The Mysterious “School Facts Boston”

Today’s Globe has an article about how bathroom renovations in Boston Public Schools are behind schedule. It quotes Vernee Wilkinson of School Facts Boston, “a parent advocacy organization.”

But here’s the thing about School Facts Boston. It’s not a parent advocacy organization. In fact, it’s unclear exactly what it is.

Here’s what we know: it was founded in 2019 by failed mayoral candidate/anti-public education activist John Connolly. According to Maurice Cunningham, who knows about such things, it was initially funded by The Barr Foundation, a “philanthropy” that funds a lot of education privatization initiatives.

On its website, School Facts Boston says it is a nonprofit. (It was incorporated as such with the Massachusetts Secretary of State). But it has not filed a form 990 with the IRS. It has a “family advisory board” but does not seem to have a board of directors. It lists no employees.

But on John Connolly’s LinkedIn, School Facts Boston is listed as his only job since 2018. I doubt he’s been volunteering this whole time. So who does he work for? For that matter, who at the group is a paid employee, and who’s a volunteer? How much money do the highest paid employees make? At legitimate nonprofits, this info is all on the Form 990. Here, it’s a mystery, despite School Facts Boston’s assertion on their website that they are “committed to transparency.”

So, okay, this whole organization is shady as hell. Who cares? The education privatization space is riddled with astroturf organizations funded by big pro-privatization donors: Democrats for Education Reform, National Parents Union, Latinos for Education, etc. School Facts Boston is just one more.

But here’s the thing—Vernee Wilkinson, who may or may not be an employee of School Facts Boston, was quoted in an article in the Boston Globe today about school bathrooms. The article, written by James Vaznis, identifies her as being “of School Facts Boston, a parent advocacy organization.”

A quick search for Vernee Wilkinson’s name on the Globe website shows she has been quoted in stories about the Boston Public Schools fourteen times in the last three years. Is there any other parent advocate who gets a call from the Globe once per quarter?

So this is why it matters. This organization has an outsized voice in issues of Boston Public Schools, and we don’t even know who they really are. We don’t know who signs the checks. We don’t know how many employees they have or how many actual BPS parents they represent.

(I suspect it’s not that many. A Wayback Machine archive of their website from 2020 says they’ll be expanding their Family Advisory Board to 40 members within a year. It still says that today, and there are only 13 members)

The Globe’s education coverage was bought—oh, sorry, funded—by The Barr Foundation a few years ago, so it’s pretty unlikely they’ll unmask who School Facts Boston really is. But if you know, feel free to tell me!

#Boston #education #BosPoli