Not Dark Yet: A Sunsetting Foundation Gives Teachers a Nice Boost

According to a 2015 report by the Arizona Department of Education, thousands of teachers are fleeing the state due to low pay, insufficient classroom resources and the demands of standardized testing.

The prognosis in neighboring California is also dire. The Learning Policy Institute's white paper, titled Addressing California's Emerging Teacher Shortage: An Analysis of Sources and Solutions, claims that after sharp declines in teacher education enrollments over the last 10 years, recent hiring increases left many districts scrambling to find fully qualified teachers.

Add it all up and the number of "unprepared" teachers hired in 2015 reached alarmingly high levels. The shortage is particularly acute in the areas of math, science and special education. As we've reported, Qualcomm recently stepped forward to support a push by EnCorps to recruit more STEM teachers to California's schools. 

Related: Finding the Cash for a Four-Year Plan to Alleviate California's Teacher Shortage

Which brings us to yet more news out of the Golden State, where the California State University (CSU) Office of the Chancellor recently announced large grants to 11 campuses from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation to continue to expand the CSU’s New Generation of Educators Initiative (NGEI). The grants will be used to broaden practice-based training to support new K-8 teachers in implementing the state's math and science standards.

For more than 100 years, the CSU has led teacher training in the state, conferring the largest number of education degrees and multi-subject credentials to California’s teachers.

The 11 campuses and their district partners will receive more than $10 million in grant funding. The grants range from approximately $600,000 to $1.2 million, depending on annual production of new teachers.

The good news, here, is multi-layered. First off, the money will be used to help California crank out much-need teachers. What's more, by broadening support around math and science standards, the grants will address two areas of greatest need as articulated by the Learning Policy Institute study. Lastly, the gift sends a powerful message to would-be teachers afraid they won't get the support they deserve. The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation is saying, "Hey, we've got your back."

Just so you know, though, this kind of support won't last forever. As we've previously noted, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation plans to invest all its assets by 2020, in a "spend down" strategy committed to "identifying lasting solutions for education and the environment sooner, rather than later."

These spend-down plans haven't gotten much attention, at least compared to the much-discussed disappearing act of Atlantic Philanthropies. That's understandable, given that the S.D. Bechtel Foundation focuses just on California. But we're talking about some serious money flowing out the door as the foundation heads toward its end date. It gave away $120 million last year, and this year is planning to give $160 million. That's on par with annual grantmaking by the Rockefeller Foundation. 

Last we checked, the S.D. Bechtel Foundation was down to several hundred million dollars in assets, so it's on track to dispose of all its money within the next few years. But we should note that the benefactor of this outfit, Stepheh Bechtel, who is 91, still has a fortune estimated at $3.6 billion. And we can't wondering what will happen all that money? (Bechtel has not signed the Giving Pledge.) 

After the foundation embraced a spend-down plan in 2009, it identified 22 partners to serve as informal "spend-down advisors," including long-term grantees, colleague funders, and consultants. Bechtel interviewed these advisors and received feedback on a range of issues related to its planning and grantmaking approach before it called it a day.

The results can be found in the President and Vice Chair Lauren B. Dachs's Summer 2016 Update here.

Click that link and you'll find a collection of one-page "snapshots" of the foundation's strategic lines of work. Click on "Teacher preparation portfolio" and you'll see the foundation's goal is ensuring that "new teachers are well trained in the practices of the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, so that students throughout California have access to teachers who are ready to support learning aligned with these standards."

Needless to say, Bechtel's gift to the CSU campuses aligns tightly with this goal.