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Where school dollars go to die

A new study points fingers at charter schools for malfeasance, but traditional public schools are still by far #1 in wasteful spending.

Teacher Union Political Spending: Liberal as Ever

AFT continues to use teachers as ATM machines to fund their pet leftist causes.

The latest American Federation of Teachers annual financial disclosure has been released (H/T RiShawn Biddle). This year’s LM-2 is filled with goodies that are sure to warm the cockles of leftist teacher union members, but apolitical educators, centrists and certainly those on the right just may have a different opinion.

Despite all the legitimate bad press the Clinton foundations have received the last few years, AFT still continues to pour more money into their pay-for-play operations. In 2015-2016 the union gave $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and the same amount to the Clinton Global Initiative. This brings the total given by AFT to the Clintons over the past four years to $2.2 million. Maybe the union figures they need to assure that the Clintons won’t go wanting should the money from foreign special interests to secure weapons deals dry up. In any event, the gifts will ensure that AFT president Randi Weingarten will have HRC on speed-dial.

And of course the Clintons aren’t the only leftists to receive loot from the teachers union. The Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive pro-labor and anti-charter school outfit, received $373,000. Additionally, the union gave $25,000 each to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the radical Hispanic activist group, La Raza. Here is a chart with a small, but representative sampling of AFT’s donations:

aft-pays-to-play

Clearly there are no gifts to any group that is remotely conservative. Nope. Even though the teachers themselves are anything but a leftist monolith, practically none of the union’s money flows in a rightward direction. In fact, in all elections since 1989, AFT has given $76,446,797 to Democrats and liberals and just $363,000 to Republicans and conservatives. In other words, less than one half of one percent of the union’s political spending goes to the right. (And in those cases it’s usually supporting the more left-leaning of two Republicans running against each other.) The National Education Association isn’t a whole lot better; about 3 percent of its political largess goes rightward. But according to Mike Antonucci, an NEA internal survey in 2005 (consistent with previous results), showed that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” No reason to think AFT is any different. And Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, which serves both public and private employees, acknowledged in January that “64 percent of our public members identify as conservative….”  (Like the AFT, about one-half of one percent of SEIU political donations go to Republicans/conservatives.)

So how do the government unions, whose leaders run to the left of the average worker, get away with spending dues dollars on candidates and causes that so many of its members revile? The answer very simply is because its members let them. But teachers and other government workers don’t have to put up with this. Typically about one-third of all teachers’ union dues are spent on politics, but legally the rank-and-file does not have to subsidize the union’s agenda. A teacher can withhold the political portion of their dues by resigning from the union and becoming an agency fee payer. In this scenario, the teacher is still forced to pay about two-thirds of full dues because the union claims it’s forced to represent you in collective bargaining. This is a half-truth; they do have to represent you. But they insist on that set-up because, as the exclusive bargaining agent, they then get to collect dues from every single worker.

A teacher who resigns from the union cannot vote on their contract and loses their union-supplied liability insurance. The latter is essential for a teacher, but that and other benefits are available through joining a professional organization like the Association of American Educators, a non-union alternative.

Sadly, very few teachers have taken advantage of the agency fee payer option. In the Golden State, the California Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate, claims that 35 percent of its 300,000 or so members are Republicans. But only about 10 percent of its members withhold the political share of their dues. That means there are 75,000 Republican union members who are paying for causes and candidates they are opposed to. The national numbers are even worse. Only 88,000 of NEA’s 3 million members (2.9 percent) withhold the political portion.

If enough teachers withheld the political portion of their dues, the unions might sit up and take note. Millions of dollars less to spend on their pet candidates and causes might shake up union leaders – all of whom have become all-too-comfy with their all-too-compliant members – and force them to be more responsive to those they insist on representing. With the failure of the Friedrichs case due to Justice Scalia’s untimely death, the unions still have a captive flock throughout much of the country. But teachers who don’t like being forced to pay for their union’s political agenda need to stand up and just say no. If you do, you will sleep better at night and be a few hundred dollars a year richer. By maintaining the status quo, consider yourself a willing ATM for the biggest political bullies in the country.

For those of you who are sick and tired of subsidizing union politicking, you can get help here.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

In like a Lyin’

As charter schools continue to succeed, the reformicidal teachers unions ramp up their assault on them.

Month by month, the teachers unions have been increasing their barrage of malevolence toward charter schools, which are nothing more than publicly funded schools of choice that are trying to break away from the rigidity of Big Education/Big Union rules and regulations.

The March charter assault comes to us via a push poll conducted by the teachers unions’ favorite pollsters – GBA Strategies – an outfit regularly used by unions to manufacture results to their liking. The poll was commissioned by In the Public Interest and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD). The former is a project of The Partnership for Working Families (PWF), a card-carrying member of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, whose raison d’être is to bash “one percenters.” Not surprisingly, several of PWF donors are themselves “one percenters,” including George Soros and other globalist/socialists. CPD is radically pro-labor and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is on its board of directors.

The results of the poll were reported in Politics USA by “rmuse,” a writer who refers to himself as a “Secular Humanist – Columnist – Audio Engineer/Musician Zen-Atheist.” He writes that while it has taken over a decade, “the public is finally sick of the charter industry’s lack of accountability, systemic underperformance, harsh admission policies, and poorly or untrained teachers; all characteristics of the charter school privatization movement.”

