Jun 2023

Nationwide Survey of Education Philanthropies Finds Support for Systemic Transformation of Education in U.S.

For Immediate Release

Nationwide Survey of Education Philanthropies Finds Support for Systemic Transformation of Education in U.S.

Funders Express Concern about Politicization of Education While Increasing Focus on Social and Emotional Learning and Out-of-School Time

PORTLAND, OR. – June 1, 2023  In the first post-pandemic benchmarking survey by Grantmakers for Education (EdFunders), the nation’s largest association of education funders, respondents indicate that they have continued to move beyond the primary focus on core academics and assessment that prevailed in the prior two decades and are now directing attention to systemic reforms and transformation in the nation’s educational system.

Released to the public today, Trends in Education Philanthropy: Benchmarking 2023 reports on a national survey of grantmakers whose work spans the education spectrum. This is the fifteenth anniversary of the survey; the organization has issued a broad survey of education funding trends eight times since 2008. 

“The results of this year’s survey clearly demonstrate three strong developments,” said Dr. Ulcca Joshi Hansen, co-interim executive director of Grantmakers for Education and an author of the report. “Education funders see the need for systemic reform in America’s education system, they’re expressing alarm over the politicization of education, and they’re supporting increased attention on the social and emotional needs of students. Hansen went on to say, “This year’s report indicates that grantmakers continue to look beyond learning standards and testing goals to define student success. Students cannot succeed if they do not have a whole range of needs met through supports -- both inside and outside of school.”

Highlights of the survey include the following:

Funders’ growing recognition of the need for transformation in the education system comes with a wide range of approaches. More than two-thirds of respondents indicated that they fund educational system redesign and transformation, the most commonly funded of all 37 priority areas in the survey. At the same time, respondents’ perspectives on what constitutes system redesign and transformation varies widely. Some describe a fundamental re-examination of what education is and how it is organized; others envision specific reforms within the existing system.

“The survey highlighted the extent to which funders recognize that the current system is failing too many students,” said Charmaine Mercer, chief of equity and culture with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Grantmakers for Education board member. “We see this in the number of grantmakers interested in transformation, as well as the fact that more than two-thirds of respondents are actively investing in education equity. As someone who has dedicated their life to education, I look forward to seeing how this survey supports the change needed to strengthen our schools.”

“With trust in government eroding, the role of philanthropy as it relates to education has never been more critical,” said Hansen.

Funders have major concerns about the politicization of education. The current polarization of American politics, combined with coordinated strategies to build political control through local school governance and curricula, has led to a highly politicized educational environment, especially at the K-12 level. Among the factors respondents considered most likely to negatively impact education in the next five years, politicization was by far the top concern.

Dr. Zoë Stemm-Calderon, senior director of youth-serving systems at the Raikes Foundation, is deeply concerned by this trend. “I’m troubled not only by the divisive effects of legislation and partisan school board takeovers on our communities, but also by a culture of fear impacting our students and teachers. These attacks make our schools less effective and have a chilling effect on students' development of critical thinking and other skills that are essential for success in today’s workforce. I’m heartened to see from the survey that others in the funding community are similarly concerned, and I hope this concern drives more funders to action.”

Funders’ expanded approach to the social and emotional needs of learners includes addressing trauma and other negative impacts of racial injustice. A majority of respondents are investing in social and emotional learning and/or mental health and trauma-informed care, as well as wraparound services (e.g. counseling, food assistance and basic health care) that support children and families. Wraparound supports ranked high among trends considered most likely to improve educational access and outcomes.

“Post-pandemic, as students returned to in-class learning, educators saw widespread evidence of trauma—whether from the pandemic or other factors,” said Richard Tagle, president and CEO of the Denver Public Schools Foundation and board chairperson for Grantmakers for Education. “Funders recognize that if students are to learn, many will need to access broad supports both in and out of school, including mental health and trauma-informed care.”

Other report highlights include increased investment into alternative postsecondary career pathways and out-of-school time programming, and signals that more funders may be following through on pledges to support diverse communities.

“In spite of the many real concerns expressed by respondents, this report leaves me hopeful,” said Hansen. “It demonstrates that the field of education philanthropy is taking on the complex issues preventing equitable education in this country. We need to build a shared vision of what we want education to be, and then identify the long-term investments that philanthropies can make to create a new education infrastructure.”

The full Trends in Education Philanthropy: Benchmarking 2023 report can be viewed online.


Grantmakers for Education (EdFunders) is the nation’s largest community of education philanthropists. EdFunders members make up a diverse network of almost 300 public, private and community foundations, and others, that support public education.

Working in partnership with our members, we pursue systemic approaches to equity and racial justice in education in order to make a positive impact on learners everywhere. We are a hub for new connections and ideas, a compass to help members navigate their work, a spur for collective action and a champion for positive change in education.

For media inquiries, contact Rebecca Smith, Associate Director of Communications.