Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Unedited Review Of Diane Ravitch's Reign Of Error

The edited version of my review can be found at WHYY's NewsWorks New Jersey. Quotes from Diane Ravitch and Helen Gym were cut from my original for length.

Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error May Awaken the Sleeping Giant in the Education Reform Debate -- Public School Parents

It wasn’t long ago that I had never heard of Diane Ravitch.

I had kids in New Jersey public schools, a teacher husband, and even worked a brief stint in the for-profit education world as the Director of two different Sylvan Learning Centers in New York City, but my depth of knowledge about public education was embarrassingly shallow. 

All that changed in 2010 when an application for a charter school was submitted in my small New Jersey town.  At first I was dimly aware of what a charter school would mean to the schools my daughters would attend.  But the more I learned, the more concerned I became.

Then in April of 2011 I happened to catch WHYY’s Terry Gross interview Dr. Ravitch on Fresh Air.

And suddenly everything made sense.

She explained that charter schools had veered significantly from their original intent. She warned that charters had morphed into “an enormous entrepreneurial activity” and that charters no longer saw “themselves as collaborators with public schools but business competitors.”

This was exactly what was happening in my town. A charter was moving in and it seemed there was nothing we could do to stop it.

I reached out to Dr. Ravitch via social media for help and advice. With her encouragement, I rallied my entire community, and neighboring communities as well, and before I knew it we had defeated the charter.

It was an incredible journey from everyday parent to public education advocate. I am quite certain that were it not for Dr. Ravitch, and her belief that ordinary parents have the power to turn the tide on the corporate reform movement, my daughters’ schools would now be financially devastated by a charter my town didn’t need or want.

I asked Dr. Ravitch for her thoughts on the role of parents in districts like Philadelphia, districts facing the destructive effects of years of failed reforms.

“Parents are the sleeping giant in the current debate about the future of public education. So-called reformers discredit and silence the voices of teachers, unfairly claiming that they are more interested in their pension than their pupils. But no one dare question the desire of parents to demand good schools, properly funded by the state, for their children. Philadelphia's biggest problem is the deliberate neglect by the state, which has ignored its constitutional obligation to fully fund a good education for all children.”

There is no better example of the decimation wrought by hapless reform than the current crisis in Philadelphia. And there is no better example of a parent advocate fighting for the educational rights of all children, not just her own, than Philadelphia’s Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education.  I wanted to know her opinion on how the corporate reform agenda has impacted Philadelphia’s public schools, and how Dr. Ravitch has influenced her own advocacy work.

“Over the last decade of state control, we've seen reckless reform efforts churn their way through the Philadelphia public schools, leaving chaos and broken promises in their wake. Diane Ravitch has been the voice of many of us who live with and pick up the pieces of failed reform, a voice that rings with the outrage and fierce passion to uphold a collective responsibility for our nation's schools and children and for those who educate them. In the midst of a relentless assault on public education, Dr. Ravitch brings all her weight, influence, and experience to push back against the mindless acceptance of too much of the corporate reform agenda.”

In Reign of Error, The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to Our Public Schools, Dr. Ravitch makes it clear that the current reform agenda, consisting of high-stakes standardized testing, charters, vouchers, parent trigger legislation and school closures, does little more than privatize our public schools and the money that flows through them. The reform agenda does nothing to address the actual problem plaguing large, urban districts like Philadelphia.

It does nothing to address poverty.

Dr. Ravitch makes it quite clear that school reform alone will not lift children out of the cycle of poverty that plagues their communities. “The reformers’ belief that fixing schools will fix poverty has no basis in reality, experience, or evidence,” Ravitch writes in Reign of Error. “It delays the steps necessary to heal our society and help children.”

She presents real solutions, not only to improve our public schools, but also to improve the lives of the children who walk their halls. She focuses on the whole child, calling for prenatal care for women to reduce pre-term births, high-quality early childhood education, a rich curriculum for all children, smaller class sizes, and the elimination of high-stakes standardized testing.

These are all common sense reforms that resonate for parents.  This is the kind of societal shift that parents truly want to see for their children, and their children’s children.

Reformers have sold parents a narrative of public school failure that has allowed them to seize control of the conversation regarding how to “fix” our children’s “broken” schools. But Dr. Ravitch demonstrates quite clearly in Reign of Error that our schools are actually stronger than they've ever been, with higher achievement and graduation rates for children across all demographic groups.

“Public education is not broken” she says, “It is not failing or declining. The diagnosis is wrong, and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong.”

The current state of the Philadelphia school system should serve as a testament to the fact that the last decade of corporate reform has left the majority of Philadelphia’s public school children without the resources they need to succeed. Without a doubt, it is time for a more balanced approach. 

“The public is beginning to understand, to see the pattern on the rug, and to realize that they are being fooled into giving up what belongs to them.”

Parents, don’t be fooled by the rhetoric and empty promises of the reform movement. We intrinsically know that strong, healthy children thrive in a safe, clean neighborhood school with small classes and a rich curriculum. This is what all children deserve, and we as parents should accept nothing less for our own children, and want nothing less for each and every child.

Dr. Ravitch’s appearance this evening at the Philadelphia Free Library coincides with the release of Reign of Error. I encourage parents to go hear her, to grab a copy of her book and to read it from cover to cover. If you are concerned with the current state of the Philadelphia public schools, and want to do something to effect positive change, then really listen to what she has to say. 

I can almost guarantee that if you do, she will awaken the “sleeping giant” within.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pitbull Is "Bringing Sexy Back" To Education, And Not Just In The 305

No, I didn't make up that title.  He really said that.
"Sometimes what happens is that education is no longer sexy,” Pitbull said. “It’s no longer cool. I want to tell them or help put together either curriculum or schools where it does entertain them or engage them. One way or another, I want to just make it fun again to learn.
The quality of this video is poor, but it gives the clear sense that the kids attending this school are star struck, and Pitbull is serving as little more than a lure to pull them in and get them amped up. 

But what will they actually be taught when they get there?

Jersey Jazzman and I wrote quite a bit about Pitbull's foray into the charter school movement back in June when he was a Keynote speaker at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers 2013 Conference, alongside Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the ever dastardly Joel Klein.

JJ made it clear that Pitbull's lyrics are less sexY and more sexIST.

We exposed the money and politics behind his charter school, and the fact that Pitbull will sell just about ANYTHING if it will make him a buck.

The Miami Herald called Academica, the management company behind SLAM, "Florida's richest charter school management firm."
Academica’s achievements have been profitable. The South Miami company receives more than $9 million a year in management fees just from its South Florida charter schools — fees that ultimately come from public tax dollars.
But the Zuluetas’ greatest financial success is largely unseen: Through more than two dozen other companies, the Zuluetas control more than $115 million in South Florida real estate — all exempt from property taxes as public schools — and act as landlords for many of Academica’s signature schools, records show.
These companies collected about $19 million in lease payments last year from charter schools — with nine schools paying rents exceeding 20 percent of their revenue, records show. (emphasis mine)

Read more here:
Damn, that's a lot of money. 

So Pitbull and the Zulueta's have every reason to want to brand and franchise a chain of charters that they can spread nationwide. And that seems to be exactly what they intend to do with SLAM.

During the coming years 27 schools across the country are expected to open following this similar model, ao all eyes will be on SLAM during their first year.
Who are they kidding? No one will be waiting to find out how this school performs. SLAM is marketable and will sell, and they have found the ultimate Ambassador to sell their product to parents and star struck students in cities around the country.

Mark my words, before SLAM Miami establishes any kind of significant track record SLAMs will start popping up all over the country.

And the Zuluetas will just add to their fortune.

Pitbull is "bringing back sexy"

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Which Came First, The Charter Or The Philanthropy? Let's Ask Michael Steinhardt!

Another day, another ridiculous anonymous comment on my blog.  Here's the latest.
So is Mother Crusader willing to implement a law, declaring that non-charter public schools MAY NOT accept moneys that didn't come from their taxpayer allocation? Or is she merely jealous and envious because THOSE public schools DO NOT ATTRACT putting-your-money-where-your-mouth-is admiration.
This comment was left on my last post about Hatikvah International Academy Charter School, where I responded to an anonymous commenter who didn't seem to think Hatikvah was a "government" school.

I'd like to clarify something for my new anonymous friend.

Hatikvah didn't ATTRACT private money, it was CREATED by private money. Hatikvah is funded by the Hebrew Charter School Center (HCSC), and the HCSC is the brainchild of Michael Steinhardt. 