Rmuse finishes his embarrassing screed with a despicable and downright kooky flourish. “Sadly, with Koch-ALEC Republicans controlling education funding and pushing privatization through charters, and coupled with an Administration enamored with privatized charter schools, it may be inevitable that the next generation of Americans will be stupider and more religious than the current one. And, despite their demands to rein in the corporate and religious charter school movement, American taxpayers will ultimately pay to under-educate the next generation to enrich corporations, completely destroy public schools, and create tens-of-millions of theocratic Republican voters.”

Shortly after the poll was released, United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl appeared on KQED-FM, a radio station in northern CA, and whined on about how charters don’t play by the rules. While he did not allude to the poll, his diatribe certainly meshed with it. Fortunately, California Charter School Association president Jed Wallace was also on air and managed to correct many of the union leader’s fanciful forays into Wonderland.

The essence of rmuse’s, Caputo-Pearl’s and other haters’ complaints about charters is that they are “unregulated” and “not accountable.” But nothing could be further from the truth.

As the California Charter School Association points out, unlike traditional public schools, charters are academically accountable in a couple of ways. “They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the local school district) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals. In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals.” Additionally charters must abide by various state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc.

As former president of the Center for Education Reform Kara Kerwin writes, “… Unlike all other public schools, charters must be proactive in their efforts to stay open. They must set and meet rigorous academic goals, and actually meet or exceed their state’s proficiency standards. Unlike the conventional public schools that intentionally remain under the radar, charter schools operate under intense scrutiny from teachers unions, the media, and lawmakers. In states with strong charter school laws that allow for objective oversight, it is clear that performance-based accountability is working.”

Around the same time as the unions’ March offensive, a report was released that analyzed the achievement gap. As detailed by LA School Report, “The first-of-its-kind Education Equality Index from Education Cities studied data from schools in the 100 largest U.S. cities, and in each identified up to 10 schools with small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where the majority are from low-income families.” It found that charters dominated the rankings in many big cities, especially in LA, where nine of the top 10 schools were independent charter schools.

Hardly a surprise. As students struggle in traditional LA schools, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students at charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools.

Also, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools.

To be clear, not all charters are wonderful. But if a charter authorizing law is written properly and oversight is competent and vigilant, any charter not passing muster will be shut down. And most all, please keep in mind, charters are schools of choice, picked out by parents, unlike the zip-code mandated traditional public schools that are favored by the education establishment.

Today 282 charter schools operate in Los Angeles, serving 150,866 students. The sad news is that there are 41,830 kids still on waiting lists trying to get into one. Nationally, hundreds of thousands of students are wait-listed. And all the union leaders, their push pollsters, rmuse and their fellow travelers really don’t give a damn about them.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

The National Education Association's $131 Million Influence Buying Spree

The National Education Association just filed its latest financial disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor, and as you would expect, it spent big on its efforts to preserve its influence over education policymaking. The union spent $131 million on lobbying and contributions to what are supposed to be like-minded organizations in 2014-2015, just slightly less than the $132 million spent during the previous year. This doesn’t include the $40 million it spends on so-called representational activities, which are often just as political in nature.

One of the big recipients this year: The Center for Popular Democracy, the progressive outfit which has become a key player in efforts by both NEA and the American Federation of Teachers to oppose the expansion of public charter schools. The outfit and its political action fund collected $570,900 from NEA last fiscal year, double the $250,000 collected from the union in 2013-2014. This is certainly good news for AFT President Randi Weingarten, who sits on Popular Democracy’s board and whose own union poured $160,000 into the outfit and its political wing.

20151204-UW-GarciaNEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia

Another top recipient of NEA largesse is Democracy Alliance, the secretive progressive outfit which has become a major player in national and Democratic Party politics. NEA Executive Director John Stocks chairs the organization’s board of directors. Democracy Alliance and its Committee on States collected $214,000 from the union last fiscal year. This is a 64 percent decline from the previous year. But given the stakes for next year’s presidential and congressional races, expect NEA to bolster its support for the outfit next year.

Meanwhile NEA is giving big to Democracy Alliance’s wider network, many of which are already longtime recipients of the union’s largesse. The union gave $225,000 to Progress Now, the outfit chaired by Stock’s predecessor as Democracy Alliance chairman, John McKay; poured $200,000 into David Brock’s Media Matters for America (which disgraced itself as a paragon of progressive politics over the last year with scandals such as its effort to oppose unionization of its own staff); $27,400 into Netroots Nation; and $13,300 into Progressive States Network. NEA also spent heavily with Catalist LLC, the data outfit for the Democratic National Committee that is a lynchpin in Democracy Alliance’s campaign efforts; the union paid $726,566 to Catalist last year, double its spend in 2013-2014.

The biggest single recipient of all? Patriot Majority USA, the outfit founded by political strategist Craig Varoga that has also become a key player in Democratic Party politics. NEA gave Patriot Majority $1.4 million to the outfit in 2014-2015, 27 times more than it gave in the previous year. Given that huge boost in contributions, expect Patriot Majority to be another lynchpin in the union’s efforts to beat back the influence of Centrist Democrat school reformers within the party. The second-biggest recipient was America Works USA, a super-PAC which has garnered attention for helping Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf pressure the state’s Republican-controlled legislature into approving his tax increases; NEA poured $1 million into the group last year.

