The Biden Transition

Top Biden Aide Helped Fund Betsy DeVos Education Groups

Then-Vice President Joe Biden and Chief of Staff Bruce Reed during a March 29, 2011, White House budget meeting.


(Image: White House photo by David Lienemann.)

A top Biden aide reportedly up for a role in the new administration ran an education-reform group that gave more than a million dollars to organizations led by Betsy DeVos, tax filings show.

Bruce Reed has been opposed as a potential member of the Biden administration due to his past support of austerity measures. Congressional progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), signed a petition calling on Biden not to appoint Reed, who advised Biden on tech issues during the campaign.

While there has been little focus on Reed’s record in education, the subject was part of his portfolio in the Clinton White House. After leaving his post as Vice President Biden’s chief of staff, he took over the foundation of one of the nation’s leading charter-school boosters, billionaire Eli Broad (pronounced brohd), from 2013 to 2015, and served on the board of another Broad group until 2018.

Tax records show that while Reed was president, the Broad Foundation supported several groups tied to DeVos. One longtime DeVos associate employed by some of those groups now heads up policy for DeVos at the Department of Education.

The Biden transition team did not provide comment or respond to TYT’s questions. But the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic Policy and Research, which has been critical of some Biden administration contenders, suggested that Reed’s role funding DeVos groups undercut the messaging of centrist Democrats.

Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, told TYT, “Centrist Democrats urging progressives to be ‘team players’ would have better standing to do so if they actually rejected [Pres.] Trump, [Sen. Maj. Leader Mitch] McConnell, and the rest of the corrupt leaders of the modern GOP. What part of working with Betsy DeVos is being a ‘team player’ on behalf of any progressive goal?”

Education historian Diane Ravitch, who has blogged extensively about the Broad Foundation, told TYT, “It concerns me that [Reed] was president of the Eli Broad Foundation, which has worked to destabilize public schools and replace them with privately managed charters, which are notorious for their lack of transparency and accountability....If he joins the Biden administration, I hope he is far removed from education policy.”

The Broad Foundation has drawn scrutiny for its attempts to reshape public education in its hometown of Los Angeles. Broad and his foundation directly and indirectly backed political candidates favorable to his agenda, and he has “trained” superintendents and others to run public schools around the country his way, or to shut them down.

Although its board has included political heavyweights such as Larry Summers and Arne Duncan, the Broad Foundation has often gone unnoticed nationally, eclipsed by bigger charter boosters, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, the Koch brothers, and the Walton family that controls Walmart. But education insiders, even Biden supporters such as the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action, have noted Reed’s role, and it may affect his prospects for any position that deals with education. (A tech portfolio, for instance, could involve some Broad Foundation donors that sell services or technology to schools).

Reed has been an outspoken proponent of charter schools for decades, championing their rise inside the Clinton White House, where he led the Domestic Policy Council. But although Reed has publicly drawn the line at for-profit charter schools and vouchers, the Broad Foundation funded organizations that support both.

Reed also frowned on community, or “mom-and-pop” charter schools, telling the Los Angeles Times in 2014, “There are high-quality charter management organizations that do extraordinary work.” He said, “School districts have made the mistake of thinking they know best.”

Pressed about Eli Broad’s controversial donations to pro-charter candidates for Los Angeles school boards, Reed said, “My general experience with political elected bodies is that the odds of them being thoughtful and well informed are never very good.”

It’s not clear how involved Reed was in directing the foundation’s funds, but in his L.A. Times interview, Reed named some of his allies. “We’re looking to partner with other like-minded foundations — Bloomberg, Gates, Walton, the Emerson Collective,” he said. (The Emerson Collective is a project of Laurene Powell Jobs.)

Reed did not name Dick and Betsy DeVos, but they had spent years building alliances with Democrats interested in education reform. Eli Broad, a Democrat, had sat alongside Dick DeVos on the Children’s Scholarship Fund advisory board co-chaired by John Walton. And although Broad in 2017 publicly opposed DeVos’s nomination to lead the Dept. of Education under Trump, he and Reed were backing her groups just a couple years before.

DeVos Connections

The Broad Foundation had already been funding groups tied to the DeVos family when Reed came on board in November 2013.

