Private Voices, Public Forces: Agenda Setting and the Power of Foundations in the NCLB Era
Carr, Patrick Joseph
The practice of directing American private wealth to community goals has long drawn media acclaim and public admiration. Such activity often occurs through foundations, which funnel money toward causes deemed important to the public good. While foundations have routinely contributed to American civil society in this way for over a century, their involvement in elementary and secondary education has been especially notable in the past decade. Coinciding with the passage of No Child Left Behind, foundations began shifting toward venture philanthropy funding schemes and away from more traditional forms of philanthropic engagement. Yet research has paid little attention to how new foundation practices influence local and federal political actors involved in the policy-making process, specifically during the agenda setting stage. Thus, through an original survey of large school district school superintendents from 2011, an original dataset of 2,021 education-related foundation grants from 2009, and personal interviews and content analysis of secondary data sources at the federal level, this dissertation helps assess the relative influence of foundations at the federal and school district level.In general, I find that foundations have conditional influence on agenda setting in elementary and secondary education. At the federal level, foundations have the most to gain. At the local level, foundations have immediate, but fleeting, influence on local agenda setting. This is particularly true in districts with few resources and chronic failings, where foundations' sustained influence depends on regular but unsustainable foundation investments and is limited by the dominant governance model, i.e., the school board, to which local administrators must respond. At the federal level, I find that foundations advocate more actively than a decade ago, but still compete against a vast interest group structure that minimizes foundations' ability to exert control and alter the status quo. Yet foundation influence is not insignificant and has been aided by a new federal commitment to engage the foundation community. My findings show that, while foundations are less powerful than critics assume, they are disproportionately effective agenda setters when viewed in the context of their relatively small K-12 education expenditures.
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