CEA Advisor: May-June 2018

10 CEA ADVISOR MAY - JUNE 2018 EXPOSING “THIS IS NOT A LOBBYING GROUP. THIS IS NOT A FRONT GROUP. THIS IS FAR MORE DANGEROUS.” SHEILA COHEN, CEA PRESIDENT, DESCRIBING THE ANTI-UNION AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC) WHAT’S IN A NAME? BEWARE OF CORPORATE GROUPS MASQUERADING AS EDUCATION ADVOCATES Guide to bad players out to dismantle public education, turn a profit Defunding Public Education, State by State Corporate reformers have carefully orchestrated many of the situations that are driving teachers across the country to protest and strike in states such as Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. A small network of billionaires, major corporations, and front groups in these states have pushed for massive tax cuts, which lead to decreased state revenues. As state revenues decrease, those groups call for cuts to public school funding—and subsequently criticize underfunded public schools. Ultimately, they try to sway public opinion—and dollars—toward school privatization. Who are these privatizers? Read the latest report at cea.org/defunders . You wouldn't know it by their names— Families for Excellent Schools, Stand for Children, Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now —but education reform groups such as these are anything but good news for students, teachers, or public education. Financed by corporate interests, they’re pushing hard for policies that attack and privatize public schools, shortchange students, and result in "churn and burn" practices that deprofessionalize teachers. Unfortunately, slick campaigns and language that sounds education- friendly can fool well-meaning legislators, community members, and even teachers—continuing to undermine the cities and towns where we live, work, and learn. In Connecticut, as in states around the country, the number of reformers attacking public education continues to grow. Hoping to destroy public-sector unions and take away teachers’ rights, these groups are staging rallies, producing TV commercials, and using social media to push for the privatization of public schools, charter management organizations (CMOs) and charter school expansion, and test- centric accountability measures that narrow the curriculum. Many use tactics to try to divide teachers and create a wedge between newer and more experienced educators. Groups to watch out for include • Achievement First • American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) • ConnCAN and 50CAN • Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) and Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) • Connecticut School Finance Project • Democrats For Education Reform • Education Reform Now • FaithActs for Education • Families for Excellent Schools • Leadership for Educational Equity • State Policy Network • Students for Education Reform (SFER) • Yankee Institute for Public Policy Reformers: Who are they, and where do they get their funding? Reformers are often hedge fund managers and other wealthy individuals looking to influence public policy and make money in the transaction. Some are corporate leaders or charter school management companies seeking to bust unions. Others are philanthropists, including Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation—the largest in the U.S.— awards hundreds of millions of dollars in grants each year to organizations that support test-based teacher evaluation and charter school expansion at the expense of our local public schools. Influential foundations also include the Walton Family Foundation and the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, which give millions to organizations such as Achievement First, ConnCAN, and many proponents of charter management company expansion. Deceptive rhetoric Following the money behind corporate reformers sheds light on their intentions, unmasks the power and interrelationship of the corporate education reform industry, and reveals that the vast majority of groups are not in it for students. Many have overlapping memberships and receive funding from the same foundations. They have appealing names that most people would stand behind, like “Families for Excellent Schools.” But don’t let the names deceive you—these are wolves in sheep’s clothing. "Corporate interests see our public schools as multimillion-dollar enterprises—and children as commodities to be profited from—rather than a public good and the driving force for excellence and equity," says CEA President Sheila Cohen. Additionally, some groups that include well-intentioned teachers among their members—like Teach for America and Educators for Excellence (E4E)—are funded and run by the same network of big-money donors and reformers seeking to undermine public education and the teaching profession. The local activities of groups like these can appear harmless, but their intent is to ultimately persuade teachers to support policies that benefit the financial and political interests of their funders. For example, one of these groups, E4E, has been trying to persuade its members to support public school voucher plans that would expand corporate-run charter schools at the expense of public schools. Their plan would even undercut good charter schools in our state that play by the rules in order to increase funding to charters run by private charter management organizations. E4E was funded by the Walton Family Foundation and claims to speak for teachers, saying that they are opposed to tenure and other collective bargaining rights. Here are some of the reform groups pushing their agenda in Connecticut. ACHIEVEMENT FIRST Achievement First, Inc., operates in Connecticut as Achievement First CT, a charter school management organization. Founded in New Haven in 2003 with Amistad Academy, it has now expanded into Bridgeport and Hartford. This charter school management organization currently manages 29 charter schools in New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Founding members include Jonathan Sackler, who owns Oxycontin opioid producer Purdue Pharma, and wealthy investment managers. Some serve on the organization’s board of directors as well as on the New Schools Venture Fund board, an organization education advocates say is looking to capitalize on Rupert Murdoch’s observation that public schools are a $500 billion industry ripe for fleecing by profiteers. According to published reports, Achievement First takes more than a 10-percent cut of all funds going to each of its Connecticut schools, totaling more than $4.1 million in 2010. In 2013, the State Board of Education reviewed suspension and discipline policies of two charter schools run by Achievement First because the Achievement First Hartford Academy had an extremely high rate of suspensions. A policy of “If in doubt, send them out” resulted in twice the rate of student suspensions compared with traditional public schools. The school’s policies were also criticized for being unfair to students with disabilities and special needs. AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC) One of the biggest national supporters of education reform, ALEC was founded in 1973 to advance privatization, anti-union, and free-market principles. Funded by major corporations and philanthropists, ALEC includes more than 2,000 state legislators and powerful corporate executives as members. Although ALEC does not make its list of legislative members public, many Connecticut Republican legislators have attended ALEC events and meetings. ALEC is against unions and public schools and supports vouchers, charter schools, and for-profit schools. The group writes “model” legislation for its members, who are state legislators, to pass in their own state legislatures. Proposed laws are aimed at eliminating tenure and seniority, encouraging paths into teaching that don’t involve licensing or pedagogical training, and maximizing revenues for corporations that profit from public education. Though it presents itself as a non- partisan, public-private partnership, ALEC is almost exclusively Republican and promotes legislation beyond education issues. It supports a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed at increasing corporate profits at public expense, without public knowledge, one statehouse at a time. CONNECTICUT COALITION FOR ACHIEVEMENT NOW (CONNCAN) and its national group, 50CAN ConnCAN advocates for charter school expansion and decreased union protections for teachers. ConnCAN spinoff groups were major funders of a 2012 public relations campaign that advocated tying tenure to teacher evaluations, and ConnCAN was heavily involved in the failed attempt to disenfranchise voters in Bridgeport and remove their right to elect board of education members. ConnCAN was established by Achievement First founders to expand charter schools and undermine teacher due-process protections. These same founders