Civic Philanthropy: Education
March 28, 2012 4 Comments
This is part of a short series on Civic Philanthropy. For an introduction, please read my first post on the subject: How Can Cities Leverage Donations?
Public Education is one of the major areas in need of funding in many cities, especially California and Los Angeles, and I believe it represents one of the better areas to encourage civic philanthropy. I am talking specifically about K-12 education, not universities. As we saw in my introductory post, universities have well mastered the art of turning school pride into financial support. While many people don’t have the same amount of pride in their middle school, they do often have it for their city and recognize the necessity of education for creating a great city. I have seen that those who went through the public education system tend to be more proud of it, but all can agree (whether they were publicly or privately educated) that public education is extremely important to a city’s success, economy, and livability.
Without supporting the youth of our city through education, we will not create a strong workforce or economy for the future. We will not enable financial and class mobility. And honestly, we will not promote understanding of people with different viewpoints, religions, or races (not that all viewpoints are correct–they’re not–but the people who hold them must be understood and respected).
Many people recognize the importance of education, some more than others (those who have or will be having kids, usually). More often than not, however, people will spend lots of money to send a child to private school or to move to another area rather than spending that money (and encouraging others) to help improve the schools already in their area.
Fortunately, there is a great way to help the local public education system. Donors Choose is an incredible website that has been set up to connect donors with specific classroom projects set up by teachers. DonorsChooseLA.org is focused on the LA area, and donors can see exactly what the project is, how much money is needed, and how much has been raised. Rather than giving a blanket donation to LAUSD, donors can see exactly what their money is going towards.
Also, these projects do not require multi-million dollar donations. They are in amounts that almost all of us can afford. A quick sampling of some of the projects online right now include a set of 2D & 3D flipboards to practice geometry for $233 (which has been met since I wrote this), a butterfly nursery to observe and interact with nature ($165, only $53 more needed), and easel to help students express their creativity in painting education ($330, also met since I wrote this).
While most of us don’t have the kind of money we associate with “philanthropists,” millions to give to arts institutions, higher education, or overseas aid foundations, Donors Choose makes it easy for the masses to support local schools in very specific ways.
One well-known Los Angeles native and philanthropist, Casey Wasserman, has made it a point to support public education in LA. The Wasserman foundation has pledged a multi-year commitment to the LAUSD and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. It has also pledged grants to the Los Angeles Parents Union and other groups dedicated to enriching and enhancing childhood education in Los Angeles.
The first of the Wasserman Foundation’s Guiding Principals reads as follows:
We believe every child has a right to a quality education and that education leads to economic opportunity and advancement.
Within the past few months, the Wasserman Foundation, partnered with Donors Choose LA and Starbucks, pledging $4 million in a program where customers visiting Los Angeles Starbucks could pick up Donors Choose LA gift cards (paid for by the Foundation) and direct the donations as they wished. Not only did this program distribute much-needed funds directly to classroom projects, but it opened the eyes of hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles residents to the needs of our public schools, inspiring many to fund projects beyond the scope of their gift card.
I use these examples to show that there is a desire, from both the wealthy philanthropists and the average citizens in this city, to contribute to the advancement of our public education system. I think it is sorely needed in Los Angeles, and I think ideas like Donors Choose are a great way to inspire and encourage philanthropic participation.
Clearly, this is one area in which civic philanthropy is not only possible, but already happening. It is one of the most important areas in need of funds and more attention to fundraising for public education is surely deserved. It would prove worthwhile for the city to specifically address these needs by campaigning for more private support, for I believe that the need would surely be met.
Other Posts in the Series:
Civic Philanthropy: How Can Cities Leverage Donations?
Civic Philanthropy: Transit
Civic Philanthropy: Parks