Bruno V. Manno, Walton Family Foundation

TITLE: Senior Advisor, Systemic K-12 Education Reform 

FUNDING AREAS: K-12, charter schools

CONTACT: bmanno@wffmail.com, 303-442-3434

IP TAKE: Manno's authorship of several books on charter schools make him an ideal choice for a top influencer atthe Walton Family Foundation, which focuses far more on initiatives that create quality schools than improving existing ones. In fact, unless you are a public charter school developer, you need a special invitation to even approach the foundation about a grant.

PROFILE: Bruno V. Manno, Ph.D. has had a long and accomplished career in education, dating back to 1975 when he became the director of the Office for Moral and Religious Education at the University of Dayton. He now serves as the senior advisor for the Systemic K-12 Education Reform Focus Area of one of the nation's biggest philanthropic organizations, the Walton Family Foundation.

Manno has worked within the belly of the beast, as many in the education reform arena would call it, acting as Special Assistant to then U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, and also as Chief of Staff for Educational Research and Improvement (OERI).

Manno has co-authored two books about charter schools, Charter Schools in Action: Renewing Public Education and The Strategic Management of Charter Schools: Frameworks and Tools for Educational Entrepreneurs, and has written dozens of articles on education reform, many of them pointing out the advantages of charter schooling. He is also an Emeritus Trustee of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance the charter school movement.

The Walton Family Foundation isn't Manno's first rodeo with philanthropy. Just prior to that current post, he served as Senior Program Associate for Education for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, another philanthropic organization that focuses heavily on K-12 education reform. In an interview with Foundation Center in 2009, he discussed the importance of initiatives that connect schools with community organizations, both nonprofit and corporations.

Before his stint with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Manno was a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., where he joined the research staff of Charter Schools in Action, evaluating the performance of charter schools in 11 different states. In a 1998 edition of Phi Delta Kappan, Manno reported the results of his research, stating that schools should be more "consumer-oriented, diverse, flexible, accountable, goal-driven, professional, and voluntary institutions."

At the Walton Family Foundation, most of the grant proposals the organization approves are those that fund public charter school start-ups (i.e. those in their first year of operation). If your organization is thinking of opening a charter school, you might have a chance of catching Manno's attention if you're located in one of the foundation's targeted districts (located in 15 different states across the country). Just keep in mind that the maximum grant amount for charter school start-ups is $250,000. Also, Manno no longer approves planning proposals, so your school needs to be up and running or awaiting authorization as a charter school before you seek funds from the foundation. If you have an alternative charter school, the foundation won't automatically reject your proposal, but you will need to demonstrate an academic program that meets Manno's rigorous standards.

Does that mean that the Walton Family Foundation never funds grants for improving already established public schools? Definitely not. Under Manno's advisory, the Systemic K-12 Education Reform program consistently earmarks 38 percent of its funds to "shape public policy."  Its piece of the funding pie to "improve existing schools" hover in the teen percentages (dimishing slightly each year).  Teach for America is a significant awardee in these categories, recently garnering more than $17 million from the foundation.  It's a national organization that recruits and trains teachers to teach low-income students, with a mission to break the cycle of poverty that leads so many students down the wrong path with little academic or career opportunities as adults.

At the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Manno was directly involved in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, an effort which continues to reach out to students detained by the juvenile justice system, many of them from low-income families. Given Manno's background, as well as the Walton Family Foundation's education funding proclivities, it's not surprising that organizations that focus on underserved communities are heavy funding favorites. So if your organization is seeking a grant to help schools heavily populated by low-income students, then you might have a chance. The first step is to send a letter of inquiry. Of course, if you can get a referral from a grant partner, that's even better. If you can tie your initiatives to the community at large (perhaps by showing how your efforts will help keep poor kids out of the juvenile justice system, say), then you may have an even better shot at piquing the interest of this highly selective funding advisor.

On a final note, if Manno does ask you to submit a formal proposal, be sure that it includes measurable outcomes. 

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