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Lesson 7.7

Who influences education?:
Politics, philanthropy and policy

The power players in education are…

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Education policy is complicated, and it changes over time. Who influences those changes? This lesson summarizes the major organizations that play a consistent role in the policymaking process.

As explained in earlier lessons in this chapter, the education system formally operates in layers, with power distributed among local, county, state and Federal elements.

At every layer, influence is personal. Most public school communities are represented by one school board member, one assemblymember, one state senator, and one member of US Congress. The individuals who serve in these temporary positions of responsibility are barraged with input, only a fraction of it policy-related. Hopefully, they do the best they can to make policy decisions wisely, and choose good staff to help them.

The voices that influence policy decisions include interest organizations, researchers, philanthropies, journalists and regular folks who take the time to use their voice.

Money, and the strange power of uncertainty

The education system involves a lot of money, as we will discuss in Ed100 Chapter 8, almost all of it to pay for teachers and staff. The major funding systems for education are inflexible. Almost all of the money flows on the basis of mathematical rules that voters engraved into the state Constitution by passing initiatives. Between Proposition 13, Proposition 98, and the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the major rules are more or less set in stone, or at least in ink.

Funding for education can vary significantly from year to year, but mostly because of changes in economic conditions, not so much based on things you can control. (More simply: "You get what you get, and you don't get upset!") Except in years when the stock market soars, there really isn't much discretionary money in the system.

Compared to total expenditures, the dollars that philanthropists donate to education are tiny. They are influential because they are uncertain.

Like the reliable son in the parable of the prodigal son, "normal" funding can be taken for granted. Because the dollars are reliable, they are uninteresting.

Advocacy organizations, philanthropies and think tanks can have influence in education systems in part because they aren't reliable. They can bring outside funding, attention, and talent to projects that can't or won't be prioritized through normal channels. The amount of money involved is tiny in context. Even the Gates Foundation accounts for a tiny speck of the total expenditures for education each year. Like the prodigal son, these funders are not dependable. Their favor cannot be taken for granted. It comes with strings and must be earned.

Uncertain dollars motivate action exactly because they are uncertain. Action is necessary to get them.

Education donors, researchers and lobbyists are people, not cartoons. The point of this lesson is to highlight some of the organizations, involving actual humans, that are trying to help school systems through their modest but influential work.

The Referee: The LAO

If there were an official referee in the chaos of education policymaking, it would be the nonpartisan Legislative Analysis Office (LAO). The LAO's small team serves for California a role similar to the US Congressional Budget Office — it advises the legislature. Its voice is quiet, but authoritative. Their reports, though technical, are surprisingly readable — after all, they need to make sense to legislators and their staff, who aren’t always policy experts. Especially when a policy question erupts with controversy, the LAO's site is a good place to look for a cool-headed presentation of the facts.

Interest Organizations

Much of what you will read, hear or see about education is produced by people with a specific point of view. By far the most influential organization in education policy is the California Teachers Association (CTA). Most of its roughtly 300,000 members pay hundreds of dollars in annual membership dues. As California's largest teachers union, it has the resources to communicate its position in ways no other organization can match. (See data from Open Secrets)

The California State PTA (CAPTA) has no such war chest, but it plays a unique role in education advocacy because of its involvement in a significant fraction of California's public school communities. Each local PTA is its own non-profit organization; in order to be affiliated with PTA, it must meet specific conditions and pay a small amount of dues to support the regional and state PTA organizations. As part of PTA’s mission “to secure adequate laws for the care and protection of children and youth,” their volunteers monitor legislation in Sacramento and in local communities, provide legislative training for volunteers throughout California, and work to identify areas where additional legislation for children is needed. ( works with PTA organizations frequently.)

Some organizations play a role in the development of education policy in California through registered lobbying efforts. Here are some of them:

Additional Selected Organizations


The California Federation of Teachers (CFT) is California's second-largest teachers union related to K-12 education.


The California School Employees Association (CSEA) represents non-teachers working in schools.


The California School Boards Association (CSBA) represents the interests of school boards and their members. Their very technical blog, updated daily, provides information about issues of the moment.


The Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) represents school principals and district leaders.


The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) advocates on behalf of students, teachers and families in charter schools.


The California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA, pronounced see-sessa) helps unify the perspective of the state's 58 counties regarding education.


The California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE, pronounced kah-beh) promotes biliteracy and multicultural competency.


The California Association of School Counselors (CASC) advocates on behalf of school counselors. .


The California Association of Student Councils (CASC) connects, prepares and advocates for student leaders.


The School Superintendents Association (AASA) represents the executives who lead school districts.


EdVoice provides training on education issues to staffers in Sacramento. The organization is active in advocacy for charter schools.

Children Now

Advocates for the policy interests of children. Part of their work includes lobbying.

Californians Together

Advocates on behalf of English learners.


Advocates for equity in California education.

Families in Schools

Supports family engagement in education. Advocates for the interests of English learners.


A student-led organization that organizes students to advocate for the interests of students.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive - please add your comments to call attention to others!

Many of the organizations above are "in the room" when education policy is being written in Sacramento. Whether they hire a registered lobbyist or not, these interest organizations help overworked legislative staff by providing specific wording suggestions for bills and regulations.

Non-profit Organizations

They aren't the only ones, however. Many organizations with a substantial influence on policy decisions in education do not employ lobbyists at all. Here are a few of the free sources that, like, help people understand education policy issues and make a difference:

Non-profit information sources relevant to education change


EdSource reports daily on education-related research, policy, and political developments that affect California. Free and widely read, it is the daily news source of record for education in California, with a well-edited weekly 20-minute podcast.


