As part of our NCSCvirtual conference wrap-up, we will be sharing a series of posts highlighting sessions and topics that are of great interest to our community. Whether or not you attended the conference, we think this information will be useful to you in your immediate and future planning. 

 In our first installment of the conference wrap-up series, we are breaking down education and philanthropy in the age of COVID-19 and beyond.  

The COVID-19 pandemic altered every aspect of American life and forced every organization to adjust its strategies and operations on the fly. The philanthropic community was no exception. Various institutional and individual funders made rapid changes to how and where they gave. In education philanthropy, donors had to balance providing immediate support with continuing to give towards their long-term goals. And as various issues, such as the digital divide, lack of cleaning supplies, and budget shortfalls, began to be a prominent component of the K-12 discourse, philanthropy emerged as a means to provide the additional capital to address these gaps. 

On July 23, the National Alliance brought together five experienced foundation officers and executives to recap their experiences and analyze the future of educational philanthropy. Moderated by Katherine Haley from the Philanthropy Roundtable, "Philanthropy, COVID-19, and Education in 2020" featured Dakarai Aarons from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Melanie Brown from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ash Solar from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Kristin Todd from the Daniels Fund. 

Philanthropic Response to COVID-19

The philanthropic sector has been building the plane as they fly it, with the educational future of millions of children at stake. Kristin Todd highlighted how the Daniels Fund supports individual schools in their portfolio through a rapid response fund where they gave grants to help schools prepare for the possibility of distance learning in the fall. This support includes investing in new learning platforms, instructional support, professional development for teachers, and technology for students. She advised anyone seeking to start a charter school should engage their state association and local allies to explore opportunities and support. Ash Solar added that the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation has been supporting work to create resources for schools centered on reopening. Schools can obtain these resources through an application process. 

Along with academic-related challenges, philanthropy is also assessing the external factors that can present barriers to students' successful remote learning experience. Various external factors can impact whether a student's experience with distance learning is fruitful. As Melanie Brown touched on, recent polling conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation highlighted that factors, such as internet connectivity and food insecurity, can harm a student's in-home learning experience during this time. Dakarai Aarons also stressed how critical it is to address the "whole child" and make sure that children are healthy enough from a physical, mental, and social-emotional perspective to succeed. They have been working on creating resources and supporting districts and school leaders to engage children during these unprecedented times and bring out the best and healthiest versions of themselves. 

Equity and the Future of Educational Philanthropy

The digital divide has always been a core area of interest for the philanthropic sector. And now more than ever, the need to close the digital divide is top of mind. The lack of internet connectivity perpetuates economic and racial inequities within our educational system, and many of the panelists spoke about implementing new tactics to address this issue, including supporting state governments, engaging with schools directly, and creating resources. From a broader equity perspective, the panel stressed the need to ensure that their grantees are diverse and that their access to funding is equitable. By supporting more leaders of color and single-site schools, the philanthropic sector can ensure that they are empowering diverse voices. 

As education adjusted to the pandemic, the philanthropic community followed suit. Philanthropists have served as valuable partners, from data collection, direct technical assistance, and committing to equitable changes, the philanthropic sector will continue to engage, listen, and seek solutions.

You can watch "Philanthropy, COVID-19, and Education in 2020" on-demand. Please use the email that you used to register for the conference to access the session. If you are not registered for NCSCvirtual and would like to watch the session, please click here

Kyle Breckenridge is the senior manager of strategic initiatives at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.