Here's Where New York's Progressive Education Funders Band Together

New York City has the biggest public school system in the country, and all manner of education funders are operating in the city including many centrist and conservative funders, both national and local.

Yet amid the drumbeat of stories about how the Gates Foundation and billionaire hedge fund guys (or, most recently, Campbell Brown) are hijacking the schools, it's easy to forget that the city is home to plenty of progressive funders who also work on education. 

One place these funders come together is through the Donor’s Education Collaborative (DEC). The New York Community Trust (NYCT) established the fund back in 1995 to pool member funds and bring about system-wide reform, and it's still going strong.

Here are grantmakers who are currently part of this effort:

  • Catherine and Joseph Aresty Foundation
  • The Atlantic Philanthropies
  • The Morton K. and Jane Blaustein Foundation
  • Booth Ferris Foundation
  • Robert Sterling Clark Foundation
  • Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation
  • Ford Foundation
  • Fordham Street Foundation
  • Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation
  • New York Community Trust
  • NoVo Foundation
  • Schott Foundation for Public Education
  • Trinity Wall Street Grants Program

This collaborative group of funders recently approved nearly $1 million in 11 grants to fund education efforts in all five boroughs. The grants reflect key priorities of progressive ed reformers in New York and beyond— like winning more funding to reduce crowding, rolling back Draconian school discipline policies, and increasing community and parental input in education. 

What you won't find here is a focus on charter schools, teacher accountability, and the like. One group that got funding is that Alliance for Quality of Education, which presses for better and more equitable funding for the city's schools, which it sees as a "precondition" for improving things. Another grantee, Make the Road New York, is leading a campaign to reduce school overcrowding in Queens.

Two other DEC grantees, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and New York Appleseed, are working to make schools more responsive to the needs of English learners and take other steps to embrace diversity. 

Meanwhile, DEC also funded the Brooklyn Movement Center and the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice to get parents involved through conferences, leadership trainings, and resource advocacy. This has been an increasingly common funding area throughout the city.

And money went out to the Dignity in Schools Campaign and the New York Civil Liberties Union, both of which are taking on harsh discipline policies that critics say fuels a "school-to-prison pipeline" and hurts kids of color. (Atlantic Philanthropies, one of DEC's members, has invested millions to reform such practices nationwide in recent years.) 

Other groups got funding, too, including the The After-School Corporation for a new effort to push expanded learning time, which it sees as a more urgent priority than ever as education systems adopt the Common Core standards. 

Now, does all this add up to a counterweight to what funders elsewhere on the ideological spectrum are doing? Maybe not. But it does show that the education funding terrain is more varied than some accounts might suggest.