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An Investigation Into NY’s “Families for Excellent Schools”

October 18, 2014

This morning, I read a post on education historian Diane Ravitch’s blog about an influential nonprofit in New York, Families for Excellent Schools (FES). It seems that nonprofit is wielding its influence to advance charter schools in New York City. As Ravitch writes:

Perdido Street blogger asks why it is impossible to find out who contributed to the lobbying group Families for Excellent Schools, which spent $6 million this year to prevent Mayor Bill de Blasio from regulating the charter school sector and won a law that forces the city to pay the rent of charters not located on public school grounds.

 The blogger quotes extensively from the business magazine Crain’s New York, which described how this lobbying group exploited loopholes to avoid complying with state laws that require disclosure of donors to political action committees. “Group is visible,” the article’s title says, “but not its donors.”

FES became a nonprofit in April 2012. Between July 2012 and June 2013, it reported an “income” of just over one million dollars.

How grass-rootsy.

About those FES “donors”:  It might appear that all FES donors are invisible, but they are not.

Not if they are using other nonprofits to support FES.

There is a wonderful, donor-supported search engine for nonprofit tax forms, citizenaudit.org. The search engine will allow the public 40 free views per year. (I just exhausted my free views.)

One of the beauties of this search engine is that it searches for terms within tax forms.

I searched for “families for excellent schools.” I found two nonprofits, a 501(c)3 named Families for Excellent Schools, Inc., and its accompanying lobbying arm, the 501(c)4, Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, Inc.

501(c)3 nonprofits are limited in their lobbying, but donors may take a deduction for donating to a 501(c)3. In contrast, 501(c)4 nonprofits are free to lobby as much as the like, but donors cannot take a deduction for donating to them. Thus, a 501(c)3 may also run a 501(c)4, allowing donors to donate to the 501(c)3 for the work of the associated 501(c)4. It’s as easy as the 501(c)3 “donating” its cash to the 501(c)4. And it introduces an extra layer of money changing hands– one that makes it a little more difficult for the public to follow who is conducting the lobbying and who specifically is paying for it.

In my citizenaudit.com search of FES, I also found a listing of several other nonprofits that mention the organization as a grant recipient:

Tapestry Project, Inc.

Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (see pg. 24)

Moriah Fund, Inc. (see pg. 14)

StudentsFirst New York, Inc.

Hertog Foundation, Inc.

Walton Family Foundation, Inc. (and here)

Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, Inc. (and here and here, on pg. 110)

Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program

(Note: Once a viewer exhausts 40 views per year, a number of the links above default to the citizenaudit.com sign-up page. Not all, since I sough elsewhere for alternative links.)

WNYC reporter Robert Lewis captured much of the above FES grant information in his March 2014 article:

The Walton Family Foundation, of Walmart fame, has given more than $700,000 over the past two years. …

According to the records that are available, other large donations to the organization (FES) include $200,000 in 2012 from the Broad Foundation; $200,000 from the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation in fiscal year 2012-13; $100,000 in 2012 from the Moriah Fund; $25,000 from the Ravenel and Elizabeth Curry Foundation in fiscal year 2011-12; $19,000 in fiscal year 2011-12 from the Tapestry Project; $50,000 in fiscal year 2012-13 from the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program; and $1,000 in 2012 from the Dalio Foundation. 

Lewis also notes the following:

Families for Excellent Schools shares an address with the New York arm of StudentsFirst….

This sharing of an address is strong evidence that FES is Astroturf reform from its outset. Yet there is a bossy center around which FES and its fiscal feeders appear to revolve. Consider a few board connections from among organizations listed above.

Tapestry Project’s executive director is attorney Eric Grannis.

Grannis is New York charter vixen Eva Moskowitz’s husband.

The Tapestry board also includes Gideon Stein, who sits on Moskowitz’s Success Academy board. He and a number of other Steins also sit on the Moriah Fund board.

And Eva Moskowitz sits on the StudentsFirst NY board.

And FES shares an address with StudentsFirstNY:

345 Seventh Avenue, Suite 501, New York, NY.

Eva at the bossy center. But that center is very much a collaboration involving Moskowitz, and StudentsFirst, and money from both philanthropies and hedge-fund managers.

Before I ended the post, I thought I’d see what organizations shared the Seventh Street address. I came up with the two expected:

StudentsFirst NY

Families for Excellent Schools.

