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Private Foundations Increasing Role in Shaping Ed Policy

A Reuters article Tuesday reported that the education reform group StudentsFirst, headed by controversial former D.C. Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee, received financing for its recent entry into Connecticut politics from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Private individuals and foundations are increasing funding to education reform groups and leveraging that funding in new ways to make a broader impact on public education in individual states and at the national level. This increasing influence is slowly receiving more attention in the media, and this week brings several articles worth reading.

Education Week is running a series of stories this week and next examining advocacy organizations that command increasing political influence in education. Check out this infographic showing how private foundations’ funds trickle down to education reform groups and, if you have a subscription to Education Week,  read the following articles.

Writing in the May issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, describes a shift in private foundations’ approach to giving over the last several years that enables them to have an outsized influence on education policy. Though Hess sees the potential for a positive role for these foundations, he concludes that “As for explicit collaborations with the federal government, my advice is this: Stop it.”

He explains that “When foundations are shoulder to shoulder with the executive branch or feel pressure to be ‘team players,’ it threatens our ability to seriously debate and weigh the merits of either federal or foundation efforts.” Hess goes on to say that he thinks “something very much like this happened with Race to the Top.”

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