April 8, 2024

Maurice Cunningham: Latest on The Barr Foundation K-12 Interest Group Team

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Maurice Cunningham, expert on the subject of dark money in education, breaks down some of the more recent activity of the Barr Foundation.

Billionaires pour millions of dollars into K-12 interest groups in Massachusetts with almost no public accountability. The interests have upbeat sounding names like “Democrats for Education Reform,” “Educators for Excellence,” and “National Parents Union” but make no mistake, they exist to promote the policy preferences of oligarchs.

The public deserves a full accounting of who is funding interest group influence on K-12 policy. First, vast sums of philanthropic spending introduce a bias toward the policy preferences of the rich and is democratically unaccountable. Second, this is interest group funding. Third, big dollars roll in from outside (like from the Waltons of Arkansas) when two conditions are met: there is mayoral control of school politics without the messy democratic intervention of an elected school board; and second, local philanthropies like the Barr Foundation, but also the Boston Foundation, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, and Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund spend money on K-12 interest groups.

Here is the latest on Barr, updated through the publicly available Form 990 tax returns from 2017-2022:

Donee 2017-2021 2022 2017-2022
Education Reform Now, Inc. (DFER) $390,000 $115,000 $505,000
Educators for Excellence $1,125,000 $300,000 $1,425,000
Latinos for Education $950,000 $300,000 $1,250,000
Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education $790,000 $150,000 $940,000
Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, Inc.


$1,530,000 $330,000 $1,860,000
Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, Inc.


$470,000 $0 $470,000
Massachusetts Parents United


$720,000 $225,000 $945,000
Teach for America (MA) $1,150,000 $250,000 $1,400,000
Teach Plus $500,000 $250,000 $750,000
Teachers Lounge $210,000 $275,000 $485,000
Boston Schools Fund $1,300,000 $875,000 $2,175,000
The Education Trust Massachusetts $1,150,000 $775,000 $1,925,000
$10,285,000 $3,845,000 $14,130,000

The $14,130,000 is more than the $10 million plus donated to privatization interest groups  by the Walton Family Foundation. Caution: Waltons’ funding of out-of-state operations who are active in Massachusetts like Democrats for Education Reform, Educators for Excellence, etc. may mean it spends much more in Massachusetts. But Barr is the largest known in-state funder of K-12 interest groups in Massachusetts.

The Barr Foundation is the philanthropic arm of billionaire Amos Hostetter. In 2016 he donated $2,025,000 to the pro-charters side in the ballot initiative election. Two million of that was in dark money, only revealed when the Office of Campaign and Political Finance ruled months after the election that dark money donations run through Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, Inc. into the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot committee must be disclosed. In 2009 Hostetter gave $32,5000 to the Committee for Charter Public Schools.

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