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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

B4K: $$$ For Pols, But Not For Schools!

Yesterday, I reported that B4K - StudentsFirst's "partner" in New Jersey and the reformiest anti-union lobbying shop in New Jersey - pulled out of a half-a-million dollar commitment to help fund a literacy program in Perth Amboy. Why?

Because anti-tenure superintendent Janine Caffrey - beneficiary of a public relations campaign paid for by B4K - was dismissed by the PA board of education (a tip for all you superintendent wannabes: don't accuse your board members of things you can't prove if you want to keep your job).

Doesn't matter that the literacy program had already started; doesn't matter the program is apparently very well-received; doesn't matter that the teachers had already spent their summer training in its methods. B4K didn't like that the duly-elected board dismissed Caffrey - so they withdrew their pledge of over $500K from this small city, full of immigrants struggling to achieve the American dream, and left the taxpayers and their deserving children hanging.

B4K is funded by two big shot Wall Street hedge fund managers: David Tepper and Alan Founier. Apparently, they sleep just fine when they pull money out of a district with many children who could have benefitted from a quality literacy program. Apparently, they have much more urgent places to spend their money.

New Jersey billionaires who seek to revamp the state’s education system are again pouring money into a Jersey City election, with a Far Hills hedge fund manager donating nearly $10,000 to the four school board candidates backed by Mayor Steve Fulop.
Alan Fournier, who founded education group Better Education for Kids with fellow billionaire David Tepper, has given $9,405 to Board of Education candidates Micheline Amy, Jessica Rosero Daye, Carol Lester and Ellen Simon, who call themselves the “Candidates for Excellence,” according to campaign finance documents made public today.
Fournier’s wife, Jennifer, also gave $9,405, which is nearly the maximum an individual can give to a committee of four candidates, the documents show. [emphasis mine]
So: nearly $20,000 from the Fourniers of Far Hills to overwhelm a local school board race - just like they did in Perth Amboy last year. Just the latest in a pattern:
This isn’t the first time B4K and its founders have shown an interest in a Jersey City election.
Fournier and his wife maxed out on contributions in last year’s school board race, donating $15,600 to the Fulop-backed candidates who subsequently won in a rout. Meanwhile, Tepper and Jeffrey Kaplan, who runs Tepper’s hedge fund, each gave $7,800 to those candidates last year.
Meanwhile, B4K’s political arm spent more than $250,000 helping to elect Fulop mayor on May 14. Local education advocate Shelley Skinner, once Fulop’s campaign manager, is formerly deputy director of B4k, and now runs the group’s charitable arm.
All told, this year's Fulop-backed candidates, who seek three three-year terms and a sole one-year seat on the nine-member school board next Tuesday, has raised $35,360 in this year’s campaign, and is sitting on a whopping $26,659 war chest as of Oct. 26.
That sum dwarfs the total raised by the other eight candidates, many of whom haven’t reported getting cash. The slate of four candidates supported by the local teachers union, dubbed Children First, have only reported raising $2,160, almost half of which is from the campaign account of Richardson’s cousin, former Councilwoman Viola Richardson.
So Alan Fournier and his education reform organization campaign money funnel known as B4K have dumped around $300K into the Jersey City political machine - but he couldn't get his group to pony up the money they had committed to help kids in Perth Amboy read.

And notice that Shelley Skinner, tied to Fulop's political machine, is the one who was in charge of the donation to the literacy program in Perth Amboy. Of course, Skinner has been a political animal for years...

Regular readers know that the Fulop machine in JC is tightly allied with B4K, the NJ education-industrial complex, Chris Christie's education commissioner, Chris Cerf, and his reformy agenda. No one should be surprised Fulop is turning to his deep-pocketed allies for more lucre to fund his complete takeover of the JCBOE.

But putting money into the Jersey City political machine while, at the very same moment, pulling it out of worthy programs to help kids read is as cynical as it gets.
In a statement attributed to all four Candidates for Excellence, the BOE hopefuls note that donors contribute to campaigns "because they share beliefs with that candidate."
“We share Mr. Fournier's belief that every child deserves a high-quality education,” the statement reads. “We are advocates for the children of Jersey City. Our wish for our own children and all children to get a great public school education is not for sale."
Oh, puh-lease! This is the same crock o' crap B4K's director, Derrell Bradford, pulls out when he wants to console himself that he's not just a political hack:
"The one really important difference is that the people we represent are the kids and the families," said Derrell Bradford, executive director of the policy arm of the group [B4K]. "I know everybody says it's all about that. We have no financial interest in public education, at all. Every other group does. I don't say that in a way that's meant to disparage anyone. We can be about pure activism because we don't have anything to gain from the success of the agenda other than that kids get better educational opportunities." 
You know, there's actually a cure for the septic shock induced by this sewage: a strong teachers union, working in alliance with concerned, knowledgeable parents. Fortunately, Jersey City has a great local leader in Ronnie Greco. And the teachers union in Perth Amboy have been the adults in the room during this whole sordid mess: they have my admiration and support.

Parents know their children's teachers are the ones who really care about their students. They know we are not the enemy. They know we put the kids first: unlike hot shot foundations who talk a big game, but put their money instead into politics instead of education.

Take as much as you need, Fulop machine!

Sorry, children of Perth Amboy!

ADDING: It's always good, when looking at B4K, to remember what their explicitly stated values are

As part of research for my master’s degree, I interviewed [XX], whom I had gotten to “know” over Facebook. XX leads a local branch of StudentsFirst, funded by David Tepper and Allen Fournier, the billionaire hedge fund boys. By his own admission, XX fell into ed reform when he was unemployed. 

He’s not in this because of any deep abiding conviction to make schools better (though he may have developed an interest). He’s in this because he needed a job, is a private-school educated African American who speaks well and now controls a SuperPAC. It’s a chess game for him, and is quite addictive. He hangs out with Rhee and has addressed ALEC on several occasions.

He said two interesting things to me in our meeting. “I’m here because you’re not.” Translation – if the education establishment had taken on the issues, or at least been less complacent about messaging (the REAL problem in my opinion) there’d be no market for the “reforms.”  The second thing he said was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Reform 1.0 was school choice. Reform 2.0 was tenure (for NJ). Reform 3.0 is we have a SuperPAC – we can elect candidates.

As I said, he’s developed an interest in education but he’s hanging with the wrong guys, and i told him as much. His real interest is in the chess game of politics, which is fascinating, especially when you have the resources to play for real.
I think we all know who [XX] is. He is now doing exactly what he said he would - which is why machine politics is now front and center, and literacy is at the back of the bus.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

B4K Reneges On Commitment To Children's Literacy

This is an ugly story, but it's typical of the way well-heeled "reformers" run their little anti-union education lobbying shops these days:

Regular readers here have followed the story of Janine Caffrey, former superintendent of Perth Amboy's (NJ) schools and the Queen of Tenure. Caffrey, in her very first year running a district, burst on to the NJ scene with some wild tales of malfeasance in Perth Amboy, which the Star-Ledger's op-ed editor, Tom Moran, happily reprinted to help make his case against tenure. Unfortunately, members of her own board disputed the details of these stories, and just generally didn't like the way she was running things and drawing attention to herself. So they voted her out; that didn't sit well with reformy Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who overturned the board's decision and reinstated her.

But not before Perth Amboy, and all of New Jersey, saw this:

This is one of the ads taken out in a public relations campaign to save Caffrey's job - a campaign paid for by the folks at B4K (Better Education For Kids), New Jersey's "partner" with Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst and the reformiest lobbying shop in the state. It's clear that B4K had Caffrey's back because she was willing to take high-profile stands against tenure and say unkind things about teachers unions.

