The $100,000 Question

Massachusetts, one of the highest regarded public education systems world-wide, is embroiled in a ballot initiative, Question 2.  Question 2 proponents want to raise the current cap on charter schools to include 12 new charter school each year. Opponents – and full disclosure, I land in that category for a number of reasons – want to keep charter schools capped at current levels.

One would think that the state governing boards making decisions about which charter schools to approve and how many might try to maintain neutrality in such a debate. But here in Massachusetts, one would be wrong.

Paul Sagan, the appointed Chair of the Commonwealth Board of Education (by Governor Baker who is an advocate for charter schools and lifting the cap) is one of those who gives thumbs-up or thumbs-down to charter schools in Massachusetts. Paul Sagan, it was recently revealed, donated $100,000 of his own money toward the campaign tasked with tasked with getting Massachusetts voters to vote Yes on 2. Does that seem wrong to anyone else?

Mr. Sagan, who sits on a number of Boards of Directors, used to serve as an executive in a company called Akamai. Mr. Sagan, it was revealed yesterday, also deeded over some of his stock to a family fund supporting charter schools.

How, I ask you, is this allowed to stand? Why is there not more outcry for Mr. Sagan to resign from the Board of Education?

Mr. Sagan’s boss, Governor Baker, apparently thinks this is a big “nothingburger“. Yes, that is indeed the terminology Mr. Baker used to describe these ethically questionable donations when asked about it. Nothing to see here, move along.

Even if one were to swallow the spin that Mr. Sagan’s monetary support for lifting the cap on charter schools is perfectly allowable, there is an aura of cronyism here. Instead, of neutrality and impartiality when making decisions about charter school approval, it appears that the “fix” is in.

Political appointees are certainly well within their right to donate and support whatever makes them politically happy. However, when your appointed position on a very high-level board making decisions about how many and which charter applications receive approvals will be impacted by whether or not a ballot initiative passes, that is not a “nothingburger”.

That is the real deal, and a raw one at that.

Follow the money

DSCN0465With the election about 8 weeks away, there’s a lot of available “information”, and I use that term lightly, about Ballot Question 2 (Balletopedia website for detailed text and Pro/Con Arguments). For anyone who may have missed it, Ballot Question 2 favors lifting the current cap on charter schools allowing up to an additional 12 new charter schools each year.

I was having a discussion about this with a family member from a different state who pointed out that the “No On 2” people are not making their case strongly enough. The advertising on the “Yes” or lift-the-cap side is much slicker and more abundant. I don’t think that’s something that can be denied what with the MILLIONS of dollars being poured into innocuous sounding Question 2 proponent groups – groups with names like Great Schools Massachusetts, Families for Excellent Schools, and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

The names of these groups are engineered to lull voters into thinking these groups are something they are not, because who in their right mind would not want a GREAT school in Massachusetts; which family members would want their child in an EXCELLENT school?  In reality, thanks to diligent and tireless reporting – not from the fourth estate, but from ordinary citizens who have sensed such groups had something more than greatness and excellence in mind, one finds that the funding behind those slick and prolific ads urging voters to vote “YES” on Question 2 more than a bit misleading.

Here are three links to recent stories that all voters should read before deciding how to vote.

Ask yourself, what is the return on investment that will make shelling out thousands or millions of dollars towards lifting the charter school cap worthwhile for out-of-state investors and hedge fund managers? That is the $18 million dollar question.