Archives for category: Massachusetts

Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, specializes in exposing the role of Dark Money in education. If you read my book, Slaying Goliath, you know that Cunningham’s research and blog posts helped to turn the tide against a state referendum in 2016 to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. Cunningham showed that “Yes on Two” Organization was funded by billionaires and that the billionaires were hiding their identities. Despite being outspent, the parent-teacher-local school committee won handily.

In this post, originally from February, Cunningham explains why the Waltons and Charles Koch are so devoted to privatizing public school governance. He’s right that they want to lower their taxes. They also want to smash teachers’ unions; more than 90% of charters are non-union. The corporate sector doesn’t like unions, and most private unions have been eliminated. The teachers’ unions are still standing, which annoys the billionaires.

Maurice Cunningham is a dogged researcher into Dark Money and its role in the pursuit of privatizing public education. Cunningham is a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts. Open the link and read in full.

In his latest post, he reports that Koch money as well as Walton money, Zuckerberg money, Gates money, and Dell money, is supporting the “National Parents Union,” a front for the billionaires.

He writes:

There’s millions of dollars sloshing around Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union these days. Some of it is from Charles Koch…

The Koch connection was apparent when Charles Koch put a proxy on the board of National Parents Union. Now we know for sure Koch has money invested in NPU. Others holding stakes in NPU (housed in the same shop as Massachusetts Parents Union and run by the same team) include Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Michael Dell, Reed Hoffman, John Arnold, Eli Broad, etc.

It’s not just Koch, the Waltons are tossing even more money at NPU.

NPU is also feasting on big bucks from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm.

Cunningham reminds us to “follow the noney. Dark Money never sleeps.”

And he adds:

We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” – Louis Brandeis

Students, parents, and alumni of the high-performing Mystic Valley Regional Charter School have raised questions about racism at the school, alleging that racism permeates its culture. Similar questions have been raised at Success Academy in New York City and other “no excuses” charter schools that emphasize test scores and tough discipline over human relations.

Hayley Kaufman wrote in the Boston Globe:


The questions came from parents, from alumni, from the president of the class of 2020. How would Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, known for rigorous academics and ranked a top high school in Massachusetts, address a long and alarming list of concerns about diversity, inclusion, and the treatment of students of color?

The questions came at a June 8 meeting with the Mystic Valley trustees, where 15 speakers raised the issues, describing a culture that penalized students who spoke out about inequities, while seeming to shrug off reports of bias. They also demanded to know why a series of controversial social media posts made by a cofounder of the Malden charter school hadn’t been publicly denounced.

“It’s going to take somebody to get their hands dirty, really going in and really, really, really looking this horrible situation in its eye,” Alvin Buyinza, a 2015 graduate, told the board. “There is a conversation on race that needs to be addressed at the school level.”

Amid a nationwide outcry on racial injustice, an urgent chorus of voices is calling for change at Mystic Valley, a K-12 charter school ranked in April as the sixth best high school in the state by U.S. News and World Report. One alumni group gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition demanding a more diverse faculty and a restructuring of the school’s mission statement to “address issues of systemic discrimination.” Another group said it has compiled more than 150 examples of alleged incidents of racism and LGBT bias. On June 25, parents and students held a protest, waving signs as drivers honked their horns.

“The culture has to change at the school,” said Zane T. Crute, president of the Mystic Valley area branch of the NAACP, who sent a scathing letter to administrators endorsing the petitioners’ demands. For change to happen, he said, an independent evaluation of policies must be conducted “to keep the school honest — separate from the donors, separate from the board.”

Few would deny that Mystic Valley, which was founded in 1998 and enrolls more than 1,550 students from Malden and surrounding communities, provides strong education to a diverse student body. Sixty-one percent of seniors in 2019 earned the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship. While most schools in Massachusetts require 180 days of instruction, Mystic Valley tops out at 200.

But the school also has an unsettling track record on issues of race and inclusion. Recent data shows Mystic Valley disciplines Black and Latinx students at sharply higher rates than white students, and disabled students at a higher rate still.

