When Billionaires Become Educational Experts

Source: Kevin K. Kumashiro, Academe, May-June 2012

“Venture philanthropists” push for the privatization of public education….Current reforms are allowing certain individuals with neither scholarly nor practical expertise in education to exert significant influence over educational policy for communities and children other than their own. They, the millionaires and billionaires from the philanthropic and corporate sectors, are experimenting in urban school districts with educational reform initiatives that are not grounded in sound research and often fail to produce results. And yet, with funding for public education shrinking, the influence of these wealthy reformers is growing.

There is also much profit to be earned from public education. The American educational system today is a $500–600 billion enterprise, funded overwhelmingly by public dollars, with billions of dollars in services and products being outsourced, and with political lobbying groups like the Democrats for Education Reform, financed by hedge-fund millionaires, leading the push to further outsource…

…Until recently, the four most influential conservative foundations nationally were the Bradley, Olin, Scaife, and Smith Richardson foundations, sometimes dubbed the Four Sisters….All of the Four Sisters have contributed funding to the leading conservative think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, the Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution. Several other foundations gave more than $100 million to conservative causes between 1998 and 2004, including the Walton Family and DeVos foundations….The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation in Michigan, funded by the AmWay fortune, supports vouchers as well as organizations of the Christian Right, including Focus on the Family, which have vast media and communications resources. More recently, the Charles Koch Foundation has targeted higher education by funding faculty positions, think tanks, and educational initiatives in universities across the country. The websites of the Media Matters Action Network and People for the American Way provide descriptions of these and numerous other such foundations….