Privilege, Wealth, & The New Digital Equity Fund

On Tuesday this past week, Mayor Bowser announced that “DC education leaders” were launching a new “digital equity fund.” A “collaboration” between private organization Education Forward DC, the DC Public Education Fund (the private fundraising arm of DCPS), and the Greater Washington Community Foundation, the fund is intended to increase access to the internet and digital devices for students in DC’s publicly funded schools, especially for the large percentage of DC students who may not have either during this time of distance learning.

The mayor announced that $1.1 million had been raised thus far from a variety of donors–with more being actively solicited.

Interestingly, the only apparent attempt to address distance learning NON-digitally has been from the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU):

Starting this coming Monday March 30 and lasting until either sheltering in place or the school year ends, Fox channel 5 will every weekday at 10 am feature a 30-minute lesson in English language arts, math and/or history presented by DCPS teachers per this schedule:

Monday: early childhood and 1st grade
Tuesday: 2nd and 3rd grade
Wednesday: 4th and 5th grade
Thursday: 6-8th grade
Friday: 9-12th grade

While no one has put a number on the value of those donated broadcast hours, we do know that the $1.1 million thus far raised by the new “equity” fund is a small fraction of what has already been committed by DCPS toward devices.

For instance, earlier this month DCPS’s chancellor announced that 16,400 digital devices would be delivered to schools as part of the Empowered Learners Initiative. At about the same time, it was reported that in a 3-year effort, DCPS has committed to spending $14 million to ensure a 1:1 ratio of digital learning devices to students.

That said, despite demands from parents, DCPS has thus far allowed only its high schools to deploy electronic devices directly to students, including old devices sitting in school buildings. It remains to be seen whether principals at elementary and middle schools will be given such latitude in the coming weeks. (See here for a plea from parents on this topic.)

Regardless, now that the mayor has given her imprimatur to private organizations standing in for our city government in providing essential services to students in a time of crisis, many questions arise:

–Who determines what devices are needed?
–Who manages the money raised?
–What percentage raised will go directly to students? To schools?
–What role, if any, does the city government play in this?
–If the money is being turned over to the city government, what are the parameters for procurement of the devices?
–Will bids for large orders of devices be competitive? If so, how?
–How will money be split between charter schools and DCPS?
–Who determines any and all of this?

And as if those (unanswered) questions were not enough to make one queasy, it turns out that the $1.1 million raised thus far by this “equity” fund comes from a bevy of well-connected and wealthy local groups, whose interests (as well as fiscal and political connections) often overlap in one direction: undermining education rights by promoting proliferation of charter schools and education reform efforts.

So, let us look at what these 11 wealthy private groups have done with their money thus far–and what that indicates they may desire with this new $1.1 million investment, which for most represents a minuscule fraction of their revenues and assets.

[Confidential to 700,000 DC residents: Isn’t it funny how “DC education leaders” never seem to actually include the folks who annually provide the majority of our public school funds AND send their kids to DC’s publicly funded schools?]

EQUITY FUND ORGANIZERS

DC Public Education Fund: According to its 2017 tax return, the fund had $17 million in revenues that year, with $16 million in assets. Its stated purpose, per the tax return, is to “catalyze philanthropy in support of strategic initiatives in DC Public Schools” and to “collaborate with DCPS leadership and the philanthropic community to accelerate improvements, sustain excellence, and ensure accountability.”

That year, the fund gave $8.7 million to DCPS, along with $250,000 to Pahara (an education reform leadership institute). On the fund’s board is Michela English, former head of ed reform group Fight for Children (see more below), and Mark Ein, who has a deep history of education reform and charter school support. In 2017, Ein’s wife gave Muriel Bowser $2000 in donations; in 2018, Ein himself gave attorney general Karl Racine $1500. The fund’s director, Jessica Rauch, was paid $157,000 that year. Not surprisingly, the fund has been gifted with money from wealthy education reform funding heavyweights, including CityBridge, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Foundation.

Greater Washington Community Foundation: According to its 2017 tax return, the foundation that year had $85 million in revenues and $334 million in assets. Its stated purpose, per its tax return, is to “strengthen the Washington Metropolitan region . . . by encouraging and supporting charitable giving and by providing leadership on critical issues in our community.”

