Billionaire gives $100 million to fund Connecticut education

Ray Dalio, co-chief investment officer and co-chairman of Bridgewater Associates LB, speaking March 23 during the economic summit meeting held for the China Development Forum in Beijing. Ng Han Guan, Associated Press

HARTFORD — One of the world's wealthiest couples announced Friday they are donating $100 million to support public education and new businesses in some of Connecticut's most disadvantaged communities.

The contribution from hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio and his wife, Barbara, is believed to be the largest known philanthropic donation to the state, according to Gov. Ned Lamont's office.

The Dalios live in Greenwich and Ray Dalio is the founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates. Forbes lists his net worth at more than $18 billion.

He said the donation is earmarked for areas with high poverty and dropout rates, and will create career paths that encourage kids to stay in school.

"Our No. 1 objective is to get, particularly those who are having the most trouble, to get them through high school and into jobs," Ray Dalio said Friday. "Education can't be theoretical; it's got to deliver an outcome."

The governor said that the state plans to leverage the donation into a $300 million investment over five years, with Connecticut matching Dalio's $100 million and another $100 million from other philanthropists and business leaders.

The state and Dalio Philanthropies said the money will be used for such things as funding entrepreneurs with small loans and early-stage equity capital, while providing mentorship.

It also will be used to create education programs in schools that directly link students to jobs and help get those who have dropped out of school to enter educational or job-training programs.

The announcement of the donation came one day after Dalio published an article on the current state of capitalism, detailing its economic and social distortions. The LinkedIn article included detailed information on Connecticut's educational and links to several related studies.  

"Even in Connecticut, one of the wealthiest states by per capita income," Dalio wrote, "22 percent of youth are disengaged (either missing more than 25 days of school a year, failing two or more courses, or being suspended multiple times) or disconnected (young people not enrolled in school and without a high school degree). Disconnected youth in Connecticut are five times more likely to end up incarcerated and 33 percent more likely to be struggling with substance abuse."

"To me, leaving so many children in poverty and not educating them well is the equivalent of child abuse, and it is economically stupid," Dalio stated.

Lamont said a board will be established to decide what programs receive funding.

"The ideas are going to come from you," Lamont told teachers and students at East Hartford High School, where the announcement was made. "You tell us the type of things that will make sure you and your friends have the programs and the confidence and the inspiration going forward, and we're going to make sure we can make it happen."

The Lamont administration has a close connection to the Dalios. Ryan Drajewicz, the governor's chief of staff, was a senior management associate at Bridgewater Associates.

The investment firm also received a $22 million financial-aid package from the state in 2016, as part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's First Five program.

The deal, which included $5 million in grants and a low-interest loan of $17 million, came in exchange for a promise to retain 1,400 jobs at the company's Wesport offices and add another 750 by 2021. Bridgewater, a private company founded in 1975, manages about $120 billion in investments.

In his LinkedIn posting, Dalio offered a critique of today's capitalism, saying that he had seen it "evolve in a way that it is not working well for the majority of Americans because it’s producing self-reinforcing spirals up for the haves and down for the have-nots.”

The posting was titled "Why and How Capitalism Needs to be Reformed." In addition to its adverse impact on education, Dalio stated that income inequality had heightened political tensions. He cited "conflicts between populists of the left and populists of the right increasing around the world in much the same way as they did in the 1930s when the income and wealth gaps were comparably large.”

A Sun editor contributed to this article.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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