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Texas 2036 – Data Platform, Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium

Texas 2036 Data Platform

Economically disadvantaged population high school graduation rate by economic status (%). Pulled from Texas 2036 data platform.

Texas 2036 uses data, research, and leading expertise to enable Texans to make informed decisions to ensure Texas continues to be the best place to live and do business through its bicentennial in 2036 and beyond.

TEGAC members and partners are acutely aware of the importance of educational attainment of all Texans, realizing that our student population is increasingly more economically disadvantaged.

Our priorities in philanthropic research and investment are in four educational areas that elevate the success of all students: early childhood education, effective teaching, pathways to college and career, and school finance. Our goal is to provide policymakers and partners reliable data to achieve scale of effective programs and policies that serve all students.

We are thrilled to have a partner in Texas 2036 providing data platforms and visualizations easily accessible to the public. With this information at our fingertips, philanthropists, policymakers, and other stakeholders will continue to learn about and improve upon the successes and areas of improvement that face the educational attainment of Texans.

We encourage you to sign up to be notified by Texas 2036 to learn about data newly available.

Get notified by Texas 2036: https://dataplatform.texas2036.org/addin/get-notified

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The Consequences of Underfunding our Public Schools, by Chandra Kring Villanueva, Center for Public Policy Priorities

Making sure our children receive a quality education is essential for the future prosperity of Texas. To be successful academically, many students rely on programs like tutoring or bilingual education. But a new analysis from CPPP and University of Texas at Austin professor Dr. Michael Marder found that when the state cuts funding to public education, students from low-income households and those in need of additional support lose the most.

In response to the economic recession, in 2011 lawmakers cut $5.3 billion from the two-year public education budget, about $500 per student each year. This forced school districts to make some really tough choices on how to serve a growing student population with fewer resources. Funding is beginning to recover, but the “hole” that these cuts created in school spending is about five years long and five billion dollars deep.

In 2015, lawmakers got back to investing the same amount of funding in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars in our schools as it had before the cuts. They didn’t, however, adjust this funding to account for student growth. As a result, our state has still not returned to pre-recession levels of public school funding.

Money in education matters. Well-funded schools are better able to attract and retain high-quality teachers, provide individualized attention through small class sizes, and provide an engaging curriculum that includes arts and music – all things that promote higher academic achievement. Yet elementary schools with the greatest percent of low-income students are spending 40 percent less per student on bilingual education in 2016 than they did in 2008, and 21 percent less on the programs and services that keep students on track.

As study co-author Dr. Michael Marder said, “After 2011, Texas public schools had to grapple with half a decade of funding reductions. We wanted to check on what schools cut to deal with this, and we found that programs to help students struggling the most were cut the most.”

Support for this research was provided by the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC).

 

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The Texas 85th Regular Session by the Numbers, by Trish Bode, Client Communications and Research Analysis, HillCo Partners

The Texas 85th Regular Session by the Numbers, by Trish Bode, Client Communications and Research Analysis, HillCo Partners

The 85th Session was comprised of:

  • 140 days
  • 150 House members, 31 Senate members, 1 Governor who had a total of 5 emergency items for must pass legislation, 1 Lt. Governor with 30 legislative priorities who later declared 2 as must pass legislation – SB 6 (Bathroom/Privacy) & SB 2 (Property Tax)
  • 1 House Speaker who listed several priorities he had including addressing school finance
  • 6631 House Bills and Senate Bills filed – a record number of bills filed
  • 1211 House Bills and Senate Bills passed – the lowest amount passed the finish line since 1995
  • Over 1000 education bills filed with about 100 bills reaching the governor’s desk

    The 85th Legislative Session has been described as one of the most contentious legislative sessions in Texas history. Heavily divisive topics such as sanctuary cities, abortion, voter ID, bathrooms and religious freedom caused emotions to boil over and for various groups to express their frustration through passionate protest, as well as a hijacking of the legislative process. At the same time, there were some high points and key initiatives that gained momentum.

    School finance played a starring role during the 85th Legislative Session but ultimately did not make it to the finish line. This is the farthest a school finance bill has moved through the legislative process in several decades without a court order. House Bill 21 (Huberty) passed out of the House with significant bi-partisan support but was altered significantly in the Senate, so much so that the House could no longer support the bill. Ultimately, the bill died in conference committee because the two sides could not reach agreement on issues such as Education Savings Accounts and charter facilities funding.

