Dec 2020

Racial Justice Tops Priorities for Education Philanthropists

New Grantmakers for Education Survey Reveals Priority Shifts to Racial Justice and Remote Learning in Response to Crises

PORTLAND, OR – This year not only marked a turning point for education, but also for those that fund the sector, according to a new survey report from Grantmakers for Education, The Big Vision for the Next Stage of Education Philanthropy. Education funders from philanthropic institutions across the nation are feeling the urgency of many issues that have risen to the surface in the face of multiple challenges in 2020. At the same time, they see that the potential for philanthropy to help shape the future of the American system of education has never been greater.

The survey data makes clear that education funders believe racial justice is a top priority, with 39% of respondents choosing racial justice in education as first among five thematic areas to focus on over the next one to three years. This finding most certainly reflects the national racial reckoning taking place, as well as the growing prioritization across the philanthropic sector in recent years of efforts to advance equity—and particularly racial equity. Specific sub-issues within the racial justice category emerged at the top of the list of tactics to pursue to improve education: addressing resource inequities in school budgeting and diversifying the educator workforce and school boards.

“Everything feels more urgent to education funders right now, who recognize the important role they must play in guarding against growing inequity,” said Celine Coggins, executive director of Grantmakers for Education and author of the report. “Yet, no issue has a higher moral imperative than addressing issues of systemic racism that exist across the education spectrum, from early learning though higher education."

Education funders see remote and hybrid learning as one of the most urgent issues, encompassing pre-K-12 through postsecondary education, and including multiple dimensions such as broadband and device access and teacher training. This priority reflects both the immediate needs of an in-person educational system upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as building on pre-crisis interest in how to maximize the potential for remote and hybrid instruction to increase educational access.

Public policy emerged as an important lever for change, with four out of five respondents believing education funders must engage in supporting public policy and advocacy-related activities if they want to advance their priorities.

Education funders also identified some areas where philanthropy may be less essential in catalyzing change or possibly even harmful, such as school choice and teacher quality, topics that have been central to the education improvement agenda for more than a decade. Other topics where funders expressed a wariness include supporting renewed efforts for school desegregation and reparations for communities that have historically been exploited.

Urgency and philanthropy’s essential role permeate the responses. The sense of urgency is reflected across all the priority areas, with 95% of topics being rated as extremely urgent or more urgent. Respondents are more cautious about opportunities to create systemic change, identifying only a few priority areas where they see inroads to large-scale impact. However, they view the philanthropic sector as having an essential role in accelerating systemic change for America’s learners, regardless of whether opportunities for action are clearly defined at this moment. Respondents rated 75% of topics as having a highly essential or essential role for philanthropy.

Respondents chose from 41 topics in five thematic areas: Civic Education and Students, Philanthropy in an Inequitable System, Postsecondary and Workforce Success, Pre-K-12 Educational Improvement and Racial Justice in Education. The top five issues that funders consider most important to address over the next one to three years are: addressing resource inequities in school budgeting, social-emotional and trauma informed supports, improving remote learning, diversifying the educator workforce, and supporting postsecondary completion for historically marginalized students.

The Grantmakers for Education survey was conducted in September 2020 and sought the perspectives of individuals engaged in education philanthropy as a leading indicator of institutional priorities. Respondents reflected a broad cross-section of the field of education philanthropy.

Data from the survey is shared in a report, The Big Vision for the Next Stage of Education Philanthropy. The report was written and published by Grantmakers for Education, the largest and most diverse group of education philanthropists in the nation comprised of nearly 300 private and public grantmakers and 1,400 individuals.


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