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Rev. Romal J. Tune Headshot

Hedge Funds and School Reform: A Bad Mix

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The debate about what is best for children and public schools continues to draw opinions from a wide variety of voices in both the private and public sectors. Although it is good to include a diversity of perspectives as we work to meet the needs of children, it is concerning when we see companies whose sole focus is on making record profits now saying they know what's best for schools and children living in poor communities.

When we hear business leaders who made their profits from hedge funds and companies that have laid off workers due to the recession now saying they are starting non-profit organizations to help under-performing students and schools, it should be a cause for concern, sirens should be going off to alert teachers, parents and communities that big business is now coming for your children and community.

New organizations focused on school reform are being started by CEOs of hedge funds. Not parents, teachers, community leaders, or others on the local level concerned about the needs of their children and the neighborhoods in which they live, but CEOs.

These are the same CEOs who weathered the recession by laying off hard-working men and women (parents) in order to keep their businesses afloat. And while profits are back up instead of hiring and creating more jobs these same CEOs adamantly oppose raising taxes for the wealthy while working families fight to make ends meet.

In the midst of the worst recession in our lifetime, when unemployment hovers around nine percent, some CEOs from hedge funds now want a shot at doing for schools what they did for the economy and jobs. It's as if they are saying "I don't know anything about education but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night."

Under-performing schools may be bad for our children and communities but they could be good for business. In fact some of these new organizations, like those started in New Jersey, say they want more charter schools (even though they are not out-performing public schools) and legislation that would allow private companies to take over public schools. Schools are big business. Contracts for school lunches, contracts for building maintenance, contracts for construction, contracts for technology, phone service providers, window installation contracts, heating and air conditioning installation and maintenance -- the list goes on. Millions of dollars could go to these private companies and their friends.

These new organizations started by corporate giants and founders of hedge funds vow to spend millions on advertising their efforts. They will raise large sums of money without having to disclose who their donors are (red flag.) They plan to hire lobbyists to make their case before federal and local governments. They want testing to be the primary indicator of success for students and teachers despite the research and evidence that disproves this approach and they also contend that teachers make too much money (yet they are millionaires) and want get rid of collective bargaining so there is no voice for those working in the classroom. Not only is this the goal for New Jersey but they are pushing these policies nationwide.

If corporate CEOs want to spend money to help children succeed give the money to the schools that need it rather than trying to close them and build new ones. Help schools and school districts that are facing budget cuts and being asked to do more with less. Take that money and give parents their jobs back so that they can provide for their children. Identify schools in need of better technology and fund innovation so they can compete with the school that your kids attend, especially since you want them to meet the same testing standards. Or perhaps pay capital gains taxes and let that money go to support school districts in need of adequate resources.

There is a place for businesses leaders in helping our children, schools and communities succeed but it's not as the arrogant corporate millionaire who thinks he or she knows more than everyone else. It's as an equal partner, with an equal voice, willing to share ideas and collaborate with others who have a vested interested in the success of children in their neighborhood.

The place for corporate partners should be one that values and respects what others bring to the table, especially those working within challenging educational environments. Treat the parents, teachers, children and community leaders with the respect they deserve and be humble enough to sit at the table as an equal, rather than someone who likes to point out that they bought the table and boast about how much it cost.