Nonprofits working in the field of public education—both direct service organizations and private philanthropy that invests in them—are many and diverse. Whether programs that support struggling students, teachers and/or counselors during the school day, or after-school and summer programs providing enrichment to low-income kids, the work these organizations do is essential to addressing the challenges that prohibit Texas students from reaching their full academic potential.
However, in addition to supporting Texas students through direct services, these organizations must also consider public education advocacy a critical part of their mission and strategies. Nearly half of the Texas state budget is committed to funding for public education, which means that when the state has to make cuts, public education is always a target. Policymakers wield enormous power, making critical decisions that impact public education, and subsequently, the work of nonprofits across the state. Thus, these same nonprofits must play an active role in the policy-making process.
In 2011, the state made historic cuts to public education, totaling $5 billion. Of that, $1.4 billion was cut from the Texas Education Agency’s discretionary funding, which funds many of the crucial programs supported by public-private partnerships across the state:
- Science labs
- Teacher development
- After-school mentoring and extra help for struggling readers
Those were all cut as a result of the decrease in public spending, thereby eliminating many related public-private partnerships.
In response to these cuts, eight private philanthropic foundations from across Texas commissioned a yearlong, mixed-methods statewide study to objectively assess how budget reductions impact public schools by surveying hundreds of school districts. The survey findings revealed that school districts were forced to cut many of the things research shows work best, particularly for low-income children.
From its inception, Raise Your Hand Texas has supported many of these proven best practices, such as adequate funding for public schools, pre-kindergarten and leadership development for teachers and principals. Raise Your Hand Texas has also identified these best practices as critical policy issues during both the 2011 and 2013 legislative sessions. Through its Leadership Program for principals and district-focused improvement efforts, Raise Your Hand Texas understands the potential of leveraging smaller amounts of private money to invest in innovation and research that has the potential to produce large-scale improvement in public education for 5 million students in Texas. Raise Your Hand Texas is a great example of a public-private partnership with the state. The research, development and innovation role that the organization plays serves as a great example of how non-profits can safely and legally participate in the public policy process to protect and improve public education in Texas.
To learn more about how private philanthropy and non-profits can get involved in public education policy in Texas, visit the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium. You can also visit Alliance for Justice or Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest to learn more about non-profit advocacy.
Project Consultant, Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium