Grants Will Aid Groups Working for Education Reform

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 27, 2008

A coalition of philanthropic foundations will award $725,000 in grants today to fund five District nonprofit organizations dedicated to the city's public education restructuring.

The Collaborative for Education Organizing, led by the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, is giving money to groups that advocate for language access, research high school dropout rates and mobilize parents and school activists.

The grants, which represent a significant private investment toward fixing the District's public schools, will be administered independently of the school system. The funders said they hope the grants will help nonprofit groups give voice to parents, students and residents as they seek to influence schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's retooling agenda.

"One of the things that you want in a reform effort is a very engaged constituency," Community Foundation President Terri Lee Freeman said. "This should potentially work with the chancellor as she communicates to the public her reform efforts."

The $725,000 has been pooled from several local and national funders, including the Community Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the World Bank and Fannie Mae.

The grants come as Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) are trying to raise $75 million a year from businesses and private philanthropies to fund their education restructuring efforts. The grants being announced today are not related to those efforts.

"Community engagement is a critical piece of school reform, and we are thrilled that the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region has identified this area as a priority," schools spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway said.

Viki Betancourt, community outreach manager at the World Bank, said the grants will help build "community will" around Rhee's efforts.

"It doesn't immediately influence the reforms directly," Betancourt said. "What it does is gets parents and community members engaged in talking about these reforms and becoming active."

Five of the 16 local nonprofit groups that applied for grants were awarded money. The Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates and the Youth Education Alliance each are being awarded $200,000 grants. D.C. Voice is receiving $100,000; Tellin' Stories, $25,000.

The D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates is using its money to fund research to develop policies that help high school students graduate. Executive Director Eshauna Smith said she hopes the research will help guide Rhee and her staff.

"We want to learn what makes a young person stay in school and what makes a young person drop out of school," Smith said.

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