Steinhardt doesn't ADMIRE Hatikvah, he CREATED HATIKVAH! 

Allow me to explain. Steinhardt dumps the bulk of his money into the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.
Our philanthropy seeks to revitalize Jewish identity through educational and cultural initiatives that reach out to all Jews, with an emphasis on those who are on the margins of Jewish life, as well as to advocate for and support Hebrew and Jewish literacy among the general population.
Well, that's a pretty specific goal, isn't it?

And then Steinhardt's money shows up in places like the Areivim Philanthropic Group, which eventually trickles down to the Hebrew Charter School Center.
Quietly launched over the past year by the Areivim Philanthropic Group, a Jewish funding partnership established by Birthright Israel co-founder Steinhardt and the late William Davidson (whose estate Areivim is currently suing), the $3.2 million Hebrew Charter School Center is providing seed money and free consulting to aspiring Hebrew charter schools throughout the country. (emphasis mine)
Here is Areivim's mission statement.

Michael Steinhardt,
able to fund a Hebrew Charter with a single call!
And in case you still have any doubt about the specificity of Mr. Steinhardt's philanthropy, these are his own words in response to the question, "What drives your philanthropy?"
I don't want on my tombstone, "Michael Steinhardt was one of the world's greatest money managers." I had said to myself, when I stop managing other people's money that I wanted to be ennobling and virtuous, something that really helped some part of the world that was important to me. What was important to me was improving the Jewish future. (emphasis mine)
Clearly, Mr. Steinhardt's philanthropic giving has a specific purpose, and that purpose is firmly rooted in the Jewish religion.  And that is just fine. It's his money.

It only becomes a problem when it finally trickles down to the Hebrew Charter School Center, and we're supposed to believe that there is no religious intention behind his Hebrew Immersion charter schools!

Steinhardt is dumping millions into each school and he is spreading them all over the country.
With its $6 million annual budget and the backing of philanthropist Michael Steinhardt — Berman’s father — HCSC is exploring new locations in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and New York. The organization spends up to $3 million to open each school and bring it to self-sustainability — that is, running entirely on government money. Neither of its schools has reached that point, but Berman says the Brooklyn school will become self-sustaining for the upcoming school term, its fifth in operation. (emphasis mine)
It couldn't be any plainer that Mr. Steinhardt has a religious agenda. He uses his millions to develop, create and sustain the kind of schools HE wants to see, and then keeps them flush with cash until they can pay for themselves.

Oh right, except they don't pay for themselves. We, the taxpayers, pay for them.  What a charade!  

As usual, DIane Ravitch said it better than I ever could.
What’s wrong with Hebrew charter schools?
It violates the long-established principle of separation of church and state to spend public funds on an institution that promotes religion. Hebrew is not a neutral language. It is the historic language of the Jewish people. Judaism is a religion.
It asks taxpayers to bear responsibility for schools that are essentially religious. In effect, taxpayers are subsidizing families that have the freedom to choose a nonpublic religious school. If they want it, they should pay for it. Public responsibility is for public, secular schools.
It is an attack on the very principle of public education, which belongs to the entire community and should be open to all.
Where there is a demand for instruction in Hebrew, it can be taught in regular schools, which offer Spanish, French, Latin, German, and other world languages.
But no one is fooled by the pretense that a Hebrew school has no connection to the Jewish religion.
I write this as a Jew whose grandchildren (two of them) went to a Jewish day school. Let them thrive and flourish. But don’t call them public schools. If the Jewish community is unwilling to support Jewish education, don’t ask for public money to do it. It is a private communal responsibility. No subterfuge can hide that. (emphasis mine)
So there you have it my new anonymous friend. In answer to your question, no, I am not jealous. I'm ticked off that my kids' school has to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to a quasi religious school so that Michael Steinhardt can feel like a good guy after decades of greedily amassing a small fortune.

Steinhardt would never put his money into an actual public school. They can't support his goal of "improving the Jewish future." 
I know, we'll just keep telling them it's not a religious school!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hebrew Immersion Charter Cheerleader Doesn't Seem To Think Hatikvah Is a "Government" School

I got a comment on a post I wrote about the impact the Hatikvah International Academy Charter School in East Brunswick has had on my district. I thought the comment not only merited a response, but a whole new post. Chime in with your thoughts in the comment section if you're so inclined, and let me and my anonymous friend know who you agree with. 