In 2017, in a widely publicized move, Attorney General Maura Healey determined a school policy that banned hair extensions and other hairstyles discriminated against students of color, especially Black students, who’d been suspended and banned from activities. Two years earlier, regulators pushed back on efforts to increase enrollment because the school lacked proper services for non-English speakers. And when a student wanted to form a gay-straight alliance club in 2014, her efforts were stymied until the American Civil Liberties Union got involved.

A series of social media posts made by Neil Kinnon, a Mystic Valley cofounder and former Malden city councilor, has sparked the latest conflagration. As protests swelled after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer, Kinnon posted a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism.”

“Please consider the real facts not the propaganda,” he wrote on his “Kinnon For Malden” Facebook page, a screenshot of which was obtained by the Globe before it was taken down. Systemic racism, he commented, is “a false narrative” and “the millions marching are indeed pawns.” Kinnon did not respond to e-mails and phone calls for this story.

The backlash to the Facebook post was swift. Students, alumni, even one of Kinnon’s neighbors blasted his statements. Meanwhile, screen shots of additional posts allegedly made by Kinnon on other Facebook pages triggered further outrage.

Long a divisive figure in Malden, Kinnon resigned from the charter school’s board of trustees in 2019 and no longer holds an official role there. But students say his influence is still felt. Petitioners asked that the school “further disaffiliate” from him by ending the Neil Kinnon Citizenship Award, presented annually to a graduating senior. And Alfie Tsang, 2020 class president, pushed trustees for clarity on Kinnon’s connection to the school, and why they hadn’t condemned the social media posts.

Chairman George Warren said at the June 8 meeting that the board was aware of Kinnon’s statements but needed time to “digest” things. “We will get back to you and the public,” he said, “if it’s deemed necessary.”

On June 16, Warren and Alexander Dan, the school’s superintendent/director, released a letter to parents. In it, they said Mystic Valley had undergone an “expansive internal investigation” in 2017 after the attorney general’s investigation. They’d “voluntarily implemented” suggestions from the review, which was conducted by a third party. Staffers received implicit bias training. Efforts to recruit more teachers of color were ongoing.

They also invoked George Floyd and condemned “the unacceptable tolerance of racism by sections of our society.” There was no mention of Kinnon.

In response to calls and e-mails from the Globe, Dan forwarded an annotated version of the letter to parents that was sent separately to the alumni behind the petition. There, Dan did refer to Kinnon: “Respectfully, we will not address the conduct of any person who is not a board member and not an employee at the school.”

Dan further noted: “Prior to your letter, Mr. Kinnon had already voluntarily determined to suspend his citizenship award at the school.”

Parents and students say the problems at Mystic Valley run much deeper than offensive social media posts. They say marginalization is baked into the foundation of the school, starting with its mission statement. It describes a “world class education characterized by a well-mannered, disciplined and structured academic climate” based in the “fundamental ideals of our American Culture.”

But how that discipline is delivered, and to whom, has left many frustrated, particularly when it comes to students of color.

“What they purport as discipline is essentially authoritarianism,” said Eric Henry, a retired Navy veteran and father of triplets going into ninth grade. Henry, who is Black, described several encounters his children have had, ranging from microaggressions to disciplinary incidents. In one, his daughter Thora was pulled out of class and reprimanded by a white teacher she did not know because she had dropped off a book in a classroom without knocking.

“She’s experiencing harassment and conflict resolution at way too young an age,” said Henry, who served on the PTO for several years. If parents complain about the way their children are treated, “They say, ‘Don’t forget, you asked to come here.‘ ”

Thora added: ”If you’re a student of color, you won’t get the benefit of the doubt.”

Indeed, data provided to the Department of Education showed that of the 289 Black students enrolled at Mystic Valley in 2018-19, 34, or 11.8 percent, received some sort of disciplinary action. Of 151 Latinx students, 17, or 11.3 percent, were disciplined. By comparison, 49 of 762 white students were disciplined, or 6.4 percent. Dan could not be reached for comment on the DOE numbers.

