Atlantic Philanthropies has spent tens of millions of dollars since 2010 to crack down on school officials who crack down on second graders who chew their Pop-Tarts into the shape of mountains—only to have them mistaken for a gun and subsequently suspended. Atlantic, with its deep (and soon to be empty) pockets, is targeting "zero tolerance" policies that put kindergartners out of the classroom for making a pistol shape with their fingers.
And with the tide turning on this issue, Atlantic isn't letting up. This spring, it gave out over $10 million in additional funds to dismantle what critics call a "school-to-prison pipeline" in America.
One big chunk of this money will go to Public Interest Projects to underwrite its Just and Fair Schools Fund. This fund supports community organizations across fifteen states that work at the local, state and national levels to rollback harsh disciplinary policies that cumulatively result in 3.3 million students being suspended each year, as well as numerous arrests and expulsions. Research shows that these punitive actions dramatically reduce a child’s chances at succeeding in school and that they disproportionately impact youth of color, LGTBQ youth, immigrant youth, youth with disabilities, and foster youth.
In other words, zero tolerance is yet another get-tough approach that creates more social harm than it reduces.
Another chunk of the money went to the Advancement Project to support its Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Program. Their work is very focused on “local, community-led strategies that seek to document the use of zero tolerance practices, reform those practices, and strengthen the capacity of communities to change these practices.” Their larger goal is to change the national conversation on the issue to facilitate broader reforms.
Both groups have previously received funds from Atlantic. Other partners who received new funds for zero tolerance work include the Children's Defense Fund and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. (You can see a full list of Atlantic grantees in this area here.)
Atlantic's continued big investments come at a timely moment, with public and elite opinion shifting fast against a range of punitive policies enacted in earlier years to combat crime, drugs, and social disorder.
Six months ago, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued new school guidelines aimed at helping schools change and reform their discipline policies with the goal of keeping kids in class and reducing the big racial disparities in who gets punished.