Education-focused foundations exist to address deep societal inequities. Their goals — ensuring quality K-12 education for all students, improving student access to post-secondary opportunities, expanding formal learning experiences for children prior to kindergarten — point to a need for system-level changes. A new report from Grantmakers for Education captures this ambitious agenda — and reveals some of the necessary course corrections funders must make if the philanthropic sector is to achieve its lofty goals when it comes to education.

Trends in Education Philanthropy: Benchmarking 2018-19 is based on the 10th anniversary edition of a survey administered by Grantmakers for Education, a network of almost 300 education funders across the nation. Grantmakers for Education has conducted the survey five times since 2008, most recently in 2015. The most current report, based on the responses of 91 education funders, including 65 members of Grantmakers for Education, analyzes trends in the areas of giving and grantmaking practice.

One clear issue gaining momentum in the education funding community is attention to the social and emotional dimensions of learning. This trend may be a response to the emerging evidence base in brain science, which shows that learning is rooted in relationships and that students’ life outside the classroom affects what happens inside it. That growing understanding appears to be shifting philanthropy away from the academic-centric reforms of the last decade and toward investments that focus on the whole learner.

Consider the data. Respondents to the survey rank social and emotional learning first among all issues (30 total) for its potential to have a positive impact on education. Further, the majority (56 percent) anticipate increasing funding in this area over the next two years while, notably, not a single respondent anticipates making cuts. According to one respondent, this growing belief in the value of social and emotional learning reflects “increased recognition that the ‘whole child’ matters and that schools play a critical — not solitary — role in ensuring that students receive more holistic support.” Related topics like wraparound supports and restorative justice practices that attend to students’ social and emotional needs were also areas where funders anticipate increases, the report finds.

However, despite funders’ significant reported interest in this area, funds are not yet flowing to match. While more than one-third of those surveyed report funding in the social and emotional learning space, grant investment in this area only comprises 3 percent of overall dollars reported.

That doesn’t add up.

We aspire to fundamentally change the education system to consider the broad array of needs of learners — especially those who are enormously disadvantaged. This is an expanded notion of both the role of schools (beyond just the academic) and the role of other community entities (to provide comprehensive learner supports). To get there, we must re-evaluate our use of two strategies in education philanthropy: collaboration and public policy.

Read the full article about education philanthropy by Richard Tagle and Celine Coggins at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.