|Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va). - Reuters|
The Senate has passed an amendment to new proposed federal legislation, which would steer hundreds of millions of dollars intended for impoverished school districts and classrooms, into the pockets of Wall Street consultants. The legislation, authored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) was tucked into the Senate version of a massive K-12 education funding bill currently up for congressional reauthorization.
Bank of America, which made fees off of school district swap deals made in Chicago and Denver, has donated at least $50,000 to the Center for American Progress. Other major donors to the Center for American Progress include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given at least $500,000, and the Walton Family Foundation (of the Walmart fortune), which has also given at least $500,000 to the think tank. Both the Walton and Gates foundations have partnered with the Boston Consulting Group.
David Sirota at IBT is hot on the trail. He writes;
As budget-strapped Chicago follows a mass school closure with a new plan to layoff more than 1,400 teachers, one set of transactions sticks out: the city’s moves to refinance $1 billion in debt through complex financial instruments called swaps. The deals were spearheaded over the last few years by financial advisory firms brought in by the city to help find money saving efficiencies. Instead of saving money, though, the Windy City took a big hit: The school system has lost more than $100 million on the transactions and has paid millions in fees to its financial consultants.
Chicago is not alone. School districts across the country have been increasingly relying on high-priced consultants and Wall Street firms for financial and management advice. While proponents say many of the ensuing consultant-driven initiatives have resulted in cost savings, critics note that other initiatives have resulted in investment losses, layoffs and school closures. What is clear is that school districts’ reliance on outside advisers has created business opportunities for the financial industry. And now, thanks to an amendment to federal education legislation moving through Congress, that lucrative market for financial and consulting could become even more flush with cash -- specifically, with federal money meant for impoverished school districts.
The amounts that consulting firms can earn for work on public school policy can be eye-popping. In Philadelphia, the Boston Consulting Group was reportedly paid $230,000 per week for its work pushing for privatized education services and closures of up to 88 schools in the city.