Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Why Does the Foundation Fund Them, And Also Them?

December 15, 2011

Over the past couple of weeks, a fair amount of attention has been paid and criticism offered in response to a recent foundation grant of $350,000 to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The foundation’s grantmaking is broadly guided by our belief in equity, and in the United States, by the role that education plays in ensuring that all people have the opportunity to live healthy and productive lives.  Though we sometimes give grants to organizations that have partisan agendas, we firmly believe that education is a nonpartisan issue. Education is an issue that belongs to all of us, and we should all feel invested in it.  The quality of our public schools impacts us all.

We believe that it is important to engage in and inform a wide array of people–teachers, their unions, parents, elected officials, and community leaders—about the work the foundation is supporting in education so that we can learn from one another and advance worthy goals.

This means we often fund organizations with opposing points of view on certain issues, and that we sometimes support organizations with broader agendas that we do not necessarily share.  We find that this opens the door to an often fruitful dialogue about issues the foundation supports.

The grant to ALEC is an example of our methodology.  Our grant to ALEC, a membership organization composed mostly of conservative state legislators, is narrowly focused on educating ALEC members on the issues that our grant making addresses. Our grant to them does not indicate support for its entire agenda.  We have made similar grants to the National Conference of State Legislators, a membership organization mostly composed of progressive state lawmakers, and we have made grants to the National Governors Association as well. These grants are intended to support improvements in education outcomes for our students rather than any one party’s political agenda.

We welcome a healthy debate about our grant making strategy.  We feel strongly that we can’t just engage one political party or type of organization in order to improve America’s schools. The issue is far too important to be caught in the left/right divide that has prevented action on a number of issues critical to the nation.  

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