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Probe Reveals Corrupt Dems Teaming Up With Michelle Rhee, School Privatizers in CA

Rhee Johnson Corrupt

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A California probe of State Sen. Ron Calderon is providing insight into a political system rife with education corruption and cronyism where political favors are being exchanged at the expense of students.  Reports suggest pro-corporate education interests have made headway in the Democratic party through corrupt Senators like Calderon and StudentsFirst leader Michelle Rhee’s husband, Democratic Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson.

Seth Sandronsky has the story:

Al Jazeera America’s Oct. 31 unveiling of an FBI affidavit that alleges Sen. Calderon’s multiple alleged wrongdoings includes his brother Thomas Calderon’s meeting with star education reformer Michelle Rhee’s lobbyists. Her StudentsFirst group operates from a national headquarters in Sacramento.

The affidavit alleges that StudentsFirst lobbyists met with Sen. Calderon’s brother on Feb. 20. On Feb. 21, Sen. Calderon introduced a teacher-reform measure, Senate Bill 441 that Rhee’s group supports.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Rhee’s husband and never a classroom teacher, backed Sen. Calderon’s SB 441, which failed to pass out of committee. The mayor’s education non-profit, Stand Up for Great Schools, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the big-box retailer, also supported SB 441, which teacher unions opposed.

As Trevor Aaronson of Al Jazeera America reports: “Ronald Calderon’s push for the education bill came after Rhee’s organization provided critical financial support to the political campaign of his nephew Ian Calderon. In May 2012, state records show, StudentsFirst funneled $378,196 through a political action committee to Ian Calderon’s successful campaign for the California Assembly”:

Rhee’s donation to Ian Calderon represents just over eight percent of StudentsFirst $4.6 million of donations to its 501(c)(4) nonprofit. That figure comes from its Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service, for the tax year ending July 31, 2011.

Operating in 34 states now, the IRS allows 501(c)(4) groups to engage in political activity such as lobbying: “Seeking legislation germane to the organization’s programs (as) a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes.” Oh, and the donor names to StudentsFirst’s 501(c)(4) are secret.

Sen. Calderon’s privatization heart does not beat only for Rhee. He has an aorta reserved for ALEC, too. His SB 441 legislation is eerily similar to the Teacher Evaluations and Licensing Act ALEC proposed in 2011 as part of the “Indiana Education Reform Package.”  Introducing ALEC legislation in exchange for corporate election support isn’t a major accomplishment these days. But pulling it off in California is.

My, how the pay-to-play system has grown.  ”Pro-business” Democrats are enabling the ALEC agenda in order to pump more coints into the political arcade, Sandronsky explains:

We turn to Connections Academy, a for-profit online learning enterprise that began in Houston, Texas. Once upon a time, this company co-led ALEC’s education task force.    

Enter Pearson, Inc., a $7 billion publicly traded, global firm that profits shareholders through certifying teachers, grading standardized tests, publishing textbooks and providing digital curriculum on iPads. Pearson Connections in August 2011. Connections left ALEC soon after, said Brandon Pinette of Pearson in an email.

However, the state bills that Connections, the second largest online school company nationwide to K12 Inc., supported on ALEC’s education task force are still operative, said Rebekah Wilce, a researcher and reporter for the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy. K12 Inc., the biggest cyber school firm and formerly owned by Kaplan, Inc., the giant test preparation company, remains a member of the ALEC education task force, according to her.

Meanwhile, The Sacramento Bee financially backs Mayor Johnson’s nonprofit St. HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Excellence ) Development Company:

Johnson’s nonprofit, with help from the local school board and billionaire philanthropists such as Eli Broad, converted Sacramento High School to a nonunion charter school after pupils’ scores on high-stakes standardized tests fell in 2003.

Sacramento Charter High School has an enrollment of 900 students now according to Jim Scheible, superintendent of St. HOPE Public Schools. Before its charter conversion, 1,800 pupils attended Sacramento High School.  

If California is not immune to public school take downs by privatizers, what state will be?
Read the rest of Sandronsky’s article for the full scoop.


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