I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

More Reformy Gift Card Nonsense

What is it with StudentsFirst types and gift cards?
An effort by a Livingston billionaire to hand out free $100 gift cards to Jersey City residents affected by Hurricane Sandy turned into a fiasco last week after some residents who spent hours in line say they were shut out.
The effort led to long lines last Monday night at some community centers, including the Mary McLeod Bethune Center, as people sought to register for the cards, and long lines again two days later when residents arrived to pick them up, according to residents, community leaders and organizers of the charity effort.
Two city councilwomen blasted the gift card giveaway at Wednesday’s council meeting, saying it was poorly run and led to seniors and handicapped people waiting in the cold for hours to no avail. One woman had to be sent to the hospital, they said.
“It really teed me off,” said Councilwoman at large Viola Richardson. “It really tore up the community.”
Better Education Institute, the nonprofit arm of education reform group Better Education for Kids, both funded by billionaire David Tepper, organized the giveaway, which seeks to hand out $100 Target gift cards to 13,000 people statewide, including nearly 2,500 here in Jersey City. [emphasis mine]
Let's take a break to explain: Better Education for Kids, otherwise known as B4K, is the New Jersey "partner" of StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee's Republican money funnel reformy lobbying outfit. B4K was originally started by Tepper and his partner, Alan Fournier, to funnel money to state legislator candidates, defeat actual public school teachers running for office, and buy off local school board races promote reformy stuff in the Garden State.

It's hard to know where B4K stops and StudentsFirst starts. Which makes the tactics involved for the giveaway really... interesting:
A woman who asked not to be identified said she waited for hours on line Monday night to register at the Morris Canal Community Development Corp. only to find out on Wednesday that she wasn’t registered to pick up a card.
So, people in need had to "register" to get a card? Why, I wonder? Could it be that everyone who took a card became a "member" of StudentsFirst? Like maybe the families who took free backpacks earlier this year might have become "members" of StudentsFirst just for accepting a gift?

We've never heard from Michelle Rhee about what exactly it takes to become a "member" of SF. Yet she claims she has over a million members. Perhaps a reporter might care to ask her about this?

It's also worth noting that SF has had some interesting ideas about how to use gift cards to grow astroturf in the past:
Diane Ravitch posted a few days ago about an email that went out to some Floridians from StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee's reformyist lobbying group. The email offered people a chance to win a restaurant gift card if they posted reformy comments at various websites about education news stories. As Parents Across America describes it:

Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is well known for its deceptive tactics of posting seemingly harmless petitions calling to an end to student bullying, for example, or opposing firing good teachers, and then claiming all the people who unknowing sign them as one of their members. Even well-informed PAA members, completely opposed to the goals of this astroturf group, have been caught in her trap.
When Ravitch and Bob Sikes (he's kind of like a Florida version of me) published the email, the author, Catherine Durkin Robinson, did what reformyists do best: she threw a hissy fit for anyone daring to point out what she was really up to.
Click through to read StudentsFirst's Robinson invoke South African apartheid in her defense. No, seriously.

Of course, we can always count on the editorial page of the Star-Ledger to stand up for the best interests of billionaires everywhere:
Dave Tepper, the hedge fund billionaire who has thrown himself into the fight for education reform in New Jersey, has a new sideline: He’s trying to help low-income families cope with the fallout from Sandy. He’s given big money to food banks for years, and the latest twist is that his organization is handing out gift certificates to Target worth $100 each. Tepper and some of his Wall Street buddies expect to fork over about $2 million worth by the end of next month. 
The proper response to this would be to say, “Thanks, Dave.”
Yes, it's always "proper" to thank wealthy people for deigning to give a small amount of their vast fortunes to charity in ways they alone get to determine. How dare government officials, which the proles democratically elected, have a problem with their betters deciding how best to redistribute their lucre to the less-worthy! You working poor have got to start learning to live with what the "makers" decide you should be allowed to have!

And let them decide how your schools should be run. It's for your own good, after all!

David Tepper consults, once agan, with the Star-Ledger Editorial Board...

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