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More on Families for Excellent Schools (FES) and Its Fallen CEO

February 8, 2018

Some big news of late is that Families for Excellent Schools (FES) is closing shop– this news broke pretty quickly following news that FES CEO, Jeremiah Kittredge, was fired over allegations of “inappropriate behavior toward a non-employee… and other factors…,” as the January 31, 2018, New York News notes:

The CEO of a powerful charter school lobbying group was fired over a complaint of inappropriate behavior.

Jeremiah Kittredge, head of Families for Excellent Schools, was canned Wednesday.

“Immediately upon receiving a complaint about inappropriate behavior toward a non-employee by Jeremiah Kittredge, Families for Excellent Schools retained outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation,” said Bryan Lawrence, Board Chair of Families for Excellent Schools. “As a result of this investigation and additional factors, Jeremiah has been terminated as CEO.”

The reason that the FES closure is big news is that the nonprofit FES and its associated lobbying nonprofit, FES Advocacy, has provided a means of funneling millions into select states in order to influence elections and affect policy involving charter school expansion.

Consider an excerpt from the 2014, 57-page, Common Cause report entitled, “Polishing the Apple: Examining Political Spending in New York to Influence Education Policy”:

Pro-privatization lobbying and non-candidate spending exceeded union and allies spending by $6.9 million in 2014. This significant increase in lobbying spending is due solely to the emergence of Families for Excellent Schools, which spent over $9.7 million in 2014 alone. …

LOBBYING AND EXPENDITURES

2014: Explosion in Privatizer Lobbying

2014 was a game changer for privatizer spending, not only in campaign contributions, but also in lobbying. Families for Excellent Schools (FES), yet another charity-advocacy organization created by the same hedge fund billionaires active throughout the country (which shares office space with Studentsfirst NY) registered
as a lobbyist for the first time in NYS in March, 2014. FES’s lobbying expenditures eclipsed all other organizations in every industry, placing it at the top of the JCOPE annual list of lobbying entities ranked by total lobbying expenditures. The $9,670,372 FES spent lobbying is almost $5 million more than what NYSUT and UFT combined lobbying in 2014.

What is even more incredible is that the majority of the FES lobbying spending was spent in March and April of 2014. Over $5.9 million dollars, or almost 62% of FES’s total lobbying expenditures for 2014, was spent during that two month period on fashion photography (Blair Getz Mezibov), media development (Canal Partners Media, Greencard Pictures LLC and Siegal Strategies), and consulting (SKD Knickerbocker, Stu Loeser, and the Strategy Company). This tidal wave of money was directly aimed at influencing how the 2014 NYS budget handled education policy and FES added muscle to another privatizer player backed by
hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner, the Foundation for Opportunity in Education.

FES appears to be a “grassroots” coalition, but their Executive Director, Jeremiah Kittredge was plucked from his previous job as the “Coordinator of Civic Initiatives” at Democracy Prep Charter School, part of a New York City and New Jersey charter school chain. FES has recieved millions of dollars in combined funding from the Walton Foundation, The Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation and the Eli and
Edythe Broad Foundation – the very same foundations funding Democrats for Education Reform, the Success Charter School network, Studentsfirst, and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) – to name just a few.

FES has not restricted its charter school policy influence to New York. In fact, a major point of negative press for FES involved the backfiring of its concealing individual donors that funneled major cash into Massachusetts’ Question 2 ballot question– a story concisely and effectively captured in this University of San Francisco School of Management FES Q2 case study, as excerpted below:

This case study examines the ethical implications of operating a social welfare
organization, known as a 501(c)(4), alongside a traditional 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Under the  management of Jeremiah Kittredge, Families for Excellent Schools and its 501(c)(4) partner, Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy, were fined a record $425,000 for failing to disclose their donors in a $15 million contribution in favor of in a Massachusetts ballot initiative. The ensuing public relations crisis threatened the career of Paul Sagan, Massachusetts Board of Education Chairman, and cast a shadow on the charter school movement. …

The case is relevant for nonprofit organizations that want to participate in political
activity while retaining their tax-exempt status. The case examines an organization that failed to adhere to relevant regional regulations, exposing the organization to criticism and negatively affecting its image and credibility. Chief executive officers and nonprofit boards that wish to engage in political advocacy can use this case as to avoid malpractice and ethical pitfalls in their achieving strategic goals.

Reviewing the case study will reveal the intricacies of pursuing a political agenda, even when utilizing a 501(c)4 nonprofit arm that is permitted to engage in political advocacy. Although nonprofits are generally allowed to keep their donors anonymous, this is not true in all cases. Failure to abide by regulations violates the board’s duty of obedience and can result in financial or criminal penalties. However, these penalties may pale in comparison to the damage to the organization reputation and ability to deliver on its mission. Additionally, the case study reveals how malpractice can stem from leadership failures at the highest levels of the organization. …

Under Kittredge’s navigation, FES and FESA have organized impressive rallies and spent an even more impressive amount of money. “Money can’t buy 11,000 folks in Albany. It just can’t. That is long-term, hardcore real grassroots organizing and it takes months and months of work that comes from organizers in neighborhoods doing one on ones, walking floors, walking buildings, meeting families,” Kittredge said. Despite Kittredge’s insistence that FES represents a grassroots movement, the $15 million that was spent in support of Question 2 only came from 40 individuals.

“40 individuals”: There’s your “family” behind “Families for Excellent Schools.”

University of Massachusetts political science prof, Maurice Cunningham, offers some insightful background on Kittredge and FES funding (see here and here). Of course, FES is more than just its CEO– it is very much the mega-donor cash behind FES.

Still, now-former FES CEO is worth some investigation.

An August 2017 archived copy of Kittredge’s FES bio is as follows:

Jeremiah Kittredge is the Co-Founder and CEO of Families for Excellent Schools, which helps parents organize for meaningful education reform, and which currently serves more than 50,000 families in the tri-state area. Forbes Magazine awarded him a “30 under 30” award for his work at FES. He’s worked as a public school teacher and union organizer in New York, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, holding positions with SEIU, Obama for America, and Change to Win. A graduate of Brown University, he lives in Brooklyn, NY.

As Cunningham points out, Kittredge’s FES bio does not align well with his Linkedin bio:

Jeremiah-Kittredge  Jeremiah Kittredge

Experience

Education

In his FES bio, Kittredge advertises his experience as “a public school teacher and union organizer in New York, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, holding positions with SEIU, Obama for America, and Change to Win.”

No mention of these grass-rootsy, non-privatizer-painting, alleged experience on Linkedin.

Kittredge’s Linkedin bio also includes a missing year: May 2009 – May 2010.

Was this the “public school teacher-union organizer” token year for Kittredge?

Note that Kittredge is too young to have had any “teacher-union” career prior to his days at Brown (2004-2008). According to Forbes’ 2012 “30 Under 30 in Education,” Kittredge was 26 in 2012– which translates into his having been around 18 years old in 2004, the year he began his college days at Brown.

Another notable bio oddity: Kittredge’s FES bio omits any mention of Democracy Prep charter schools (note that Kittredge’s Linkedin bio does not state that he actually taught) and associated lobbying org, Democracy Builders, which identifies itself as “a 501(c)(4) national advocacy organization that organizes parents to advocate for better school choices and educational outcomes for the children in their communities” in this archived web page.

Indeed, Cunningham cites a February 02, 2018, Politico post that indicates Kittredge left Democracy Builders under less-than-ideal circumstances:

Kitteridge (sp.) was fired from another pro-charter school group, Democracy Builders, in 2011, according to multiple sources.

According to his Linkedin bio, the same month that Kittredge left Democracy Builders (July 2011), he established FES; a year later, he added FES Advocacy— and was making over $100,000 a year.

As one might reasonably assume, Kittredge’s connections to the likes of Eva Moskowitz enabled him to move smoothly from Democracy Builders to FES– and it seems that Moskowitz was to be his post-FES plan, as well. But that fell through, as Politico notes:

During the last several weeks… Kittredge met with members of New York City’s influential charter sector, telling them that he was planning to leave Families for Excellent Schools and take an advocacy job at Success, according to multiple sources.

Kittredge is best known in New York for helping to arrange enormous pro-charter rallies attended mostly by Success students….

Kittredge may have been interested in a potential soft landing at Success in part because of a disastrous year for the organization he founded, which several sources say left him on thin ice with his board.

But then Eva learned of the allegations against Kittredge regarding his behavior toward a woman at an ed reform conference (see Politico for details, which first emerged on Facebook).

The result: No post-FES landing for Kittredge at Eva’s Success Academies.

It remains to be seen if any other moneyed ed reformers will be willing to pay Kittredge to vend their charter school choice product.

As for some re-emergence of the likes of FES/ FES Advocacy: The vulture philanthropist/ hedge-funder backers surely will seek alternative, ed-reform-money funnels. Whether they will create another nonprofit duo to replace FES/ FES Advocacy also remains to be seen.

An yet, the last thing many democracy-buying donors want is for the public to actually see them.

flying cash

____________________________________________________________________________________________

I wrote a few books. Here’s one on the history of charter schools and vouchers:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

And here are two more: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. Swell stuff.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

From → Charters, Ethics

5 Comments
  1. Good research!

  2. Christine Langhoff permalink

    I love your for your fierce snark, Mercedes!

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Wonderful digging to expose this fraud, one of many.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Implosion of Families for Excellent Schools, Phony from the Start | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. The Implosion of Families for Excellent Schools, Phony from the Start – Sarah Parker Blog

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