I also found the 2012-2014 election spending reports for another group:

New Yorkers for Putting Students First (NYPSF).

NYPSF is a hedge-fund, charter-school-promoting PAC. (One must pay to access the link to this Capital New York article. I did not pay, so I do not know if the NYPSF hedge funders are named, but I’m thinking at least some are.)

 

On September 5, 2014, NYPSF contributed $19,700 to “Friends of Kathy Hochul” Andrew Cuomo’s running mate.

The NYPSF election financing reports also detail payments made for school board elections (e.g., Larry Quinn in Buffalo). NYPSF also interacts fiscally with StudentsFirstNY, apparently sharing staff.

As for NYPSF election funding, here’s one for $10,300 to “Friends for the Election of Dean G. Skelos” in Rockville Center, and one for $4,100 to “Friends of Karim Camara” in Brooklyn.

There are numerous other detailed expenditures.

NYPSF is also in California. It is related to StudentFirst. Same California address:

825 K Street, 2nd Floor, Sacramento, CA.

But back to New York.

A few final thoughts regarding 325 Seventh Avenue, Suite 501, and the organization that instigated this post, FES:

FES appears to be little more than a Moskowitz- and StudentsFirst-associated mushroom organization designed to offer the illusion of multiple (grass roots) organizations rallying behind “school choice.”

Though it might seem that it is not possible to know who is supporting FES, it is possible to make some telling connections via examination of 990s and physical addresses– especially shared addresses.

Those trying to hide from public view behind one organizational front might find themselves exposed via association with another.

The perils of layered corruption, eh?

___________________________________________________________

Schneider is also author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education

previti chronicle pic

 

 

39 Comments
  1. You rock, Mercedes! You are amazing!

  2. Kudos to my fav detective. Once again you have identified all the usual suspects. What would the world of education be like without Broad, Waltons, Rhee, et al? And of course the Moskowitzs…oops, I meant Eva her Grannis.

    Is that Vanguard of Vanguard Funds? Shows donation over a billion bucks.

    Also, is that Harris, or the SCOTUS terrible anti teachers union decision in Harris v. Quinn?

    I have not used up my 40 peeks, if you need some, use mine.

    • Hi, Ellen, I commented on Vanguard below and included the link to their 2010 990.

      I have not investigated Harris. Feel free to take him (?) on.🙂

  3. jcgrim permalink

    Mercedes, A+ for amazing investigation. If you can, go over to LittleSis and post your info. A group of community activists have an extensive blog that is bringing sunlight to the networks of corporate, think-tank & political interests. I think they’d love to see your work.
    http://littlesis.org/join

  4. Janna permalink

    Wow you work fast! I am very impressed (as always). I was going to offer to you to use my 40 free pages on whatever you want but then I had a better idea. We should get you a subscription to citizenaudit (12,000 page views for a year for $350) My spare money is going to support candidates over the next few weeks, but If you allow me to do so, could I make a gofundme account to raise the money? I am sure your fans and Diane’s would find this a very good use of funds since your ability to sift through this stuff far exceeds most of us.

  5. Janna permalink

    Here it is: http://www.gofundme.com/g0ehic

    Dr. Mercedes Schneider is one of the best investigative researchers uncovering the corruption of the corporate privatization movement that is destroying public education. Today she uncovered the mystery of Families for Excellent Schools true funding sources by using a tool called CitizenAudit.org. She used up all of her free 40 pages. Her findings were also reported by Dr. Diane Ravitch.

    For all of us who rely on Mercedes for the truth (and deciphering of tax forms), we can pay for a one year subscription ($350 for 12,000 page views for one year https://www.citizenaudit.org/). Mercedes is a public school teacher and author, but certainly is not rolling in excess cash. I know if all of us just put in a few dollars, we can give this worthwhile weapon to one of the best warriors for public education we have!

    School privatization is being funded by deep pockets and hedge fund investors. But we outnumber them! Small donations can help us to stand up to the organizations who want to kick educators out of education.

