Contrary to the popular belief that the education reform movement is a largely right-wing enterprise, a new analysis finds that the political campaign contributions made by employees of school reform organizations that are funded by the Gates and Walton Family Foundations overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates or causes.
“The leftward tilt of the school-reform community is wholly at odds with the popular narrative that school reform is the project of ‘right-wing privatizers’—as well as with reformers’ claims that theirs is a ‘centrist, bipartisan’ movement,” say authors Jay P. Greene (University of Arkansas) and Frederick M. Hess (American Enterprise Institute). “This ideological homogeneity may create an echo chamber that hinders the movement’s ability to detect and address political and practical challenges. These risks are heightened by the fact that reformers labor under the mistaken impression that their coalition is politically and ideologically diverse—when the data suggests that it is not.”
More than 87% of political contributions by reformers support Democratic candidates
March 8, 2019—A new analysis by Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas and Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute finds that school reformers are overwhelmingly left-leaning, with 87 percent or more of the political contributions by staff at school-reform organizations going to Democratic candidates and causes. Education reform turns out to be neither a red nor purple enterprise—but a deep blue one.
Greene and Hess examined the political campaign contributions of a representative sample of individuals working in education-reform organizations. The sample comprises education-policy grantees receiving support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (73 organizations total) and the Walton Family Foundation (194 organizations total), the two largest funders of the education-reform movement, each giving almost $200 million annually to the effort. Greene and Hess also analyzed the political campaign contributions for a set of scholars who focus on education reform, as represented by the presenters at the 2018 conference of the Association for Education Finance and Policy. The authors used OpenSecrets.org, an online database of campaign contributions searchable by employer, to categorize the contributions of Gates and Walton grantee employees, as well as scholars studying education reform, made within the last decade.
Among the key findings:
- Gates grantees overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates or causes. Ninety-nine percent of the 2,625 political campaign contributions from the staff of Gates grantees—such as Achieve, Teach For America, Chalkbeat, and KIPP—supported the Democratic Party or Democratic candidates. Only 8 of the contributions went to Republicans. The dollar amount of contributions tells a similar story: of the $725,464 in campaign contributions made by the staff of Gates grantees, $719,946, or 99 percent, went to Democrats—while just $5,500, or less than 1 percent, went to Republicans.
- Walton grantees’ political contributions more diverse but decidedly left-leaning. Eighty-seven percent of the 3,887 political campaign contributions from employees of Walton grantees—including Teach for America, KIPP, 50CAN, the 74 Million, Chalkbeat, and the Education Trust—went to the Democratic Party or Democratic candidates. However, the average dollar amount of contributions to Republicans among Walton grantees was higher than those to Democrats, meaning that $1,239,958 (74 percent) of the $1,685,207 in total contributions went to Democrats.
- Scholars who study education reform largely support Democrats. Of the 336 contributions made by presenters at the Association for Education Finance and Policy 2018 conference worth $78,308, 96 percent (324 total) went to Democrats. In terms of dollar amount, $75,958, or 97 percent, went to Democrats.
- K–12 educators less partisan than grantee employees. According to Education Week polling reports, just 41 percent of educators identify as Democrats, with 27 percent identifying as Republicans, and 30 percent as Independents. Even the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teacher union, gives a larger slice of its campaign contributions to Republicans than do the employees of Gates education grantees (7% compared to 1%, respectively).
“The leftward tilt of the school-reform community is wholly at odds with the popular narrative that school reform is the project of “right-wing privatizers”—as well as with reformers’ claims that theirs is a “centrist, bipartisan” movement,” say the authors. “This ideological homogeneity may create an echo chamber that hinders the movement’s ability to detect and address political and practical challenges. These risks are heightened by the fact that reformers labor under the mistaken impression that their coalition is politically and ideologically diverse—when the data suggests that it is not.”
About the Authors: Jay P. Greene is distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Frederick M. Hess is AEI's director of education policy studies and a senior editor of Education Next.
About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit educationnext.org.