That year, in addition to major donations to Princeton, Duke, and a variety of private secondary schools (none of which is anywhere near DC), the foundation supported St. Coletta (10K); Teach for America (65K); Teaching for Change (20K); Thurgood Marshall Academy (29K); Two Rivers (15K); Urban Ed Inc (30K); Urban Institute (25K); Urban Teacher Center (141K); Venture Philanthropy Partners (227K; a charter support organization); Washington Latin (10K); Next Step charter school (20K); Maya Angelou (35K); SEED foundation (35K); SEED school (10K); Center for inspired teaching (15K); CentroNia (15K); City Year (310K); CityBridge Education (700K); Community College prep (10K); DC Prep (80K); DC Public Education Fund (DCPS) (10K); DC college access program (CAP) (25K); EL Haynes charter school (15K); Education Forward (60K); Ellington Fund (DCPS) (30K); Flamboyan (ed reform support group) (100K); IDEA charter school (10K); Nalle Elementary (DCPS) (25K); KIPP DC (50K); LAMB (10K); LAYC school (20K); Mundo Verde (10K); Academy of Hope (25K); Appletree (45K); Aspen Institute (ed reform think tank) (130K); Briya (10K); Capital City (10K); Cluster school (DCPS) (15K); and Carlos Rosario (10K).

That year, the foundation’s head, Bruce McNamer, was paid $482,000 for his work there. He has also served as the head of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. As a financial institution, JPMorgan Chase has a lot on the line concerning, well, poverty investments. Recall that the wife of charter board executive director Scott Pearson started and heads the JPMorgan Chase Institute (which also employs the wife of deputy mayor for education Paul Kihn). The JPMorgan Chase Institute works in concert with the Urban Institute on all sorts of education reform projects that leverage and study the use of JPMorgan Chase money. (See here and here for starters on all those fascinating connections.)

McNamer has also been on the board of Raise DC, which supports charters (and is supported in turn by the Greater Washington Community Foundation). The board of Raise DC not surprisingly includes a number of DC ed reform luminaries involved in this new digital “equity” fund, including Michaela English (see below), Maura Marino (see below), and Katherine Bradley (see below).

Education Forward: In its 2017 tax return, Education Forward had $21 million in revenues and $13 million in assets. Its stated purpose in the tax return is to give grants to  support “the work of visionary education leaders to foster a city of high-quality, equitable public schools for every DC student and family.” It mainly funds charter and ed reform groups.

Maura Marino is the CEO and made $283,000 that year. The chair of the organization’s board in 2017 was Simmons Lettre, who co-founded Charter Board Partners and gave $200 in 2018 to Ward 6 state board of education member Jessica Sutter. Andrew Klingenstein (he of the family fund of the same name; see below) is currently treasurer, having also served on the board of education software company LearnZillion (see more below). Jean-Claude Brizard was board secretary and is now working for the Gates Foundation (which funds many education reform efforts), having had major education privatizing roles in New York and Chicago. Brizard also worked at education reform group Cross & Joftus. In addition, Abigail Smith, former deputy mayor for education and Teach For America staffer, is on the board as well as chair of the board for EL Haynes–anbd founding partner of the City Fund (see below), Gabrielle Wyatt, is also on Education Forward’s board.

Some beneficiaries of Education Forward in 2017 were Appletree (200K); Bellwether (education reform think tank and advisory group) ($150K); CityBridge Education (see below) (250K); DC Association of Chartered Public Schools (93K); DCI (126K); DC Policy Center (think tank for ed reform interests) (55K); DC Prep (182K); DC Public Education Fund (see above) (362K); DC Scholars community school (50K); Digital Pioneers (210K); EdFuel (charter personnel support org) (67K); Education Reform Now (150K); Stokes charter school (40K); FOCUS (charter lobbying firm) (80K); Ingenuity Prep (100K); KIPP DC (500K); North Star/Statesmen (275K); Paul PCS (20K); PAVE (parent lobbying organization) (470K); Rocketship (500K); Teach for America (130); Two Rivers (62K).

As head of Education Forward, Maura Marino is exceptionally well-connected in DC education circles. Besides donating to a variety of ed reform candidates in DC and also to DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), Marino has been involved with Ingenuity Prep, DC Prep, and EL Haynes; worked for the NewSchools Venture Fund (which has helped seed charter schools in a variety of places); and figured in the secret (and thus illegal) offer of the closed Kenilworth Elementary to North Star/Statesman charter school.

EQUITY FUND DONORS

1. A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation

On its 2017 tax return, the foundation reported $26 million in revenues and $136 million in assets. That year, the foundation’s president Joe Del Guercio made $416,357 (for 32 hours per week–nice work if you can get it).

Lawrence Nussdorf is the director of the foundation’s board; both he and the foundation have supported FOCUS. He is also a board member of DC Prep and donated to Teach for America, while his wife gave Muriel Bowser $2000 in 2018. The chair of the foundation’s board, Courtney Pastrick, is on the board of the DC college access program (CAP); she and her husband each gave Bowser $2000 in 2018. The foundation’s director of education initiatives, Danielle Hamberger, was on the chancellor selection panel in 2018 and formerly worked for CityBridge Foundation (see below).

