A New Kind of Mega-Grant Announced to Connecticut Public Schools

April 8, 2019; Connecticut Mirror

Last Friday, the Dalio Philanthropies, founded by billionaire hedge fund couple Ray and Barbara Dalio, announced a $100 million pledge to Connecticut’s poorest public schools. (The annual state public school budget is close to $3 billion). That donation is to be matched by another $100 million in private money. The state is also asked to set aside $100 million from its budget as a match. Combined, the $300 million is intended to be used by schools in areas of the state which are lower income and where the schools are struggling to make ends meet. But the state legislature may be incapable of making the gift work.

“It’s a great concept and I’m excited that the Dalio Foundation is investing in the area of public schools that are the most neglected—the social and emotion development of our students,” said Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven, longtime co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. “But this is complicated. The question is ‘How do we blend it into the budget situation that we face right now?’”

“Clearly it’s good news that the Dalio Foundation wants to help,” said Rep. Gail Lavielle of Wilton, ranking House Republican on the Appropriations Committee. “But we need to know more about the state’s responsibility. We still represent all of the taxpayers.”

Ray and Barbara Dalio, who Forbes has estimated are worth $18.4 billion, announced their plan last Friday at East Hartford High School while declaring their admiration for public schools as they now exist.

“I love public education. I’m always humbled and inspired by everything you do,” Barbara Dalio, who leads the foundation, told hundreds of students, teachers and administrators gathered at East Hartford High School to announce the contribution. “You are amazing.”

Ray Dalio, who heads the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, said he grew up in a “lower-middle class” household and was fortunate “to have parents and teachers who cared for me.”

Thus, the plan not only appears to be asset-based but that asset acknowledgement also, as it is now described, appears to create an opening for tailored community-based learning environments connected to educational opportunity.

Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell said the partnership “represents and confirms the state’s commitment to fulfill the promise of equity and excellence for all Connecticut students by bringing together a diverse set of stakeholders to provide the support, resources and pathways necessary to create learning environments that engage students and transform the educational experiences and outcomes of thousands of young people across the state,  especially traditionally underserved students and communities.”

For example, partnerships with community-based entrepreneurs could be formed to create new mentorship programs for students, according to Lamont’s office. Nonprofits, high schools and colleges might work together to connect graduates with new jobs in cutting-edge fields.

—Ruth McCambridge