The National Opportunity to Learn Network

The National Opportunity to Learn Network

The National Opportunity to Learn Network

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Our public education system shapes both our leaders and our future. Investing in racial justice in our education system is one key strategy to get to a more just world.

To support Black, brown and Native youth, parent and educator-led campaigns, Schott and partner funders invest in the OTL Network. These national and community-based leaders and organizations center their work on constituent demand and voices.

• Sustaining community-based leadership undergirding our democracy

• Addressing systemic inequalities and structural racism

• Advocating for liberatory learning

• Supported by strategic investments

If you are interested in investing in the OTL Network, email Lauren Hadi at lh@schottfoundation.org to set up a time to talk.

To learn more, keep scrolling.

Children of color thrive when their schools and communities have the support and resources needed for them to learn.

Children cannot learn their way out of systemic racism.
Systemic problems require systemic solutions.

The National Opportunity to Learn Network was born from that key insight.

From this key insight, the National Opportunity to Learn Network was born in 2008. Schott saw a chance to nurture a movement greater than the sum of its parts.

OTL Summit photos

From the Network grew new nationwide grassroots groups like the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and the Journey for Justice Alliance, which now have dozens of local chapters. Member organizations. like Grassroots Arkansas and the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, build their agendas, strategies, and messaging based on what Network members have created.

Setting Agendas

The OTL Network has been at the forefront of every major positive shift in public schooling for more than a decade.

  • Trailblazing education funding campaigns.
  • Kickstarting the school discipline reform movement.
  • Establishing the community schools model as the future of the American schoolhouse.

Scroll on to learn how.

How do we win systemic change? Through grassroots organizing.

Education justice philanthropy centers “on-the-ground” organizing, building the power of the people closest to the problem, so they can transform the systems and structures that generate and reinforce racial injustice.

Racial justice grantmaking in education focuses on building student, parent and community power, building partnerships to advance racial equity and advancing policy change.

When community organizers get support and resources, they can accomplish transformative change:

The Fight for Fair Funding In New York

Schott’s very first grant in 1993 was to an ambitious campaign — deemed a longshot by many — to force New York State to hold itself to its legal obligations to fairly fund public schools. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit and the grassroots organizing around it, spearheaded by OTL Network member the Alliance for Quality Education. (AQE), resulted in resounding education funding victories over the past few decades. In spring 2021, these efforts culminated in a historic full funding victory, sending billions of new dollars to the schools, students, and educators who need it most.

The fight for equitable education funding in New York State is not only memorable for the scope of its victory, but the method of winning it. For a state so large and diverse, an inside game of lobbying in Albany would have been insufficient: with support from Schott and OTL Network members, AQE built a first-of-its-kind coalition that spanned multiple sectors and issue areas, rooted in low-income and BIPOC neighborhoods where resources were least equitably distributed. This is a model from which other OTL Network organizations, from Mississippi to California, are learning.

AQE rally

Transforming School Discipline in Los Angeles

After a yearlong campaign by Black and brown youth and their families, supported by grassroots organizers with the Dignity in Schools Campaign, a core OTL Network member, L.A. Unified School District agreed to limit police presence in schools, ban the use of pepper spray on students, and divert funds to improve Black and Latinx students’ education outcomes.

It’s one thing to dismantle harsh discipline policies, but organizers have to continue to fight for school boards to reinvest those resources to fund counselors, social workers, and other key supports. They need philanthropic support to help keep the pressure up.

Student activists

Halting Closures and Rebuilding Communities in Chicago

The grassroots organizers in the Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J) were deep in the fight long before anyone funded it. Leading successful campaigns in Chicago and across the country against inequitable school closings and spurring the creation of sustainable community schools, J4J shows that centering racial justice in both analysis & strategy can help mobilize BIPOC communities and build popular power for the long term.

J4J was founded in 2013 with a handful of dedicated parent organizers, a vision for justice, and a $6,000 Schott grant. Since then, they have formed a key backbone of the OTL Network, growing into an alliance spanning 36 cities, more than 100,000 parents and students, and a budget of almost $700,000.

J4J members

Building a Southern Education Justice Movement

The primary movement-building focus in the South is on school discipline reform, as more southern states permit corporal punishment than any other region.

