Well-financed charter schools plan lobbying blitz–where are public schools’ champions?

Charter school children used to lobby in New York last year
Charter school children used to lobby in New York last year

Two of the largest national charter school chains–KIPP and Uncommon Schools–will be using their students and their students’ parents Monday in a massive lobbying effort aimed at ensuring the expansion of their businesses in Newark. The drive comes just as resistance to school privatization in the state’s largest school district has collapsed because of a deal between Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Republican Gov.–and presidential hopeful–Chris Christie.

The lobbying effort–dubbed “Hands Off Our Future–Parent Lobby Day”–is  not aimed at any effort to reduce the number of charter schools in Newark and other New Jersey cities, but rather to block a legislative effort to create a moratorium on new charter schools to study their impact on traditional public schools.

In other words, KIPP and Uncommon Schools, both chains run by boards with close ties to the financial industry, are exploiting parents and students to help grow their businesses–not to protect the education current students are receiving.

 They are being used to advance the financial interests of charter chains, which want to expand.

Diane Ravitch, the former federal education official and now a  nationally known  critic of the corporatization of American pubic schools, pointed out the cynicism inherent in such efforts:

“Your taxpayer dollars have been used to open schools that drain resources from your public schools while selecting the students they want. If your state has charters, you can expect that they will lobby the legislature for more charters. They will close their schools, hire buses, and send students, teachers, and parents to the State Capitol, all dressed in matching T-shirts, to demand more charters.

“Since the children are already enrolled in a charter and can’t attend more than one, they are being used to advance the financial interests of charter chains, which want to expand.”

That’s worth repeating: These children and their parents are not fighting to keep their own schools open, but they are conscripts in a war waged by corporate interests against traditional public schools–a war in which the prize is the $700 billion a year spent annually on public education, a war that can be only be won by the privatizers by expanding their chains and driving out public schools.

What makes the actions of the charter school operators even more cynical is that the moratorium bill is going nowhere–they are using the dead-in-the-water legislation as an excuse to demonstrate their control over these parents and children.

If public school students who support local school budgets are NJEA’s “drug mules”–according to pro-charter Christie–then what are charter students to the corporate masters of KIPP and Uncommon Schools?

Remember what Christie said about school board elections shortly after he became governor? He accused public school teachers of using children as “drug mules” because, in some districts, children were sent home with fliers supporting passage of local school budgets.

Those budgets were peanuts compared to what’s at stake now if the feverish visions of school privatizers from both parties win the school war.

Of course, if public school employee unions organized parents and children to come to Trenton to urge, say, enforcement of the school aid law that has been ignored by Democrats and Republicans alike since Christie became governor, their leaders probably would be indicted for conspiracy.

John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, wrote a letter to state education Commissioner David Hespe asking whether public school students would be allowed to take a day off to go to Trenton and lobby for public schools. He wrote:

Dear Commissioner Hespe:

Do traditional public school students have permission to take Monday off to go to Trenton and lobby for their interests?

 Monday, December 14th promises to be another field day for the parasitic, publicly funded, privately operated charter school industry. Will traditional Newark public school students be provided a Field Day, buses and lunch to lobby for their principals’ ability to seek a loan from Wall Street for school supplies, air conditioning and a new roof and later use taxpayer money to pay off the loan plus the interest?  (All without public or legislative scrutiny).

 

No newspaper will ask the hard questions. For instances; who in the media dare ask to see real data on their test scores, to see the “waiting lists” they claim to possess.

Who will ask how much taxpayer money they spend on interest to loans from private financial institutions that ALSO sit on their Boards of Trustees?  

If this were a local school board heads would roll and subpoenas and arrest warrants would be delivered.

It’s enough to make a traditional public school employee sick on Monday.

 

The lobbying effort also coincides with the expanded operation of a pro-charter organization funded by the financial industry that purports to increase “choice” among urban residents. The group, called Parent Coalition for Excellent Education (PC2E),  is headed by Muhammad Akil, a former top aide to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

Akil had to resign his Jersey City post after it was revealed that he had delivered a speech in Chicago decades ago in which he  said that “all white people have a little Hitler in them,” that the Pope was the “anti-Christ” and he repeatedly used a homophobic slur.

