Supporting Public Education through Smarter Partnerships in LA County

The Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) is the nation’s largest regional education agency. LACOE is charged with educating more than 2 million students across 80 public school districts, from early childhood through to high school graduation. With a vastly diverse population of students, including young people in correctional facilities, LACOE’s commitment to excellence comes with an equally great responsibility: to meet the many and often-complex needs of the students it serves. The school administrators’ creativity and entrepreneurship is called upon to forge community and county partnerships that can help at-risk kids get the most out of their education, no matter their background or life circumstances.

Too often, well-intended private philanthropy misses opportunities to partner with public school systems that serve the greatest number of the children these donors hope to reach. Private funders often want to reach large numbers of students, and also possess flexible resources that can fuel innovation. In contrast, public education funds – which must stretch to meet the needs of large and diverse student populations – serve millions of kids but rarely possess flexibility. And yet public education teachers and leaders know what their kids need.

LACOE’s commitment to excellence comes with an equally great responsibility: to meet the many and often-complex needs of the students it serves.

In Los Angeles, an initiative is taking shape under the leadership of LACOE Superintendent Dr. Debra Duardo, the Greater Los Angeles Education Fund (Greater LA). Dr. Duardo created the fund as a strategic partnership initiative that serves as the “front door” for private funders who want their resources to align with public funds to accelerate innovation that can benefit the greatest number of children. 

The goal of Greater LA is to be a hub of best practices, networked learning, data sharing, community engagement, co-investment (with LACOE and other private funders), strategic partnerships and advocacy for the greater LA region. The fund aims to be a nimble organization built to catalyze the work of LACOE and help support educational systems in LA County that prepare more students for success in college, career and beyond.  In the near term, Greater LA priorities include Community Schools, Social-Emotional Learning/Trauma, and Strengthening the Teacher Pipeline and Teacher Retention – particularly for teachers of color. Greater LA will also support projects adjacent to its core priorities, including a public facing Countywide Data Dashboard that will track schools in real time based on a set of metrics.

One of LACOE’s most significant recent accomplishments, in partnership with Greater LA, is its formalization of a Communities Schools Initiative in 15 pilot districts, complete with a full-time director and in-school coordinators co-funded between LACOE and private donors. LACOE’s work on the Communities Schools Initiative is twofold. First, staff collaborate across county agencies, including the departments of Children and Family Services, Public Health, Public Social Services, and Probation, to source funding and staff to support under-resourced schools. Then, with the help of its recently hired Community Schools Director, the program connects kids and families with a wide range of public and private programming, from help with food security to mental health support. 

Mountain Philanthropies is proud to have seed-funded this effort, with the hope that many others leverage the Greater Los Angeles Education Fund to reach the most number of students across the community.  We also hope it might serve as a model for other communities in promoting at-scale initiatives jointly pursued between public education, private philanthropy and other public agencies.