As members of the dissolved Partnership for Connecticut Board, we’d like to express our thoughts in response to comments made recently by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and others about the role of philanthropy as it pertains to education in Connecticut.
Barbara Dalio met with community members and educators at the Carver Community Center in Norwalk on March 3 to talk about the Partnership for Connecticut, a public-private group aimed at helping education that disbanded in May.
We did not accept our positions on the board lightly. At AFT-CT, the pros and cons were debated, and the final decision — made by the Pre K-12 (education) Council — was based on two things: Barbara Dalio’s history with members over the past six years, and the inequity in educational funding in Connecticut. And for Sheena, who is a member of the CEA, due to her interactions with Barbara, she joined the board because she knew it would be “kid focused” and a place where an educator’s opinion mattered.
We agree with Sen. Murphy’s comments made recently about the need to raise taxes in order to more fully and equitably fund public education. However, that is the work of the Connecticut General Assembly. The current legislature too often refuses to even bring the issue of fuller and fairer funding to a vote. The unwillingness of the legislature to address educational funding has left us with the option of accepting philanthropic funding or nothing.
The impression left by those comments is that philanthropy should be avoided in education. Given the failure of the Connecticut General Assembly to fully fund education or promote a more progressive tax structure, should we refuse Barbara’s willingness to try to fill funding needs? The problems in New Jersey with Mark Zuckerberg’s “gift” are described in the book “The Prize.” We took those lessons seriously, and everyone on the Partnership Board was given a copy of the book to read so we would not make the same mistakes. The goals and processes we used were as different from what is described in “The Prize” as Barbara Dalio is different from Mark Zuckerberg.
Barbara Dalio, director of Dalio Education Initiatives, part of Dalio Philanthropies, is speaking around the state about the Partnership for Connecticut program that she co-founded. Dalio, left, is with Sheena Graham, a guest speaker at an event held by the initiative in May, 2019.
We have known and worked alongside Barbara for many years to support educators and help students across Connecticut. We have toured classrooms and public schools together. We have spent countless hours talking with Barbara about public education and ways to help students, especially those young people who most need and deserve our support. We know her goals and intentions, and we stand in solidarity with Barbara seeking to improve outcomes for Connecticut’s young people.
That’s why the recent, published mischaracterization of Barbara is unfair; these harmful mistruths are distractions when we must focus on working together to improve our public education system. In comments made recently it was suggested that Barbara, her husband, and her family’s foundation aim to use their wealth to have an out-sized influence in public education without listening to anyone. For those of us who have worked with her, who believe in the value of public education for everyone, we can say emphatically that nothing could be further from the truth, and we seek to respectfully address this and put it in proper context.
Barbara listens to everyone in the education community with a big heart and open mind. Not once — let us repeat, not once — has Barbara told us what do to with her generous philanthropic dollars. As educators, we have learned to be suspicious when people with no educational background insist their money be tied to their personal initiatives. Barbara, conversely, asks questions, respects our experience and expertise, and is willing to trust us to be responsible with her donations. We welcome that trust and confidence.
Barbara’s collaborative approach has led to wonderful results for Connecticut’s educators and students. Here are just a few of the ways that Barbara has helped over the last few years:
Every educator and school staff person in the state — almost 100,000 school-based professionals — have free access to social and emotional learning resources;
60,000 low-income high school students have a laptop and all residents with school-aged children in Hartford and Norwalk have free access to the internet;
More than 30,000 low-income children have received winter coats;
Thousands of educators have received resources and supplies that they have requested for their classrooms and schools;
Thousands of our state’s most struggling young people have access to caring adults, whether at high school or in the community; and
Hundreds of educators have pursued self-designed professional development opportunities.
There is a great deal in what has been said recently with which we completely agree. We believe that our reliance on philanthropy is the result of a broken system. We agree that a wealthy person’s opinion should be no more important than that of a poor parent. But until and unless the State of Connecticut spends more money on education, we will continue to be overly reliant on the philanthropy of people like Barbara. And to be clear: We are grateful for her help.
Jan Hochadel is the President of AFT-CT, Sheena Graham is a CEA member, and was Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year in 2019, from Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport.