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In a sentence: Philanthropy focused on K-12 education is robust, rising, and rife with complexity and even conflict.

What’s going on?

“Education in America—and how to do it best—is an extraordinarily complicated and controversial topic, replete with competing factions and impassioned debate, and the world of education philanthropy reflects that complexity,” wrote Connie Matthiessen in our State of American Philanthropy report.

Philanthropy for K-12 education is robust, and flows in many directions—to promote charter schools, to support the whole child (versus an exclusive focus on academics), to improve teacher training, to address educational inequities, and much more.

The recipient of the most grant dollars for K-12 education in the U.S. in the years 2014 to 2018, according to data from Candid, was the Charter School Growth Fund — by a long shot. It received more than $60 million more in grants than the second-most-funded education nonprofit, Teach for America, in those years. Other charter-school organizations also received substantial funding.

Meanwhile, philanthropic support for groups working to advance racial equity in K-12 education is scant, though the issue is huge: The United States has consistently produced lower education outcomes for low-income students and students of color compared to their white and affluent peers, and “public schools today remain highly segregated by both race and class,” a Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis report found.

By the numbers

Key funders

Education is the top giving area for family foundations. It’s also a priority for some of the biggest private foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Legacy foundations like W. K. Kellogg and the Carnegie Corporation of New York have made grants related to K-12 education for generations.

Major donors funding in this area include new tech billionaires giving through funds at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Steve and Connie Ballmer, Reed Hastings and MacKenzie Scott, who has made some big gifts to groups focusing on equity in K-12 education.

STEM is a major focus of corporate funders, especially those that depend on employees with skills in these areas.

DonorsChoose, a crowdfunding site where individual donors can fund classroom projects with small donations, has raised more than $1 billion since 2000.

New and notable 

Food for thought

“Funders seem so intent on innovation in education that they fail to see what’s valuable about ‘traditional’ public education… The risk is that education will become more privatized, less democratic, and less of a true public good.” — A grant development consultant in response to a survey conducted by IP in 2020

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