One of the Few Big Backers of After-School and Summer Programs Steps up with a Major Grant

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The New York Life Foundation recently put up $3 million to support BellXcel, a national nonprofit that provides modular, evidence-based curricula for after-school and summer programs to use. This latest gift adds to the tens of millions of dollars the life insurance company’s philanthropic arm has devoted to outside-of-school enrichment in the last decade.

After-school programs don’t typically draw the same attention from philanthropy as big in-school investments, but they do have a loyal following of funders and those who prioritize the programs tend to do so in a big way. The programs also sometimes act as a gateway into education funding for donors new to giving.  

On the federal level, it’s a different story. For the third year in a row, President Trump’s proposed budget would cut funding for after-school programs, this time by $1.2 billion. Of course, it’s unlikely Congress will approve the proposed cuts.

The New York Life Foundation’s recent big gift is for a three-year project at BellXcel. The nonprofit supports a national network of after-school and summer programs for middle-schoolers by providing plans and curricula for school districts and other children-serving organizations to adopt. For some, using BellXcel’s tested, evidence-based plans is more efficient and cost-effective than designing and evaluating their own programs from scratch.

The focus is on boosting academic and social and emotional skills. The nonprofit boasts that its summer programs help students gain two and a half months’ worth of math skills and two months’ worth of reading, counteracting the backsliding that typically happens during summer vacation. These gains are especially crucial to low-income kids, who are less likely than affluent peers to have access to enriching extra-curricular activities outside of school.

The larger ambition of the grant is to expand access to BellXcel’s evidence-based after-school and summer programs to 12,000 at-risk middle schoolers across the country.    

The funds will support the nonprofit’s development of an online platform to deliver resources to its network of partner programs. The new platform will allow for more customization so that programs can tailor BellXcel’s resources to their needs. The grant also funds professional development for middle school teachers.

This isn’t New York Life’s first partnership with BellXcel. The company’s foundation has supported the nonprofit since 2007. The Ballmer Group and the sunsetting Edna McConnell Clark foundation also support the organization, along with the Deerbook Charitable Trust and the Norman R. Rales and Ruth Rales Foundation.

The New York Life Foundation tends to get more attention for its work on child bereavement, in part because that work is more unusual in the funder world. But the foundation has also been an avid supporter of after-school and summer programs for kids. Since 2013, the company has donated more than $25 million to out-of-school enrichment for middle schoolers.

The biggest player in the space is the Michigan-based Charles Mott Foundation. The foundation has devoted almost $250 million to after-school and summer programs in the last three decades. It funds programs in all 50 states, and is involved in supporting groups that advocate for favorable policies on the local, state and federal levels.

Related: A Foundation Sticks With After-School Programs as New Threats Loom

Based in Flint, Michigan, the Mott Foundation has been around for more than 90 years. Charles Mott made his fortune as an early shareholder and director at General Motors—he leveraged his own company making auto parts to get there. The foundation he endowed boasts more than $2 billion in assets, and in the past several years, annual giving has ranged from about $90 million to $150 million.

Mott has been around for a while, but there are also some newer funders on the scene that prioritize out-of-school enrichment. The Overdeck Family Foundation includes a funding vertical for programs that spark kids’ interests in STEM outside of school hours.

Laura and John Overdeck, who draw their wealth from John’s work on Wall Street as the co-founder and co-chair of the investment firm Two Sigma, first dipped their toes into education philanthropy by funding two out-of-school programs that had influence on their own educations. For Laura, that was Governor’s School, a summer program for talented kids in 19 states; for John, it was the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins, which, among other services, runs a summer program.

It’s actually not unusual to see support for after-school and summer programs on the giving lists of young philanthropists. Sometimes the funding programs may even act as a gateway into further education funding, like it did for the Overdecks. Their foundation now supports early childhood learning, training for teachers, innovative school models and data scientists.

Other notable education philanthropists who started out building relationships and support for after-school programs include Ray and Barbara Dalio, most recently in the news for their $100 million commitment to public education in Connecticut.

Barbara Dalio mentioned during an interview last year with Inside Philanthropy that when first getting started in K-12 work, she relied on contacts she made through the couple’s earlier work in after-school programs. Though the couple moved on from out-of-school enrichment, working with those programs provided the launchpad into their K-12 work.

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