Must be a slow news day for Bob Braun. His opinion piece today half-heartedly attempts to smear NJ DOE Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick for his volunteer efforts on behalf of 50CAN, an ed reform organization based in Connecticut, with no offices in NJ.

Braun was apparently egged on by Education Law Center’s Executive Director David Sciarra, who insists that Smarick’s involvement with 50CAN (on his own time, on his own dime) is “a substantial conflict of interest.” Sciarra filed OPRA (Open Public Records) requests with the DOE that showed that Smarick is involved with organizing and fund-raising for 50CAN.

Actually, Mr. Sciarra didn’t need to file the OPRA requests. All he had to do was go to 50CAN’s website, which is a model of transparency. Not only does it list its Board of Directors (of which Smarick is one, along with the head of Teach for America and the president of KIPP), but it also lists all its contributors, syllabi, case studies, collaborators. Braun also references the invitation on the website to sign a petition to start a 50CAN in New Jersey; in fact, there’s an invitation to sign a petition for every state in the country, minus the five that already have 50CAN offices (Minnesota, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and New York).

No doubt many public officials in NJ volunteer for causes close to their hearts through churches, synagogues, and community organizations. Some of these avocations may even overlap with a volunteer's particular field of expertise. Is this a bad thing? Smarick has already stated that if a NJCAN office is opened he will resign his position with the organization.

Imagine where Education Law Center would be if it barred funders and board members who have any particular views on what's best for public education.