Wallace Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education

OVERVIEW: The Wallace Foundation's K-12 ed mission is to improve education and enrichment opportunities for schoolchildren, especially disadvantaged urban youth. This funder concentrates its K-12 education grantmaking on building effective school leaders, and supporting after-school and other enrichment programs.

IP TAKE: Wallace values excellent school leaders and believes learning opportunities shouldn't stop when the school day ends. It leans heavily in favor of research-based project ideas.

PROFILE: For The Wallace Foundation, the key to improving K-12 educational opportunities, especially for disadvantaged city youth, is simple: ensure access to quality schools with effective leaders. Also essential is ensuring access to enrichment opportunities both inside and outside of school that expand learning opportunities and prepare children to become contributing adults. 

Headquartered in New York City, The Wallace Foundation was established by DeWitt and Lila Wallace, the founders of Reader's Digest. The Wallaces were longtime philanthropists who supported education and the arts. After their deaths in the 1980s, The Wallace Foundation continued their work. According to a recent annual report, the foundation had well over $1 billion in assets at its disposal to support its five main program areas: school leadership, after-school programs, arts education, and summer and expanded learning. A fifth focus, building audiences for the arts, stands to benefit K-12 students but is not exclusively targeted at this demographic.

Within these programs, Wallace's funding strategy has three specific types of organizations in mind, which it describes as:

  • organizations that work with the foundation to "develop and test potential solutions to important public problems" 
  • organizations that "conduct research to contribute to field knowledge and evaluate what is and is not working" 
  • organizations that engage collaboratively with the foundation "in communications by getting issues and solutions before those who can help effect change."

 Getting back to the foundation's program areas, the school leadership program aims at better training and support of school principals and other leaders. In this area, the foundation has produced and disseminated policy reports for decision-makers as well as launched a multimillion-dollar initiative several years back to help six urban school districts recruit, develop, and support a core of new principals. Recipient districts include Charlotte-Mecklenburg in North Carolina, Prince George's County in Maryland, and Hillsborough County in Tampa, Florida; additional grantees are listed here.

Wallace's after-school and summer learning initiatives seek expanded learning opportunities for schoolchildren. To that end, the foundation has provided millions of dollars in funding to non-profit organizations and other agencies to support coordinated and effective expanded summer and after-school programs that engage students in learning opportunities beyond the traditional school day.

Again in line with its overall strategy, Wallace has focused its afterschool support on providing reports for policymakers, practical guides for "city leaders [to] act on what we've learned," and capacity-building through the implementation of city-wide systems in areas beginning to implement these programs. Summer and Extended Learning initiatives, meanwhile, are directed at informing city leaders about their importance and scaling up the programs and providers the foundation has identified as successful.  More information about After School and Summer Learning grantees can be found here and here.

Wallace's arts education initiative is its response to the decline in arts education in many urban school systems. The goal here is to develop students' "empathy, imagination and persistence" and foster lifelong art lovers. Grantmaking activities in this area have helped build collaborative relationships among school systems, city agencies, and arts organizations to boost student learning in this area.

The Wallace Foundation identifies most prospective grant recipients through requests for proposals and other screening efforts. However, organizations that want to get the foundation's attention are welcome to submit email inquiries to grantrequest@wallacefoundation.org that describe themselves, their projects, and the estimated cost. Various organizations, including school systems, city agencies, arts and cultural organizations, non-profit education program providers, and other non-profit organizations have received past Wallace Foundation support.

Equally valuable for first-time grantseekers, Wallace has a stated dedication to transparency in its grantmaking. It is a participant in the transparency-focused Glasspockets Initiative, and its grants database catalogs its giving over the course of the last two decades.

It is important to note that this funder values projects with practices and activities that are rooted in sound research. Wallace  often cites the work of the RAND Corporation as part of the research that informs its grantmaking activities. Organizations seeking The Wallace Foundation support should therefore familiarize themselves not only with the foundation's sizeable staff, but also with RAND research to better ensure their projects and activities are consistent with the funder's priorities.

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