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New York Hedge Funds Pour Millions of Dollars into Cuomo-Led Bid to Expand Charter Schools

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In his latest column for the New York Daily News, Democracy Now! co-host Juan González reports on the tens of millions of dollars in hedge fund donations behind the push for charter schools in New York state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the single biggest recipient, hauling in $4.8 million. After winning approval for up to $2,600 more per pupil for charter school facilities, Cuomo is calling on the state Legislature to increase the state limit on charter schools.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, before we move on with our first segment, you have a very interesting piece in the New York Daily News today, “Hedge fund executives give ’til it hurts to politicians, especially Cuomo, to get more charter schools.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Well, I wrote about an interesting symposium that was held at the Harvard Club yesterday, an all-day symposium titled “Bonds & Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools.” And it was a meeting, basically, of hedge fund types sponsored by the Gates Foundation and by the Walton Foundation, basically—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Of the Wal-Mart family—basically enticing more investors to begin to see how they can make money off of charter schools. An all-day symposium with a small protest of parents outside. But it really has marked the enormous change that’s occurred in New York politics and, I think, around the country, as a new report showed that hedge fund executives over the last decade have poured nearly $40 million into political contributions just in New York state. The prime beneficiary over the last few years has been Governor Cuomo, who has received almost $5 million. We’re talking about Carl Icahn, you know, the famous “corporate raider”; we’re talking about Paul Singer of the vulture fund, hedge fund guy; we’re talking about Julian Robertson of Tiger Management—some of the richest people in New York City. And they’re also, most of them, also major backers of charter schools.

AMY GOODMAN: How do they make money from charter schools?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, that’s—I think a lot of it now is going to be coming in with the facilities financing that’s going to occur. Governor Cuomo pressed the Legislature, for instance, in New York state to begin providing what will be the equivalent of about $2,600 per child to build new facilities for charter schools, forcing Mayor de Blasio in New York City to share some of this cost. So there’s going to be a new revenue stream: In addition to direct funding from the state for pupil education, there’s now going to be a charter facilities fund that’s been set up. And, of course, the governor wants to lift the cap on charter schools to allow many more charter schools to be started in New York. And the amount of money is not just in the direct contributions; it’s also in money being given to new groups, the dark money that we’ve seen after the Citizens United case, where folks like Robertson and Dan Loeb have contributed as much as a million dollars apiece last year to a new group funding ads promoting Republicans for Senate seats in New York state, which would assure, again, support for charter schools. So it’s an enormous amount of money that’s being poured into these political campaigns specifically by hedge fund folks who are very close to charter schools. In fact, one charter network alone, the Success Academy, which I’ve reported on repeatedly, 19 members of the board of directors, or their family members, gave $600,000 to Governor Cuomo’s campaigns in the last—for his last two election campaigns. It’s an enormous amount of money, and it’s not getting much attention.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll continue to cover this issue, of course. We just did an interview with Chuy García last week, who is the contender, mayoral contender, against Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, and charter schools are a key issue there, as well—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As well, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —in the race.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Absolutely.

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