    Other finance-related topics of interest for TEGAC members included:

    • High Quality Pre-K Funding: Unfortunately, Pre-K grant funding in the form of House Bill 4 from the 2015 session has been discontinued but the high quality language still exists in school districts’ formula-funded Pre-K programs. Districts will now be required to demonstrate that 15% of their Pre-K formula funding is going towards high quality practices.
    • School Finance Interim Commission – Senate Bill 2144 (L. Taylor) would have established a 15-member commission to study school finance during the interim. While the bill did not pass, the topic has been added to the governor’s list of priorities for the July 2017 special session.

Teacher preparation and student pathways were also considered during the 85th Legislative Session. TEGAC’s various advocates were highly visible and helped to set the tone for meaningful legislation, as well as future interim discussions. Additionally, TEGAC-funded research was disseminated throughout the Capitol and served as a useful tool during the session.

As we write this update, the Texas Legislature is preparing for a special session to begin on July 18, 2017. Twenty items have been listed as priorities for Governor Abbott, including topics such as school funding, property tax reform and local ordinances. Expect to receive updates from us throughout the process. And on that note, thanks very much for the opportunity to keep TEGAC members updated.

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It’s Time to Renovate Our School Finance System, By Chandra Villanueva, CPPP

Education is the bedrock of an informed democracy and the bridge to lifelong opportunities.

It’s Time to Renovate Our School Finance System, Chandra Villanueva, CPPP

Education is the bedrock of an informed democracy and the bridge to lifelong opportunities. As a state, we rely on our public education system to develop a talented workforce and promote shared prosperity. But in order to fulfill our promise to the next generation of young Texans, we must first ensure that there is sufficient financial support for all kids to get a quality education, no matter where they live or what their background.

The Texas school finance system is like an old house that has fallen into disrepair and is in need of some serious renovations. To keep a home running efficiently and to maintain its value requires periodic updates and repairs. Unfortunately, thirty years of incremental changes and tweaks around the edges have left us with an outdated school finance system bogged down in inefficiency and funding levels not aligned with current costs.

Better funded schools have tangible, measurable effects on the lives of their students, including:

• smaller classrooms with more support from teachers;

• greater access to science labs and updated technology;

• professional development for educators

The Texas school finance system needs a remodel – not a teardown – because there are elements of that need to be preserved and expanded. Today’s school finance system takes into account that different students – whether they live in rural or urban settings, are gifted, English language learners (ELL) or have special needs – require different supports and levels of resources to reach their full potential. This weighted student funding is a fantastic step towards an equitable education, if done properly. Lawmakers originally set these weights below recommended levels, however, and have not updated them in 30 years.

Recapture

Texas children deserve a quality education regardless of whether they live in a rich or poor school district. Our current finance system reduces inequities created by local property tax disparities through a combination of shared state support and the use of recapture. The state Supreme Court credited recapture with improving equity between districts. Yet, underfunding of the system as a whole has led some property-wealthy school districts to oppose recapture because even they lack sufficient funds to meet the growing needs of their students.

Pre-K

Texas invests in a half-day Pre-K program through the school finance formulas for economically disadvantaged and ELL students. This targeted Pre-K program has been shown to increase school readiness and produce savings for the state in the short and long-term through grade level retention, reduced reliance on government assistance and decreased involvement with the criminal justice system. Most districts have moved to a full-day program, yet the state only provides funding for a half-day.

CPPP Recommendations:

Increase the “Basic Allotment.” Lawmakers should address adequacy in overall funding. Over the last 15 years spending per student has been relatively flat while state standards and student needs continue to grow. Increasing the “Basic Allotment” by the state brings up funding levels for all districts while reducing recapture, so that every district can provide a quality education.

Study the appropriate levels of school funding. We need to prevent the education system from falling back into disrepair. To do so, the state must research the appropriate levels of funding to meet the educational standards in place and ensure that the levels adjust regularly for inflation.

Increase investments in early education. Texas has seen positive gains from its modest half-day Pre-K program. However, to build on and maintain these gains, Texas must establish a full-day Pre-K program, improve quality standards and establish an office of early learning to encourage and oversee collaborations between Pre-K, Head Start, child care providers, and state agencies.

