Ford Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education

OVERVIEW: With more than $11 billion in assets, the Ford Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States. Until recently, Ford’s major K-12 program was More and Better Learning Time, which supported urban out-of-school and after-school opportunities, but a programmatic restructuring and mission reorientation led Ford to end its efforts in that area. Based on information currently available, it appears that most K-12 funding will be funnelled through the foundation’s Youth Opportunity and Learning focus, though it is possible that K-12 recipients may qualify under other program areas as well.  

IP TAKE: With a plan to reduce the total number of annual grants awarded, securing funding from Ford in coming years will be even more competitive than it already was, but the foundation will still be awarding thousands of grants yearly. Grantseekers will need to pay close attention to the new directions funding might take in light of Ford’s recent programmatic restructuring.

PROFILE: After a recently-announced restructuring, the Ford Foundation has restated its driving mission to focus on addressing “inequality in all its forms—in influence, access, agency, resources, and respect.” In that vein, the foundation has identified five elements that it believes perpetuate inequality. As quoted directly from Ford's website, these elements are:

  • Cultural narratives that undermine fairness, tolerance and inclusion
  • Unequal access to government decision-making and resources
  • Persistent prejudice and discrimination against women as well as racial, ethnic and caste minorities
  • Rules of the economy that magnify unequal opportunity and outcomes
  • The failure to invest in and protect vital public goods, such as education and natural resources

As part of this focus, the foundation has highlighted an initiative it calls BUILD, which is geared towards “building institutions and networks” and which will receive substantial funding in the coming years. Ford's stated goal through BUILD is to incorporate a diverse array of organizations, be they “big, small, new, old, movement based, online, on the ground—or something else entirely.” In the more immediate term, BUILD will “support a limited number of organizations" that will “likely be selected by invitation only.”

Until recently, More and Better Learning Time was Ford's most important funding stream for U.S.-based nonprofits working in the K-12 arena. MBLT's interest was in ensuring that primary and secondary students - especially those in low-income communities - would have access to extended-day, after-school, and out-of-school educational programs and learning opportunities through support for programs, research, advocacy, and public awareness campaigns at the national, state, and local levels, but Ford has explicitly said that it will "discontinue" its work on "extending the school day."

How does all of this impact K-12 education grantees? Under its new structure, Ford will be focusing on supporting “youth who experience inequality in multiple ways across race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, sexual identity, and migration status,” so any proposed education program will need to keep those goals squarely in mind.

More specifically, Ford's new Youth and Learning program is geared at anyone age 24 and younger, and is composed of two sub-elements:

  • Pathways for Youth Success, which will focus on “public policies and public-private partnerships that recognize the value of youth and investments that strengthen their abilities and opportunities” by helping them move “from secondary to postsecondary education,” in “their transition to quality employment and adult life,” and in the reduction of “barriers that inhibit their progress.”

  • Next-Generation Leadership, which will “support efforts to connect youth with networks, mentors, and movements...through which they can learn social change by doing social change.”

Countries and regions currently listed as including Youth Opportunity and Learning among their programs are China, all regions of Africa, and the United States.

How does all of this impact K-12 grantees? As in the past, Ford still does not have a grantmaking program aimed exclusively toward K-12 schools, but Youth and Learning certainly leaves the door open for those grantseekers. After-school and out-of-school programs may still be eligible for some funding, but are likely to not be the priority they once were.

That said, Youth and Learning will likely not be the only avenue through which K-12 grantseekers will be able to secure support from Ford. Indeed, many of its other programs (Civic Engagement and Government; Creativity and Free Expression; Gender, Ethnic, and Racial Justice; Inclusive Economies; and Internet Freedom) have the potential to touch on K-12 education in one way or another.

While past grant recipients can be searched on the program's grants page, a fuller picture is likely to come into focus once Ford has completed a few grant cycles under its new structure.


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