NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Two Approaches To Education Philanthropy

October 21, 1997

Recent gifts by philanthropists illustrate two approaches to improving the quality of education for inner-city students, say education analysts.

In a gesture heralded by the White House and many educators, philanthropist Walter Annenberg in 1993 pledged $500 million to aid urban public schools.

But four years after the unprecedented gift, the Washington Post says the money has become "so tangled in the politics of big city school systems, or divvied among so many groups for so many purposes, that overall the benefits may be marginal."

Education analysts say politicians and journalists may be surprised at the poor return, but any good investor would not: of the $300 billion spent on public education annually, 84 percent goes for personnel -- but less than half of the personnel are teachers.

By contrast, last week philanthropists Ted Forstmann and John Walton donated a total of $6 million to fund 1,000 modest scholarships for low-income Washington, D.C., children to attend the private school of their choice. The district's public schools spend up to $12,000 per student a year, yet only 53 percent of its high school students graduate.

Analysts say the strategy of funding vouchers to increase educational opportunity for the most disadvantaged is a way to leverage a relatively small investment in education, rather than dissipating the effects of a large one.

Jennifer Grossman (Cato Institute), "Spending to Educate?" Washington Times, October 21, 1997.


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