Overhauling the school finance system is going to take leadership from the Senate, House, and the Governor’s Office. The process also needs to include the business community, the philanthropic community, and the education leaders working on the ground. Right now, all of these entities have been discussing school finance separately and are ready to come together, build consensus, and make the hard decisions needed to ensure that all Texas students receive a top-notch public education.

Renovations are hard, dusty, and the longer we put them off the more expensive they become – but in the end, the effort is always worth it. The 5.2 million children in Texas public schools today cannot wait any longer.

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Local Research On Texas Pre-k Grants Provides Lessons for Lawmakers, Texans Care for Children, By Mary Jalonick and Adrianna Cuellar-Rojas

Local Research On Texas Pre-k Grants Provides Lessons for Lawmakers, Texans Care for Children, By Mary Jalonick and Adrianna Cuellar-Rojas

As Texas began its new HB 4 pre-k grant program in the 2016-2017 school year, the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC) sponsored a research project to explore local demand and provide a preliminary analysis to policymakers.

In September 2016, our team here at Texans Care for Children published the first report, “Ensuring the Success of HB 4 and Texas Students: A Preliminary Analysis of the Texas High-Quality Pre-k Grant Program.” Our report found a high level of demand, with grants provided to 573 districts serving 86 percent of the state’s pre-k students, including school districts across the economic spectrum. The report noted that the relatively low level of per-student funding ($734, or about half of the $1,500 originally envisioned for the program) would make it difficult for districts to support all of the critical pre-k quality improvements high on their priority list.

Between November 2016 and January 2017, additional reports were published on HB 4 implementation in the following regions by the following organizations:

The reports found strong local support for the pre-k grant program. Most participating school districts used the grants for teacher training, curriculum, instructional materials, technology, and parent engagement. A smaller number of districts used the grants to expand full-day pre-k options. Among the school districts contacted for this research, there was broad agreement that funding to boost pre-k quality needs to be more stable and predictable.

As the Legislature considers next steps on HB 4, it should take into account these local experiences and recommendations, particularly the need for adequate and stable funding.

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“They Quit on Me”: The Toll on Students of Weak Teacher Preparation, By Laura Laywell, Teach Plus

“They Quit on Me”: The Toll on Students of Weak Teacher Preparation, By Laura Laywell

To have successful students, we need teachers prepared to help them succeed. No story better illustrates this connection than that of Htoo Eh. I met Htoo Eh four years ago through volunteering with an afterschool program in his neighborhood. A political refugee from Burma, Htoo Eh began his U.S. education as a fifth grader and quickly experienced the consequences of having underprepared teachers. Since fifth grade—and Htoo Eh is now in high school―he has had at least one teacher leave mid-year, every year. His story is not unique. In 2013 alone, 20 percent of teachers in Dallas Independent School District left the classroom. Overwhelmingly, teachers cited stress as a key factor in their decision. Consider the impact of this 20 percent on students like Htoo Eh, who feel abandoned without a consistent teacher.

 

Key Texas leaders are paying attention. Educate Texas convened a Teacher Preparation Collaborative led by former Commissioner of Education Jim Nelson, and the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium published a report in order to advocate for critical changes to the Texas system of preparing new teachers. Policy makers have indicated a willingness to take action.

In middle school, I read with Htoo Eh after school to try and help him maintain a passion for learning. Htoo Eh had liked his reading class in school, but his reading teacher left in the middle of the year. Our time together was always soured by the homework he brought home from substitutes, which was frequently confusing to him since he had not been taught the content. He was angry and frustrated, and began to despise school and the teachers who left him. He had huge gaps in his learning.

Today, many teacher preparation programs require teachers to complete a semester of student teaching before entering the classroom. For others, teaching candidates’ first day in front of a classroom is often their first day as a full-time teacher of record. This minimal classroom experience is a good start, but prospective teachers need more time in classrooms if they are to have a realistic picture of teaching, and understand if teaching is truly what they want to do. The only way for this to happen is for new teachers to spend the majority of their training inside of a classroom for extended amounts of time.

