Summit Workgroup F: ED System/Bank Partnership Development

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  8.  » Summit Workgroup F: ED System/Bank Partnership Development

Developing Educational System/Banking Partnerships for Digital Equity and Economic Inclusion

What’s the problem?

Since 1977, banks have spent over $3 trillion on Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) compliance, through investments in affordable housing, financial literacy education, financial inclusion, and economic inclusion. Banks meet their CRA obligation through a blend of employee volunteerism, loans, equity investments and grants.  Recently, it’s been determined that banks can also receive CRA credit for supporting such digital equity-related efforts as developing broadband infrastructure.

Once the founders of the National Collaborative for Digital Equity (NCDE) learned that our pilot and policy advocacy efforts in San Antonio had persuaded the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in 2015 to plan to publish a report in 2016 encouraging banks to make CRA investments for digital equity, we realized we needed to “get in front of” this imminent policy shift.

NCDE’s founders had seen countless, well-meaning investments in educational technology founder for lack of an integrated., systemic approach. Since the early 1990s, American schools and colleges of education had spent billions on relatively simplistic approaches such as putting a computer lab in every school, or giving every student a tablet or laptop, without sufficient attention to tech support, broadband capacity and, not least, teacher training to ensure teachers would guide students in using these resources effectively for learning.

Our concern was that more intrepid banking leaders who ventured into CRA investments in digital equity early on might be easily persuaded to adopt simplistic solutions, in which case their investments would likely fail. This could well cast doubt on the merits of the whole notion of CRA investments in digital equity and end the “movement” before it had a chance to establish itself.  

So NCDE’s founders reached out to national leaders deeply steeped in research and best practice on effective technology investments that reliably produce good results.  In the process, one of the first groups we briefed in fall 2015 about the upcoming CRA polity shift was the leadership of the National School Boards Association (NSBA).  NSBA’s equity leaders shared a crucial insight – that their members (school board members nationwide) have the authority to determine where their district does its banking.  As we reached out to the American Association of School Administrators, we realized going into that conversation that their members too have this same fiscal authority. NCDE’s founders, having ourselves graduated from and taught in doctoral educational leadership programs, were astonished by this insight, as virtually all educational leadership programs emphasize fundraising and careful stewardship of limited resources, but not leveraging their own fiscal agency to develop win-win-win partnerships with the banks where their educational systems do their banking.

This, in turn, led to two more important insights – that educational system leaders need mentoring and support to develop mutually beneficial funding partnerships, and that banking leaders need to provide urgently needed guidance to educational leaders on how to frame realistic expectations of what banking leaders can and cannot do under CRA. Out of this came NCDE’s Guide to CRA Grantmaking for Digital Equity and Economic Inclusion, first produced in early 2018 and now in its 6th edition as new insights emerge. One constructive criticism of the current edition is that it still does not provide sufficiently detailed, concrete guidance to banking and educational system leaders on how to initiate win-win-win CRA funding partnerships in which (a) banks attain their CRA compliance and strategic investment priorities, (b) educational systems garner resources for digital equity and economic inclusion, and (c) diverse low- and moderate-income (LMI) individuals, families and communities benefit from significant gains in digital access and skill and participation in living wage jobs.

NCDE has made several presentations to educational system leaders and is tentatively planning to hold a potentially annual 1.5 day symposium in January 2020 equipping educational system leaders in LMI areas with the knowledge they need to develop productive partnerships with their banks and communities.

That said, several questions warrant attention: how can we best assist banking leaders to learn about the strategies and resources by which they can cost effectively eliminate digital divide barriers to economic inclusion (e.g., computer refurbishment, tech and librarian support capacity building in LMI communities, and broadband infrastructure investment)? How can we more fully tap banking leaders’ insights on how to ensure educational leaders have realistic expectations?  Where bank, schools and postsecondary institutions are already collaborating on fruitful economic inclusion and/or digital equity efforts, how might best learn from and share about these efforts? And how do we promote banks’ often inspiring CRA investment strategies when they themselves may be reluctant to publicize their identity and role – e.g., in part because they aren’t staffed to respond to the resulting requests to fund other comparable efforts?

How might the National Collaborative for Digital Equity and other summit participants best assist efforts to launch such initiatives?

By the end of Day One workgroup discussion, please be prepared to report out about your thoughts regarding the following question:

What are aspects of this challenge that most need addressing?

By the end of Day Two workgroup discussion, please be prepared to report out about your thoughts regarding the following questions: 

  1. What strategies does your workgroup recommend be undertaken?


  1. What commitments might workgroup members have made to help implement proposed next steps?


  1. What supports and commitments might you need from NCDE and other stakeholders at the summit to carry out these strategies?