Inside Philanthropy reported on the major funding behind the push for vouchers.

Vouchers are not popular.

There have been nearly two dozen state referenda about vouchers. Vouchers have always lost, usually by large margins.

State legislatures have ignored the voice of the people and passed voucher legislation despite the public vote against them. Vouchers were rejected in Utah in 2007. Vouchers were rejected in Florida in 2012. Vouchers were rejected in Arizona in 2018. Yet the legislators in these states passed sweeping voucher laws, benefitting home schoolers and students already attending private schools.


There is a lot of money behind the voucher “movement.” The only thing moving in this “movement” is millions of dollars from rightwing billionaires into the pockets of Republican politicians.

All the usual rightwing suspects are pumping big money into the push for vouchers. Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch, the Bradley Foundation.

Connie Matthiessen of Inside Philanthropy writes:

Who is funding the push for school vouchers?

Dark money and disclosure rules make it difficult to pinpoint the funders that support vouchers or how much they are spending on these efforts. But what we do know is that a lot of the typical channels of conservative-leaning philanthropy are funding the organizations that support vouchers.

One reason it’s so hard to track is that a lot of that money is going through donor-advised funds, which don’t have to identify which individual DAF holders are making specific grants. The conservative DAF DonorsTrust, for example, and its affiliated Donors Capital Fund have been moving money to groups that support vouchers. As my colleague Philip Rojc reported in 2021, “Since its founding, DonorsTrust has given out over $1.5 billion. In addition to the sheer volume of money, a large proportion of DonorsTrust’s grantees operate in the policy arena, magnifying the impact of this funding on the public sphere.” It also raked in over $1 billion that year, according to Politico.

DonorsTrust grantees include voucher advocates like the Heritage Foundation, the American Federation for Children, which was created by Trump administration Education Secretary Betsy Devos, as well as the conservative Independent Women’s Forum. The Cardinal Institute, which is supporting education savings accounts in West Virginia, is also a grantee.

We do know some of the non-DAF funders that are supporting the voucher movement, and a few names come up repeatedly. One of these philanthropies is the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a long-running conservative funder that has had a major influence in Wisconsin politics and also helped bankroll efforts to discredit the 2020 election results, as Jane Mayer reported in The New Yorker….

The Bradley Foundation funds the Wisconsin Center for Law and Liberty, which supports education vouchers through its Bradley Impact Fund, a donor-advised fund. The Bradley Impact Fund includes among its grantees the Badger Institute, a conservative Wisconsin think tank that is advocating for the expansion of the privatization of the state’s public education system, as the Wisconsin Examiner reported. According to its 2021 grants list, the foundation has also supported Ohio-based Buckeye Institute and the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, which are both pushing voucher-type movements in their respective states.

DeVos herself is another major voucher backer, and has supported efforts in her home state of Michigan and beyond. She is involved with a number of organizations, including the American Federation for Children, which she chaired and helped found. That organization and its affiliates — the American Federation for Children Action Fund (a 527 group that supports candidates) and the 501(c)(3) American Federation for Children Growth Fund — have promoted education vouchers for years, including in Washington, D.C., as the Washington Post reported in 2017. More recently, it backed efforts to push ESA legislation in Idaho, according to a report in the Idaho Capital Sun (Republican state legislators just rejected a voucher bill there). The organization has also been active in privatization efforts in Texas, according to the Texas Monthly; and in Nebraska, the Nebraska Examiner reports that DeVos and her husband provided most of the dollars identified as funding from the American Federation for Children.

DeVos has worked hard to influence education policy in her home state of Michigan, with some success, but so far, has failed to establish a voucher program there. Most recently, in November, voters overwhelmingly opposed a school voucher plan she helped fund, as Chalkbeat reported. Devos and her family gave $6.3 million in support of the ballot proposal.

The State Policy Network also played a role in the pro-voucher campaign in Idaho, according to the Idaho Capitol Sun report. That organization, which oversees a coalition of state-based conservative think tanks, is backed by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and Charles Koch, according to a report by Documented, and has also received funding from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, according to Jane Mayer’s reporting. In an opinion piece for Washington Examiner, Chantal Lovell, the State Policy Network’s director of policy advancement, credited her group for expansion of education savings accounts across the country.

A number of organizations that Charles Koch has funded over the years have played a role in the voucher movement. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a membership organization of right-leaning state legislators, promotes education vouchers, for example. ALEC has received support from Charles Koch, Donors Trust and the Bradley Foundation. ALEC-affiliated state legislators have spearheaded the voucher movement in Texas, according to the Texas Monthly. The libertarian Cato Institute, which Charles Koch helped create, according to Mayer, supports a form of school voucher called Scholarship Tax Credits.

Open the link and read the article to learn who else is funding the voucher putsch. You may surprised, as I was, to learn that the Gates Foundation gave $1 million to the Reason Foundation, a libertarian organization that supports vouchers and opposes public schools.