Last Friday, Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80 announced the largest public donation to Connecticut in the state’s history: a $100 million gift from Dalio Philanthropies.
According to Friday’s press release, the donation is meant to strengthen economic development and public education in the Constitution State, especially among underserved communities. Over the next five years, Lamont seeks to raise a total of $300 million for this purpose. While the Dalio donation accounts for a third of that amount, Lamont seeks to funnel $100 million in state funds to the same cause and have the last third covered by additional donors and businesses.
“There are many individuals who care deeply about Connecticut and its future generations,” Lamont said in the press release. “We’ve come together today for a historic investment to support, encourage, and mentor our young people so they can achieve their greatest potential.”
Dalio Philanthropies serves as the donation platform for Ray and Barbara Dalio, though Dalio family members also make individual gifts, according to the foundation’s website. In a May 2018 article, Business Insider ranked Ray Dalio’s firm Bridgewater Associates as the largest hedge fund in the United States — boasting $124.7 billion in assets under management. Harvard Business School alumnus Ray Dalio is ranked No. 67 of the world’s wealthiest people, with a net worth of $16.9 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Connecticut intends to partner with donors in order to engage with schools, nonprofits and employers to aid younger people in finding careers. These partnerships also aim to strengthen support for students through individualized programs, especially for disengaged or disconnected students, the press release said.
According to the Connecticut Opportunity Project, roughly one in every five high school students in Connecticut are disengaged or completely disconnected. “Disengaged” refers to enrolled students who may not be fully connected to school due to academics, behavior and/or attendance, where “disconnected” students have broken away from the school system completely.
“It’s exciting to see such a large donation in support of Connecticut public schools, and an innovative model for public-private partnership,” said Mira Debs GRD ’16, executive director of Yale’s Education Studies Program. “But as we’ve seen elsewhere, philanthropic support can’t replace consistent government investment.”
Debs used the Elm City as an example, adding that New Haven Public Schools alone faces a multimillion-dollar deficit. While the district has managed to whittle the deficit for the current fiscal year from $8.9 million to $5.3 million, the city itself must absorb the remaining amount if the district cannot slash the deficit completely by June 30. And according to an April 1 meeting of the Finance and Operations Committee, any immediate cuts at that time would largely impact New haven Public Schools staff.
The recent donation is not the Dalios’ first gift to education in Connecticut. In 2015, Dalio Philanthropies partnered with Connecticut educators to form the Connecticut RISE Network, which, according to RISE’s website, looks to improve educational quality in the Constitution State and “democratize innovation by piloting data-driven hypotheses.”
However, some New Haven parents are not convinced of RISE’s effectiveness. Members of NHPS Advocates, a parent group that lobbies for transparency and reform in New Haven’s school district, wrote in an April 8 op-ed for the New Haven Independent that while RISE provides a “data dashboard” for achievement statistics, the program does more harm than good.
“According to educators using the dashboard, it serves as a distraction from teaching and learning, undermines human connection and understanding, and raises significant data privacy concerns,” wrote NHPS Advocates members Sarah Miller ’03 and Fatima Rojas.
Miller and Rojas added that they do not question the Dalios’ intentions on the basis of past donations — for example, Dalio Philanthropies also funded the hiring of mental health clinicians at five New Haven schools in 2018. However, they remain concerned that the Dalios’ donation history tends to place private control over public institutions.
Similar to the Dalios’ donation, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also gave $100 million to the Newark public schools system, partially funding the Foundation for Newark’s Future. According to Dale Russakoff, former Washington Post reporter and author of “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?” the foundation’s leaders expected the donation to bring about a “transformational effect” on Newark’s public education and the country at large — but it didn’t.
In a 2018 article by Business Insider, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka stated that the foundation “parachuted” into the city without interacting with the Newark community, failing to understand local concerns. As a result, the money largely covered paying external consultants and buying out underperforming teachers.
However, Russakoff told the News that, after reading the press release, she thinks Connecticut’s partnership with donors might be taking a different track.
“They didn’t seem to be saying, ‘We’re coming in with this money, and we’re going to tell you how to do it because we know,’” said Russakoff. “It sounded like they were saying, ‘This is a really important thing to get right, and we want to work with you to get it right.’ So that seemed to me like a difference, a good difference.”
Since its beginning, the Dalio family has channeled over $1.5 billion into Dalio Philanthropies.
Valerie Pavilonis | firstname.lastname@example.org .