The Legacy of Brooke Astor: New Cash for Education

Early education and children’s literacy organizations have the chance to score some big bucks from the estate of one of the first and foremost ladies of New York City philanthropy. (See Grants for Early Childhood Education). Brooke Astor, third wife of John Astor, passed away in August in 2007 and now, over four years later, her final affairs have finally been cared for. In December 2012, the New York State Attorney General chose The New York Community Trust to oversee and administer the Brooke Astor Fund for Education in New York City, with funds that were set aside from Mrs. Astor’s estate. Originally estimated at $30 million, the fund has now been confirmed to be closer to $42 million due to some excellent property sales of Mrs. Astor’s that took place at Sotheby’s in September 2012.

The specific goal of the fund is to support systematic improvements in reading skills for students attending New York City’s highest-poverty schools. Grants from the trust on behalf of the fund will be awarded over the next five years. According to the estate settlement, $35 million of the $42 million will be used directly to improve reading for NYC’s most disadvantaged students. The remaining $7 million will be awarded over a one-year period to educational and cultural institutions for programs that serve NYC students. (See Grants for K-12 Education).

During her lifetime, Mrs. Astor supported large institutions such as the New York Public Library, International Rescue Committee, and the Fresh Air Fund. As such, broad-based children’s organizations with focus on reading skills as well as cultivating the whole child, may have a good chance at getting a piece of this very large funding pie. In addition, educational institutions that focus on early childhood or childhood learning should consider applying, as well. Just last month, the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University announced the Astor International Travel Fellow program. Through a $2 million grant, New York City schoolteachers in all areas may apply to be a fellow, which will provide them with a cultural immersion and education travel experience. As fellows, they will broaden their educational horizons and get inspired for new classroom ideas.

The trust has just wrapped up its first round of open request for proposals for the fund, but a second round of request for proposals will be available in early 2014. Request for proposals, as well as any inquiries regarding grant seeking, may be sent to Astor@nyct-cfi.org. In my experience, the New York Community Trust may be a long shot for new grantseekers, but you can improve your chances with strong data and results-driven initiatives, program outcomes, low overhead costs, and blowing away a program officer with a personal site tour. To access the request for proposal for the the Brooke Astor Fund for Education in New York City, click here