Archives for category: Massachusetts

This blog reported earlier on Professor Maurice Cunningham’s unearthing of the dark money used to promote charter expansion in Massachuseets. The big donors, he learned, were wealthy Republicans, and of course, Question 2 is being de eptively marketed as a means of “improving public schools. Passage of Question 2 would in fact give a stamp of approval to privatization of public schools and enable the establishment of more privately managed charters.

Now even the Boston Globe, which has consistently covered charters favorably, reports that the money behind Question 2 is hidden from public view.

“A new $2.3 million ad boosting the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts lists the campaign’s top five donors on screen, in accordance with state law. But the singularly bland names, including Strong Economy for Growth and Education Reform Now Advocacy, give no hint of who is writing the checks.

“Four of the five donors to the procharter committee are nonprofit groups that do not, under state law, have to disclose their funders, allowing the individuals backing the effort to remain anonymous.

“The cloak of secrecy surrounding the financing of what could be the most expensive ballot campaign in state history has frustrated election officials and underscored the proliferation of untraceable money in political races across the country.

“Would we like to see every donor disclosed? Absolutely,” said Michael J. Sullivan, the director of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. “But the statute does not provide for it at this point. This dark money issue is a puzzle that every state is facing right now.”

Spending to push Question 2 is expected to exceed the $15.5 million spent by gambling interests to block efforts to ban casinos.

The Globe interviewed Professor Cunningham and listed the major groups funding the pro-charter campaign, most of which are funded by billionaires and hedge fund managers.

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

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

She writes:

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

Democratic State Committee Resolution Regarding Question 2

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

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

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

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

For more, see: http://www.citizensforpublicschools.org/ma-democratic-committee-votes-no-on-2/

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/08/15/charter-school-ballot-question-divides-democrats/qIqGeI2yZ0TT22DcViXpLM/story.html

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

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

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/08/17/state-democratic-party-opposes-charter-school-expansion/ms3nulTB6g5lXNwdFIFWuN/story.html#comments

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

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/08/17/walsh-says-lifting-charter-school-cap-would-burden-city-finances/ErNsr8eKtpvHvqht8rPKwK/story.html?event=event25

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

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, AUG. 17, 2016…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.statehousenews.com/?login=yes&trial=yes&path=cms/news.aspx&yr=2016&select=20161874

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

http://www.masslive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/04/the_rise_act_better_public_edu.html

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

http://blogs.wgbh.org/masspoliticsprofs/2016/8/2/hidden-money-behind-great-schools-strategic-grant-partners/

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

In a vote taken yesterday, the Massachusetts Democratic Committee voted overwhelmingly to oppose Question 2, which would permit the expansion of charter schools in the state, a dozen annually forever.

Dark money is pouring into the campaign already, mostly from billionaires, entrepreneurs and hedge fund managers (overlapping categories) to persuade the public of a lie: that passing Question 2 will “improve public schools.”

No, it will not improve public schools. It will allow the opening of more privately managed schools, which take money and resources away from public schools, thereby weakening them.

If you live in Massachusetts, get involved and support your public schools–the real public schools. Join Citizens for Public Schools, which posted this message and fights for public schools.

Massachusetts was the birthplace of public schools. It also happens to be the highest performing state on NAEP assessments. It does not need to privatize its public schools. It needs to strengthen them and support their teachers.

The resolution of the Democratic State Committee says:

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

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

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

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

WHEREAS, charter schools use public funds, but local communities and their school committees have no control over their design, approval, operation or renewal; and

WHEREAS, Question 2 on the November 2016 ballot would allow the state to approve 12 new charters schools a year, every year, forever, with no limit on how much money a single district could lose; and

WHEREAS, this would nearly triple the number of charter schools in just ten years and take away more than $1 billion a year from our local public schools within several years; and

WHEREAS, the Question 2 campaign is funded and governed by hidden money provided by Wall Street executives and hedge fund managers; and

WHEREAS, the unfettered expansion of charter schools, at the expense of local district public schools, that would occur if Question 2 passes is clearly at odds with the national and state party platforms, and would lead Massachusetts in the wrong direction;

THEREFORE, let it be resolved that the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee opposes Question 2

Maurice Cunningham is all over the dark money behind the push for more charter schools in Massachusetts.

In this post, he reproduces the logo of the ad that was shown during the Olympics.

“YES ON 2 FOR STRONGER PUBLIC SCHOOLS.”

