The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has given away about $30 million a year in Idaho since the 1990s. Most of that money has gone to projects involving Idaho’s public schools. But foundation Executive Director Roger Quarles says the board and staff are frustrated with how that's worked out, and are changing the way they give.
“Since 1997 we’ve invested almost $700 million in K-12 and higher ed,” Quarles says. “And to me, it looks the same as it did 17 years ago. School basically looks the same, feels the same as it did a hundred years ago in Idaho.”
For years, the Albertson Foundation has sought out what it considers innovative learning ideas. It’s funded teacher training programs, early childhood learning initiatives, and data collection and management systems to name a few. The foundation has also focused giving on education technology projects and charter schools.
Some grants have been for statewide initiatives, but others have gone to small groups of teachers who wanted to try a new way to teach, or use a new technology. The goal of these grants was ambitious. Quarles says the foundation wanted to change Idaho’s education system, to make it more innovative. The idea was that the most effective strategies would be adopted statewide.
“The investments have been made. There’s been good work done in the field,” Quarles says. “But frankly when the resources dry up, the initiatives go away. It is extremely frustrating when you have exceptional lifelong educators, truly committed to improving the profession, that we have provided resources for, that can’t get [their innovations] adopted in a school and or a district and or statewide. You have to look at that and go ‘fundamentally there’s some problems within that system.’”
Quarles thinks those fundamental problems within Idaho’s school system keep new ideas from taking root. He also assigns some blame to the state, which he says has not adequately funded schools so they can change.
The foundation will continue to give to charter schools and fund some of the projects it already has going. But it won’t give many new grants for in-school projects now. Quarles says the foundation is still focused on education, but he says learning can happen outside schools.
“Rather than try to transform an entire system, we feel we can go directly to the consumer.” Quarles says.
He says most of the money the foundation gives for learning innovation in the future will go to organizations like YMCA’s, Boys and Girls Clubs and libraries. And there will also be less money, even for those.
Quarles says his organization has always put money into what he calls three ‘buckets.’ Most of the money went into the bucket labeled ‘learning innovation.’ Now, all three will get about the same amount. The other buckets represent community investments like food banks and parks, and education awareness, like the online news outlet - Idaho Education News.
“We can be the voice of honest, transparent conversations, to help the public have access to accurate information, and then have their voice contributed to improving Idaho,” Quarles says. “Not just education but Idaho in general.”
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