The City Fund Spending Prolifically to Privatize Public Education

2 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/2/2020

The City Fund has joined the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) in the upper echelon of spending to privatize public education. (Gates is in a spending zone of his own.)  City Fund grants are of the same magnitude as CZI’s and approximately half the size as those from the Walton foundation. Since its establishment in July, 2018, City Fund reports issuing $110 million in large grants defined as more than $200,000; smaller grants not accounted for. Founders John Arnold and Reed Hastings have also provided the associated political action group, Public School Allies, with $15 million.

Reorganizing and Retooling the Attack on Public Schools

Little SiS City Fund Map

Reorganizing the Attack Little Sis Map

On the ides of March (2018), the Indy Star reported that David Harris the CEO of Mind Trust in Indianapolis was leaving to join a new national organization. Since Julius Caesar’s assassination, events linked to the ides of March are often viewed with alarm. This event portended a reorganized attack on public education and a new billionaire financed entity dedicated to establishing the portfolio model of public school management throughout America.

Until February of 2020, the secretive City Fund did not even have a web site. On July 31, 2018, City Fund Managing Partner, Neerav Kingsland, took to his blog and made public The City Fund – a new non-profit – and named its founding staff. He also arranged for a small group interview with The 74. Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat wrote an introductory piece called With big names and $200 million, a new group is forming to push for the ‘portfolio model.’” In December 2018, Barnum reported that The City Fund was starting an associated political action organization called Public School Allies. Since those few 2018 articles, The City Fund has operated in the dark.

This February they finally launched a web site and made available some accounting for their spending over the last year and a half. Because City Fund is a non-profit organization, they must soon file tax documents that will reveal in even more detail their spending and organizational structure. Their new transparency is apparently related to the imminent non-profit tax reporting requirements.

The Little SiS map above outlines some for the 2018 reorganization for the coming relentless attack on democratically run public schools. There were changes at The Mind Trust. It was co-founded in 2006 by Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and the youthful lawyer he chose as his education guy, David Harris. It became the prototype corporate education reform local organization. In 2010, Harris and Mind Trust Vice President, Ethan Gray founded the Cities of Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) which became Education Cities in 2014 after its disaster in Kansas City. This organization was designed to scale the Indianapolis methods of school privatization nationally.

In the 2018 reorganization, Mind Trust continued under new leadership and Education Cities was divided into two new school choice promoting organizations; School Board Partners and Community Engagement Partners. City Fund gave both new organizations $250,000 in seed money. Two lawyers, David Harris and Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo, left Mind Trust to become partners at City Fund. To insure Mind Trust’s continued success as an anti-democratic school privatizing organization, City Fund provided the new leadership with $18,000,000.

School Board Partners is an organization looking to co-opt elected school board members into furthering the portfolio model of education reform. They claim to offer training for school board members however every state requires school board members to go through training provided by the state. Community Engagement Partners purpose is continuing Education City’s support for local organizations that are working to privatize public education and instituting Betsy DeVos’s school choice agenda.

Education Cities CEO Ethan Gray became a Partner at The City Fund. Gray’s Director of Finance and Operations, Kevin Leslie, became Director of Grants and Operations at the City Fund. Education Cities Managing Partner Carrie Douglass became founding leader of School Board Education Partners. Senior Fellow Charles MacDonald is now Executive Director of Community Engagement Partners (CEP) and Associate Partner Rebecca Weinberg Jones became CEP Deputy Director.

Neerav Kingsland worked at both Arnold Ventures and The Hastings Fund before becoming Managing Partner of City Fund. He was also a board member of the California Charter Schools Association. Chris Barbic, the co-founder of YES Prep, worked at Arnold Ventures after a disastrous tenure leading Tennessee’s turnaround schools. He became a partner at City Fund in 2018. Noor Iqbal worked at Arnold Ventures and then for about a month at Mind Trust before becoming the Chief of Staff for City Fund. Ken Bubp worked first at Mind Trust, then Arnold Ventures and is now a Partner at City Fund.

Public School Allies

Founding City Fund staff member Gary Borden is no longer on the team, but he really is. Borden is now Managing Director of Public School Allies the 501 C4 organization established by City Fund to administer their political influence campaign. A lawyer by profession, Borden holds a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, majoring in economics and international business, and JD from Georgetown University. Before taking on Public School Allies, Borden was executive director of California Charter Schools Association Advocates (CCSA Advocates), which is CCSA’s political influence organization. Borden lives in Oakland, California.

For last November’s elections in Louisiana, Borden sent $1,500,000 to Louisiana Federation of Children which also received large contributions from California billionaire William Oberndorf plus Arkansas billionaires Alice and Jim Walton. These funds were used for independent expenditures supporting choice friendly candidates; five running for the state school board and 20 vying for the state legislature.