NEA poured $355,000 into America Votes, another progressive group whose “partners” include AFT and Center for Popular Democracy’s action fund. The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a endowment developed by former Clinton Administration mandarin Eric Kessler’s Arabella Advisors, received $450,000 from NEA; that’s plenty of money that will be funneled to progressive groups on the union’s behalf. Another outfit with ties to Kessler, New Venture Fund, received $117,000 from the union. And Network, a social justice group with ties to the Catholic Church got $50,000 from NEA last year.

Meanwhile, NEA is adding new vassals. One of them is the Progressive Inc., the outfit that publishes the Progressive, a key outlet for traditionalists such as Jeff Bryant of Campaign for America’s Future (a longtime NEA dependent) and Julian Vasquez-Heilig. It picked up $100,000 from the union in 2014-2015. Campaign for America’s Future, by the way, got $55,000 from NEA last fiscal year. Another new dependent is Center for Media and Democracy, the parent of PR Watch and once a unit of Progressive Inc. before splitting apart over a variety of issues. NEA gave CMD $100,000 in 2014-2015.

Then there’s State Voices, the Detroit-based progressive outfit which focuses on faux-grassroots voter outreach efforts. NEA gave $378,966 to the group last fiscal year. Another voter advocacy outfit, Voter Participation Center, collected $170,000 from the union. The Tides Foundation’s Advocacy Fund, which provides dollars to various grassroots and progressive groups, received $25,000 from NEA last year.

At the same time, NEA bolstered its giving to black and other minority-oriented groups. It gave $250,000 to Schott Foundation for Public Education’s Opportunity to Learn Action Fund; this is 16.7 percent less than what the outfit received in 2013-2014. Despite the decline, Schott has done plenty on behalf of the union and AFT to oppose systemic reform; this includes Schott President John Jackson, co-writing a letter with Pedro Noguera and Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project (which received $150,000 from the union in 2014-2015) criticizing civil rights groups for supporting standardized testing and the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. On the other hand, NEA gave just $20,000 to Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, 83 percent less than it gave to the affiliate of the federal legislative caucus in 2013-2014.

As for other groups? NEA gave$100,000 to National Urban League, $100,000 to NAACP, $51,000 to Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, $45,000 to League of United Latin American Citizens and its institute (which backed the false accountability effort pushed by the union and AFT), $20,000 to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies; $30,000 to Asian-Pacific American Labor Alliance, and $5,000 to National Black Caucus of State Legislators.

The union gave $200,000 to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network even though the civil rights leader is a strong supporter of charter schools. NEA also gave $255,000 to Center for American Progress, another strong reform-minded outfit, and handed out $54,625 to teacher quality reform outfit Teach Plus. Another reform outfit, Alliance for Excellent Education, received $200,000 from NEA last year.

As for the usual suspects? NEA gave $250,000 to Economic Policy Institute, while giving another $250,000 to the National Education Policy Center through the University of Colorado-Boulder’s foundation. Learning First Alliance collected $68,400 from NEA, while Education Law Center collected $75,000 from the union. FairTest, the traditionalist outfit which has been a key player in NEA’s efforts to roll back No Child’s accountability provisions and standardized testing, received $40,586 in 2014-2015, while National Board for Professional Teaching Standards collected $310,000 during the same period.

Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the group that represents the nation’s woeful university schools of education, received $388,363 from the union, while Barnett Berry’s Center for Teaching Quality got $438,837 from the union’s coffers. Voices for Education, the parent of Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, collected $25,000 from NEA last year, while People for the American Way and its foundation collected $175,000 from the union during the same period. The Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, which serves as a go-to institution for NEA and other traditionalists, received $250,000 from the union.

What about the top honchos? NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia collected $416,633 in 2014-2015, a 21 percent increase over the previous year, and more than enough money to buy herself some new guitars. The union’s number two, Becky Pringle, was paid $371,278, a 10 percent increase over 2013-2014; while Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss was compensated to the tune of $429,851, a three-fold increase over her previous salary as a member of the union’s executive committee. Altogether, NEA’s big three collected $1.2 million in 2014-2015, barely budging over previous year’s levels. Not one thing wrong with NEA leaders drawing six-figure sums. But the high salaries (and the corporate ways the NEA and the AFT engage in their defense of traditionalist policies and thinking) should be kept in mind any time Eskelsen Garcia and AFT counterpart Weingarten use class warfare rhetoric to oppose systemic reform of American public education.

The corporate nature of NEA can be seen in the 395 staffers earning six-figure sums, a 21-person increase over levels in 2013-2014. Among the big check collectors is Stocks, who earned $407,264, a slight decline over the previous year; another is Alice O’Brien, NEA’s general counsel, who picked up $242,768, or 4.1 percent more than last year. The union’s membership czar, Bill Thompson, collected $271,024; that’s 17.9 percent more than in 2013-2014. Marcus Egan, one of the union’s top lobbyists, was compensated to the tune of $181,968, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous year. Once again, it is clear that being an NEA staffer is lucrative work. Whether the teachers who are often forced by compulsory dues laws to pay those salaries are benefiting is a different story.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

American Federation of Teachers Increases Support for Progressive Pressure Groups

The American Federation of Teachers just filed its 2014-2015 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, and as you would expect, it spent big on preserving its declining influence over education policy. The nation’s second-largest teachers’ union spent $42 million on political lobbying activities and contributions to what should be like-minded groups; this, by the way, doesn’t include politically-driven spending that can often find its way under so-called “representational activities”. This is a 45 percent increase over influence-spending levels in 2013-2014.

As it did last year, AFT gave big to the charities controlled by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. It handed over $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and another $250,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative, which is the other non-explicitly political wing of the Clinton family’s always-political efforts. Altogether, the two Clinton charities received $500,000 in 2014-2015, an 11 percent increase over the $450,000 given to them in the previous year; altogether, AFT has poured $1.2 million into Clinton-controlled outfits over the past three years.

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American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten

As Dropout Nation has noted over the past year, AFT’s giving to the Clinton charities is part of the union’s goal of winning influence over federal education policy after seven years of being shut out by the Obama Administration and centrist Democrat reformers. The union has further burnished its already-extensive ties to Hillary and Bill. This includes endorsing the former U.S. Secretary of State’s run for the White House in spite of opposition from hardcore progressive traditionalists within the rank-and-file, as well as with AFT President Randi Weingarten’s appearance this past Sunday at a Clinton Global Initiative summit to announce $100 million in funding for an early childhood education initiative that will surely benefit the union’s other goal of forcibly unionizing preschool teachers. Expect the union to put even more money behind Hillary’s campaign and the Clinton family’s charities over the next year.

But AFT’s efforts to wrestle control over education policy from centrist Democrats isn’t limited to backing the nominee. The union has poured $99,000 into Democrats for Public Education, the AstroTurf group it formed last year to oppose the rival (and more-prominent) Democrats for Education Reform; this doesn’t include another $12,500 that the union has lent to the group that appears on its accounts payable list. Expect the group’s co-chair, longtime Clinton ally and Democratic Party powerhouse Donna Brazile, to do plenty of lifting on behalf of AFT within the party (and during her appearances on CNN); Brazile’s firm, by the way, collected $100,000 from the union in 2014-2015. Also, expect AFT and Democrats for Public Education to put lots of money and activism behind the group’s other co-chair, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland; after all, he is likely run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Rob Portman next year — and has a good chance of winning.

Meanwhile AFT is pouring even more money into progressive outfits it, along with NEA, has long it co-opted. The prime role these progressive groups will play for the union in getting activists within the Democratic Party to support its aims (and that of the NEA) on education policy will become even more important with the upcoming presidential election. This starts with Democracy Alliance, the ever-so-secretive outfit to which AFT (and NEA) belong. The union gave $60,000 to the outfit last year. As novelist Chuck Palahniuk would write, the first rule about membership in Democracy Alliance is that you don’t say you’re part of it. Another outfit getting AFT money is the State Innovation Exchange, which aims to duplicate for progressives and Democrat state legislators the kind of legislative writing work done by American Legislative Exchange Council on behalf of Republican and conservative counterparts. The union gave $60,000 to SIX last year. Political action committee America Bridge 21st Century received $100,000 from AFT last year.

Center for Popular Democracy, on whose board Weingarten sits, picked up $60,000 from AFT while its action fund received another $100,000; the group has done more than its duty for the union (and its goal of opposing school choice) by teaming up with In The Public Interest to publish a series of reports demanding “accountability” for public charter schools. In The Public Interest, by the way, picked up $50,000 from AFT for doing the union’s bidding. AFT gave $25,000 to Netroots Nation, another longstanding beneficiary of its largesse. It gave $27,000 to The Nation, which has become a prime venue for pieces that favor the AFT’s views on systemic reform; and handed $10,000 to Dissent, the progressive magazine that occasionally makes The Nation seem downright conservative.

Another key group AFT is funding is the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which has been worked actively on pay equity and other issues. This includes its Early Care and Education project, which has issued a steady stream of reports calling for preschool teachers to be better-paid; this dovetails nicely with AFT’s twin goals of regaining dominance in education policy and becoming the dominant union in the early childhood education space. The union gave $47,500 to IWPR in 2014-2015. AFT also poured $60,000 into Jobs with Justice and its education fund; gave $20,000 to Policy Matters Ohio; and handed out $50,000 to Public Policy and Education Fund of New York. United Students Against Sweatshops, which hasactively opposed reform outfits such as Students For Education Reform and Teach for America on behalf of AFT, picked up $50,000 from the union last year. Americans United for Change picked up $90,000 from AFT in 2014-2015.

But AFT isn’t just concentrating its money into progressive groups. It is also spending lots of money on election data it can use to help itself and its progressive allies gain traction. That need became especially clear during last year’s Election Day debacle. AFT spent $220,000 with the Atlas Project, the outfit which provides election data to various progressive groups. The union is also paying lots of money to get individual progressives on its side. The union paid $176,568 to pastor and onetime Democratic National Committee operative Rev. Leah Daughtry’s outfit, On These Things, and also put $15,450 into Dissent contributor Jo-Ann Mort’s Change Communications.

