Hedge fund CEOs and various kinds of slick venture capitalists see tapping the public education “market” — the pool of public dollars federal, state, and local governments spend on education — as a great new way to make big bucks. Many of these investors hoping for big payoffs, including some of the Walton family and the Koch brothers, also have very conservative political agendas. So when you hear politicians from both parties tout all the glories of charter schools and vouchers, ask yourself this question: Do you really want Wall Street hedge funds — hedge funds being the ultimate speculators on Wall Street — running our educational system? Will we have charter school-backed securities that these hedge funds can speculate in and manipulate the price of? Charter school bubbles that will blow up in our faces? If charter schools don’t make quite as much money as the hedge funds think they will, will there be a massive disinvestment in schools?
Fortunately, there are plenty of people and organizations willing to take this foolishness on. Many of them are local groups of parents fighting to save and strengthen the public schools their kids go to. Teachers, in spite of the absurd demonization people like Campbell Brown are subjecting them to (seriously, how dumb is it to attack the teachers working every day to help kids learn?), aren’t backing down. And now in New York, maybe the most important state in the country in terms of taking this issue on given the role of Wall Street hedge funds in running charter schools, there’s a major new effort that I think is incredibly important. Led in part by a friend and hero of mine — author, professor and former New York governor candidate Zephyr Teachout — it will be a major new campaign. The organizations leading the fight include Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, Make the Road Action Fund, New York Communities for Change, Strong Economy For All Coalition, and Working Families Party. Here’s the WFP campaign page; it is definitely worth checking out. The language from its statement has three policies it is asking for, all imminently sensible:
1) STOP THE STARVATION: Increase school funding for all school districts in this coming budget and give priority to needier districts. The funding gap between New York’s 100 wealthiest and 100 poorest school districts is a whopping $8,601 per pupil. We need a $2.2 billion increase over current funding – we can’t take any more classroom cuts. 2) PROTECT PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Don’t raise the charter cap, and don’t use our limited public funds for charter school facilities. Privately-run charters can’t call themselves public schools if they don’t take all of the public’s children – and they don’t. Let’s add tough accountability to make sure they serve English-language learners and special-education students — and that they don’t waste valuable tax dollars. 3) STOP THE SUBSIDIES FOR PRIVATIZATION: Don’t use public money to subsidize private schools. Education tax credits are a fancy way of drawing public dollars out of public schools and sending the money to subsidize private and parochial schools. Last year’s version of education tax credits would have cost public schools across the state some $300 million in funding. Listen to us — not the hedge fund billionaires who seek to profit off our children.
This collection of organizations and Zephyr — whose late-starting, no-money, no-name-ID, almost-no-endorsement campaign got 35 percent of the vote against the Cuomo machine — pack a very big punch in New York politics, so their willingness to take on this fight with gusto is exciting. And because Andrew Cuomo is such a huge fan of charter schools, and is so close to Wall Street, this sets up a populist progressive movement vs. a Wall Street Democrat battle that will have great potential over the long term. It reminds of Elizabeth Warren taking on Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. It’s the kind of fight all progressives should want to be a part of, and I look forward to helping out any way I can.