Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Learning for Equity: A Network for Solutions — call for letters of interest

The following is a press release from MDC


Oak Foundation, in partnership with MDC, invites North Carolina organizations working at the intersection of equity and learning differences to submit a letter of interest (LOI) for participation in a learning and action network, “Learning for Equity: A Network for Solutions” (LENS-NC). Selected organizations will receive funds to advance their work to reduce race and income disparities in educational outcomes among students with learning differences and create learning environments where marginalized students with learning differences will thrive. These organizations will also regularly meet with other network members to learn, address common challenges, and explore opportunities to amplify effective strategies for change at classroom, school, community, district, and state levels. There is a 15-month commitment to the learning and action network. 

About Oak Foundation’s Learning Differences Programme 

Oak Foundation’s Learning Differences Programme strategically partners with and invests in organizations that improve education for students with learning differences. Learning differences are defined as diagnosed or undiagnosed specific learning disabilities (such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia) as well as other related neurological processing challenges that can impact learning (such as attention deficits, sensory processing disorders, and executive function challenges). Every student should benefit from engaging and rigorous educational opportunities regardless of personal and social identifiers that privilege some students and marginalize others such as learning differences, race, income, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and religion. The Foundation is particularly focused on efforts that support students with learning differences who experience further marginalization due to racism and poverty and supports organizations that create learning environments to support and empower the most marginalized young people to thrive. 

About MDC 

MDC is a Durham, N.C.-based nonprofit that equips Southern leaders, institutions, and communities to improve economic mobility and advance equity. Founded over 50 years ago, MDC has a historic commitment to economically marginalized youth, families, and communities. North Carolina and the South are facing complex challenges, and if we hope to grow the leaders and communities capable of addressing these challenges and contributing to a thriving South, a fundamental part of this work involves eliminating structural racism and removing barriers to opportunity for low-income people and people of color in all our systems, including the education system. As a regional intermediary, MDC has extensive experience in facilitating multi-site initiatives and, in particular, those focused on peer learning, field development, and equity. 

About the Learning and Action Network 

Oak Foundation’s Learning Differences Programme is undertaking a state-specific strategy in North Carolina to explore new and emerging approaches to addressing educational equity among marginalized students with learning differences. Oak and MDC acknowledge the reality that students of color, as well as students from low-income families, have less access to learning environments that are able to meet their needs and support their achievement. When these students have learning differences—diagnosed or undiagnosed—the educational outcomes for these students are disproportionately poor. The Foundation is partnering with MDC to develop a North Carolina-based learning and action network focused on exploring, sharing, and amplifying approaches to address this systemic problem. 

The network will provide a setting for organizations to meet regularly to learn together from one another, address common challenges, and explore opportunities to amplify effective strategies for change at classroom, school, community, district, and state levels. By bringing together a group of organizations approaching this issue from different points of entry, we hope and anticipate that multi-directional learning will occur that can benefit the participating organizations and advance the field. Oak Foundation will also gain new knowledge to inform its work. 

The network will focus on shared learning and amplifying strategies in one or more of the following five areas: 

Building knowledge and understanding of ways to combat structural racism within the education system, with a focus on the identification and support systems for students with learning differences 

Providing supports to marginalized students with learning differences and their families that increase confidence, self-esteem, and agency 

Building educator understanding of equitable practices and learning environments that address bias and promote cultural responsiveness in the classroom 

Influencing systems to embrace and adopt policies and practices necessary for schools to reduce race and income disparities in educational outcomes among students with learning differences 

Elevating the voices and strengthening the skills of students and families affected by structural racism to advocate for changes to practice, policy, and systems that improve opportunity for marginalized students with learning differences 

Oak Foundation and MDC recognize that there are likely few organizations working at the exact intersection of learning differences and equity. Given this, organizations that focus on educational equity that are paying attention to the experience of students with learning differences, and organizations that focus on learning differences and that also have a commitment to address equity, are both eligible to apply. Additionally, organizations working at many different entry points to this issue are welcome to apply, including grassroots community-based organizations, student or parent groups, nonprofits, schools, school districts, educational institutions, and policy and advocacy organizations. Oak Foundation and MDC are ultimately seeking to engage a diverse group of organizations that is 1) geographically reflective of the state, 2) representative of a cross-section of the entry points into work to reduce race and income disparities in educational outcomes among students with learning 

differences, and 3) seeking to create learning environments where marginalized students with learning differences will thrive. 