In 2017, the foundation gave money to, among others, Appletree ($25K); Capital Partners for Education (30K); City Year (10K); DC Prep (100K); DC Public Education Fund (260K); DC CAP (575K); Education Forward (see above) (2 million); Everybody Wins DC Inc. (money intended for DCPS’s Garrison Elementary) (20K); FOCUS (6K); KIPP DC (200K); New Schools Fund (125K); SEED Foundation (50K); Springboard (100K); Teach for America (50K).

2. CityBridge Education

On its 2017 tax return, the organization showed $5 million in revenue, with $3.4 million in assets. Its stated purpose is to “improve the quality of local public education through a primary focus on the incubation and launch of new schools and innovative school models and to address the services, support talent and facilities necessary for the delivery of the highest quality education in Washington, DC.” That year, its CEO was paid $321,000, with two other administrators paid well over $100,000 each. Katherine Bradley (see below) is president and chair.

That year, the organization supported Truesdell (through the DC Public Education Fund) (225K); Digital Pioneers (185K); Next Step (175K); North Star/Statesman (175K); Howard University Middle School (125K); Orr (Boone) Elementary PTA (100K); and Sustainable Futures (35K).

3. CityBridge Foundation

Although it would appear from its 2018 tax return that the CityBridge Foundation is the same organization as CityBridge Education, as they both have the same address and are completely connected to Katherine Bradley, the foundation is in fact a separate organization. That year, the foundation had $4.5 million in revenues, with $8.8 million in assets. Unlike the prior CityBridge group, the foundation has officers who are all members of Katherine Bradley’s family. The 2018 tax return states that the foundation’s purpose is to fund “initiatives that work to build and sustain a great system of transformational public schools in Washington DC.”

In 2018, the foundation funded among other things DC CAP (25K); DC Prep (50K); FOCUS (6K); KIPP DC (200K); KIPP Foundation (100K); NewSchools Venture Fund (25K); Pahara (10K); Rocketship (115K); Teach for America (100K); and SEED Foundation (5K). The foundation also had $250K invested in LearnZillion, an education software company created by former EL Haynes employees and used in DCPS and whose board Andrew Klingenstein (see below) sits on . Most of the money in the foundation that year came from Katherine Bradley and her husband ($3.9 million) .

To be sure, it is impossible to overstate the influence that Katherine Bradley has had on DC public education. (See here for starters.)

Not surprisingly, the Bradley family has also donated tens of thousands to political causes in DC, largely associated with education reform:

Since 2018, Bradley family members gave $5750 directly to DC politicians, including Marcus Goodwin; Vince Gray; Brandon Todd; Zachary Parker; Rhonda Henderson, Jason Andrean, Kathyrn Allen; Jessica Sutter, and Phil Mendelson, as well as $2000 to political action committee(ish) “Democrats Moving Forward#Resist” (May 2018).

Since 2015, DFER DC has received more than $30,000 from the Bradley family. For instance, Katherine gave to DFER DC $5000 in April 2015; and Katherine and family members also gave DFER DC’s independent expenditure committee $31,000 since 2016.

From 2014 to 2019, Katherine has also given $2000 to the Evans Constituent Service Fund.

(To be sure, the Bradley family has a rather, uh, extraordinary interest in public education, given that probably not one member has ever attended a public school anywhere, much less in DC.)

4. The City Fund

On its 2017 tax return, the fund had $1.9 million in gross receipts–but that is hardly an apt description of its current existence as a major (albeit relatively new) player in the ed reform funding arena. Per that tax return, the fund’s stated purpose is to “support city-based nonprofit organizations in their efforts to improve public education outcomes for local children and to make investments to increase the number of high-performing public schools in cities.”

Toward that end, the fund has garnered more than $100 million of late, and has used that monetary power widely to privatize public education.

At the time of its 2017 tax return, John Arnold (co-founder of KIPP) was chair of the board as well as co-founder of the charter-supporting organization the Arnold Foundation. (Arnold himself has apparently worked against public institutions for years.)

Netflix founder Reed Hastings was at the time the fund’s board treasurer; a big charter supporter, Hastings is currently on KIPP’s board along with Katherine Bradley.

In addition, the foundations headed by both Arnold and Hastings have pushed for the portfolio model of public schools, which has wrecked havoc with education rights in other jurisdictions, as it seeks to replace district schools of right with low test scores with charters.

(Interestingly, the portfolio model of schools was pushed by deputy mayor for education Paul Kihn in Philadelphia (where it was affectionately known as “dumping the losers“). It was also pushed by the cross sector task force a few years ago. Most recently, Denver (the model city touted by the cross sector task force for a portfolio model) has moved away from using test scores to rank schools. Imagine: not judging schools by the kids they have!)

