Chester Finn Tries to Sell Charter Expansion Without Mentioning Hedge Funder and Billionaire Cash
On September 05, 2016, former Fordham Institute president Chester Finn and others published an opinion piece entitled, “Charter Schools Are Reinventing Local Control in Education” in the Wall Street Journal. In order to read the entire piece, one must have a WSJ subscription, which is good in this case since it limits the audience exposed to this propaganda.
Here is how the Finn et al. op-ed begins:
America’s devotion to local control of schools is dying, but it is also being reborn as a new faith in charter schools. These independently operated public schools—nearly 7,000 across the country, and counting—provide a much-needed option for almost three million youngsters in 43 states.
As students return to school, the enterprise responsible for educating them is changing in ways that few people are aware of. Charters are fomenting a quiet revolution in governance in public education.
As one might expect, the remainder of the op-ed downplays the attendant corruption and mismanagement of under-regulated charters, the funneling of public money out of the public purview, the damage caused by charter churn (i.e., the opening, and closing, and opening of charter schools). Finn et al. deflect any thought that there are any political motivations tied to charter expansion, and, as one sees in the opener above, they try to tell the public that “local control of schools is dying” because the public wants it that way.
And as for that “quiet revolution,” well, it apparently needed the protection of Washington DC-based Center for Education Reform in the form of a $100,000 contest spurred by HBO personality John Oliver, who strongly criticized charter schools on his August 22, 2016, segment.
As for the Finn et al. op-ed’s landing in WSJ: Wall Street is already keen on charter school expansion, as this May 2016 Moyers and Company piece entitled, ‘How Hedge Funders Built the Pro-Charter Political Network,” notes:
Not too long ago, school board races were quaint affairs. Even in big school districts, candidates usually only had to raise a few thousand dollars to compete.
But as the movement to marketize public education gained momentum, advocates broadened their focus from the federal level to state and local governments. There, where campaign costs were substantially lower than in federal elections, the well-funded movement could more effectively leverage its political money.
One of the starkest casualties of that strategic shift has been the American school board election. A network of education advocacy groups, heavily backed by hedge-fund investors, has turned its political attention to the local level, with aspirations to stock school boards — from Indianapolis and Minneapolis to Denver and Los Angeles — with allies. …
The hedge-fund industry and the charter movement are almost inextricably entangled. Executives see charter-school expansion as vital to the future of public education, relying on a model of competition. They see testing as essential to accountability. And they often look at teacher unions with unvarnished distaste. Several hedge-fund managers have launched their own charter-school chains. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hedge-fund guy who doesn’t sit on a charter-school board. …
The coordinated and tangled web of charter-advocacy groups’ political activity makes their financing hard to track. National groups and big individual donors will often funnel money to local PACs, which in turn spend money independently from a candidate’s campaign. …
Behemoth groups sponsored by mega-billionaires like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, the Koch brothers and the Walton family have spent hundreds of millions to launch charter schools, sponsor think tanks and more broadly steer the ideological DNA of reform.
Finn et al. are just a part of the well-financed corporate ed reform mass of think tanks, billionaires and hedge funders trying to foist reforms onto the American public in the name of a “quiet revolution.”
The Moyers piece continues by highlighting the astounding amounts of cash flowing from corporate ed reform nonprofits into school board elections, such as those in Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and Denver, in order to get charter-school-sympathetic board members elected.
But Finn and his co-writers would have America (well, Wall-Street-Journal-reading America) make no mention of such pro-charter, local-board-seat purchases. In fact, Finn et al. insist that non-elected charter boards are better because they are nonprofit, and that as such, they will be selfless:
Because these boards function more like nonprofit organizations than political bodies or public agencies, their members need not stand for election. Being generally union-free, they don’t have the headaches of collective bargaining. And with freedom to engage and deploy principals and teachers, and to adjust budget, curriculum and instruction to do their students the most good, charter schools are attracting to their boards selfless citizens and community leaders who see a plausible chance to promote change.
No mention of the hedge-funder presence on those boards.
Finn et al. highlight Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies as a model of charter success.
Moskowitz’s SA board includes a number of hedge funders. However, if the image one has of “community leaders” includes parents, one best look elsewhere. SA board members are not the type of folks whose children are likely to attend an SA school (or anything below a selective-admission public school, for that matter).
Charter schools expansion is very much a political animal with major bucks promoting it. They do not reinvent local control. They purchase and replace it.