The word philanthropy has been haphazardly thrown around in the education reform movement. Billionaires Eli Broad, Mark Zuckerberg, Sam Walton, and Bill Gates have donated hundreds of millions of dollars, claiming it is in the name of improving education. The money spent by what is now termed the Billionaire Boys Club is not simply donated; it has strings attached. This transforms philanthropy into a lobbying effort. An example of this was noted in a recent New York Times article by Sam Dillon titled, “Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy.” The article sources Bill Gates spent $373 million in 2009, and $78 million just in advocacy for groups supporting his policies (2011).
A prime example of a person and advocacy group Bill Gates supports is Yolie Flores of the Los Angeles Unified School Board. A long time “education reformer,” Flores is a big proponent of charter schools. According to the LA Daily Breeze, charter school enrollment has increased by 8,000 to 10,000 students annually the past decade with a 15% increase in the past year alone. In comparison, attendance at regular LAUSD public schools has dropped to the lowest levels in a decade (Llanos, 2010b). To repay Flores’ years of support for charter schools, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is providing Flores with a six-figure salary in a newly created advocacy group to further push the charter agenda onto other public school campuses (Llanos, 2010a).
Philanthropy is the desire to donate money to benefit a good cause. Once strings are attached to the donated money, it becomes a lobbying effort. This is a distinction that must be made in the world of education. During a time of cash starved districts, this lobbying money is pushing the reforms favored by the Billionaire Boys Club without regard to success rates. Board members like Flores are being bought; they in turn sell public education to private entities that do not need to answer to the public, leaving regular public schools that are succeeding to slowly decay with no real philanthropists in sight.
Dillon, S. (2011). Behind grass-roots school advocacy. New York Times, p. A1.
Llanos, C. (2010a). LAUSD Board member Yolie Flores not running for re-election. Retrieved 5 23, 2011, from Los Angeles Daily News Web Site: http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_15229842
Llanos, C. (2010b). LAUSD enrollment dips to lowest level in over a decade. Retrieved 5 23, 2011, from Daily Breeze Web Site: http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_16575755?source=rss