Last week the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) released data indicating lobbying expenditures jumped 14% to $65 million in 2010. (Currently only lobbying of state officials is subject to disclosure.) Notable was the increase in education lobbying, particularly on communications (primarily TV, radio, and printed mailers.) As Jeff Brindle, Executive Director of ELEC points out, “The center of lobbying activity seems to be shifting away from more traditional personal lobbying to grassroots lobbying … to get public opinion on your side.” Much attention was focused on NJEA which reported the highest communications outlays of $6.6 million, as well as Reform Jersey Now which was the 4th highest spender at $403,000.
Less attention was paid to Newark-based Excellent Education for Everyone (E3) which advocates for choice and vouchers. Its most recent available financial report (form 990) for 2009 indicates the organization’s total expenditures were $1.9 million. E3 reported to ELEC the second highest communications outlay in 2010 of $459,000. This represents a staggering almost ten fold increase over its 2009’s expenditure of $50,000. And E3 is only one of many NJ groups advocating similar principles.
E3, its Executive Director Derrell Bradford, and its 2009 lobbyist Henry Levari worked strenuously for bill S1073 (A355) to establish an interdistrict public school choice program, which was signed into law by Governor Christie last year. They are now lobbying for S1872 (A2810) “Opportunity Scholarship Act” which would effectively create New Jersey’s first private school voucher program. The bill passed an Assembly committee but there remain differences with the Senate version. Strong supporter Governor Christie also appointed E3’s Derrell Bradford to the nine-person Educator Effectiveness Task Force which on March 3 made recommendations including a new teacher evaluation system and principal evaluation system.
Frustrated parents, concerned educators, lobbyists, consultants, and for-profit companies seeking to increase their education portfolio are forming a powerful phalanx. My experience with charter schools has been limited to interactions with a non-profit group over a 12 month period which was seeking to open such a facility. In this instance I was surprised how little discussion there was regarding curriculum and quality and how much attention was focused on financials and the opportunity to generate income for the parent organization. Not all charters are founded on the same principle, but the predominance and preemininence of public school education are increasingly under severe challenge by well-heeled advocates for a new business model.