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Why did you join TEGAC? Amanda Cloud, Senior Program Officer, Simmons Foundation, Houston, TX

The Simmons Foundation’s mission is to partner with organizations that strengthen women, youth and families while building an educated, tolerant and resilient community.

Why did you join TEGAC? Amanda Cloud, Senior Program Officer, Simmons Foundation, Houston, TX

The Simmons Foundation’s mission is to partner with organizations that strengthen women, youth and families while building an educated, tolerant and resilient community. Over the past several years, our foundation has supported over 175 nonprofits annually, primarily in greater Houston, and have distributed more than $3 million each year. We do this through our primary focus areas of Health, Education, Civic & Community and Human Services. Additionally, one of the fundamental areas that is particularly important to us is advocacy. Our staff, board and founder are all committed to funding advocacy efforts because we value the critical role such organizations play in speaking on behalf of the voiceless. Many grantmakers steer away from advocacy organizations, not wanting to “get in the fray.” Others are confused about the rules of the road – for instance, the difference between lobbying and advocacy. Often the result is that foundations choose not to engage rather than risk speaking out.

TEGAC “marries” two of our underpinnings – education and advocacy. Recognizing its value to our foundation, we joined TEGAC two years ago and also participate as a member of the Steering Committee. Such organizations help us grow our advocacy efforts while providing a platform for learning and sharing best practices with our peers. Through TEGAC’s local and regional convenings, we have learned about ongoing advocacy efforts and how we can participate more fully. We have found the information, the network of funders willing to share learnings and the engagement of the TEGAC staff to be outstanding.

For Simmons, TEGAC is particularly relevant since one of our principal focus areas is education. As a foundation, we give approximately 20% of our portfolio to education, primarily pre-K-12. Every year we see the impact that state budget cuts and legislative decisions have on our schools, families and children. Although we choose not to advocate for one particular issue, we do focus on supporting the organizations that are speaking up for Texas children and providing research and best practices to the field. In addition, we are always engaging with the community through participation on committees and seeking out new, innovative ways to fund, including public/private partnerships. Although we are a small foundation, we recognize that we have a critical role to play, believe in the value of our financial investment and the impact of engaging with the community as partners.

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Texas Primary Highlights

Texas held its March primary contests and the will bring some interesting changes for public education. Confirmed and likely new leadership at Governor, Lieutenant Governor and key committee chairs, means new ideas and priorities during the 2015 Texas Legislature.

Texas Primary Highlights

Texas held its March primary contests and the will bring some interesting changes for public education. Confirmed and likely new leadership at Governor, Lieutenant Governor and key committee chairs, means new ideas and priorities during the 2015 Texas Legislature.

Texas Governor Race: In the race for Texas Governor, Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis overwhelmingly won their primaries and will square off in November. Both candidates have campaigned on improving Texas’ education system but a lot remains to be seen as to the details. Davis formally laid out her education plan, including a focus on issues such as expansion of state-funded pre-K education, boosting the number of school counselors and teachers through incentives, and improving college accessibility with dual credit programs. Abbott hasn’t formally laid out his education plan but has referenced enhancing the role of charter schools in creating public school competition and promoting classroom technology.

Senate Education Chair Dan Patrick Outperforms Expectations in Lt. Governor Race: Senate Education Chair Dan Patrick surprised his opponent in the race for Lt. Governor with a convincing win over incumbent Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and two other challengers, sending the race to a two man run-off. Dewhurst earned less than 30 percent of the vote, a very bad sign for an incumbent heading into a runoff election. A Senator Patrick victory could dramatically change the politics of the Texas Senate, as he has already said that he will not appoint any Democratic committee chairs and has proposed changing certain Senate rules. Regardless of the winner in this race, Senator Patrick’s current seat as Chair of the Senate Education Committee will be up for grabs.

House Loses Two Experienced Education Hands: Two of the legislature’s most influential education players lost to Tea Party challengers in Republican primaries. Representatives Diane Patrick and Bennett Ratliff both lost in tight elections. Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, made a name for himself during his first term as an education advocate. Patrick was Vice-Chair of Higher Education and has shown a great capacity for leadership on education issues. The loss of these strong advocates will be felt in the House.

