Philanthropy Can Play a “Game-Changing Role” in Michigan Education Reform

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mike Gallagher, CMF Editorial Correspondent

Philanthropy can be one of the biggest game-changers in the effort to effect significant political and educational reform in Michigan, according to national experts attending the recent “Education Matters: Student Achievement for Life-Long Success” event in Lansing.

Keynote speakers at the event were asked during an “Action & Recommendations” session what role philanthropy can play in changing the current educational dynamic involving policy creation, funding, curriculum and programmatic development and support.

All four speakers agreed that if Michigan has any chance of regaining a leadership position in this 21st century economy and enjoy sustainable economic growth, the focus of government, business, schools, foundations and citizens must be on educational and school funding reform.

David Mansour, executive vice president, Tennessee SCORE:

“There are many ways philanthropy can participate. One is to help identify a roadmap for the state around things like (educational) advocacy work and policy passage. Foundations can convene educational summits and bring in national experts to share ideas and information on successful, working programs.

“The second piece for philanthropy deals with programmatic and technical assistance. Ask the questions: ‘How do we secure technical assistance? How can we impact transformational change in the work school districts are doing?’

“Collaborative partnering with local and state educational officials is the key to making it all work. There is a tremendous need to develop technical support on myriad issues.

“It’s my belief, however, that if you (foundations) provide support to one (advocacy and new policy development) and don’t do the other (provide resources to develop technical support) I don’t think that will get you very far.”

Kati Haycock, president/CEO, Education Trust:

“The situation you have here in Michigan, if you don’t arrest this decline in (educational) resources then it will erode every single thing you do. There’s both a professional and technical side that needs to happen. Philanthropy could, for example, finance the creation of a commission to study various aspects of the problem (policy, programs, resources, etc.)

“But most of the technical work that needs to happen on such things as pensions and liabilities and so on, you need to get some options on the table (with state policymakers, state and local education officials, unions, etc.) and build some consensus around those. That’s a fairly safe space for a group of funders to take on. You can support the research for that work, for example.

“Then there’s a political side you are going to have to fight through. Professionally generated information will be helpful, but the instant you get into the political side of educational debate and policy changes, you move into a more dangerous role.   

“But if you as philanthropic leaders can find common ground to work from, you help to move forward an issue that if you don’t address, it will erode every other single piece of what you are doing.”

Ron Walker, executive director and founding member, Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color:

“There is an exciting and important role for philanthropy to play in getting behind “My Brother’s Keeper” (a new White House initiative announced by President Obama to empower boys and young men of color).

“I see the philanthropic community really being an asset to My Brother’s Keeper by helping frame the questions surrounded by the data regarding the issues, problems, goals and outcomes impacting black and Latino young boys and men.

“This morning, your State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said he was upset and angry about the slow pace of efforts (both financially and programmatically) to support those young people. Well, I’m way past that.

“I think the philanthropic community has a bully pulpit and I would hope and encourage you to use that bully pulpit in the service of advancing the data, advancing the narrative, advancing the central questions that are posed around this subject for boys of color.”

Arnold Chandler, co-founder, Forward Change Consulting:

“I’d like to give you an example of how philanthropy can make a difference. What we had in California was a legislative leader who wanted to get others in his party – and it became a bipartisan movement eventually – to create a movement for boys of color.

“That movement was entirely funded by a private health foundation, The California Endowment. Foundation leaders approached this legislative leader and asked him if he wanted to be the lead on this and he said yes. His job was to get the political support…but it was entirely funded by philanthropy.

“Its utility was this (philanthropic/governmental) partnership gave everyone in the state a vehicle to organize around. As a result, we were then able to develop a policy and advocacy infrastructure in the state by virtue of that effort.

“A foundation made that happen by basically creating a safe space and then other legislative leaders saw a political opportunity to be a part of it. You can make that happen here as well.”


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