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Astroturf Group Calls Families For Excellent Schools An Astroturf Group

For the Alliance for Quality Education, it’s the pot calling the kettle black

On Monday, Politico’s Eliza Shapiro broke the news that Families for Excellent Schools, the high-profile charter school advocacy group in New York, will close in the coming months.

The revelation comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that Families for Excellent Schools CEO Jeremiah Kittredge was fired after he was accused of sexual harassment. Although it has been suggested that the closure is tied to Kittredge’s termination, rumors of FES’ impending demise have been circulating in education reform circles for months. The organization’s reputation has suffered in recent years as a result of several setbacks, including the defeat of its $20 million effort to lift the charter school cap in Massachusetts in 2016. After officials in Massachusetts slapped FES with a $426,000 fine for violating campaign finance laws last fall, the group’s fate was all but sealed.

The New York-based charter advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, will shut its doors in the coming months.

Needless to say, charter school opponents have responded to news of the organization’s closure with unabashed glee. The Alliance for Quality Education, a group that has led the fight against school choice in New York State, even issued a press release (in an act of supreme pettiness) aimed at rubbing salt in FES’ wounds.  

“FES is the latest of the astroturf charter school advocates to sputter into irrelevance in New York State, just another group that tried and failed to do any real grassroots parent organizing,” Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director for AQE, said in the statement. “Keep your eyes open because it will not be shocking if the billionaire hedge fund crowd that backed FES moves their money into a new organization.”

AQE advocacy director Zakiyah Ansari speaks at an anti-testing rally, while one of her patrons, UFT president Michael Mulgrew, stares off into space.

Ironically, while the Alliance for Quality Education takes great pains to present itself as a grassroots organization, the bulk of its financial support comes from the American Federation of Teachers. According to Department of Labor filings, AFT and the New York State United Teachers have together directly contributed over $582,000 to AQE since 2013. 

But that figure alone misses the full scope of the teachers unions’ support for the Alliance for Quality Education’s work. It just so happens that AQE shares offices with another union-backed organization, Citizen Action of New York, along with its 501(c)(3) arm, the Public Policy and Education Fund. In fact, Citizen Action’s executive director, Karen Scharff, is chair of AQE’s board of directors (as well as the co-chair of Working Families Party of New York).

Karen Scharff is executive director of Citizen Action of New York, chair of the board of the Alliance for Quality Education, and co-chair of the Working Families Party of New York.

In total, AFT, NYUST, and the United Federation of Teachers have given more than $2.2 million to the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, and the Public Policy and Education Fund over the past five years

So the next time the Alliance for Quality Education calls Families for Excellent Schools – or any other organization that dares to disagree with the teachers unions – an “astroturf” education group, just remember that AFT is actually the one underwriting the message.

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Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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