Here's the comment:

Why not let the money follow the child? If parents want their children to attend language immersion school, a Montessori school, a Core Knowledge school etc, why not let them send their children to whatever school they wish and have their per-pupil spending follow them? 
We have a balkanized education system as it is. Kids who live in East Brunswick go to EB schools, kids who live in Metuchen go to Metuchen schools, kids who live in South Brunswick go to SB schools etc. Let kids choose to go to schools that best fit their interests and personalities and this artificial geographic segregation will diminish. 
If you were so concerned about the financial problems of traditional public schools, you would be more worried about OOD tuition, health care increases, and staff salaries that increase faster than 2%. Some of those kids getting OOD placements may have severe conditions like autism, but not all of them do. If you look at what schools kids are being placed at, you will see that many of them specialize in educating kids with ADD.
Focusing on charter schools just makes you look like an ideologue. You were brought up with education delivered in a certain way (ie, by the govt) and you cannot imagine it delivered differently. 
Opposing a charter school because it "siphons money away from public schools" is like opposing using Pell grants at private colleges "because they siphon money away from Rutgers." You want to defund and close Hatikvah. Great. Do you favor defunding and closing Drew, Seton Hall, Centenary College too? 

And here's my response:

If a special education child's needs can not be served in district, it is that child's right under NJ state law to receive an out of district (OOD) placement.

There is no comparable right to a boutique education for non-special ed children. But you are correct, OOD placements can be very costly for a district. This is only one reason district spending will always be far higher than charter spending per pupil. If a child has a level of need that rises to an OOD placement, the financial burden will always fall on the district, not a charter.

Public schools must serve ALL children who walk through their doors, unlike a charter which only has to serve a limited number of children, and none with special needs great enough to warrant the kind of services you mention.

As to your argument about Pell grants and Drew vs. Rutgers, I see this as equally flawed. College tuition is the responsibility of the student, not the state.  If a student chooses to go to Drew, Rutgers does not have to pay that student's tuition out of their budget. And similarly, if that students gets a Pell grant, it comes out of US Department of Education funds, not local funds. If a Highland Park parent decides not to make use of the excellent public schools in our district and instead chooses Hatikvah, that money comes directly out of our budget. So where is the comparison and how is your argument relevant?

I am not worried about staff salaries. Teachers are professionals and should be compensated as such, with health benefits and pensions.

I never said I want to defund and close Hatikvah, but I don't think district schools should pay for the boutique education of a small number of children. If you want Hebrew immersion for your child, I think you should pay for it. It's that simple. And I am FAR from alone in this belief. 

Call me an ideologue if you wish, but I see myself as more of a pragmatist. Districts have limited resources, and I don't think charters are an expense the state should force a district to bear.

I've looked at Highland Park's budget, and have heard an independent auditor review it. Guess which cost is growing faster than any other?  

Yeah, that would be our charter school budget. 

In fact, Hatikvah's per pupil rate increased 18% from last year, while our district is held to a 2% cap and the state continues to under fund the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), which just so happens to be the law in this state.

And for the record, Hatikvah children are receiving a "government" education.  Funny that you seem to feel that this is not the case. Now sure, Hatikvah gets lots of private funds, mostly from the Hebrew Charter School Center, and receives very little interference or oversight from the state, but last time I checked charters are supposed to be "public" ie. "government" schools. 

But we all know that's not really the case, don't we?

Silly ideologue, you think charters are public schools? 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

People Who Care About Education Think Christie Is Oh-So-Very-Wrong

Just a quick post to point out something I thought was pretty important.

Those of us who follow education policy in this state didn't need a poll to know that Christie's education policies have hamstrung our public schools.

But the numbers in this recent Rutgers Eagleton poll are very telling.
Support of Christie’s performance on education has remained steady since June: 44 percent of all voters approve and 49 percent disapprove. Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to back the governor. Independents are slightly more likely to disapprove than approve."
So more of the general public disapprove of this handling of education than approve.  Not earth shattering or surprising, but noteworthy. But then catch this part. 
Among the 13 percent of voters who call education the state’s most pressing problem, 88 percent disapprove of Christie’s performance and only 8 percent are positive. (emphasis mine.)
Now THAT is staggering. 88% of people who are passionate about education think Christie is on the wrong track.  88%!!!  Christie has next to no support in the education community. 

