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July 12, 2017

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Mom and pop education organizations in Massachusetts seem to crop up just as fast as billionaires can fund them these days. The latest such entrant is called Massachusetts Parents United, with ties to Families for Excellent Schools and Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts. It’s old wine in an empty bottle.

The first tie is personnel – the state director of MPU, Keri Rodriguez Lorenzo, is the former state director of Families for Excellent Schools, which last year poured over $17 million in dark money into the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot committee. She is also on the Advisory Council of Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts, which pours dark money into legislative races and into the 2013 Boston mayoral race.

The second tie is financial. One of MPU’s funders is The Walton Family Foundation. In last year’s Question 2 fight, Walton money funded most of the activities of a ballot committee named Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools, which was itself a front established by DFER MA. The Walton money – about $1.8 million from cousins Jim and Alice Walton - was funneled through another ballot committee named Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools. In Democrats Using Republican Money for Education Reform Now to Advance Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools, I noted the irony of a putative Democratic committee subsisting on funds generated by the notoriously anti-worker WalMart. The rest of the Obama’s Legacy money came from DFER MA’s customary funder and dark money kissin’ cousin, Education Reform Now Advocacy of New York. If you understand all this, you probably own an intuitive grasp of the lyrics to “I’m My Own Grandpa.”

MPU is also funded by the Longfield Family Foundation. In 2016 Charles Longfield contributed $100,000 to – you guessed it – the Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools. Then he shipped another $25,000 to Great Schools Massachusetts.

That kind of money is important because political consultants are expensive. For instance, Advancing Obama’s Legacy paid over $76,000 and Great Schools Massachusetts paid over $175,000 to a company named Archipelago Strategies.  The MPU website was designed by Archipelago Strategies.

Who is missing on the money trail? No sign of Strategic Grant Partners yet, but that’s probably more absence of evidence than evidence of absence. SGP’s fiscal year just closed on June 30 and its tax returns aren’t available yet. It would be a shock if SGP isn’t a major funder of MPU because SGP or its members have underwritten nearly every privatization organization in the state in recent years – Stand for Children, Families for Excellent Schools, Great Schools Massachusetts, Educators for Excellence, Teach for America, Leadership for Education Equity (which in turns funds the Boston Education Action Network).

It’s hard to say what Massachusetts Parents United is really about. It says it will empower parents but its goals are vague. It’s antagonistic toward unions and that will keep SGP and the Waltons happy. 

“Massachusetts Parents United was founded by two moms” or “Massachusetts Parents United was founded by three strong women” or “MPU started as a group of parents in a public library with who (sic) collected a couple of hundred dollars.” Take your pick. Shortly after the parents kicked in a couple of hundred dollars at the library Longfield and Walton took notice and now MPU is flush. (On behalf of all academic researchers, where is that library?)

The group started about February 1 and claims that by June 26 it had 6000 members, by June 30 it had either 5000 or 6000 members, and now “With nearly 7,000 members, we are the largest urban parent advocacy organization in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” It’s not clear what being a member means but even at that, from zero to 7000 in under six months would be quite an organizing feat.

The group could be called Massachusetts Excellent Great Parents & Students & Families to Stand for Obama’s Legacy of Democrats Using Republican Money for Leadership for Schools United. Think of that letterhead. 

The Washington Post recently adopted a new slogan: “Democracy dies in darkness.” I agree.

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money (and other things). I don't write about education policy.]

Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts, Massachusetts Parents United, Families for Excellent Schools

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