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…
Now conflicts of interest are nothing new in the clubby, chummy circles of 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 position 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.*
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, 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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