For many years public colleges and universities have been corrupted from an influx of corporate, private, and foreign donations. The same phenomena is also occurring in K-12 public schools. Elite billionaires and their foundations are funneling millions of dollars directly into public school districts across the country. Are the donations from these individuals purely altruistic, or is there a political/social agenda that aims to transform the world by transforming the children? What are the dangers of this kind of private-public partnership (PPPs)? Does it result in the degradation of our public institutions by undermining the authority of the many and concentrating it into the hands of a few?
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested millions into public schools in and outside their home state of Washington. They have supported large education funds, non-governmental organizations, and they have directly contributed to public schools. In the Tennessean article titled, Bill Gates during Nashville visit: We are going to stay invested in Tennessee, Gates made it clear that his primary focus was public schools. The Gates Foundation issued a 2019 $2,868,575 grant to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Education Fund in Tennessee. In 2020, the Gates Foundation made a $482,475 commitment to Shelby County Schools in Memphis, Tennessee. They made a $10,068,033 grant to the Denver Public Schools Foundation. They made multiple donations directly to the School Board of Broward County, FL and gave a $6,111,920 grant to the Tulare County Superintendent of Schools located in CA. Why are public schools the focus of his support? Why not create a brand of private schools in low-income areas where enrollment is voluntary?
MacKenzie Scott is the billionaire ex-wife of Jeff Bezos. Like Bill and Melinda Gates, she is a signer of the Giving Pledge. Although she utilizes a “no strings attached” approach to giving, it is worth noting that Scott has made significant contributions to public school districts throughout the country. Through her organization Yielded Giving, she recently made $20,000,000 contributions to Jefferson County Public Schools in KY, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District in OH, and the Detroit Public Schools Community District. She also made donations consisting of $25,000,000 to the Chicago Public Schools, $18,000,000 to the Durham Public Schools in NC, $4,500,000 to Cushing Public Schools in OK, and $3,500,000 to Marion County School District in MS. On her website, Scott states “opportunities that flowed from the mere chance of skin color, sexual orientation, gender, or zip code may have yielded resources that can be powerful levers for change,” and “that people who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions.”
The Wallace Foundation’s “mission is to foster equity and improvements in learning.” Like the Gates Foundation, the Wallace Foundation is a supporter of the social-emotional learning company CASEL, whose goal is for students to “create a more inclusive, just, and equitable world.” The Wallace Foundation has contributed to the public school districts of Dallas, Palm Beach, Tacoma, Tulsa, Denver, Boston, Grand Rapids, Tacoma, and Oakland for social-emotional learning their initiatives. They have also invested $1,790,000 in Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools, in Portland’s Public Schools, and to the DC Education Fund.
Another supporter of CASEL, The Kellogg Foundation, “[envisions] a nation that marshals its resources to ensure that all children have an equitable and promising future.” The Kellogg Foundation has recently pledged $1,869,441 to the Biloxi Public School District in MS. They have committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the New Mexico school districts of Hatch Valley, Deming, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and $300,000 to the New Mexico Public Education Department. They have made donations to the Michigan public school districts of Grand Rapids, Detroit, and a $51,102,120 donation to Battle Creek Public Schools.
We must divorce ourselves from the idea that the issues with public schools solely involve a lack of funding. In many cases public schools receive more funding and have more expenditures than local private, charter, or homeschools. Yet according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the majority of public-school students are not proficient in any given subject. A Heritage Foundation report, titled School Districts Have Tools They Need to Address Alleged Teacher Shortages, alleges that school districts are experiencing administrative bloat. Research by Dr.Benjamin Scafidi indicates that, from 1950 the number of students in public schools have increased 100% while administrators and non-teaching staff have experienced an uneven 709% growth. As outside dollars and organizations flood local school districts, is the infiltration of money having a measurable impact on education or improving the quality of life for those affected? Parents are still required to pay for increasing school fees and purchase more supplies as a growing number of teachers work two jobs to make ends meet.
These government/foundation PPPs are reminiscent of Mussolini’s “corporatism”. In this case, private corporations and individuals view public education as a means to administer equity and initiate social transformation. At the very least, whether or not they have walked through, these PPPs open the door for political/social indoctrination by overriding structural safeguards, such as accountability to voters. Who is more likely to have their demands met, twenty parents whose tax dollars are obligatory or one outside individual whose million-dollar donation is voluntary? Money wields power.
It is critical to recognize the dangers of a quasi-private/public educational system. It is essential to elect school board members who will resist the allure of large private donations, those who understand the relationship between these financial distributions and the propagation of ideology. To restore the integrity of our public institutions, it is crucial to eliminate PPPs. These are necessary steps in order to preserve the rights of the next generation, granting them the opportunity to choose their own path in life.