Wealthy Businessmen Fund Campaign To Keep The SHSAT

In late April, two wealthy businessmen who have been involved in New York City politics for decades announced the formation of a new lobbying campaign to reform the specialized high school admissions process. Ronald S. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus of Estee Lauder Companies, an internationally renowned beauty products corporation is Bronx High School of Science class of 1961. Richard Parsons, while not a graduate of a specialized high school, is also a native New Yorker and was the former chairman of Citigroup and of CBS. 


Mr. Lauder and Mr. Parsons unveiled their campaign, entitled Education Equity, as one that would lobby against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test in the short-term, and expand opportunities for black and Hispanic middle school students to access specialized high schools in the long term. 


The Education Equity campaign outlines five goals: To add two specialized high schools in each borough, to improve middle school education, to make gifted and talented programs accessible to students in all middle schools, to invest in SHSAT prep for all city students, and to require the administration of the test on a school day. Mr. Lauder and Mr. Parsons, who are spearheading and bankrolling this campaign, also hired four advisors, including Kirsten John Foy, a former advisor for Mayor de Blasio and a graduate of Brooklyn Tech, Class of 1994.


Mayor de Blasio expressed his frustration that the two executives were “going all out to keep the status quo, and deprive black and Hispanic kids of their shot at the city’s specialized high schools,” according to the New York Times. He called the campaign “a misuse of money and power,” and vowed to fight it. 


Lobbying organizations on the campaign’s payroll include Tusk Strategies, Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates and Bolton St.-Johns. Tusk has close ties to former mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the latter two are connected to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature, which is the focus of the lobbying effort. To eliminate the SHSAT as proposed by the Department of Education, the State Legislature would need to repeal the 1971 Hecht-Calandra Act. 


A few assembly members and state senators have begun conducting hearings around the city and listen to students, parents, educators and other stakeholders. The most recent hearing was held in downtown Brooklyn on May 13, and additional hearings are scheduled in other boroughs later in the month. However, no progress has been made on any legislative action to eliminate the SHSAT.


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