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StudentsFirstNY

Because—you know—nobody cares more for New York public school children than hedge fund managers, an executive for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., and a divisive former Washington D.C. schools superintendent

Now that the nation has seen how an influx of cash from rich, well-connected conservatives can impact the outcome of a local political campaign (the defeat of the recall vote of Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker, a huge blow to organized labor), it is time for New Yorkers to gear up for the 2013 mayoral election, in which the outcome will decide the city’s education policy for the next four, eight, or  12 (?) years.

Assuming Michael Bloomberg doesn’t find a way to run for a fourth consecutive term of office, next year’s race will be an opportunity to take the city’s schools in a new direction, or to continue with the current “reform” measures, designed to render the teacher’s union less powerful and to reap benefits for the private sector.

Pursuing the latter alternative is StudentsFirstNY, founded in April as a spinoff of former D.C. schools superintendent Michelle Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst. She, along with Joel Klein, executive vice president of the News Corporation and former New York City schools chancellor, Eva S. Moskowitz, founder and chief executive of Success Charter Network and a former city councilwoman, and Edward Koch, partner at Bryan Cave LLP and former New York City mayor, are among those listed on StudentsFirstNY’s board. Topping that list—perhaps in more ways than one—is  billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones, chairman and C.E.O. of Tudor Investment Corporation and founder of the Robin Hood Foundation. He is number 330 on Forbes list of top billionaires in the world.

A reference to Rhee’s taping her students’ mouths shut during her first year of teaching (See We Don’t Need Another Hero 10/15/2010)  Source: Living Behind the Gates (http://livingbehindthegates.wordpress.com/)

In 2013, expect to hear more calls for charter school expansion (as the city continues to shut down failing public schools) and support for efforts to roll back teacher tenure and seniority rights. To be sure, StudentsFirstNY, with its huge war chest, will be sending out the message to vote for candidates who are in line with these positions.

A countervailing force began coalescing in May among the city’s unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, to thwart StudentsFirstNY. Dubbed New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, the organization is getting its game face ready for the elections next year. “New Yorkers for Great Public Schools refuses to let the education of the next generation be sold to the highest bidder,” it says on its Web site.

Summer Reading: The lessons of Wisconsin

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Why Hedge Fund Managers Really Like Charter Schools

Recently the New York Times reported on the somewhat surprising, burgeoning interest of hedge fund managers in the charter school movement. In New York, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo heads Democrats for Education Reform, “who include the founders of funds like Anchorage Capital Partners, with $8 billion under management; Greenlight Capital, with $6.8 billion; and Pershing Square Capital Management, with $5.5 billion.”

The Times reporter ascribed their attraction to “the businesslike way in which many charter schools are run; their focus on results, primarily measured by test scores; and, not least, their union-free work environments, which give administrators flexibility to require longer days and a longer academic year.” But is that all?

“They seem to be willing to spend anything, which always leads me to suspect motive,” said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. And you can bet that motive is money.

Now that New York has been given the green light to double the number of charter  schools, school buildings, which often have charter schools competing for space with traditional public schools, will become even more cramped. According to an article on the website for City Limits magazine, about two-thirds of New York City’s charter schools share building space with public schools.

Last month, Daily News reporter Juan Gonzalez wrote a revealing piece on how wealthy banks and investors in Albany, NY have been raking in huge profits in charter-school construction. They make use of a federal tax break called the New Markets Tax Credit.  This tax incentive “is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years,” wrote Gonzalez. In New York City, which has seen a slowdown in construction during the recent economic crisis, construction of new charter schools has picked up, notes the New York Times.

New York City’s Department of Education expects an increase from 2002 to 2012 of more than 110,000 new school seats. Most of the funding will come from the State and the City, but additional funding may come from the federal government and private sources. With the White House and City Hall advocating relentlessly for charter schools, is there any question that in New York City charter schools will benefit most from this new construction? Is it any wonder that financiers who have been known to elude regulation are chomping at the bit to get in on the action?

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