Washington, D.C., became a magnet for philanthropy after 2007, when former mayor Adrian Fenty took control over the schools and appointed Michelle Rhee as chancellor.
In 2010, the District brought in more than $31 million from national foundations, according to an analysis from Michigan State University of grants by the 15 largest philanthropies funding kindergarten through 12th grade education that year. The total represented an extra $705 per student — far more than any other school district in the country.
More than two-thirds of the funds raised went to the D.C. Public Education Fund, which was created in 2007 to support reform efforts in the public school system. At least $ 7 million went to specific charter schools or to organizations, including the New Schools Venture Fund, that support charter schools.
The report, which has not yet been published, found that grantmaking from the largest funders increased from $486.6 million to $843.7 million between 2000 and 2010. The researchers found a growing preference among funders to invest in cities with reform-oriented policies and environments. Cities that had a Teach for America site or laws that encourage the growth of charter schools, for example, were more likely to receive foundation funding.
Sarah Reckhow, a professor of political science at Michigan State who coauthored the report, said more philanthropists are thinking nationally about policy priorities when they make funding decisions, and many are interested in growing charter schools and challenging traditional methods for evaluating and rewarding teachers.
In 2010, D.C. public schools rolled out a new teacher contract, including teacher evaluations that could lead to termination or significant bonuses. The increased costs associated were funded at first by a three-year, $64.5 million grant from a group of national philanthropists, including the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
That expense was eventually absorbed by the local budget, and District education officials said philanthropic investments in the schools have fallen since 2010. The D.C. Education Fund raised $5.7 million in fiscal 2014, down from more than $17 million in fiscal 2012 and $24 million in 2010.
Fundraising has picked up again, with about $11 million raised so far this year, said Jessica Rauch, executive director of the D.C. Education Fund. She said the mood among foundations remains “positive.” National foundations are enthusiastic about D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s leadership and progress in the city’s schools, she said, as well as in some new programs, including the chancellor’s Empowering Males of Color initiative that aims to invest $20 million in private funds for support programs for black and Latino male students and in an all-boys college prep high school scheduled to open in 2016-2017.
The fund also announced a $4 million investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation to support more rigorous lessons in all District classrooms tied to Common Core standards.
D.C. public schools also gets direct contributions — in-kind and cash — from individuals, businesses or community groups that often go directly to schools. For fiscal 2014, the schools received about $3.1 million in contributions on top of funds received through the DC Ed Fund, according to D.C. public schools officials. Such funds include dictionaries donated to every third-grader by the Rotary Club, or a library redesign sponsored by Heart of America and the Washington Redskins at Leckie Elementary School in Southwest Washington, which included about $52,000 in services and materials and technology.
Not included in the total is PTA funding, which brings a significant additional stream of funds to some schools in more affluent communities. The PTA at Maury Elementary School in Capitol Hill increased its fundraising dramatically in recent years. Its budget for this school year is $157,000, up from about $15,000 in 2009-2010.
The PTA asks families to make a contribution at the beginning of the year, and it hosts fundraisers, including a yard sale and an auction. The funds go toward school supplies and professional development. The largest share goes toward funding instructional aides, said PTA President Elsa Huxley. The school system provides extra staffing in the youngest grades, but the parents think it’s important for all grade levels, she said.
Some parent groups raise more money and provide funds for extra teachers or library books. But many parent groups struggle to get people simply to sign up or pay annual dues. Parent Teachers Associations or Parent Teacher Organizations are independently run and their fundraising is not tracked centrally through the school system.
Because of the various sources of private funds in D.C. public schools, it’s difficult to get a picture of how much each school receives annually in additional private funds and how equitable that funding is.
The D.C. Public Charter School Board reports philanthropic revenues for each charter school organization. Charter schools reported $44 million in private revenue — or 6 percent of their overall funding in fiscal 2014. The median amount was $377 per student, but the range was very wide. Seven schools reported at least $1 million in donations in fiscal 2014, while at least 20 schools reported less than $100,000.