A Look At Oberndorf's Education Philanthropy

When you think of the school choice movement, foundations like the Walton and Bradley come to mind. This particular group sees things like school choice and vouchers as a critical component of education reform. We've also written about philanthropists like Bruce Kovner who've funded school choice efforts. Then there's William Oberndorf and his wife, Susan, a Bay Area couple who've been engaged in philanthropy for decades and have a strong interest in education reform.

Oberndorf along with John Walton, in fact, helped found the American Education Reform Foundation in the early 1990s. Of John Walton, Oberndorf has said: "although he would be embarrassed for me to say this, what Andrew Carnegie was to libraries, John Walton was to school choice."

American Education Reform Foundation has worked to "bring about systemic and sustainable reform by promoting broad-based parental choice that aids low-income families." Oberndorf also serves as chairman emeritus and board member of the Alliance for School Choice, an organization he co-founded. As for as Oberndorf's philanthropic approach, he told Philanthropy Roundtable: "By the time I became involved in the education reform movement, a growing group of individuals, including myself, had become convinced that unless a truly competitive alternative was established to traditional public schools, the educational establishment was simply incapable of systemic and sustainable reform from within." Oberndorf is interested leveraging philanthropic dollars in a way that has broad impact and is sustainable.

education philanthropy by the couple has involved quite a number of outfits including Foundation for Excellence in Education (a $100,000 grant), Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "an American education reform organization headquartered in Indianapolis," SF School Choice Alliance, and Center for Education Reform, whose mission is to "accelerate the growth of the education reform movement in ways that make available to families new and meaningful choices." Support has also gone to charters such as KIPP Bay Area Schools, which received a $10,000 grant and Gateway Public Schools in the Bay Area.

Past money has also gone to San Francisco Education Fund, College Spring, which "partners with schools and community organizations to help students from low-income backgrounds boost SAT scores, navigate college admissions and financial aid, and confidently pursue college degrees," Breakthrough Collaborative, which "puts low-income middle school students on the path to college and inspires high school and college students to become educators," and buildOn, "an international nonprofit organization that runs youth service afterschool programs in United States high schools, and builds schools in developing countries. As well, support has gone to BASIC Fund, which received a $101,000 grant. The BASIC Fund is a privately funded organization providing partial-tuition scholarships to low-income families across the Bay Area.

It's worth mentioning that big money has also gone to The Thatcher School in Ojai, California, and to University School in Ohio, from where Oberndorf graduated. As well, a component of the couple's philanthropy involves supporting policy shops such as The Institute of Justice, which is dedicated to advancing "economic liberty, school choice, property rights, and free speech."