  6. This was really a great break down!!

  7. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    Mercedes, A parent at my school was confused by the comments in the Seattle Times written by the executive director of the League of Education Voters http://seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2024750941_chriskorsmoopedconinit1351xml.html I did some digging to find out why this non-profit organization is against the ballot initiative for smaller class sizes. I wrote the following response to him. I am curious now from what could be found out about this group and its PAC through citizenaudit.org. I would love to see you do a piece on this group and the ballot measure in Washington (ranked 47th in the nation for class size).My response to the parent follows: The change in strategies supported by the League of Education Voters indicates funding and leadership that have evolved to support corporate education reform policies. A wealth of research provides evidence that smaller class size can make a huge difference for children, “closing opportunity and achievement gaps” (visit the National Education Policy Center and Classmatters.org). Chris Korsmo and the Board of the League of Education Voters (LEV) are advocating against smaller class sizes now, although that is a strategy that LEV supported so strongly in the past that they led an effort to make it the law of the land. Their new stance spurred my curiosity. I wanted an explanation for this attack on small class size. The organization has evidently changed since its origins.
    On the website for The New School Foundation (with which the LEV merged), small class size is the first key element listed to describe the school’s “comprehensive approach to public education that ensures that every child receives a quality education and has a chance to succeed”. The dichotomy is striking between LEV’s stance against small class size and The New School model for public education that relies on small class size. I can’t imagine how the LEV board is able to rationalize away this in-house evidence of small class size being of utmost importance. I collected signatures to place Initiative 1351 on the fall ballot because I believe it is important to send a message to the state legislature from voters. It is even more important now for representatives and senators to get the message from voters, since the LEV agenda is pro-charter school, pro-common core, pro-standardized tests, pro-No Child Left Behind, and against smaller classes.
    Initiative 1351 hopes to reduce the negative impacts of Washington’s large class sizes by focusing on the classrooms with our youngest learners, Kindergarten through third grade. The initiative also provides counselors, nurses, and librarians to some schools since many schools lost those personnel over the past decade of de-funding public education. Initiative 1351 calls for smaller class sizes for Kindergarten through 12th grade in select schools identified as the most challenged in achieving student success. I wish it went as far as requesting small class sizes for ALL grade levels, but it falls short. On the other hand, the LEV is advocating for Washington to maintain or worsen Washington’s rank of 47th in the nation for class size?
    Initiative 1351 promotes a simple, straightforward, proven strategy to support students (and their teachers). In contrast, LEV states that I-1351 would “preclude our ability to make investments in other proven strategies, such as early learning and college readiness”. This statement contains loaded terms that could mean money-making schemes for private corporations in preschool education and high school graduation requirements (assessments, curriculum) – I cannot trust these “other proven strategies” that LEV refers to in general terms. I fear that their proposal is not in the best interest of our young people. I am suspect of the terms they are using which could mean opening up public education to more profit-oriented corporations. Thus, I tried to find out if my suspicions were justified.
    As I researched LEV, I found that the organization wishes to create “a college-and-career-ready high school diploma” whatever that would involve, and they want to “ensure Washington maintains its waiver from No Child Left Behind” which means passing a law to use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. The League of Education Voters also supports the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Washington which go hand in hand with new, more expensive tests and profits not only for the corporations creating the curriculum and tests, but also to contractors needed to process the new PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessments.
    I then got curious about the LEV PAC, the political arm of the League of Education Voters. Their goal is “to elect candidates who will be partners in our effort to provide a quality education for all students in Washington state. “ I find their endorsement of Andy Hill at odds with what LEV professes to support, specifically to “adequately compensate our teachers”. When I conversed with Senator Hill last February to express my concerns about his stance against both the teacher COLA and smaller class sizes, and to understand his support for evaluating teachers by using standardized test scores, his responses left me dumbfounded.
