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Today's favorable income tax rates make it attractive for the mega-rich to give their dollars away. But how much of this private funding for social good wields influence over public policy? If and when it does, especially given budget shortfalls in public education, is this bad? Add to that the idea of socially responsible investing, which partners social good with financial returns. The thing is, it's not easy to give away money well and it's harder not to be criticized for motives or mechanics.

With the season of giving upon us, I've got my eye on foundations funding education stories, the who, the what, the why and a bit of but.. Here's a roundup of some of what's transpired as of late:

Giving

Schools Look to Wealthy Donors: The Wall Street Journal

Public-school districts across the country have seen an influx of private money in recent years as wealthy donors interested in improving public education have opened their pocketbooks to bankroll their ideas.

Say Yes To Education to receive $4.2 Million Grant from The Wallace Foundation

Say Yes to Education, Inc. announced that The Wallace Foundation has committed to investing more than $4.2 million in Say Yes over the next three years to support the implementation of Say Yes Syracuse and support the development of tools that share lessons learned from Say Yes' City-Wide Turnaround Strategy focused on postsecondary education completion.

Google Awards $115-Million in 2011: The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The grants went to efforts to promote science, technology, engineering, and math education in the United States, to use technology to solve problems and improve the economy, to provide schooling for girls in developing countries, and to fight slavery and sex trafficking.

Chase DonorsChoose, Groupon Partner for Charity: The Wall Street Journal

From November 28 through December 4, Groupon users could pledge support for needed school supplies via DonorsChoose.org's G-Team campaign in $10 increments, with Chase matching each $10 with an additional $40 pledge, up to a total of $500,000. Purchasers could then visit DonorsChoose.org to redeem their $50 G-Team vouchers and direct their donation toward classroom projects of their choice at schools in their local communities.

Twelve Libraries Receive Grants to Launch Learning Labs: Philanthropy News Digest

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Institute for Museum and Library Services have announced the first 12 winners of a national competition designed to foster the creation of twenty-first century learning labs at museums and libraries across the country. To receive the funding, the winning institutions must secure matching funds and partner with local educational, cultural, and civic organizations.

i3 Grants, $18 Million in Private Sector Matching Funds: U.S. Department of Education

Twenty-three projects raised a total of $18 million in matching funds to support their innovative ideas to accelerate student achievement and ensure students are on track for success in college and careers. Among them, The College Board will develop new ways to provide real-time feedback to identify students' specific needs and help teachers differentiate instruction in Advanced Placement Biology classes. [Really, the students in Advanced Placement Biology classes I know already accelerate (hence A.P.) and are destined for college.The careers part is less certain given the joblessness rate, but an i3 grant? Someone, please explain.]

Consider

Billionaire Education Policy: The Education Optimists
Part I The first of two guest posts by Robin Rogers, associate professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is writing a book on philanthro-policymaking, Billionaire Philanthropy.


Part II
"Billionaire policy making is the elephant in the room, but nobody seems sure how to approach it. I say that we should name the elephant, but we don't have to shoot him. There is a middle road."

Pearson Education Faces Inquiry by New York Attorney General: The New York Times

"At issue is whether the activities of the tax-exempt Pearson Foundation, which is prohibited by state law from engaging in undisclosed lobbying, were used to benefit Pearson Education, a for-profit company, according to these people. Pearson sells standardized tests, packaged curriculums and Prentice Hall textbooks."

Should a charity be run like a biz? The Wall Street Journal

There's no question that business thinking can sometimes be a help to philanthropy. There are problems that can be fixed using rates of return and easily measurable indicators of success. But the key word here is 'sometimes.'

Social Responsibility Index: The Wall Street Journal

The rich are different, and not just because they have more money. Wealthy individuals often have a wider sense of responsibility toward society. Traditionally, this desire to do good is harnessed through philanthropy. But a growing number are now turning to socially responsible investing, which marries social good with financial returns.

The Cost of Online Giving: The Wall Street Journal
..."giving platforms" with names like CauseVox, Razoo, Network for Good and GlobalGiving -- some nonprofit and some for-profit--serve as gateways, making it easier for donors to give money and offering additional services such as website design and campaign promotion.

But those extras come with a price. The sites charge transaction fees that range from 2.9% to 15% and higher.