A Funder Shifts Strategy To Give More Attention to Learning Outside the Classroom

Paul Reville, director of the Redesign Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and former Massachusetts secretary of education, has observed that schools account for less than 20 percent of a child’s waking hours. Yet, a lot is expected of that 20 percentfrom educators, parents, and funders. The latter have spent millions trying to impact that 20 percentoften with mixed results.

Meanwhile, learning opportunities exist everywherenot only in the classrooms of K-12 schools, but also in parks, community centers, youth organizations, museums, and more. The desire to impact learning opportunities beyond the 20 percent spent in schools drives a recent change in funding strategy by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation (JKAF). A look at recent activities suggest that while K-12 and higher education remain important parts of JKAF’s portfolio, the funder is looking beyond the classrooms and lecture halls for learning opportunities.

Since the late 1990s, JKAF has invested more than $700 million in education-related projects and programs, mainly in the funder’s home state of Idaho. The funder has supported traditional K-12 and charter schools, as well as every public institution of higher education in Idaho.

In 2014 alone, JKAF gave $34 million to education-related projects. While funded activities included traditional public and charter schools, other gifts included $1 million to Boys and Girls Clubs of Ada County, ID; $1.3 million to overhaul a park, and $4 million to the South YMCA project.

JKAF President Jamie MacMillan, great-granddaughter of founders Joe and Kathryn Albertson, said the shift in funding strategy better aligns the foundation’s work with the family’s vision of supporting limitless learning opportunities for all Idahoans.

“Our focus is learning, and learning can happen anywhere, anytime, and to anyone, not just in the classroom” MacMillan told the Idaho Statesman.

Traditional public schools, charter schools, and institutions of higher education will remain an important part of this funder's giving. JKAF's 2014 annual grant report shows that recipients such as Boise State University, Khan Academy, and Idaho elementary and secndary schools continue to be funded. However, the range of recipients has expanded to include nonprofits that offer learning and enrichment opportunities outside the classroom. These include Junior Achievement of Idaho, the Idaho Youth Ranch, Boise Parks and Recreation, and area YMCA chapters.