CEA Advisor: May-June 2018

MAY - JUNE 2018 CEA ADVISOR 11 EXPOSING created a national charter school advocacy group called 50CAN, which coordinates efforts across states and recently announced that it would be absorbing its state-level entities. Many other members of ConnCAN’s board and advisory council—including the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a board member of Excel Bridgeport, and the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools—have close ties to other education reform organizations. One of ConnCAN’s major funders is the Walton Family Foundation. CONNECTICUT COUNCIL FOR EDUCATION REFORM (CCER) and CONNECTICUT BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION (CBIA) Established in 2011 as a policy voice for corporate-driven reform, CCER was made up of corporate executives from a variety of Connecticut companies. CCER, along with its mission, was recently absorbed by CBIA. Together, they support increased standardized testing, evaluating teachers based on the test scores of their students, changing the certification process, removing tenure and seniority, and promoting public school voucher schemes such as friendly-sounding “money-follows-the-child,” “backpack,” or “student-based funding” proposals that grow privately operated schools at the expense of local school districts. CONNECTICUT SCHOOL FINANCE PROJECT This charter school advocacy front group is a spinoff of CCER and has worked closely with Governor Malloy and his administration on a public school voucher plan to divert scarce taxpayer funds to Connecticut’s charter schools while doing little to address the underlying system that inadequately funds Connecticut’s public schools. (Among other things, their plan failed to properly account for the added cost of educating students who require special education services or are English learners.) Charters would end up getting more state funding than local school districts, plus local districts would pay an additional penalty for each charter school student. Their plan was even designed to redirect funding from charter schools not operated by management organizations. As these types of charters expand, districts lose more. This system was instituted by the DeVos team in Michigan, where money intended for public schools was diverted to charters, resulting in explosive charter school growth and the decimation of public school budgets in the poorest cities. DEMOCRATS FOR EDUCATION REFORM (DFER) and EDUCATION REFORM NOW DFER was formed in 2005 as a political action committee to raise money for candidates and elected officials who support their corporate reform agenda to expand charter schools and impose teacher evaluation systems based on test scores; divisive merit pay policies tied to test scores; school choice, including vouchers; and tuition tax credits. Made up of Wall Street hedge fund managers, DFER gets a majority of its funding from the Walton Family Foundation. DFER, which has links to ALEC, E4E, and Betsy DeVos and is part of the Education Reform Now donor network, worked with Charles and David Koch, conservative billionaires pursuing an ideological agenda to dismantle the public education system. FAITHACTS FOR EDUCATION Officially rolled out in 2015, this charter school advocacy group— which has failed to report its lobbying-related activities, as required by state law—supports the establishment of a Bridgeport charter school that is publicly funded but privately owned and operated. Although FaithActs for Education presents itself as a group of local religious leaders promoting educational opportunities, the facts tell a different story. FaithActs was created by Jamilah Prince-Stewart, who served at the time as director of community engagement for ConnCAN, Connecticut’s leading charter school lobby group. FaithActs shares an address with the corporate-backed Educators for Excellence. In its official corporate filing, FaithActs names Public Square Partnership, whose agent of service is Nate Snow, director of Teach for America’s Connecticut Chapter and president of Excel Bridgeport Inc., a charter school advocacy group. Excel Bridgeport failed to register with the Office of State Ethics in spite of lobbying state government in favor of an illegal takeover of the Bridgeport School System. Public Square Partnership uses Teach for America’s New Haven office address as its official agent of service. That these groups work shoulder to shoulder is not a coincidence. FAMILIES FOR EXCELLENT SCHOOLS (FES) FES is an out-of- state organization with deep pockets that has infiltrated Connecticut. The group has pushed for the expansion of charter schools at the expense of local school districts. Four of its five founding board members are Wall Street leaders, and board members include managers of investment firms and hedge funds. Families for Excellent Schools shares an address with the New York arm of StudentsFirst. Records show that some of the group’s supporters are major foundations backing the charter movement, including the Walton Family Foundation. FES spent hundreds of thousands of dollars a week airing TV commercials in Connecticut, calling for more charter schools under the guise of “for every child.” They employed the same strategy in Massachusetts, funneling $20 million into a pro-charter ballot initiative that was roundly defeated at the polls, and they spent more than $3 million in New York City for television commercials and other activities pushing for more charter