Private money for D.C. public schools on track

Friday, April 30, 2010

I wish to clarify some points in two front-page articles about the private funding commitments the D.C. Public Education Fund has received to support the proposed D.C. public schools contract with the Washington Teachers' Union ["If Rhee leaves, donors could pull funds," April 28, "Teacher contract totters in D.C.," April 29].

Funders typically place conditions such as these on grants to ensure accountability and the recipient's commitment to using funds for the agreed-upon purpose. The article acknowledged that such clauses are standard in private grant agreements, but played this down and implied motivations not evident in funders' commitment letters. The letters show that they are dedicated to the transformative nature of the agreement forged by D.C. Public Schools and the WTU.

The letters state only that the foundations reserve the right to reconsider their commitments should there be a significant change in DCPS leadership. The letters do not name Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. "Reconsider" is a key word: It is possible that they could have full confidence in new leaders were there to be a change.

Additionally, the funders' grants will support teacher salary increases in fiscal 2010 only. The 2010 funds will be remitted soon after the contract is ratified. The article assumed any change in leadership would be tied to the mayoral election this fall, but that will occur after the funds have been received.

The April 29 article stated that the funders "demanded specific annual improvements in test scores." In fact, the letters state only that funders expect updates on progress toward milestones and reserve the right to reconsider their commitments if progress is not made.

Finally, the same article stated that the funders are "refusing" to remit funding until the contract has been ratified by the union and approved by the D.C. Council, as though the funders are being obstinate. Private grant agreements are effectively contracts. Given the project-specific nature of the funders' commitments, their decision to wait until the teachers' contract is ratified is justified and logical. They don't want to owe the D.C. Public Education Fund $64.5 million for a contract that doesn't exist, and the D.C. Public Education Fund doesn't want them to waste their money.

Cate Swinburn, Washington

The writer is president and executive director of the D.C.

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