Partner Paper No. 3: Wall Street Money & Massachusetts Schools by Hedge Clippers
Hedge Clippers is happy to partner with Massachusetts Jobs With Justice to bring you a new expose on how huge amounts of out-of-state hedge fund cash is now pouring into Massachusetts to fund lobbyists and politicians with the aim of privatizing education in the Bay State.
Since 2014, hedge fund managers have spent millions to try to eliminate New York’s cap on charter schools, with much of that money funneled through Families for Excellent Schools. FES organizes charter school parents to lobby for charter school expansion, and was essential to pulling off the large pro-charter rallies in Albany and NYC that have helped advance Governor Andrew Cuomo’s school privatization agenda. It spent more than $9 million on political lobbying, a state record.
With a few victories under its belt and a start-up grant possibly earmarked by Boston hedge fund billionaire and Republican money man Seth Klarman FES expanded its operations into Massachusetts, where the fight over charter school expansion is starting to heat up (and where the Secretary of Education is also an FES trustee!).
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This report explores how Wall Street financiers created, control, and fund FES to advocate for more charter schools.
Wall Street Money & Massachusetts Schools: The Truth Behind Families For Excellent Schools
Introduction – Mixed Messages
What is Families for Excellent Schools? Although FES is not a household name around the state, the organization has had a significant impact on the debate around the future of public education here in Massachusetts—the birthplace of the modern public school system. FES—which describes itself as a grass-roots organization—is advancing an agenda backed by politically connected Wall Street financiers to increase the number of privately managed charter schools permitted by state law.
Earlier this year, brigades of Unify Boston “volunteers,” armed with clipboards, knocked on doors and hung around MBTA stations soliciting support and signatures on pledge cards to “Give every child access to an excellent public school in his or her neighborhood—whether it’s a district or a charter school.” These efforts, part of the first phase of the FES campaign, was about building a contact list in preparation for phase two: the Great School Massachusetts coalition. This coalition is focused solely on increasing the number of charter schools, at the expense of students in traditional district schools.
Since setting up shop in Boston in 2014, FES has been fairly secretive about its values, goals and funders. It would be easy for Bay State residents to mistake FES for any number of groups organizing communities purporting to improve education.
That is not a mistake parents would make in New York City, where FES is one of the most important and powerful groups advocating for charter school expansion. In 2014, FES broke all records on political lobbying expenditures in the state, spending more than $9.6 million. It organized massive rallies in Albany, working closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to support his contentious education reform package with their allies in the state Senate Republican caucus. As charter schools closed their doors on rally days, FES helped organize parents and students to get on the buses heading upstate. Today, FES and large charter operators like Eva Moskowitz of Success Academies are holding public rallies in New York City to blast Mayor Bill de Blasio for arguing that charter schools should be held to the same standards as traditional district schools.
This report attempts to reconcile these different stories about FES by moving beyond the gloss of its expensive public relations machine and focusing on the most salient questions: Who actually controls FES, and what is its agenda?
IMAGE ADJUSTMENT – The Origin of Families for Excellent Schools
FES describes itself as a grass-roots, parent-powered movement. “We take marching orders from our parents,” FES Co-founder and CEO Jeremiah Kittredge told the Boston Globe. “Our priority will be to listen to the parents.”
Public records, however, tell a very different story. A small group of charter school chains, politically connected Wall Street financiers and powerful education officials have controlled FES since its founding.
Officially incorporated in 2011, the origin of FES can be traced to Feb. 18, 2010, when New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein received an email from Bryan Lawrence.2 Lawrence is the founder of the Oakcliff Capital hedge fund, a director at the Public Prep network of charter schools, and today serves as vice chair of the FES board of trustees. The email reads:
According to the email, a number of prominent charter school chains—Democracy Prep, KIPP and Public Prep–combined their considerable resources to organize charter school parents for political lobbying. FES’s own Jeremiah Kittredge—previously employed by Democracy Builders, the parent group of Democracy Prep—was chosen to spearhead parent outreach efforts. Klein responded quickly:
See full PDF below.