What can New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, be thinking?
A report from New York Public School Parents, an advocacy group that supports well funded public schools, describes the protests on March 12 by parents and teachers of Governor Cuomo’s budget proposals, which would tie a budget increase for public schools to the legislature’s raising a cap on charter schools and making a higher percentage of teachers’ evaluations be tied to students’ standardized test scores. This despite that the increased funding was promised from the state back in 2007 in the remedy for Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. NY. Cuomo has also proposed to support a NY Dream Act, but only if the legislature passes a tuition tax credit program—vouchers lite—by which people who donate money for private school tuition get a reduction in their state taxes.
New York Public School Parents explains: “Last week, at more than 100 schools throughout NYC, parents, students, and teachers held hands and surrounded their schools, in a peaceful and symbolic action to protect their schools. They came together to show they are united in spirit and determined to defend against the Governor’s destructive proposals to defund, disrupt, dismantle and privatize our public school system… And what was the Governor’s response? According to his spokesperson, he called our peaceful protests ‘a tantrum of special interests.’ Then he said, ‘Frankly, the louder special interests scream—and today they were screaming at the top of their lungs—the more we know we’re right.’ Well, we need to tell the Governor, parents are not a special interest…. Parents have only one special interest—their children….”
Ironically on Wednesday, only the day before Cuomo accused parents of being a special interest, Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News, reported Hedge Fund Executives Give ‘Til It Hurts to Politicians, Especially Cuomo, to Get More Charter Schools. Gonzalez explains: “Hedge fund executives have unleashed a tsunami of money in the past few years aimed at getting New York’s politicians to close more public schools and expand charter schools. They’ve done it through direct political contributions, through huge donations to a web of pro-charter lobbying groups, and through massive TV and radio commercials.”
Gonzalez reports that, “Since 2000, 570 hedge fund managers have shelled out nearly $40 million in political contributions in New York State…. The single biggest beneficiary has been Andrew Cuomo, who received $4.8 million from them.” Carl Icahn of Icahn Enterprises, Julian Robertson of Tiger Management, and Daniel Loeb of Third Point LLC, writes Gonzalez, are not only big donors to Cuomo but also major supporters of charter schools. Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools have received $62,000 from Loeb, who serves on Success Academy Charters’ board. In addition 18 other Success Academy board members have donated $600,000 to Governor Cuomo’s political coffers.
Gonzalez also describes the organizations established after Citizens’ United expanded the right of wealthy contributors to fund indirect lobbying groups like several organizations in New York that support charters: New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, Families for Excellent Schools, and Students First New York. According to Gonzalez, six hedge fund backers of charter schools provided $3.5 million for New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, including Daniel Loeb, Julian Robertson (whose son runs a charter school), Paul Tudor Jones (founder and chairman of Excellence Charter School), Carl Icahn (founder of a number of Bronx charters), and Joel Greenblatt, of Gotham Capital, who founded Success Academy Charters.
While teachers unions are criticized by the far right for their large political contributions, Gonzalez summarizes the influence of these six hedge fund donors through New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which has loyally supported Governor Cuomo: “The money they gave to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany thus rivaled the $4.8 million that the teachers union, with its 185,000 members, spent on all political contributions.”
One encouraging development has occurred in New York: both the state senate and the state assembly have passed resolutions that delink Cuomo’s school reforms from the funding level for education in the state’s budget. According to the Ithaca Journal: “Both the Assembly and Senate budgets removed Cuomo’s linkage between funding and passing his policy reforms. They both proposed total education funding around $24 billion. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said lawmakers ‘should not have to negotiate a budget under threats.'” The state senate has expressed support for Cuomo’s proposed tax credit program and increasing the role of students’ test scores in teachers’ evaluations, while the assembly majority has rejected these ideas and indicated it would support a NY DREAM Act delinked from the tuition tax credit proposal. It would appear that at least some members of New York’s legislature are more attuned than the governor to the so-called “special interests” of the majority of New York’s parents whose children attend traditional public schools. The budget negotiations in Albany will continue.