Education Funders Shifting Focus to Equity

Education Funders Shifting Focus to Equity

Education funders are shifting their focus away from core K-12 reforms such as standards and assessments and teacher quality and focusing more of their attention and dollars on equity, postsecondary and early childhood education, and social and emotional learning efforts, a report from Grantmakers for Education finds. 

Based on survey responses from ninety-one education funders, including sixty-five members of GFE, the report, Trends in Education Philanthropy: Benchmarking 2018-19 (32 pages, PDF), found that funders are committed to advancing education equity, with 75 percent of respondents targeting their funding with an explicit focus on low-income populations, ethnic/racial minorities, people who identify as LGBTQ, immigrants and refugees, women and girls, and/or people with disabilities. The report also found that investments by education funders in standards and assessment declined markedly in 2018, with funding in the category accounting for just 0.2 percent of total education grant dollars and no respondents anticipating an increase in their grantmaking over the next two years.

According to the report, the number of respondents investing in early learning, postsecondary education, and preparation for career and workforce grew significantly, as did the share of funders anticipating increases in grantmaking in those areas. In 2018, 56 percent of respondents reported making grants in the area of postsecondary education, up more than 10 percentage points from the previous survey in 2015 and accounting for 42 percent of total education grant dollars. And while the share of respondents funding early childhood education remained steady at 33 percent — accounting for just 4 percent of total education grant dollars — three in five funders said they expect to increase funding over the next two years, surpassing the projected growth in funding for all other categories.

The survey also found that education funders have lost confidence in federal government leadership on and funding for education reform, with only 17 percent of respondents viewing the federal policy environment as "moderately favorable" to funders' priorities and none as "very favorable," and that many are shifting their focus back to local reform efforts. Indeed, when asked which factors have the greatest potential to negatively affect education in coming years, the largest share of respondents cited current federal education leadership, followed by public school financing and teacher preparation and development. 

"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 Grantmakers for Education executive director Celine Coggins. "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." 

"New Report Highlights Significant Shifts in Education Investments From National Philanthropies.." Grantmakers for Education Press Release 02/27/2019. "Trends in Education Philanthropy: Benchmarking 2018-19." Grantmakers for Education Report 02/27/2019.