By far the highest percentage of disciplinary action was taken against students with disabilities. Of 221 students identified as having disabilities that year, 44, or 20 percent, were disciplined.

Parents and students also raised concerns about what they see as a pervasive insensitivity toward students with multicultural backgrounds.

Vanessa Santos described a situation in which her daughter, a rising eighth-grader, was chastised by a teacher who told her to stop “speaking Spanish.” When the girl noted that she was speaking Portuguese, she said, the teacher waved her off, saying, “It’s all the same.”

Kedisha Clerger, a 2019 graduate who now attends Howard University, described a painful experience from her senior year. One day on her way to class, she was speaking to a friend about college applications, confiding that she’d thought about writing an essay “comparing Mystic Valley to slavery.”

A teacher who’d been eavesdropping broke into the conversation. “I guess you could compare me to a plantation owner,” she recalled him saying.

Stunned, Clerger reported what had happened to administrators. And there began a head-spinning series of events. She was told the teacher was “just making a joke.” She was told she bore responsibility, that if she hadn’t made the slavery comment, the teacher wouldn’t have responded that way. Dan could not be reached for comment on the incident.

When all was said and done, Clerger said, she was accused of being “rude and disrespectful” and was suspended for a day.

“You report stuff at the school and they try to silence you,” she said. I just felt hopeless.”

Clerger recently wrote about the experience, posting it to the Mystic Valley Parents Facebook page. She said God has been a source of strength as she looks back on her time at the school. And she urged the community to take action.

“Black kids at MV go through so much that is unknown to people,” she wrote. “Fight for change.”

Hayley Kaufman can be reached at hayley.kaufman@globe.com.

The Boston Globe reports on the questions that public officials are trying to resolve in Massachusetts:

State and city school officials haven’t made a firm commitment yet as to when Massachusetts public schools might reopen for a number of good reasons. Before they can welcome a million students back to their classrooms, administrators must resolve a seemingly endless series of hard questions.

How do you load elementary school children onto a bus while keeping them 6 feet apart?

How do you protect the estimated 20 percent of teachers who are 55 or older from getting seriously ill?

How do you serve lunch?

And that’s before you even get to the money problem: Running a school is about to get a lot more expensive, just as the crashing economy may force state and local governments to cut school budgets…

In in recent testimony before a legislative committee, state Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley described potential recommendations that could make school look markedly different than before the pandemic, including the extensive reliance on social distancing, expanded mental health services, and the possible need for students and staff to wear masks.

In addition, Riley said schools may need to develop plans for “potential extended school closings.” He held out the possibility that schedules will need to be modified, and that at least some classes may continue to be taught remotely.

“The plan will include guidance on physical and virtual learning environments and many other topics,” Riley said in a statement.

Riley declined to provide an outline for when schools might resume in-person classes, saying only that officials were beginning to map out a plan to reopen schools “when conditions are right…”

Boston school Superintendent Brenda Cassellius struck a similarly cautious tone on providing a timeline for reopening the city’s 125 schools. There are just too many unknowns — including the possibility of a fall surge in COVID-19 cases — to provide even a tentative reopening date.

“It just depends on if we get through these phases [of reopening the state] successfully,” she said. “At this point we are still sheltering, and until we hit all the indicators, that will be our reality.”

New guidance from the federal government suggests school could be a lot less fun when it finally does reopen. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for a three-step approach that includes reduced student movement within schools, canceled field trips and extracurricular activities, and meals that are served in classrooms. Staff should wear masks. Students and teachers should undergo daily temperature and symptom checks if possible, and high-risk staff should be allowed to work remotely.

Ultimately, the number of restrictions and safety measures is likely to vary from district to district, depending on the prevalence of the virus. But schools in Massachusetts, which has the fourth most cases in the country, are likely to be among the most disrupted.

“You could have school in Montana where school is functioning pretty normally, but there may be rolling closures in New York and Boston,” said John Bailey, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Hopefully these disruptions only impact this coming academic year,” he added, noting that vaccine development often takes at least 18 months. “If that is really the timeline, it means all these disruptions not just for this coming academic school year, but the following one, too.”

