By Thomas Ultican / Tultican
Billionaire Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, has joined with billionaire former Enron executive, John Arnold, to launch an aggressive destroy public education (DPE) initiative. They claim to have invested $100 million each to start The City Fund. Neerav Kingsland declares he is the Fund’s Managing Partner and says the fund will help cities across America institute proven school reform successes such as increasing “the number of public schools that are governed by non-profit organizations.”
Ending local control of public schools through democratic means is a priority for DPE forces. In 2017, EdSource reported on Hastings campaign against democracy; writing, “His latest salvo against school boards that many regard as a bedrock of American democracy came last week in a speech he made to the annual conference of The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Washington D.C., attended by about 4,500 enthusiastic charter school advocates, teachers and administrators.”
When announcing the new fund, Kingsland listed fourteen founding members of The City Fund. There is little professional classroom teaching experience or training within the group. Chris Barbic was a Teach for America (TFA) teacher in Houston, Texas for two years. Similarly, Kevin Huffman was also a TFA teacher in Houston for three years. The only other member that may have some education experience is Kevin Shafer. His background is obscure.
The operating structure of the new fund is modeled after a law firm. Six of the fourteen founding members are lawyers: Gary Borden; David Harris; Kevin Huffman; Neerav Kingsland; Jessica Pena and Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo.
Ready to Pilfer Community Schools and End School Boards
In a 2012 published debate about school reform, Kingsland justified his call for ending democratic control of public education writing,
“I believe that true autonomy can only be achieved by government relinquishing its power of school operation. I believe that well regulated charter and voucher markets – that provide educators with public funds to operate their own schools – will outperform all other vehicles of autonomy in the long-run. In short, autonomy must be real autonomy: government operated schools that allow “site level decision making” feels more Orwellian than empowering – if we believe educators should run schools, let’s let them run schools.”
This is a belief in “the invisible hand” of markets making superior judgments and private businesses always outperforming government administration. There may be some truth here, but it is certainly not an ironclad law.
The City Fund has distinct roots stretching back to early 2016. On April 4 that year, Kingsland announced on his blog, Relinquishment, “Very excited about this update: Ken Bubp and Chris Barbic are joining the combined efforts of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Hastings Fund.”
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is a donor-directed fund, so Hastings’s fund is dark money with no way of tracking where its tax-free spending is directed. The SVCF 2016 tax form shows Neerav Kingsland earning $253,846 as a Managing Director of the Hastings fund. He was also simultaneously serving as Senior Education Fellow at the Arnold Foundation and was on the board at the California Charter Schools Association.
The SVCF was founded in 2006 and has grown to be one of the largest non-profit charities in America. The tax form cited above shows a total income in 2016 of $4.4 billion and end of year assets of $7.2 billion while making grants totaling to $1.9 billion.
A March 2018 article in Chalkbeat reported,
“Eleven years after founding a nonprofit that has dramatically reshaped Indianapolis schools, David Harris is stepping down to help launch an as yet unexplained national education group.”
“The national group is in the early stages of development, said Harris, who declined to provide more details about his co-founders or their plans. A release from The Mind Trust said the new organization aims to ‘help cities around the country build the right conditions for education change.’”
“Today, we are announcing that Education Cities is undergoing an evolution that we think will better support local education leaders.
“Several staff from Education Cities – including our Founder and CEO, Ethan Gray – are partnering with colleagues from the philanthropic, non-profit, district, charter, and state sectors to create a new non-profit organization called The City Fund.”
The City Fund has not shared a web-address, but they have clearly started work. Four of the announced members have updated their LinkedIn profiles indicating they started working for The City Fund in either June or July.
The City Fund’s central agenda is promoting the portfolio model of school reform. Schools scoring in the bottom 5 percent on standardized testing are to be closed and reopened 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 boards portfolio.
Even Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas wrote an open letter to John Arnold warning about what a bad idea the portfolio model is. He began, “The Arnold Foundation invests heavily in another initiative that promotes rigorous science for medical and policy decision-making, yet they do not seem to apply that same standard of proof to their own education strategy.’
A Brief Introduction to The City Fund Staff
Chris Barbic founded one of the first miracle charter schools, YES Prep of Houston, Texas. Based on the claim that 100 percent of YES Prep’s students were accepted at four-year colleges, Oprah Winfrey gave them a check for $1,000,000. In an open letter to Barbic, his former Teach for America (TFA) colleague, Gary Rubinstein made it clear that there was no miracle.
Chris left Houston and YES Prep to become Superintendent of the state of Tennessee’s Achievement School District. He would be working under his old Houston TFA buddy Kevin Huffman. He accepted the challenge to turn around the bottom 5 percent of schools in Tennessee (about 85 schools) so that they are, based on their test scores, in the top 25 percent in five years. This was a fool’s errand, but politicians and amateur educators did not know it.
Barbic earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Vanderbilt University. His only formal training in education was as a member of the class of 2011 at Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators’ academy.
By 2014 while staring at one bad set of standardized test results after another and making no progress toward lifting the bottom 5 percent of schools into the top 25 percent of schools, Chris had a heart attack. The following summer (2015), he revealed his resignation for health and family reasons.
In 2016, the Arnold Foundation reported Chris was going to be a Senior Education Fellow at the foundation.
Gary Borden is Senior Vice President for charter school advocacy at the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Earlier this year he traveled the state supporting Anthony Villaraigosa’s failed campaign for governor. Borden asserted, “Any sort of an artificial pause on growth of charter schools is really detrimental to what parents have ultimately said they want and need in their public education system.”
