KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg, who was fired earlier this year over sexual harassment allegations, has started a new organization.
Called the Texas School Venture Fund, the group describes itself as helping individuals start and grow schools. It has already drawn a handful of prominent education reform advocates to its board.
This new group’s existence and Feinberg’s prominent role in it raise questions about how education leaders will deal with sexual abuse and harassment allegations. Its board indicates that some will continue to support Feinberg’s work despite the specific claims against him, which he has denied.
According to KIPP, which has grown to over 200 schools nationwide, Feinberg was dismissed due to allegations of child sexual abuse in the late 1990s and two separate sexual harassment allegations by adult KIPP alumni and employees from the early 2000s, one of which resulted in a financial settlement.
A 2009 photo of Mike Feinberg. (Via MerlinFTP Drop.)
That investigation found the allegation “credible” but did not “conclusively confirm” it, KIPP said. “I do not condone, nor have I ever condoned, or engaged in, misconduct of this kind,” Feinberg said in the statement at the time.
Feinberg’s dismissal sent shockwaves through the education reform community, where he was deeply connected.
Feinberg, who is listed as the president of the new group, declined to comment for this story through his attorney. He described his ambitions for the organization in a LinkedIn post, saying the Texas School Venture Fund would be “a catalyst to the creation of innovative and responsive schools” that would work with educators on “starting new schools, helping single-site schools start to grow, [and] helping networks of schools continue to grow.”
Howard Fuller — the former Milwaukee schools superintendent and prominent advocate of private school vouchers for low-income families — is on the Texas School Venture Fund’s board. He told Chalkbeat that the “core group” that Feinberg will work with are KIPP alumni who want to start their own schools, though he said it will not be limited to KIPP graduates.
“I felt like this was something Mike can do well, so I’m happy to help in any way I can,” he said.
Fuller said he does not believe the allegations against Feinberg and they did not give him pause in continuing to work with him.
“Mike is a very close friend of mine,” Fuller said. “Mike said he did not do it.”
Also on the board of directors of the new group are Leo Linbeck, III, a Texas businessman who is listed as the chair of the board, and Chris Barbic, who led Tennessee’s school turnaround district and now works at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Linbeck declined to speak on the record. Barbic did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Fuller said the group is in its early stages and is seeking funding, though he couldn’t say whether it has any funders presently. (Neerav Kingsland, head of the education giving at the Arnold Foundation, did not immediately respond to an email asking whether his group was funding Feinberg’s organization, which is not listed among Arnold’s current grantees.)
Few new details have emerged about Feinberg’s dismissal or the investigation that precipitated it.
A brief video of KIPP Houston’s board meeting the day before Feinberg’s firing was announced shows members immediately going into executive session, which is private, to consider a personnel matter. Feinberg did not appear to be present.
Three hours later, the board voted to delegate authority to the chair to negotiate and execute “employment arrangements” with Feinberg.
All but one of the board members present supported the move. The exception was Karol Musher, who abstained. Musher is now on the board of the Texas School Venture Fund. She did not respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, in March, Chalkbeat filed a public records request to KIPP Houston seeking information about Feinberg’s dismissal, including the investigation conducted by an external law firm.
In an April letter to the Texas attorney general requesting an advisory opinion, a lawyer for KIPP contended that the information is shielded from public disclosure due to attorney–client privilege. (The version of the letter provided to Chalkbeat is partially redacted.)
Chalkbeat has yet to receive word on an opinion by the attorney general.