That is dishonest. Question 2 is about increasing the number of privately managed charter schools.

If the ad were honest, it would say:

“YES ON 2 FOR PRIVATIZATION OF YOUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.”

Cunningham tries to find out who paid for the ad. He digs through a list of committees and groups, and the best he can say for sure is that there is hedge fund money. As he showed in the previous post, the “YES” vote is being paid for by Republican elites. They don’t like public schools, they don’t like unions. Charter schools get rid of both.

The election in November is crucial. If the privatizers can defeat public schools in the state where they were invented, then we are all in serious trouble. That must be why the privatizers focused on Massachusetts, which is far and away the best state system in the nation.

However, if they lose in Massachusetts, after pouring in nearly $20 million, they might wake up and realize that they are fighting a losing battle.

The key to victory for parents and students is an informed public. If the people realize that this campaign is actually intended to destroy their public schools, then the people will never support it.

Don’t let the privatizers get away with their propaganda.

Nashville rejected their lies; so can Massachusetts, but it will take a lot of ringing of doorbells and volunteer activism.

EduShyster interviews political scientist Maurice Cunningham about the supporters of Question 2, a referendum in November that would expand the number of privately managed charter schools in the state.

Family Affair

It is a fascinating interview, and I urge you to read it. It shows the Big Money behind the charter movement. It shows that it has no grassroots support. It shows the length to which the charter movement will go to confuse voters and trick them into believing that privatization of public schools is a progressive cause, rather than a plutocrats’ hobby.

Here is a portion of the interview:

Maurice Cunningham: …This is a Republican effort, it’s a big money effort, and it’s a conservative effort. That’s where they tend to go.

EduShyster: There’s a well-funded effort underway to paint the campaign to lift the charter cap in Massachusetts as a progressive cause. But what you’ve found in your research is that this is basically a Republican production from top to bottom.

Cunningham: That’s right. There are a handful of wealthy families that are funding this. They largely give to Republicans and they represent the financial industry, basically. They’re out of Bain, they’re out of Baupost, they’re out of High Fields Capital Management. Billionaire Seth Klarman, for example, has been described as the largest GOP donor in New England, and he gives a lot of money to free market, anti-government groups… They know how to make something look like a grassroots campaign that really isn’t.

EduShyster: By *make something look like a grassroots campaign that really isn’t,* what you really mean is that this is an entirely community-driven, grassroots campaign, correct?

Cunningham: No. There is no grassroots support behind this campaign whatsoever. What do we look for to measure grassroots support? We look for a campaign’s ability to find people who will essentially volunteer, who feel strongly about an issue and are willing to do the work that a campaign needs done. Two examples: signature collecting and canvassing door to door. Great Schools Massachusetts isn’t able to do either one of those things. When they had to get signatures in 2015, they wound up paying $305,000 to a signature gathering firm. And that’s because they don’t have people who are strong believers who will go out on the street and volunteer and be passionate and do the things that people do when they really care about an issue. Or look at Democrats for Education Reform. When they backed Dan Rizzo in the special Senate election earlier this year, they had to pay for canvassers because they don’t have people who feel strongly enough about the positions they take. The idea that these are community groups is completely manufactured.

EduShyster: Readers of this blog will recognize the name Families for Excellent Schools, a New York group that set up shop in the Bay State in 2014, and which counted our Republican Secretary of Education James Peyser as its *uncle* until about 15 minutes ago. But *families* in this case literally refers to six families.

Cunningham: The same small group of families that gave to the ballot committee, which is now Great Schools Massachusetts, gives to a private foundation called Strategic Grant Partners year after year. Strategic Grant Partners is at the center of this whole thing, and it’s where you really see the longer term view taking shape. Joanna Jacobson, who founded it, understands strategic vision and marketing. She comes from a corporate background; she has a Harvard MBA and was the president of Keds. Jim Peyser is a central figure when you look at who was involved, both as a board member of Families for Excellent Schools and in his former capacity as a managing partner of New Schools Venture Fund. They’ve been at this for several years now—much longer than most people are aware of.

*Secretive cabal* and democracy don’t go together—they just don’t. And if you say *let’s sacrifice democracy so we can have better schools,* that imperils us going forward.

EduShyster: Is it really so bad if a secretive cabal hatches a strategic plan and marshals millions of dollars from untraceable sources if it means more Great Schools™?

