A relatively new corporate reform group—the City Fund—acts as a pass-through for billionaires Reed Hastings (Netflix) and John Arnold (ex-Enron). The staff consists of six or seven (or more) veterans of the privatization movement. It opened its operations with $200 million in pledges from its billionaire funders. It has staff but no members. Its mission is to push the “portfolio district” (i.e., more charter schools) in designated cities. In short, the City Fund was designed to advance the goals of its billionaire funders, who have no relationship to the cities whose schools they want to disrupt. Grassroots groups in every city and state can only dream about what they could do if they had even $1 million in the bank.

One of the staff, Chris Barbic, started a charter chain in Houston (YES Prep), then became leader of the disastrous Achievement School District in Tennessee; he promised to lift the state’s lowest performing schools into the ranks of its highest performing in only five years by handing them over to charter operators. The ASD burned through $100 million in Race to the Top and failed to turn any of its takeover schools into a high-performing school. If anything, it proved that turning low-performing schools over to charter operators doesn’t produce change.

Another staffer, Neerav Kingsland, is a law school graduate and a Broadie who was CEO of New Schools for New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans eliminated the teachers’ union and eventually eliminated every public school. The 2019 state report card rated 49% of the schools as D or F schools. The students in the lowest performing schools are almost all black. Hardly a success story.

Matt Barnum writes in Chalkbeat that the City Fund has dispensed over $100 million to help achieve its funders’ goal of detaching schools from elected school boards.

The newest major player in school reform has already issued more than $110 million in grants to support the growth of charter and charter-like schools across the U.S.

The City Fund’s spending, detailed on a new website, means the organization has quickly become one of the country’s largest K-12 education grantmakers. The money has gone to organizations in more than a dozen cities, including Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Memphis, and Oakland.

The spending is evidence that The City Fund’s brand of school reform continues to attract major financial support — and may foretell more battles over education politics in those cities…

The City Fund’s strategy is to grow the number of schools, including charters, run by nonprofits rather than traditional school boards. Advocates say that shift will help low-income students of color, pointing to academic improvements in virtually all-charter New Orleans as one example. Critics argue that strategy undermines teachers unions, democratically elected school boards, and existing public schools.

Overall, The City Fund says it has raised $225 million, largely from Netflix founder Reed Hastings and Texas philanthropist John Arnold. (Chalkbeat is funded by Arnold Ventures.) The organization has also created a political arm, Public School Allies, which has raised $15 million from Hastings and Arnold to support officials vying for state and local office.

The funders of the City Fund think that democratically elected school boards are the biggest obstacle to school reform. They like charter schools and stake takeovers. The fact that they have zero evidence that their strategies improve education doesn’t stop them, as long as the money keeps flowing. Unless you are impressed by a district, New Orleans, where half the schools are rated D or F.