The problems start the moment a student climbs aboard the bus.

Cassellius estimated that, under current physical distancing guidelines, a school bus that typically holds around 65 students might be reduced to around 13 passengers. For Boston, which already has the second highest per-pupil transportation costs in the country, expanding bus service would be astonishingly expensive.

And that’s just the beginning. Are those students given a health check before boarding and, if so, who would do it? What if they arrive without a mask? How often must the buses be cleaned? And that’s to say nothing of the health and safety of the drivers.

“Half of our bus drivers are older than 60,” said Cassellius, who’s a member of the working group. “You can only imagine the contingencies we are building in terms of our fleet, in terms of our scheduling.”

It gets no easier once students arrive at school.

Just consider hand washing, which by some estimates could take nearly as long as some classes.

“I’ve seen some scenarios where they may recommend kids wash their hands every hour,” said Billerica Public Schools Superintendent Tim Piwowar, who’s part of the working group. For a class of 12 students, he said, each taking about 30 seconds to wash their hands, the loss in learning time could be staggering. “That’s six minutes of every hour. That’s a little over half an hour every day — of just hand washing.”

And what about the availability of on-site health care?

Jenny Gormley, president of the Massachusetts School Nurse Organization, said schools are running low on personal protective gear after donating their supplies to hospitals and emergency responders. She added that many schools do not currently have a full-time nurse on staff. Meanwhile, in Boston, Cassellius said that roughly a third of all school nurses are older than 60.

The CDC’s guidelines call for each school to create an “isolation room” to separate anyone who presents with COVID-like symptoms — further instructing school officials to wait 24 hours before disinfecting it after use. That’s going to be a major concern in urban districts such as Lynn, which are already over capacity.

“In a school of 500, at least two kids come to you every day with a fever,” said Gormley. “The CDC is saying it should not be used for 24 hours and disinfected — so does that mean we’ll need two of them?”

Under current social distancing requirements, some classes may have to shrink to a third of their former size. So will students attend school in morning and afternoon shifts? Will they alternate days? Weeks? Even so, how do you keep first-graders from touching one another? And what will cleaning costs look like?

School leaders say remote learning is likely to continue to play some role when schools resume in-person classes. For instance, students could alternate days at home with days in school. But if teachers are expected to hold physical classes each day, who will staff online learning? Will classes have both in-person and online learners? Will districts have to hire more teachers? Will they enlist more subs? Will it fall to existing faculty…?

“We will need a New Deal level of funding from the federal government,” said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

One of the first tasks when students return to school will be to figure out their academic levels after the most disrupted school year in decades. Some students will have lost more ground than others, requiring educators to come up with individualized plans to catch students up.

In addition to potential educational backsliding, many students will be returning to school with fresh trauma, be it a parent out of work, a death in the family, or months locked away with abusive relatives.

Cassellius said trauma in schools is typically confined to, say, the death of an individual student or teacher, which often affects the entire school community.

“What you have now is every single child, every single family, and every single adult within the community being impacted by this pandemic,” she said. “It’s unbelievable the amount of trauma that we’re going to have.”

What’s more, the virus threatens to exacerbate longstanding social inequalities in a school system already marked by vast gaps in student opportunity and achievement. For example, more than 20 percent of Boston public school students have likely not logged on to one of the district’s main online platforms this month; many of those students were the most disadvantaged, including many English language learners.

“Whatever gaps existed before are going to be even wider, because this crisis has exacerbated the disparities for children in their learning circumstances outside of school,” said Paul Reville,a former state education secretary. “Some children have virtually 24/7 stimulation enrichment, others have virtually nothing.”

Similarly, Jal Mehta, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, said the crisis offers an opportunity to fundamentally rethink how we educate students going forward. For example, since teachers’ in-person time with students will likely be limited, perhaps schools should concentrate on a few subjects in greater depth, while pruning away breadth in others, sort of like a college major.

“You’ve got to treat the contact time as gold,” said Mehta. “You want to think about what can we do in person that we couldn’t do at home, and vice versa.”

