Stand for Children Faces Growing Opposition to Ballot Question

Stand CEO Jonah Edelman said a Massachusetts ballot question might be used as a lever.

Opposition is growing to Stand for Children’s complicated, destructive and deceptive attack on teachers’ basic rights—and CPS is playing an important role. (Click here for our explanation of what this complicated ballot initiative is all about.)

CPS distributed a flyer criticizing the Stand ballot initiative at Democratic Party caucuses in February and sent letters to Democratic activists with a similar critique.

In apparent response, Stand sent state Democrats a message promoting their ballot initiative, which is supposed to be about “promoting excellence in public schools” but would actually accomplish just the opposite.

Stand‘s message provoked a response from prominent labor and Democratic Party leaders. Party Chair John Walsh, along with leaders of the two teachers unions and the state AFL-CIO, sent party activists a letter blasting Stand, which was relayed by email and posted around the web. The letter laid out the case against the ballot question and concluded, “Don’t be fooled.”

Other organizations including Jobs with Justice and the Boston Teacher Activist Group are organizing against the ballot question, and almost all of the state’s education organizations—the PTA, the principals’ organizations, and many others—have formally announced their opposition.

CPS activists who are former leaders in Massachusetts Stand are circulating a letter that criticizes Stand for abandoning its original goal of strengthening schools in collaboration with teachers and parents. These grassroots leaders quit Stand when it adopted the corporate education agenda of more charter schools, judging teachers by their students’ test scores, and weaker unions. The shift happened as millions of dollars flowed into the group’s treasury from corporate foundations and wealthy businessmen.

CPS also helped to muster opposition at a legislative hearing on the ballot question April 10. CPS President Ann O’Halloran and several other CPS leaders testified, along with teachers and retired teachers.

O’Halloran told the legislators that when she was a teacher, she and her colleagues often had to risk upsetting administrators to advocate for their students. But under the Stand proposal, she pointed out, offending an administrator could cost a teacher his or her job. “Many teachers will not be able to take that chance, and vulnerable students will lose their most important advocates,” O’Halloran said.

Only five people testified for Stand and one more gave qualified support. This continues a pattern: Despite its huge budget for organizing, Stand has been unable to turn out more than a few volunteer supporters, even at public events organized by Stand.

The lack of grassroots support won’t necessarily keep them from buying the election in the fall, however. Stand is already conducting a lavishly funded PR campaign painting itself as a motherhood-and-apple-pie group that just wants to help children. The campaign includes full-page ads in newspapers, a TV spot, and sponsorship of WBUR public radio.

The current situation:

The legislature took no action on the bill, so now Stand can hire its signature-gathering company and get another 11,000 signatures to put its question on the ballot. The initial round of signature-gathering cost Stand about $3 per signature, but that’s small change for a group with millions to spend, donated by Bain Capital owners and other one-percenters.

The state Supreme Judicial Court is likely to rule in early June on the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s challenge to the ballot question. CPS and other organizations filed amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs in support of the MTA. Lawyers for the MTA argue that Stand‘s proposal doesn’t qualify to be on the ballot because, among other things, it has many different and independent, even contradictory, provisions.

For example, one provision says when teachers want to transfer from one job to another, the decision on who gets to fill a vacancy must be made according to ratings in the new teacher evaluation system. But another provision allows principals to ignore the ratings and choose any certified applicant. MTA argues that ballot questions must be clear, yes-or-no propositions so that voters can choose.

If the court decides the Stand proposal can get on the ballot anyway, there will still probably be two or three weeks during which Stand could strike a deal with the teachers unions and the legislature, probably keeping some provisions while taking out others. If there is a deal, Stand would agree not to file the extra signatures needed to get on the ballot. The deadline for filing those signatures is in early July, so any agreement has to be reached before then.

Stay tuned.

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