News and analysis
October 08, 2013

Houston Philanthropists Give $10-Million to Re-Open Head Start Programs

Laura Burlton

John and Laura Arnold

Laura and John Arnold, who rank among the most generous donors in America, gave $10-million to the National Head Start Association this week to keep 7,000 children in programs that have either closed or were set to be shuttered due to the federal government shutdown.

Seven Head Start programs in six states were closed at the end of the first week of the shutdown, “leaving 7,195 of our nation’s most vulnerable children without access to Head Start,” according to a statement from the national organization.

The group said that more than 11,000 more children could lose access to Head Start if the shutdown continues a few more weeks. And if November comes and the shutdown is still in effect, additional Head Start programs serving more than 86,000 children in 41 states could lose support, the group said. 

The Arnolds say they approached Head Start because they were concerned about the loss of the program for children.

“Like everyone else, we are disappointed in the stalemate that has led to the federal government’s shutdown,” they said in a statement. “Our representatives’ inability to resolve their differences has caused severe disruptions in the lives of many low-income Americans. We believe that it is especially unfair that young children from underprivileged communities and working families pay the price for the legislature’s collective failures.”

While the Arnolds said they could pitch in to provide some short relief, they warned that philanthropy can’t replace government dollars. “We sincerely hope that our government gets back to work in short order,” they said, “as private dollars cannot in the long term replace government commitments.”

The couple ranked No. 3 on The Chronicle’s Philanthropy 50 list of the donors who gave the most in 2012. They donated $423.4-million last year.

Mr. Arnold founded Centaurus Energy, a hedge fund, while Ms. Arnold is a former corporate lawyer and former businesswoman. 

They established the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in 2008 to support nonprofits and programs working to improve elementary and secondary schools as well as the criminal-justice and pension systems. The Arnolds have put more than $900-million into the fund.

The foundation awarded about $70.1-million to charitable causes last year, including $25-million in grants to two groups to establish and expand charter schools in New Orleans: the Charter School Growth Fund and New Schools for New Orleans. The foundation also gave $4.8-million to the Nutrition Science Initiative for obesity research and $2.1-million to the Giving Library, an online forum to help philanthropists learn about charities. The foundation created the library in 2012.

The Head Start gift, however, came from the couple personally, not from the foundation, according to a foundation spokeswoman.

Read more about how the government shutdown is affecting charities.

Send an e-mail to Doug Donovan.