[By the way: AFT also paid $25,000 to Alexander Russo, the writer behind This Week inEducation, for The Grade, the Washington Monthly education blog he launched earlier this year. Russo confirmed this in a response to Dropout Nation earlier today.]

The AFT is also pouring money into black and other minority outfits. The union poured $75,000 into the Schott Foundation for Public Education’s Opportunity to Learn Action Fund; this is less than the $180,000 it gave to Schott and its unit last year. Apparently, all the workSchott has done to help the AFT unsuccessfully beat back systemic reform (including a letter the outfit’s president, John Jackson, co-wrote with Pedro Noguera and Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project) didn’t get the bang the union wanted. AFT also handed over $80,000 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a move that gave the union prime visibility at its annual event (including a speaking spot for Weingarten) before key congressional leaders such as House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott. The union handed over $42,000 to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, another key arm for congressional leaders weighing the unlikely reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Jesse Jackson‘s Rainbow PUSH Coalition picked up a mere $10,000 from AFT in 2014-2015, 60 percent less than the $25,000 the old-school civil rights leader’s outfit received in the previous year. Apparently AFT decided after its unsuccessful effort to oust Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel from office earlier this year that paying Jackson more money was a waste of resources. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network still got $100,000 (or four times more than it received last year) despite the activist-and-television commentator’s support for charter schools; this likely has to do with supporting Sharpton’s work with the union’s Big Apple local, United Federation of Teachers, on stopping police brutality. The union gave television commentator Tavis Smiley’s eponymous firm $150,000 for “member-related professional services”. AFT also gave $25,100 to National Alliance of Black School Educators, $5,000 to National Black Caucus of State Legislators, $5,000 to National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, $5,000 to Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, $5,000 to National Council on Educating Black Children, and $5,000 to the National Bar Association’s civil rights law section.

AFT also handed over $65,000 to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose legal defense fund has become one of the most-prominent opponents of the union’s efforts to eviscerate No Child’s strong accountability measures; that’s 44 percent more than the union gave to the group last year. [AFT also gave the old-school civil rights group’s Tar Heel State unit $100,000 for its efforts.] The union also gave $15,000 to National Council of La Raza, as well as $100,000 to Center for American Progress and its action fund. The League of United Latin American Citizens, which has been a prominent supporter of reform before signing up on a compact opposing accountability put together by AFT and the National Education Association, picked up $15,000 from the union for its national convention. AFT also gave $5,000 to National Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs, $5,000 to National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, and $5,000 to U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute.

As for the usual suspects? The Economic Policy Institute picked up $300,000 from AFT in 2014-2015, $25,000 more than it received in the previous year, while the Learning First Alliance received $53,964, the same as in 2013-2014. The American Prospect, which was started by Economic Policy Institute co-founder Robert Kuttner, returns to the AFT fold, picking up $50,000 from the union. Through the University of Colorado Foundation, the AFT dropped another $50,000 into the National Education Policy Center, the group run by Kevin Welner that has been a reliable flack for AFT and NEA positions against systemic reform. And the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, a key player in vetting the nation’s university schools of education, received another $69,330 from AFT last year.

Let’s also not forget the other AFT front groups: Alliance for Quality Education, which has carried plenty of water for AFT and its affiliates in New York, received $25,000 from the union in 2014-2015; that’s 50 percent less than the $50,000 the group received from AFT in the previous year. Common Good Ohio, an outfit which is working with the AFT’s Cleveland local on beating back Mayor Frank Jackson’s reform efforts, got $25,000 or half of what the union handed to it in 2013-2014. ACTION United, which has helped AFT in its partially-successful effort to halt systemic reform in Philadelphia, received $20,000 in 2014-2015, less than half the largesse received in the previous period. Youth United for Change, the other key group for AFT in the City of Brotherly Love, got $30,000, or half its pull in 2013-2014.

So how much did Randi and her fellow leaders make? Good question. The AFT president pulled down $497,118 in 2014-2015, 10.8 percent less than in the previous year, while Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson was paid $356,292, or slightly more than in the previous period. Mary Cathryn Ricker, the former Saint Paul Federation of Teachers boss who succeeded Francine Lawrence as executive vice president, was paid $295,275, more than the zero dollars she earned as an AFT vice president in 2013-2014. Altogether, the AFT’s big three pulled down $1.1 million last fiscal year, 15 percent less than in the previous period.

The union’s mandarins also did well. Michelle Ringuette, the former Service Employees International Union staffer who is now Weingarten’s top assistant, made $232,865 in 2014-2015, while Michael Powell, who serves as Weingarten’s mouthpiece, earned $247,254. Kristor Cowan, the AFT’s chief lobbyist, earned $185,015, while Kombiz Lavasany, another operative who oversees Weingarten’s money manager enemies’ list, earned $176,080. Altogether, 229 staffers made more than $100,000 a year, 10 more than last year.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the AFT’s financial filing later this week. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the AFT’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check outDropout Nation‘s new collection, Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on AFT and NEA spending.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

 

Pseudo Studies and Push Polls

Teachers unions turn to “facts” as they desperately cling to their monopolistic, anti-privatization narrative.

