Two well-known Democrats have joined forces to create the Opportunity Institute, a nonprofit organization pushing for social mobility and equity in education.
Based in Berkeley, Calif., the organization aims to develop and promote state and national policies that attack poverty from birth through high school, college and early career.
Its founders are Christopher Edley Jr., a former dean of the law school at the University of California-Berkeley, and Ann O’Leary, a senior policy adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign who previously was a senior vice president at Next Generation, an organization devoted to improving children’s lives and addressing climate change.
“There are tremendous advantages to putting together an effort that looks across the entire range of education issues from early childhood all the way to early career,” Edley said. It helps with coordinating and integrating policies that affect different parts of children’s lives, he said, and it helps with building coalitions that can get work done.
Like O’Leary and Edley — an adviser to President Obama’s 2008 campaign who worked in the Clinton White House — several of the Opportunity Institute’s board members have ties to the Clintons.
The organization serves as an umbrella for several projects that had been previously underway, including Too Small To Fail, a joint effort with the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation aimed at improving the health and development of children from birth to age five. Its signature campaign aims to help parents understand how talking and singing to their children is a powerful teaching tool.
Also part of the institute is Partners for Each and Every Child, which works with policymakers, researchers and union leaders in more than a half-dozen states to improve educational outcomes, especially for at-risk and disadvantaged children. Partners, which deals with issues ranging from school finance to school climate and teacher training, grew out of an Obama administration commission on educational equity that Edley co-chaired from 2011 to 2013.
The Opportunity Institute also is focused on increasing access to college and on promoting workplace policies — such as paid family leave and quality child care — meant to help working parents support their children.
Many of the group’s policy goals align with Hillary Clinton’s campaign platform — unsurprising, given that O’Leary is a key Clinton adviser. But Edley said that the organization was not set up to be allied with Clinton or her presidential bid. “What you’re seeing is the accident of the relationships that Ann O’Leary and I have,” Edley said. “It’s not political strategy.”
He said the new organization wants to advocate for policies that have been shown to work, and that are pragmatic.
“This is not about ideology and it’s not about partisanship,” he said. “I feel very passionately that it doesn’t do anybody any good to be supporting policies that don’t work just because they’re in somebody’s political platform or derived from some political ideology.”
Board members include Robert Reich, who served as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, and former New Mexico governor and congressman Bill Richardson, who served as Clinton’s secretary of energy. Also on the board is billionaire hedge fund manager and climate change activist Thomas Steyer, and Nadine Burke Harris, a doctor whose work has helped establish the long-term health risks of childhood stress and trauma.
The organization expects to spend $9 million this fiscal year and receives funding from foundations and labor unions, Edley said.