Senate Republican Kel Seliger survived a Tea Party challenger while his Republican colleagues Senator Bob Deuell went to a runoff and Senator John Carona was defeated. According to the Amarillo-Globe, Seliger intends to lobby for the chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee, an appointment he unsuccessfully sought two years ago.

Speaker Joe Straus Looks Safe, Musical Chairs: Despite the defeat of a handful of his allies, Speaker Straus appears to retain the votes to keep his gavel which means that April 2 TEGAC Spring Meeting lunch speaker and Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock is set to return to House Public Education. The House Appropriations chair is open and Representatives John Otto and John Zerwas keep surfacing as likely successors. If Texas Comptroller candidate Senator Glenn Hegar avoids or wins a run-off, Representatives Zerwas and Lois Kolkhorst (Chair of Public Health) are frequently mentioned as possible candidates, assuming his likely election in November.

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Bringing Big Texas Thinking to Education Advocacy, Jennifer Esterline, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

You’ve heard that “everything is bigger in Texas,” but let me put this into context: Texas has over 1000 school districts, 202 charter operators and 8,571 campuses (including 588 charters).

By: National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy posted on: October 20, 2015 by Jennifer Esterline

You’ve heard that “everything is bigger in Texas,” but let me put this into context: Texas has over 1000 school districts, 202 charter operators and 8,571 campuses (including 588 charters). There are 5.15 million students, 61 percent of whom are low-income, 52 percent of whom are Hispanic. And these numbers are only growing. We add an average of 80,000 students per year at a cost of approximately $1 billion dollars per year. Our 5.15 million kids make up roughly 10 percent of all public school students in America. That means right now, one in ten public school students in America is sitting in a Texas classroom.

Recently, I was honored with the opportunity to be a panelist at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s recent Philamplify debate on whether market-based approaches are compatible with community-led solutions for educational equity. I drew from my experience as founder and manager of the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC), which works to protect and improve public education through policy and advocacy. My goal was to describe how our work might somehow be a bridge between the debaters’ perspectives. In Texas, we have no choice but to focus on far-reaching, equitable, systems-wide improvement. Texas education funders know that if we mess up, the whole country suffers, so the stakes are high. This presents us with a huge challenge but also an incredible opportunity if we get it right.

What is TEGAC?

The Consortium was created in 2011 in response to a $5.4 billion cut to the state’s public education budget. $1.4 billion of this was from the state agency’s “discretionary grants,” which meant a direct cut to the funds that had allowed for decades of public/private partnerships between the state and Texas philanthropy. Since then, 33 private, community and corporate foundations from across the state have joined the Consortium to work together to improve educational outcomes in Texas.

Our members represent the diversity of opinions expressed by the Philamplify Debate participants. We don’t get to pick and choose our perspective because our membership ranges from liberal Austin tech entrepreneurs, to Dallas and Houston oil gazillionaires, to rural old money ranchers who don’t want their home towns to get blown off the map by depopulation and economic stagnation. Our diversity is our greatest strength because it demands consensus.

What does TEGAC do?

Texas grantmakers have diverse priorities, but we all agree on one thing: We’re tired of putting bandages on seemingly intractable problems. Foundations know they should be involved in statewide policy issues with the potential for systems change, but often don’t know how to engage in a manner that’s comfortable for trustees and in partnership with other philanthropists.

The Consortium puts funders in the driver’s seat for education advocacy. Our members determine shared goals that fit within our equity lens and then actively engage in advocacy.

This process turns traditional advocacy grantmaking on its head – and it’s working. We’re having a different conversation at the Capitol and among our grantmaker peers about the role of foundations in improving Texas education.