And if you ask me (which you didn't) this is not just a comment on Christie himself, it's a repudiation of the national ed reform playbook.  Christie's education policies aren't new or his own.  In fact, some of them are veritable copies of ALEC model legislation.

Christie is just flat out wrong on SO MANY issues.  Gay marriage, medical marijuana, gun control..

Oh, but that's right, he's a political celebrity now.  The issues no longer matter.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Will 2014 Be The Year Of "Full On Revolt" Against Standardized Testing?

I'm quoted in an AP article published yesterday about the momentum behind the opt-out movement.
Darcie Cimarusti of Highland Park, N.J., didn't like that her twin daughters would have to agonize over a standardized test as first-graders so she worked out an agreement with the principal to move them into a kindergarten class during testing time.
"My goal is that my daughters never take a standardized test," Cimarusti said. "I see less and less value in it educationally and it being used more and more to beat teachers over the head."
I am personally incensed by the NJDOE comment about any parent's decision to opt their child(ren) out of standardized testing.
Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education, said about 98 percent of New Jersey students take standardized tests.
"Keeping a child home from testing does no favor to the child or the school," he said.
Instead of subjecting my daughters to 7-8 hours of testing over the course of three days at the age of SIX I instead chose to have them read, write, sing, make art and dance with their peers in a joyous classroom setting with a fabulous teacher.  

I joined the class the first two days to ease their transition, and got to help with a classroom art project. Part of that project hangs proudly on our wall to this day. If my daughters had taken the test, what would their take away have been? I'd still be waiting for test results that would mean very little to their teachers, even less to me, and next to nothing to my girls.  

Leading up to "the test" papers came home from the teacher and the principal, mostly geared toward helping young children deal with test related anxiety. The school guidance counselor came to their class and read them stories about how to keep calm when you have to take "THE BIG TEST!"

Exactly how did I "do no favor" to my daughters? 

I spared them hours of drudgery and needless performance anxiety. I gave them three mornings where they got to be the "big kids" in the room, and the "little kids" got to learn from them about what they could expect in first grade. The teacher read aloud a paragraph one of my daughters had written and told the class it was an example of "great writing." My daughter beamed with pride from ear to ear.

I beg to differ with Mr. Yaple.  

I made exactly the right decision for my daughters.  And I'll make the same decision next year, and every year thereafter.  Most parents (and teachers!) know there is little benefit to these tests, particularly for students so young, so spokesmen like Mr. Yaple are paid to intimidate us into thinking we are harming our children if we don't submit.

Don't listen to the Michael Yaple's of the world. 

Listen to Diane Ravitch.
One of the most effective ways to throw a monkey wrench into harmful mandates is to resist. Say no. Refuse to participate. When they tell you to walk the plank into a sea of sharks, don’t do it.
In the case of high-stakes testing, a growing number of parents are keeping their children home on testing day. If enough parents opt out, the numbers for the school and for the district become invalid. The machine can’t run without the willing participation of those it harms.
Think about it.

Friday, September 6, 2013

UPDATED! Chris Christie, Hell Bent On Destroying Public Education, Courts The Voucher Vote

Is anyone actually surprised that Governor Christie is chomping at the bit to ram vouchers through the legislature in the lame-duck session after the election? (Which he arrogantly to assumes he will win...)
“It will be after the election, I don’t see it happening before then,” he said. “Miracles happen in lame-duck after elections, so let’s see. We’ll certainly be focused on it.”
If you ask me, this is a direct message to voucher enthusiasts that have endorsed Christie because he has promised them he will keep fighting for the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA). If he walks away from vouchers now, he would undoubtedly lose some key groups that have endorsed him.

Let's look at two, the Lakewood Vaad and the Latino Leadership Alliance.

