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
- Philanthropy is dwarfed by public spending on education. Institutional giving for K-12 education amounted to $6.84 billion in 2017. Federal, state and local governments spent $736 billion in the 2016–17 school year.
- From 2017 to 2019, only .8% of education philanthropy dollars were directed to racial equity and justice, according to research released by the Schott Foundation for Public Education and Candid.
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
- Even as some funders have cooled on charters, billionaire Michael Bloomberg is doubling down, with a recent $750 million commitment to this cause—which he announced with a scorching assessment that “American public education is broken.”
- The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is now among the biggest K-12 funders; it recently made more than $9 million in grants to organizations working to increase the numbers of educators of color.
- The NewSchools Venture Fund uses a participatory grantmaking approach to support innovators of color who are advancing racial equity in education.
- Last year, the 1954 project, created with seed funding from the Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education and the Walton Family Foundation, gave $1 million grants to five Black educators and education leaders. The initiative is just getting started.
- Who’s funding the conservative assault on public education? Author Jennifer Berkshire says it’s helpful to look state-by-state at the billionaire families that are remaking state politics around education.
- Philanthropy is backing a research project that aims “to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic shaped students’ modes of learning in 2020–21.” Critics fear there’s a conservative pro-charter-school agenda.
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
- The State of American Philanthropy: Giving for K-12 Education
- Racial Equity and Justice in Education Are “Drastically Underfunded,” Research Finds
- Who’s Funding the Latest Conservative Assault on Public Education?
- Education Funders Are Throwing Weight Behind This Small Nonprofit’s Equity Work. Here’s Why