Profiteering and Union-Busting Repackaged as School
By David A. Love
BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor
July 29, 2011
This is one of those stories that shows how far some
people will go in America to make a buck - even if it
means profiting at the expense of children, or
exploiting the legacy of the civil rights movement.
Stand for Children is an unassuming name for an
organization. Just taken at face value, one would
conclude that the Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit
aspires to accomplish what the title suggests. Their
website says SFC is "an innovative, grassroots child
advocacy organization. Our mission is to use the power
of grassroots action to help all children get the
excellent public education and strong support they need
to thrive. Our members believe we need to stand up for
our children now - particularly for their education
from pre-school through high school - to create a
better future for America."
Now, that all sounds good, until you dig deeper. The
cofounder and CEO of SFC, Jonah Edelman, is the son of
Marian Wright Edelman, the well-respected civil rights
activist and head of the Children's Defense Fund.
Critics charge that Stand for Children started out on
the right side of the issues, devoting itself to
progressive issues such as class sizes, affordable
children's healthcare and adequate funding for schools.
But then, things changed when they started taking the
money, and lots of it - from wealthy interests who
arguably care nothing about poor children of color in
the inner cities, and care a great deal about a vision
of privatization that extracts profit from the public
In an infamous YouTube video that went viral, Edelman
discussed his strategy in Illinois at a July 10 Aspen
Institute event. That strategy was essentially to
mislead the teachers unions, do a number on them, and
pay off the state legislators to pass SB7, an extensive
school reform bill. The original bill would have
stripped teachers of their right to strike, eliminated
seniority as a factor in layoffs, and denied teachers
their due process rights that come with tenure. What
this has to do with the interests of children is
anybody's guess. A weaker version of the bill that
passed still undermined labor rights by restricting
seniority and the right to strike.
Typically, when Edelman goes into a state, he sets up a
PAC, raises a ton of money and hires the best lobbyists
money can buy. He benefits from his mother's rolodex
and the cache her name and reputation bring to the
table. SFC spreads money around in the community, in an
attempt to soften up the black clergy and community
leaders and get them on board as partners. And they
bribe public officials to pass union-busting
In Illinois, SFC raised $3 million late last year and
hired 11 lobbyists. They approached Illinois Speaker
Michael Madigan - who failed to garner union support
that year for passing pension reform - and donated
$610,000 to nine state campaigns in both major parties.
And Edelman attended a community meeting of black
Chicago clergy with what observers have called a "slick
dog and pony show." But the pastors didn't take the
bait. According to Rev. Robin Hood, executive director
of Clergy Committed to Community, SFC wasn't the least
bit interested in the concerns of the black community.
"One of the schools I'm working in has serious
problems. Their organizer wasn't concerned about that,
they were interested in getting people to see [the
film] Waiting for Superman," Rev. Hood said of SFC.
"Waiting for Superman did not fly here in Chicago. It
wasn't a hit like they thought it was going to be. It
was about taking away the rights of unions to organize.
In the communities we live in we need living wage
jobs," he said. "Most of these parents have been
arguing about how we don't have books in school. Those
are not the things Stand for Children were talking
about. They were talking about taking power from
teachers," Hood added.
From the start, Rev. Hood found Edelman and his group
disrespectful and arrogant, with dollar signs and
union-bashing on their mind. "I found they were anti-
union when we met with Stand for Children. It was all
about money, it was nothing about children. That's why
they had to build a grassroots component. They did a
switch up while they were working here," he said.
Although SFC spread around a lot of money in Chicago
communities, Rev. Hood emphasized that not one of the
pastors in his group would take any of it. "How much
money do you people have?" he asked rhetorically of
Edelman. "First they said they are doing political
advocacy, and using community organizations as their
base. Six months later they said `we got our own base
now.' Then they gave $3 million to state legislators,"
"Instead of advocating they became lobbyists," Rev.
