June 17, 2010; Source: EdWeek | File this under “grantmaking foundations running their own programs like they’ve become operating foundations.” The Ewing B. Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri is going to open its own charter school in 2011 for 75 5th graders—adding a grade each year eventually reaching the 12th grade.

Kauffman is hardly alone in the foundation world as a charter school advocate, with company from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundation tossing big dollars at charter school operators. By running its own charter, costing an estimated $10 million a year but aiming toward becoming self-sustainable, Kauffman is doing something pretty distinctive. But toward what end?

A Kauffman spokesperson says that it will “front-load . . . support from the foundation so the school can focus on teaching and learning instead of worrying about fundraising.” Charter school advocates appear beside themselves with excitement about one of the 30 largest foundations in the U.S. weighing in to run a charter school, potentially “spur(ring) other grantmakers to do the same,” as one dreamed.

Charter school critic Diane Ravitch, however, asked, “what will they prove? That lots of resources make a difference and that every school should have someone with deep pockets to keep classes small and keep the school well-supplied with the best of everything?” It reminds us how in all of the attention from the Kauffmans, Broads, Waltons, and Gateses of the world promoting school choice, the issue of equitable funding for the schools and school districts seems to have been lost in public discourse. Let’s hope we return to that someday, making sure we adequately fund education per se rather than picking individual (charter) school winners and traditional public school losers.—Rick Cohen