But yours truly seemed to be the only observer at the time who thought this was a problem: anything Perth Amboy was involved in that had a connection to B4K, StudentsFirst, or Commissioner Cerf would now be tainted by the appearance of a quid pro quo. In fact, one of Cerf's former underlings got a nice, fat contract with Perth Amboy - and the technology he was using had connections to a firm owned by Rupert Murdoch, who just happened to be a big supporter of StudentsFirst.

But this wasn't the only way B4K is connected to Perth Amboy: as I reported back in April, B4K's non-profit arm was dropping a big chunk of dough into the district for a literacy program:
The other tidbit from the agenda was a big gift from the fine, reformy folks at B4K:

10). Approval to accept a grant from the Better Education Institute in the amount of $580,500.00 for the purpose of improving reading achievement of elementary school students. 
_____________ _____________ Motion Seconded 
11). Approval to enter into an agreement with Rutgers University for the Project Read initiative at a cost not to exceed $558,000.00, funded through the Better Education Institute grant. 
_____________ _____________ Motion Seconded
A nearly $600K in a gift to Perth Amboy for a reading program; pretty impressive. I've been trying to find out more, but if Rutgers has publicized this, I haven't found it.
So that was actually good news, right? B4K might be gunning for teachers unions and teacher workplace protections, but at least they care enough about kids to actually put some money into literacy programs. I mean, it's not like this was some cynical attempt by B4K to back up Caffrey and make their contribution contingent on her continued employment...

(You know where this is going, don't you?)

Alas: even after one of B4K's hedge fund sugar daddies, Alan Fournier, got his fellow plutocrats to drop a ton of money into the Perth Amboy school race, the board decided that they'd had enough of Caffrey and told her they wouldn't renew her contract. And guess what B4K did with their contribution?
There was controversy over the funding for “Project Read.” Project Read is a program in conjunction with Rutgers University. The item stated that in the event that private foundation money becomes unavailable, the total amount paid to Rutgers (combined foundation and district funds) will not exceed the amount stated in the proposal. This item was tabled from the 8/29/13 Board Meeting.
Board Member Milady Tejeda stated that the program ran for 2 months. Board Member Obi Gonzalez along with Board Member Dianne Roman recommended that the Board Attorney clear up the reason why funding was taken away for this project. “I want it to be a clear contract and done correctly,” stated Gonzalez.
Board Secretary/Acting Superintendent Jess suggested that the Board untable the contract.
Board President Mark Carvajal proposed to propel the funding thru October. “We must be careful not to set a precedence.”
The item was untabled. Board Member Obi Gonzalez stated, “We are going to amend the Project Read to the end of November.
Board Member Dianne Roman stated, “I’ve received letters from teachers advocating Project Read. We’ve made an investment. I’ve gotten many e-mails supporting it.” [emphasis mine]
So it sounds like many in Perth Amboy think this project is actually a good investment - so much so that they are willing to look at paying for it for themselves. But it looks like even some of the board members aren't sure why the money for Project Read - money that was supposed to come from B4K - was taken away. Why is B4K pulling out of its commitment to help Perth Amboy's deserving children learn to read?

Well, you can actually go back and watch that 8/29/13 board meeting yourself. And if you go to about 1:38:45 on the tape, you can hear Dr. Caffrey, in her own words, explain why has B4K decided to renege on their promises to help Perth Amboy's kids:
OBDULIA GONZALEZ (Board Member): Yeah, I have a question. When we approved Project Read, it was totally funded through a grant by Rutgers, yes? 
CAFFREY: Correct.[sic] No, it was a grant from the private foundation. 
GONZALEZ: OK. At this point, have they withdrawn their monies? 
CAFFREY: They are saying they will likely withdraw their monies. They are concerned about the stability in the leadership in the district. They are aware that the district is engaging in a search for a new superintendent, and they are aware that the board tabled two initiatives in the third and final years back in June, and that has given them pause. And so they are concerned about entering a new project without the stability in the leadership and the commitment of the board to see initiatives through to their completion. Ms. Roman, if you want to affirm any of that, I know you spoke with them. 
DIANNE ROMAN (Board Member): Yes, thank you Dr. Caffrey. I did reach out to the contact person, over at the foundation, and one of the things that - this is close to a $500,000 grant. They've paid about $46,000 for work that was done with our teaching staff over the summer. So that's just about $46,000. The remainder - this was through an effort that was put together by the superintendent. She put together a plan in order to effectly address some reading deficiencies within the district. 
They're concerned that if the board chooses to not renew the contract... they don't want to go ahead and give us additional funding if we are not going to have the person who initiated the program. Now I've spoken to them, I did assure here - and I only spoke on behalf of myself - that this board is committed to making sure that... we're committed to the learning opportunities for our students, and providing our teaching staff support so that they can be better in the classroom that they serve our scholars. 
But they did have some concerns and she did share that at this time they cannot commit any more of those dollars that were set for the district.
And there you go: B4K is withdrawing their money from a literacy project in Perth Amboy that has already started because they don't like the fact that the anti-tenure superintendent they supported in a public relations campaign has been dismissed.

