How the F.M. Kirby Foundation Takes on Urban Education in New Jersey

Long a funder of efforts to reduce undocumented immigration and uncover unethical behavior among Democratic elected officials, the F.M. Kirby Foundation is putting its resources into an effort to expand school choice for students in New Jersey.

The foundation has invested $90,000 in Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), a New Jersey nonprofit focused on improving urban education. The nonprofit is based on the conviction that New Jersey’s public school system is failing. Since its formation in 1999, E3's activities have included advocating for school vouchers and criticizing the effectiveness of the standardized exam that determines whether some New Jersey students are eligible to graduate from high school.

Most recently, E3 has thrown its weight behind Governor Chris Christie in his efforts to take over the public school system in Camden, as well as his proposal to provide scholarships that low-income students could use to attend private schools or public schools in a more prosperous district.

E3 is one of the few organizations that have received a first-time grant from the F.M. Kirby Foundation. Grant-seekers have a significant advantage if they are familiar to members of the Kirby family or the foundation’s board. And while the foundation boasts a healthy $389 million in assets, the pot of cash available for conservative causes seems to be shrinking. The foundation seems to be in the midst of a long, steady decline in the amount of funding it dedicated to grants for “public affairs” purposes.

However, E3 benefited from its geographic location. The foundation makes clear that its grants are more likely to go to organizations that operate nearby. Since E3 is a New Jersey organization — in fact, its New Brunswick headquarters are not far from the Kirby Foundation’s headquarters in Morristown — it was eligible for special consideration.

The Kirby Foundation is also represented in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which has led the foundation to support organizations like the University of North Carolina Center for Public Television and North Carolina Public Radio.

As reflected by the wide variety of public policy programs it supports, the Kirby Foundation values geography and familiarity more than any specific issue during its grant-making process. While the foundation is willing to listen to any solicitation, these factors will be important if their allotment for conservative causes continues to fall.