April 30, 2024

Aly Shaw: Billionaires Yass, DeVos Team Up to Dismantle Public Schools Across the US

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Writing for the LittleSis public accountability initiative, Aly Shaw explains the billionaire alliance aimed at dismantling public education as we know it.

On a hot July day in Tampa at the 2022 Moms for Liberty Summit, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the crowd that the US Department of Education should be abolished. This claim – that the very department she recently led should not exist – earned her a standing ovation from the Moms for Liberty members in the room.

The moment highlights how extreme the right wing in the United States has veered on education policy. Newer groups like Moms for Liberty that demonize LGBTQ+ students, critical race theory, and COVID-19 protections as “wokeness gone too far” are not only breathing new life into Betsy DeVos’s long-standing efforts to privatize public education, but are also making education a top issue for the U.S. right wing. Billionaires like DeVos and grassroots groups like Moms for Liberty have come together to form what they call the “education freedom” movement.

But while the DeVos family has been a long time funder of the cause, in recent years the legislative efforts to demonize and defund public schools have been strengthened by another billionaire: Jeff Yass, the co-founder and Managing Director of Susquehanna International Group.

Worth nearly $30 billion, Yass has exploded onto the campaign finance scene over the past few elections. Through Susquehanna International Group, a Philadelphia-based trading and investment firm, Yass was an early investor in TikTok. As TikTok grew more popular during the pandemic, Yass’s net worth more than doubled, and his political spending grew alongside his wealth. In just the past few years Yass has become one of the most influential conservative donors in Pennsylvania and the United States. On a federal level, he went from spending about $5.5 million on federal elections in 2016 to spending over $30.5 million in 2020. In Pennsylvania, Yass went from spending just over $3 million in 2018 to spending over $22 million in 2022.

Despite going to public schools himself for most of his education, Yass has spent tens of millions of dollars towards efforts to privatize the U.S. education system. Worth nearly six times more than the DeVos family, Yass has supercharged the long-standing DeVos family strategy of attacking public education on a state level where their millions of dollars can go farther to influence elections and therefore state policy.

Since 2021, Yass has spent over $23 million dollars on federal school privatization PACs like the Club for Growth’s School Freedom Fund and the DeVos-backed American Federation for Children’s Victory Fund and Action Fund. In addition to these PACs, Yass has also spent large sums of money directly in states like Pennsylvania, Texas, Kentucky, and others where he spent millions supporting pro-charter candidates and attacking anti-charter candidates, no matter the party.

Read the full post, complete with graphics showing the connections, here.

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