This really is about as cynical as it gets. The kids still need the program; the program hasn't changed; the training for the teachers already took place this past summer. But B4K doesn't like what the elected school board has done to Janine Caffrey, so they're breaking their commitment to the students and staff of Perth Amboy. Because, you know, they're so much more noble than teachers...

I wish I could say this is unprecedented, but we all know by now the story of Mark Zuckerberg's grant to Newark and how it was contingent on his preferred leaders staying in their jobs. Doesn't matter what the people who actually live in these cities think: as long as you dump enough "charity" into a district, you get to have a say - sorry, the say - in who will run it. And if you don't like how it's going, you get to take your ball and go home in a huff.

Hey, I've got a crazy idea: instead of relying on grants from plutocrats to fund worthy education programs, how about we just tax these people at pre-Reagan rates in the first place? Without all the capital gains tax breaks and goodies the tax code gives these wealthy, reformy folks? Then we'd have enough money to fund education without all the strings attached.

I know - crazy talk...

David Tepper - the other money man behind B4K - compares his salary to a NJ teacher's.

ADDING: Wouldn't it be nice if a little public shaming got B4K to reverse themselves and do the right thing? Tell you what, guys: I will take down this post and congratulate you instead - no snark, no nothing, just a hearty "well done" - if you do the right thing for Perth Amboy's kids and meet your commitments.

What do you say? 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

UPDATED: The Wheels Come Off In Montclair While a Broadie Superintendent Is Driving

UPDATE 1: Stu in the comments actually makes a fair point:
You hurt your cause by using nicknames for the players in your character assassinations. It also doesn't help when you take great liberties, such as when you attribute the assessment leak directly to Penny MacCormack inadvertently slapping tests up on the Internet. That you are an educator in New Jersey who chooses to write to the level of sensationalism of which is similarly exhibited by right wing rags and media, comes of little surprise. There is no proof that the Broad Academy techniques work. As well, there is no proof that Penny is responsible for the security breach of her first quarterly assessments. Yet, you pick and choose whichever fallacy best suits you. My advice to you is to stick to composing music over tabloid propaganda. It does not become you.
OK, it's fair to say that the "slapping tests up" comment assumes that Montclair's servers weren't hacked. MacCormack says they were, and I am fine with taking her at her word. So I am deleting that phrase and substituting another.

But I'll also say this: to my mind, it is in many ways worse that a hack occurred than if someone had made a mistake and put the tests up accidentally for a few hours. You don't administer district-wide tests and store them on servers without ensuring that you have a security protocol in place adequate to keep people out of the files. Clearly, that didn't happen - and I think we can all assume that whoever got the files isn't exactly at the top of the NSA's most wanted computer criminals list.

Stu, you say: "there is no proof that Penny is responsible for the security breach." Sorry, but the buck stops with her. Again, don't put up district-wide assessments on your servers if you can't keep them from getting hacked.
As to the "P-Mac" comment: it's commonly known that MacCormack is called that by at least some staff, parents, and students in the district. And it's hardly a derogatory title. You had a fair point about the "slap" stuff, Stu, but this is a bit of a stretch; especially since you yourself are referring to her by her first name.