New teachers often walk into a classroom without any experience of the community they will teach in. This has huge ramifications for both the teacher and the students. Htoo Eh’s neighborhood has high poverty and crime rates but also a high population of refugee and immigrant students with its striking mix of different languages and cultures. For Htoo Eh, who dreamed of returning to Burma to fight for his people, the Karen, a gang offered a connection to his pride in his culture. His behavior escalated after he became involved with a gang in high school, and resulted in suspensions, multiple truancy court cases, and failing grades. In one meeting, I sat with Htoo Eh as his assistant principal explained that he needed to come to school. Htoo Eh said that he skipped the class because his teacher had quit. A first year teacher, she started the year off with high expectations. By November, she was telling her students how frustrated she was because of the gaps in their learning. She left the classroom in December. “They quit on me,” he said. “I don’t care anymore.”

If we can prepare new teachers to understand the communities they will be in, we can equip them to respond to students who appear as “bad kids” or “classroom disruptions” with effective and appropriate relationship building strategies, rather than textbook management techniques which may completely clash with a student’s background. Preparing new teachers to be culturally responsive in their classrooms, to anticipate what students face outside of it, will help prevent a teacher from feeling disconnected and frustrated with students. Relationships allow learning to happen. When a relationship is lacking, so is learning.

Htoo Eh dropped out of high school shortly after that particular meeting with the assistant principal. My husband and I continued to meet with him, and encouraged him to go back to class, or to come over and read with us. But he appeared to have lost hope, and his mom cried when she told us she wished she had never brought her family to the United States if she had known school would be this way. After some time, we were able to persuade Htoo Eh to enroll in a career preparation program for students who had similar experiences to him. There is now a particular teacher that he respects and is engaged in his class. Htoo Eh said to me that this teacher, “gets me, Miss. He knows my life. He gets me.”

The relationship between a student and teacher can make or break a student’s education and future. But we must act soon or more students like Htoo Eh will become the victims of a system that doesn’t prepare teachers to succeed.

Laura Laywell is a 3rd grade ESL teacher in Dallas Independent School District and a member of the Teach Plus Texas Teacher Advisory Board.

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Texas Can No Longer Rely on Local Property Taxes to Fund Public Education, By Caroline Sabin and Janet Harman

Texas Can No Longer Rely on Local Property Taxes to Fund Public Education, By Caroline Sabin and Janet Harman

In 2011 the Texas Legislature reduced funding for public education by $5.3 billion – the largest blow ever suffered by our schools. As a result, requests for the limited resources of our family foundations grew as public-private partnerships and local community initiatives in our communities struggled to fill the gaps. Knowing that we would be unable to meet the growing demand, we joined with other philanthropists and grantmakers from across the state to form the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC). Together we have worked to expand and improve educational opportunities for all Texas children through smart state public education policies.

One thing philanthropy cannot do is make up for ongoing state cuts to public education. Over the past six years, Texas has failed to restore its investment in public education even to 2011 levels. In fact, the state’s share of total state/local funding will have declined from 46 percent in 2012 to 38 percent by 2019 while not even taking into account that the student population in Texas increases by more than 80,000 students every year.

This decline has forced schools to increasingly rely on local property taxes. The state estimates that school property tax collections will grow by 47 percent between 2012 and 2019. However, local schools are not benefiting from this growth in local tax revenue. What many parents and teachers do not realize is that the current finance system allows the state to use the growth in local property taxes to reduce state aid to education and use the money instead for other expenses in the state budget.

While there is no doubt that reforming school finance is a much-needed and daunting task, Texas is actually starting with a strong foundation. In fact, our state has historically been a national leader in school finance design, and our system contains many innovative elements that we should preserve and build upon. However, that system is now outdated, overly complex, and inefficient. Many of the key elements of the formulas are over 30 years old, and the system is no longer responsive to changing student needs, evolving demands for accountability, or rising costs.

As an immediate step toward improving school finance, the 39 members of the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium call on the Texas Legislature to stop diverting education dollars to other purposes. Schools – not the state budget — should benefit from rising property taxes. We also encourage the Texas Legislature to partner with stakeholder groups such as ours to create new bi-partisan forums to hold open policy discussions and find innovative solutions.

Making lasting improvements to school finance will require the Texas Legislature to come together with the business, education, and philanthropic communities to develop a school finance system based on necessary costs that is funded equally through state and local resources. Texas philanthropy stands ready to help support that process in order to ensure our children’s future.