OTL Network members in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana lead efforts to reform harsh local policies as well in the Dignity in Schools Campaign nationally. Other education justice campaigns focus on expanding community schools and increasing public education funding: strategies that push back against privatization efforts while strengthening community voice. OTL Network activity in Mississippi by members Southern Echo and One Voice has focused particularly on Jackson, to achieve a statewide impact.

Youth organizing efforts in the South, anchored by Network members like Rethink in New Orleans, have shown promising growth over the past two years.

Grassroots Arkansas members

The National Opportunity to Learn Network is:

 

40
Grantee Partners

306
Organizations

Representing
120,000
active students, parents, and advocates nationwide and in strategic states

OTL Network Map

Through the National Opportunity to Learn (OTL) Network, Schott and our funder allies support national and local alliances of education justice partners in advocating for a vision of learning and education that is engaging, inspiring and can lead to the type of learning outcomes that ensure all children understand the world they are living in and are socio-emotionally and cognitively prepared to improve their lives, communities and humanity. The OTL Network includes:

  • 4 National Alliances
  • 306 Organizations
  • 40 Grantee Partners
  • Across 32 States and Washington, DC
  • 54 Cities
  • 120,000 active members with a base of over 800,000 students and families

Schott Foundation's Role

WE ELEVATE BIPOC YOUTH, PARENT AND EDUCATOR-LED COALITIONS

Through Schott's investments in the OTL Network we are strengthening organizing capacity and infrastructure; convening networks and coalitions; linking ideas and values to policies and practices; and elevating the voices and narratives of those closest to the challenges and solutions.

WE BRIDGE PHILANTHROPY AND THE GRASSROOTS

Schott plays a unique bridge role between philanthropy and BIPOC youth, parent and educator-led coalitions. Through our work philanthropy learns important lessons from the front lines and the grassroots has greater access to funding.

WE FACILITATE GRANTS AND PARTICIPATORY GRANTMAKING

In addition to making direct grants, Schott opens doors for new funders to support OTL Network members. And members can direct grants too: Schott's Loving Communities Response Fund is an example of participatory grantmaking in which OTL Network members are in the driver's seat.

WE TURN GRASSROOTS ENERGY INTO LASTING PUBLIC POLICY

Schott created the OTL Policy Commission, a representative body of OTL Network members, to facilitate collaboration between grassroots leaders and key decisionmakers. Members have engaged with the presidential transition team and advised national organizations and foundations.

WE BUILD FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE FOR THE MOVEMENT

By establishing a Racial Justice in Education endowment owned and controlled by the grassroots, we're sowing the seeds of a movement that is fully accountable to its members and communities, not individual funders.

Learn more about the OTL Network:

Our Impact

The OTL Network's Impact

For almost a decade, Schott's OTL Network has nurtured and empowered grassroots movements that have improved the lives of countless children and families. There are too many victories to include, but here are a few of the most recent:

Gov. Charlie Baker signs $1.5 billion education funding bill into law
Thanks to the grassroots organizing work of OTL Network members in cities and towns across the state, like the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, students and communities in Massachusetts finally have an education funding formula that takes equity seriously. Hundreds of millions of new dollars are going to schools in underserved areas.
Denver Public Schools Ends Contract With Police, Officers Will Be Phased Out Of Schools
More than $700,000 each year that was spent on police officers patrolling Denver Public Schools will now go to counselors and other support staff. While this change took place in the midst of 2020's racial justice uprisings, the seeds of it come from years of dogged and patient work done by OTL Network member coalitions like the Dignity in Schools Campaign and local Denver community groups like Padres y Jovenes Unidos.
Years of reform efforts contribute to declining African-American suspension rates in California
Recent data confirmed the positive educational impact of a decade of steadily-increasing school discipline reform — from reducing police presence in schools to banning out-of-school suspensions.
Answering activists, NYC unveils plan to make classroom instruction more culturally responsive
OTL Network members like the Coalition for Educational Justice have organized to make New York City's curriculum as racially and culturally diverse as the students who learn there. Starting in 2019 parent and youth groups have won a series of victories that will both shape classroom activities for thousands of children as well as serve as an example that cities elsewhere can adopt.

What’s next on the horizon for the education justice movement?

Email Lauren Hadi at lh@schottfoundation.org to set up a time to talk.

Current OTL Network Members: