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Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education 

Her Love of Literacy Lives On

Brooke Astor’s estate helps transform after-school programs

Brooke Astor, the New York socialite and philanthropist, put it bluntly: “Money is like manure,” she liked to say. “It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.” We’d add the word “strategically” to that quote. And we’re following her advice—strategically, of course. 

Brooke Astor cared deeply about literacy. The New York State Attorney General asked The Trust to invest $45 million from her estate in nonprofit groups, mainly to help underprivileged children learn to love reading. 

We started with an expert advisory panel (see sidebar) that looked at how reading is taught in schools and after school. The experts recommended that after-school programs build on what children learn during the day—rather than simply repeat it. 

With our funding, community groups created a program called Ready Readers and trained staff to use it. The groups include CAMBA, Chinese-American Planning Council, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, and ExpandED Schools.

Initial results are promising. Metis Associates, an independent evaluator, found students demonstrated statistically significant gains in reading comprehension and vocabulary after receiving this extra help. They also found a significant increase in the percentage of students in these programs who scored at grade level. 

Impact By The Numbers | Astor Fund Early Results

Since 2014, our Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education has spent $21.4 million to improve literacy in early grades. Grants have helped 18 nonprofits working in more than 250 elementary schools and prekindergarten programs where 96 percent of students live in poverty. Overall, the funding has helped 20,000 disadvantaged kids from all 5 boroughs improve reading skills. 


Five experts serve as an advisory panel to Trust program officers Shawn Morehead and Barbara Taveras, who direct the Astor Fund:

  • Christina Fuentes, NYC Department of Education, Emerita
  • Michael J. Kieffer, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at NYU
  • Martin Kurzweil, Educational Transformation Program, Ithaka S+R
  • Vanessa Leung, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families
  • Catherine E. Snow, Harvard Graduate School of Education

About the Fund

When Brooke Astor died in August 2007, at the age of 105, the New York Times called her the City’s “First Lady of Philanthropy.” As president of the Vincent Astor Foundation from 1959 to 1997, Mrs. Astor invested almost $200 million in libraries, museums, hospitals, homeless shelters, and community programs all over New York City. Among the foundation’s grantees were many landmark institutions as well as thousands of smaller organizations and community programs dedicated to giving all New Yorkers a chance for a better home, a better education, and a better life.

Mrs. Astor’s dedication to philanthropy and to the City of New York continues. As part of the settlement of her estate, the Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education (“Astor Fund”) was created, and The New York Community Trust was selected to administer it. The Astor Fund’s purpose is to support charitable programs and activities that improve the quality of education in New York City. Mrs. Astor was a great reader, and wanted everyone to enjoy reading. She understood that good reading skills are essential to leading a productive life. Therefore, the vast majority of the Astor Fund (approximately $35 million) will be granted over a five-year period to projects with potential to generate widespread, systemic improvement in reading skills in the early grades among disadvantaged students in New York City. 

We are accepting proposals by invitation only.

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The New York Community Trust is a 501(c)3 public charity.