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Why Our Community Foundation Partners With State Legislators to Improve Policies and Address Needs, By Rose Bradshaw, North Texas Community Foundation

Why Our Community Foundation Partners With State Legislators to Improve Policies and Address Needs, By Rose Bradshaw, North Texas Community Foundation

The Texas Capitol is big. The tip of its dome is almost fifteen feet taller than its counterpart in Washington, DC. Decisions made there impact almost thirty million people. When you enter the building, you can feel the seriousness, history, and purpose. For anyone who believes in democracy and representative government, it is downright awe-inspiring.

Recently, I found myself again walking its corridors, but this time was different. Our foundation was leading a policy briefing on foster care for legislative staffers from across Texas. More than 75 staffers from some of the most influential senators and representatives had gathered to learn what they could do to improve policies impacting the most vulnerable children in Texas. Our legislative sponsors were key committee chairs from both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

We were not lobbying. We were educating our state legislators about the real conditions in their districts and about solutions that have been tested with our private dollars.

The federal courts have ordered Texas to fundamentally reform its foster care system. For the past three years foundations and donors in our community have committed resources to enable ACH, a leading child welfare organization, to develop an effective, community-based approach to foster care. Now the Texas legislature is interested in implementing this community-centered approach statewide, a strategy that philanthropy has proven to work.

The conversation between our community and our state legislature is bi-directional. Local partners need the state for guidance and resources, and the state needs local partners for ideas and innovation. This two-way relationship has come about as a result of close partnership between foundations, nonprofits, and our elected officials.

We have been successful at engaging our legislative delegation because they understand the important role philanthropy plays in our community. They understand that we also have to make hard choices with limited dollars. A legislative staffer is like a program officer at a foundation. “No” is much more often the answer than “Yes.”

Along the way the North Texas Community Foundation has had its challenges. Like every foundation we pay careful attention to what we can and cannot do. We engage policymakers strategically, understanding that the most important conversations happen at home when the legislature is months from debating specific bills.

We have learned a few lessons as well. Let our work be a guidepost, not a manual for success. We have found it very beneficial to:

  1. Use local connections and power brokers. Your community has representatives in key positions on key committees. Build meaningful relationships with them and their staffs.
  2. Have a specific focus and a clear request. Every meeting and communication with a policymaker should be focused and specific. They want to help.
  3. Provide credible data and resources to key legislative staffers. Legislative staffers want access to good information about what works and how to improve policies. Philanthropy can provide objective data that nobody else can.
  4. Partner with other foundations with diverse perspectives. Foundations are a unique and different voice at state capitols. Like your community, the Texas Legislature is comprised of geographically and politically diverse communities.
  5. Do not forget implementation.

Philanthropy and policymakers can and must work together more closely. At the North Texas Community Foundation we are proving that this relationship can be objective, outcomes-focused, and a positive experience for all involved.

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Pre-k Works for Texas Kids and Taxpayers, By Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children

Pre-k Works for Texas Kids and Taxpayers, By Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children

As the 2017 Texas legislative session gets underway, business leaders, educators, community leaders, and parents are eager to see state policymakers’ next move on pre-k. As national and Texas research shows, high quality pre-k helps kids get off to a strong start. Effective pre-k programs are proven to boost academic and social emotional outcomes as well as graduation rates. They also save money by reducing grade retention and the need for special education.

As we documented in our recent report, the state’s new pre-k grant program got off to a promising start in the fall of 2016, but there’s more work to do to ensure that the program is successful and more Texas kids are ready for school. In particular, legislators must provide $236 million over the course of the next two-year budget to maintain current per-student funding levels (which are already one-half of the amount originally envisioned) and take steps to improve quality, such as lowering student-teacher ratios and class sizes and expanding access to full-day pre-k.

As the Legislature discusses early childhood education, it can draw on substantial research showing that pre-k is effective. Here are a few highlights:

– As reported in the Houston Chronicle and elsewhere, our colleagues at Children at Risk recently published a report analyzing data on 47,000 Texas pre-k kids. It found that economically disadvantaged students who were in high-quality pre-k classes scored higher on third grade reading tests than their peers who missed out on pre-k or attended lower quality pre-k.

– As the Dallas Morning News recently reported, Nobel-prize winning economist James Heckman’s latest analysis of early childhood education in North Carolina found that every $1 invested yielded a return of $6.30 in terms of higher earning power for the students, lower taxpayer costs for public assistance and criminal justice, and more. However, the research made clear that many early childhood education programs do not have that same return on investment. The key is ensuring that the programs include essential ingredients for maximizing students’ success.

