Philanthropy Roundtable Celebrates School Choice Week

Philanthropy Roundtable supports innovative schools, philanthropists and initiatives that promote K-12 school choice across the country. As we celebrate National School Choice Week, we are highlighting some worthy organizations, initiatives and donors seeking to expand educational opportunities for all.

Growing School Choice: Charter schools, private schools, virtual schools and public schools have all seen demand grow in the past several years as parents increasingly seek out accessible quality education options. Below are two examples of innovative school models that strive to eliminate barriers to upward mobility, expand opportunity and reward hard work and perseverance.

  • Great Hearts: Great Hearts is the largest classical charter school network in the United States, committed to the mission of cultivating the hearts and minds of students through the pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty. Great Hearts schools, “which aim to teach students how to think rather than what to think, serve over 20,000 students in 33 brick-and-mortar buildings across Arizona and Texas. Administrators use a broad curriculum that encompasses academics, but doesn’t focus solely on student achievement, a concept the school’s leaders believe is necessary yet insufficient.”
  • Vertex Partnership Academies: Vertex Partnership Academies seeks to be the first-of-its-kind network of character-based, International Baccalaureate public charter high schools dedicated to equality of opportunity, individual dignity and our common humanity. Our profile of the school, located in the Bronx, New York, explains why its core values – “courage, justice, temperance, wisdom” – help put children on the path to success.

Philanthropists Drive Opportunity: From start-ups to well-established schools, philanthropy is critical to the future of school choice. Below are two philanthropists who have given their time and treasure to transform student lives.

  • Bill Oberndorf, Philanthropy Roundtable’s 2021 Simon-DeVos Prize Winner, is chairman of American Federation for Children and the American Federation for Children Growth Fund (AFC Growth Fund), the nation’s largest school choice advocacy and education organization. Through his support for these education endeavors and others, Oberndorf has focused on empowering families, especially lower-income families, with the freedom to choose the best K-12 education options for their children.  
  • Oberndorf, a successful investor and philanthropist, worked alongside philanthropic legend John Walton to build the school choice movement from a small group of investors into a national force. One of the products of that work was the AFC, which accomplishes its work by “electing education reforms, passing high quality education reforms and advocating for families, telling their stories and informing them of their education options.” Oberndorf credits AFC with changing the trajectory of students’ lives, and AFC points to research that shows students who participate in school choice programs have higher test scores and better outcomes. Watch Oberndorf’s discussion with AFC board member Kathy Hubbard about the importance of school choice at Philanthropy Roundtable’s 2021 Annual Meeting here.
  • Education reformers Jeff and Laura Sandefer co-founded Acton Academy, a global network of innovative K-12 schools that encourage students to be “curious, independent, lifelong learners.” Acton is a private “one-room schoolhouse” that blends the Socratic method and 21st century technology “to equip each student to change the world.” Today, there are 300 Acton Academies operating in over 25 countries, teaching students from grade school through high school, and the list keeps growing. “We believe that every person who enters our door is a genius who deserves to find a calling that will change the world. If you don’t believe that, you have no right to be inside an Acton Academy,” Sandefer said during an interview for the Roundtable’s series “Doers to Donors.” “And that means every parent, every guide … [and] every learner.”

    You can watch Sandefer’s interview with the Roundtable here.

School Choice Awareness and Awards: Millions of American children now attend schools of their parents’ choice thanks to the establishment of vouchers, scholarship tax credits, charter schools, open enrollment and education savings account programs across the country. Despite this, the Lincoln Network found that up to 80% of parents surveyed could not name a single school outside of their locally zoned public school. Public awareness and growth are now priorities for many groups and organizations as the movement strengthens. Here are a few initiatives helping parents and schools connect.

  • Schoolahoop: Schoolahoop, an initiative of the Lincoln Network Studio, is a free service that leverages technology to help parents choose their children’s schools. It equips parents with school options in their area, scholarships and even helps with the application process. Due to generous philanthropists, the service is available in Texas, Florida, Arizona and Kansas City, but the organization is striving to make its technology available to every family in the country. Read more about Schoolahoop here.
  • Center for Education Reform (CER): CER is an education reform organization that seeks to expand innovation and opportunity for students by generating awareness of school choice options, talking to policy makers and connecting innovators and their products with investors and schools to accelerate their impact. CER has partnered with Jeff and Janine Yass and Forbes to found the Yass Prize, celebrating education providers who best demonstrates the STOP principles – Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless. Arizona Autism Charter Schools was recently awarded with this $1 million prize.
  • VELA Education Fund (VELA): VELA  “supports everyday entrepreneurs who are boldly reimagining education.” VELA offers grants to fund innovative learning initiatives and recently helped Prenda, a tuition free micro school, expand and open the door for more low-income families to access its programs.

At Philanthropy Roundtable, we believe every child deserves to have an exceptional education that offers new opportunities and rewards hard work. The school choice movement is growing across the country, and we are proud to stand with partners who are inspiring students to reach their full potential.

Originally published in 2023 and last updated January 26, 2024.

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