The Alliance for School Choice, for instance, was an early proponent of charter schools, including for-profits. A partner of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children, the Alliance’s founding board included both her and Walton.

According to In These Times, the two groups were “at the center of the pro-privatization movement.” One of the Alliance’s first project directors, James Blew, is now DeVos’s assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development.

Soon after the Alliance launched, the DeVoses reached out to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who was then a Newark City Council member. Booker joined the group and found common cause with the DeVoses. The board has also included Carrie Walton Penner, the Walton Family Foundation chair who was reportedly close to Hillary Clinton.

Booker was no longer on the Alliance board in 2009, but by then Betsy DeVos had become the Alliance chairman. The Broad Foundation was already a regular donor, often giving five figures a year for operational support.

In 2013, the year Reed came on board, the Broad Foundation gave the Alliance for School Choice $37,500. During Reed’s first full year as president, the Broad Foundation reduced its giving to $25,000. It was the Broad Foundation’s last gift to the Alliance.

DeVos’s record, and service in the Trump administration, rendered her politically toxic enough to be a political problem for Booker during his presidential campaign. A Booker spokesperson told the Washington Post in 2019 that he had been “very critical” of her.

DeVos was also a board member of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE). She wasn’t the head of it, however. That was Jeb Bush.

The Broad Foundation gave Bush’s group $750,000 in 2013, the year Reed came on board.

That same year, FEE internal emails were obtained and published by In the Public Interest. The emails showed FEE staff influencing state laws, regulations, and executive orders in ways that benefited FEE’s corporate donors. (The Broad Foundation’s board, too, has included officers from companies that stand to profit from education reform.)

FEE also connected its corporate donors with state and local officials, including several hours of meetings at a 2011 summit sponsored in part by the Broad Foundation. The FEE emails revealed that in 2011, the Broad Foundation had wined and dined an FEE affiliate group consisting of current and former state education officials.

The Broad Foundation’s funding for FEE dipped to $250,000 in 2014, but rose back up again in 2015 to $500,000. That same year, DeVos became the board’s secretary and Condoleezza Rice assumed the chairmanship as Bush pursued his presidential ambitions.

FEE got another $500,000 in 2016 from the Broad Foundation, after Reed left, but nothing since.

Behind closed doors, Reed had pushed FEE’s agenda to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. As Alternet reported, internal documents published by Wikileaks show that her campaign discussed education reform with both Reed and Jobs -- a big Clinton donor who sat alongside DeVos on FEE’s board.

A 2014 campaign “Policy Book” summarizes the points made by Reed and Jobs, and includes a letter from FEE defending standardized testing. Reed advises the campaign that, “Hillary’s initial instincts still hold true -- that choice in former [sic] of charters, higher standards...still all true.”

Reed also told the Clinton campaign that a “big part of charter success is to pick staff you want,” a key point for charter advocates seeking to weaken union protections for teachers.

Clinton’s decision to take donations from Broad and other charter boosters was seen by her campaign chair, John Podesta, as “complicated” in one July 2015 email. “That’s fair,” replied campaign treasurer Jose Villarreal (whose position on the board of the charter-school company KIPP was considered a vulnerability by the campaign).

A few months later, Broad told the Wall Street Journal that he had withheld donations to a pro-Clinton super PAC until Podesta and Bill Clinton assured him she would support charter schools. “I think when push gets to shove, she’ll be more like Bill Clinton and perhaps Arne Duncan than we think right now,” he told the Journal. (Four years later, the Broads donated more than $2 million to committees supporting Biden.)

But it wasn’t Reed who first connected Broad to the Clintons. Hillary Clinton had been Broad’s lawyer back in Arkansas in the early 1980s.

Broad’s Early Years

Eli Broad was a multi-millionaire before he hit 40. He has met and dealt with almost every president since Richard Nixon.

But Broad was also the kind of Democrat who might support Nixon. And he did, as a national vice chair of Democrats for Nixon, and an invitee to 1972 Nixon campaign events, according to documents in the Nixon Archives.

Bill Clinton told the Los Angeles Times that Hillary began work as Broad’s lawyer in 1983. “I looked up one day and Eli was in my living room, and my life has never been the same,” he said.