schools. After major financial and political losses, and following the firing of CEO Jeremiah Kittredge after a sexual harassment investigation, FES is set to close at least part of its 40-person operation. It is unclear when Families for Excellent Schools will close or whether any of its employees will remain and rebrand the organization. LEADERSHIP FOR EDUCATIONAL EQUITY Part of Teach for America’s deep bench, this TFA spinoff provides resources, training, and networking for alumni interested in elected office or other leadership positions. It pairs members with public officials, and its stated political goals include having hundreds of members in elected office, hundreds in policy or advocacy leadership roles, and 1,000 in pipelines for public leadership. Members are also encouraged to connect with each other, organize rallies, and more. In one of its presentations, a charter operator proposes that members infiltrate unions by getting elected to union office. In fact, a restricted section of its website lists job postings ranging from the corporate reformer Heritage Foundation to positions at the National Education Association. STATE POLICY NETWORK The State Policy Network is a coast-to- coast alliance of 66 so-called “think tanks,” affiliated with ALEC, that create and promote a right-wing agenda in all 50 states. Backed by corporate partners, the State Policy Network has waged a coordinated campaign to defund labor unions and privatize public schools. President and CEO Tracie Sharp made the group’s intentions clear in a fundraising letter published by The Guardian last August. Sharp boasted about fighting labor unions and decimating workers’ ability to bargain for living wages and compensation, adding, “To win the battle for freedom, we must take the fight to the unions, state by state.” Its state partner in Connecticut is the Yankee Institute. STUDENTS FOR EDUCATION REFORM (SFER) SFER is a college- student-centered front for corporate reformers that rallies around funding of charter schools, limiting teacher tenure, and increasing testing. It has expanded to more than 100 college campuses across the country, exploiting college idealism for corporate profit. Headquartered in Manhattan, its board comprises venture capitalists and hedge fund managers. SFER received $1.6 million from Education Reform Now, whose PAC, Democrats for Education Reform, shelled out $1 million to attack the Chicago Teachers Union. Among the groups that have partnered with SFER are Stand for Children, Teach for America, and 50CAN. YANKEE INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC POLICY The right-wing, Hartford-based Yankee Institute is known for promoting private school voucher plans, the dismantling of public employee pensions, and the surrendering of public institutions to market forces. The watchdog website ALEC Exposed identifies the Yankee Institute as a member of the State Policy Network, “part of a well- orchestrated and well-funded effort... to undermine working people in this country and further enrich and empower the very few folks at the top who have rewritten the rules for their benefit.” Internal documents obtained by The Guardian reveal SPN’s nationwide direct-marketing effort, through groups such as the Yankee Institute, to persuade union members to drop their membership and stop paying dues. These groups are hoping membership and income losses lead to the weakening and eventual eradication of unions. WHO’S BEHIND THE JANUS LAWSUIT? Within weeks—possibly days—the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in Janus v. AFSCME , a lawsuit aimed at shifting economic gains to corporate players by weakening unions and eroding workers’ freedom to organize and bargain collectively. The lawsuit is funded by a small group of foundations and individuals with ties to powerful corporate lobbies. At the expense of workers’ wages and the public good, wealthy donors are attempting to rewrite some of the nation’s most fundamental rules to serve their own interests. In the last five years, the Supreme Court has heard two similar cases on this issue, neither of which has resulted in the outcome sought by the plaintiffs. This time, however, the makeup of the court all but ensures the plaintiffs will prevail. Only with the financial backing of foundations that have strong ties to corporate lobbies can cases like this repeatedly make it as far as the Supreme Court. So, who’s behind the effort to erode workers’ rights and freedoms? National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) Financed by business and conservative interests seeking to undercut private-sector unions, NRTWLDF represented the plaintiffs in Harris v. Quinn , with the aim of passing state laws that would prohibit unions from requiring fair share fees, which cover the costs unions incur when they represent all workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Center for Individual Rights (CIR) Represented the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association , where plaintiffs argued that a public-sector union’s ability to collect fair share fees should be unconstitutional. Liberty Justice Center and NRTWLDF Represents the plaintiffs in Janus v. AFSCME , which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. The argument here is the same as in Friedrichs , namely, that public-sector unions should not be able to cover the cost of representing and negotiating on behalf of nonmembers who benefit from the union’s representation.