Stand for Children : Mass 2012 Ballot Question A Challenge for Teachers


By Stephen Holmes UWS Correspondent

An Oregon-based organization called “Stand for Children” is attempting to place a referendum on the November 2012 Massachusetts ballot that would drastically reduce seniority and other collectively bargained protections for teachers, with the stated aim of “increasing [teacher] accountability.”

The ballot initiative is called “An Initiative Petition for An Act Promoting Excellence in Public Schools”. While the process for placing a question on the ballot in Massachusetts is complicated, this one has been certified by the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General and is now gathering signatures.

As of this writing, it is impossible to predict whether the question will make next year's ballot, or garner enough support to pass. However, it is clearly a direct attack on language that Mass teachers' unions have always fought to include in their contracts. A strange irony is that, in the 2010 election cycle, Stand for Children stood side by side with these very teachers' unions to help defeat Mass Ballot Question 3, which would have rolled back the state income tax from 6.25% to 3%.

Stand for Children is in fact an Oregon-based educational advocacy non-profit that consists of two separate entities: Stand for Children, a grassroots membership lobby for children exempt under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, and the Stand for Children Leadership Center, a leadership development organization exempt under section 501(c)(3).” It was founded by Jonah Edelman and Eliza Leighton in 1996.

Although the group originated after a massive rally in Washington, DC that attracted over 200,000 people, they have since spent much of their time working locally in Oregon. However, they have begun to build upon their success  by setting up offices in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington).

Their organizational methods include a mix of “top-down” (running coordinated campaigns, prodigious fundraising, producing reports to bolster their arguments, contributing to and endorsing political candidates) and “bottom up” (assisting like-minded people to run for office, and helping local citizens set up chapters in school districts) that are the hallmark of any effective advocacy group. They also follow another important rule : they tailor their campaigns to what would be most effective locally.

In Illinois, the Stand for Children IL PAC was set up in September 2010, and by the end of 2010, it had raised almost $3.5 million, almost entirely in donations ranging from $50,000 to $500,000. The PAC then disbursed $610,000 in political contributions (in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $125,000).

This sudden entrance into Illinois politics raised eyebrows and questions as to what the group wanted. It was widely speculated that Stand For Children spotted a political opening when the two main Illinois' teachers unions sat out the 2010 election, mostly due to anger at allies who had worked to pass pension reform that they did not support.

While the group had mixed success in the 2010 election, they were able to get legislation passed that severely restricted teachers' collective bargaining rights, including one of few legal “strike clauses” for public educators in the country. (This was in large part a recognition that the unions had lost clout and had already severely compromised on these issues),

In fact, Stand for Children achieved their victory, surprisingly enough, with the aid of the two main Illinois teachers unions . At the 2011 Aspen Institute's annual Aspen Ideas Festival, Jonah Edelman spoke at length about how Stand for Children achieved its electoral success, boasting of having “the clear political will to potentially jam this proposal down their [the teachers unions] throats” ). The two main themes of Edelman's speech were taking advantage of electoral opportunities and that teachers unions are an enemy that needed to be neutralized. Edelman's remarks caused controversy, leading him to apologize publicly for claiming sole credit for the self-described political win.

There is no reason to believe the group will be any less ruthless in Massachusetts.The paper trail for the Mass ballot initiative is in its early stages, but the filing with the AG's office was submitted by Louis A. Rizoli, of the lobbying firm Smith Ruddock & Hayes. The firms clients include Caritas Christi Health, The University of Phoenix, and Putnam Investments. Mr. Rizoli was, until recently, Chief Counsel of the Massachusetts House of Representatives which indicates that Stand for Children will continue to hire political “heavy hitters.” Only when the Stand for Children MA Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee actually begins filing contribution and expenditure reports for this campaign later this year with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance (OCPF) will the full scale of their Massachusetts effort become clear.

What is clear from the lessons of Illinois is that the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and the American Federation of Teachers, Massachusetts (AFT, MA) will need to prepare for a long, hard fight. The MTA has already warned their members to avoid signing this petition and to report any "misrepresentations" by the signature gatherers. However, Stand for Children has just posted on their site that they have already gathered over 100,000 signatures in just over a month. These are only the opening salvos in a contest that will likely make Massachusetts a 2012 battleground state over educational “reform.”

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