[Update 3/29/2020: Just discovered that another interesting person associated with the City Fund is Kevin Huffman. The head of OSSE (DC’s office of the state superintendent of education), Hanseul Kang, was appointed by Mayor Bowser after serving as chief of staff for the head of Tennessee’s state education department, who was (wait for it!) Kevin Huffman. During his Tennessee tenure, Huffman was assailed for problems with Tennessee’s standardized testing; allowing charter schools to be approved not by local school boards but on his authority; cutting school funding and teacher pay; and trying to tie teacher evaluations to test scores. Huffman is also Michelle Rhee’s ex-husband, and Rhee and Huffman, along with Kang, are not only alums of Teach For America, but strong proponents for education reform, including heavy emphasis on test scores and standardized tests as indicators of educational and teacherly virtue. Yet, just a few days after the mayor’s announcement of this new digital equity fund that the City Fund is supposedly helping with, the Post published a op-ed about the challenges of distance learning by Huffman– challenges that (surprise!) this new digital equity fund stands poised to address. The timing and placement of this op-ed are hardly coincidental: the Post has a history of publishing carefully timed op-eds by public education privatizers while actively excluding other voices–including those with corrections to the record.]

5. Terry and Lindsay Eakin

As the former head of housing development firm EYA and a trustee of the federal city council (which supports privatizing public education in DC), Terry (or LeRoy) Eakin has donated to FOCUS and, with his wife, has a family foundation that (at least on its 2017 tax return) doesn’t appear to have made many donations.

Since 2016, both Eakins have given $4500 to DC politicians, including $2000 to David Grosso, and $500 each to Muriel Bowser, Robert White, Trayon White, Brandon Todd, and Jacque Patterson. They also gave DFER DC $2000 in 2016 and its independent expenditure committee $10,000 that year.

Additionally, both helped found (and become board members for) DC Prep and have supported the CityBridge Foundation.

Interestingly, in late 2014, EYA sold an undeveloped 12 acre parcel of land in Ward 7 (technically at the address of 2907 Branch Avenue SE) for $260,000 to an LLC, YKA Investments. That LLC was formed a month earlier. Then, in January 2017 (about 2 years later) KIPP bought that 12 acre parcel for $5 million from YKA Investments, which doesn’t appear to exist anymore–at least, I can find nothing about that LLC online nor can I find anything about the purchase price (which in 2017 at least was listed as $5 million in the city’s online real estate assessment database).

At the time it bought the property, KIPP had intended to build a Hillcrest high school there, but public opposition to both the school and development of the site (which is behind houses in a bedroom community) forced KIPP to abandon that idea at the time. But KIPP still owns the property–which online records not only show is worth much less than what KIPP paid, but also list its purchase price differently (for less than $5 million).

(Interestingly, three smaller parcels of (undeveloped) land right in the same place were bought about the same time as YKA by two other developers. One is Potomac developer Labros Hydras (who appears to have bought a number of apartments at Barry Farms) and the other is District Properties, whose owner was recently sentenced for violating lead paint laws.)

6. Lois and Richard England Family Foundation

In its 2017 tax return, the foundation had $27 million in assets and $1.7 million in revenues. The foundation is led by Richard England Jr., who has helped fundraise for LAYC and appears pretty well-connected regarding DC public education.

7. Andrew and Julie Klingenstein Family Fund

In its 2018 tax return, the fund had $25 million in assets and $1.9 million in revenues. It has supported DC charters, and Andrew Klingenstein has been a part of education software company LearnZillion, used by DCPS and also supported by the CityBridge Foundation (above).

8. Joseph E. Robert Jr. Charitable Trust

In its 2017 tax return, the trust had $37 million in assets and $1.9 million in revenues.

That year the trust granted 100K to Fight for Children, which Robert founded to provide support for charters. At the time, the organization had been run by Michela English, who not only was a DC Prep board member, but also a former McKinsey employee, former chair of the charter board; and an officer in a real estate investment trust corporation.

In conclusion, those 11 organizations above constitute a pretty tony club of folks making decisions about DC’s public education (even down to where schools locate!).

And now, those same wealthy, well-connected, and privileged folks are deciding who in our publicly funded schools gets electronic devices during a crisis! But then, as we in DC know well, a small, secretive group of well-connected folks making decisions (and money!) concerning something fundamental to American democracy is kinda par for the course.

[Confidential to DC council education committee co-chair David Grosso: I know inequity in DCPS PTA fundraising burns you up–so I am sure you will be appalled at how a select few DC charter schools have been gifted by the organizations above almost THREE times that recent $1.1 million bequest (and just in 2017 and 2018 alone!): KIPP DC ($950,000), Rocketship ($615,000), North Star/Statesmen ($450,000), DC Prep ($410,000), Digital Pioneers ($395,000), and Appletree ($270,000). Makes you wonder what it takes to be so, well, connected.]

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