Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos' commitment to spend significant funds supporting preschools nationwide is just the latest in a legacy of the nation's philanthropists favoring educational endeavors, according to The Associated Press via Education Week.
This fall, Bezos announced that he would dedicate $1 billion toward free preschools in low-income communities, continuing a trend that dates at least as far back as Andrew Carnegie's educational giving in the early 1900s.
Detractors, the article explains, typically note the fact that capitalism — the system that allowed many of these philanthropists to get wealthy — ultimately “contributes to the social problems they're trying to address.”
While Andrew Carnegie may be known as the “Father of Philanthropy,” he was also known as a “brutal boss” who, in an attempt to undercut the competition, adopted workplace strategies such as low wages and long hours.
These workplace conditions make larger philanthropy commitments ripe for criticism, as The Associated Press article points out. Beyond these critiques, however, are questions about the actual benefits — and limitations — of private funding in the K-12 arena.
While private philanthropy is increasingly important in a time when education budgets have remained stagnant, if not diminished, there are some who question over-reliance on private funding and how this can, in fact, exacerbate inequities.
“Private philanthropy isn't the way to fix these disparities,” Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, wrote in an April op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It's hit or miss – an underfunded school or district shouldn't have to worry about whether any of its graduates become billionaires to meet its students' needs. Under-resourced, under-performing schools and districts serving low-income communities are the ones with the greatest needs, but also may have the hardest time attracting donations.”
Good public policy should be the focus when it comes to addressing inequities and inadequacy in education funding, Gordon Klehr continued to explain before detailing her organization's decision to sue the state of Pennsylvania and demand that it “fund our schools in a manner consistent with its constitutional obligations.”
In the 2015 school year, 29 states provided less overall state funding per student than in the 2008 school year, according to a 2017 analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This reality is why advocates like Gordon Klehr champion the ideas of litigation and putting pressure on state lawmakers to return funding to pre-recession levels and ensure it can be accessed by all districts — not just the ones that can afford smart grant writers.