I'm a citizen journalist, not a trained pro. I make mistakes: I've made them before, and I'll make them again. You can decide for yourself just how outrageous they are and how indignant you want to get, but I think I've been consistent in correcting myself. Caveat lector.

UPDATE 2: Oh, my. Someone's been reading Alan Moore...


This is really not good:
MONTCLAIR - Montclair Cares About Schools today called on the Board of Education and Superintendent Penny MacCormack to cancel the quarterly assessments which are scheduled to begin this week and were found last week to have been posted on the Internet.

"The fact that these assessments were somehow posted online where any students or parents could download and distribute them irrevocably compromises the integrity of the tests,” said Ira Shor of Montclair Cares About Schools (MCAS). "How could it possibly be fair to assess students on an exam that some of their classmates may have seen in advance? How could it be fair to evaluate teachers on students’ performance on exams so compromised?"

Parents and community members with Montclair Cares About Schools said the unexplained Internet posting is just the latest sign of disarray in the unwise rush by the board and superintendent to hurriedly impose these new tests on the district despite appeals by a thousand parents and students for a delay.

"Every week, the public learns of more problems with this confused new regime of districtwide testing," said Latifah Jannah of MCAS. "Dozens of teachers have now gone before the board to report a lack of textbooks and other materials that align with curriculum standards. It seems that our district leaders have been so focused on the new tests thay have neglected the basics of ensuring our schools have the books and materials they need.” [emphasis mine]
You'll remember that MacCormack was brought to New Jersey by Education Commissioner Cerf, who overpaid her at the beginning of her term at the NJDOE because, and I quote:
“This level of talent and expertise comes with a price tag.”
Yeah, it takes a special kind of "talent and expertise" to inadvertently slap tests up on the Internet have security breaches for tests take place on your watch (see above about this edit). MacCormack, of course, is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy Book Club; maybe she missed the class on digital security. Of course, she didn't do any evaluations of her principals last year, either...

Maybe Broad "training" isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe Montclair's outstanding staff, committed parents, and deserving children need a superintendent who is fully credentialed and experienced in running a New Jersey school district. 

So what does P-Mac have to say about this?
Dear Montclair Schools Community:

I am saddened to share some distressing but important news with you.

In 2010 New Jersey was one of 44 states to adopt the Common Core State Standards. To ensure they are effectively incorporated into each local district, New Jersey will begin testing to the Common Core in 2015.
Yeah, we're all sad about that... oh, sorry, she wasn't finished: 
Our Montclair administrative and instructional staff prepared assessments to be used during the current academic year to help both students and teachers prepare for the 2015 rollout and to highlight strengths and weaknesses in our current curriculum and pedagogical strategies. The first of these assessments are to be given next week.

Late Friday I learned that the security of our information system had been breached and 14 of the over 60 initial assessments were posted on a public website. These assessments were available only for a short time. Once I became aware of this breach, action was taken to preclude anyone without authorization from accessing any additional assessments.
However, the breach may have allowed some to gain advance knowledge of the specifics of the assessments and thus skew the results. The sole purpose of these assessments is to inform our teaching so we may adjust our instruction and curriculum to ensure student learning. Assessments have value only if they provide a true and accurate picture of student learning and knowledge. Artificially high scores could lead to false conclusions about student knowledge and thus thwart our efforts to ensure that every student is learning and performing to their maximum potential. [emphasis mine]
You know, I guess I'm one of these burned-out, old-fashioned, status-quo types. Maybe my ridiculously huge salary and "free" health care and outrageous pension and iron-clad tenure keeps me from seeing the new, reformy paradigm. But the last time I checked, the point of student assessments was to assess students.

But it's really the next bolded statement that gives away the game. Just like over in reformy John King's New York, MacCormack is setting up an expectation that scores in Montclair are going to drop like a stone. Why? To justify a radical change in schooling that has no evidence to back it up, nor any support from the community.