Cunningham: I think it’s terrible for democracy. *Secretive cabal* and democracy don’t go together—they just don’t. And if you say *let’s sacrifice democracy so we can have better schools,* that imperils us going forward. Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis once said that we have to make a choice. *We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.* To me this campaign is about democracy vs. unlimited wealth.

Jeff Bryant writes for the Educational Opportunity Network, where he describes here the new uprising against privately managed charter schools. He says that local grassroots groups and voters are rebelling against the influence of billionaires and hedge fund managers who fund the charter schools.

He offers examples of this uprising:

*the recent decision by the NAACP annual conference to call for a moratorium on new charter schools;

*the endorsement of the NAACP decision by the Movement for Black Lives, a group affiliated with Black Lives Matter;

*the support of the moratorium by Journey for Justice, an organization of civil rights activists;

*the resounding defeat of the charter school candidates in Nashville.

Jeff says that the response of the charter industry has been either outrage or silence:

The way pro-charter advocates have responded to these…events is telling.

Regarding the civil rights groups’ calls for a charter moratorium, the pro-charter response has been a hissy-fit driven by fiery rhetoric and few facts.

Shaffar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, a Washington D.C. based charter advocacy financed by hedge funds, issued a statement declaring the NAACP resolution a “disservice to communities of color.”

In a nationally televised newscast, Steve Perry, founder and operator of a charter school chain, lashed out at Hilary Shelton, the bureau director of the Washington, DC, chapter of the NAACP, for being a sell out to the teachers’ unions and for abandoning children of color.

The contention that the NAACP has sold out to teachers’ unions holds little water since that organization has been a recipient of generous donations from pro-charter advocates as well. And any argument that curbing charters is a de facto blow to black and brown school kids is more a rhetorical trope than a factual counter to the evidence NAACP cites, showing where charters undermine communities of color.

Regarding the defeat of big money-backed pro-charter candidates in Nashville, the usual outlets for charter industry advocacy – Democrats for Education Reform and the media outlets Education Post and The 74 – have been totally silent.

These responses are telling because the charter industry has heretofore been such masterful communicators.

Advocates for these schools have long understood most people don’t understand what the schools are. Even when presidential candidates in the recent Democratic Party primary ventured to express an opinion about charters, they horribly botched it.

So for years, the powerful charter school industry has been filling the void of understanding about charters with clever language meant to define what these schools are and what their purpose is.

The schools, we’ve been told, are “public,” even though they really aren’t. They’re supposed to outperform traditional public schools, but that turns out not to be true either. Even when the charter industry has tried to cut the data even finer to prove some charters outperform public schools, the claims turn out to be grossly over-stated.

We’ve also been told charter schools are a “civil rights cause.” Now it turns out that’s not quite the case either.

As the public comes to realize who is behind charter schools and that they will diminish the funding of neighborhood public schools, the charter narrative loses its luster.

The next big trial of the phony “charter narrative” will be in Massachusetts this November, where billionaires and conservative Republicans are behind an effort to expand the number of charters allowed—twelve a year for every year into the future. And they are selling their proposal by claiming it is intended to “improve public education” and pretending that privately managed charters are “public schools.” Will the people of Massachusetts fall for it?

Last spring, there was a heated debate about a proposed charter school in Brockton, Massachusetts. Many members of the Brockton community said that they did not want a private charter to compete with their public schools. Some said they did. The state board of education approved the charter 7-3.

It was supposed to open this fall. But it won’t be opening because it is not ready. Worse, it is under enrolled. No lottery, no waiting list.

Tracy Novick wrote on her blog (and includes a link to the discussion at the state board’s meeting) about the Brockton situation.

Also, as of the July 19 Brockton School Committee meeting, parents of only 170 students filled out the required release forms to transfer student records to the New Heights Charter School. The charter school said it plans to serve 315 students in its first year. Deputy Superintendent Michael Thomas broke down the numbers, stating that release forms were signed for 65 sixth graders, 60 seventh graders and 45 eight graders.

Almost half the seats in the unopened charter are empty.

Strange, because right after the charter school was approved over local opposition, its leaders claimed that it had received more than 600 applications and more arrived every day. As the Boston Globe put it, the charter was “deluged” by applications, with 40 or more new ones every day. Yet only 170 students actually were prepared to enter.

Surely, you remember the negative ads against John Kerry when he ran for President against George W. Bush. Some veterans of the Vietnam War ran a multi-million ad campaign against him, coming close to calling him a traitor.

