WEA Member Benefits Foundation update

DATE | 09/13/21
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WEA Member Benefits Foundation is focusing on student mental health and internet access.

WEA Member Benefits Foundation is very pleased to announce the establishment of new partnerships to financially support school-based mental health and to help students with internet access. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity created by WEA Member Benefits.

Uncovering challenges

The Foundation is leading a statewide effort to establish a clear funding path to help philanthropic organizations and individuals provide financial support of school-based mental health and K–12 student access to the internet. These initiatives resulted from a series of discussions conducted by the Foundation to identify the top challenges facing Wisconsin’s public educators. School-based mental health and student internet access were mentioned frequently as major, unmet needs for K–12 students and schools.

Meeting the need

Recent studies have found at least 20% of all K–12 students face serious mental health challenges that affect their academic success and personal well-being. Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) estimates that during the COVID-19 pandemic, that number spiked to 60% for high school students.

The need for student access to the internet is also high. The DPI estimates that despite government funding and provider discounts, at least 15,000 K–12 student households are unable to afford the monthly internet connection fee.

DPI, the Public Service Commission (PSC), and other state organizations say that a major missing piece in funding both school-based mental health programs and student internet access is private philanthropy. Steve Goldberg, Executive Director* of the Foundation, explains, “We learned that financial support from philanthropic organizations and other donors has not been widespread—not for lack of interest, but due to the lack of a clear funding path for philanthropic support. Corporate foundations throughout Wisconsin told us they really want to help fund these two causes, but they just aren’t sure how.”

A path for funders

The Foundation is now developing a funding mechanism to bring more philanthropy to the table from funders throughout Wisconsin. We are partnering with the DPI, the PSC, and the Cooperative Education Services Agency (CESA) to build a funding path for student internet access. We are also partnering with DPI and the Wisconsin Coalition for Expanding School-Based Mental Health to establish a funding path to support school-based mental health.

In addition to these efforts, we are partnering with the Wisconsin Philanthropy Network and the Center for Community & Nonprofit Studies at UW-Madison to promote both funding paths and to recruit more funders once those models are tested. Pilot projects in selected school districts are scheduled for late 2021 and early 2022.

Early financial support

“We are thrilled with the response our approach has already generated,” says Steve. Accomplishments so far include:

  • A $45,000 PSC grant to support our internet access pilots.
  • Pledge of a $100,000 gift from one of our business partners (which Member Benefits will match) for our school-based mental health pilots.
  • Additional support from other Member Benefits’ business partners who have pledged $35,000, which Member Benefits will also match.

Steve adds, “The total support from our business partners is $135,000—which means our goal of $200,000 is definitely within reach.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring more philanthropy to the table in order to help thousands of student households afford a local internet connection and to strengthen school-based mental health programs throughout the state.”

Want to help?

If you’d like to make a tax-deductible gift to support school-based mental health and/or student internet access, you can:

All donations received by 12/31/21 will be matched up to an aggregate of $200,000.

*Consultant to WEA Member Benefits Foundation representing Steve Goldberg Consulting, LLC.