Others suggested holding tutorial sessions for low income students over the summer and other vacations — not unlike affluent families who send their kids to math camp. Still others called on schools to develop individual learning plans for all students, creating a more customized approach.

All of this, of course, will take money — lots of it.

“That’s going to be really where the shoe pinches,” said Reville, who warned against regarding a return to the status quo as a victory.

“That would be a gigantic wasted opportunity.”

Christine Langhoff is a retired teachers in Massachusetts who is an activist on behalf of public schools. She warns here about the unfolding plot to impose a state takeover of Boston public schools. Having been decisively rebuffed at the polls by the state’s voters in 2016, the Walton allies on the state board have found another way to disrupt and control the Boston public schools and install Broadies and other willing allies to advance their privatization agenda.

Christine writes:

Massachusetts’ state board of education has been moving inexorably toward a takeover of the Boston’s schools. On March 13, the same day as schools shut down, DESE announced a MOU with Boston’s superintendent. In response, Alain Jehlen, Board Member of Citizens for Public Schools, is taking a deep dive into how and why the state rates city schools so poorly on the Schoolyard News website.

Here’s Part 1:

“Boston has 34 schools (out of about 125) that rank in the bottom 10 percent in the state. BPS as a whole is 14th from the bottom out of 289 districts. Why is it rated so low?

“One major reason is that the rating system was designed in a way that almost automatically puts Boston and other urban centers with large numbers of low-income students and recent immigrants at the bottom.

“Here’s how it works: The state rates schools and districts mostly according to test scores. But there are two ways they could use the scores. State officials picked the one that makes urban areas look worse.”

https://schoolyardnews.com/one-reason-boston-gets-low-ratings-from-the-state-the-system-is-designed-to-give-bad-marks-to-f6c9ee3418d

The current board of education is loaded up with Walton connected folks. No doubt that has some impact on decision making.

If you believe that any genuine parent organization is funded by the Waltons, Eli Broad, and the City Fund (which was funded by the Reed Hastings, John Arnold, and other billionaires), please contact me at once, as I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I can sell you for a reasonable fee. Really! I’ll even print up a gen-u-wine bill of sale!

One of the leaders of the National Parents Union, Keri Rodrigues, runs the Massachusetts Parents Union, which was also bankrolled by the Waltons. Her group was one of the prominent voices demanding more charters in a state referendum in 2016, which was overwhelmingly defeated. The Waltons invested a few million in that referendum. Keri’s MPU reported revenues of $957,683 in 2018, half from the Waltons. Her salary at MPU, that grassroots parent group, is $172,500, according to Dark Money specialist Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at U Mass. Just an average parent.

Many grassroots parents groups belong to the Network for Public Education. None of them have bank accounts with six figures or nearly seven figures. All are powered by volunteers.

New Orleans is an apt place for the big launch of NPU. It is the first (and thus far the only) school district that has eliminated all public schools and the teachers’ union. According to the latest reports, 49% of its highly segregated schools received a D or an F from the state. The selection of NOLA suggests the goal of this faux “parent union”: the elimination of public schools.

Here is an announcement of the organizing event of the new Walton-funded NPU:

 

NPU is launching on the streets of New Orleans (1/16-/18) with delegates from all 50 states with parents of color, low-income parents, special needs parents, single moms and dads, grandparents, formerly incarcerated parents, and parents in recovery. Led by Alma Marquez and Keri Rodrigues, National Parents Union co-founders, Ilyasah Shabazz, Community Organizer and daughter of Malcolm X and Sharif El Mekki, Black Male Educators for Social Justice. 

 

Keri is an education activist (and a Democrat) who is launching a new organization, the National Parents Union, which will heed the call to organize otherwise independent and uncoordinated parent organizing efforts into a national voice and movement to ensure teacher unions no longer have a stranglehold on the education system in America. She’s a former labor activist who plans to use the tactics that make unions so powerful and apply them to this movement led by parents.

