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Education Opinion

Personal Philanthropy No Substitute for Public Policy

By Walt Gardner — September 02, 2011 1 min read

Despite the guarantee of a free basic education for all students as stipulated in most state constitutions, the protracted recession has caused at least 23 states to date to slash spending on public education. This has created an uneven pattern of supplemental support by parents, business and residents.

The latest example was in New York City, where in early August Mayor Michael Bloomberg and five other wealthy individuals raised $1.5 million to reinstate the Regents exams given in January that New York State had eliminated because of budget cuts (“When Schools Depend on Handouts,” The New York Times, Aug. 26).

I’m glad that the Regents exam was reinstated, but I’m concerned that it took the efforts of billionaires to do so. Whenever money is handed out to schools, it comes with strings attached. These aren’t always obvious. But it is naive to believe that a tacit quid pro quo is not established. It’s more than mere coincidence that over the past decade during which time some $4.4 billion annually was poured into school reform by the Big Three foundations (Gates, Broad, and Walton), the tools of the boardroom were adopted.

This kind of giving buys influence. The Broad Foundation has already received a nice return on its investment by virtue of two training programs it underwrites. The Broad Superintendents Academy induces top executives in their respective fields to attend a course of six extended weekend sessions by paying all tuition and travel costs. Once they complete the course, the foundation helps place them in superintendent positions. The Broad Residency helps place professional managers with master’s degrees and several years of work experience into managerial jobs in school districts, charter schools, and federal and state departments.

The trouble with this intrusion is that public schools are not supposed to be a plutocracy. When schools rely on private sources, the strategy unavoidably creates a conflict of interests.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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