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Education, Foundations, and Transparency: The Role of Philanthropy and Oversight in K-12 Education Reform

  • Author(s): Lash, Spencer Nelson
  • Advisor(s): McDonnell, Lorraine M
  • et al.
Abstract

This thesis examines the role that major philanthropic foundations play in K-12 education reform and its implications for public school policy and politics in the United States. It begins with an exploration of the existing literature on private foundations and their historical and contemporary involvement in K-12 education reform, noting the primary sources of contention between proponents of increased foundation autonomy and critics that argue for more intensive regulation. The discussion follows this by critically interrogating these arguments and offering an alternative theoretical perspective to approaching oversight for major foundations. This approach deviates from traditional analyses as it does not focus on tax-exempt status as a basis for enhanced oversight but rather on the potential outcomes and risks of foundation grantmaking for public school systems. After laying this theoretical groundwork, the thesis offers a proposal for enhanced transparency and public disclosure for major education foundations, providing a low-cost, politically and technically feasible approach to oversight that builds on existing public and civil society disclosure programs.

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