Philanthropy & Washington Post Reporting: A Few Missing Facts

DC won more money per student from pro-privatization donors than any other urban school system, according to researchers who followed several recent years of educational philanthropy. The report has not yet been released, but the Washington Post shared some of results this week.

The Post article shares pertinent, if unsurprising, facts from the report:

  • “Cities that had a Teach for America site or laws that encourage the growth of charter schools, for example, were more likely to receive foundation funding.”
  • Some funding is tied to “more rigorous lessons tied to Common Core standards” (Cornerstone Assignments)
  • National foundations support projects like DC’s Empowering Males of Color

In addition to focusing on the Michigan State University research, reporter Michael Alison Chandler also added some details about PTA and other local giving:

Not included in the total is PTA funding, which brings a significant additional stream of funds to some schools in more affluent communities. The PTA at Maury Elementary School in Capitol Hill increased its fundraising dramatically in recent years. Its budget for this school year is $157,000, up from about $15,000 in 2009-2010.

The DC Education Fund — which funnels great sums from the Walton Family Foundation, The Broad Foundation, and other donors into DC schools — crowed, via Twitter, that the findings mean: “enthusiasm abt leadership, progress, programs driving success in fundraising.” But there may be other explanations.

A Few More Facts

There are a number of related points the Post doesn’t mention. For example:

  • Many of the millions for “Empowering Males of Color” will go directly to an Illinois charter operator.
  • $450,000 of the Cornerstone Assignment funds are for an electronic curriculum management system (which vendor earned that contract?)
  • The article mentions that philanthropists are interested in “challenging traditional methods for evaluating and rewarding teachers” but fails to mention that this is explicitly connected to undermining teachers unions.
  • The article never explores the ways in which donations find their way into the pockets of donors’ friends: how many of the donated dollars go straight to organizations such as Teach for America (in the form of finders fees), to private management companies, and to those who profit off lending to charter schools, etc.

Moreover, some increase in individual giving may be associated with approval of particular reforms at Maury Elementary School, or within DCPS more generally. But it is not possible to discount a basic demographic fact, left unstated in the Post article. According to U.S. Census figures, we see the following shift in the Maury community over the years in discussion:

  • Median household income for the tract around the school rose from $35,313 in 2000 to $65,000 in 2013.
  • The mean household income rose from $52,798 to $89,223.
  • Median household income rose $10,000 between 2010 and 2013 alone.
  • The zip code gained hundreds of housing units in those three years.

There is simply a great deal more income — which might be directed at PTA giving — that came into the area between 2009 and 2015.

“Political Determinants of K-12 Education Philanthropic Funds for Urban Schools,”
by Jeffrey W. Snyder and Sarah Reckhow, Michigan State University

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