Recently, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), one of the newer education-related foundations, announced $15 million in new grants to New Orleans education causes. According to EdWeek’s Sean Cavanagh, a variety of education advocacy organizations and alternative teacher preparation programs are the main recipients.
Earlier this year, New Jersey state Senator Loretta Weinberg filed an OPRA request for documents related to LJAF and the NJDOE. As John Mooney noted, the request was “largely a repeat” of a request made by the Education Law Center. The emails were eventually released to ELC.
In a May 2011 email with the subject line “Policy and Legislative Supports for Education Reform in New Jersey,” Cerf describes the revamped NJDOE to LJAF’s Education Program Manager Esther Trichoche.
While there’s no evidence that LJAF funded anything to do with the NJDOE, it certainly indicates there has been some communication – and not just idle chatter – about NJDOE plans. It’s also possible the foundation is supporting important advocacy efforts in the state, particularly Better Education 4 Kids and StudentsFirst. We should have a better idea of LJAF’s activity in the state (if there is any) by mid-November when the foundation’s Form 990 for the year 2011 is due.
This kind of communication between state education heads and representatives of philanthropic organizations is of interest for two reasons. First, it provides some pretty specific details about what foundations, in this case the LJAF, are looking for when they think about giving out money. Second, it provides fairly strong evidence that philanthropies are trying to help, influence and shape public policy (in this case a state DOE).
Some may not appreciate the (often) heated rhetoric about the Billionaire Boys Club, but it’s hard to dispute the fact that a handful of influential philanthropies play a moderate to significant role in some important changes going on in education.