What This Funder is Doing for Education in the Least-Advantaged Bay Area County

Credit: John Morgan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)News just came out that the Solano Community Foundation (SCF) is expanding its eligibility and deadline requirements for education grants, which is definitely good news for some local groups. Now applications for Education Plus! mini grants are being accepted during every calendar year from February to November, and it’s not just Solano County K-12 public school teachers who can apply anymore. If you have a 501(c)(3) status and are a member of the Nonprofit Partnership Program, you’re now eligible to apply too. Up until now, only schools could apply and the open application period was just five weeks long.

But this news also prompted us to take a closer look at SCF’s education giving strategy and how its community funds are being put to use in the county.

The Solano Community Foundation has two education goals: help children achieve grade-level reading by the time they finish third grade and achieve proper math placement by ninth grade. In-school, after-school, and summer learning programs are all considered by this funder. Although Oakland has been getting a ton of funder attention lately, especially in terms of education, Solano County has some serious education needs as well.

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“Solano County is the least-advantaged county in the Bay Area,” foundation officials said. “Our unemployment rate and our poverty level are higher than surrounding counties. (Foundation officials are) committed to addressing poverty and unemployment at their root — education.”

SCF’s commitment to local education has a lot to do with economic improvement in the county, not to mention fighting poverty. It is part of the Rise Together Bay Area consortium, along with over 100 other organizations that are committed to reducing Bay Area poverty by half by 2020. The California Board of Education has classified approximately 53 percent of students in Solano County as socio-economically disadvantaged. The biggest areas of concern are Fairfield, Vallejo, and Dixon.

A big reason for SCF’s education expansion is because of support coming from the Frank H. and Eva B. Buck Foundation. This foundation just sent over another $216,660, bringing the total received for education programs in 2016 to $541,660. Buck has been supporting education programs here at SCF for over 25, and other donations have come in from Kinder-Morgan, Westamerica Bank, and the Valero Benicia Refinery.

Recent support under the revamped Education Plus! program has gone to the Solano County Library Foundation for early literacy workstations and The Hope Project for after-school tutoring and mentoring. Education Plus! grants are considered to be mini grants, and nine of them were awarded for the 2015-2016 school year ranging from $400 to $1,000 in size. What’s significant to note here is the number of applications received last year (21) was far fewer than in previous years. Other years have seen double that number of applications in the pool with more than double last year's number receiving funds.

Under the new education strategy, the foundation will be reviewing new applications on a first-come, first-served basis and recommend new applicants to the board each month. The application form can be downloaded from the Education Plus! grants program page and submitted by email, mail, fax, or in person.

In addition to education, the Solano Community Foundation supports arts, culture & humanities, community improvement & capacity building, health, public & society benefit, human services for seniors and veterans, and youth development. You can see a list of funds held by SCF separated by area of interest to learn more and reach out to the SCF staff to get connected with funds that match your area of work. Also worth taking a look at is the foundation’s Nonprofit Partnership Program (which now has a new grantmaking component) and the schedule of workshops and meetings (there are a few good topics coming up this fall).