Lakewood Vaad

Just to clarify what the Vaad is, this is from Wikipedia. (I don't usually use Wikipedia as a source, but the description here is very succinct.)
The Lakewood Vaad (Council) is a voluntary organization of leaders and businessmen, who represent a large amount of the Orthodox Jewish community in Lakewood, New Jersey in public policy issues. Lakewood has a large Orthodox Jewish population and is home to the largest Talmudic Academy in the United States, Beth Medrash Govoha. The community maintains a large and unified voting block. The Vaad endorses candidates for office, and communicates the needs of the community to elected officials.
Watch this short video of Christie accepting the endorsement of the Lakewood Vaad.
And there will be those who will attempt to and have stood in our way in trying to bring the Opportunity Scholarship Act into law. I can tell you this, that I will continue to fight everyday that you give me the honor and privilege of being your Governor to make sure that something that makes as much sense as the Opportunity Scholarship Act is not stopped by the special interests.
Bruce Baker has done amazing work demonstrating that the bulk of OSA funds will not go to kids "trapped in failing public schools," they will go to kids in Lakewood who already attend religious private schools.
In other words, all of the other locations combined do not have the sum total of low income private school enrolled children that Lakewood has. Lakewood would likely be the epicenter of NJOSA scholarship distribution. I noted in my first post on this topic that if the average scholarship amounts were as proposed, the Lakewood Yeshiva schools would stand to take in as much as $67 million per year in these indirect taxpayer subsidies.
Christie accepting the Vaad's endorsement
So a LOT of money is going to pour into Lakewood if the OSA is passed, which is a darn good reason for the Vaad to support Christie in 2013 after they dissed him in 2009 and backed Corzine. But it does fly in the face of Christie's constant assertions that the OSA is for all those trapped inner-city kids.  He makes his real motivation known only when talking to the Lakewood community.  
“The community here in Lakewood cares so much about issues that I care about too,” Christie said. “And I know, here in Lakewood, nothing is more important for the families that moved here and that is the education of your children. We need to make sure, as we move forward, that [a child’s] education is of the parent’s choice."
And the Vaad is not shy about the fact that they will throw their weight behind a candidate
based solely on this issue. Check out their endorsement of Corey Booker's Senate campaign.
Two of the candidates, Frank Pallone and Cory Booker are well known to us and long time friends. Pallone has loyally worked on our behalf in Congress for many years, helping yechidim and the klal with energy and dedication. Booker has been active in statewide politics for many years, and has been a great advocate for our community and matters of great importance to us.
This presents a difficult choice for us as to who deserves our backing.
While they both are deserving, we heartily endorse Cory Booker for one reason – his positions on vouchers. There is no stronger advocate in NJ for private school vouchers (including our Mosdos) than Cory Booker.
Our Mosdos and families are in desperate need of relief – and Cory Booker – as Mayor of the City of Newark, has bucked the Democratic party and has been a tireless advocate for vouchers. His election to the US Senate would be the first time there is a powerful Democrat pushing hard for vouchers.(emphasis mine)
Well, at least that kind of honesty is refreshing.  So why can't Christie just be honest when he speaks publicly about the OSA? Why doesn't he let everybody know that he has a deal with the powers that be in Lakewood, and he's already promised them a religious education on the public dime?  Afterall, isn't he the "tell-it-like-it-is" Governor?

Stop hiding behind the "kids trapped in failing schools" rhetoric. Come right on out and tell the good people of NJ that you think tax dollars should pay for religious education!

He doesn't say it, because he knows the general public will hate it. They sure didn't like it when he gave $10.6 million tax dollars to Beth Medrash Govoha, which is run by the leaders of the Vaad. Read some of the comments on that article.  It's a bloodbath for Christie.  And the ACLU is suing over the use of tax payer money to fund a religious institution.
In the ACLU’s opinion, the government funding is outright illegal, not just improper. “This kind of funding clearly violates the separation of church and state,” Udi Ofer, executive director of the group’s New Jersey chapter, explained. “That is not the role for taxpayer money. They could do it on their own dime but they cannot do it on the public dime.” A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie did not return multiple inquiries seeking a comment. (emphasis mine)
Again, where is our straight-shootin' Governor on this one? Why won't his administration answer questions about why tax payer money is going to a Yeshiva? I'd love to hear someone ask him directly, in front of a camera, if it's a coincidence that he got the Vaad endorsement in March and gave the Yeshiva, run by a leader of the Vaad, $10.6 million in May.

