Pro-Voucher Foundation Carves Niche
Outside the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation's new headquarters in Milwaukee, the statues of two lions stand watch.
On the inside, the foundation is guarding what it calls the "new citizenship." It is an outlook that champions individual freedom and an active citizenry, while envisioning a more limited role for government, according to foundation president Michael S. Joyce.
In the largely liberal-to-centrist world of philanthropy, the Bradley Foundation stands out for its conservative views. Known for bankrolling a tightly knit collection of think tanks and organizations, its grants list reads like a who's who of the conservative world: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, the Family Research Council, the Heritage Foundation.
And while other major foundations have targeted most of their education dollars toward making improvements within the public school system, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has embraced the private sector, investing nearly $10 million in projects to advance private school vouchers and school choice.
Such an outlook has earned it both fans and detractors.
In the Bradley Foundation's hometown of Milwaukee, opinions differ depending on whom you talk to, said Howard Fuller, a former superintendent of the Milwaukee public schools. "People either go into apoplexy, or they are very pleased the Bradley Foundation is located here."
On the foundation's fan side is Quentin Quade, the director of the Blum Center for Parental Freedom in Education at Marquette University. "Without a question, they are one of the most important funding sources for the most well-known activities on school choice, nationally as well as in Milwaukee," he said.
Four years ago, after retiring as Marquette's executive vice president, Mr. Quade founded a center to conduct research on school choice. And since 1992, the center has gotten about $500,000, half of its annual budget, from the Bradley Foundation.
Aid for Milwaukee Plan
Founded in 1942, the philanthropy was a small corporate-giving arm of Milwaukee's Allen-Bradley Co. But in 1985, it catapulted into the ranks of the nation's largest philanthropies--and became an independent foundation--when Rockwell International Corp. bought the company for $1.7 billion. The foundation has assets of more than $400 million, placing it among the top 60 among about 37,000 in the country.
Mr. Joyce took the helm in 1985. The foundation president has a doctorate in politics and education. He began his career teaching American history at a Roman Catholic high school in Cleveland, then spent six years at the Educational Research Council of America, a now-defunct curriculum-research group.
From there, he moved to a career in philanthropy, first at the Goldseker Foundation and later as the president of the John M. Olin Foundation.
In education, the Bradley Foundation is perhaps best known for engineering a last-minute bailout of the planned expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program that allows low-income children to attend private schools at state expense. Last year, in response to a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked plans to extend the program to include religious schools.
The foundation responded by pledging more than $1 million for scholarships for children who had counted on the vouchers to attend religious schools. Within 10 days of that pledge, other groups had raised an additional $500,000. (See "Blocked by Court, Milwaukee's Voucher Program Gets Reprieve," Sept. 6, 1995.)
But the foundation has other interest besides vouchers. It helped underwrite the Bradley Commission on History in the Schools, which published a critical study on the teaching of history in 1987. It continues to offer long-term support to the National Council for History Education, which grew out of the commission.
Though Mr. Joyce seems skeptical of such labels as "liberal" and "conservative," the foundation is not shy about its political leanings. Its World Wide Web site--www.townhall.com--is a meeting ground for conservatives. And it has chosen not to play an active role in the Council on Foundations, a Washington-based group that represents more than 1,300 foundations, opting instead for the Philanthropy Roundtable, a conservative alliance in Indianapolis of more than 440 groups that formed as an alternative to the more liberal council.
Mr. Joyce said he became disillusioned with the council in the early 1980s, when its members were asked to sign a statement saying they would work to diversify the membership of their boards of trustees. "We are very interested in diversity, but it is not what people look like, but what is in their head" that matters.
At the same time, the foundation has forged alliances with more-liberal people who support school choice. They include Annette Polly Williams, a black Democratic state legislator from Milwaukee who championed the city's voucher program, and another prominent African-American, Mr. Fuller, the former superintendent. Mr. Fuller now directs the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette, which he set up after leaving the Milwaukee schools.
"I have both great respect and admiration for Michael Joyce as a person," said Mr. Fuller, who received a grant from Bradley to set up technology-education centers in Milwaukee churches. "It does not mean we agree on everything about the world, but I don't think friendships operate that way."
But the foundation is not without its critics.
Barbara Miner, the managing editor of Rethinking Schools, a quarterly journal published by an independent group of Milwaukee teachers, said in a recent intervi"The urban agenda of the Bradley Foundation is a crime, if not a sin. It basically consists of build more prisons, strangle social services, and get rid of the very concept of a safety net for poor children."
Beth Daley, the acting president of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a liberal watchdog group, agreed: "These [conservative] foundations, with limited resources, have been able to really target their grants to a core group of public-policy institutions that are advancing these principles in the media, the courts, and our legislatures."
But Mr. Joyce said such free-market strategies as vouchers can end what the foundation refers to as "the monopoly status of government schools." Ultimately, he said, those schools would be forced to improve and poor families would benefit.
However other foundation leaders remain skeptical of vouchers' potential as a catalyst. "You can charter and voucher and privatize till hell freezes over, but the bulk of these children will be left in public schools, which need to improve," said David Bergholz, the president of the George Gund Foundation in Cleveland.
But Mr. Joyce argued that to refuse low-income families the same educational choices wealthier families have is unproductive: "One way to become engaged with your child is having the power to ... choose a proper educational arrangement for your child. One of the things we are denying systematically to low-income people is that same experience, and that is hugely important."