The small, nimble, creative and fearless foundations are the ones leading this effort in Texas, not the big guys. This was out of necessity; early on, smaller foundations achieved the power and safety in numbers that large foundations don’t traditionally encounter. Together, we:

  • Encourage philanthropy to use statewide public policy and advocacy as the grantmaking strategy with the most potential for system-wide improvement.
  • Focus exclusively on statewide policies that impact equity, which we define as policies that affect the largest number of students, especially those with the greatest needs. This includes fighting budget cuts, expanding and improving access to pre-kindergarten and implementing policies to ensure low-income, first generation students are able to graduate, go to college and join the workforce.
  • Encourage policymakers to consider scaling best practices from the education reform world so that all children can benefit.
  • Ask districts and the state agencies what information and capacity they need to do their jobs well.

Texas foundations were brought together in the crisis of a budget cut, but they have chosen to stay together because of their shared interest in thinking bigger than individual programs and using strategies with the power to create true equity and systems-level change. The trustees of the foundations involved in our consortium are becoming known around the Texas Capitol as advocates of policies that improve the lives of 5 million Texas kids. Philanthropy can make things happen without even writing a check, and this is what foundations have chosen to embrace in Texas. It is big and bold, and very Texan.

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Envisioning Success for Every Student, By Jennifer Esterline, Austin Community Foundation guest blogger

During back-to-school orientation, Jennifer Esterline’s son’s third-grade teacher asked parents to complete a questionnaire with their student’s help. One question asked about the student’s goals for the year. This made her pause to think.

By Jennifer Esterline, Austin Community Foundation guest blogger

During back-to-school orientation, Jennifer Esterline’s son’s third-grade teacher asked parents to complete a questionnaire with their student’s help. One question asked about the student’s goals for the year. This made her pause to think.

I want what every parent wants for his or her student: to be and to feel successful academically and socially, to push themselves beyond their limits of comfort and to think critically and imaginatively. My sons have been given every opportunity to accomplish those goals, but what about students who haven’t had the same opportunities? How will they fare this school year?

My work in state education policy and advocacy with the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium provides me with a bigger perspective. Not only do I get to see and hear what students and parents are saying on the ground, but I also get to compare these conversations with the ones I have with legislators at the capitol.

This summer, Texas concluded the 84th Texas Legislative Session. Although media coverage swirled around conversations about border security, tax cuts, and guns, there were also substantive policy conversations happening about public education. Here’s what you should know:

  • The 2015 Texas legislature will certainly go down as one of the biggest sessions for quality Pre-K education, a top priority of Governor Greg Abbott. House Bill 4 sets aside $130 million over two years for school districts with quality pre-kindergarten programs, helping to bolster programs geared toward students from low-income, non-English-speaking, foster and military families.
  • It was the first legislative session to examine implementation of sweeping changes to high school graduation requirements.
  • The legislature also passed a change to public school ratings, replacing the current “Met Standard/Needs Improvement” measures with five weighted domains on an A-F grading system.
  • Governor Abbott filled another campaign pledge with support for legislation to implement reading and math teacher training “academies” to provide effective instructional practices.
  • A bill passed that removes the cap on the number of dual credit courses for high school students.
  • A new law provides additional funds to help middle and high school counselors guide students on post-secondary education and career opportunities.
  • A new law reduces “zero tolerance policies” by establishing a more flexible sanctioning system for student discipline.

As you can see, our elected officials definitely got stuff done. But here’s what they didn’t get done:

  • We failed to make progress on school finance which means per pupil funding will continue to lag behind our massive student population growth. (A state judge ruled last year that the Texas school finance system is unconstitutional. The state is failing to ensure that kids in one part of the state have a chance to get the same quality of education as kids in other areas. Earlier this month the Texas Supreme Court began hearing the case, including testimony from attorneys for more than 600 school districts who attacked the funding system as inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional. The Court is expected to issue its ruling later this year or early next year.)
  • We made no new efforts to fund our growing community college system–where an increasing number of our students, particularly first generation, minority students–are educated.
  • While the increase in Pre-K funding was great news, it does not restore pre-kindergarten funding to its pre-2011 budget cut levels.

As your own kids start the school year, I invite you to ask yourself: What goals do I have for my own children? What goals do I have for all Texas students? What and who do we want these students to become? What do we envision for the future of our state?

