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.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.