A group of billionaires and corporate executives are using a front group called Great Schools Massachusetts and the New York based charter school advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, to pour an unprecedented amount of money into a campaign to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.
According to published reports, the charter school industry is on track to dump up to $18 million into a record-breaking campaign in support of Massachusetts Question 2, a referendum question on this year’s ballot that would effectively lift the legislative mandated cap on the number of charter schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter school, pro-Governor Andrew Cuomo, anti-teacher group has led a series of expensive advocacy campaigns in New York State and Connecticut on behalf of the charter school industry.
Expanding first to Connecticut and then to Massachusetts, Families for Excellent School has become the preferred money pipeline of choice for a group of corporate elite who seek to anonymously fund the effort to privatize public education in the United States.
Thanks to the demise of campaign finance laws at the federal and state level, Families for Excellent Schools can accept unlimited donations from those who profit from or support the rise of charter schools, the Common Core and the Common Core testing scheme.
While most of the money flowing into the Massachusetts Question 2 campaign can’t be traced, public documents reveal that a handful of hedge fund managers and corporate executives donated $40,000 each to kick start the campaign aimed at diverting even more scarce public funds from public schools to charter schools.
Most of the key players in the Question 2 operation are directly or indirectly associated with a handful of hedge fund companies including, Bain Capital, the Baupost Group and Highfields Capital Management.
Leading the effort from Bain Capital is Josh Bekenstein, the managing partner at the infamous company. Bekenstein is a long-time charter supporter having donated massive amounts of money to pro-voucher, anti-teacher, pro-charter school groups including Stand for Children, Teach for America, and the KIPP and Citizen charter school chains.
In addition, Bekenstein has played an instrumental role for both New Profit, Inc. and the NewSchools Venture Fund, two of the major funders behind the charter school movement in Massachusetts and across the nation.
New Profit, Inc.’s “investments” include major donations to underwrite the faux teacher advocacy group called Educators 4 Excellence, which is actually another New York based, anti-union front group. New Profit, Inc. also funds Achievement First, Inc., a charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the Achievement Network and Turnaround for Children, two more pro-charter school lobby and public relations organizations.
Through Bain Capital, and on his own, Bekenstein’s has also helped fund and lead Bright Horizons, yet another charter school chain with operations in multiple states.
Another Bain executive helping to fund Question 2 is Paul Edgerley, Bain Capital’s former managing director. Edgerley has also donated millions in support of the privatization of public education, including hundreds of thousands of dollars to New Profit, Inc. and Strategic Grant Partners, a Massachusetts based foundation that has been funding the expansion of charter schools and charter school advocacy groups in that state.
Edgerly has also donated heavily to the Excel Academy Charter School system, which is managed by the for-profit National Heritage Academies.
Seth Klarman, President of the Baupost Group is a major Republican campaign donor at national level, and yet another key player in the Massachusetts pro-charter school campaign. Klarman, who gave in excess of $3 million during the 2014 federal elections cycle, was also a major donor to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a political action committee created to benefit Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo and ensure Republican control of the New York State Senate.
Klarman has close ties to Eli Broad, serving with the billionaire on the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, Klarman has been a major source of cash for a series of charter schools and pro-charter school sponsors including EdVestors, a Boston-based operation that, in turn, has funneled millions to a variety of charter school chains including the KIPP charter school chain.
Brian Spector, like Klarman, heralds from the Baupost Group and is another major Republican donor. Spector’s involvement includes a leadership position with The Boston Foundation, an entity that funds a variety of charter schools in Massachusetts including Excel Charter Academy.
Charles Ledley, of Highfields Capital Management, is the groups token Democrat, having served as key donor and operative with Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now and Students for Education Reform, Ledley also provided funding for the successful effort to pass a major anti-teacher evaluation law in New Jersey, a law that requires that teacher evaluations in the Garden State be based on the results their students get on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory common-core standardized tests.
Using Education Reform Now as his funding vehicle, Ledley played a pivotal role in providing the money that Families for Excellent Schools needed to set up its operation in Massachusetts. In addition to a six figure donation to Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Ledley loaned Education Reform Now $250,000 to subsidize Family for Excellent School’s operating expenses in Massachusetts.
In addition to his own involvement in the charter school industry, Ledley’s wife, Rebecca Ledley, served as a board member of Students for Education Reform and the UP Academy Charter School chain. She was also a director for K12, Inc., the major on-line, for-profit education company that has made millions from the corporate education reform movement.
Another $40,000 contributor to the Question 2 campaign in Massachusetts is Joanna Jacobson, the managing partner of Strategic Grant Partners. Like the Boston Foundation, Strategic Grant Partners is a leading pro-charter school foundation that has provided funding to charter schools and advocacy groups supporting charter schools. The entity has donated to Families for Excellent Schools, Stand for Children, Educators 4 Excellence and Teach for America’s Leadership for Educational Equity.
Jacobson is married to Jonathan Jacobson, the founder of Highfields Capital Management. She also serves on the board of directors of the Brooke charter schools, a position she shares with Charles Ledley.
Meanwhile, billionaire Abigail Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments, also provided a $40,000 check to the Question 2 campaign. Johnson, yet another major Republican donor, has also donated to a variety of charter schools including the Steppingstone Foundation, which operates College Success Academy. A fellow member of her family, Allison Johnson, serves on the Steppingstone board, while Joanna Jacobson, the managing partner of Strategic Grant Partners serves on the charter school’s advisory board.
Finally, yet another player in the Question 2 campaign is Paul Severino, , a major Republican donor who also matched the original $40,000 donation to kick off the Question 2 operation.
Together these corporate elite are part of an unprecedented effort to privatize public education at the state level.