A leading charter-school advocacy organization in New York City plans to cease operations, its board chairman announced Monday, just days after the group’s leader was fired for inappropriate behavior.
The announcement that Families for Excellent Schools is “winding down” its operations came a few hours after Politico New York reported that the group planned to close. In a statement sent to reporters Monday afternoon, board chairman Bryan Lawrence said the group decided after “a series of challenges over the past year and particularly given recent events” that it no longer had the necessary support to stay open.
“This is a sad day for everyone at Families for Excellent Schools,” he said. “We are very proud of the work we’ve done to help thousands of families stand up for educational opportunity in their communities, and believe our vision of a world where every child has access to an excellent school has never been more important.”
Last week, the group announced that it had fired its CEO, Jeremiah Kittredge. Late on Friday, Politico reported that the firing had followed an investigation that began after an attendee at an education policy conference posted on Facebook about being harassed by someone who turned out to be Kittredge.
Some Families for Excellent Schools staffers anticipated the decision to shutter the group and began asking around about job openings in recent days, according to a person with direct knowledge. Still, as of Monday morning, one staffer said the organization had not communicated any impending changes to all 40 employees.
The group’s challenges predated Kittredge’s departure. It has grown less important in New York City as charter fights have diminished there, and it also suffered a bruising defeat in Massachusetts in 2016, when it spent $15 million to persuade voters to allow more charter schools but fell spectacularly short. Lawrence’s statement suggests the group’s setbacks have hampered its once-powerful ability to attract donors.
“There’s been a number of missteps that have put the organization in a difficult place,” a current employee told Chalkbeat.
Now, Families for Excellent Schools’ disappearance will leave New York City’s charter sector without one of its most aggressive advocates. At a time when much of the sector has taken a less combative approach, the group has been willing to skewer Mayor Bill de Blasio and spend millions of dollars on ads and lobbying efforts.
Without Families for Excellent Schools, Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy will lose a key advocacy ally — potentially putting pressure on charter advocates such as the New York City Charter School Center to speak more for the city’s multiple networks of charter schools. (The center, along with the Northeast Charter Schools Network, is bringing parents and students to Albany on Tuesday to lobby for more funding for charter schools.)
Families for Excellent Schools’ closure provides fodder to its critics, who have long criticized the group for its ties to deep-pocketed education advocates who promote charters and other polarizing education policy issues. Until the Massachusetts campaign finance office required it to name its funders last year, the group’s political arm had illegally concealed the identities of donors to its efforts in that state.
Even before Families for Excellent Schools announced Monday that it planned to close, its critics responded triumphantly to reports that it was on its way out.
“FES is the latest of the astroturf charter school advocates to sputter into irrelevance in New York State, just another group that tried and failed to do any real grassroots parent organizing,” Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education, said in a statement.
But Ansari suggested that she was taking little comfort in Families for Excellent Schools’ potential demise.
“The one thing FES and others have been effective at is influence peddling with politicians,” she said, “so keep your eyes open because it will not be shocking if the billionaire hedge fund crowd that backed FES moves their money into a new organization.”