California online news site that includes coverage and analysis of education issues. Free, frequent and widely read.

The 74

Provides non-partisan, fact-based news about education and education policy. Free.

Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE)

Synthesizes policy options and research findings about education in California. Important findings are sometimes covered as news. Free.

Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)

Equips policymakers with public opinion polling on topics including education. Free.


Insightful articles on parenting and education, tailored to specific grade levels. And a podcast. Oh, and it also has superb tools to compare schools and choose one for your child. Free.

Government sources

The state of California has a role to play in this information flow.

Government information sources

California Department of Education (CDE)

The official source of lists, laws, regulations and more, written to be precise and technically correct, though not necessarily timely or easy to understand. Free.

Paid sources

In days of yore, newspapers were important players in education policy because they were widely read. Today, there are still some incredible journalists reporting on education issues. Some of them work for paid sources that support important research and reporting. Ed100 links to paywall-protected resources sparingly because we know that few of our readers will spend the money. Below are a few worth mentioning:

Noteworthy education news and information sources with paywalls


A widely-read weekly national news periodical for education sector insiders.

NY Times

Frequent coverage of news and issues for the education sector with a focus on national stories and a general audience.

LA Times

Frequent coverage of news and issues for the education sector with a focus on California stories written for a general audience.

Sac Bee

Frequent coverage of news and issues for the education sector with a focus on California stories, policies and politics.

Fresno Bee

Covers local education news and issues in central California.

There are many other sources, of course. To call attention to one that matters to you, please leave a comment at the end of this lesson.

Political influence

Most elections associated with public education in California take place at the local level, in non-partisan races for school board positions. In smaller districts these have usually been low-key contests, but sentiment seemed to change during the pandemic. Some school board races were used as proxies for partisan flash points, including respect for students' diversity and sexual identity. Teachers unions, which tend to be politically progressive, have become increasingly assertive in these local contests.


Most education-related philanthropic dollars are spent on things like scholarships or to support the operational costs of schools or programs. But a small, fragile portion supports organizations that equip school systems to tackle systemic change. Many of the organizations listed above are dependent on these Foundations.

Foundations for systemic change in education


The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation awarded about $62 million in 2022 to education-related grantees, with a focus on innovation in instruction. Part of their strategy is to improve the quality and availability of low-cost Open Education Resources (OER), which can free up funding for teachers and programs. Decades ago, crucial support from the Hewlett foundation set the stage for California's innovative Local Control Funding Formula.


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent billions over decades to develop, research, and test education reform ideas, some very influential. For example, the foundation's support for stronger teacher evaluations led to changes in many states. Historically, the foundation has also supported small schools, charter schools, education data, and innovation in education technology.


The William and Flora Stuart Foundation has long worked on issues confronting young people in California, with special focus on foster youth. The Stuart Foundation has been particularly involved in helping to develop systems that make sense. It was one of the first funders of Ed100, and it provides critically important support to EdSource.


The California Endowment is a large grantmaking organization with a major focus on health, but it occasionally supports projects that relate to education. For example, the California Endowment helped shed light on disproportionately harsh school punishments dealt to African American and Hispanic youth. This work led to a re-examination of zero-tolerance policies in local districts and at the state level.

In 2022, California lost one of its greatest funders of systemic innovation in education when the Kabcenell Foundation ceased operations. Ed100 would not exist without the resources and counsel provided by this remarkable funder. Some of the critical work that was supported by the Kabcenell Foundation may be sustained by others, for example including the Silver Giving Foundation. But funders of the intellectual infrastructure of the education system are unfortunately rare.

A national organization called Grantmakers for Education convenes and trains philanthropic leaders; thier conferences provide helpful insight into which causes these essential organizations might focus on next.

The next lesson looks at the changing landscape of school accountability.

Updated Aug 2017
August 2021
October 2021
July 2023


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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Do2na September 12, 2023 at 2:51 pm
Shout out to California Association of School Psychologists!
user avatar
Shamrock27 May 7, 2020 at 2:20 am
Thanks to Ed100 now, I aware of several organizations I hadn't hear of! I am very interested in read the reports from California's Legislative Analyst Office LAO. Which is one of the organizations that are new to me.
user avatar
Sonya Hendren September 13, 2018 at 6:48 pm
Today, I attended Ed Trust-West's Education Equity Forum. I would not have known it existed without Thank you Ed100!
user avatar
Caryn September 13, 2018 at 7:42 pm
Hi Sonya, this is music to our ears. We love to hear Ed100 graduates engaging with amazing advocacy agencies and Ed Trust-West is one of our favorites! How was the forum? Btw, did you hear the announcement about Jeff Bezos contributing 2 billion dollars towards helping homeless families and supporting early childhood education? I know people have strong feelings about him but...did I mention 2 billion dollars?!
user avatar
Jeff Camp May 4, 2017 at 7:54 am
Charter schools enjoy strong backing in Sacramento and in local elections, according to this description by EdSource
user avatar
GSG April 23, 2015 at 1:58 pm
I will definitely use the resources or ideas listed.
user avatar
g4joer6 April 21, 2015 at 5:41 pm
Nice to have these resources listed in one place. Thank you
user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder April 21, 2015 at 9:51 pm
Thanks, g4joer -- another list that may interest you is in Ed100's final lesson. (It really IS the final lesson, but we continue adding perspectives and depth through our blog.) I am continually impressed at just how many amazing organizations, large and small, exist (or, usually, subsist) in the education arena. Part of the reason I enjoy working with Full Circle Fund is that we get to learn about them and help a few each year.
©2003-2024 Jeff Camp
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