    When asked Senator Hill why he would not support legislation to provide teachers with a COLA, Senator Hill retorted, “You can’t tell me that teachers didn’t get a raise in the past five years”. Honestly, my experience moved me up on the pay scale, but the pay on the scale had decreased, resulting in me making less money than the previous year. Uh, I got a “raise” on the pay scale that resulted in less money in my pay check. In addition, Senator Hill doesn’t believe that teachers with more education should receive higher pay. He stated as fact that higher education (M.A. or Ph.D.) for teachers did not make a difference. I know of no research to support this statement. This said, I do not see Initiative 1351 at odds with raising teacher salaries. That would be great. I don’t believe that voter’s using a ballot to request smaller class sizes makes it impossible to invest in teachers as LEV warns it would do, nor do I believe the “single focus” of I-1351 would “rob our leaders and educators” of using other proven means to improve public education. Why is LEV endorsing Senator Hill who has proven he doesn’t respect teachers?
    Last February, Senator Hill stated emphatically that a law to use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers was “the right thing to do” yet, when I asked how the legislation would work to evaluate teachers who teach subjects or grade levels that are not tested, he said that he did “not know how it works.” Since LEV wants Washington to regain a waiver from No Child Left Behind (granting more power to standardized test scores by using scores to evaluate teachers), it does not surprise me that LEV endorses this senator. Now we also know that both Andy Hill and LEV don’t believe that small class size makes a difference in student achievement, contrary to all the research of which I am aware.
    Why the turn-around from promoting small class size to advocating against it? Opinions of organizations, politicians, and the media can often be traced to their funding source(s). I don’t know anything about LEV or LEV PAC funding sources, but the legislation they are supporting stinks of ed reform money. I tried to glean hints from the bios of staff members and board members to try to explain this new stance against smaller class size and their push for “early learning” and “college readiness” (ed reform buzz words).
    Chris Korsmo (Chief Executive Officer of LEV and author of the published comments) is a board member with the Washington State Charter Schools Association. In the fall of 2012, the National Policy Innovators in Education (a pro-charter school network to legislate and fund reform) named Chris the “Most Valuable Player” of the Year. Diane Buckley (Chief Financial Officer) provided leadership roles in accounting and finance at savings banks and technology companies prior to joining LEV. I wonder if there is a MicroSoft (Gates Foundation ed reform dollars) connection here but there is no mention of names for the tech companies. The Bio for Mary Beth Lambert (Communications and Development Director) states that “Graduate school at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs offered her an entry ticket into the world of education reform …”. Policy Director, Amy Liu, has a history with the Washington, D.C., school system which I wouldn’t look to as a success story for ed reform. I can’t tell if her time with the D.C. Public Schools overlapped with Michelle Rhee’s reign. Amy’s Bio states that “While in DC, Amy served as Acting Director of the Office of Secondary School Transformation at DC Public Schools (DCPS). In that role, she oversaw a team charged with programmatic supports for the district’s middle and high schools including academic policy, academic planning and master scheduling, college readiness, credit recovery, and Career and Technical Education. Prior to joining DCPS, she held various policy and advocacy positions at Freddie Mac”. There are connections here that make me want to dig deeper, but I feel that I know enough about LEV’s current legislative goals to be scared, and to be pleased that the voters have an opportunity to send a message to the legislature regarding class size.
    It seems that MANY of the people involved on the board and on the staff of LEV care a great deal about education and helping young people who are at a disadvantage, but their support of ed reform methods instead of small class size is disconcerting. I think this organization had it right in the early days when they successfully attained smaller class sizes by voter initiative. I know this because my children benefitted during its implementation for the first couple of years it was funded, before the legislature stopped funding smaller class sizes and teacher COLAs. Voters who vote YES on I-1351 are sending a collective message to fund smaller class sizes which we know improves student learning. I am saddened by the statement in The Seattle Times, and LEV’s support for reforms that are dismantling our public education system – charter schools, common core, standardized tests (and the continued and intensified punishments for students, schools and teachers because we did not reach No Child Left Behind’s unattainable goal of all children in our nation scoring “at or above standard” on the 2014 standardized tests, the NCLB deadline, or else).

