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Friday, May 7, 2010

The power of power philanthropy

Power philanthropy is co-piloting for a bumbling Michelle Rhee in D.C., writes Mark Schmitt at Politico. A consortium of private foundations and billionaire hedge-funders is likely the only thing keeping her in power.

"...a group of private foundations that had pledged $64.5 million to the District of Columbia Public Schools to provide the funds necessary for Chancellor Michelle Rhee's controversial teacher merit-pay proposal were conditioning their grants on a right to reconsider if there were a change in leadership in the D.C. Schools -- that is, if Rhee goes, so does the money. "

This is the same game being played by muscle foundations like Gates, Broad & Walton (the "Billionaire Boys Club," as Diane Ravitch calls them) around the country, as they move to take the public out of public education and make a mockery of democratic decision making.

Writes Schmitt:
"Shouldn't Rhee's tenure be our decision to make or that of the mayor? (We have a mayoral election this fall, which is likely to be in large part a referendum on Rhee and the mayor who appointed her, Adrian Fenty.) Sixty-four million dollars from foundations based outside of D.C. puts a high price on that decision, especially for a poor city." 
Even the flies are buzzin'

There's no better friend of the ownership society than right-wing think-tanker Checker Finn. But even Finn agrees that the private foundations are snuggling up a little too closely with public education. He points to  a dozen major foundations that have committed some $506 million to “match” federal funding from the i3 “innovation” program.

The problem with Finn is, he claims that it's government and the public that is corrupting the benevolent billionaire philanthropists,  instead of the other way around. 
There’s an affinity here that transcends anything I’ve observed in earlier years—and of course it is heightened by the number of people with foundation (and, generally, nonprofit) backgrounds who occupy key policy roles in the Education Department and other agencies.
Well put, Checker.

But what about the $325 million JP Morgan Chase is "investing" in public charter schools. That doesn't seem to bother Finn or his young acolyte, Andy Smarick who points out that the bank and partners will make use of the federal New Markets Tax Credit program to extend the initiatives reach.

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