Change Realized: How Foundations are Contributing to Public Policy Successes

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Below is an excerpt from the final blog post in a five-part series titled, “Foundations and Policy Engagement: Insights in Their Own Words,”  by the Center for Effective Philanthropy on the CEP Blog. Read the entire blog post here

In this last blog post, philanthropies answered the question, “What are some policy wins your foundation has contributed to?”

Below is Helios Education Foundation's response by Charles Hokanson, Senior Vice President, Florida Community Engagement, and Janice Palmer, Vice President, Public Policy & Government Affairs.

Helios Education Foundation’s College Knowing & Going Initiative is a college and career readiness program that has invested in the potential of thousands of low-income, Latino students in Arizona. At its core, a five-year grant provided approximately 40 percent of Arizona juniors and seniors with no-cost access to the ACT, assistance with college applications, and assistance with completing financial aid forms.

Evaluation of this five-year initiative found that postsecondary access is aided by ensuring all students take the ACT exam. Armed with this proof of concept, Helios met with elected leaders, including the Arizona Governor’s Office, key legislators, and the State Board of Education (SBE). These conversations ultimately informed legislative action in 2018 that launched the state’s College Readiness Pilot, which ensured 100 percent of Arizona’s juniors were able to take the ACT in 2018-19. This public/private partnership gave further confidence to state leaders to enact legislation covering the cost of every Arizona high school junior to take a college readiness exam, ensuring equity and access.

At the same time, Helios engaged as a thought leader with the SBE as it crafted its A-F School Accountability system. The result was the inclusion of a College and Career Readiness Indicator for high school, in which ACT exam growth and FAFSA completion rates were included. This incentivizes high schools to focus on student college and career readiness, by incorporating key items that were included in the College Knowing & Going initiative.

In Florida, our policy work has focused on and been effective in the early learning years. Helios identified that many of our partners in Florida struggled to achieve impact because the state had gaps in its early childhood system, which was not well aligned with the K-12 system.

In response, Helios created a multi-year strategy centered on systemic reforms that ultimately helped convince the State Legislature to create a bi-partisan Blue Ribbon committee, funded by Helios as a public/private partnership, to study how to improve childcare program quality and develop a coherent assessment system for early-learning programs. From those recommendations, the legislature then passed additional legislation that established the state’s first tilt in funding towards rewarding higher quality childcare programs.

There is still work to do, especially given that a major bill to reform the state’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program stalled in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19. Nonetheless, Florida has built coalitions, identified champions, and made progress, and Helios will continue its policy focus on advancing early learning with our partners at the state level.