Why Is This Hedge Fund Guy Fighting the Common Core?

As 45 states and the District of Columbia begin implementing the Common Core, hedge fund manager and long-time conservative donor Sean Fieler sees something more sinister taking place: The nationalization of K-12 education. To fight that, he has mobilized the American Principles Project (APP), the think-tank and advocacy organization he chairs, to spend $500,000 fighting the new standards.

APP was founded by Robert George, the conservative scholar and Princeton professor. Fieler, the founder of Equinox Partners L.P., also lives in Princeton, and is not your typical hedge fund guy. He's been hanging out in the conservative world for a long time, with his fingers in a lot of pots as a board member of the Witherspoon Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Dominican Foundation, the Committee for Monetary and Research & Education, and the Acton Institute and the Susan B. Anthony List. Fieler also used to be on the board of the Institute for American Values—and its largest donor—until the group's director, David Blankenhorn, took a more positive position on gay marriage. Fieler quit the board, along with Robert George and other board members, and ended his funding. 

Fieler is one of a number of affluent activists fighting against the Common Core State Standards. He is amused by Common Core proponents' claims that opponents operate from murky funding sources and motives.

“I wish the money stream were more murky here,” Fieler told Politico. At APP, at least, "most of the funding is from me.”

In a 2013 speech to an anti-Common Core conference at Notre Dame University, Fieler described the Common Core as the culmination of what he sees as the progressive movement's goal of nationalizing K-12 education in the United States. However, while Common Core proponents had a wide range of support across the political spectrum, they failed to draw grassroots support from a public that Fieler said is "not eager to nationalize K-12 education policy."

Fieler and APP have linked their opposition to the Common Core to school choice programs, such as charter schools and private school vouchers, both of which APP has supported since its inception. Fieler sees the Common Core not only as an attempt to nationalize elementary and secondary education, but also as an assault on parental rights.

Fieler believes his activism and that of APP have found receptive audiences among grassroots opponents of the Common Core, many of whom have received funding from other Common Core opponents such as the Bradley Foundation and conservative activists David and Charles Koch. (See my post on these funders.)

“The grass-roots support for this is stronger than for anything else we work on,” Fieler told Politico. “This is an issue with great political promise."