    • Hi, Jill. Gates pushes for larger class sizes, though he and his children attended Lakeside School in Seattle– a school absent most of the reforms he advocated for “mass” education– including those large classes. Go figure.

      In short, he wants education on the cheap for the masses, and he wants the education system to feed his ideas of “free-market-driven education.”

      I have not investigated LEV, but the time may come when that happens.

  8. dolphin permalink

    Reblogged this on Dolphin and commented:
    Mercedes Schneider does it again with another great post. See, if you can create the illusion that “everybody is doing it” you can persuade the public that is undecided to get behind the project. It is known in Communications that people are reluctant to speak out if they feel they will be the only one who feels the way that they do.
    As Maggie Kuhn (Presbyterian who started Grey Panthers after being forced out of employment because of her age) said,
    “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”

  9. Once again Mercedes, you have followed the money and exposed the truth. I continuously see Vanguard in connection with a lot of the reform movement. I do not recall them being talked about (I may have missed it). I am curious about whether or not you have researched them as well.

    • LL, Vanguard is a difficult group to get info on. I had run out of views on citizenaudit before I could examine their 990s. I did just locate this 990 on Vanguard from 2010. Total assets: $2.4 billion, and it seems that most come from “publicly traded securities.” Their grants are paid to a wide variety of orgnaizations. They paid several grants to TFA.

      http://990s.foundationcenter.org/990_pdf_archive/232/232888152/232888152_201106_990.pdf

      Here is a Guidestar summary on Vanguard:

      http://www.guidestar.org/report/chartingimpact/520243079/vanguard-charitable-endowment-program.pdf

      • Linda permalink

        I could be wrong but, the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, a 501(c)(3), allows clients to contribute to the charities of their choice. Public demand for greater IRS oversight of 501(c)(3)’s is gaining traction. If the names of the donors are not transparent, the public’s push for the IRS to take a look at links between donations and personal gain (prohibited), are stymied.
        After Microsoft announced a deal to develop Common Core curriculum, I think citizens should expect a vigilant IRS to review Gates Foundation grants for Common Core, if they received favorable tax treatment, as a 501(c)(3). But then, I think the public has waited too long for a congressional investigation into education reform.
        Thanks for the investigations, Dr. Schneider.

  10. Janna permalink

    We have raised $245 out of $350 dollars to buy Mercedes a year subscription to CitizenAudit.org. If you want to contribute go to: http://www.gofundme.com/g0ehic

  11. Janna permalink

    Fully funded- thanks everyone!

  12. Michael permalink

    Excellent piece.

    Mercedes do you have any information on the money trail that connects the mass marketing and introduction of Google Chrome into NY public schools?

    Have you ever come across any information on how Luvelle Brown Superintendent of ICSD is connected directly or indirectly to Pearson?

    • Hi, Michael. Consumer Watchdog filed this complaint re: Google and NYC schools:

      http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/joint_commission_complaint.pdf

      Luvelle Brown is mentioned in this Pearson white paper:

      http://www.schoolnet.com/pdf/whitepapers/pearson-cde11-brief.pdf

      • Michael permalink

        Thanks a bunch Mercedes.

        On the first question and link- extremely useful.

        On the second I’m wondering how it is, what role they play, what financial and/or opportunistic kickbacks are involved for superintendents in districts that are pushing what google is peddling.

        In our most illustrious of super-duper of most progessiv-ey-ish of places here in Ithaca,NY we have a not-so-superintendent who is really full on for EduTech reform and is certainly receiving more than just ideological payback for this. Many of the teachers are shall I say less than impressed. They give me plenty of information but are unwilling to go public with their discontent for obvious reasons. I plan to make their case and am looking for all the information I can get before doing so.

        Appreciate the information.

        Here’s an article which exposes some of Brown’s earlier days in Albermarle’s school district and his connections to SchoolNet:

        http://www.readthehook.com/100248/no-school-administrator-left-behind

  13. Linda permalink

    I contacted Vanguard about the inferred endorsement of Families for Excellent Schools. I received a reply consistent with the information at the Vanguard Charitable Endowment website that implies, the organization is a conduit for the money of the donor, to his charity of choice.
    I asked in a reply question,
    “Do charitable endowment divisions (Fidelity has one too, I think) provide a means to hide the identities of charity donors?” And, I asked for a description of the process that assures compliance with the 501(c)(1) regulations regarding personal gain.

  14. Donna permalink

    I just now saw a commercial for Connecticut (I live in NJ) – to give 40,000 children trapped in failing schools a chance. I didn’t hear charter schools mentioned, but did indeed hear Families for Excellent Schools. What a shame they don’t have to disclaim at the end of the commercial who is funding it and explain the rhetoric. A shameful amount of money is being spent on this commercial – to what end? To open more Walmart charters?

  15. Thank you for doing this work!!

  16. I n their Add campaign, FES misrepresents the truth when it’s saying that minority kids from poor neighborhoods are not likely to succeed in the educational system as opposed to white kids from better neighborhoods
    FES fails to realize that there are many poor white kids caught in the same situation as minority kids

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: Who Funded “Families for Excellent Schools”? | Diane Ravitch's blog
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  5. Bruce Baker: “Families for Excellent Schools” Bogus Analysis of NYC Schools | Diane Ravitch's blog
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  7. Families for Excellent Schools, Luke Bronin and the expansion of the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry in Hartford Connecticut. - Wait What?

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