Although the NYT article leads with this headline, “Bloomberg Is NO Longer Mayor, but His School Agenda Thrives in Albany”, Kate Taylor has really highlighted how 2 major reformer lobby groups have bought Governor Cuomo and enough of the State Legislature to ensure their brand of privatization of schools wins the political battles in Albany.
These two groups, StudentsFirstNY and Families for Excellent Schools, have basically written Governor Cuomo’s policies, specifically tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, creating new hurdles to achieving tenure, and increasing the number of charter schools in the state. Although they would make it seem that these are “for the children” in fact they are right up Cuomo’s vengeance alley to get back at the unions who have not supported him and his election.
It is not surprising also that the same people who back StudentsFirstNY are major donors to the Cuomo campaign. Also not surprising is the huge amount of contact between StudentsFirstNY staff and leadership and the governor’s office since his reelection.
A little background.
“StudentsFirstNY was founded in 2012 by Joel I. Klein, who had been the schools chancellor for more than eight years under Mayor Mike Bloomberg; Michelle Rhee, a former Washington schools chancellor; and the billionaire hedge fund managers Daniel S. Loeb and Paul Tudor Jones. It receives some support from StudentsFirstNY, the national organization Ms. Rhee founded in 2010, but has its own board of directors and functions independently.”
To quote Emily Litella of Saturday Night Live fame, “ That’s so funny I forgot to laugh.”
StudentsFirstNY ‘s goal as stated by executive director, Jenny Sedlis, is pretty clear.
“The group’s goal was to create a permanent organization to advance important education changes and neutralize the influence of the teachers’ union.”
With no fear she goes onto say,
“With StudentsFirstNY, there’s a board with a war chest that’s always there.” “We’re there before the election and after. And that has to be reassuring for ed reformers who want to stick their necks out, and disconcerting for the other side.”
In fact things are so cozy for Sedlis that she has been a mini version of ALEC. She has been a go between among different government offices and having a great deal of influence on how education bills are written.
Lets follow “mo money”. Hedge fund manager and one of StudentsFirstNY’s founders and funders Daniel S. Loeb, hosted a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo, and has contributed approximately $140,000 to his campaigns over the past 5 years. Two other major players in StudentsFirstNY, hedge funders Paul Jones and Carl Icahn together have contributed another $125,000.
But here is the most damning evidence of collusion.
“Making teacher evaluations more dependent on test scores, reforming tenure and adding charter schools in the city were all priorities of StudentsFirstNY and became significant pieces of the governor’s agenda for the 2015 legislative session, which he announced in his State of the State speech on Jan. 21. Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Law, as well as interviews, show that Mr. Cuomo and his senior education advisers were in close touch, by email and telephone, with Ms. Sedlis and her board members in the weeks after the governor’s re-election last November.”
On December 9th the governor met with Ms. Sedlis and several StudentsFirstNY board members. Following the meeting, the arrogance of director of state operations, Jim Malatras showed when he said,
“Improving the state’s education system has been one of the governor’s top priorities since taking office and throughout that process, he has always partnered with groups, stakeholders, experts and other allies willing to fight for better futures for New York’s students.”
Notice who is missing? Actual educators!
Now I am not a fan of UFT head Michael Mulgrew, but even he noticed something was wrong.
“If you look at the governor’s State of the State speech, it was almost taken word for word from their [StudentsFirstNY] website.” “We’re going to just tell everyone the governor is basically for sale at this point, because that’s what it is,” Mr. Mulgrew added. “It’s not a belief system.”
StudentsFirstNY has also been very successful in buying both sides of the aisle. In the NY State Senate their donors raised and spent $4.2 million to help Republicans win a majority of seats.
Come on now, Really?
Sedlis even takes credit for getting the NYS Assembly to morph Ed laws to their liking.
“I think we were a major part in creating a climate where that could happen,” she said, “because I don’t think the governor could go out on a limb on his own if there weren’t policy and advocacy groups that could help make that case.”
Seriously? How fearless can one be?
And as for Families for Excellent Schools? This 501 ( c ) 3 spent more on lobbying ($9.6 million) than ANYONE in the state. Most of it was spent on Ads supporting the Governor and Charter Schools and demeaning anyone who stood against them.
Who are they? By state law a 501 ( c ) 3 doesn’t have to disclose its donors, but scratch the surface and you find Eva Moskowitz, head of Success Academy, one of the largest charter systems in NYC. Oh and by the way… Ms. Sedlis used to be their Public Relations director.
“This month, a few days after the legislative session ended, Families for Excellent Schools began running an ad that featured shots of cheering families, and of Mr. Cuomo, over a hopeful, Morning-in-America-esque melody. The final screen read: “Thank you, Governor Cuomo, for championing education.”
These ads were everywhere. And as Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, a group devoted to curbing the influence of money in politics, said of Families for Excellent Schools,
“The danger is the public really doesn’t know from the advertising who is trying to push public policy and what their motivations might be.”
But we know, don’t we? Privatize. Corporatize. Destroy Teachers Unions. Control what they call the Education Industry!