K-12 EDUCATION

$190.9 MILLION INVESTED IN 2016

author + Marc Sternberg
Marc Sternberg

K-12 Education Program Director

@wffmarc

Supporting innovation for America’s students, educators and schools

Education is a pathway to opportunity. For more than two decades, we have supported efforts that empower families to select the best school for their child.

We are building unique partnerships with people in cities across the country who have the power to make systemic change and share our commitment to innovation. Foundation grantmaking reflects an optimism about the potential in America’s schools.

In 2016, the foundation committed $1 billion over five years to expand great schools so all children, regardless of background, can be prepared for success in college, career and life. 

Resources alone cannot solve the challenges facing the education system. Schools succeed when educators are empowered to make decisions about things like culture, curriculum and staffing that are in the best interest of children, while also being held accountable for student learning.

We believe leaders should empower educators, adopt these conditions and remove barriers that prevent great schools from flourishing.


By supporting diverse school models in cities such as Indianapolis, charter schools are flourishing as a network of in-district autonomous schools is growing. These in-district schools combine the freedom of charters with the resources and facilities of traditional district schools. So far, Indiana Public Schools has launched nine of these schools, with five more preparing to open in 2017. By this time next year, around 5,000 students will be enrolled in Innovation Network Schools. Within seven years, it is anticipated that 80% of children in Indianapolis will attend autonomous charter or district schools. 

Lasting change to our education system also depends on strong school leaders and outstanding teachers. That is why we are investing in training programs to produce the next generation of great educators. Programs such as the Relay Graduate School of Education, which will recruit hundreds of candidates for their residency programs, build a pipeline of effective teachers in cities across the country, including Houston, Memphis and Denver. 


In New Orleans, the foundation’s grants are addressing a broad range of student needs that includes increasing support for special education and preparing high schoolers for life after graduation. The NOLA Special Education Project helped 175 students with a range of disabilities access needed behavioral, health, counseling and academic services through school-based programming. And through support for initiatives like Youth Force NOLA, up to 250 students will participate in paid internships during the school year thanks to stronger partnerships between their high school and the city’s business community. 

We remain determined to clear obstacles that inhibit the growth of high-quality schools. That is why we made an unprecedented commitment to the construction and expansion of school facilities in 2016. The Building Equity Initiative will provide public charter schools with access to much-needed capital for new or renovated schools in up to 20 cities. By 2027, the effort will give 250,000 additional students access to great schools. 

These investments underscore our resolve to support an education system that prepares our nation’s most valuable resource – its children – for lives of opportunity and success.

It is a privilege to learn from teachers, parents and school leaders who are rewriting the playbook of what’s possible for our nation’s children.

Annie Proietti, K-12 Education Program Committee Chair

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