******A lot has been made, especially in the wake of Citizens United, about the corporate financing of politics towards clearly ideological ends. But reading up on Jean-Claude Brizard's appointment to run the Chicago Public Schools, I was reminded of something that seems to be increasing, though I'm willing to acknowledge the possibility it's just something I only started really noticing: the influence of well-funded non-profits, supported by the wealthy and well-connected, with non-ideological goals (or opaquely ideological, if you're the suspicious type). Particularly in the area of public schooling.
For instance, the aforementioned Chicago Public Education Fund: "The Fund's board of directors reads like a who's who of Chicagoans. Chairman Timothy Schwertfeger is head of Nuveen Investments, a 108-year-old firm managing $119 billion in assets. The Fund's other vice-chair is Bruce Rauner of GTCR Rauner, a $6 billion private equity and venture capital firm. Other directors among the 27 on the board include Scott C. Smith, the founding chairman of The Fund and president of Tribune Publishing." (Philanthropy Roundtable, 2007)
Rahm Emanuel represented Rauner's company in one of his biggest deals during his short stint in investment banking. Rauner's wife is on Emanuel's education transition team; a former investment banker herself, she now runs the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which does advocacy for early childhood education. Bruce Rauner is also on the board of the Renaissance Schools Fund, whose president praised the selection of Brizard, as is Schwertfeger.
The secretary of the Renaissance Schools Fund is Harrison Steans, president and CEO of the Steans Family Foundation... and you may recognize Steans Family Foundation trustee Robin Steans as the director of Advance Illinois, one of the school-reform groups responsible for the amendment to Senate Bill 7 that would change the length of the school day and modify provisions about strikes and collective bargaining. Advance Illinois receives backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (major backers of Renaissance 2010), which has teamed with the Broad Foundations in public school philanthropy; the latter founded the superintendents academy that Brizard graduated from.
That Philanthropy Roundtable piece mentions that the Joyce Foundation was one of the early large backers of the CPEF, and director Ellen Alberding is also on Emanuel's transition team; the Joyce also supports Advance Illinois, and was one of the organizations Emanuel's team went to for the inauguration.
The occupation of the wealthy with education in America goes way back. I went to not one but two colleges that were built around the beginning of the 20th century with the money of wealthy industrialists, Lucien L. Nunn and John Rockefeller.
But that's private education. The intense involvement of wealthy philanthropists in public education, particularly in big city schools, seems to be a fairly recent development; at least it seems to have increased in breadth and depth during my lifetime. And Chicago is hardly alone; a 2005 New York Times piece noted the rise of philanthropic attention to that city's public schools during the Bloomberg era.
And there's tension about it; educational historian Diane Ravitch calls the three big public-education-focused philanthropic organizations (Gates, Broad, and Walton) the Billionaire Boys' Club, and urges caution: "Removing public oversight will leave the education of our children to the whim of entrepreneurs and financiers." Joanne Barkan, in a critical piece, calls them the Big Three.