Grantees will be expected to form a small, two- to three-person team that can include people within the organization and partners or people served who are involved with the organization’s programmatic work and committed to the learning and action network. In most cases, at least two team members should be organization staff, while the other team member can be staff, students, parents, teachers, or others directly involved in the organization’s work. Team members will contribute knowledge and energy to the network and will reflect on and applying learnings from the network to their organizations. Teams should expect to commit to internal reflection and learning, provide oversight of the proposed project, and participate in scheduled activities of the network. Participating in the network will include: 

• Three in-person convenings o The kickoff convening will be a two-day event held on April 23-24, 2020, in Durham. The convening will provide the framing for the learning and action network and the participating organizations. This convening will be preceded by a welcome and introductory video conference on March 26, 2020. 

o The second convening will be held in mid-September, 2020, in Raleigh. o The final convening will be held in 2021 on a date to be determined. The final convening will allow for a group of six from each of the network organizations to attend. The additional participants will be selected by each network organization, and should include representation from students, parents, or others directly impacted by the organization’s work. 

• Four video or tele-conferences among network participants and periodic topical webinars. Dates to be determined 

• Contributions to a web-based portal for materials and communication 

Funding for Programmatic Work and Learning 

Approximately eight organizations will be selected for participation in the network. Grant awards will depend on the scope of the project, the ratio of the project cost to the organization’s annual operating budget, the project-specific work being proposed, and the capacity and track record of the organization to implement the project. Grant awards are likely to range from $25,000-125,000. The 15-month grant period will be the same for all participants. In thinking about this opportunity and the likely costs of the proposed program or project, organizations should consider the real costs of participation in the network. The majority of funds awarded will be used to develop new or strengthen existing approaches to addressing marginalized students with learning differences that align with one or more of the five focus areas above. The approaches can include programmatic interventions, tool development, stakeholder convening, training, coaching, communications and advocacy, and research. For new projects, they are expected to be completed or sustained with other funding by the end of the grant period. For existing projects, they should demonstrate an ability to be self-sustaining beyond the grant period. 

As part of the learning and action network, organizations will share their work and ideas with one another for mutual learning with and from each other, MDC, and the Oak Foundation, providing the opportunity to amplify challenges and promising approaches that will contribute 

to the field, ultimately benefiting students with diagnosed or undiagnosed learning differences facing additional barriers due to racism and/or poverty. 

Criteria for Submitting a Letter of Interest 

Organizations interested in submitting a Letter of Interest (LOI) should meet the following criteria: 

• Be working at grassroots, local, regional, or state levels to address inequities faced by K-12 students with learning differences who experience further marginalization due to racism and poverty 

• Propose a project that aligns with one or more of the five focus areas above to address disparities and advance equity among students with learning differences. Projects or programs already underway are eligible. 

• Have the capacity to fully participate in the learning and action network, including providing a consistent two- or three-person team that will actively participate in convenings, participate in additional learning opportunities, and commit to carving out time for internal reflection and application of learnings 

• Be a nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization or a have a fiscal sponsor with a 501(c)3 tax status 

• Be a North Carolina-based organization or an NC-based affiliate of a regional or national organization 

Please consider your organization’s capacity to commit the time and resources for a two- to three-person team to engage in the network. After submission of a letter of interest, organizations demonstrating project ideas and learning approaches that best align with the goals of the network will be invited to apply for funding and network participation on Dec. 13, 2019. 

Current Oak Foundation grantees should contact their program officer to determine if they are eligible to participate. 

Submitting a Letter of Interest 

Letters of interest should answer the following questions: 

1. What is the mission of your organization and how does your mission align with promoting educational equity for students with learning differences who experience further marginalization due to racism and poverty? What is your organization’s experience with this work, and what has your organization been learning from that experience? (250 word limit) 

2. Please briefly describe the project for which you are seeking funds. Please explain how the proposed project aligns with one or more of the five focus areas described above and the estimated cost of the project for which you are seeking funds. Please include information on your capacity to complete the project as described. This can include your team’s experience, past projects, or other relevant information. Note: Travel, meals, and accommodations for convenings should not be included in your estimate—MDC will cover these costs for participating organizations. Also note that this really is just an estimate at this point. (400 word limit) 

3. Please identify the contributions you could make to the learning and action network (e.g. a practice innovation, representation of a traditionally missing perspective, deep relationships with students and communities in shaping solutions). What you hope to learn from others who will participate in the network? (250 word limit) 

4. How does your organization promote or reflect diversity, inclusivity, and equity? How does your organization reflect the community that you serve? (250 word limit) 

Please submit your answers to these questions by 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 4, 2019, here: 

Contact MDC at if you have questions about this opportunity. 

Other Important Dates 

December 4, 2019 Letter of Interest Due 

December 13, 2019: Selected organizations invited to apply to the learning and action network 

January 29, 2020: Full proposals due 

March 5, 2020: Final decisions made and applicants notified 

March 26, 2020 Learning and Action Network orientation webinar 

April 23-24, 2020: Durham, N.C. First convening of the Network 

Mid-September, 2020 Raleigh, N.C. Convening of the Network 


EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.