Education Funding

Foundations’ K-12 Grants Grow; ‘More Competitive’ Climate Ahead

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 06, 2002 3 min read
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Grants by foundations to K-12 education skyrocketed in the period from June 30, 2000, to last July 1, according to a new report published by the Foundation Center.

The report, “Foundation Giving Trends: Update on Funding Priorities,” can be purchased online from the Foundation Center or by calling (800) 424-9836. The report must be bought as part of a five-part series, which costs $95.

Such aid to precollegiate education grew by 73 percent, from $802.4 million to $1.4 billion, over the previous year, according to the report, titled “Foundation Giving Trends: Update on Funding Priorities.” It analyzes grants reported to the center by 1,015 of the nation’s largest foundations. While some of the grants were given out in 1999, the report refers to the period as 2000.

Foundation giving rose overall by 30 percent over the previous year. But health, the environment, and education all experienced faster-than-average growth when compared with other categories.

“There was broader support across the sample and larger grants for K-12 education” than the previous year, said Steven Lawrence, the director of research for the New York City-based Foundation Center and author of the report. No single large grant or particular funder influenced the trend, he said.

The report attributes the rise in foundation wealth and giving to the technology boom and economic expansion that the United States experienced in the late 1990s and first half of 2000. Growth in foundation giving was somewhat more subdued in 2001 than in 2000, Mr. Lawrence said.

“For 2001, we’ll see that foundation giving grew, but not at the double-digit level of the 1990s,” he said. “It’s going to be a much more competitive funding environment” for nonprofit organizations.

The increase in funding shows that “education remains a top priority,” said William Porter, the director of Grantmakers for Education in Portland, Ore. “If you look at public polling, education is at the top among the public, so it’s not surprising that it is also for foundations.”

In addition, he said, “a number of new funders have entered the scene. You have some new money coming into the pipeline that you didn’t have before. In many cases, that money is used to ramp up school improvement.”

School Improvement

Along with the dramatic increase in education funding came a surge in funding for school improvement efforts. Such funding peaked in 1995, then declined steadily through 1999.

In 2000, school improvement received one in four dollars given by foundations to K-12 education. Dollars for school reform given by the foundations studied nearly doubled from the previous year to $296 million.

Reform is a common topic in discussions among grantmakers, Mr. Lawrence said, so the increase in funding in that area in 2000 is not surprising. What’s more surprising, he said, is that funding in that area slumped in the late 1990s.

The Philadelphia-based Annenberg Foundation provided a sizeable share of grant dollars for school improvement in 2000. It gave $25.3 million, for example, to the Greater Philadelphia First Foundation to support the Annenberg Challenge for Public School Reform. That grant was one of the three biggest grants given to K-12 education in 2000.

Another large grant for $24.8 million was given by the Walton Family Foundation to the New York City-based Children’s Scholarship Fund, which supports school choice. And the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a three-year, $45 million gift to Northwest Educational Service District No. 189 in Mount Vernon, Wash., a regional support office that will use the money to train teachers inhow to integrate technology into the classroom.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 2002 edition of Education Week as Foundations’ K-12 Grants Grow; ‘More Competitive’ Climate Ahead


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