October 8, 2013

Aren't they wonderful? Billionaires Laura and John Arnold just made a $10 million pledge to keep Head Start open during the government shutdown.


Head Start doors will remain open through the end of October after philanthropists offered up to $10 million to the embattled institution.

Laura and John Arnold, who made their money in the hedge fund and oil and gas industries, said on Monday that they would be donating emergency funds to the Head Start program so that some 7,000 kids from low-income families could continue to receive educational services.

Many Head Start classrooms were put on the brink of closure after the federal government shutdown pulled their funding, forcing parents to cope with the loss of their schools and the vital services they provided. Some Head Start staff have been forced to look for other employment as the shutdown has dragged into its second week.

Laura and John Arnold

The philanthropists' gift was announced by the National Head Start Association. It will allow children to return to their classrooms as early as Tuesday morning. A spokesperson for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation told The Huffington Post that the $10 million will come from the family's private account, not the foundation.

According to the National Head Start Association press release, the money will "provide assistance to Head Start and Early Head Start programs that were forced to close or are facing closure this month as a result of the government shutdown."

Seven Head Start programs, mainly in southern states like Alabama and Florida, had been affected. The closure of those programs left 7,195 kids without services, the release states. Tens of thousands of children are at risk of losing their childcare and pre-K services if the government shutdown continues into November, according to the association.

But really, this is just another one percenter giving with one hand and taking with the other.

The Arnolds made their billions in the oil and gas industry before turning to hedge funds. John Arnold was an Enron executive, not just your run-of-the-mill oilman. The Arnolds use their foundation money to undermine public education and more recently, public pensions.

Their foundation donates to right-wing think tanks, like the Kansas Policy Institute and the James Madison Institute. Millions went to the StudentsFirst Institute and the Stand for Children Leadership Center to fund lobbying efforts around the country to undermine public education, and even more millions into charter school funds.

He also funds organizations that advocate pension fund "reform," encouraging local and state governments to reduce pension benefits -- oh, and by the way, move their investments into riskier hedge funds -- like his. So he wants high fees for managing the funds, but lower pension benefits for the workers. A true conservative!

So they want to drop some money into Head Start to keep it open. But judging from John Arnold's track record, the reason isn't altruistic. It might buy some time and goodwill while Congress works their magic to serve their larger interests. If they can get the gratitude of Head Start parents early enough, maybe those same parents will be open to their charter school ideas later.

Government should support programs like Head Start, not billionaires from crooked companies. It should be an investment we make as a society. Helping little kids get an early education is good for the country as a whole, and excuse me if I don't applaud right-wingers who are looking for long-term profits in for-profit education.

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