Then let’s ask our legislators about their votes and let’s ask ourselves if we agree with those decisions. Do these decisions align with your vision for our state?

If the answer is no, fortunately there’s an election season coming up next year.

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Why after school programs are so critical for Texas, By Andy Roddick and Molly Clayton

Why after school programs are so critical for Texas, By Andy Roddick and Molly Clayton

This afternoon at 3 p.m., while the Texas Legislature is busy debating important public policy, our students will get out of school and go … where?

Approximately 880,000 Texas students are currently involved in after-school programs at their school, community center or local nonprofit, where they engage in tutoring, enrichment, fun and physical activity. Unfortunately, these opportunities are not available to many of our students. According to a recent survey, an additional 1.5 million Texas youth would participate if an after-school program if one were available in their community.

More than 935,000 Texas school children are unsupervised in the critical hours after school, when experimentation with illegal substances and sex is most common. Peak hours for juvenile crime? 3 to 6 p.m.

The problem is not just after school; summer is another critical time for positive youth development. Working parents across the state will be scrambling in the coming months to find something productive for their kids to do over the summer, with dire consequences if they do not. Data shows that economically disadvantaged students experience “summer learning loss” — falling behind in academics — at higher rates than their peers who have access to museums, camps, travel and other educational activities during those months.

Some programs charge fees that some parents are able to pay; but many students are left out of programs simply because their families cannot afford them. There are federal dollars serving some low-income students, but not nearly enough to keep up with the demand. A federal funding cycle that served 8,500 students at 53 Austin-area schools ended last summer. Emergency funding from the city helped to continue basic services in some areas, but a long-term, sustainable funding model is needed in order to reach all youth who wish to participate and ensure continuity of high-quality programs.

Philanthropists realize the potential in “expanded learning opportunities” during the hours after school and in the summer. In Central Texas, the Andy Roddick Foundation and KDK-Harman Foundation are both heavily invested in direct service programming and leading efforts for a sustainable, data-driven, communitywide system of services.

Parent fees, federal and local government, and private philanthropy are all playing a part, but the State of Texas has a much larger role to play in ensuring that these programs are available, affordable and high-quality for all Texas kids.

The Texas Expanded Learning Opportunities Council was created by the 83rd Texas Legislature to address critical times for learning outside of the school day. The 13-member council includes teachers, school district officials, after-school and summer program providers, parents, and business and philanthropy representatives from across the state. Their report published last fall found that high-quality expanded learning opportunities during the hours after school and in the summer result in improved educational outcomes and safer communities.

In fact, decades of research links participation in after-school programs with academic gains, including closing the achievement gap between low-income students and their high-income classmates and addressing summer learning loss. Due to these overwhelming facts, the council has recommended an Expanded Learning Opportunities Initiative so more Texas students can benefit from high-quality programs outside the traditional school day.

The Texas Legislature should carefully consider the council’s recommendation and adopt the Expanded Learning Opportunities Initiative rider under consideration. It would create a competitive grant program at the Texas Education Agency while providing training and technical assistance, statewide coordination, and evaluation to make sure the programs are high-quality and dollars are spent wisely.

It’s time to supplement existing public and private investments in after-school and summer programs with state funding to help more underserved Texas students access the expanded learning opportunities they deserve.

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February Blog

What an exciting start of 2014 for the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium! Fresh off an amazing Texas Capitol launch of our pre-kindergarten research project, terrific meetings about parent engagement around the new high school, and growing support for our work around out-of-school-time policy, there’s so much to tell you!

February Blog

What an exciting start of 2014 for the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium! Fresh off an amazing Texas Capitol launch of our pre-kindergarten research project, terrific meetings about parent engagement around the new high school, and growing support for our work around out-of-school-time policy, there’s so much to tell you! But first you need to hear about the Consortium’s recent visit to Washington, D.C. for meetings with the United States Department of Education, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and others.