During the Clinton presidency, Broad would write six-figure checks to the Democrats, pitching economic policy to Clinton, attending events with the Clintons and Vice President Al Gore, hosting them at his home, and even sleeping over at the White House. By the time the Clintons left, Broad would figure into three presidential scandals.

He was part of the train of donors in the Lincoln Bedroom, chatting with the president one night from before midnight to nearly dawn. Broad and other Clinton donors allegedly helped out former Hillary Clinton law partner Webb Hubbell during the investigation that led to his resignation as associate attorney general. And the Clintons were also investigated for pushing big tax cuts that would benefit the same rich donors they were seeking donations from for the Clinton Foundation, including Broad.

During Reed’s tenure running Clinton’s Domestic Policy Council, documents show, it recommended Broad for at least one education initiative: The White House Council on Hispanic Education. (Broad is not Hispanic and has no background in education.)

The Broad Foundation

Eli Broad’s focus on education did not fully blossom until nearly the end of the Clinton presidency. That’s when Broad launched his foundation with half a billion dollars, much of it in shares of AIG, which he owned/ran?

His philanthropic and personal involvement in education was controversial almost right out of the gate. After he helped elect pro-charter school board members in Los Angeles, voters tossed them out.

The Broad Foundation helped bankroll another Broad project, his “academy” to train superintendents. Ravitch and other bloggers have tracked scandals and controversies left in the wake of Broad’s alumni in cities ranging from Seattle to Chicago to Detroit and New York.

Ravitch told TYT, “Broad superintendents in urban districts have promoted school closings, high-stakes testing, and other failed policies.”

Both publicly and financially, the Broad Foundation backed the controversial Vergara lawsuit that sought to weaken California teachers’ tenure. Casting it as a civil-rights issue, Reed wrote a 2014 op-ed comparing the suit to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. (In 2016, Reed joined the advisory board of Students Matter, the group behind both Vergara and another lawsuit to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores.)

The Broad Foundation was also a largely invisible force behind the growth of seemingly grassroots black support for charter schools.

In 2018, the Associated Press reported that the Walton family had been funding a wide variety of black groups supporting the charter movement. When the NAACP showed signs of resisting, the AP reported, one of the Waltons’ beneficiaries, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) mounted a campaign pushing back.

The AP found that the NAPCS had gotten more than $16 million in Walton money. Tax filings show that the Broad Foundation under Reed gave the group just over one million dollars in two years.

In 2015, Reed’s last year there, the Broad Foundation also gave $100,000 to the Black Alliance for Educational Options. (The BAEO also got DeVos and Walton money before shutting down in 2017).

Andre Perry, a Brookings Institution fellow who once ran a New Orleans charter-school network but now writes critically about them, told the AP, “It’s a sad thing that education reform is about how much money you have and not about what connection you have with black communities.”

From the outside, it can be difficult to discern whether charter supporters have focused on communities of color out of altruism, or because those communities lack political clout and may be especially open to alternatives to poorly funded public schools.

Before Reed left, the Broad Foundation initiated an ambitious plan to take over massive segments of the Los Angeles public school system. A draft of the plan, dated June 2015, before Reed’s departure, was obtained and published by the Los Angeles Times later that year.

The Great Public Schools Now plan identified clusters of low-performing schools in neighborhoods where 80 percent of students qualified for meal assistance and whites were a minority. “These areas are especially ripe for charter expansion,” the plan says.

The Broad Foundation’s role in the controversial charter takeover of New Orleans public schools preceded Reed’s arrival. But as Alternet reported, Reed approved of what education reformers did in the political aftermath of Katrina’s devastation.

The Clinton campaign’s internal summary of Reed’s 2014 remarks reads:

“New Orleans is an amazing story – when you make it possible to get political dysfunction and sick [sic] a bunch of talent on the problem - it’s the one place where grand bargain of charters has been kept the best...

“Critical mass…. Get to [a] certain tipping point and rest of the system and will follow – New Orleans – if you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; but the central office must let go of thinking it knows how to run schools…

One year later, an investigation by In These Times found that while some metrics had improved after Katrina, the charter school boom led to other metrics falling, and complaints from both students and communities. Most of the schools were being run by the Recovery School District, which got more than $50,000 from the Broad Center for Management of School Systems in 2013 and 2014.

