The school board for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has significantly increased the amount of funds given to several companies that are investments of a board member, according to investigative work conducted by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Deborah Quazzo was appointed to the CPS board in 2013 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and has had a long career as an investment banker and venture capitalist. She’s also actively involved in both education policy and education-related investment, which her company’s webpage touting dozens of personal investments she has made in the field. Currently, she has invested in at least five companies that do business with CPS: Academic Approach, Dreambox Learning, MasteryConnect, ThinkCERCA, and ThinkThroughLearning.
From 2010 to June 2013, when Quazzo was appointed, those five companies received a total of about $930,000 in payments from Chicago schools. Now, in the 18 months that have passed since she joined the board, those five companies have collected an additional $2.9 million from CPS business. On a per-month basis, that’s close to a ninefold increase.
Quazzo argues that her investments do not constitute a conflict of interest, but are instead an extension of a philanthropic commitment to education.
“It’s my belief I need to invest in companies and philanthropic organizations who improve outcomes for children,” Quazzo told the Sun-Times. She also claimed to be unaware of the drastic increase in business the companies have seen since she took office, saying “I don’t follow that stuff.”
While Quazzo may not follow the particulars, however, she is very active in education investing in general, and the company she founded, GSV Advisors, co-hosts a major conference on education innovation and investing in Arizona each year. In recent years, that conference has been attended by several of Quazzo’s fellow CPS officers.
Even if the revelations don’t demonstrate genuine corruption, they may strengthen an ongoing effort by some teachers and parents in Chicago to implement an elected school board to replace the current mayoral-appointee system. Recently, activists collected enough signatures to place a non-binding resolution on the ballot next spring, and Mayor Emanuel’s two top opponents in his re-election campaign have both endorsed such a change.
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