I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, October 31, 2013

B4K: $$$ For Pols, But Not For Schools!

Yesterday, I reported that B4K - StudentsFirst's "partner" in New Jersey and the reformiest anti-union lobbying shop in New Jersey - pulled out of a half-a-million dollar commitment to help fund a literacy program in Perth Amboy. Why?

Because anti-tenure superintendent Janine Caffrey - beneficiary of a public relations campaign paid for by B4K - was dismissed by the PA board of education (a tip for all you superintendent wannabes: don't accuse your board members of things you can't prove if you want to keep your job).

Doesn't matter that the literacy program had already started; doesn't matter the program is apparently very well-received; doesn't matter that the teachers had already spent their summer training in its methods. B4K didn't like that the duly-elected board dismissed Caffrey - so they withdrew their pledge of over $500K from this small city, full of immigrants struggling to achieve the American dream, and left the taxpayers and their deserving children hanging.

B4K is funded by two big shot Wall Street hedge fund managers: David Tepper and Alan Founier. Apparently, they sleep just fine when they pull money out of a district with many children who could have benefitted from a quality literacy program. Apparently, they have much more urgent places to spend their money.

New Jersey billionaires who seek to revamp the state’s education system are again pouring money into a Jersey City election, with a Far Hills hedge fund manager donating nearly $10,000 to the four school board candidates backed by Mayor Steve Fulop.
Alan Fournier, who founded education group Better Education for Kids with fellow billionaire David Tepper, has given $9,405 to Board of Education candidates Micheline Amy, Jessica Rosero Daye, Carol Lester and Ellen Simon, who call themselves the “Candidates for Excellence,” according to campaign finance documents made public today.
Fournier’s wife, Jennifer, also gave $9,405, which is nearly the maximum an individual can give to a committee of four candidates, the documents show. [emphasis mine]
So: nearly $20,000 from the Fourniers of Far Hills to overwhelm a local school board race - just like they did in Perth Amboy last year. Just the latest in a pattern:
This isn’t the first time B4K and its founders have shown an interest in a Jersey City election.
Fournier and his wife maxed out on contributions in last year’s school board race, donating $15,600 to the Fulop-backed candidates who subsequently won in a rout. Meanwhile, Tepper and Jeffrey Kaplan, who runs Tepper’s hedge fund, each gave $7,800 to those candidates last year.
Meanwhile, B4K’s political arm spent more than $250,000 helping to elect Fulop mayor on May 14. Local education advocate Shelley Skinner, once Fulop’s campaign manager, is formerly deputy director of B4k, and now runs the group’s charitable arm.
All told, this year's Fulop-backed candidates, who seek three three-year terms and a sole one-year seat on the nine-member school board next Tuesday, has raised $35,360 in this year’s campaign, and is sitting on a whopping $26,659 war chest as of Oct. 26.
That sum dwarfs the total raised by the other eight candidates, many of whom haven’t reported getting cash. The slate of four candidates supported by the local teachers union, dubbed Children First, have only reported raising $2,160, almost half of which is from the campaign account of Richardson’s cousin, former Councilwoman Viola Richardson.
So Alan Fournier and his education reform organization campaign money funnel known as B4K have dumped around $300K into the Jersey City political machine - but he couldn't get his group to pony up the money they had committed to help kids in Perth Amboy read.

And notice that Shelley Skinner, tied to Fulop's political machine, is the one who was in charge of the donation to the literacy program in Perth Amboy. Of course, Skinner has been a political animal for years...

Regular readers know that the Fulop machine in JC is tightly allied with B4K, the NJ education-industrial complex, Chris Christie's education commissioner, Chris Cerf, and his reformy agenda. No one should be surprised Fulop is turning to his deep-pocketed allies for more lucre to fund his complete takeover of the JCBOE.

But putting money into the Jersey City political machine while, at the very same moment, pulling it out of worthy programs to help kids read is as cynical as it gets.
In a statement attributed to all four Candidates for Excellence, the BOE hopefuls note that donors contribute to campaigns "because they share beliefs with that candidate."
“We share Mr. Fournier's belief that every child deserves a high-quality education,” the statement reads. “We are advocates for the children of Jersey City. Our wish for our own children and all children to get a great public school education is not for sale."
Oh, puh-lease! This is the same crock o' crap B4K's director, Derrell Bradford, pulls out when he wants to console himself that he's not just a political hack:
"The one really important difference is that the people we represent are the kids and the families," said Derrell Bradford, executive director of the policy arm of the group [B4K]. "I know everybody says it's all about that. We have no financial interest in public education, at all. Every other group does. I don't say that in a way that's meant to disparage anyone. We can be about pure activism because we don't have anything to gain from the success of the agenda other than that kids get better educational opportunities." 
You know, there's actually a cure for the septic shock induced by this sewage: a strong teachers union, working in alliance with concerned, knowledgeable parents. Fortunately, Jersey City has a great local leader in Ronnie Greco. And the teachers union in Perth Amboy have been the adults in the room during this whole sordid mess: they have my admiration and support.

Parents know their children's teachers are the ones who really care about their students. They know we are not the enemy. They know we put the kids first: unlike hot shot foundations who talk a big game, but put their money instead into politics instead of education.

Take as much as you need, Fulop machine!

Sorry, children of Perth Amboy!

ADDING: It's always good, when looking at B4K, to remember what their explicitly stated values are

As part of research for my master’s degree, I interviewed [XX], whom I had gotten to “know” over Facebook. XX leads a local branch of StudentsFirst, funded by David Tepper and Allen Fournier, the billionaire hedge fund boys. By his own admission, XX fell into ed reform when he was unemployed. 

He’s not in this because of any deep abiding conviction to make schools better (though he may have developed an interest). He’s in this because he needed a job, is a private-school educated African American who speaks well and now controls a SuperPAC. It’s a chess game for him, and is quite addictive. He hangs out with Rhee and has addressed ALEC on several occasions.

He said two interesting things to me in our meeting. “I’m here because you’re not.” Translation – if the education establishment had taken on the issues, or at least been less complacent about messaging (the REAL problem in my opinion) there’d be no market for the “reforms.”  The second thing he said was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Reform 1.0 was school choice. Reform 2.0 was tenure (for NJ). Reform 3.0 is we have a SuperPAC – we can elect candidates.

As I said, he’s developed an interest in education but he’s hanging with the wrong guys, and i told him as much. His real interest is in the chess game of politics, which is fascinating, especially when you have the resources to play for real.
I think we all know who [XX] is. He is now doing exactly what he said he would - which is why machine politics is now front and center, and literacy is at the back of the bus.



Giuseppe said...

Just wondering, is there at least one billionaire or millionaire in the whole USA who supports the real public schools, their teachers and their unions? Please? And if such a rara avis does verbally support our public schools, does he/she back up the rhetoric with the green stuff? Those decaying schools in Trenton and other big cities could really benefit from billionaire philanthropy. We would have more luck finding pink unicorns than a billionaire supporting district schools.

Unknown said...

Red alert! David Tepper is investing in the Atlanta school board race as well.