Charter schools and academies are privately-run schools that are government funded. As such they are a step closer to the goal of a privatised school system that many business leaders seek. In the US several wealthy foundations, which have gained their money from large successful business enterprises, provide much of the finance for the neoconservative movement, including the push for increasing the privatisation of US schools.
The diagram here shows how a few wealthy foundations are funding a vast network of organisations in the US, which are campaigning to introduce market reforms into education, including vouchers and charter schools. These organisations and many others campaign for these reforms through local organising, mass media and political lobbying.
Wealthy businesspeople have also poured money into the charter school movement. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $135 million to promote and fund charter schools between 2000 and 2004. It has provided funds for the expansion of KIPP schools to high school level. It gave $1.8 million to Green Dot Public Schools in Los Angeles in 2006 for five new charter schools.
Doris and Donald Fisher, co-founders of The Gap clothing empire, provided a $15 million grant to set up the KIPP Foundation in 2000 to recruit and train people to run new KIPP schools nationwide, creating a schooling franchise that now includes 45 schools with 400 teachers and 9000 students, including two high schools created in 2005. They have contributed more than $45 million since. Donald Fisher, who also gave $25 million to Edison charter schools in 1998, sees “great similarities between what the Gap did and what KIPP does … Principals should be able to run their schools like an entrepreneur would run their own small business.”
Fisher was founder of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. He also supports vouchers as a way of encouraging and supporting charter schools. Fisher envisages national chains of brand name charter schools like KIPP: “I’ve had the experience of building a company from nothing to 4,000 stores. Why can’t we do the same with schools and do it with excellence?” He says: “I liked all the discipline and focus KIPP schools have, using techniques such as having the kids sign a contract and having their parents sign a contract…. One way the KIPP network helps maintain quality is by functioning like a franchise operation.”
John Walton was also a great champion of charter schools. Although the Walton Family Foundation promotes competition between public schools as a way for the market to provide incentives for reform, Walton family money enables charter schools to be better resourced (per student) than neighbouring public schools, ensuring that they have an advantage in the competition. The Walton Family Foundation spends $50 million a year on charter school related donations, that is 80 percent of its education spending.
In 2007 the Gates Foundation promised $10 million, the Walton Family Foundation $8.7 million, and the Fishers $5.3 million, to establish 42 KIPP schools in Houston. The total raised was $65 million.
The Bradley Foundaiton is another charter school donor, giving $3 million to the Charter School Growth Fund in 2007.
The California Charter Schools Association receives around $5 million per year from the Walton Family Foundation and the Fishers. It was set up to run field offices to help people establish and run charter schools, including recruitment and training of charter school “leaders”.
The same people have also poured money into charter school ballots such as those rejected by Washington voters in 1996, 2000 and 2004. In 2000 the pro-charter campaign was financed by $3 million from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. In 2004 Bill Gates, John Walton and Donald Fisher each gave a million dollars to the pro-charter campaign.
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