The Consortium Goes to Washington

When you’re immersed in your daily work it can be hard to remember that what you’re doing is not only important, but also innovative and maybe even groundbreaking. Earlier this month the Consortium had a chance to sit down with some of the country’s leading voices in philanthropy and education and was reminded how impressive what our members have created together really is. I could try to summarize the reactions we received but think that the words of Andy Carroll of the Association of Small Foundations in a follow-up note do a much better job:

“Impressed is a word that utterly fails to capture my reaction to your AMAZING work. More like… “in awe”. I believe that you are creating and modeling an incredibly powerful approach to engaging private foundation benefactors and trustees, and empowering them to do what foundations are poised to do in our nation—bring their concerns to the policy table and be part of the essential process of educating lawmakers.
What you are making possible and showing is that philanthropists bringing their voices to the policy table is not only possible, but unbelievably effective—and necessary.”

The Consortium has always known that you – our members and our inspiration – are “amazing”. But it’s always nice to hear it from such a respected leader and organization.

Pre-Kindergarten Work group Launches Research at the Texas Capitol

In collaboration with our Pre-K research partner Children at Risk , the Consortium helped host a policy briefing for legislative and Governor’s Office staff to outline the objective analysis and data collection currently underway. Consortium members the Powell Foundation and United Ways of Texas were on hand to speak to the almost eighty staffers in attendance. Staff attended the event from offices across the entire political spectrum and from every corner of Texas. Representatives of school districts had a chance to discuss their pre-k programs and answer questions from staffers. Numerous Capitol types expressed great appreciation for the opportunity to hear from philanthropists and school districts themselves. A huge Consortium thanks to Chairman Dan Patrick (R-Houston) for sponsoring the event and to Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) for attending in person!

At the conclusion of the event work group members visited with key legislative offices to discuss the research project and to ask how the effort might be of most use to members of the Texas Legislature and their staff. The meetings were well received and staff had constructive input that will undoubtedly improve the project and the ultimate usefulness of the final report for policymakers.

Progress on House Bill 5 Parent Engagement and Out of School Time Research

It’s clear from both the Senate and House Education Interim Charges that implementation of HB 5 is a high priority for the Texas Legislature and will be a big topic of conversation in 2015, which is all the more reason we are so excited about the potential for the HB 5 work group. We are getting very close to finalizing both the final list of work group partners and the potential research partners and scope of work for HB 5. The ELO work group is also moving along nicely, and we will be meeting with the work group partners next week to discuss next steps.

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The State of Pre-K: Texas Can Do More

This month, CHILDREN AT RISK is excited to release “The State of Pre-K: Realities and Opportunities in Texas,” a report on the current state of public pre-kindergarten programs in Texas and policy recommendations for maximizing their return on investment.

By CHILDREN AT RISK

This month, CHILDREN AT RISK is excited to release “The State of Pre-K: Realities and Opportunities in Texas,” a report on the current state of public pre-kindergarten programs in Texas and policy recommendations for maximizing their return on investment. The goal of this study was to provide essential information for policymakers, school districts, and community organizations to make informed policy decisions about pre-kindergarten education for our state’s youngest learners. This study is a collaborative project between the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium, the Meadows Foundation and CHILDREN AT RISK, and is a follow-up to a previous CHILDREN AT RISK study commissioned by the Consortium on how $5.4 billion in cuts to public education impacted Texas schools, and in particular pre-k, after the 2011 Legislative Session.

The Pre-k study is an especially important contribution considering the lack of publicly available state data on pre-kindergarten programs. Texas enrolls 225,000 kids in pre-kindergarten –more than any other state in the country- and it is essential to track the characteristics and outcomes of these programs. The main components of the study included a statewide survey of all traditional school districts, in-depth case studies on expanded pre-kindergarten programs in select districts, and research on policies in Texas and other key states.

Several key findings came out of the information gathered, the details of which can be found in
the full report
:

  • Many school districts are already going above and beyond minimum state mandates to ensure that students receive pre-kindergarten education.
  • School districts want full-day pre-kindergarten, but adequate funding is a challenge.
  • School districts are investing in smaller class sizes and optimal staff-to-student ratios without a state mandate or state funding.

