Two former top staffers at the recently shuttered Families for Excellent Schools are working to start a new pro-charter advocacy group, according to multiple sources with knowledge of their plans.
Reshma Singh, who was the chief growth officer at Families for Excellent Schools, and Sean Andersen, who was its chief program officer, are leading the new effort. And while the scope and approach of their new organization are still unclear, the connections the pair have to the education reform world suggest the group’s impact will be felt even as it faces tough political headwinds in some states.
The group is being incubated at 50CAN, an education advocacy group with a presence in several states and where Andersen and Singh are currently employees.
“We are excited to be a part of the team at 50CAN, and to have the opportunity to support local leaders as they work for educational change in their communities,” they said in a joint statement.
At this week’s New Schools Venture Fund conference outside San Francisco — where charter school leaders and others gather to strategize and in many cases raise money — Singh was listed as a co-founder of a new organization.
Efforts to start a new pro-charter group aren’t surprising, considering the significant amount of donor money still being directed at charter schools and the large staff that FES maintained. But Singh and Andersen appear to be charting a somewhat different course, focusing for now on Connecticut and Illinois and not New York.
The Success Academy network of charter schools in New York City was closely linked to FES, but a spokesperson for the network said it is not involved with the new group.
Dacia Toll, the head of the Achievement First network of charter schools, says her group is working with the pair in Connecticut but not New York. “I’m excited that [Singh and Andersen] are continuing to work on behalf of schools and families,” she said.
“I don’t think we want to replace Families for Excellent Schools,” she said.
Families for Excellent Schools put together massive pro-charter rallies that helped notch early victories in New York, most notably in 2014. The group also served as a public relations arm of some prominent charter networks and was among New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s sharpest critics. But as its presence grew, including in Connecticut and Massachusetts, those tactics increasingly fell flat.
In Massachusetts, the group had helped lead an effort to raise the state’s cap on charter schools, only to suffer a punishing defeat at the ballot box. An postmortem memo by other charter supporters would find that the effort suffered a variety of missteps and won little grassroots support. Longtime charter advocates in Massachusetts said that FES came in with their own approach and ignored local dynamics.
Perhaps alluding to that tension, Andersen and Singh said in their statement: “We believe that local leaders are best suited to lead advocacy work; our goal is to add value to local leaders in a supporting role.”