Blog: The Educated Reporter

Tying Private Grants to Who’s in Charge

News today broke that a $430,000 grant given to the state of New Jersey by the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation included a provision that reserves the right to take the money back if current Gov. Chris Christie were to leave office. As a condition of their largesse, private donors often have stipulated that leaders retain their positions, but such restrictions tied to governors are rare.

Cash-strapped states and districts have been turning more and more to private and federal grants to keep up with school fiscal needs. Critics have charged that programs like Race to the Top, SIG and those financed by large foundations impede the autonomy of local authorities, but school leaders by and large are happy to receive any financial help they can get.

The terms of the Broad grant were revealed after the Education Law Center, a public interest group critical of Christie’s education reforms, filed an Open Public Records Act request. The documents were then leaked to the Star-Ledger.

Christie’s spokesperson told the Star Ledger that funds from the grant are slated to be be disbursed before next year’s gubernatorial elections. Last spring, Christie’s name was floated as a possible vice presidential pick for then-Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney. Other provisions in the grant also drew the ire of David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. For example, on charter schools, the Broad foundation asked that “The percent of high quality public charter schools in New Jersey, as measured by NJDOE’s definition of high quality, will increase by 50 (percent) by 2014-15.” Sciarra says that passage pressures the state to add more charter schools. A Broad spokesperson told the paper the state would only need to increase by 50 percent the number of “high quality” charter schools currently in operation.

A grant pegged to a sitting governor may be unique, but other philanthropic grants have been bound to school personnel decisions. The Walton Family Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Broad Foundation sent letters to District of Columbia school officials in 2010 threatening to pull $64.5 million meant to spur performance-based compensation if Chancellor Michelle Rhee left her post following that year’s mayoral race.

Well-heeled donors doubleback at the university level, as well. For example, a former Purdue dean removed a $1 million gift to Purdue University from her will after former governor Mitch Daniels was appointed president of that university. A wealthy backer of the University of Virginia threatened to cancel her bequest if board members behind the Teresa Sullivan imbroglio aren’t removed.

Have you seen private money pulled from the districts and universities you cover following a leadership change? Do you file open records request to examine conditions attached to gifts those schools receive?

Photo source: Wikimedia