Just released: New Report on Trends in Education Philanthropy

For Immediate Release February 27, 2019:

New Report Highlights Significant Shifts in Education Investments From Education Philanthropies

Grantmakers for Education Survey Shows Investments Move Away from K-12 Reform, Toward Equity, Social and Emotional Learning, Postsecondary & Early Ed

PORTLAND, OR – A new benchmarking survey of leading philanthropies reveals significant investment shifts toward equity, postsecondary and early education and social and emotional learning efforts and away from the core K-12 reforms that have defined the last decade of policymaking, such as standards, assessments, school turnaround and teacher quality.

This shift, donors report, is paired with a loss of confidence in government, especially the federal government, to lead and adequately fund education.

“This survey data makes clear that philanthropies have, collectively, begun to redefine education giving and reform quite profoundly – directing their dollars toward new priorities and dramatically away from the more traditional K-12 issues,” said Celine Coggins, executive director of Grantmakers for Education. Funders recognize that academic reforms alone are inadequate to the challenge of helping all students—especially disadvantaged students—succeed. They are ensuring those are paired with equity-focused, social-emotional supports that the emerging brain science shows are essential for learning.”

The survey, Trends in Education Philanthropy: Benchmarking 2018-19, is the 10th anniversary of the first such survey from Grantmakers for Education, the largest and most diverse group of education philanthropists in the nation, comprised of nearly 300 private and public grant makers and 1,800 individuals. The findings in the report are based on the responses of 91 education funders, including 65 members of GFE.

“Our first benchmarking survey coincided with the dawn of President Obama’s tenure, when the federal imprint on education was substantial,” Coggins said, noting the period of active policy making from the historic Race to the Top program through the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, among others driving investment in reforms with philanthropies as key partners. “These hallmark reforms in standards, assessment, school turnaround and teacher quality have now seen the steepest declines on the funding priority list in 2018.”

When asked to identify the factors they think will have the greatest potential negative impact on education in coming years, the single largest share of respondents cited current federal education leadership. Beyond changes in education policies of the current and prior presidential administrations and criticisms of earlier reform efforts, the report noted that another factor influencing this trend may be funders who considered the past decade’s collaborative opportunities with the federal government and national nonprofit partners to have been exceptional, one-time prospects that existed separately from their long-term strategic objectives.

Instead, the survey found, investors are turning their attention to other areas, and are redefining philanthropic giving in education.

Namely, the funders are focused increasingly on:

  • Advancing education equity. Seventy-five percent of respondents targeted funding with an explicit focus on making our schools more equitable to all learners – including efforts such as restorative justice and wraparound supports for low-income populations, ethnic or racial minorities, people who identify as LGBTQ, immigrants and refugees, women and girls or people with disabilities. They identified efforts to promote educational equity primarily focused on providing resources to communities least-well served to increase equitable learning opportunities for youth.

    “We must acknowledge historical and systemic disparities and lead intentional efforts to improve attainment rates,” said Susan D. Johnson, director of organizational development and philanthropic practice at Lumina Foundation. “We understand the importance of embedding equity in all of our efforts, seeking clear, flexible and transparent pathways to credentials beyond high school and connecting with like-minded organizations and thought partners.”

  • Learning stages before and after K-12 education. Among the factors driving the growth in funder support for early learning are the growing understanding of the critical importance of preparing young learners for success prior to beginning kindergarten as well as increased public interest and investment in early learning. A central factor in driving increased support for postsecondary education has been a belief in the critical importance of postsecondary education in preparing learners for a rapidly changing labor market.

    “More funders are investing in early childhood, which takes a whole child and whole community approach.  The reported increased interest in social and emotional learning and family and community engagement in K-12 creates opportunities to work together across children’s educational pathways,” said Shannon Rudisill, executive director of the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, which builds philanthropic capacity in early childhood by engaging and sharing best practices with local, state and regional funders.

    “The surest route to economic mobility is earning a quality postsecondary credential,” said Caroline Altman Smith, deputy director of The Kresge Foundation’s education program. “Funders increasingly acknowledge this is both a social justice and a workforce readiness issue. Getting more students to enroll in – and finish – postsecondary education is key to meeting our future workforce needs.”

  • Support for strategies embracing the whole learner. While funders are moving away from the academic areas of focus that characterized the Obama era, investments are being made in efforts that support addressing students’ social and emotional needs. This increase aligns with a growing body of research on the impact of social and emotional intelligence as the trend that has the greatest potential for a positive impact on education over the next five years.

    "Funders increasingly recognize what we're learning about learning itself, and research science now confirms what caregivers have long known intuitively – that social and emotional learning really matters," said Gregg Behr, executive director of The Grable Foundation. “Attention to knowledge building must go hand in hand with building such essential skills as persistence, empathy, self-control and creativity so that students can genuinely flourish.”

The survey report highlighted several spotlights of funder activities in these areas and raised critical questions facing philanthropies and the national education system going forward.

“The field of education philanthropy is at an inflection point,” Coggins concluded. “We have gleaned many lessons since the first administration of this survey, a decade ago. We are also seeing a loss of faith in the federal government and movement toward local problem solving to
ensure all students are given the opportunities they need to be successful.”

“It is a moment that is both tumultuous and exciting for its potential,” she said. “And given the divisive political climate, it is a moment where our collective leadership has never been more necessary.”

The full Trends in Education Philanthropy: Benchmarking 2018-19 report can be viewed online at https://edfunders.org/trends2018-19.

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For more information, contact Rebecca Smith, communications manager, at rsmith@edfunders.org.