Bloomberg leads big New York donors in school choice debate

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Among the nation’s financial elite who have helped shape the school-choice movement, Michael Bloomberg tops the list of New York’s political contributors.

The former New York City mayor is one of four New York residents who appear in an Associated Press analysis of the contributions of people who have given at least $100,000 to school-choice statewide ballot campaigns around the country. In all, 48 individuals and couples accounted for the majority of reported contributions to pro school-choice initiatives from 2000 through last year.

Over the past 10 years, Bloomberg, who championed charter schools as mayor, has donated $1.8 million to ballot measures and political action committees that focused primarily on school choice. That included $490,000 in support of a failed 2016 effort to expand charter schools in his home state of Massachusetts, the AP data found.

Other New Yorkers contributing to the school choice cause were Ann Dinning, managing director of the investment firm D.E. Shaw and Co., and consultant and former MTV President Michael Wolf, who each contributed $250,000 to Washington state’s success in establishing charter schools. Investor Bruce Kovner contributed $100,000 to Michigan’s failed 2000 proposal to establish vouchers.

The AP compiled the data amid an emerging philosophical split in the school-choice movement. The move toward broadening alternatives to struggling district schools has largely been underwritten by some of the country’s wealthiest people, including Betsy DeVos, whom President Donald Trump elevated to U.S. education secretary.

While donors include those who support charter schools, which are public schools but privately run, DeVos and others want to take choice further with programs like vouchers that allow tax money to pay for private school tuition and government-funded scholarships.

Bloomberg declined to comment on his support of the Massachusetts ballot initiative, or whether he favors vouchers or other choice programs beyond charter schools. In all, the former mayor’s political contributions to school choice initiatives from 2007-2016 represent a fraction of his more than $76 million in contributions to various candidates and causes, the analysis found.