“Currently, too many children do not have access to amazing schools. Our aim is to partner with communities to significantly increase the number of students who have access to rich and holistic educational experiences,” the new fund says on its website.
The fund’s chief executive is Neerav Kingsland, a charter-school proponent who previously led New Schools for New Orleans. The nonprofit played a key role in shaping the city’s post-Hurricane Katrina educational system, in which more than 90 percent of children attend charter schools.
Kingsland had most recently served as a senior fellow at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and he will continue in that position. That foundation has given nearly $150 million over the past four years to education groups, including Teach for America, many charter schools and charter-school support organizations.
Hastings joins the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, tech billionaires interested in using their money to improve education. Critics have accused them of using their money to reshape education according to their own ideas, circumventing the democratic process.
Hastings told the publication Education Next in 2015 that he wasn’t bothered by the critics and believes they have good motives. “A public advocate needs a thick skin and a respect for opposing arguments,” he said.
He has a long history in the field: He supported a successful effort to loosen California’s charter law in 1998 and then went on to serve for four years on the state board of education.
The groups he has supported reads like a Who’s Who of the brand of education reform that favors online learning and charter schools over traditional schools: According to the publication Education Next, his money helped start the NewSchools Venture Fund, a major funder of charter schools and ed tech start-ups, and Aspire Public schools, a charter school network.
He’s also supported Rocketship Education, which combines online and face-to-face learning, and the Khan Academy, which creates online teaching videos used in schools nationwide. He has also served on the board of the California Charter Schools Association, the KIPP Foundation and ed tech company DreamBox Learning, according to Education Next.