virtually every “innovation” that charter schools utilize to decorate their proposals was born in public schools. Charter schools have been on the scene since the 1980s, and yet there has been little to no shared innovation even though they are released from significant regulations that public schools must abide by.

The greatest innovation that charter schools have engendered is that they are very seductive with their false narratives of “failing public schools.” The application is loaded with these references, insinuating that public schools are dated in their assumptions about learning and educator development.

The ICS application places great emphasis on its educators being knowledgeable about adolescent development. There is nothing innovative about this. All licensed public school educators in the state have taken various courses in adolescent development. Many hold advanced degrees and possess a deep understanding of child psychology and how students learn and grow, including students with disabilities. We also wonder how ICS will recruit and retain professional educators who are knowledgeable in adolescent development when they intend on paying their educators ten thousand dollars less than their counterparts working in our public schools.

Read the complete op-ed here.

Maurice Cunningham is a retired professor of political science in Massachusetts who specializes in following the trail of Dark Money into school issues. He was a major influence in turning the public against a state referendum to expand charters in 2016; he revealed the Dark Money behind the charter advocacy and that revealed the lies behind the rosy rhetoric.

In this post, he describes the role of Koch money behind “parent groups” harassing educators in Newton, Mass.

He writes:

On Friday Travis Anderson of the Boston Globe reported that two Black principals in Newton had received “racist and confrontational” messages for doing their jobs: to help their students process the verdicts in the Kyle Rittenhouse and Tracy McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan Jr. (murderers of Ahmaud Arbery) trials. The hate came rolling in after the educators’ teaching methods were blown up in the right wing media network. Yes it’s terrible but it’s also deliberate.

The Globe reported that the hateful messages came after the radical right Breitbart News ran a heated misrepresentation about the Newton educators. Similar bulldust was published by conservative provocateurs Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, and The Federalist.

The generator of the story to the right wing propaganda network was Parents Defending Education. PDE is run by veteran Koch operative Nicole Neily, who refuses to discuss who funds the outfit (she can’t; it’s bad for business). PDE has ties to the Council for National Policy (CNP) which, as Anne Nelson has shown in Shadow Network, manages and coordinates strategy and tactics for an array of radical billionaire funders and Christian nationalist activists.

PDE is working on a model Koch and CNP have long used to attack college professors. Isaac Kamola explains how it’s done in “Dear Administrators: To Protect Your Faculty from Right Wing Attacks, Follow the Money.” Some information is received (PDE encourages anonymous tipsters) and then twisted or taken out of context. This works best if the educator is a woman, person of color (like the Newton principals), or LGBTQ. Then fringe outlets like Breitbart, Daily Caller, Federalist pick it up and publicize it. (With a little luck and the CNP’s connections, it might get on Fox). Post it online for the lip reading haters who act on this garbage and just sit back. The racist hate mail, phone calls, and social media posts will flow.

It’s depressing right? But it’s also intentional. This is part of a coordinated right wing attack on public schools (Critical Race Theory, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, billionaire funded “parent” groups) and an assault on our government and American democracy. Parents Defending Education, Campus Reform, Moms for Liberty, Breitbart, Federalist—they all know what they’re doing and they know the results that eventuate from their tactics.

This is a hard story for daily journalism to tell, but it has to find a way. American democracy doesn’t have much time left.

We all need to stand up for our democracy and our public schools.

Cunningham recently published a new book, Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

Nine years ago, a deranged gunman blasted his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He murdered 20 children and six educators, including the principal, Dawn Hochsprung. The children were all 6- and 7-year-olds. Teachers shielded their children as best they could, and some died while protecting the children.

Many thought this slaughter of babies and educators would compel Congress to enact meaningful gun control. It didn’t. It even inspired a ruthless radio host to claim that the massacre never happened. Many grieving parents received death threats, due to the radio host’s lies. A court has held him liable for his cruel campaign. Meanwhile the murders continue, and Congress does nothing.

I received this message from Sandy Hook Promise, which continues to advocate for gun control:

Nine years ago today, our children and loved ones were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary.

There are no words to describe how deeply we miss them, or how agonizing it is to mark another year since the last hug, smile or laugh we shared with them.

It’d bring such comfort to know you’re standing with us today. Will you sign our remembrance card to honor the precious lives taken from us? http://lil.ms/cydj/8zthf9

-Sandy Hook Promise

Since December 14 also is the date on which my beloved two-year-old died of leukemia many, many years ago, I grieve with and for with the parents of Sandy Hook, and with all families who have lost a child. You never forget.

Peter Greene realized that supporters of public education have been lacking the very thing that catches the attention of the public and the media: reports backed by data. Especially reports that rank states as “the worst” and “the best.”

Greene’s Curmudgation Institute constructed rubrics to rate the states and developed the Public Education Hostility Index. He has created a website where he defines his methodogy and goes into detail about the rankings.

The #1 ranking, as the state most hostile to public education, is Florida.

The state least hostile to public education is Massachusetts.