NPE Executive Director Carol Burris told TYT that Reed, “was supportive of the destruction of the New Orleans public school system after Katrina.” She said that, “From the standpoint of public eduction, Bruce Reed would be extremely problematic” as a Biden appointee.

Perry, the former charter-school executive, has written about the charter schism in the black community for The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit education news outlet. He calls the recent Democratic distancing from charter schools “a sign that members of the party are listening to black communities.”

Perry blames charter-school expansion for “a significant loss in black-held jobs and a reduction in black political power in several black-majority cities.” He adds that, “Black teachers were fired en masse in New Orleans, Washington, and Newark, NJ, decimating the black middle class there.”

Another cause funded by the Broad Foundation under Reed was the Partnership for Educational Justice, led by DeVos ally Campbell Brown. In 2014, Brown’s group helped push a New York lawsuit targeting teacher tenure.

Brown and the lawsuit both proved controversial. As Stephen Colbert noted on-air, her appearance on his show drew protesters outside the studio. Brown refused to tell Colbert who her donors were, but tax filings show she got $200,000 that year from the Broad Foundation, and has also been supported by the DeVoses and Waltons.

Los Angeles

Eight years after telling Vanity Fair he wanted to take over the entire public education system of Delaware, Eli Brown set his sights on Los Angeles. Work on the Great Public Schools Now initiative began under Reed’s leadership, but was not revealed until shortly after he left. The plan was to remake the entire Los Angeles school system -- investing half a billion dollars “to reach 50 percent charter market share” by 2023.

The draft of the plan, which relied on CCSA data and was posted online by the L.A. Times, said that the goal reflected the ability of charters “to push past environmental and political factors.” It also envisions wielding the political clout of charter-school parents against teacher unions, noting that the number of charter-school parents “dwarfs” union membership.

After Broad publicly opposed DeVos as Education secretary, the Los Angeles teachers union said that was not enough. In a letter to Broad, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) wrote that he “should take responsibility for the damage you have caused, through your funding, to the school systems in California, Detroit, and New Orleans.”

The letter continued: “In the latter two places, you worked hand-in-hand with Betsy DeVos.”

The union also said that the Broad Foundation’s backing of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) -- which continued during Reed’s presidency -- “helped thwart common-sense legislation...which would have protected charter school students from unfair expulsions… [and] would have required that charter schools comply with the same state laws governing open meetings, open records and conflict of interest that traditional public schools do.”

The Broad Foundation’s “Great Public Schools Now” plan hailed the May 2015 election of Ref Rodriguez to L.A.’s school board -- defeating “an implacable foe of charters.” Rodriguez, whose campaign and pro-charter school group were both funded by Broad, pleaded guilty to conspiracy three years later for using his own money to make it appear as though his 2015 campaign had more donors.

Recruiting teachers for charter schools, the plan noted, would be “more challenging” because the union won a ten-percent pay hike for its members. The plan also envisioned a strategy to “build political and other support” to protect charter schools from “undo [sic] regulatory interference.”

Potential funders listed include Broad, Gates, Walton, Elon Musk, David Geffen, Reed Hastings of Netflix, Jeffrey Skoll, Steven Spielberg, and Eric “Smidt” [sic] of Google.

Perry, the former charter executive, writes that backing charter schools now “is to embrace Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump and other Republicans who stand to gain more politically from charter support than black communities have gained in jobs and educational benefits… White-led philanthropy and education groups will eventually abandon public policy experiments when it is no longer popular, politically expedient or, in some cases, lucrative.”

According to Hauser, of the Revolving Door Project, “there have been far too many dalliances between corporate aligned Democrats and anti-teacher union obsessives like Betsy Devos.” He said that, “Decisions ought to have consequences, and Reed should be required to own the implications of his past collaborations with people like Betsy DeVos.”

With additional research by TYT Investigates Intern Zoltan Lucas.

Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.

With additional research and reporting by TYT Investigates News Assistant Zoltan Lucas and Intern Jamia Zarzuela, and assistance from members of the TYT Army.

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