For Immediate Release
Contact: Meredith Brodbeck
FOUNDATION GIVING LEAVES MARK IN THE SCHOOL CHOICE MOVEMENT
Report studies grantmakers’ strategies used to promote privatization of public education
Washington, D.C. – The nation’s school voucher movement suffered a set back when their effort in Utah was resoundingly defeated in the state’s recent referendum despite the support from the key republican officials, and the impressive amount of money from within and outside the state that bankrolled an all-out campaign. One of the donors is a D.C.-based foundation.
In a recent article that appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune, the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation reportedly contributed over $200,000 to the school voucher effort in Utah.
“The Friedman Foundation’s involvement in Utah isn’t unique,” said Rick Cohen, author of Strategic Grantmaking: Foundations and the School Privatization Movement and former executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). “In fact, if you take a look at the numbers, you might be surprised at how much money from private foundations has been poured into building the school choice movement in the past few years.”
The latest report from NCRP, Strategic Grantmaking takes us behind the scenes of the school vouchers and tax credits movement to look at how their efforts are being funded by some of the country’s foundations.
In the study, Cohen identified over 1,200 foundations that gave more than $380 million to 104 school choice organizations associated with advocacy in favor of school vouchers and K-12 education tax credits from 2002 to 2005. The Walton Family Foundation dwarfed all other foundations funders, with $25 million in total grants to these organizations in 2005 alone. The other top five givers for that year include the Lynde and Harry F. Bradley Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation. With the exception of the Gates Foundation, which supported these organizations for purposes other than the promotion of school vouchers, these foundations are generally considered to be ideologically conservative.
Some expect an infusion of considerable dollars into efforts to promote charter schools and private school vouchers from the estate of the late Helen Walton, widow of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.
However, the effectiveness of foundation support for the privatization of public education goes beyond the amount of money being infused into the movement.
“What impresses me the most about these school choice funders is their movement-building strategy,” said Aaron Dorfman, executive director of NCRP. “They’re targeted. They’re organized. They utilize effective grantmaking practices that other foundations can learn from to more build support for other issues they care about.”
In Strategic Grantmaking, Cohen identifies these strategies. One of these strategies is the use of unrestricted general operating support when giving to grantees at significantly higher rates than most foundations. These funders also tend to distribute more than the federally mandated 5 percent of assets, which means more money is getting into the hands of organizations that advance the agenda.
Cohen also found that the leaders of these foundations provide additional support to the privatization movement with personal contributions to candidates, political parties, political action committees and 501(c)(4) organizations.
Washington, D.C. and the states of Georgia, Florida and Vermont have school voucher programs already in place. Utah voters may have prevented their state from joining the list, but many expect other states to continue pushing for their own programs.
Strategic Grantmaking is available for free download on the NCRP Web site. Hard copies are also available at $5 for members ($10 for nonmembers). For media interviews or to obtain a press copy of the report, please contact Yna Moore.
NCRP is a national watchdog, research and advocacy organization that promotes philanthropy that serves the public good, is responsive to people and communities with the least wealth and opportunity, and is held accountable to the highest standards of integrity and openness. For more information on NCRP or to join, please visit www.ncrp.org or call (202) 387-9177.