How Hedge Funders Built the Pro-Charter Political Network School board elections have graduated from quaint races to big-money contests, thanks to well-funded education reform advocacy groups succeeding at the local level.
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.
In recent years, this powerful upstart operation has had tremendous, albeit somewhat stealthy, success playing politics at the local level, by cultivating reform leaders in areas with disappointing schools and a baseline desire for change. They have looked to building a state philanthropic infrastructure that can sustain local efforts beyond one election.
The same big-money donors and organizational names pop up in news reports and campaign-finance filings, revealing the behind-the-scenes coordination across organizational, geographic and industry lines. The origins arguably trace back to Democrats for Education Reform, a relatively obscure group founded by New York hedge funders in the mid-2000s.
The Hedge Fund Connection
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 How Hedge Funders Built the Pro-Charter Political Network - BillMoyers.com: