Report Calls for More Funding to Support Disadvantaged Students, Systemic Reform

Only a small group of education funders focus their grantmaking on addressing the specific needs of low-income and other underserved students, and even fewer focus on supporting systemic reform to eliminate educational inequities, a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy finds.

Written by Kevin Welner and Amy Farley of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the report, Confronting Systemic Inequity in Education: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy (40 pages, PDF), found that of the 672 foundations that gave at least $1 million in grants for education between 2006 and 2008, only 11 percent devoted at least half of those dollars to programs for students from marginalized communities. The report also found that only 2 percent allocated at least a quarter of their education funding for systemic change efforts involving advocacy, community organizing, and/or civic engagement.

In a March 2009 report, Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best: Benchmarks to Assess and Enhance Grantmaker Impact (142 pages, PDF), NCRP called on grantmakers to allocate at least 50 percent of their grant dollars to marginalized communities, and 25 percent of their grant dollars for advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement activities designed to promote equity, opportunity, and social justice. Arguing that education reform cannot succeed without breaking the cycle of unequal educational access and opportunities, Welner and Farley recommend that grantmakers incorporate these same benchmarks into their education grantmaking strategies.

In the report, the first in a series of "Philanthropy at Its Best" reports focusing on specific issue areas to be published by NCRP, Welner and Farley identify nine foundations that meet both criteria in their education funding: the California Endowment and the Annie E. Casey, Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen, Ford, Marguerite Casey, Charles Stewart Mott, Nike, Skoll, and Surdna foundations.

"Education in America is broken, especially for children in vulnerable communities, and the situation is actually worsening, but that's not the news," said Welner. "What's newsworthy is the fact that the country's education grantmakers are not effectively using their limited dollars to drive long-term solutions. By revisiting some basic assumptions, they can be more effective."

"Education Philanthropy Misses the Mark in Helping American Students." National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Press Release 10/27/2010.