This was written by Jonathan Pelto, a former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives who now provides commentary on politics and public policy at his blog, “Wait, What?”, where this first appeared.

By Jonathan Pelto

When are conflicts of interest – conflicts of interests?

The Connecticut Mirror recently published a news story entitled “State Board criticizes revised education reform bill.”

It was a straightforward story about how the State Board of Education was joining other “Education Reform” advocates in blasting the changes the Legislature’s Education Committee made to Governor Malloy’s Senate Bill 24.

Speaking on behalf of the State Board of Education it quoted Allan Taylor (Chairman) Stefan Pryor (Commissioner) and board member Patricia Luke. Balanced against their comments were those of the House co-chairman of the Education Committee.

To my knowledge there was nothing remotely inaccurate about the story.

It is not what the story says, but what it doesn’t say that is noteworthy and representative of an issue that has plagued the “education reform” effort from the beginning.

The news story began like this: “State Board of Education members angrily criticized lawmakers’ attempts to scale back a major education reform bill, saying Wednesday that the watered-down bill could stall the effort to fix the state’s worst schools.”

The first quote came from State Board of Education Chairman, Allan Taylor who said he has “watched this process ... with real dismay.” Taylor has been a hard-working and dedicated member of the state board for years. However, Taylor is also a member of ConnCAN Inc.’s Advisory Board. ConnCAN Inc. is the “education reform” advocacy group that received $1.3 million from the Walton Family Foundation to run a pro-charter school and “education reform” public relations campaign. ConnCAN Inc. was set up by the same people who formed Achievement First Inc., the charter school management company that runs 20 charter schools in Connecticut and New York.

Another critic of the legislature at the State Board of Education meeting was Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor. As we know, Pryor helped create and direct Achievement First, Inc. for eight years before resigning to become Malloy’s “education reform” point person.

Considering the increase in funding for charter schools and the probable outcome of Malloy’s “Commissioner’s Network” program, Achievement First may very well be the entity that is the single biggest winner from Malloy’s bill. The charter school company with its 2,600 students will get a bigger per-student and total dollar boost in funds than Hartford, New Haven or Bridgeport, not to mention the opportunity to take over some of the “Commissioner’s Network” schools.

At the meeting Pryor highlighted his concern about what the Mirror described as “the reduction of funding in a proposal aimed at low-performing districts and the removal of specific strategies to help those districts….”

The issue Pryor is referring to is, in fact, the “Commissioner’s Network” program — the very program that would allow him to take over up to 25 schools, fire the staff, ban collective bargaining and turn those schools over to some other entity, such as a charter school management firm. These entities would then run the schools while being exempt for the state’s laws on competitive bidding, purchasing and the use of outside consultants.

Pryor says he is concerned that the legislature removed some “specific strategies to help those districts.”

Let’s be honest. Not everyone thinks firing teachers, banning collective bargaining, having a third party run the schools and exempting that third party from Connecticut’s consulting and purchasing laws is “helping” out the children who go to those schools.

Finally, State Board Of Education member Patricia Luke was also upset about the Education Committee’s efforts and was quoted as saying: “When I realized what they had done to the bill, all I could say was it’s just the same old story.”

What the story fails to mention is that before being appointed to the State Board of Education, Patricia Luke was the lead lobbyist for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) for 19 years.

CABE, as the story does note, has partnered with ConnCAN, the Connecticut superintendents’ association, and a number of business groups to lobby on behalf of Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill.

Just this week, CABE, which is supposed to represent members of boards of education across the state, remained silent when one of its advocacy partners, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, publicly claimed that poverty did not impact educational outcomes. CABE’s members know better than most that poverty is the single biggest factor associated with poor educational outcomes.

While reasonable people can have different opinions about an issue as complex as “education reform,” we are left to wonder, yet again, just who are some of those “public servants” are actually advocating for?


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