John and Laura Arnold

NET WORTH: $2.9 billion

SOURCE of WEALTH: Oil and gas investments

FUNDING AREAS: Education, scientific integrity, criminal justice, public pensions.

OVERVIEW: With his wife Laura, Arnold runs a nimble foundation that gives tens of millions annually to promote big changes in the areas that interest the couple, including K-12 public schools, higher ed, and the integrity of scientific research.  Arnold and Laura have signed the Giving Pledge, committing to give away at least half of their fortune in their lifetimes. In fact, Arnold has said that philanthropists "should exhaust most or all their financial corpus in pursuit of their goals." 

BACKGROUND: John Arnold is a Texas native and former Houston-based hedge fund manager who specialized in energy investments. In 2012, he closed his firm, Centaurus Advisors, LLC, and retired at the age of 38 so that he could focus full time on philanthropy. With Laura, a former oil company executive and lawyer, he cofounded the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.


EDUCATION: The Arnolds support a wide variety of initiatives aimed at improving education. They have helped to tackle education issues from a number of different angles, which include developing, expanding, and strengthening successful education models, engaging parents and communities, and research and advocacy on education policy. The Arnolds have made major contributions to Teach for America, and they gave $10 million in emergency funds to the Head Start program to prevent classrooms from closing as a result of the government shutdown. They also have invested more than $25 million in high-performing charter schools in new Orleans and have helped OpenStax College, a Rice University-based publisher, offer free online textbooks for popular college courses.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Through their criminal justice initiative, John and Laura focus on the front end of the system, which runs from arrest through sentencing, and on forensic science. With the goal of improving safety, cost, and fairness, the Arnolds have helped create the first interactive database for pretrial laws in all 50 states and a model pretrial supervision program in Hawaii. They've also funded a National Academy of Sciences study of eyewitness identification procedures.

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH: The Arnolds have sought to improve the quality and reliability of scientific research studies, and funded a number of efforts to advance this goal, most notably the Center for Open Science. 

HEALTH AND NUTRITION: John and his wife have given more than $40 million to the Nutrition Sciences Initiative, funding studies aimed at understanding the link between diet, obesity, and obesity-related diseases.

PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY: The Arnolds' main focus in public accountability so far as been in public employee benefits reform. They have supported summaries of litigation involving pension reform, research aimed at dispelling common pension reform myths, and the development of comprehensive reform policies. These policies will both cut costs and protect workers and taxpayers by reducing the strain that unsustainable public pension programs are having on municipal budgets and public employee wages and benefits.

LOOKING FORWARD: Much of John's initial philanthropy has involved supporting research for the causes he cares about, but the Arnolds have also played a very hands-on role in seeking to advance education reform, most notably in New Orleans, most recently donating $3 millionto the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University. We expect that mix of strategies to continue, along with grantmaking on a large scale.