– Details on many other research studies on pre-k are outlined in our policy brief, “The Research is Clear: High-Quality Pre-k Pays Off.” The brief includes research from around the country and here in Texas, including one analysis showing that in a single year pre-k reduced statewide spending on special education and grade retention by $142 million.

– A multi-year evaluation of the Tennessee pre-k program showed that kids in pre-k were more ready for Kindergarten than their peers who did not attend pre-k, but some effects did not sustain several years into elementary school. In response, legislators and the Governor championed investment in pre-k and passed legislation to boost quality monitoring and teacher professional development. The Tennessee study reminds us that kids and communities will get the greatest benefit from pre-k programs that have high quality standards, effective teachers, strong quality monitoring, and are aligned well with the K-3 curriculum.

It’s clear that investing in pre-k is a smart policy strategy. Communities all across Texas want to partner with the state to ensure more children experience high quality pre-k and get the strong foundation they need to succeed in school. Now it’s time for state policymakers to fully fund HB 4 pre-k grants, sustain the investment over time, and continue to improve quality standards. If they do, more Texas kids will be successful in school and Texas taxpayers will get a big bang for their buck. High quality pre-k is one of the smartest public investments we can make, and our state’s future depends on it.

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My Family’s Foundation Entered the Policy Arena, and We Are Not Looking Back, By Katherine B. Wright, Wright Family Foundation

The system needs to change.

Like many family foundations, we receive several worthy requests that we turn down due to lack of funds. Most of our grants are program/project-based—reactive to the problems at hand rather than tackling them before they become an issue. In the light of this, the Wright Family Foundation is trying different ways to combat social issues from a more proactive angle.

My Family’s Foundation Entered the Policy Arena, and We Are Not Looking Back, By Katherine B. Wright, Wright Family Foundation

The system needs to change.

Like many family foundations, we receive several worthy requests that we turn down due to lack of funds. Most of our grants are program/project-based—reactive to the problems at hand rather than tackling them before they become an issue. In the light of this, the Wright Family Foundation is trying different ways to combat social issues from a more proactive angle.

In 2011, I was stunned to learn that the Texas Legislature was planning to cut $10 billion from the state’s public schools. And I was even more shocked to learn that many state legislators thought foundations across Texas would pick up the balance. To disabuse politicians of that notion, I attended a meeting at the state capitol with several other funders to educate them on how philanthropy works and to let them know many of us were still struggling from the effects of the economic downturn. Despite our best efforts, more than $5 billion was still cut from the public education budget.

Emboldened by our newly acquired knowledge of the policy process, and concerned about the impact of the cuts, foundations joined together in a non-partisan group called TEGAC – Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium. Through membership dues paid to TEGAC and foundation grants, we commissioned objective research on how schools implemented the cuts and took that data to the Capitol. Many schools had cut counselors and a wide range of support programs for low-income students—programs and services found by researchers to have some of the largest impact on educational outcomes.

The legislators listened and read the clear data we presented. In an ironic twist, they listened more to the voice of the foundations than they did to educators and school leaders. Why? Because in politicians’ eyes, foundations represent power and money. And they knew we meant business.

We quickly realized the power of the collective voice of philanthropy. Foundation benefactors, trustees, and staff have a tremendous opportunity to educate legislators about the needs of our communities and the limits of private resources. The simple reality is that foundations have political access that the organizations we support and the clients they serve do not. Legislators will answer our calls and attend our meetings. When Texas foundations invited legislators to come to them for legislative meetings, the state’s leaders came, and they came early.

The Wright Family Foundation is in the process of creating a philanthropic roundtable of foundations and is commissioning non-partisan research in advance of the 2017 legislative session, to bring to light the devastation teen pregnancy is wreaking not only on Texas teens and their families, but also on our state’s taxpayer-funded budget.

Modern philanthropy has a choice: It can either wait to respond to changing public policies, or it can help shape policy. Our family foundation has learned that the biggest return we will ever get on any grant will come from a grant to change policy. We have also learned that the biggest impact we can have on policymakers comes not from a check we cut, but by mobilizing our voices.

As the executive director of my family’s foundation, and as a citizen, parent, and someone who invests in her community, I call upon other foundation trustees, staff, and donors across the country to meet with your local, state, and national legislators about urgent issues you care about. Join with other funders in your community to take your rightful place at the policy table. Your voice carries great weight; don’t be afraid to use it.