Editorials

Follow the money

The organization known as Families for Excellent Schools shut down suddenly in February, shortly after its founder and CEO was removed for “inappropriate behavior.” Despite its name, FES was pure Astroturf, created and funded by wealthy people who had little engagement with the low-income, black and Latino communities they purported to represent.

FES helped fund huge rallies beloved by Eva Moskowitz, who mandated attendance by her Success Academy students and their parents. Moskowitz embraced the group’s confrontational tactics, and FES loved her back. Independent charter school operators cringed at the group’s attacks on Mayor Bill de Blasio as they attempted to work with him.

The organization’s fall began when the group overreached in Massachusetts, where it spent $15 million to promote support for a ballot question in November 2016 that would have expanded the number of charter schools in the state. The campaign failed miserably: 62 percent of voters opposed lifting the charter cap.

A state investigation revealed FES had violated the law prohibiting nonprofits from soliciting donations for political campaigns. Not only did FES have to pay a record $426,466 fine, but it also had to reveal its donors. As expected, hedge funders and billionaires from Massachusetts, New York and other states dominated the list.

It’s tempting to declare victory over the billionaires who attempt to dictate education policy by hiding their identities and agenda behind Astroturf organizations. Not so fast. The donors behind FES are sure to create a new front organization to advance their school privatization agenda.

Just follow the money.

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