The Barney Family Foundation is a philanthropy founded by American Century Mutual Funds portfolio manager Stephen Barney and his wife Lynne. The foundation is primarily interested in education policy and was the initial donor to the Barney Charter School Initiative, a national network of charter schools overseen by Hillsdale College.
Stephen Barney was a longtime portfolio manager with American Century Mutual Funds. He sold his portfolio in the late 1990s and became a philanthropist. 1
Barney expressed his support for education reform in a 2016 piece in Investor’s Business Daily. He stated that charter schools “have a unique opportunity to expand students’ educational horizons and give them the knowledge they need to lead happy and fulfilling lives.” He added that “charter schools are only one piece of the school-choice puzzle. Vouchers are also crucial.” 2
Children’s Scholarship Fund
In 1998 Barney donated $1 million to the Children’s Scholarship Fund as part of a $10 million effort to provide scholarships for low-income parents in Chicago to help their children attend private schools. Barney told the Chicago Tribune that “socially, spiritually, and educationally, the private schools are having better success and they are turning out a better product” than public schools. 3
The fund was spent out by 2001, with 2,100 students receiving the $1,700 scholarships. 4
Barney Charter School Initiative
In 2010, Hillsdale College decided to create a national network of charter schools. The Barney Family Foundation made the initial grant to establish the program and continues to give money to Hillsdale, including $500,000 in 2019. 5
The charter schools associated with the Barney Charter School Initiative fall into two categories. “Curriculum schools” use a curriculum designed by Hillsdale College that is donated to the schools. “Member schools” have been curriculum schools for at least two years and contract with Hillsdale for advice about hiring staff; training principals, teachers, and trustees; and networking with other member schools. As of April 2022, the network had 35 curriculum schools in the U.S. and one in Ecuador, and it contained 21 member schools. 6
“We provide curriculum, training and consulting to our affiliated charter schools, and we do it free of charge to schools and taxpayers,” noted Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn. “We engage in this work because we—and those who charitably support our work—believe in the merits of classical education and the importance of local control.” 7
In January 2022, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced that his state would form a partnership with Hillsdale to create charter schools that teach “true American history, unbiased and nonpolitical.” A charter school management organization affiliated with Hillsdale, American Classical Education, has applied to operate three charter schools in Tennessee. A spokesman for the governor told the Nashville Tennessean that the state chose to affiliate with Hillsdale because of its large existing network of charter schools and because the Hillsdale curriculum emphasized civics. 8
- Barney family Foundation, “About Us,” https://www.barneyfamilyfoundation.org/our-story.html (accessed April 18, 2022)
- Steve Barney, “School Choice is flourishing, But Don’t Tell That To Hillary,” Investor’s Business Daily, January 25, 2016.
- Michael Martinez, “$10 Million Fund To Help Put City Kids In Private School,” Chicago Tribune, September 29, 1998.
-  Joe Ruddick, “Private School Scholarship Money Tapped Out Temporarily,” Chicago Defender, July 17, 2001.
- Stephanie Saul, “College Spreads Beliefs of Right To K-12 Charters,” New York Times, April 11, 2022. 2019 Barney Family Foundation form 990.
- “Hillsdale Classical Schools Across the Nation,” https://k12.hillsdale.edu/Schools/Affiliate-Classical-Schools/ (accessed April 18, 2022)
- Larry P. Arnn, “Ascent Offers Excellence with Local Control,” Boulder, Colorado Daily Camera, February 9, 2019.
- Adam Friedman and Liam Adams, “How the Governor Hones In On Hillsdale,” Nashville Tennessean, February 27, 2022.
-  2019 Barney Family Foundation Form 990.