'The word 'policy' makes us think of politicians and bureaucrats. But what happens when powerful policy-makers aren’t elected or appointed? Today, billionaires are shaping education policy in the United States. Buying political influence—-even legally...' -- Robin RogersRogers, is an associate professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is the author of “Why Philanthro-policymaking Matters” in The Politics of Philanthrocapitalism, Society 2011. In the first of two posts at the Education Optimists blog, Rogers writes about "Billionaire Education Policy," which is also the title of her forthcoming book.
Referring to Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million "gift" to Newark Public Schools, Rogers writes:
All over the country, variations of the New York and New Jersey story are playing out: Philanthropists give money to resource-starved school systems, and in return, they reserve the right to effectively set education policy. Consultants and for profit programs present a potential conflict of interest by creating cash cows. [Mayor] Booker‘s claim that he was acting as a private citizen—and the fact that Zuckerberg’s money was just a pledge, not a guarantee of funding—raises questions. What is private and what is public? Is anyone accountable for what happens to this money? Do we need more transparency for private donations?Rogers says that while the Occupy Movement focused public attention on inequality and the concentration of wealth and power, we rarely talk about "elite, strategic philanthropy," She takes note of a recent New York Times piece, “Policy-Making Billionaires”, and cites lots of great references on this important topic, but overall, she's critical of the lack of coverage of the rise of co-ordinated and strategic philanthropy by the very wealthy.
Rogers might want to take a look at our 2008 book, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society, and particularly the chapter on what we call "power philanthropy." She might also look at Phillip Kovacs' book, The Gates Foundation and the Future of US “Public” Schools as an important source.