In the US several wealthy foundations, which have gained their money from successful business enterprises, provide much of the finance for the neoconservative movement, including the push for market reforms of school education and increasing the privatisation of US schools. Although “total philanthropic giving to K-12 schooling” is less than $1.5 billion (in 2002) out of some $500 billion government spending, private donors tend to make sure that their donations are leveraged to give them disproportionate influence. It enables donors to “define effective practice, forge school-community relationships, shape policy agendas, and redirect research.”
In recent years wealthy foundations have decided that they could have most influence, not by funding school programmes directly but by influencing public policy and priorities, that is when funding is "used to drive a state or a district's reforms" and therefore the long-term use of public funds.
A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state, and national levels. In the domain of venture philanthropy—where donors decide what social transformation they want to engineer and then design and fund projects to implement their vision—investing in education yields great bang for the buck.
For example, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation promotes privatisation of public education via vouchers, lobbies state governments for voucher schemes, funds the defence of voucher schemes in the courts, and funds private voucher programmes, including $14.4 million to Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE): "By providing private funding for grants to parents, Bradley thus arranged to create support for vouchers, while bypassing their single largest practical problem: that they unduly drain the public schools of vital resources." In addition it funded the Educational Excellence Network, a project of the think tank, the Hudson Institute. John M. Olin Foundation also donated millions of dollars to promote vouchers and school choice.
The five largest donors to school education in 2010 were:
|Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation||$209 million|
|Walton Family Foundation||$110 million|
|W.K. Kellogg Foundation||$58 million|
|Michael and Susan Dell Foundation||$55 million|
|Silicon Valley Community Foundation||$35 million|
The way a few wealthy foundations are funding a vast network of organisations in the US, which are campaigning to introduce market reforms into education, is shown is this diagram.
Foundations spend around $4 billion each year to transform education to conform to business goals, however the largest and most dominant are the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. These foundations have played a major role in determining the direction of educational reform. "The combined net worth of the three families who operate these foundations is $152 billion".
Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three, their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don't rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher...
We know the array of tools used by the foundations for education reform: they fund programs to close down schools, set up charters, and experiment with data-collection software, testing regimes, and teacher evaluation plans; they give grants to research groups and think tanks to study all the programs, to evaluate all the studies, and to conduct surveys; they give grants to TV networks for programming and to news organizations for reporting; they spend hundreds of millions on advocacy outreach to the media, to government at every level, and to voters.
In particular the media is loath to criticise the 'reform' agenda of wealthy foundations because of 'a natural inclination to write positively about "generous gifts," the routine tendency to affirm "professionally endorsed school reforms," and the difficulty of finding experts who will publicly criticize the foundations'.