Neubauer Foundation Joins PSP in Shaping Public Education

by Lynda Rubin 

The Neubauer Family Foundation has joined the roster of foundations that support, both politically and financially, corporate disruptor-driven programs and initiatives in the School District of Philadelphia.  A closer examination shows that the Foundation has been involved in an increasing number of projects behind the scenes in alliance with the Philadelphia School Partnership, whose growing influence APPS reported in the first installment in this series.

In recent years, The Foundation, with over $50 million in annual revenue and $395 million in assets, has placed itself at the nexus of the school privatization movement, concentrating its efforts in Philadelphia. 

Neubauer’s Corporate Background

Serving as its CEO and Board chair, Joseph Neubauer led the growth of Aramark (founded as ARA services) in the eighties and nineties. In May 2012, Neubauer moved from CEO to Chairman of Board; he retired in 2014. Aramark’s website states that it provides food service, facilities cleaning  and uniform services to hospitals, universities, school districts, stadiums and other businesses in many countries around the globe. Aramark’s website promotes its “…decades of hospitality experience”, claiming that “Aramark is uniquely qualified to provide an optimal merchandise selection, enhancing the guest experience with precious keepsakes from the 2015 World Meeting of Families to Philadelphia.” Aramark came under criticism for price-gouging lunch packages at the visit of Pope Francis,  especially since people inside the area had no access to restaurants or food trucks. 

Neubauer and his wife, Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer, a founder of  the marketing and communications firm J.P. Lerman & Co, created the Neubauer Family Foundation in 1999. Initially, the Foundation supported mostly arts and cultural organizations, including The Barnes Museum and Foundation, where Neubauer serves as Board Chair. The Neubauer Foundation has also donated to organizations advancing Jewish causes. Neubauer also continues to serve as Trustees Board Chair at the University of Chicago where he remains a major donor, totaling over $125 million to date.

The Foundation has contributed to a number of  initiatives at the University, and Neubauer has relied on his contacts there to help design and plan the Foundation’s education programs for public schools. 

Neubauer Joins Roster of Local Corporate Education Disruptors 

The Neubauers’ entry into Philadelphia’s public schools came with their then-anonymous donation to help save the libraries at two of the District’s prominent magnet schools, Masterman and Central, in 2013. 

While Aramark itself has had no direct involvement in education policy or advocacy, the company’s long-term contract with the District to provide packaged breakfasts and lunches has brought in substantial income.

The Neubauer Foundation created a Steering Committee in the Fall of 2014 that included senior leadership of the School District of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Archdiocese, various charter management organizations, and individual charter schools. The Committee formulated the vision for the Philadelphia School Leaders Academy and was instrumental in  launching its inaugural program for school leadership. 

At the time of the District’s  “Doomsday Budget” cuts in 2012 and 2013, donations and grants to the District were hailed by politicians and the news media as admirable philanthropy,  ignoring the fact that philanthropy has been used as a primary strategy to shift education from a common  good to a marketplace. The Neubauer Family Foundation has become a key player, spreading its influence and money to advance its larger mission of changing how public education is funded and operated. Joe Neubauer’s managerial skills likely informed his decision toward direct funding of principal training programs. While lobbyists cannot always make changes affecting an entire district, training administrators brings the schools-as-business ideology into individual schools. Growing principal “autonomy” in the Hite administration has meant more principals deciding on which data-driven curricula and online test-prep programs can be purchased at individual schools.   To that end, Neubauer and the initial organization he created in 2014, Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders (PASL), formed managerial programs for Philadelphia administrators: Neubauer Fellowship in Educational Leadership, Leaders of Leaders, Performance Partners,and Aspiring Assistant Superintendents Academy to influence School District administrators at every level of their administrative position. The PASL website suggests that the Neubauer Foundation and PASL aspire to implement its chosen leadership model and programs across Philadelphia’s public, charter, private, and parochial schools: “Philadelphia has a diverse landscape of district, charter, and faith-based schools serving 215,000 schoolchildren. While schools in these sectors take different approaches to educating students, they often neighbor each other and serve the same families. There is opportunity for leaders of these schools to share resources and expertise in the interest of improving the outcomes of students across the city.”

Principals As Change Agents

The Neubauer Family Foundation has used its millions to develop an administration at both the school and District levels that would adopt Neubauer’s ideology and business concepts by accepting his funded programs and personnel. The Foundation has sponsored training for over twenty Philadelphia principals each year. Neubauer Principal Fellows now number approximately 80 District principals and higher level administrators, with new Principal Fellows added each year.  Neubauer hand-picked Tim Matheney to be the  founding Executive Director of Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders (PASL) in 2014. In 2019, he tapped Matheny to act as lead applicant and CEO of the proposed High School for Health and Sciences Leadership Academy (HS2L). However, HS2L’s new charter application was denied after numerous deficiencies were cited by the District’s Charter Schools Office, not the least among them a weak and impractical curriculum. Academics suffer when projects are conceived and written by business people with political connections using public education as a business platform.

Neubauer Adopts PSP’s Bait-and-Switch Tactics

The Neubauer Foundation’s HS2L’s (High School of Health Sciences Leadership Charter) application and actions revealed its growing partnership with the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP). In the months leading up to the application submission,  PSP and HS2L staff sought to gain inside information about the planning and running of a successful Health and Sciences high school. According to Kensington Health and Sciences Academy’s (KHSA) principal Nimet Eren, PSP representatives came to her seeking information about KHSA’s curriculum, implying that PSP would financially support KHSA. Having heard PSP’s claims about using their funds to support both public and charters, Ms Eren was excited about the possibilities of expanding KHSA’s program.

After acquiring the information, however, PSP informed Ms. Eren that they were using it to sponsor their own charter school (HS2L). When KHSA’s principal asked in shock how a competing charter school would help KHSA, Ms Eren said the PSP representative responded with a dismissive,  “Learn from us.” The administration, staff, students and community were outraged and viewed this new school as a threat to their own program. Since HS2L Charter’s  recruiting boundaries extended to three blocks from KHSA’s door and incorporated into its plans information from the hidden theft of the school’s own data, HS2L’s sponsors were clearly evasive of their true motives. The Neubauer Family Foundation, through PASL, has extended its merging of ideological interests and activities with those of PSP’s. 

The listing of PSP co-founder and major donor Janine Yass as a  Founding Coalition member on HS2L’s application offered more evidence of the Neubauer-PSP connection.

Partnerships With Other Corporate Disruptors 

Despite rejection of the HS2L charter application, both Neubauer and PSP have seen their influence expanded within the District.  Matheney told the Philadelphia Citizen last year that PASL intends to “turn Philly principals into practical visionaries with the potential to drive change in a district that much needs it…and not the 20th Century way of looking at school leadership, as the job of an academic.”  Matheney cited this more grandiose makeover plan for “looking beyond District headquarters at 440 North Broad.”  

The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter mandates that the Board of Education shall run the Philadelphia School District, not hand off that responsibility to outside foundations or corporate sponsors. Philly Plus, which was created by privatized public school interests to fast track teachers and principals without education credentials lists three funders: Neubauer Family Foundation, PSP and TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project). 

The Neubauer Family Foundation often donates its funds anonymously and/or by using local, smaller, non-profits to mask its involvement. A 2017 Notebook article, District launches Initiative to Expand and Redesign Arts Education”,  reported one example in which Superintendent Hite himself announced the initiative to restore art and  music teachers by stating that “this will not necessarily mean an additional monetary investment on the part of the District”.  The article makes clear that Neubauer has been an integral part of the District’s reshaping of its music and arts program. 

Neubauer  Expands Influence in District 

During the last school year (2019-2020) The Neubauer Family Foundation has come out of the shadows to substantially increase its influence in the educational change and direction in the District.  This influence plan extended to include KIPP Philadelphia, the local branch of the national charter chain. At the November 21, 2019 Action Meeting, the  Board approved a contract with KIPP and The Neubauer Foundation to install a Director of College and Careers at Ben Franklin High School, a school whose principal was a Neubauer Fellow. KIPP officials would hire the Director; the Neubauer Family Foundation would fund only the first year of the pilot program with the $175,000 grant. This covers the grant to KIPP and includes the salary of the director, professional development ($5,000), supplies, technical equipment, and building college access capacity at Ben Franklin ($20,000). Actually, the Director had already been hired and had started the program in September, 2020, because no one, not even at the District, seemed to be aware that such a program expense from an outside funder would have to be authorized by the Board. Thus, Item 24 was approved three months after the program had begun. 

The Neubauer Family Foundation opens the doors to increased avenues of influence by having the advantage of principals trained in their ideology and methods spread throughout the District, in part because principals have increasing control over personnel and programs in their schools. Neubauer Fellow principals could introduce the Foundation’s programs into its growing number of  schools. Item 24 includes language about spreading the program throughout the District in future years. This was not discussed with existing District counselors who already do much of this work. 

At the June 25, 2020 Action Meeting, Items 8 and 49 expanded this “partnership”.  Item 8 authorized acceptance of a $1,191,383 grant from Teach Plus, Inc., paid for by The Neubauer Family Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. This would continue the Teach Plus, Inc.-School District partnership, established in 2017, for ongoing professional development and coaching to teachers in five elementary schools under its T-3 initiative.  As the Item description notes, “Teach Plus has already established a foothold here.” This new contract will be in effect from August 1, 2020 through July 31, 2022  “to expand at a larger scale throughout the District.”  

At the same Action meeting, Item 49 authorized a $188,500 contract with Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders (PASL), currently chaired by Joe Neubauer, to provide professional development to Philadelphia principals accepted into PASL’s  6th cohort of  Neubauer Fellowship in Educational Leadership. 

PSP and Neubauer Use Education Funding to Further their Agenda

Economically struggling school districts feel as if they cannot afford to turn away what appears to be “free money”. Unfortunately,  the “ financial support” that foundations and corporate donors offer actually consists of training new teachers to follow pre-packaged programs instead of equipping them with diverse pedagogical strategies to address the wide-ranging needs of our students. Teachers so “trained” tend to not last very long in the classroom, creating a perpetual influx of new, unseasoned teachers lacking the knowledge learned from years of experience working with children. The Neubauer Family Foundation and PSP are increasingly frequently partnering to promote favored private programs in remaining public schools as they seek to bring public education under the management of corporations and businesses. 

Multi-millionaire CEOs including Joe Neubauer have succeeded in the business world by vanquishing the opposition, forming coalitions with like-minded groups and controlling the PR narrative for public consumption. Public education advocates must be careful to support educational methods and programs that actually promote democratic ideals of living and which promote a real promise of upward mobility for all public school students.