New York's Greatly Hyped Success Academy Tainted by Racist Board Members and Radical Right-Wing Money
Success Academy, New York City’s largest charter school network, has been the subject of a steady stream of unflattering press reports since Board chair and billionaire hedge funder Dan Loeb accused New York Legislature's highest-ranking black woman of inflicting more damage to people of color than the KKK. But Loeb isn’t the only Success leader who traffics in incendiary racial commentary. Board member Charles Strauch has had a blog for years that specializes in right-wing race baiting and recycled conspiracy theories from the dregs of the Internet, many with a racial tinge.
Strauch’s blog, Wealth Creates Good, was taken down on September 5th, not long after I began Tweeting excerpts of his posts to Success, asking for a response. (An archive of some of Strauch’s post can still be viewed here.)
In one post, Strauch writes about one of his projects, praising it as a “labor of love by those of us who really care about helping blacks to help themselves,” a regular theme on a blog that he says is dedicated to Blacks who dislike being portrayed as victims by other Blacks, especially the “well-financed government-and-media-backed minority leaders.”
In another post, he chastises Joshua DuBois, a former aide to the Obama administration, disparaging him as "Political Black activist-Degree in Black Nationalism. Anti gun ownership lobbyist. How does this guy stay busy - keepin' the faith?" DuBois, by the way, was the White House aide responsible for strengthening national unity through work with faith-based leaders and organizations. He holds a master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Strauch has also used his blog to recycle outrageous allegations from the dregs of the Internet. Here he is, for example, sharing excerpts from a controversial story written about former President Obama, which questioned Obama’s objectiveness and ability to lead because he had taken “multiple subsequent journeys to Africa” and was raised in Hawaii. He also shared a crude satirical letter originally posted on Breitbart News and addressed to black students at Oxford University, asking: “what were your ancestors doing ...? Living in mud huts, mainly. … You'll probably probably say that's ‘racist’. But it's what we here at Oxford prefer to call ‘true.’”
And in yet another post, Strauch shares a fear-mongering op-ed, entitled “America is in decay.” The post, originally from National Review, claims that “for the first time - in recorded history - gender is meaningless,” which Strauch highlighted. He also highlighted an excerpt which blames “the End of Religion” as the fault of America’s “decay.” The excerpt reads: "The End of Right and Wrong ... There are no moral truths because there is no longer a religious basis for morality.”
Strauch isn’t even the highest profile right-winger on the Board. That honor goes to Suzie Kovner, who, with her husband, has contributed more than $3 million to Republican causes, including charter school expansion and school choice. Once called “George Soros’s right-wing twin” and “the patron saint of the neoconservatives” Kovner’s husband was formerly the chairman of the American Enterprise Institute, where he led a conservative PR effort to undermine unions and halt the spread of a plot to spread socialism throughout America, AKA the living wage. Meanwhile, Suzie Kovner has a seat on Success Academy’s Board, overseeing a network where more than three-quarters of students’ families are classified as low-income, and getting poorer, even as the wealthiest New Yorkers, the Loebs and the Kovners among them, have grown richer still.
Success Academy’s love affair with the reactionary right wing doesn’t stop at the boardroom. The controversial Mercer family, owners of the alt-right outlet Breitbart News, known for its crusades against immigrant students and warnings about how the LGBT agenda is hijacking America’s youth, has contributed more than $1 million to Success Academy through their family foundation. And of course there is Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz’s own support for school choice zealot Betsy DeVos. Despite concerns from faculty at her schools, Moskowitz has been reluctant to distance herself from President Trump and his Secretary of Education. After all, the network’s political influence has been key to helping Moskowitz realize her vision of growing a charter school empire in New York.
Success Academy’s leaders have contributed generously to Republicans and to rogue Democrats in New York in order to keep Democrats, who mostly oppose charter school expansion, from regaining majority control of the New York State Senate. Success and its advocates have used political donations, including from Moskowitz’s own PAC, to grease the skids for policies that the network favors. New York Senate’s Republican Majority Leader Senator John Flanagan, who received more than $10,000 since 2015 from Moskowitz’s “Great Public Schools PAC” sponsored legislation this year to ease the requirements Success teachers need in order to obtain certification. If the legislation passes the state assembly, Success Academy and other charters will be able to create their own certification schemes and fast-track their teachers into the classroom with as little as 30 hours of training.
When Americans were sold the idea of charter schools more than three decades ago, the argument that they would be hubs of innovation that could reinvigorate all of our public schools gave them bipartisan appeal. Charter school leaders and their funders no longer share that vision. Instead of integrating some of their ideas into public classrooms for all children and educators to benefit, they are interested in dismantling public education for their own gain with little transparency and minimal public oversight. And, those who disagree will face the wrath of charter schools’ political organs and influence – just as Dan Loeb attacked Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Charles Strauch attacked black Democrats and civil rights leaders, and Moskowitz herself attacked the NAACP, accusing the civil rights organization of turning its back on students of color.
Success Academy's Board of Directors and leadership have collectively contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates and special interest groups, including many who challenge the rights of LGBTQ people – including LGBTQ youth – and who have worked to advance cuts to public education, youth meal programs, and young people's access to health care.
Ultimately, it is our communities that must deal with the collateral damage. Youth and parents have been dragged into a political debate when all that truly matters to them is a high-quality education and leaders who invest in the welfare of our youth. Our communities are stronger when youth wake up in decent housing, attend a school in a clean and well-equipped school building that is staffed by certified teachers and coaches who oversee extracurricular activities; and, where students have access to a nurse or a doctor when they are ill; and, of course when youth have access to a solid meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Unfortunately, Success Academy Charter Schools, Inc. is first and foremost committed to electing pro-charter politicians, even if their positions undercut the interests of the students and families they claim to serve. When Success Academy’s leaders back politicians who act in opposition to the interests of the network’s communities, it should concern all of us. While Success Academy says it is truly bipartisan, the remarks of its leaders, its political alliances and financial donations contributions reveal otherwise.