As the 2019 legislative season grows nigh, an awareness of the lack of government funds to meet educational and human services needs is once again apparent. With that awareness we are seeing renewed interest in philanthropy and government collaborating to meet pressing problems.
Hawaii is not unique. Many American charitable foundations of various types and scale are considering engaging with government on a more formalized and continuous basis. At the same time governments are exploring ways to leverage philanthropic assets to advance innovative solutions to public problems in the context of growing budget deficits.
As both philanthropy and government seek to expand their impact, new models of collaboration are emerging. The new efforts go well beyond philanthropy picking up the bill for public services and projects government lacks the public will or funds to support. They even go beyond taking philanthropic innovations to scale or foundations attempting to influence sound public policy.
A creation of the early 20th century, the typical foundation has a permanent endowment, exists in perpetuity, is required to payout 5% of its assets each year and possess considerable flexibility and the ability to take risks in pursuit of its mission. With no need to raise funds, foundations can take the long view of their work.
Beyond the intersection of the interest of governments and foundations in serving the public good, many leaders believe that foundations can play a “venture capital” role for problem solving. Largely insulated from politics and markets, foundations have the freedom to experiment with innovative solutions to vexing public problems. Workable solutions may then be attractive to government to take to scale with its vaster financial resources and diverse delivery systems. Increasingly governments are also pursuing the support of foundations whose issue expertise may inform how a particular program is designed or implemented.
Local examples of such partnerships include the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundations collaboration with the Executive Office of Early Learning to provide preschool teacher training in early mathematics and early literacy. As Hawaii ramps up a universally available public preschool system, teachers new to the pre-k classrooms have access to the Erikson Institute of Chicago’s nationally prominent teacher training. The tax payer pays nothing.
I note that the initiatives described above are aljgned with our mission and history of public service to Hawaii’s families and children. Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, trustees and their community allies advocated for a publicly funded universal kindergarten system. Private kindergartens, which had been initiated with substantial investment from the foundation in the late 19th century, had proven their effectiveness, and additional capacity was needed in the public education sector. After years of lobbying, Hawaii’s universal kindergarten system was created by the Territorial Legislature in 1943. After that significant legislation, the Castle Foundation sponsored teacher training through the newly built Castle Memorial Hall (the University of Hawaii Laboratory School). Today, Hawaii’s public kindergartens complement the many excellent private schools in the state, and every family has the choice of where their children may attend. This work is perhaps the most successful historical example of the public-private partnerships necessary to innovate and to sustain educational change.
2019 will present the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation with many challenges and opportunities. With over 180 years of history in the state, we look forward to making every effort to expand educational equity and access to high-quality preschools for all of the state’s children.
In 2019, the Foundation will continue its support of child well-being and family strengthening through our $600,000 Request for Proposal Fund. This program provides general program support for first-rate human services organizations across the state. In addition, we will continue to provide grants for tuition assistance for three-year-olds, scholarships for Hawaii’s students training for an early education career, and a host of capital improvement and program supports for high quality, accredited private schools. Since construction costs are nearly prohibitive, we will invest in improving existing per-school facilities rather than attempting to build new ones.
I look forward to the challenges of the coming year and in working with all our early education partners to better the prospects of Hawaii’s keiki.
Alfred L. Castle
Executive Director and Treasurer
January 1, 2019