The 1% and Education Policy
Look, it’s no secret that an elite club of
education dilettantes philanthropists have been throwing money at various educational causes for a good while, and that this spending has picked up markedly in the last few years. Diane Ravitch calls them the “Billionaires’ Boys Club” (h/t Sara Goldrick Rab); others such as Joanne Barkan refer to the “Big Three” (the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and Eli Broad). For another good overview of the state of affairs, check out this New Yorker piece by Matthew McKnight and the aforementioned post by Sara Goldrick Rab on the Education Optimists blog.
So, OK. There are a lot of people out there that have no problem with the literally hundreds of millions, and possibly billions, of private dollars flowing into public education. Mayor Dean certainly doesn’t. Charter schools and charter networks like KIPP certainly don’t. Michelle Rhee definitely has no problem with it.
Me? I’m not sure I like it.
I’m just not sure I’m comfortable with all that private money flowing into public schools and public school systems, even quasi-public schools like charter schools, because if there’s anything the relationship between the federal government and state governments has shown us, it’s that money always comes with strings attached. Always. And I know there’s at least one guy in Nashville who’ll back me up on this.
That’s why this news is both disheartening and not all that surprising:
The Gates Foundation just made a sizable grant to the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC).
Whatever your politics (and understand that ALEC is responsible for writing/providing the blueprint for some very controversial state legislation, from the Arizona immigration law to voter ID laws to so-called “long-form birth certificate” laws), this is a direct indication that the Gates Foundation has specific legislative priorities, and is not just a disinterested funder of worthy causes, looking to support research and best efforts in education.
Maybe the Gates Foundation never pretended to the the latter, but I don’t know. This just seems like a bridge too far.
Edit, 9:18 a.m.: Fixed Joanne Barkan’s name (thank you Dianne Ravitch for pointing out the mistake).