After more than a decade of directly overseeing $1 billion in education reform grants from his non-profit foundation, philanthropist Eli Broad is grooming a replacement.
He's hired Bruce Reed, a high profile Washington political operative who spent decades in the halls of power. Reed was a speechwriter for then-U.S. Senator Al Gore, advised President Bill Clinton's domestic policy agenda, and was CEO of the influential Democratic Leadership Council.
Sitting at a conference table at Broad's 12th floor Westwood office recently, Reed sounded almost like an intern.
“I'm sitting at the right hand of the master, learning how this is done,” Reed said. “He's been a great mentor in so many ways already.”
Among the billions Broad has donated over the years, a substantial chunk has gone to public education. For more than a decade, his support has fed the growth of charter schools and pushed for results-based teaching.
Reed began two months ago as president of the Broad Foundation, a newly created job. He'll take over deciding who receives millions of dollars in education grants on behalf of the philanthropist who some say has an inflexible agenda to shape schools.
“It would look like a national system,” said Broad, describing what he would see as a perfect education infrastructure. “Rather than having 14,000 school boards across America, it would get governors involved, big city mayors involved, and it would have a longer school day and a longer school year.”
Reed boasts of helping shape education policy on the national stage for three decades. But in his new job, he’ll execute Broad's vision. That's what his to-do list suggests.
“First, spend as much time as I can with Eli to learn how to approach these issues the way he has," Reed said. "Second, take a look at everything we've done in the past 13 years and decide [if that makes] sense going forward."
In other words, stay the course.
It's been a direction fueled by lots of money. In the past 13 years Broad has donated $800 million to education initiatives. A lot of it has gone to charter schools. In 2012, the KIPP charter school group got more than $2 million and Green Dot received $775,000 to supplement public funding. The online tutoring group Khan Academy received $1 million that year, too.
Broad is somewhat happy with the progress of education reform. He takes credit for influencing the signature changes nationwide in the past 20 years.
“Between No Child Left Behind, which wasn't perfect, between Race to the Top, we've changed a lot of laws in a lot of states, allowing teachers to do a better job in the classroom,” he said.
Broad has known all along he needs allies in public office to carry out his vision. He's generously donated to elections — from school boards to the U.S. presidency. He leans Democrat in Washington but anti-union on school boards.
Since Reed was hired several months ago, he's been on a whirlwind tour of California and L.A. power circles — private introductions courtesy of his new boss.
“I've met the governor, the mayor, the former mayor, the mayor before that, the attorney general, the state treasurer — a host of people who would aspire to jobs like that," Reed noted. "It's been a great education."
After three decades in Washington, Reed says he was ready to leave the political gridlock and lead a results-driven effort such as the Broad Foundation. Broad says Reed has a lot of important work to do. Starting with doling out the group's signature $1 million grant.
"We've got the Broad Prize jury. When, in June?" Broad asked.
“Work starts on it in a couple of weeks,” Reed said.
“Oh, that's right. It saves me a trip to Washington,” Broad said.
At the age of 80, Broad says he's ready for someone else to take over his education philanthropy and be at all the places he's had to be.