Last Thursday the “non-partisan” Center for Tax and Budget Accountability rolled out a report that slammed vouchers, claiming that there is “no statistical evidence proving that students who use vouchers perform better than their public school counterparts.” The “study,” as reported by WRTV in Indianapolis, included Indiana’s program with three long-running and popular school choice programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Turns out the “study” is about as “non-partisan” as a Colts fan who has ten grand riding on the home team. Its many flaws are documented meticulously by Cato Institute policy analyst Jason Bedrick. For example, CTBA tries to make its case using statistics from 2008-2009 rather than later – and less friendly – data. It also does something blatantly dishonest by stating that Indiana’s scholarship tax credit law has had a negative fiscal impact on the state. CTBA deceptively focuses exclusively on a reduction in revenue to the schools without acknowledging a corresponding reduction in expenses. As Bedrick notes, “The average scholarship is worth barely $1,000, so every student who switches out of a district school to accept a scholarship saves the state a lot of money. In a forthcoming report for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, using highly conservative assumptions, I calculated that the Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit saved the state approximately $23.2 million in 2014-15.” And this example is just the tip of a rather massive iceberg.

At the end of the WRTV piece, there is a tag line: “RTV6’s Eric Cox reported that CTBA claims to be a bipartisan research group.” The reporter said that he couldn’t find anyone at the press conference to counter CTBA’s allegations. Perhaps a quick phone call to the Friedman Foundation – located in Indianapolis – would have given balance to the story. Also, if the station had bothered to dig a few inches below the surface, it would have learned that the CTBA board is packed with – no surprise – union leaders, including Illinois Federation of Teachers president Daniel Montgomery, as well as its Director of Governmental Relations, Jim Reed and Illinois AFL-CIO president Michael Carrigan.

A similarly scurrilous bit of advocacy dressed up in scientific clothes – this one fortunately lacking media coverage – appeared on the National Education Association website. “Where’s the Accountability? Ignoring Poor Track Record, Lawmakers Push Voucher Expansion” makes claims similar to CTBA’s. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association president Bob Peterson states, “Since the voucher program in Wisconsin started in 1990, over $1.4 billion of public taxpayer dollars have gone to private schools. At the same time, we’ve seen massive cuts to public education statewide.” So what? If half the kids leave a public school system and half the money leaves too (actually, voucher money never equals the actual cost per student), there is still the same amount of money per student left in the public schools. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García adds to the money libel, “Buzzwords such as ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ are used only to mask what vouchers actually are – a shameful, unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The union leaders would do well to read a study which examines the fiscal impact of 10 of the 21 school voucher programs nationwide. Jeff Spalding, director of fiscal policy at the Friedman Foundation, found a savings in participating states of $1.7 billion from 1991-2011. If choice were universal, and not limited to the 300,000 or so students who participate at this point (about one half of one percent of all students), the $1.7 billion savings would skyrocket.

Then there is a memo put out by “Third Way,” allegedly a centrist outfit whose raison d’être is providing solutions neither left nor right, but moderate. Really? There is nothing at all moderate about, “Should a New No Child Left Behind Include Vouchers?” In fact, the writers quite immoderately inform us that vouchers aren’t successful, escape accountability, wreak havoc on school district budgets, etc.

The Third Way information is bunkum. In a recent report, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at not one or two, but 12 empirical studies that “examine academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the ‘gold standard’ of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.” And at the same time, the taxpayers are shelling out fewer education dollars.

Regarding accountability, vouchers create a situation whereby schools are accountable to parents, at least the lucky ones who get to choose the school their child goes to. Currently in most places, parents are forced to send their kid to the public school down the street that’s accountable to no one. Monopolies never have to be successful because they’re, well, monopolies.

The “wreaking havoc” argument is just plain silly. As Bedrick writes,

Third Way laments that school choice could ‘destabilize district financial planning.’ It is telling that they don’t point to a single example. Even more telling, their concern assumes that there would be a mass exodus from the public schools if families were given the option to leave and take the funds dedicated to their child with them. As David Boaz once observed, ‘Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product.’

And finally we have yet another anti-choice broadside on the NEA website. The teachers union is giddy that “Voters Rank Top Problems Facing Education. Lack of School Choice Isn’t One of Them.” First, they really don’t deal with privatization at all and their questions are so loaded that a Polling 101 student could see right through them. For example, the main question on charters reads,

As you may know, the vast majority of charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are privately managed by for-profit companies or non-profit organizations. They operate independently of the public school system and are not required to follow some of the laws and regulations that public schools are required to follow. From what you’ve heard, do you favor or oppose charter schools?

A bit of a leading question, no? Even with the biased wording, responders were still favorably inclined to charter schools by a 52-38 margin, and 10 percent were agnostic. This same poll found that just 10 percent believed that lack of school choice was the biggest educational concern in the country. Given the way the questions were worded, I’m surprised that even 10 percent said that lack of choice was the #1 problem. Additionally, it should come as no surprise that the Center for Popular Democracy, one of the groups that conducted the survey has American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on its board of directors.

In a much more honest poll – using objective, non-leading questions – Education Next found in 2014 that the public favors universal vouchers by a 50-39 margin and charter schools 54-28.

