Tuesday, June 18, 2019

JerseyCAN Can't Hide From Opioids Crisis Billionaire Founder

Image result for jerseycan

NJ Spotlight needs to stop giving space to billionaire-backed corporate reform groups like JerseyCAN. JerseyCAN does not represent the students, parents and educators of this state and should not be given a platform when their only true constituency is their funders. You can see the full list, which includes the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, John Arnold, etc. here.

JerseyCAN - a 'branch campaign' of 50CAN - is particularly egregious in this regard. Three years ago 50CAN merged with Michelle Rhee's failed StudentsFirst. The Frankenstein-esque corporate reform group created by the merger continues to masquerade in a handful of states as "locally grown, locally led and locally sustained." 

Nothing could be further from the truth, and here in New Jersey those of us paying attention are not fooled. We see JerseyCAN for what it is - a mouthpiece for a Connecticut billionaire responsible for the opioids crisis who should have no say in what happens to students in our state. 

50CAN grew out of ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Nowa reform group co-founded by Jonathan Sackler in 2005. Sackler is one of the heirs to the Purdue Pharma fortune - built on the back of the opioids crisis. As reported by The Guardian, the Sackler heirs "face mass litigation and criminal investigations."

The New Haven Register has a fascinating piece on Jonathan Sackler and his connections to charter schools and 50CAN. The article states that 50CAN is trying to distance itself from Sackler and hasn't taken any money from him in 2019, but that's hardly the point. 50CAN would not exist were it not for billionaires like Jonathan Sackler and the fortunes they amass by exploiting others. 

Simply put, 50CAN doesn't deserve a seat at the table in conversations that relate to the future of public education in New Jersey. 

Sackler's 50CAN can swap out "50" for "Jersey" and hide behind the "Jersey Girls" they hire to front this national organization at the "local" level, but that doesn't change the fact that 50CAN doesn't deserve the amount of real estate they are afforded in NJ Spotlight's opinion pages.

New Jersey legislators would also be well advised to steer clear of these lackeys for the billionaire backed corporate reform movement and start listening to the actual students, parents and educators in this state.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Response to NorthJersey.com's Explosive "Cashing in on Charter Schools" Series

From NorthJersey.com's Cashing in on Charter Schools series

Please note: THIS is what journalism looks like.

For the better part of a DECADE I have watched as reporters copy and pasted New Jersey Charter Schools Association press releases about the need for more charters in our state, without EVER digging beneath the surface of claims. At the same time legislators on BOTH sides of the aisle turned a blind eye as charter schools proliferated, forcing districts to transfer scarce taxpayer dollars and resources to unaccountable charter operators.

Please also note: As Steve Sweeney travels the state selling the merits of district consolidation to solve the state's budget woes as part of his "Path to Progress," he is COMPLICIT in the rapid spread of charter schools across the state under the Christie administration - and I'm going to shout this so everyone in the cheap seats can hear me:


Each charter has its own administration - even charters that only serve a few hundred children. Every charter also has its own privately appointed board. Members of the public can not "vote out" bad boards. Members of the public have ZERO recourse if a charter school board goes rogue or doesn't function as faithful stewards of taxpayer dollars, or, worse yet, doesn't act in the best interest of CHILDREN - there is simply no accountability mechanism.

This lack of accountability to the public and lack of transparency INVITES the shenanigans highlighted in the Northjersey.com series.

Allow me to digress for a moment, and let's take a quick look at Hatikvah International Academy Charter School. Their website lists the names of board members and meeting dates, and posts a handful of meeting agendas and minutes (although ZERO meeting minutes for 2019, as of this writing). Let's look at the minutes from their December 18, 2018 meeting.

There were ZERO members of the public present at this meeting, only TWO of FIVE board members were physically present, and ONE board member participated "by phone." The telecommuting board member was Eli Schaap, the Senior Vice President of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. Billionaire Michael Steinhardt is the driving force behind the Hebrew Charter School movement, and one of his employees is a voting member of the board of one of the charter schools his organization funds.

Can you say conflict of interest?

There were ZERO reports from the board's THREE committees, which implies that these board members are failing to do their due diligence overseeing district operations and expenditures. Only SIX votes were taken, with just TWO votes held to authorize $245,369.25 in spending. ZERO details are offered in the minutes as to what the money was spent on, and no supporting documents are posted.

Eli Schaap abstained from one of the votes for an expenditure of $50,833.33, (perhaps because of a possible conflict of interest?) so only TWO board members approved that expense.

The meeting was called to order at 7:27 PM and was adjourned at 7:31 PM. It took FOUR minutes for THREE board members to spend $245,369.25, with no indication that the board members reviewed the expenditures before hand (no committee meetings) and no notice to the public as to what those taxpayer dollars were spent on.

It's not hard to see how HUGE problems arise with such limited oversight, now is it?

At the November New Jersey School Boards Association Delegate Assembly meeting where Mark Magyar, associate executive director for policy development in the Senate Democratic Majority Office, stood in for Senator Sweeney to answer questions about the "Path to Progress," I got to the mic first. I asked how charter schools were going to figure into the Senator's consolidation proposal since each charter school is its own district. With around 100 charter schools statewide (no one seems to know exactly how many there actually are....) this duplication of services is preposterous - especially as Senator Sweeney is calling for traditional district to consolidate and for the formation of two COUNTYWIDE districts.

The response?

There was none. They still needed to think about it.

Why? Because there is ONE set of rules for charter schools and another set of rules for traditional public schools, for everything from facilities to board oversight to school management.

The time has come for the Murphy Administration to not kowtow to pressure applied by high-paid lobbyists funded by out-of-state corporate reform groups, and instead listen to the voices of those of us working to ensure that true New Jersey public schools thrive and serve children well. The next phase of the NJDOE's charter school outreach has to confront some of the very real, very destructive problems in the state's charter school sector.