(Photo by Dan Marcel via Technical.ly Philly)
What does the planned demise of the School Reform Commission mean for Philadelphia’s education-focused nonprofits?
For some executive directors, “urgency” is the vocab word of the day.
It’s too soon to say for sure what will happen, as Mayor Jim Kenney only made the announcement Thursday that the state-appointed governing body would vote to dissolve itself and return control of the struggling School District of Philadelphia to a local entity this month.
Children’s Scholarship Fund Philadelphia Executive Director Ina Lipman said that while the potential change won’t affect her nonprofit’s work directly, she commends the mayor for his “political courage” in developing a more accountable system.
“I think the advantage to local control is you can identify the issues more rapidly and hopefully get to solutions, but if we don’t have the urgency and if we don’t look at more creative ways to get at the chronic failure in some schools, we won’t move that needle,” she said. “And we just can’t afford to wait anymore.”
The district has been under SRC control for 16 years, and during that time, school reform advocates has campaigned near-constantly for its removal.Check out Billy Penn’s “not-so-brief history of Philly’s rock relationship with the SRC” for more context.
“We’ve spent a long time arguing about what the district’s governance should look like, and we haven’t spent enough time building the coalitions,” said Steppingstone Scholars President Sean Vereen, “and to support the work [Superintendent William Hite] is doing and the teachers are doing. … We don’t have time anymore to argue about who runs it.”
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Regardless of who is running the school district, it’s still struggling to make ends meet — especially in less affluent neighborhoods. Here are two improvement-focused organizations that want your money.
Way to help No. 1: The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia
Since Knight Foundation veteran Frisby-Greenwood took over as president and CEO two and a half years ago, the fund has shifted from serving as just a fiscal agent so the school district could receive private donations, to serving as a development partner on major initiatives such as the Right Books campaign (which recently hit its $3.5 million goal a year early).
The fund’s latest project is Philly FUNDamentals, a crowdfunding platform for school-identified needs, from low-income students’ uniforms to an entire new library. Launched on Wednesday by Philly mapping firm and B Corp Azavea, the platform was born of focus groups where parents asked for a way to donate to schools directly.
“What I heard from donors is, ‘We want to give to schools directly but we don’t know what they need, and we don’t know how,'” Frisby-Greenwood said.
To spread the word, the fund is looking to include marketing materials in Philadelphians’ utility bills and connect schools to local businesses and parent groups. Frisby-Greenwood expects donations to come from a range of people — those who want to support their local schools, alums of the school district, small family foundations.
As for that SRC changeup?
“We’re a nonprofit that sits outside of the district, so how the district is governed doesn’t really affect us,” Frisby-Greenwood said. “The kind of thing that affects our ability to raise funds is whether or not we have a superintendent in place and whether or not the district is making gains. We have that.”
Way to help No. 2: Philadelphia Public Schools Giving Circle
Looking to have even more say over where your donation goes? This year-old giving circle, hosted by The Philadelphia Foundation with Crosstown Coalition serving as a fiduciary sponsor, uses the collective giving model to make project-based “micro-grants” for educators up to $500 — think field trips and one-off class projects.
The circle is currently recruiting philanthropists to contribute to its third grant cycle, which closes on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Grants will be awarded around Thanksgiving, said founding member Andy Toy.
Since the fund launched, it’s raised about $20,000 and funded over $7,500 in local projects, including $4,300 in its first round this January.
Donate at least $250 and you get a vote about where the pooled funds go. (Yes, you can call yourself a philanthropist even at $250.) Toy said donor members can also split the $250 and share a vote. It’s a low-level time commitment: Members are encouraged to come to in-person meetings, but they can also vote online if need be.
Right now, the circle has about 35 members, a mix of “concerned citizens” with and without children in public schools. Something to warm your heart: During the spring grant round, middle school students from Center City’s Albert M. Greenfield School hosted a fundraiser and contributed to the fund — and they’re set to do it again this round.
Toy sees the giving circle as especially good for first-time donors.
“You’re leveraging your grant into a much larger pool and you get to make a decision about that larger pool,” he said. “That’s what makes it more powerful for the individual.” And, because the group is “small and nimble,” it doesn’t need to pass through the red tape of the school district to make an impact.
What does Toy think of the SRC’s possible end?
“No matters who’s running the show,” he said, “I think we still need the support in a supplemental way of our families, students and teachers” — and donors.-30-
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