By Lori Bezahler, President, Edward W. Hazen Foundation
(Note: This blog post discusses one of the funder Q&A sessions held at our Annual Meeting; an upcoming post will examine the other Q&A session with New York Times Editorial Board member David Firestone.)
Over the past 15 years, education policy has gone from a bureaucratic backwater to a topic debated on the front pages of every city’s major newspaper. Where once we had presidential candidates proposing the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education, today anyone vying for public office in New York—or indeed across the country—must have a position on the hot education issues and proclaim themselves the next education mayor, governor or president. The transformation of education philanthropy has followed a similar trajectory with the recognition that effective programs and direct services are important, even critical, but long-term, sustained change requires public policies conducive to the schools we want for our children, our communities and our country. As a result, those of us doing work in the field must build our understanding of how policy change is driven, what the key levers of change might be and the current direction of those leading the change in order to be effective grantmakers.
Philanthropy New York’s Annual Meeting gave the membership and our colleagues in the nonprofit field the opportunity to hear directly from the top education policymakers at the city, state and federal levels. Sharing the stage were U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr., and New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a discussion moderated by WNYC Education Correspondent Beth Fertig and preceded by a smaller session with Pedro Noguera, the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at NYU. While the speakers held different views on some specific policy interventions, there was a shared emphasis on creating great schools for all children. One point of agreement across all four speakers was the need for equity in school finance and the importance of a public—parents in particular—creating demand and pushing for excellent schools.