From May 4 to May 6, 2014 the Honorable Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York State, is scheduled to be the Honorary Chairman at a three-day charter school/hedge fund extravaganza that is anything but honorable. Other celebrity "guests" who are supposed to attend the Lake Placid retreat sponsored by a group called Education Reform Now include Senator Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, and horror film producer/director M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan, who attended elite private schools as a youth, decided he is an education expert and wrote a book about saving public schools after filming in a Philadelphia public high school.
For $1,000 each, participants in the Lake Placid retreat "Embark on three spring days of fun, fellowship and strategy with the nation's thought leaders on education reform." Those who are special, or especially rich, can get VIP treatment for $2,500.
According to the online agenda, break-out sessions include discussions on "The Next Big Thing: Groundbreaking Approaches to Teacher Preparation," "Up, Down, and Sideways: Building an Effective School Reform Coalition," " Tight-Loose Options for Ensuring All Kids Have Access to a Great Education," and "Collaborative Models for Changing State and Local Teacher Policies." But really only one topic will be discussed - How to promote and profit from the privatization of public education in the United States.
Education Reform Now (ERN) is a non-profit advocacy group that lobbies state and federal public officials to support charter schools and tougher teacher evaluations and tenure requirements. In Washington state it supported a successful effort to lift the state ban on charter schools. While ERN claims to be left-leaning, in New Jersey it has been allied with Governor Chris Christie in efforts to weaken the teachers union, increase the number of years before teachers are eligible for tenure, and to evaluate teacher based on student performance on high-stakes standardized assessments.
It is no surprise that Cuomo, who has presidential ambitions, is lending his name to the retreat. Education Reform Now has donated $65,000 to Cuomo's campaign chest since 2010 through a series of political action committee. Members of the ERN Board of Directors and founders of its "unofficially" affiliated political action committee, Democrats for Education Reform, also give individual contributions to Cuomo. They include John Petry, a board member for ERN, co-founder of DFER, founder and manager of Sessa Capital, and co-chair of New York City's Success Academy Charter Schools. Other ERN/DFER deep pocket hedge fund operators who help bankroll Cuomo are Joel Greenblatt, founder of Gotham Capital and co-chair of the Success Academy network and Whitney Tilson, founder and managing partner of Kase Capital Management. A DFER representative described the retreat as an "opportunity for elected officials, advocacy leaders, and philanthropists to come together to discuss policy and political ideas to reform education."
According to a Cuomo spokesperson, "The Governor is pleased to welcome a major national education conference to the North Country as we continue to build on this administration's efforts to increase tourism and economic development opportunities in Upstate New York . . . Instead of criticizing these guests, we should all be focusing on bringing innovation and success to all public schools, charter and non-charter alike."
The Education Reform Now Board of Directors reads like a list of hedge fund royalty. Charles H. Ledley, Board Chair of Education Reform Now, is an Analyst at Highfields Capital Management. He was a partner at Cornwall Capital and a consultant at Bain & Company, Mitt Romney's old firm. John Petry, founder and managing principal at Sessa Capital, previously was a partner at Gotham Capital and Gotham Asset Management. Sidney Hawkins Gargiulo is a Partner at Covey Capital. Brian Zied, who previously worked at Maverick Capital and Bear, Stearns is the founder of Charter Bridge Capital. John Sabat, aboard member of Harlem Success Academy 4, works at Cubist Systematic Strategies. Michael Sabat is a Vice President at Sanford C. Bernstein
M. Night Shyamalan has produced or director such "noted" Hollywood horror film features including After Earth (2013), Devil (2010), The Happening (2008), The Village (2004), and The Sixth Sense (1999). I wonder if he plans to use the conference as a setting for a new horror flick, "Zombies that Ate Our Public Schools."
* Zombies feast on human flesh. Hedge Funds feast on cracks in the global financial system to amass huge fortunes. Hedge Fund zombies see charter schools as a way to grow even fatter by feasting on public school dollars. For more on the Dishonorable Andrew Cuomo and the impact of charter schools on public schools, check out a terrific music video by Middletown High School students, "No Mo Cuomo."