A lack of funding was found to be a large roadblock for children in Texas, as 73% of responding districts reported inadequate funding as a barrier to pre-kindergarten expansion. The Texas Legislature made historic cuts to public education budgets in 2011, including grant funds for pre-kindergarten.

During the last legislative session in 2013, the Legislature restored just $30 million of the more than $200 million that was cut from pre-kindergarten grant programs. As a result, many school districts are digging deep into general operating funds or cobbling together federal grants and other funding sources to continue offering these programs.

Research shows that high quality pre-kindergarten, which includes small classes and full-day programs, produces higher returns on taxpayer money. Pre-kindergarten not only prepares children to succeed in elementary school, but also contributes to success later in life. It is important for Texas to support the work done by our local school districts in funding high quality pre-kindergarten programs.

“The State of Pre-K: Realities and Opportunities in Texas” was funded by The Meadows Foundation in support of TEGAC initiatives. For the full report, please visit
www.childrenatrisk.org
.

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TEGAC Advocacy Partner: Pastors for Texas Children, A Unique Perspective on Pre-K

Pastors for Texas Children is privileged to join the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium in advancing Pre-Kindergarten public educational instruction in Texas and promoting legislation in the upcoming legislative session to ensure that comprehensive pre-K programs are made available to all the families of Texas.

By Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Executive Director, Pastors for Texas Children

For the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium, TEGAC, August 2014

Pastors for Texas Children is privileged to join the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium in advancing Pre-Kindergarten public educational instruction in Texas and promoting legislation in the upcoming legislative session to ensure that comprehensive pre-K programs are made available to all the families of Texas.

From a theological and religious standpoint, education for all people is the basic will of God. Every faith tradition has understood education as central to humanity’s charge to be good, responsible stewards of creation. The Judeo-Christian heritage has always understood education to be central to its mission. It is necessary to fulfill God’s basic command expressed so memorably in first chapter of The Book of Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it.”

The colorful story continues in the second chapter of Genesis, quite specifically underscoring education as a God-given right and responsibility. After God places the human in a garden of plenty and commands him to eat, God then brings all the animals to the human to see what the human would name them. This naming impulse and process is precisely what constitutes education. It is a core component of human existence.

Furthermore, the one title that Jesus seemed to embrace throughout his mission was “Rabbi” which means “teacher.”

As such, ministers of the church have historically supported public education as a foundational institution of a representative democracy. A literate and educated electorate is essential to the rule of the people that advances God’s justice.

Public education is a key component of the common good and the social contract. It ensures the widespread distribution our economic wealth, and its institutions are at the center of our local economies.

We believe public education is a right– not a privilege. It should be accessible and available to all children. Public policy should support, not deplete, it. It is an inviolable public trust, and is explicitly mandated in the Texas Constitution.

This is why PTC advocates for the full and adequate funding of public education for all children regardless of race, economic status, religion, gender, orientation, or background.

This is why PTC affirms the holy calling of teaching as a noble vocation and stands for the restoration of teaching as the venerated profession it should be.

And this is why PTC stands solidly behind policy initiatives that extend pre-Kindergarten educational programs to all our children. Studies consistently show that the earlier a child is enrolled in formal educational instruction, the higher the academic performance and achievement will be throughout the child’s life.

When we invest in public education, we are investing in the future of 5 million Texas schoolchildren. That basic investment is the key to a child’s future economic mobility, the financial stability of Texas families, and the state’s long-term economic prosperity. Slightly more than 60 percent (over 3 million of our 5 million Texas public school students) are now identified as “economically disadvantaged.” Because family income plays a pivotal role in educational success, the increase in low-income Texas students underscores the importance of providing quality education at an earlier age. Pastors are in a good position to know the direct correlation between education achievement and economic viability.

Therefore, PTC will host meetings throughout the state to connect pastors, faith-leaders and education leaders around Pre-K and general public education issues. We will provide regular news and updates to members regarding emerging opportunities to promote Pre-K programs throughout the state. And we will host regular educational meetings involving key state legislators, pastors, church leaders, educators and other stakeholders to promote and advance Pre-K and general public education.

