How New Orleans Stands to Expand School Choice

We’ve all heard of Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg, and last year, they were the top two most generous Americans, according to a report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The third most generous donors? John and Laura Arnold might not be household names, but they gave big last year. Gifts from the Arnolds came in at $423 million, and they funneled more than $200 million into their charitable foundation.

So what’s that mean for education fundraisers?

Well, education reform funding has consistently been a priority for the Arnold Foundation (See Laura and John Arnold Foundation: Grants for Charter Schools). In 2011, the foundation provided 49 grants totaling roughly $40 million; major grants included $5 million for Teach for America, $7 million for StudentsFirst Institute, and $6 million for YES Prep, a network of charter schools located in Houston. The Arnold Foundation is certainly a major charter funder on the national level.

But last year, the Arnolds made an interesting series of large grants focused on New Orleans, which encompassed their entire grant-making strategy.  How much, you ask? In two rounds of funding, the foundation provided $40 million to a variety of organizations committed to expanding school choice in the Big Easy.

In October, the foundation announced $15 million in grant-funding for 10 organizations working on the issue, and Caprice Young, Arnold’s vice president of education, told The Lens each organization was targeted because of a “proven track record of success.” That’s a common theme in philanthropy, as a non-profits’ measurable results are playing more and more into their ability to secure funding, and it’s definitely a point worth noting for fundraisers courting Arnold Foundation dollars.

Just a month later, the foundation announced $25 million more with a specific focus on expanding school choice. The second round of grant-making benefitted a partnership between New Schools for New Orleans and the Charter School Growth Fund, with a specific goal to make high-quality charter options available for 15,000 students over the next five years. (Read education program manager Esther Tricoche's IP profile).

It’s yet to be seen if the Arnold Foundation plans on similar giving in other cities, but it was an interesting move for a couple of reasons. First, the sizes of the of the grants were noteworthy, and also there are some ambitious goals set by the program. 

To achieve success, it seems the foundation used an all-hands-on-deck approach.

The first round of grant-funding encompassed all of the foundation’s education strategies: promoting public engagement, creating an environment of innovation, and increasing access to high-quality teachers and schools. The grants went to a number of organizations, but primarily focused on advocacy and teacher training. And the $25 million grant covered the expanding access to quality schools.