 

MEDIA ADVISORY 
FOR PLANNING PURPOSES ONLY

Contact: NPU@mercuryllc.com 

 

THE REVOLUTION IS COMING… NATIONAL PARENTS UNION TO OFFICIALLY LAUNCH AT PARENT POWER 2020 IN NEW ORLEANS 

Kick-off summit will bring parent activists and organizations to New Orleans to define a national K-12 agenda and make education equity a reality for all children 

 

New Orleans, LA – The National Parents Union (NPU), an intersectional, parent-led organization, will hold its inaugural summit in New Orleans to advance education reform and define a new K-12 national agenda. 

Parent Power 2020 (January 16-18) will bring over 100 delegates and organizations from all 50 states for a series of skills-building workshops, campaign clinics and activations designed to provide parents with the tools and infrastructure to effect change in their own communities and exert greater influence on the national conservation around education reform.  Parent Power 2020 will feature several notable speakers, including keynotes from journalist and activist Felipe Luciano, and author and activistIlyasah Shabazz, the daughter of the late Malcom X. 

The summit will also include a Jazz Funeral through the French Quarter in New Orleans on January 17, to officially bury the status quo that has been plaguing education in America for decades and commemorate the dawn of a new day in our schools.

The convening will conclude with a vote and ratification of NPU’s Statement of Values that lays out the goals and objectives of parent activists ahead of the 2020 Presidential election. At the conclusion of the summit, delegates will vote in a straw poll assessing the education proposals and policies of the 2020 Presidential Candidates. 

 

Parent Power 2020 is open to press. Please contact Dan Bank npu@mercuryllc.com to register for credentials.    

 

Click here to learn more about NPU’s mission. 

                          

WHO: 

Featured speakers at Parent Power 2020 will include: 

·        Alma Marquez and Keri Rodrigues, National Parents Union co-founders

·        Ilyasah Shabazz, Community Organizer and daughter of Malcolm X

·        Antonio Villaraigosa, Former Mayor of Los Angeles 

·        Felipe Luciano, The Young Lords 

·        Colleen Cook, National Coalition for Public School Options 

·        Gerard Robinson, Center for Advancing Opportunity  

·        Sharif El Mekki, Black Male Educators for Social Justice 

 

WHEN: 

Parent Power 2020

January 16 –January 18, 2020

 

Jazz Funeral 

Friday, January 17

6:30pm-7:00pm local time

Additional details will be provided 

 

WHERE:

Parent Power 2020 will be held in New Orleans. The exact location will be shared during the registration process. 

 

About National Parents Union:

The National Parents Union is a network of parent organizations and grassroots activists across the country committed to improving the quality of life for children and families in the United States. NPU unites these organizations behind a common set of principles that put children and families at the center of education politics and policy. With delegates representing each of the 50 states, NPU disrupts the traditional role of parent voice in policy spaces and develops a new narrative that is inclusive of families from a wide variety of intersectional perspectives.

One of the very exciting episodes in my new book SLAYING GOLIATH describes the struggle in Massachusetts  surrounding a 2016 referendum to expand the number of charter schools in the state. The referendum was called Question 2. Yes on 2 received funding from billionaires (the Waltons and Bloomberg), DFER (hedge fund managers), and out-of-state groups whose donors were unknown. The last group is called “Dark Money” because it hides the names of the donors.

On February 26, I will be at the First UU Church in Cambridge at an event sponsored by Citizens for Public Schools, joined in conversation with two of the prominent figures in that campaign, Barbara Madeloni (who was president of the Massachusetts Teachers Union) and Maurice Cunningham (a professor of political science at the U of Mass whose blogs reported on Dark Money in the campaign),

The groups that fought Question 2 were teachers’ unions, civil rights groups, and local school boards.

The referendum was overwhelmingly defeated.

After the election, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance investigated the funding of the campaigns. It found that one of the funders of the “Yes on 2” side was a Dark Money front based in New York City. It required the group to disclose the names of its donors and fined the group nearly $500,000, which cleaned out its bank account. Not long after, the Dark Money Group (which had also stacked the deck in New York State without being exposed) collapsed and closed its doors.

