Funder Mashup: Look Who Got Behind the Massive Pre-K Expansion in NYC

When’s the last time we witnessed a tech billionaire, labor unions, and a top-tier family foundation all piling on for the same cause in education?

Well, when it comes to making sure that the tots of New York have a shot at high-quality, early childhood education, these otherwise strange bedfellows joined forces to help push Mayor de Blasio’s signature education reform across the finish line.

Interestingly, the donations were managed through Campaign for One New York, the advocacy group that was established by former De Blasio campaign aides to support his broader policy agenda. 

Here are the hard numbers:

  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—$350,000
  • 1199 SEIU—$250,000
  • UNITE HERE!—$200,000
  • NY Progress (a political action committee)—$175,000
  • Rockefeller Family Fund—$250,000
  • Eric Schmidt—$50,000

It is worth noting that the AFT chipped in just a few short weeks before the ink was dry on their landmark contract agreement with the city, the first since 2009. The union’s interest? Expanded membership and goodwill with a new, friendly administration in City Hall. Oh, and a better start for New York's neediest kids. 

Also worth noting is that Eric Schmidt’s donation occurred not long after he was appointed by Governor Cuomo to a state committee that was formed to help the state figure out how to spend an extra $2 billion on hand from the Smart Schools Bond Act, a referendum passed in November 2013. And around $300 million of those funds will go toward facilities projects that New York City is scrambling to complete to ensure adequate classroom space and resources for its landmark expansion of Pre-K seats.

Considering that some $490 million from the pot will go toward new software and infrastructure projects like adding internet bandwidth, it is likely that Schmidt sees a major role for Google in this space. The Internet search giant already boasts its well-defined Google Apps for Education and is in the process of rolling out Classroom, a learning management system for teachers. 

Finally, the Rockefeller Family Fund has not been shy about its hybrid approach, somewhat unique in the foundation world, as both a traditional foundation and a nimble advocacy organization. While its stated funding priorities are the environment, institutional accountability and individual liberty, and economic justice for women, the foundation threw its weight behind De Blasio in the realm of education with this latest gift.

One interesting policy connection is Mayor De Blasio’s major push for paid sick leave in New York, a major funding priority for the Rockefeller Family Fund under its economic justice for women initiative. Looking through the various lenses of this otherwise disparate group of funders, this investment made sense for all of them and hopefully so for those tiny tots as well.