But now Akil is working with and for the charters–and the privately-operated schools may have found just the right time and place to push  their corporation-based agenda.

NTU President Jhn Abeigon denounced financial backers of charter schools as "parasites."
NTU President Jhn Abeigon denounced financial backers of charter schools as “parasites.”

Until June, pro public school groups were growing in strength in Newark. A coalition of students, employees, and parents–backed by Mayor Baraka–took dramatic steps to demonstrate their anger with the state administration of their public schools, an administration headed by Cami Anderson. Anderson was appointed by then education commissioner Christopher Cerf to  run the Newark schools for the state. Cerf was a business partner of Tim Carden, head of the trustee board for Newark’s KIPP schools.  Christie once worked for Cerf as a lobbyist for his privatized educational firms. The connections are many and they are smelly.

Anderson, following Cerf’s directions,  quickly pursued an agenda of closing public schools, expanding charter schools, and disrupting a tradition of neighborhood public education. She managed to run up massive deficits but was persistently supported by Cerf, the man who hired her.

A federal inquiry has shown that Cerf, while commissioner, failed to require Anderson to follow the law. Her arrogance–an arrogance  nourished by Cerf’s strong backing–led to even more anger. On May 22, 2015, thousands of Newark students walked out of their schools and, joined by parents and school employees, they shut down the city’s business district and threatened to block traffic to the New Jersey Turnpike and Newark Liberty International Airport.

Grace Tyler and Nicauris Veras address Shabazz students during the May 22 protest
Grace Tyler and Nicauris Veras address Shabazz students during the May 22 protest

The restiveness threatened to expose presidential candidate Christie as a state chief executive who could not control events in his largest city. He and Baraka cut a deal that resulted in Anderson’s dismissal and a vague promise to return local control to the city schools that had been operated by the state since 1995.

The deal also brought Cerf to Newark as schools superintendent. The man who hired Anderson came back to finish the job Christie had given him.

Gradually, Baraka–once a sharp critic of privatization, state control, Christie, and Cerf–moderated his tone. He showed support for charter schools and joined with Cerf in a new “community schools” initiative.

The opposition was silenced.

Now, charter schools are expanding. Baraka’s planning board endorsed a plan by Uncommon Schools to build a new charter school within sight of City Hall. He failed to criticize KIPP’s plan to open four new charter schools. The Cerf/Baraka initiative for the city’s South Ward also may include the conversion of two public schools–Avon Avenue and Peshine Avenue–to charters.

Efforts by some legislators to slow down charter expansion have resulted in sharp criticism from the heavily-funded charter chains and their supporters in PC2E.

“Whoever can be bought in the state Legislature has been bought by the charters,” Abeigon said. He was especially critical of the Democratic members of the Essex County delegation who have been blocking passage of the charter moratorium bill, including state Sen. Theresa Ruiz (D-Essex), head of the Senate Education Committee.

Charter expansion has been crippling to the Newark school system because of the diversion of more than $200 million in state aid funds to the privately-operated schools. In addition, legislative Democrats and Christie agreed to shift an additional $67 million in state aid funds earmarked for traditional public schools to the charters.

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools need not take every student who applies for admission and they may expel students. They do not take many special needs students and students with language problems.

But the power of Abeigon’s Newark Teachers Union–like the other organizations in the anti-corporatization coalition–is dwindling. Without Baraka’s strong support, the movement to protect traditional public schools has run aground.

The charter lobbyists may say “Hands Off Our Future”–but, in fact, the traditional public schools are those that desperately need lobbying in Trenton.

But, of course, no one would think of using children to promote a political agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. booklady

    1. I thought the proposed legislation would limit NEW charters and that the established chains could multiply regardless. Or do Uncommon and KIPP want to expand beyond their current cities?

    2. Gary Rubinstein, currently a math teacher at Stuyvesant HS NYC, is former TFA who writes constructive criticism on his blog. (He has some witty Open Letters to Wendy Kopp et al.) His recent post describes the TFA 25 yr conference, including a note that KIPP and other charter chains are hosting cocktail receptions.

  2. Charles Love

    Is is possible to be PRO Public Charter and PRO Traditional Schools? Or is the polarization of two ore important that equality for all. I support any group organizing and galvanizing parents in order to gain any traction will in fact move the ball down the field. I mean any win against the system should be a win for the people? No? Correct me if im wrong, but the overall education in Newark is horrible. When I was a highschool student in Newark in the 1990’s and the state took over. There was a growing argument that said “We have too many children in the classroom”. Today that argument has shifted to a ” We dont have enough students in our classrooms”. Im confused Bob, can someone clear that up for me?

    Bob Braun: You’ve asked a number of questions here. Let me just start from my bottom line–the way financing for charter schools is set up any money awarded to charters is taken from traditional public schools. Under such a system, there is no way charters can flourish without a concomitant deprivation of resources from traditional public schools. As a consequence, any advantage or amenity awarded to a charter students means a reduction in services or materials to public school students. Public schools MUST take all students; they are non-selective and aim to education all children. Charter schools do not need to take any student who applies and there is strong evidence they keep from their doors students with the greatest needs. As a consequence, the charter school system is an inherently discriminatory enterprise that deprives a non-discriminatory system of essential resources that, in turns, hurts children who need those resources the most. The dual system does pit one group of parents against another and I do believe that is, at least, an unconscious intention of the wealthy patrons of charter and voucher education. Divided cities–as we see now in Newark and Camden–are docile cities. Yes, I agree parents should see their common needs and interests and band together–but not to abandon the public schools for some illusory private alternative. They should organize for the rights guaranteed them under the state and federal constitutions–and that means full funding of the public schools combined with a vigorous campaign to end racial isolation in the public schools. New Jersey’ schools are among the most segregated in the country. If parents and political leaders demanded county-wide school systems–as are established in Maryland and other states–urban residents could be able to choose to go anywhere in, say, Essex County. I can be done. It should be done. It is both the moral and the legally required thing to do.

    • TK 2015

      Bob Braun is to Spongebob what you are to love. You need to work on your own confusion, brother, and work hard, or you will never get to the bottom of it (anyone guessing, please see Mr. Love’s contributions to Bob Braun’s Facebook stream).

      And you aren’t moving the ball down field–wrong venue.

      Your pallid smack invokes the ring, and a lesser one at that. You’re rope-a-dope needs some polish, Mister Charles. What else you got? Before we shut off the lights and go home.

      Between rounds you might also try reading with comprehension. It’s wiser than trying to pick a fight you can’t ever win. Even if you are all about fighting. Even if you have the judges in your pocket. Even if you get the trophy.

      Feel me? With a name like yours, is it reasonable for me to expect something more from you?

      Answers:

      Yes, but you need to take that question back to the designers. Their ends justify their means in their minds. The world, you will one day recognize, is a much bigger place.

      To the designers, Yes. They set the criteria. Btw, equality for all isn’t even on the menu with these operators. Haven’t you noticed?

      You are experiencing one big system eating another one, yet again. That is not a de facto win for the people. You should know better, for your own sake, before you seek to inhabit a ruse and to whatever imagined end. Salesmen love the highly motivated yet partially informed. You’ll learn all of this, if you are open to it, whether you are careful with your advances or not. The world has a way.

      No.

      Correct yourself, if you care enough to. Ask around and update your file, and do it without prejudice. Twenty years ago is just that. You aim to be fresh, but I smell something off.

      Your “understanding” of student enrollment in the classroom does you no credit at all. Who are you going to hold accountable for that shortcoming? Who are you going to thank for helping to set you right, and how much is that process going to hurt and whom? Your understanding is, ultimately, your sole and sacred responsibility. Don’t waste it. Don’t abuse it. Don’t trifle with it.

      And don’t lease it to a shiny new update of a very old and very aggressive system. Be whole. It’s worth the effort.

      Does this help? You asked. Peace.

      Next.

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