Recently, the director of this state office retired, and parents thanked him for upholding the integrity of state elections.

This letter to the editor by a parent activist appeared in the Boston Globe.

 

Watchdogs have state’s outgoing campaign finance chief to thank
 

What a pleasure to read Matt Stout’s folksy portrait of Michael Sullivan, who retired last month as director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (“A career spent helping people ‘do things right,’ ” Business, Dec. 25). I met Sullivan at a “hackathon” sponsored by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. The center needed volunteers to test computer software. We got pizza, and a little orientation from the state’s campaign finance chief, who trained neophytes to navigate Office of Campaign and Political Finance databases.

Behind the scenes, Sullivan’s staff investigated an unusual pattern of financial transactions. They discovered that Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc. of New York illegally solicited, received, and funneled funds to the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot question committee to influence the 2016 Massachusetts election and increase charter school market share. Sullivan skillfully negotiated a six-figure fine.

Thanks to Sullivan, citizens can comb campaign finance data for evidence of expenditures that reveal fake-news media events. Remember those rallies with people wearing blue T-shirts demanding “Great Schools Now”? It turns out Great Schools Massachusetts paid for the T-shirts and had people show up at events to give the illusion of massive dissatisfaction with our public schools.

If only I had a “Great Schools Now” campaign T-shirt, I would give it to Sullivan in gratitude for providing me a political education I never received in school.

Peggy A. Wiesenberg

Boston

Over the past decade or more, policymakers have spent zillions of hours discussing governance (charters, vouchers, state takeovers, etc.), while ignoring the basic issue facing public schools: adequate and equitable funding.

Jan Resseger writes here about the dramatic and much-needed response in Massachusetts to address the need to fund its schools appropriately: The legislature passed and the Governor signed, a bill to increase funding by $1.5 billion a year.

Resseger reviews the near collapse of funding in other states after the 2008 recession, a decade in which funding in the Bay State held steady but did not grow.

And she cites the determination of state leaders to meet the needs of today’s students.

She writes:

For NPR’s Morning Edition, Max Larkin reports: “The law is projected to add about $1.5 billion in annual state aid to schools by 2026, when it is fully phased in. The increase will reach most of the state, but it will be particularly targeted at urban districts with high concentrations of low-income students and English learners, and where many district funds now flow to charter schools.”

Larkin describes the reaction of Boston’s school superintendent to the new funding bill: “Brenda Cassellius, the new superintendent of Boston Public Schools… said… that she wants ‘to spend every single dollar’ of new aid that BPS receives on the district’s ‘neediest’ students.”

Schoenberg quotes Governor Baker’s remarks at the signing ceremony: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 63 years, it’s that talent is evenly distributed… What’s not evenly distributed is opportunity. There’s a reason why this is the Student Opportunity Act, because this legislation is about making sure that every kid in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, regardless of where they live, where they go to school, where they’re from, has the opportunity to get the education they need to be great.”

School funding ought not to be the kind of contentious partisan issue we see today across so many states. Kudos to Massachusetts’ legislators and Governor Charlie Baker for grappling actively with the cost of our public responsibility to provide equal opportunity in the public schools. The new Massachusetts Student Opportunity Act should be held up as a challenge to legislators in the 24 states recently identified by the Center on Budget Priorities where combined state and local school funding still lags below the 2008 level when adjusted for inflation.

Both houses of the Massachusetts legislature unanimously passed a major funding bill for education, directing $1.5 billion mainly to the neediest districts.

Massachusetts has long had the most successful public schools in the nation. The state is poised to build on its record of success.

The majority of the $1.5 billion set aside in the bill will go to lower-performing and underfunded school districts, which means adding more teachers, bringing back art and music classes, and increasing funds for students from low-income households.

When voters were asked to pass a referendum to expand charter schools in 2016, they overwhelmingly said no. (I write about this epic battle in my forthcoming battle in my forthcoming book SLAYING GOLIATH).

 

The Dedham, Massachusetts, teachers strike ended after three days.

Classes resume Monday.