The Connecticut Education Association’s criticism of Achievement First is a blatantly political attack that willfully misrepresents AF’s leaders, finances and students.
As the first person in my family to graduate from college, I know what education has done for my family and me. Like Dacia Toll, the founder of Achievement First (AF), I am passionate about education and I want the same opportunities for all children as my children received.
That’s why I worked for a year as a senior staff member at Hartford Public Schools and served on two college boards, one of them a HBCU [historically black college or university]. And that’s why I jumped at the opportunity to become a founding member of AF Hartford’s board (and was recently elected an ex officio member of the AF Network board). I resigned a few months ago to serve as co-chair of the Hartford Superintendent of Schools search committee. For the entire eight years I was on the AF Hartford board, I was either treasurer or president.
I therefore know the “facts” concerning where the money for AF comes from and where it goes. And because I’m on the field and not sitting in the bleachers casting stones, I know when false comparisons and blatantly unfair attacks are made.
I had the privilege of meeting Dacia Toll a dozen years ago at Amistad Academy, AF’s flagship in New Haven. I was immediately impressed with her as a person, a leader and an idealist; and since then, I have been constantly inspired by her as a champion for children. She passionately articulates her desire for students to have great and better options for school, with spectacular results similar to those Amistad was achieving. She wanted to take Amistad’s model and improve on and spread it. Mission accomplished.
I note with amazement and gratitude that in a few years she has brought the AF model from New Haven to Hartford and Bridgeport in Connecticut and regionally to New York and Rhode Island. This network of schools is currently serving 11,600 students, mostly students of color, preparing them for success in college and beyond.
But that’s not all AF does. It provides support through college to its alumni, and it runs robust partnership programs with traditional districts and charter schools across the state and country so that all kids, everywhere, can have a better education. All of this, by the way, is at its own expense. So too is the preparation and sharing of its curricular resources. AF is completely open source. This is unprecedented.
Simultaneously Dacia is helping raise the significant private funds AF needs to keep its doors open, since public charter schools in Connecticut are funded at a lower rate than district schools. The salary that she earns, determined by the network board of which I am a part, was set because it was benchmarked against salaries of leaders with similar responsibilities to oversee, fund-raise and work with lots of constituents, in Dacia’s case, in three states and five cities. Given her vast responsibilities, her salary is fair, reasonable and competitive.
She funds her retirement the way most people in non-profits do – out of savings from her income. To directly compare her duties and salary to that of district superintendents, who also participate in the state’s pension fund which she does not, is misleading. Frankly, I would feel the same way if someone tried to unfairly, and unnecessarily, compare the salary and benefits of superintendents to that of the executive director of the CEA, roughly $320,000 if my analysis of its 2014 tax filing is correct.
The CEA’s baseless suggestion that a “profit” is being made by AF’s non-profit network is flatly wrong. The “fee” AF collects from schools is simply payment, well below cost, for the services the network provides. These include some similar services provided by school districts to schools, such as payroll, curriculum, and human resource services, including recruiting, training, and professional development. Further, AF also raises and provides vastly more in funds to schools than anything it collects in fees.
AF is transparent. Therefore any of the information I’ve cited could have been accessed by CEA and its hired guns through public information. Instead, regrettably, the CEA chose to misrepresent information and make careless comparisons in an effort to undermine an innovative and successful network of schools that is making a life-changing difference for children of color.
John H. Motley is the principal owner of Motley Consulting and is a Hartford-based civic activist. He is on the Achievement First Advisory Board.