Rev. Hood also shared his thoughts on the recent
fallout from Edelman's comments at Aspen. "As much
money as they put out, I didn't think they would self-
destruct," Hood said. "On a personal level, it was
interesting to see him self-destruct, and I knew they
weren't focused on changing things for the children.
They were union busting and making money off the backs
of our kids." Moreover, Rev. Hood believed Edelman's
public disclosure of his machinations with Speaker
Madigan was particularly damaging. "Speaker Mike
Madigan is the most powerful man in the state. The
Governor doesn't have that power. To say what he
[Edelman] did to him [Madigan] is what the Japanese
To put Jonah Edelman and his operations in perspective,
just follow the money. Susan Barrett quit her volunteer
leadership position at SFC in Portland because wealthy
investors are now driving the organization. "I want to
make sure that people pay close attention to who is on
the SFC board, where their money is coming from, and
think critically about whether or not the agendas they
are promoting will bring the results parents and
community members hope for in public education,"
Barrett recently wrote.
SFC's Illinois PAC amassed the state's largest war
chest, just days before new caps on state campaign
contributions went into effect. Those new restrictions
limit individual contributions to $10,000, with $20,000
from corporations. All of the contributions to SFC were
five- and six-figure amounts, including $250,000 from
the billionaire Pritzker family, and $500,000 from Ken
Griffin, CEO of the Citadel Group and bankroller of GOP
state candidates. Sam Zell, owner of Tribune Co.,
contributed $100,000. Meanwhile, of the $610,000 that
Edelman gave to legislative candidates, his PAC handed
over $175,000-a record for Illinois- to Republican
state House candidate Ryan Higgins, who lost his
Stand for Children's donor list is quite impressive,
and equally revealing. For example, last year SFC
received a $3.5 million grant from the Gates
Foundation, its largest donor. The Walton Family
Foundation - of Walmart anti-union fame - chipped in
$1.4 million. And New Profit Inc., with ties to a firm
running Muammar Gaddafi's PR campaign, has donated
nearly $1.5 million in recent years.
Meanwhile, the SFC board of directors consists of
venture philanthropists and private equity investors,
including the extremely wealthy and powerful. One would
think that a "grassroots child advocacy organization"
would have at least a token of community representation
on its board, including educators and child advocates
of color. Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of Apple CEO Steve
Jobs, is a board member, as is Emma Bloomberg, daughter
of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Mayor Bloomberg, who is pro-charter school and seems to
claim personal ownership of New York's public schools,
has a history of placing ill-prepared corporate types
in charge of the nation's largest - and mostly black
and brown - school system. Bloomberg's most immediate
past schools chancellor, a magazine executive named
Cathleen Black, had no experience in education
whatsoever. During her brief and painful stint as
chancellor, Black offended many with her jaw-dropping
remarks, which included addressing shortages in
classroom space by asking "Could we just have some
birth control for a while? It could really help us all
out a lot."
Black's predecessor, Joel Klein, now Rupert Murdoch's
deputy at News Corp., is overseeing an investigation
into the company's infamous phone hacking scandal.
Klein is the head of Murdoch's new education technology
business, which Murdoch plans to spend $1 billion to
But the larger picture here is that corporate education
reform is big business. And the rightwing, plutocratic
agenda - of school privatization, government austerity
measures and deunionization - clashes with the needs of
poor, working class, and disproportionately black and
brown public school students.
"What I can say personally is their true colors came
out. He won't get a base in my community." Rev. Hood
said defiantly of Edelman. "We need to educate our
kids, not get rich folks richer. These are the same
people that don't want you to have a living wage and
Meanwhile, the education reformers, armed with a
pocketful of billionaire money, rip off communities of
color. And as they buy off legislatures, they come off
looking like the saviors of the black and brown
children they just pimped.
"I wish I could be wrong, but I think they'll be back
for vouchers," Rev. Hood offered on a cautionary note.
"They'll be back with a sad sack of legislators to
write a bill for vouchers."
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