All in the Family

Has Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser been lobbying himself?

Update: Families for Excellent Schools shared via Twitter that Peyser is no longer on their board. No word on why the Secretary of State still lists him as a director of their 501 (c) (3) and (c) (4). And no word on why I got no response when I put the question to FES directly via email on 12/4… 

Reader: having now corresponded from the wilds of education reform land for some three years now (!), I’ve grown more or less inured to the conflicts of interest that seem to bloom like algae wherever homo reformus sets up shop. But when a tipster contacted me, asking if I was aware that Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser sits on the board of a charter school advocacy group, and directs its lobbying arm, even I was agog. So I followed the trail of breadcrumbs that the tipster helpfully provided to the Secretary of State’s corporations division where I typed in Peyser’s name, and voila, there Peyser was, or rather is…


Lobby Hobby

Now conflicts of interest are nothing new in the clubby, chummy circles of manyhats (1)Massachusetts education policy. Consider, for example, the many hats of our own Commissioner of College and Career Readiness, Mitchell D. Chester. But even these overlapping lids seem like not-such-a-big deal when compared to the case that is before us today. As the Secretary of Education, Jim Peyser sets education policy for the state and also votes on said policy. And as a director for the charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, and its 501 (c) (4) lobbying arm, Peyser is seeking to influence the very state policy that he is then voting upon. In other words, he is lobbying himself.

All in the Family
But who is this Family of which the Massachusetts Secretary of Education appears to be one of the dads? Our story starts about 15 minutes before Peyser ascended to the familytreeposition of Education Executive, when, still wearing his chapeau d’ charter school advocacy, he laid out a how-to for expanding the number of charter schools in Boston. In short: a little family-style muscle was needed. And thanks to an $800,000 donation from a mysterious wealthy uncle, Families for Excellent Schools was soon having kids. Hundreds and hundreds of them, thanks to a provision in charter school handbooks like this one that automatically enrolled youngsters and their parents as *lil lobbyists.*

Mission Creeps
But what did the growing Family want exactly? Just for everyone to get along, gentle reader. It was time to *Unify Boston* behind such demands as, well, you can read them for yourself here. Now if you happen to notice that the wording seems, um, a little vague, that’s because the group’s true aim, lifting the charter cap, was obscured even from people who worked for the organization, who were then really mad about being duped, and so reached out to, well, let’s move along…

Great Schools MAGreat Schools, MA
Now that Boston was at last unified, it was at last time to unveil the grassroots campaign that the people had been demanding. No, not the Boston parents who signed the Families for Excellent Schools petition that didn’t actually mention charter schools. Other people who were demanding Great Schools, MA. Well, a very specific kind of *great school.* And these people seemed to have some extraordinarily powerful friends, or rather family, like Governor Charlie Baker and his lieutenant, Karen Polito, and also three different public relations firms. In other words, everything was going very much according to the plan that the Families’ dad had described.

But wait, there’s more
If it sounds like our Secretary of Education has his hands full, both lobbying and being lobbied, consider that Father Peyser wears yet another cap these days. He is also the defendant in a class-action lawsuit vs. the state’s charter cap, defending the very cap that he is working feverishly, whilst wearing one of his other caps, to lift. The obvious question: how does he do it all? Followed by: what size hat does Peyser wear? Followed by: doesn’t Massachusetts have some kind, ANY kind of, conflict of interest law? Alas, I’m informed that it is nearly as toothless as our public records law.

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  1. I can tell that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

    The DYS initiative, which provides educational services in every jail and mental health facility in Massachusetts, is run by Commonwealth Corporation. They are hired by the Department of Education or DESE as they are currently known. This allows DOE to micromanage the contract and pretend they have nothing to do with it. It has depressed salaries and caused great turnover within the teaching force. The Commonwealth Corporation receives its funding from the Boston Foundation which is very pro-charter school and according to the Lobbyist data base on Galvin’s website have several extremely well paid lobbyists. It’s founder Paul Grogan wanted to run for governor on a pro-charter school platform. This has led to bloated salaries and almost no accountability.

    Account summary
    Search detail for: The Boston Foundation
    Registration year: 2015
    Registration type: Client
    Address: 75 Arlingtons Street Boston , MA, 02116 US / 617-338-1700
    Lobbyist information Amount
    Keith Andrew Mahoney $26,500.00
    Employed Terminated Details about your lobbyist or entity’s efforts
    01/01/2015 Transportation, education, health & wellness, corrections No firms retained yet for 2013 No bill numbers assigned

    Marybeth Campbell $5,100.00
    Employed Terminated Details about your lobbyist or entity’s efforts
    01/01/2015 workforce training, education

    MaryJo Meisner $16,500.00
    Employed Terminated Details about your lobbyist or entity’s efforts
    01/01/2015 Transportation, education, health & wellness, corrections No firms retained yet for 2013 No bill numbers assigned

    O’Neill and Associates $0.00
    Employed Terminated Details about your lobbyist or entity’s efforts
    10/08/2015 HB444 and SB327, An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap, K-12 education reform

    Paul S Grogan $20,200.00
    Employed Terminated Details about your lobbyist or entity’s efforts
    01/01/2015 Transportation, education, health & wellness, corrections No firms retained yet for 2013 No bill numbers assigned

    Total salaries paid: $68,300.00

    1. There are still a lot of questions here. Like why Families for Excellent Schools continued to list Peyser a director on forms filed with Secretary of State in May of 2015 and again in August. Just saying…

  2. On December 15th, at the Boston City Council Education Committee meeting about charter schools, all was revealed! The Mystery Man who contributed the $800,000+ to “Families for Excellent Schools” (FES) is Seth Kleinman! He is also the largest contributor to the Republican Party here in Massachusetts!

    What was also mentioned, and interesting to note, is that “FES” is a 501(c)3 AND 501(c)4, (very STAND FOR CHILDREN) which allows FES to mask and play with contributions. Until STAND, I was always under the impression that you had to chose one or the other…silly me!

    Below is the link to the BCC meeting, it covered so much more than charter school push-outs, I regret not taking the day off to attend! 🙂

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