Wendy Lecker, civil rights attorney and director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, read an opinion article in the New York Times and was outraged by its recommendations. Here is her analysis:


It seems like these days, one has to be wary of anyone claiming to “help” poor neighborhoods.

An oped in the New York Times on July 13 by Michael Rubinger extolled the virtues of federal “new market tax credits” to “fix” neighborhoods in decline. Among the “valuable” neighborhood investments Rubinger mentions are charter schools.

Anyone paying attention the past year knows that expanding charter schools has been a weapon to destroy neighborhoods, not revitalize them. In Chicago, officials funneled public money to charter schools while defunding public schools. Then, declaring public schools “underutilized,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed an unprecedented number of neighborhood schools. These neighborhood schools were the anchors of their communities and parents and children vigorously protested their closure. A similar tragic story played itself out in Philadelphia, another city and state that starved the city’s public schools while funding charters, then closed a record number of neighborhood schools, despite strenuous protests by parents and children.

These new charters very often fail to serve all the children in those neighborhoods, regularly excluding ELL students and students with disabilities.

Not much of a neighborhood revitalization plan.

Although I am not much of a tax maven, I heard that term “new market tax credits” before. In 2010, Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News wrote about their connection to charter schools. It turns out these federal tax credits are a vehicle for banks and hedge funds to make enormous profits on the public dime. As Gonzalez explained:

“the investors who put up the money to build the charter schools get to basically virtually double their money in seven years through a 39 percent tax credit from the federal government. In addition, this is a tax credit on money that they’re lending, so they’re collecting interest on the loans, as well as getting the 39 percent tax credit. They piggyback the tax credit on other kinds of federal tax credits, like historic preservation or job creation or Brownfields credits. The result is, you can put in $10 million and in seven years double your money. And the problem is that the charter schools end up paying in rents the debt service on these loans.”

And that debt is paid, of course through taxpayer funds.

These credits help destroy neighborhoods but they certainly revitalize the balance sheets of these crafty banks and hedge funds!

And surely Michael Rubinger knows it. Just last week, he was a featured speaker in a symposium instructing Wall Street how to cash in on charters, entitled: Bonds and Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools (New York, NY).

If the wealthy want to make a difference, they should pay their fair share in taxes so that public schools and communities can have the resources they need to provide the supports to combat the effects of poverty, help overcome the challenges of language barriers and provide the special education services to ensure that every child is provided the education they deserve and need to achieve her greatest potential.

The return on investment for those children and our society would be greater than the hedge fund managers could ever achieve.