Latino Leadership Alliance

Martin Perez and his wife with Christie
at the endorsement
And then there's the Latino Leadership Alliance (LLA).  This one is a bit more straightforward, but very similar dynamics. Christie won over a voucher loving group that went for the Democrat in the last election, and his education agenda, and support of the OSA specifically, was one of the deciding factors in the endorsement. Well, at least that was what was said in public anyway...
And, just earlier this week, in his budget address, the Governor again demonstrated his commitment to the fight for educational justice, by dedicating funds for an Opportunity Scholarship Pilot Project, while also providing more state aid for education than any previous administration.  
Watch this NJTV segment on the endorsement which highlights LLA President Martin Perez's admiration for Governor Christie's ed reform agenda.  
Perez: Chris Christie has shown us that he is committed to reforming education in New Jersey and this is the number one issue for the Latinos in this state. The school system has failed constantly in the urban areas, and we are losing a generation of Latino children.
Christie: Martin talked about education. There is nothing more important to me than changing the educational system in this state to make sure that every child, no matter their zip code, no matter the economic status of their parents, has a chance to be successful in this country, and that's through education. 
I guess Mr. Perez doesn't read Bruce Baker, and hasn't figured out that Latino kids are not likely to be the main recipients if the OSA ever becomes law. Unsurprisingly, the LLA endorsement didn't really sit well with a lot of the Latino community.
It is shameful that a few leaders of LLANJ have decided to misrepresent the interests of the Latino community for the sake of their own political agenda. Since LLANJ will not speak on behalf of its members, it is imperative for the Latino community to speak out on behalf of itself,” stated Negron. (emphasis mine)
Now, I'm not saying that Mr. Perez has his own political agenda, but just two short months before LLA's very early February endorsement of Governor Christie, Mr. Perez was appointed by Governor Christie to the Rutgers Board of Governors. And the appointment is no small matter. 

It came after two years of controversy, with Perez's appointment blocked by senatorial courtesy, and Governor Christie side-stepping courtesy to make the appointment.  And Senate President Sweeney is now suing to have Perez removed.

Clearly, there is A LOT behind the LLA endorsement, but nonetheless, it's clear that Christie has promised yet another large voting block that he will come through on vouchers. This despite the fact that a recent Gallop poll showed that an historic 70% of Americans are opposed to them.

Let's be clear.

The Governor is handing out some pretty big favors to get the endorsement of groups that support his voucher agenda.  But he can't and won't be straight with the people of New Jersey about why he supports vouchers in Lakewood. If he's re-elected and gets the OSA through lame-duck, a lot of money is going to change hands in Lakewood, and a lot of tax dollars are going to subsidize the private education of one religious group that managed to get access to the Governor and brought him a lot of votes.

The LLA endorsement gives Christie the "I'm doing it for the kids trapped in failing schools" cover he needs and helps him sell the idea of vouchers to the remaining 30% of the American public that hasn't yet figured out that they don't actually change outcomes for kids and only serve to pull money out of an already hemorrhaging public education system.

It really does feel like Christie is just hell bent on destroying public education, doesn't it?
This was at 10am on 9/5. Check back and see what the numbers are now.
Now's a really good time to share Barbara Buono's education plan with a friend, don't you think?


I seriously can not believe I forgot to include this part of the story.  See that picture up above of Perez, his wife and Christie? Well, I forgot to mention that his wife is a serious player in the voucher wars.  That's Patricia Bombelyn.  She's not just Perez's wife, she is also his law partner, and she ALSO just happens to be the lawyer who filed a complaint on behalf of Camden students with Commissioner Cerf "demanding that they be freed from attending Camden schools and instead receive payments to attend schools of their choice, public or private." 
But the case, known as Vargas v. Camden Board of Education, involves far bigger questions that could affect far more students, bring in some statewide players, and invoke some hard-fought debates over what exactly is a “thorough and efficient” education as required by the state’s constitution.