The teachers union monopoly and its favored one-size-fits-all education model are running out of gas and desperation is setting in. Their anti-choice push polls and bogus studies are as real as a Potemkin village and the American public is on to them. Choice is here. It’s successful. It’s growing. Deal with it.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Pseudo Studies and Push Polls

Teachers unions turn to “facts” as they desperately cling to their monopolistic, anti-privatization narrative.

Last Thursday the “non-partisan” Center for Tax and Budget Accountability rolled out a report that slammed vouchers, claiming that there is “no statistical evidence proving that students who use vouchers perform better than their public school counterparts.” The “study,” as reported by WRTV in Indianapolis, included Indiana’s program with three long-running and popular school choice programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Turns out the “study” is about as “non-partisan” as a Colts fan who has ten grand riding on the home team. Its many flaws are documented meticulously by Cato Institute policy analyst Jason Bedrick. For example, CTBA tries to make its case using statistics from 2008-2009 rather than later – and less friendly – data. It also does something blatantly dishonest by stating that Indiana’s scholarship tax credit law has had a negative fiscal impact on the state. CTBA deceptively focuses exclusively on a reduction in revenue to the schools without acknowledging a corresponding reduction in expenses. As Bedrick notes, “The average scholarship is worth barely $1,000, so every student who switches out of a district school to accept a scholarship saves the state a lot of money. In a forthcoming report for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, using highly conservative assumptions, I calculated that the Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit saved the state approximately $23.2 million in 2014-15.” And this example is just the tip of a rather massive iceberg.

At the end of the WRTV piece, there is a tag line: “RTV6’s Eric Cox reported that CTBA claims to be a bipartisan research group.” The reporter said that he couldn’t find anyone at the press conference to counter CTBA’s allegations. Perhaps a quick phone call to the Friedman Foundation – located in Indianapolis – would have given balance to the story. Also, if the station had bothered to dig a few inches below the surface, it would have learned that the CTBA board is packed with – no surprise – union leaders, including Illinois Federation of Teachers president Daniel Montgomery, as well as its Director of Governmental Relations, Jim Reed and Illinois AFL-CIO president Michael Carrigan.

A similarly scurrilous bit of advocacy dressed up in scientific clothes – this one fortunately lacking media coverage – appeared on the National Education Association website. “Where’s the Accountability? Ignoring Poor Track Record, Lawmakers Push Voucher Expansion” makes claims similar to CTBA’s. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association president Bob Peterson states, “Since the voucher program in Wisconsin started in 1990, over $1.4 billion of public taxpayer dollars have gone to private schools. At the same time, we’ve seen massive cuts to public education statewide.” So what? If half the kids leave a public school system and half the money leaves too (actually, voucher money never equals the actual cost per student), there is still the same amount of money per student left in the public schools. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García adds to the money libel, “Buzzwords such as ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ are used only to mask what vouchers actually are – a shameful, unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The union leaders would do well to read a study which examines the fiscal impact of 10 of the 21 school voucher programs nationwide. Jeff Spalding, director of fiscal policy at the Friedman Foundation, found a savings in participating states of $1.7 billion from 1991-2011. If choice were universal, and not limited to the 300,000 or so students who participate at this point (about one half of one percent of all students), the $1.7 billion savings would skyrocket.

Then there is a memo put out by “Third Way,” allegedly a centrist outfit whose raison d’être is providing solutions neither left nor right, but moderate. Really? There is nothing at all moderate about, “Should a New No Child Left Behind Include Vouchers?” In fact, the writers quite immoderately inform us that vouchers aren’t successful, escape accountability, wreak havoc on school district budgets, etc.

The Third Way information is bunkum. In a recent report, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at not one or two, but 12 empirical studies that “examine academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the ‘gold standard’ of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.” And at the same time, the taxpayers are shelling out fewer education dollars.

Regarding accountability, vouchers create a situation whereby schools are accountable to parents, at least the lucky ones who get to choose the school their child goes to. Currently in most places, parents are forced to send their kid to the public school down the street that’s accountable to no one. Monopolies never have to be successful because they’re, well, monopolies.

The “wreaking havoc” argument is just plain silly. As Bedrick writes,

Third Way laments that school choice could ‘destabilize district financial planning.’ It is telling that they don’t point to a single example. Even more telling, their concern assumes that there would be a mass exodus from the public schools if families were given the option to leave and take the funds dedicated to their child with them. As David Boaz once observed, ‘Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product.’

And finally we have yet another anti-choice broadside on the NEA website. The teachers union is giddy that “Voters Rank Top Problems Facing Education. Lack of School Choice Isn’t One of Them.” First, they really don’t deal with privatization at all and their questions are so loaded that a Polling 101 student could see right through them. For example, the main question on charters reads,

As you may know, the vast majority of charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are privately managed by for-profit companies or non-profit organizations. They operate independently of the public school system and are not required to follow some of the laws and regulations that public schools are required to follow. From what you’ve heard, do you favor or oppose charter schools?

A bit of a leading question, no? Even with the biased wording, responders were still favorably inclined to charter schools by a 52-38 margin, and 10 percent were agnostic. This same poll found that just 10 percent believed that lack of school choice was the biggest educational concern in the country. Given the way the questions were worded, I’m surprised that even 10 percent said that lack of choice was the #1 problem. Additionally, it should come as no surprise that the Center for Popular Democracy, one of the groups that conducted the survey has American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on its board of directors.