Interesting that the same advertising group that created the Swiftboat campaign against Kerry is now running the deceptive ad in Massachusetts promoting charter schools as “public schools.”

Peter Greene looks at the controversy and nails the lies.

Peter writes:

Massachusetts is heating up. Perhaps no state has better exemplified the fierce debate between public school advocates and fans of modern education reform. Ed reformers captured the governor’s seat, the mayoral position of Boston, commissioner of education, and the secretary of education offices, and yet have consistently run into trouble since the day they convinced the commonwealth to abandon its previous education standards in favor of the Common Core Standards– which were rated inferior to the Massachusetts standards even by the guys paid to promote the Core.

These days the debate has shifted to the issue of charter schools. Specifically, the charter cap. Currently Massachusetts has a limit on how many charter schools can operate in the Pilgrim state. The people who make a living in the charter biz would like to see that cap lifted, and the whole business will be put to a public referendum in November.

So well-heeled charter fans have collected a few million dollars, and they have hired DC-based SRCP Media, most famous for the Swift Boat campaign that sank John Kerry’s candidacy. The Swift Boat campaign was also a demonstration of the fine old political rule, “When the truth is not on your side, construct a new truth.”

So is SRCP manufacturing truth in Massachusetts?

Spoiler alert: Yes.

It appears that the multi-million dollar ad buy will lean on that old favorite– charter schools are public schools. And when I say “favorite,” what I actually mean is “lie.” But let’s look at the whole thirty seconds.

Read on as Peter explains the Big Lies that are behind the campaign for privatization of public schools in Massachusetts.

Strange, isn’t it? Massachusetts is the highest performing state in the nation, and the privatizers want to grab a piece of the action (money) with their usual lies.

Massachusetts is the birthplace of public education in America. It is up to the voters to stop the privatization movement in November.

Jean Haverhill is working to defeat the deceptive Question 2 on the ballot in Massacusetts, which would add new charter schools every year. It’s sponsors claim that new charter schools will “improve public education.” Jean and many parents know from the experience of other states that more charters mean less funding for public schools. She knows that charters undermine public schools. Why create a dual school system?

She commented earlier today:


“Haverhill [Massachusetts] loses 2.7 million in these funds that go to charter; the state of MA loses 400 million (there is a city by city of how much is being drawn off)…. Yes, the ad is deceptive when they say there is “more “money for public schools.”

She added:


I was very proud of the Mayor in Haverhill MA (and school committee resolution and talking with city council on this issue)

Marc Kenen, executive director of the charter school association, and Mayor James J. Fiorentini (Haverhill mayor) at last night’s Haverhill School Committee discussion of a resolution against lifting the cap. [The meeting tape is online. ]

Kenan: [2:09:00]:
We don’t have a traditional school committee like you. Our board of trustees is not elected, like you. It’s an innovative model. It’s a different model, we’re trying something different. [He went on to describe it as similar to the way non-profit boards are chosen.]

Mayor Fiorentini: [2:28:10]:

The gentleman that spoke said, “We don’t have an election, we have a new and innovative way of choosing people to run our schools.” Well, we have an innovative way of running them. It’s called “democracy.”

I wrote and thanked Mayor Fiorentini; we are doing telephone calls and canvassing with door hangers in Haverhill MA two or more days a week if anyone has any time; check your local area; I know Brockton MA has a team also SAVEOURPUBLICSCHOOLSMA.com

Massachusetts voters will decide whether to increase the number of privately managed charter schools in a referendum in November. Question Two will determine whether the state adds 12 new charter schools every year, using money subtracted from public schools.

Advocates for privatization have launched a $2.3 million advertising budget with a deceptive ad, calling on voters to vote YES for “stronger public schools.” The ad refers to privately managed, unaccountable charter schools as “public schools,” which they are not.

Public schools are under democratic control, not private and corporate management. Public schools are financially transparent; charter schools are not. Public schools must comply with all federal and state laws relating to children with disabilities and English language learners; charter schools are not. Public schools are required to comply with state laws related to student discipline, suspension, and expulsion; charter schools are not.

The ad does not acknowledge that more money for charter schools means less money for public schools. The tiny percentage of children in charters will benefit as the great majority of children in public schools get larger classes and fewer programs.

Wake up, citizens of Massachusetts! Voting yes on Question a Two will WEAKEN YOUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

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