Education is a cornerstone of God’s justice and provision for all people. It should be provided for the “least of these”—our earlier age children—in every neighborhood and community throughout our great state.

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A Call to Philanthropists Who Advocate: Empower Your Peers to Get Involved

There are so many myths and misconceptions about foundations doing advocacy, that when a funder who is skillful and savvy achieves success, it’s a great opportunity to cut through the confusion and re-affirm the power of this work.

By Andy Carroll, Senior Program Director, Exponent Philanthropy

For the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium, TEGAC, May 2014

There are so many myths and misconceptions about foundations doing advocacy, that when a funder who is skillful and savvy achieves success, it’s a great opportunity to cut through the confusion and re-affirm the power of this work.

This is exactly what education funders in Texas have done. Your success in helping restore billions of dollars in funding for public education, and your plans for future advocacy, model ways foundations and donors engage in the policy process, and bring stakeholders who are voiceless into decision making that affects their lives. Your passionate and strategic work demonstrates and inspires how philanthropists can make our democratic process stronger and more representative.

We are thrilled that seven members of TEGAC are members of Exponent Philanthropy; they are foundations with few or no staff. We believe small foundations and donors have unique qualities that make them powerful advocates. More on those special qualities below.

My main message to members of TEGAC is that educating and inspiring other philanthropists in Texas and around the country is a way you can leverage your work and your mindset of active engagement.

Most of the country’s 80,000-plus private foundations do not participate in policy. And the millions of individual philanthropists, who give through donor advised funds, giving circles, and their checkbooks, do not participate in policy.

A tremendous amount of power for good is going unused, untapped.

Dozens of Exponent Philanthropy members have discovered the power of advocacy as they journey to make impact on their chosen issues. Usually, what propels them into the policy arena is a frustration with the status quo.

By documenting stories of advocacy over the years, and studying how philanthropists like you do this work, I have learned that small foundations and donors not only can engage in policy, but have unique non-dollar assets that make them truly effective as advocates . These non-dollar assets include access to legislators, deep knowledge of issues, broad perspective on communities, connections and networks, and the freedom to commission research and disseminate the results.

What do these philanthropists accomplish? Here are some examples:

  • A funder in California is building a network to engage parents in decision making about the public school system’s budget, and to create pathways for parents to get elected to the school board. The network is making the school system more accountable to the needs of students and their families.
  • A small public foundation in Kansas spearheaded a campaign to pass a smoking ban by the state legislature, long supported by the public but blocked by powerful interests. The foundation commissioned a public poll and developed innovative ways of delivering the results to legislators.
  • A funder in Connecticut catalyzed reform of the state’s juvenile justice system, to provide more counseling and support services to at-risk youth, keep more young people out of prison, and save public dollars.

Many more philanthropists would consider advocacy as a strategy–and engage in policy with passion–IF they were more aware of its effectiveness and of the legal rules. Exponent Philanthropy is working to provide this education through materials, programs, and networks.

But there’s another barrier. Most donors, benefactors, and trustees are not aware of the power and influence they hold in talking with legislators–at the local, state, or national level.

People in the business world understand that if they do not participate at the policy table, someone else will make decisions that affect them–with potentially harmful consequences. Business people, therefore, make policy engagement a normal part of their operations. It is astonishing that philanthropists who created wealth by successfully building businesses, and who advocated legislators to pursue their business interests, do not apply this same mindset to their philanthropy.

We in philanthropy and nonprofits need to integrate policy engagement into our mindset and normal operations. We must acknowledge that if we do not engage, others will make decisions that impact our sector. Others will make decisions that impact people in the communities we serve who do not have a voice.

We urge TEGAC members to join us in helping donors, benefactors, and trustees all over the country recognize their power and lend their voices to the urgent issues they care about –whether it be in education, hunger, housing, health, or the environment.

You have found your voice at the policy table. No one is better positioned than you to help other donors find their voices.