Money Is The Root of All Education Reform

Charles Stile at The Record reports on the relatively new presence in NJ of Democrats for Education Reform. Stile writes that DFER intends to “peel Democrats away from the grip of the New Jersey Education Association, the powerful teachers union.” DFER’s NJ Director Kathleen Nugent says, “"I haven't identified our top 10 legislators who are for us and our top 10 legislators who are being detrimental” but she’ll find out "who is supporting their kids and who is supporting the unions."

Here’s NJEA Spokesman Steve Wollmer’s response: "Just what we need is hedge fund operators driving education reform in New Jersey. Let's hope they don't drive it into the same ditch they drove the economy."

What’s up with the animus towards capitalism? Public schools cost money. Teachers – certainly in NJ – value their paychecks and benefits; in fact, 30,000 of them showed up in Trenton on Saturday to complain that they weren’t getting enough. Yet successful money managers incite sneers, even as they funnel much-needed money into public education (like charter schools) and advance the education reform agenda of President Obama, whose campaign was buoyed by the support of teacher unions. Here’s famous education historian and best-selling author Diane Ravitch on DFER:
Who is DFER? The Times says it includes the founders of hedge funds such as: Anchorage Capital Partners, with $8 billion under management; Greenlight Capital, with $6.8 billion; and Pershing Square Capital Management, with $5.5 billion. DFER is actively supporting candidates in many states who will help charter school legislation and actively opposing those who do not.

But something about this scenario is troubling. I guess it is the fundamental unfairness of a fight in which one side has an all-star list of billionaires (and mere multi-millionaires), and the other side has parents and teachers whose resources are meager. Granted, the teachers' unions have some independent resources, but what they have to spend politically to defend public education is peanuts compared with what the billionaires spend to privatize public schools
Okay. Fights between rich people and impoverished unions are fundamentally unfair, like pitting Rocky against Urkel. Here’s a recent Press of Atlantic City recent update on NJEA finances:
The New Jersey Education Association collected $98.4 million in dues from its members during its 2007 tax year, as is shown on its most recent Internal Revenue Service filing, which covered Sept. 1, 2007, to Aug. 31, 2008.

Those dues, paid by almost 130,000 teachers in annual increments of $731 (50,000 noncertified employees pay less), support one of the most influential lobbying forces in the state. The NJEA’s gross receipts for 2007-08, including $717,000 in proceeds from the annual convention in Atlantic City, were $131.4 million.
There’s a false dichotomy between public schools and financial success. The aroma wafting up from statements like Wollmer’s perpetuates an obsolete Hallmarkian sentiment that fiscal know-how taints the magic of learning. Yet public education costs money, especially if you want to start a charter school in NJ, which is precisely what Wollmer and NJEA want to thwart.

It’s not about hedge fund managers. (Anyone check NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano’s stock portfolio lately?) It’s about political influence which, in NJEA’s case, has taken on a bland flaccidity. Meanwhile, Ravitch and Wollmer’s animosity towards monied education reformers just hurts schoolchildren, the potential beneficiaries of replenished school funds, and spotlights their own obsolete agenda.

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