Where does your state rank? Open the link and find out.

Two leaders of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools—Cynthia Roy and Roberto Rosa—are outraged that the state is about to plunk a new charter school into their district.

They expect the state will approve the “Innovators Charter School,” and they know that parents will condemn the decision.

They wrote in a local newspaper:

One of the most morally disturbing aspects of the Innovators Charter School proposal for New Bedford and Fall River is the joining of considerable political and economic power to withdraw resources from public education systems that have been historically underfunded. What is appalling is the deliberate indifference to the impact on our public school systems in New Bedford and Fall River which, together, serve 22,563 students. As students and families are seduced to exit their public schools, the operating costs in these schools remain the same. This proposal is just more of the same looting of the public school system that we have seen with charter schools.

The following appeared in The Writer’s Almanac:

On this day in 1692 eight citizens of the colony of Massachusetts were hanged for their supposed connections to witchcraft. Theirs were the last of the deaths caused by the Salem Witch Trials, preceded by 11 other hangings, plus five who died in prison, and one who was crushed to death for refusing to enter a plea.

A period that roughly spanned the spring and summer of 1692, the Salem Witch Trials started when two young girls began displaying bizarre behaviors — convulsing, shouting blasphemy, and generally acting like they were possessed. The girls were the daughter and niece of Samuel Parris, a minister relatively new to town but already divisive. He’d moved from Boston where an account of young children who were supposedly “bewitched” by a laundress was published. Parris had insisted on a higher salary and certain perks as the village reverend and insinuated in his sermons that those who opposed him were in cahoots with the Devil.

After the girls’ behavior gained attention and was pronounced the result of an evil spell, several other girls in town began acting strangely too … and began naming individuals in town as the cause. The town was whipped into a frenzy and soon dozens of people — women, men, and children — were accused of and often jailed for practicing or supporting witchcraft. Many of the accusations seemed to fall along the lines of existing feuds or were directed at people who were — because they were poor, not upstanding members of the church, or marginalized in some way — not likely to mount a convincing defense.

By the time the final eight people were hanged on September 22 word about the trials was spreading throughout the state. Within weeks the governor of Massachusetts declared “spectral evidence,” or visions of a person’s spirit doing evil when in fact their physical body was elsewhere, was inadmissible. Soon after he barred any further arrests, disbanded the local court, and released many of the accused. It wasn’t until the following spring that he finally pardoned those who remained in jail. A full decade passed before the trials of 1692 were officially declared illegal, another nine before the names of the accused were cleared from all wrongdoing and their heirs given a restitution, and 265 years before the state of Massachusetts apologized for the events of that most infamous witch hunt.

Maurice Cunningham, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, is a specialist in exposing the influence of “dark money” in our political life, especially in the area of education politics. In this post, he explores the connections among Christian conservatives, economic royalists like the Waltons and Charles Koch, and the so-called “National Parents Union,” which enjoys Walton funding.

The same people now running the NPU were funded by the Waltons, Mike Bloomberg, and other billionaires in 2016 to press for unlimited charter expansion in Massachusetts. When Cunningham exposed the money behind the “Yes on 2” campaign, the wind went out of its sails. Voters realized that the campaign was intended to divert money from their public schools to billionaire hobbies. I wrote about the fight over Proposition 2 in Massachusetts in my latest book Slaying Goliath as an example of successful parent-teacher resistance to the billionaires.

Maurice Cunningham is the Master of the Mysteries of Dark Money. In this post, he traces the shifting membership of the board of directors of the Walton-funded “National Parents Union.” You know what NPU wants: charter schools. After reading the story, you will understand who pays the bills: the Waltons and Charles Koch. They are parents too! Be sure to read Christine Langhoff’s comment.

Maurice Cunningham specializes in digging up the facts about Dark Money (political contributions where the donors’ names are hidden). His expose of Dark Money from the Waltons and other billionaires turned the public against a 2016 state referendum in Massachusetts to expand the number of charter schools, and it was defeated. I wrote about this campaign in Slaying Goliath.

In this post, published here for the first time, he exposes a “parent group” demanding more charter schools in Rhode Island.

Cunningham writes:

Parents who care about public education need to be wary of dark money fronts masquerading as concerned reformers. These are lavishly funded efforts with the goal of privatizing public schools. Rhode Islanders should take a long hard look at Stop the Wait RI.

This operation registered with the Rhode Island Secretary of State as a social welfare organization organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue on February 25, 2021. That status allows Stop the Wait to engage in a wide range of political activities including spending on political campaigns. The big advantage for a 501(c)(4) is that it can take in unlimited sums from individuals or corporations, spend generously on politics, and never have to disclose the names of the true donors—the real powers hiding behind the curtain. It’s dark money—political spending with the true interests hidden from the public. Stop the Wait’s web page is pretty explicit—its mission is to “preserve and expand school choice—including access to high-quality public charter schools.” Translation: privatization of public schools.

Privatizing fronts often present as an underdog group of grassroots parents. In politics though, power flows to money and so it’s key to know who is funding such groups. That’s tough with a brand new 501(c)(4) like Stop the Wait, but there are clues.

The first name on the Board of Directors is Janie SeguiRodriguez. Ms. Rodriguez works for the charter school chain Achievement First which is underwritten by among others, the WalMart heir Walton family. She is also on the board of a related corporation organized under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Parents Leading for Educational Equity. A 501(c)(3) can do reports, organize, advocate, communicate with the public, but can’t get into political campaigns. Contributions are tax deductible, so taxpayers subsidize this advocacy. Even though PLEE was only organized as a non-profit corporation as of July 13, 2020, only three months later, on October 19, 2020 the Rhode Island Foundation announced that PLEE was one of several organizations it had funded and offered it as an example for its new $8.5 million Equity Leadership Foundation. (It’s a little curious that a foundation funds an organization and evaluate it as a model of success in three months). The Nellie Mae Foundation was more patient—it waited all the way until December 21, 2020 before dropping two grants, one for $40,000 and the other for $120,000 into PLEE’s bank account. Actual check writers often give through donor advised funds, a tax advantaged option that keeps their interest in groups like PLEEever unknown.

Web searches indicate that PLEE has actually been around since 2018. But it couldn’t have taken in sums from foundations until it registered with the IRS. 

Ms. Rodriguez is a political veteran as well. She ran for city council in Pawtucket city wide in 2018 and in ward 5 in 2020, losing both (by two votes in ward 5). Another member of PLEErecently assailed teachers unions in a hearing over reopening Pawtucket schools. Look for more of this from PLEE and Stop the Wait. Across the country similar organizations are funded by anti-worker oligarchs like the Waltons and Charles Koch. Examples of right wing billionaire operations masquerading as parents groups include Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union

Using upbeat sounding front organizations funded by unidentified billionaires is what Jane Mayer in her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right calls “weaponizing philanthropy.” But communities can beat the billionaires. Ask questions, demand answers, accept nothing less than an accounting of the true interests behind dark money fronts like PLEE and Stop the Wait, publicize your findings, contact elected officials. This is your democracy and your public school system.

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money.] 

Maurice Cunningham is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who specializes in unmasking the influence of billionaires’ dark money. “Dark money” is money that is contributed with the expectation that the donors’ name will not be disclosed. I wrote about the role of Cunningham in exposing the dark money behind the 2016 effort to pass a referendum to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts; his exposes alerted voters to the vast sums spent by out-of-state billionaires like the Waltons and Michael Bloomberg to buy education policy in Massachusetts.

As he demonstrates in this article, the Waltons–who cumulatively are worth about $200 billion–are still funding pro-charter, anti-union groups in Massachusetts, still pushing their anti-public school agenda. The Waltons’ vehicle of choice is the “Massachusetts Parents United” group, which claims to be just a lot of concerned moms while collecting millions each year from the Waltons and other oligarchs.

The leader of the Walton-funded parent group is collecting, according to tax records, nearly $400,000 a year. Not a bad gig.

Cunningham reviews a story in Commonwealth Magazine that compares funding for Massachusetts Parents United with funding for the state’s teachers union.

But there are crucial differences, Cunningham writes:

Stories like this tend to equate spending on organizations like MPU with the unions. They’re not comparable. Union funding comes from members’ dues. The unions are democratically organized. My local voted out an incumbent last year, as have other teachers’ unions. MTA term limits its president (a good thing, as Barbara Madeloni was far tougher than her surrender-prone predecessor Paul Toner). There is no democracy to MPU. The Waltons are from Arkansas and probably couldn’t find Chicopee or Tewksbury on a map; never mind getting Alice Walton to pronounce Worcester or Gloucester. The Waltons just write checks and measure ROI–return on investment. MTA and Massachusetts Federation of Teachers members live here. Want to hold the Waltons accountable for the vast changes to Massachusetts education policy they seek through MPU? Good luck with that.

If you’ve gotten this far let me say a few words about why I care about this stuff. We simply do not have a functioning democracy when the vast wealth of a few oligarchs sets the policy agenda and gains influence by showering money on upbeat sounding fronts like Families for Excellent Schools and Massachusetts Parents United. Nor do we have a functioning democracy when the true power—the men and women behind the curtain—remain unknown to the public and uncovered by the media. In Dark Money, Jane Mayer talks about “weaponizing philanthropy.” In Just Giving, Rob Reich points out the “plutocratic bias” enjoyed by the foundations. (Hey, did I mention all these public policy altering contributions by oligarchs are a valuable tax deduction to them? Yes, you’re subsidizing them to change your state’s policy. Never give a sucker an even break). Huge investments in policy change and hidden money threaten rule by the people.

And that’s what MPU is—a tax deductible front for oligarchs weaponizing their philanthropy in a campaign to privatize public goods. The Waltons, Koch, and other oligarchs don’t want us to peek behind the curtain. It is our democratic obligation to tear that curtain down.