Follow the money

With big fundraising lead, fewer charter backers gave to Cuomo

Crowds at dueling education rallies earlier this year in Albany, two of the many expenses that lobbying groups had in an unusually busy legislative session.

In a year where Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered strong protections for New York City’s charter schools, his campaign chest is relatively empty of donations from the sector’s prominent backers.

Cuomo continued to attract financial support from some charter school backers, but fewer donors forked over contributions to his campaign in the past six months than in years prior, according to campaign filings disclosed on Tuesday. For instance, none of the 27 philanthropists, bankers, real estate executives and advocates who lined Cuomo’s coffers with at least $800,000 between 2010 and 2014 donated to his campaign this year.

Cuomo, who has about $35 million stashed away in his account, isn’t hurting for cash. He pulled in major donations from Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and Stanley Druckenmiller, chair of Harlem Children’s Zone, who each gave the maximum of $60,800. Democrats for Education Reform donated another $5,000 in May.

And Cuomo still out-raised his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, $8.5 million to $3.4 million from Jan. 15 to July 15, the filings show. He is expected to handily win a Democratic primary against Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout and the general election against Astorino.

But the ebb of campaign contributions may reflect a political calculus on the part of Cuomo, who is often named in speculative discussions about the 2016 presidential race. Donations from charter backers, including Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz and several of her board members, became the target of criticism from teachers unions and their allies this winter after Cuomo pushed through laws that guaranteed facilities for new charter schools in New York City, a direct rebuke of Mayor Bill de Blasio. In recent weeks, Cuomo has sought to win those groups back to shore up support from Democrats ahead of the election season.

For his part, Astorino’s opposition to the state’s adoption of the Common Core might have earned him his own financial boost. Sean Fieler, a conservative New York City hedge fund manager and vocal critic of the national learning standards, gave $40,000 to Astorino in February (Astorino opted his children out from taking the state’s Common Core-aligned tests and, last week, announced intentions to create a “Stop Common Core” line on the ballot box).

Here are some other highlights from political filings released today:

Cuomo still has the support of some right-leaning education advocates. Bruce Kovner, who supports Bronx Preparatory Charter School and Albany-based Brighter Choice charter schools, gave $5,000 to Cuomo’s campaign. J.C. Huizenga, who founded the for-profit National Heritage Academies and is a prominent donor to Republican presidential campaigns, gave Cuomo $15,000. National Heritage Academies operates 75 charter schools nationwide, including four schools in New York City.  

Some former Cuomo contributors crossed party lines. Manhattan Institute Chairman Roger Hertog, a philanthropist who has donated to Success Academy among other charter schools, last year gave $30,000 to the governor’s reelection campaign. This year, he switched sides, sending $20,000 to Astorino’s campaign just five days ago,  filings show.

— Expensive lobbying behind push for prekindergarten and charter school protections. Final tallies aren’t yet posted online, but state lobbying efforts this year by education stakeholders quickly added up. Families for Excellent Schools, the organization behind a six-week advertising blitz to urge lawmakers to increase funding to charter schools and guarantee them funding, spent nearly $6 million las March and April, filings show. The union-backed group behind Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign to secure funding for prekindergarten in New York City spent $1.67 million this winter, according to Capital New York. The campaign, UPK NYC, launched before de Blasio even took office and was funded with the help of $350,000 from the American Federation of Teachers.

Don’t miss the latest news about New York City schools: Follow Chalkbeat NY on Facebook.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”