What I wouldn't give to be able to see one of these "assessments." Something tells me that if the public in Montclair ever gets a look at the testing regime their kids are being put through, the parents will take up pitchforks and torches.

Montclair: New Jersey's New Home for Reforminess!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

TFA, Arthur Rock, and The Reformy Campaign Finance Machine

Let's get back to the Reformy Campaign Finance Machine, with an updated scorecard on whose money (so far as I know) is going where:

Greg Penner
Lydia Callaghan
Arthur Rock
Dave Goldberg
Sheryl Sandberg
Alan Fournier
Jennifer Fournier
Kent Thiry
Perth Amboy, NJ
(local BOE)
Better Schools Now!
(state house)
Tobias Read
(state house/
Kerr, Newell, Pettersen, Rodosevich, Hamner, Lee, Young, Hodge
New York
(state senate)
Jeffrey Klein

(state BOE)
Alexis Gonzales-Black
(state BOE)
Allison Serafin
(local BOE)
Caitlin Hannon
(state senate)
Mary Ann Sullivan and Tim DeLaney
New Orleans
(local BOE)
Sarah Usdin
(state house)
Ryan Jolley

(state senate)
Joe Coto

(local BOE)
Collins, Esteves, Dean English, Westmoreland


Contribution Totals

Total Reformy Machine Contributions: $278,530.

I've updated these figures with information about the upcoming Atlanta school board election (which Valerie Strauss over at the Washington Post's Answer Sheet picked up - thanks for that!), but there's no doubt in my mind I'll be adding even more rows to this table soon enough.

I've also decided to highlight a name: Arthur Rock. Thanks to the terrific Stephanie Simon over at Politico.com, we now have reason to believe Rock is the guiding force behind this flow of money to reformy candidates - and that he's using Teach For America as his partner:  

Rock, who sits on TFA’s board, has become a leading financier of education reform. He has made sizable donations to legislative and school board candidates across the country who support expanding charter schools and, in some cases, vouchers. Until recently, Rock also sat on the board of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which advocates public subsidies to send low-income children to private and parochial schools.

Rock declined to answer questions about whether the TFA fellows share his policy goals. He funds the program, he said, “to give bright and energized young people the chance to experience government first-hand and give back to the country.”

The fellows declined requests for interviews, citing office policies against staff talking to the press. [emphasis mine]
Love that transparency!

TFA’s political arm, Leadership for Educational Equality, has also been ramping up its activity. The group recruits and trains TFA alumni to run for elected office – and helps them out financially with donations from the LEE treasury, which is stocked by both TFA and by private donors.

LEE contributed nearly $20,000 last fall to help elect two TFA alumni to the board of education in Nevada, a state where TFA has been seeking to expand its presence, despite legislative resistance. This fall, LEE has advised four TFA alumni running for school board in Atlanta.
Understand that not every candidate on my table above has a TFA connection - but even the ones who don't (like the Perth Amboy candidates) share TFA's values: charter expansion, the de-professionalization of teaching, increasing privatization, and expansion of a test-based "accountability" regime.

Rock himself is quite the character. An 86-year-old billionaire, he claims to have pulled out of most of his investments to concentrate full-time on "philanthropy." He butted heads with Steve Jobs while at Apple, and is allegedly the inspiration for Big Brother in the famous "1984" Super Bowl ad. He affects a public persona as a guru of business ethics, placing a premium on transparency:
“Innovation and new ventures fuel the global economy but the spark comes from investment. Investment is about trust. It’s about knowing that the people investors entrust with their money are running ethical, transparent, and effective businesses.”
- Arthur Rock, founder with Toni Rembe, of the Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance [emphasis mine]
Yes, transparency is apparently very important for investors like Rock. But for voters in elections? Meh...   

What about the other 27,000-some-odd people? That’s where Leadership for Educational Equity, or LEE, comes in. LEE was founded in 2007 as a 501(c)4 spin-off of Teach for America to provide resources, training, and networking for alumni who are interested in elected office or other extracurricular leadership positions. Its goals are ambitious: by 2015, as its standard job posting reads, it hopes to have 250 of its members in elected office, 300 in policy or advocacy leadership roles, and 1,000 “in ‘active’ pipelines for public leadership.” If all goes as planned, LEE could shift control over American education reform to a specific group of spritely college grads-turned-politicians with a very specific politics.
LEE functions in part as a network for TFA alumni. In the restricted section of its website, to which I gained access through an existing member, you can find job postings ranging from government relations at the National Education Association to Web Editor for the Heritage Foundation. Members are also encouraged to connect with each other: “[P]erhaps you want to bring some of your fellow LEE members to an education rally in Houston. You could cast a wide net, and search for all LEE members within 100 miles of zip code 77001. Your search returns about 240 LEE members—that’s quite a rally.”
The organization also provides resources for the electorally curious. Besides running two six-month fellowships pairing members with public officials, it offers a variety of webinars and tool-kits on organizing, advocacy, and elections. In a PowerPoint entitled “What School Boards Can Do,” you meet two reformers, one of whom is pushing for “data-driven, outcomes-focused” superintendents, the other “driving debate on pay-for-performance.” In another presentation, charter operator Future is Now advises on getting elected to union office. “New unionism,” in its rendering, means “enabling unions to play a critical role in the development and implementation of new efforts aimed at meeting students’ needs/achievement.” Inspired by Obama’s call to “out-educate” and “out-innovate” the world, Future is Now is in the dual business of “reforming” unions and pushing for new charter schools—in other words, something a little afield from the Chicago Teachers Union, whose reigning Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators has rallied alongside community groups to stop school closings and fight for more resources in district schools.  
Though LEE’s 990 filings are missing from the IRS’ online database and chronically allergic to press attention, executive director Michael Buman says that its budget this year is $3.5 million. While Buman maintains that elections constitute the “minority” of LEE’s work, some portion of that sum has gone toward electing TFA alums to office.

“We provide various kinds of in-kind support,” he says. “If we host a training and the person is a candidate, that’s an in-kind contribution. Sometimes they want us to take a look at a piece of mail that they’re sending out.” On the other hand, “Sometimes the candidate looks at our services and says no thanks.” Furthermore, he says, LEE does not operate independent expenditures campaigns, which support candidates or candidate committees without officially cooperating or consulting with them. [emphasis mine]
Oh, no, they never get involved with the campaigns of TFAers for political office. No, the only thing they do is get Arthur Rock, a member of LEE's board, to pony up money for far-flung, obscure races around the country, and apparently ask his well-heeled friends to do the same.

I know my "tone" is very upsetting to people these days, so maybe I have lost all perspective on this. But you tell me: is it good for democracy and public education to stack boards of education and state legislatures with candidates operating under the aegis of a closed network of TFA alumni? Is it good for democracy to have these local and state-level races inundated by ridiculous amounts of cash coming in from wealthy individuals who have no connection to the state districts they are trying to turn? Is it good for democracy to have local school board elections in small cities where spending ratios between slates are 9-to-1?

Arthur Rock wants to spend his remaining years engaging in "philanthropy" - good for him. But he needs to get something straight: overwhelming down-ticket races with large amounts of cash is, in no way, "philanthropy." It is a distortion of democracy; it leads directly to the disempowerment of local citizens who may have views opposite his own on education - and, for that matter, many other issues.

I think it may be time for the "real" reform movement to start taking up campaign financing reform as one of its primary causes. Yes, people power can overcome the advantages of wealth in many cases - I hope it happens with Sue Peters out in Seattle - but the pollution of our government with these vast sums is still a cause for great concern.

And it's definitely time to start taking a look at the non-profit status of TFA. Political organizations ought not to be getting preferential tax status, let alone government grants.

TFA: America's fastest growing political organization.