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Bill Gates gives USD 44M to influence state education reform

AP  |  Seattle (US) 

Billionaire philanthropist saw an opportunity with a new law that has widespread repercussions for American classrooms.

His non-profit, Bill and Melinda Foundation, has given about USD 44 million to outside groups over the past two years to help shape new state plans required under the 2015 law, according to an analysis of its grant database.

The grants illustrate how strategic and immersive founder can be in pursuit of his reform agenda, quietly wielding national influence over how schools operate.

Gates' carefully curated and intersecting web of influence is often invisible but allows his foundation to drive the conversation in support of its vision on how to reshape America's struggling

Critics call it meddling by a foundation with vast wealth and resources. The Foundation says it's simply helping states navigate a "tectonic" shift in responsibility for education from the to more local control.

"For 50 states with varying sets of capacities and capabilities and readiness, it was both an opportunity and also a concern that states and partners in those states needed support," said Allan Golston, of the Gates Foundation's US work.

The spent about USD 44 million focused on the 2015 called the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law gives states flexibility to create their own education system framework defining what a "good school" is and in turn states get federal dollars for complying with their own rules.

The law requires academic standards, which means that the backbone for most is the Common Core a symbol for many critics during the Obama years of federal overreach in schools. Gates was influential in supporting the Common Core academic standards, and now is doing the same as states sort out the best ways to implement their education policies under the 2015 law.

In Tennessee, a Gates-funded advocacy group had a hand in the state's new education plan, with its leader sitting on an important advising committee. A given money by Gates to cover the new law then published a story about research funded by Gates. And many Gates-funded groups have become the de facto experts who lead the conversation in local communities, across states and featured nationally.

Gates also dedicated millions of dollars to protect Common Core as the new law unfolded. Patrick McGuinn, an education policy expert and at Drew University, said the Every Student Succeeds Act removed the political pressure from the standards despite how politically toxic Common Core has become.

The policy idea suggests every child can and should be taught the same things as their peers. "ESSA politically was probably the best thing that could happen to Common Core," McGuinn said.

Some Common Core and Gates critics said they weren't aware of the foundation's interest in the or the millions of dollars it has continued to pour into supporting the standards. "They're doing it in a quiet way because they don't want the general public to know they're still meddling in education policy," said of the Network for Public Education.

And long before thousands of fed-up teachers walked out on the job in four unprecedented statewide strikes this year over pay and school conditions, education union officials had rung the alarm bell about Gates' influence.

"They thought they could socially all of public education through a top-down model and that they could reduce education to an algorithm, but kids are not widgets and teachers are not widgets," said Randi Weingarten, of the

The in 2014 famously broke ties with Gates over Common Core after initially supporting the standards.

To be sure, the Seattle-based foundation's education spending is just a small fraction of its philanthropy, which is primarily focused on global health and development. Still, in terms of dollars, it is the top funder of schools reform in the The foundation since 2001 has contributed more than USD 6 billion toward reshaping American schools, including nearly USD 300 million on Common Core by some estimates.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, May 16 2018. 14:15 IST