A Familiar Complaint

An earlier version of the complaint -- Crawford v. Davy -- was ultimately dismissed by the state appellate court in 2009, although it left an opening for the case to be argued anew.
The prior case involved 25 districts, many of them urban school systems like Camden that fall under the Abbott v. Burke rulings.
Following the defeat of Crawford, some of the same advocates who led that case returned with the Vargas complaint, narrowing it to Camden schools at a time when the district is in turmoil and subject to intense scrutiny by the Christie administration.
One of those advocates is Patricia Bombelyn, the New Brunswick attorney who led the Crawford case and has been closely aligned with Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), the decade-old group that has largely led the push for private school vouchers in the state. E3 is helping sponsor the challenge.
Her law partner, Martin Perez, was also in attendance. Perez heads up the Latino Leadership Alliance. (emphasis mine)
So clearly, Bombelyn is not your run of the mill voucher fan. She is an advocate willing to take Christie's fight for vouchers to the courts when he fails in the legislature. And take note, Bombelyn and Perez were not in this fight alone, they had the backing and support of E3, one of the biggest voucher pushing organizations in the state, and another big supporter of the Governor's ed reform agenda. Check out this statement from E3 President Christy Davis Jackson in support of OSA and Governor Christie.
E3 has been working closely with our New Jersey School Choice and Education Reform Alliance (NJSCERA) to support Governor Chris Christie in promotion of school choice.  The Governor recently announced in his 2014 budget proposal his intention to launch a $2 million school choice pilot program.  With an initial focus on Camden, the pilot program will offer scholarships that low-income students in struggling schools will use to attend better performing public or private schools. This is a tremendous step forward in making school choice a reality in one of the bluest states in the country.
E3 is committed to leading the charge to support the Governor and the bipartisan group of NJ state officials behind him to secure pilot’s full implementation, which opponents have indicated they will spend whatever it takes to derail.
Securing a school choice program in Camden, challenging existing abysmal academic standards through the Vargas lawsuit against the Camden Board of Education, and conducting extensive community empowerment efforts to bring to bear the voices of those most afflicted by the failure of urban public education are three key aspects of E3’s comprehensive approach to urban education reform. (emphasis mine)
Anyone who keeps up on ed reform in New Jersey will know that Jackson is none other than the wife of Bishop Reginald Jackson, the Executive Director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, another huge player in the ed reform battle in this state.
Bishop Jackson endorsing Christie at a State
House news conference.
And surprise, surprise, Bishop Jackson has also endorsed the Governor's re-election, even though he claims to be a Democrat and endorsed Corzine is 2009.  
"I'm always for enhancing and improving school facilities," Jackson said today. But in the end, he made his endorsement based on the vouchers, and said he was disheartened by black Democrats whose districts house failing schools. (emphasis mine)
You can watch the endorsement here.  It's little more than another chance to give a shout out for the OSA. 

Here's Jersey Jazzman to fill you in on Bishop Jackson's sordid ed reform past.
Back in these earlier days of the Christie administration, the BMC was all about getting their member churches in on the charter school gravy train; Jackson himself bragged how he had enough juice to get charters approved for his flock:
     Rev. Reginald Jackson said he was celebrating after      all five charter schools proposed by the Black            Ministers Council were approved. They include an          East Orange school with single-gender classrooms and      a high school offering online instruction and            instrumental music classes for students in East          Orange, Irvington and Newark. [emphasis mine]
Reginald Jackson and his fellow apostles know what school "reform" is really all about: getting a taste of that lovely, lovely public school money. It doesn't matter if it comes from vouchers, or from starting a charter school; all that counts is that public funds roll into the hands of folks who are doing it all "for the kids."
Jackson's endorsement of Chris Christie last week was just about the most cynical, political move one could imagine. This governor has ignored the School Funding Reform Act for four years running - a piece of legislation that was specifically designed to move state school funds to the poorest districts where it is needed most. Children in these districts are going to schools that are literally crumbling while Christie has delayed critical projects, even as he hands out huge tax gifts to corporate and wealthy interests (tax breaks that haven't helped New Jersey's economic malaise in the slightest).
No governor has been worse for poor and minority children and their families than Chris Christie. But Reginald Jackson doesn't care, because school privatization is good for him and his family; that's the real reason for his endorsement. (emphasis Jersey Jazzman's!)
Well, there you have it. The voucher inspired endorsements the Governor has received have all come with a hefty price tag for New Jersey taxpayers.
$10.6 million to a Yeshiva run by the Lakewood Vaad... 
Appointment to the Rutgers Board of Governors for Martin Perez... 
Five charter schools for members of the Black Ministers Council, totaling God only knows how many millions of dollars...
Has any group endorsed Governor Christie and the OSA that HAS NOT received some type of highly controversial and/or wildly costly fringe benefit from this administration?  

The new Christie campaign ad slogan