Got an Idea to Re-imagine K-12 Schools? Get in Touch With This Venture Funder

If you have a new, outside-the-box idea for transforming K-12 education in such a way that better addresses issues of racial and ethnic diversity, we've got a funder that wants to hear from you.

The NewSchools Venture Fund kicked off the month of August with an announcement of $7 million in funding opportunities across its three education funding strategy areas: creating innovative schools, building technology tools to better support student learning, and cultivating pipelines for more diverse leadership in public schooling. 

This type of funding opportunity is not unusual for NewSchools, which bills itself as a venture philanthropy firm — and not coincidentally, has backing from quite a few tech and VC types in Silicon Valley. Among its board members is John Doerr, the legendary venture capitalist, and Brook Byers, another veteran VC. Laurene Powell Jobs is also a board member. 

The basic idea behind the NewSchools Fund is to put capital in the hands of education entrepreneurs whose innovative ideas have the potential to transform K-12 education in ways that create outstanding results for all students, regardless of their background. Tech investors have seen huge payoffs from making smart bets on visionary leaders, so it's not surprising that some would think the same strategy could work in disrupting and improving K-12.

We'll leave it to others to argue about whether a Silicon Valley mindset is really the key to fueling education breakthroughs. Meanwhile, let's look more closely at the details here. 

The Innovative Schools strategy at NewSchools aims to create new schools — both traditional district schools and charters — that emphasize personalized learning and allow students to take greater ownership of their own learning.

As we've reported often, personalized learning is red hot with tech philanthropists right now, including Mark Zuckerberg, Reed Hastings, and others. 

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For this latest funding opportunity, the vision for new schools should include plans to better serve the needs of racially and socioeconomically diverse enrollment. NewSchools also stipulates that this funding opportunity is limited to education entrepreneurs who plan to launch their new schools in the next 1-3 years.

NewSchools will offer planning grants ranging from $100,000 to $200,000. For teams who have finished their planning work and are ready to launch can receive grants ranging from $200,000 to $700,000.

NewSchools' Tools and Services strategy is all about educational technology tools. For this new funding opportunity, NewSchools wants to hear pitches from ed tech entrepreneurs whose tools and ideas will focus on the needs of English Language Learners (ELL), a growing segment of the enrollment in many public school systems. There are few technology-based tools focused on this group, and many ELL educators have told NewSchools of the need. Grants in this funding area range from $50,000 to $150,000.

The third funding area is the Diverse Leaders strategy, which wants to make school leadership more representative, creating a new crop of school leaders who look like the students in the schools they lead. NewSchools hopes to build talent pipelines that will result in African American and Latino school leaders accounting for at least 30 percent of the senior leadership in K-12 schools, education nonprofits, and education technology firms by the year 2020. NewSchools wants ideas that involve efforts to recruit, develop and retain a more diverse range of education leaders. Grants in this area range from $50,000 to $150,000.

More information about this new funding opportunity is available on the NewSchools website. Applications are due in late August for the Tools and Services ideas, and in September for the Innovative Schools and Diverse Leaders strategies. The funder plans to announce winners in October.

In other words, anyone interested in this pot of cash, better get cracking!