Gary was appointed Deputy Executive Director of the California State Board of Education by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is on the board of two public charter schools and East Bay Innovation Academy.
Borden has undergraduate degrees in Economics and International Business from Pennsylvania State University, and a law degree from Georgetown University. His only training in education is as a Fellow of the 17th class of the Pahara – Aspen Education Fellowship and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network – fundamentally a study in privatizing schools.
Ken Bubp says he is a Partner at The City Fund. Ken earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from Taylor University and an MBA from Indiana University – Kelley School of Business. He shows no training or experience in education.
From 2011 to 2016, he held various executive positions at The Mind Trust where he worked for Doug Harris. John Arnold made him a Senior Education Fellow at his foundation in 2016.
Bubp is a board member at New Schools for Baton Rouge working to expand charter school penetration and institute the portfolio model of school management.
Beverly (Francis) Pryce earned a degree in Journalism from Florida International University, a master’s certificate in Non-Profit Management from Long Island University and Accounting Management certification from Northeastern University.
After a brief period as a journalist at WINK-TV News, Beverly went to work for the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).
Ethan Gray reports he will be a Partner at The City Fund. He was the Founder and CEO of Education Cities, a national nonprofit that supports the privatization of public schools. Before his role at Education Cities, Ethan served as Vice President of The Mind Trust where he helped develop the “Opportunity Schools” which are another type of school organization that ends democratic control.
Ethan holds an MA from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in education policy and management. He is a past member of the Board of Directors for the STRIVE Prep network of charter schools in Colorado, as well as the National Advisory Boards of Families for Excellent Schools, EdFuel, and Innovative Schools in Wilmington, Delaware.
David Harris: During his first run for Mayor, Bart Peterson invited David Harris a 27-year old lawyer with no education background to be his education guy. Harris became the director of the mayor’s new charter school office. In 2006, Harris and Peterson founded The Mind Trust.
The Mind Trust is the proto-type urban school privatizing design. Working locally, it uses a combination of national money and local money to control teacher professional development, create political hegemony and accelerate charter school growth. The destroy public education (DPE) movement has identified The Mind Trust as a model.
He is a founding member and served as chairman of the Charter Schools Association of Indiana. He also has been a board member of the National Association of Charter Schools Authorizers.
Kevin Huffman: After serving three years as a TFA teacher in Houston, this 1992 graduate of Swarthmore returned to New York to study law. After a brief stint as a lawyer, he rejoined TFA as Executive Vice President. He also married to Michelle Rhee.
In 2011, Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee selected Huffman to be Education Commissioner. By 2014, the Tennessean’s lead story read, “Polarizing Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is stepping down from his position, leaving a legacy that includes historic test gains as well as some of the fiercest clashes this state has ever seen over public schools”.
Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, reported one such clash, the effort to force Nashville to accept Great Hearts Academy. She wrote,
“This is the same Arizona-based outfit that has been turned down four times by the Metro Nashville school board because it did not have a diversity plan. Because of its rejection of Great Hearts, the Nashville schools were fined $3.4 million by Tennessee’s TFA state commissioner of education Kevin Huffman.”
Noor Iqbal has a Bachelor of Arts in History and Economics from Harvard University and studied at the London Schools of Economics and Political science. She has been working at the Arnold foundation since 2017.
Neerav Kingsland says his title at The City Fund is Managing Partner. Before going to the Arnold Foundation in 2015, Neerav and two other law students formed the Hurricane Katrina Legal Clinic, which assisted in the creation of New Schools for New Orleans. Kingsland would become the chief executive officer of this organization dedicated to privatizing all the public schools in New Orleans.
Mark Webber from Rutgers University made an observation about this Kingsland statement,
“This transformation of the New Orleans educational system may turn out to be the most significant national development in education since desegregation. Desegregation righted the morality of government in schooling. New Orleans may well right the role of government in schooling.” [emphasis by Mark]
“You know what’s astonishing about that sentence? The blatant refusal to acknowledge that the most significant transformation in NOLA’s schools has been the reintroduction of segregation.”
Jessica Pena is a lawyer and was a Partner at Ethan Gray’s Education Cities. Prior to her role at Education Cities, Jessica spent six years with the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), an Education Cities member organization. Jessica was a founding PSP team member.
Liset Rivera shared that she is the Event Manager at The City Fund. Previously she was the Event Manager for Stanford University and for KIPP schools. She has a degree in marketing from San Jose State University.
Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo is a lawyer. She will be a Partner at Education Cities. Kameela was a senior executive at David Harris’s The Mind Trust. She studied Law at Indiana University and Sociology at DePaul. She has a biography at the Pahara Institute.
“Until last August, Wyatt was only making $75,000 a year but Cami gave her an 80 percent raise from $75,000 to $135,000 for what the Christie administration calls a “promotion—normal career progression.” Like so many of Cami’s cronies, Wyatt was imported from the New York City Department of Education, that nest of educational entrepreneurs that gave the world Christopher Cerf.”
Kevin Shafer: Little is known about Shafer. He might be the Chief Innovation Officer at Camden City Public Schools. That Kevin Shafer is on the Jounce Partners advisory board and he attended the Strategic Data Conference that Rick Hess was speaking at. He was listed as an organizer.
One Last Point
Regarding non-profit spending, the IRS rules state that tax-exempt funds, “may not attempt to influence legislation.” The Silicon Valley Community Fund, The City Fund, and many other funds spending to change how education is governed are breaking this rule with impunity.