Local and national funders jumpstart improvements in DC Public Schools
by Tamara Lucas Copeland, President, Washington Grantmakers
Philanthropy is playing a major role in the tentative deal between DC Public Schools (DCPS) and the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) reported this morning. Four foundations–the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation–are making a combined, one-time investment of $64.5 million, through the DC Public Education Fund, to help increase teachers’ base pay and create a performance pay initiative. [To learn more, see: CityPaper; WaPo; WSJ]
Congratulations to Chancellor Michelle Rhee, American Federation for Teachers President Randi Weingarten, and all participants for negotiating through their differences. We applaud the foundations involved for enabling the District and the WTU to forge a new kind of agreement, one that will elevate education in DC and improve the lives of thousands of children.
Chancellor Rhee briefing Washington Grantmakers members in 2009
Seizing the moment
At first glance, the foundation investments announced today are a surprising funding choice. Union officials are noting that using private funds to support teacher compensation is unprecedented. Over the long term, the arrangement would be difficult to sustain. Why do it at all?
The foundations’ answer, I suspect, would be that DC’s children can’t wait any longer. Chancellor Rhee notes that public dollars will fund the plan over the long-term, with school consolidations and other cost-saving measures helping to fill the gap. Rather than waiting, and extending DC’s record of educational failure, foundations are choosing to make a difference right now. Their dollars will fund the immediate “recruitment, retention and rewarding of quality teachers.” Kudos to them.
Investing in Innovation
Local funders are supporting other, key components of DCPS’ transformation plan. In one notable partnership, grantmakers involved with WG’s Public Education Working Group are helping DCPS to identify nonprofits with which to partner to access federal Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) dollars. Grantmakers are then helping the non-profits share their i3 ideas and submit successful applications. Local foundations are also supporting many school-based programs throughout DCPS.
“I see local funders and leaders as critical partners,” says Cate Swinburn of the DC Public Education Fund. “Without local support, we would not have accomplished our successes to date, and without local support, the momentum we have gathered will not be sustained.”
Collaboration is the key. Together, we’re making a difference.