Campaign Spending by PSA

Clips from Campaign Reports in Newark, Camden and Saint Louis

In the spring of 2019, Borden sent $60,000 to the Newark group Great Schools for All PAC in support of the charter friendly school board candidates of the Moving Newark Forward slate. All three won handily, beating out a slate that was more skeptical of charter schools that had less than $10,000 to spend. Chalkbeat reports, “According to Borden, Public School Allies has also given $25,000 to New Jersey’s Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, as well as $1,000 each to New Jersey senate president Steve Sweeney and state assembly member Eliana Pintor Marin, both Democrats.”

In the fall of 2019, for the first time since 2013 voters in Camden, New Jersey were selecting three school board members, but only for an advisory role. Still, Borden sent $296,901 to a group in Camden, New Jersey called Campaign for Great Camden Schools to support three school board candidates; Troy Still, Nyemah Gillespie, and Falio Leyba-Martinez.   Gillespie and Leyba-Martinez won but Still came in forth behind Elton Curtis who bested Still 1683 to 1610 votes.

In the spring of 2019, Saint Louis had just ended a lengthy state school takeover and two school board seats were up for election. Leadership for Education Equity was supporting former Teach For America (TFA) corps member Tracee Miller both monetarily and with campaign services for one of the two open seats. The other TFA corps member running in the election was Adam Layne. Layne had only gathered $155 in campaign contributions when Borden gave the Civic PAC $20,000 for independent expenditures in support of Layne. Of the seven candidates running, Miller and Layne appeared least qualified but with the outside funding they won the two seats.

The fall of 2019 also saw a special election for Atlanta’s school board district 2. The winning candidate Aretta Baldon, a KIPP charter school parent and founding member of the parent group Atlanta Thrive, received $1,500 from Public School Allies. The campaign filing incorrectly lists the donor as “Campaign for Great Public Schools” which was the original name of Public School Allies.

Developing the Privatization Infrastructure

City Fund has spent large amounts of money developing local organizations to promote implementation of the portfolio model of public education management. The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio. It is a plan that guarantees school churn in poor neighborhoods, venerates disruption and dismisses the value of stability and community history.

Not only is City Fund supporting these organizations with large grants they are embedding City Fund Partners on the Boards of these local non-profit organizations. As stated above, Mind Trust in Indianapolis received an $18,000,000 grant and City Fund Partner David Harris will remain on the Mind Trust board. Harris is also on the board of School Education Partners in San Antonio, Texas keeping an eye on the $4,800,000 investment there.

Kevin Huffman began his education career as a TFA corps member in Huston Texas; he became a lawyer, married Michelle Rhee, and was an executive at TFA. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam named Huffman Commissioner of education in 2011. Today, he is a Partner at City Fund and sits on the boards of City Fund grantees Memphis Education fund (granted $5,000,000) and RedefinED Atlanta (granted $2,750,000).

City Fund Partner, Ken Bubp, sits on the board of New Schools for Baton Rouge which received a grant for $13,487,500.

RootEd the former Blue Schools in Denver, Colorado was given a $21,000,000 grant without selecting a City Fund Partner for their board.

In Oakland California, four groups received a total $6,091,666. $4,250,000 of that total went to Educate 78 which has long been funded by Reed Hastings.

The Silicon Schools Fund was given two grants; $666,666 for operations in Oakland, California and $900,000 for operations in Stockton, California.

City Fund provided money to TFA, Relay Graduate School and several charter school chains including grants totaling $6,735,000 to three KIPP schools.

They sent the University of Washington Foundation $875,000 for the benefit of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, the originators and steadfast promoters of the portfolio model of public education.

What is Driving Arnold and Hastings?

In 1990, the Brookings Institute published Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools co-written by John Chubb and Terry Moe. That highly publicized book gave great momentum to school privatization. Moe and Chubb called for ending locally elected school boards claiming that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”

In a December speech, Reed Hastings said,

“Let’s year by year expand the nonprofit school sector. We know the school district is probably not going to like it, but we’re not against them. We’re for good schools, period. If there’s a very high-performing school district school, let’s keep it. But the low-performing school district public school — let’s have a nonprofit public school take it over.”

It looks like Hastings and Arnold have a blind belief in business and disrespect the public sector. These two billionaires are victims of the bad ideology Chubb and Moe promoted. Somehow, they succumbed to the belief that democracy is bad and must be replaced by corporate entities.

Their organization constantly claims that charter schools outperform public schools. However, those claims are invariably based on non-peer reviewed papers produced by organizations they and other “deformers” financially support. Standardized testing results have a long and now well documented history of misuse and obfuscation.

The latest CREDO study from Stanford University is exactly that kind of questionable study. It is based on Education Growth models which are not reliable and their study has never been submitted for peer review. This kind of terrible evidence should not be accepted as a reason to destroy America’s public education system. We should not allow profiteering private companies to assume the responsibility for educating America’s youth. However, that is exactly what the billionaires who founded City Fund are selling.

Twitter: @tultican

4 Responses to “The City Fund Spending Prolifically to Privatize Public Education”

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