Vergara v. California is the latest in a long line of attempts to rob teachers of the flexibility and support they need to be creative and innovative in the classroom and to advocate for their students. Having lost at the ballot box and in the Statehouse, Students Matter, a nonprofit created by wealthy Silicon Valley investors, has now brought its case to court. This lawsuit is based on ideology, not facts.
The Vergara suit seeks to challenge five California statutes that relate to teacher protections for layoffs and dismissal. To accomplish this, the funders of Students Matter have hired an expensive public relations firm and retained an army of attorneys, including Ted Olson, solicitor general under George W. Bush. The legal argument advanced by Students Matter at trial is a mix of anecdotal evidence and “value added” econometric theory—a theory that has been critiqued by economists as an oversimplified attempt at isolating teacher impact on student learning, riddled with errors and misplaced assumptions.
Who is Behind this Attack on Teachers?
Students Matter was founded by tech entrepreneur David Welch. Welch is advised by investors Ted Mitchell and Arthur Rock, as well as Parent Revolution’s Ben Austin. A variety of organizations have endorsed the effort.
Early members of the “advisory council” include:
David Welch is the cofounder and president of Infinera Corporation, a Silicon Valley-based fiber optic communication network. In addition to founding Students Matter, Welch has contributed significant sums of money to finance their activity—including $550,000 in 2012 alone.
StudentsFirst was founded by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. StudentsFirst lobbies for conservative and anti-union legislation across the country. Despite being headquartered blocks from the Capitol, StudentsFirst has had no success in California politics. And StudentsFirst recently lost its strongest legislative ally, Sen. Ron Calderon, who was indicted on corruption charges
Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)
DFER is backed by hedge fund managers from New York City. DFER has been condemned in a resolution passed by the California Democratic Party. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party has also issued a cease and desist letter to DFER, demanding that the organization stop using the word"‘Democrat" in its name. Co-founded by millionaire hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, the New York-based political action committee that funnels large “dark money” contributions to candidates.
NewSchools Venture Fund
NewSchools Venture Fund is a self-styled “venture philanthropy” firm that takes money from millionaire donors like Students Matter founder David Welch and invests in charter schools.
As a non-profit, Students Matter is not required to disclose their donors. The group’s most recent non-profit tax filing does not include a list of contributors.
Known funders include:
Founder of KB Homes and financier of a shadowy effort to block the passage of Prop. 30. Broad was also a major contributor to the Coalition for School Reform, which spent millions in 2013 trying to kick Teach For America alum Steve Zimmer off of the Los Angeles school board. Broad is also a funder of groups like Students First, which push conservative legislative policies across the country.
Californian investor and significant donor to conservative causes. Mr. Scifres contributed $55,500 to Mitt Romney’s 2012 candidacy for president, and has also funded the political efforts of Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, The Tea Party Express, Americans for Prosperity, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.
Ted Schlein is a managing partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, a large venture capital firm. Schlein is active in politics in California and other states, breaking from his usual support of Democrats to back far-right conservatives like Ohio’s John Kasich, who received $22,791 from Schlein in 2009.
Founder of Radford, a division of the Aon Companies, John Radford is currently the mayor of Los Altos Hills, a Silicon Valley hamlet currently ranked as one of the wealthiest towns in the nation.
Alliance for a Better Community
The Advisory for a Better Community is a Latino civic organization, with a board of comprised of business people.
California Office to Reform Education
California Office to Reform Education is a multi-district education reform collaborative. LA Superintendent John Deasy, originally named as a defendant in the lawsuit, serves on the board of directors. Students Matter scrubbed CORE’s sponsorship from its website 48 hours after going live, possibly to avoid charges of collusion.
The Education Trust-West is an education advocacy group based in California. Education Trust West was a member of the advisory committee of Students Matter, the organization coordinating the lawsuit, and their executive director Arun Ramanathan was one of the witnesses for the legal team. Strangely, Education Trust West had previously released a study which acknowledged the relationship between effective teaching and years of experience.
Parent Revolution is a corporate funded group that pushes destructive ‘parent trigger’ legislation. Parent Revolution relies heavily on the Walton Family Foundation for funding, which pours money into everything from charter schools to “greenwashing” environmental efforts. Parent Revolution’s hallmark bill, the “parent trigger,” is currently being promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Students for Education Reform
As the “youth” arm of Democrats for Education Reform, Students for Education Reform pushes the same old agenda funded by the same Wall Street money. Students for Education Reform has recently started a 501(c)4 dark money organization, and backed political efforts to eliminate democratically elected school boards in Connecticut. Operationally, the group has been critiqued for its top-down structure, and financial ties to conservative funders.