Foundations and School Choice

Rick Cohen, of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, released a report earlier this month analyzing the role of conservative foundations in the “school privatization movement.” Though the tone of the report belies the author’s anti-school choice position, the report attempts to be non-biased. It rejects the notion that school choice is an issue only the elites care about: “School vouchers and education tax credits garner widespread support among voters even if their enactment as the state and federal government levels has been spotty.” Cohen also admits that foundations are in favor of school choice because they support alternatives, competition and options, not “divisive and religious social theories.” As an example the report quotes Pete DuPont, Former Board Member of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, who says; “What is one good thing we could do for the people who are poor, who are not succeeding? We could give them an education. What does the government do worst in America? Run the school system.”Cohen’s research finds that between 2002 and 2006 over 1,200 different foundations gave grants to some 132 school choice organizations. The Walton Family Foundation was the largest giver, with more than $25 million donated in 2005 alone. Cohen concludes that the “philanthropic playbook” used by conservative foundations to promote school choice has been so successful that other foundations could learn from it. I don’t know if it has been as successful as Cohen claims, but let’s hope he is right, and the foundations promoting freedom in education continue to build upon their successes.

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