The news is full of the story of the Dalio Philanthropies donating $100 million to the Connecticut public schools. But is private philanthropy the best way to fund public education? I think not.
The Prize by Dale Russakoff documents the disaster it was when Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million, which was matched by another $100 million from other philanthropists, to improve public education in Newark, NJ. The failure has been attributed to the “parachuting in” of outside consultants rather than rallying the forces within the school system and to the political football the $200 million became among local officeholders, among them Cory Booker and Chris Christie. Similarly, Bill and Melinda Gates gave over $400 million to design, promote, and implement the Common Core Standards. The Common Core Standards, designed without input from educators, have greatly reduced the quality of education for students and produced absolutely no increase in student achievement, even by the weak measure of standardized test scores. The results of these well-intentioned philanthropic efforts: NOTHING.
The way to create a state of the art public school system is not found in hand-outs, no matter how generous or how headline-worthy. Instead the way to create a state of the art public school system is:
- To engage the professionals, the educators, in determining how students best develop as learners and thinkers and then creating curricula to maximize that development.
- To provide students in impoverished neighborhoods the same advantages that children in affluent suburbs have: small class size; libraries; guidance counselors, social workers, and special education teachers with reasonable case loads; ongoing professional development for teachers and administrators; adult mentors for students; and clean, well-supplied facilities.
- To provide dependable and equitable tax-supported funding from the state and federal governments, funding that can be counted on year after year because it is from the tax base and approved by the voters.
In a democracy, it is the moral responsibility of the citizenry, through their taxes, to fund public education and the moral responsibility of the government to make sure that the allocation of those funds is equitable and the education is of the highest quality for all students.
Philanthropy cannot replace the responsibility of either the citizens or the government. Philanthropy cannot produce the complete and effective K-12 education for all children that a democracy requires.
Please read the following article from CT Mirror in response to the donation of the Dalio Philanthropies:
Philanthropy to the rescue? Not in New Haven schools
Last Friday, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a $100 million donation to the state of Connecticut from the Dalio Philanthropies “to strengthen public education and promote greater economic opportunity.” The five year initiative is to be matched two-to-one by the state and unspecified private donors, with state funds this year coming from surplus dollars.
On its surface, this sounds like good news. The New Haven Public Schools face a staggering $30 million deficit. Our children, ages 4, 8, 9, and 11, attend Columbus Family Academy and the Engineering Science University Magnet School.
We love our schools. But like so many other schools across the state, particularly in urban areas, they face chronic underfunding and ongoing loss of services: cuts to guidance, library, field trips, and planned cuts inevitably affecting class size. Our public schools simply don’t have enough teachers, teacher aides, librarians, counselors, nurses, or social workers to serve all of our kids, especially those navigating poverty and trauma. With 26 kids per class, even the most skilled teacher is challenged to provide the individualized attention that every child needs and deserves.
Inadequate funding is only part of the reason our schools don’t have what they need. Another major problem is how we distribute public dollars. Gov. Lamont’s budget disappointingly decreases Education Cost Sharing, the main source of unrestricted state funding for core classroom needs, like teachers and counselors. At the same time, it increases Alliance District funds, a restricted pool for “pursuing bold and innovative reforms” grounded in corporate-inspired ideas for how to improve education, which are often painfully disconnected from actual classroom needs.
For example: the New Haven Public Schools just spent $132,000 on an outside contractor to conduct a curriculum audit, shortly after laying off counselors and librarians. Since New Haven’s tax base can’t take much more and Alliance funds can’t be used to meet day-to-day classroom needs, those needs simply remain unmet, shortchanging our kids year after year.
Private philanthropy to the rescue? It hasn’t worked out that way in New Haven, so far, particularly when it comes to the Dalio Philanthropies. Their most prominent footprint here is CT RISE, a program centered on a “data dashboard” for teachers, which aggregates student data such as grades, test scores, attendance data, course credits, and behaviors.
While the program provides some potential benefits, including streamlined access to student data and supports for students and teachers, there are major downsides. According to educators using the dashboard, it serves as a distraction from teaching and learning, undermines human connection and understanding, and raises significant data privacy concerns — all without any demonstrated improvement in student learning. Following numerous concerns from educators, the NHPS Advocates network compiled this report that summarizes preliminary findings.
We don’t question the Dalios’ good intentions. The Dalio Philanthropies also contributes to a number of worthwhile endeavors in New Haven including, most recently, nearly a million dollars for full-time mental health clinicians from Clifford Beers at five public schools. But their track record is dominated by major, long-term investments in charter school networks, corporate “education reform” efforts that give control of public entities to private interests, and the school privatization movement more broadly. We the people should know better than to give the proponents of CT RISE disproportionate influence over state education policy.
Primacy is given to the Dalio donation and initiative, rather than the state’s moral responsibility to provide foundational, equitable, quality learning experiences for every child.
This “gift” to the state should have been public money all along. Bridgewater Associates received a $22 million grant from Connecticut taxpayers to facilitate its expansion in 2016. This followed a subsidy of $52 million in 2015. Bridgewater and Mr. Dalio also benefit from the state’s “carried interest loophole” that allows hedge-fund income to be taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income and thus deprive Connecticut of millions of dollars that could be used to support public education. Last year alone, according to the Connecticut Post, Mr. Dalio’s tax bill on earned income —without the loophole— would have been $139.8 million.
So the gift effectively returns public dollars. But rather than increase the pool of resources for all, it comes with conditions that seem deaf to the actual needs of children in schools.
Primacy is given to the Dalio donation and initiative, rather than the state’s moral responsibility to provide foundational, equitable, quality learning experiences for every child. And it comes at a significant cost: $100 million of the state’s own public dollars, which could resolve New Haven’s deficit, return our counselors, and reduce class sizes, are suddenly reserved for a vaguely-defined “partnership” and new bureaucracy to “leverage” and “administer.” Given the poor track record of mega-philanthropy in education, from the Gates Foundation’s unsuccessful “experiments” to Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million disruption in Newark, we have every reason to take serious pause before this plan takes further shape.
Decades of research show us what works in public education. There is no secret sauce. It’s complex, difficult work; but it is not mysterious or particularly in need of innovation. There is no experimentation on children in Connecticut’s wealthy, white suburban communities or in the much-lauded classrooms of Finland. If the Dalios want what’s best for all kids, they could set a new bar for those at the high end of the wealth gap in Connecticut by annually paying their real proportional fair share — and do so publicly, in order to encourage others to find their moral centers, too.
These funds could in turn give our kids what they actually need: teachers, teacher aides, librarians, counselors, nurses, social workers, quality materials and supplies, child-centered programs in all disciplines, “extras” like arts and languages, individualized support services, and smaller class sizes.
Sarah Miller and Fátima Rojas are organizers with New Haven Public School Advocates.