In a much more honest poll – using objective, non-leading questions – Education Next found in 2014 that the public favors universal vouchers by a 50-39 margin and charter schools 54-28.

The teachers union monopoly and its favored one-size-fits-all education model are running out of gas and desperation is setting in. Their anti-choice push polls and bogus studies are as real as a Potemkin village and the American public is on to them. Choice is here. It’s successful. It’s growing. Deal with it.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

 

The Oasis Was a Mirage

After failing miserably for almost ten years, a rare union-run charter school is mercifully shuttered.

In September 2005, New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Randi Weingarten was frustrated and wanted to prove a point. She explained that the union was opening two charter schools so that it could “reclaim” the original charter school model conceived by former American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Albert Shanker, who said “charter schools could help teachers work without the stifling bureaucracy and stifling micromanagement.”

Taking a potshot at NYC school superintendent Joel Klein, Weingarten said, “This kind of effort, this kind of potential, is what we should be unleashing on the school system every single day, and the Klein administration will not let us do this anymore in the public school arena. It is incredibly ironic that the only way that teachers could do this kind of bottom-up thinking at a school was to do it using the mechanics of a charter school.”

She added that the UFT Charter School would “show real, quantifiable student achievement and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.” As the school was about to open, Weingarten crowed, “This school is an oasis.”

Well it’s almost ten years later and the oasis’s land is barren, the water is fetid and the camels are sickly. And the achievement is certainly “quantifiable” – quantifiably bad. The State University of New York (SUNY) which authorized the two schools – K-8 and a high school – has decided to pull the plug on the elementary school for many reasons. (The high school remains on life supports.)

The K-8 school’s test results have been abysmal. In 2014, only 11 percent of its students were proficient in English and 18 percent in math, compared to 28 and 36 percent in traditional public schools with similar demographics. At Harlem Success Academy (Weingarten-nemesis Eva Moskowitz’s non-unionized charter school), those numbers are 59 and 92 percent.

And those awful results are just the tip of the iceberg. Other findings:

  • The school had a high teacher turnover.
  • There were budget deficits and “operational chaos.”
  • Declining enrollment in the middle school exacerbated the school’s fiscal duress, which SUNY attributed to “poor bookkeeping.”
  • The union had to bail out the school with interest-free loans.
  • SUNY also highlighted “chronic shortages of textbooks and unrepaired equipment.”
  • There were missing standardized test booklets that were not returned to the publisher for scoring.
  • In one geography lesson, “rather than making use of technological resources to present the critical economic and political importance of the Nile, the teacher had students color in blank maps of the river.”
  • The campus has lacked stability with five principals in seven years.
  • School leaders reported that the staff had to be counseled on “appropriate interaction with students following approximately 10 corporal punishment incidents.”
  • A review of board minutes found “numerous, apparently systemic, Open Meetings Law violations.”
  • The school was in violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, because it had a number of students who required more restrictive classroom settings than the school offered.
  • The school “was in violation of state law requiring that school personnel (and certain contractors with direct access to students) be subject to a fingerprint-supported criminal background check prior to appointment at the school. At the time of the renewal inspection visit, the school was unable to produce evidence that five individuals were appropriately cleared for employment.”

But hey, other than that….

Not surprisingly, Weingarten (now AFT president) and other union leaders who constantly blab to the media have been very cricket-like about the school’s closing. Only the combative current UFT president, Michael Mulgrew, has spoken out, but of course the union took no responsibility for the school’s miserable results. Instead, he blamed SUNY, the state authorizer, for its “narrow focus on state tests.” But James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center countered Mulgrew’s nonsense, saying. “It’s well known by now that the UFT is allergic to actual accountability. So I’m not surprised—but still dismayed—that … UFT would not accept even the slightest responsibility for its abysmal failure to provide children with a great education.”

Very oddly, on March 3rd, after all the bad news had been reported, UFT came out with a press release touting a “Charter School Accountability Agenda,” a reform plan created by two AFT front groups – the Center for Popular Democracy and In the Public Interest. Its purpose is “to ensure that charter schools fulfill their role in education as lawmakers originally envisioned.” Included is this snippet:

The American people overwhelmingly support accountability and transparency for charter schools. If a school takes public dollars, the public wants some control and oversight of what goes on there. The Charter School Accountability Agenda lays out tangible steps we need to take to guarantee that every child gets a high-quality public education, whether that child is in a neighborhood school or a publicly funded charter school.

This is tantamount to a convicted bank robber telling a financial institution how it should conduct its business.

And wouldn’t you think that the union would have gone out of its way to ensure that UFT Charter School was a success? Over the past several years, teachers unions have been increasingly attacked for being anti-child and this would have been a perfect opportunity to prove that they really cared about educating kids. Whether it was carelessness or world-class ineptitude, the failure was monumental. Never one to mince words, school reform advocate RiShawn Biddle wrote, “After the failure of its UFT Charter School, AFT President Randi Weingarten and UFT boss Michael Mulgrew shouldn’t be allowed near any school operation.” I would amend that to not being allowed near any school. Period.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.