September 18, 2014

Local Philanthropists Work Together to Transform Public Education

In three cities, local funders are working side-by-side with district leadership and the community to dramatically improve educational outcomes for all students.

By: Andrew Belton, Betsy Doyle, Mike Perigo, Murrayl Berner

Executive Summary

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Philanthropists across the country have long supported local schools and even funded new ones—primarily charters. These investments make a difference, sometimes a big one. At best, however, these are small-scale successes compared to the challenge of improving educational outcomes and life prospects for students across a whole district. We believe that local philanthropic dollars could do much more to meet this challenge. Although the investment may be relatively small as a percentage of the total district budget, local philanthropic dollars stand apart because they can catalyze real change, providing funds for innovation and improvement. In addition, local funders often bring with them an understanding of the local context and a willingness to stay the course rather than move on to the next big thing.

However, to realize this potential, funders need to approach their giving in new ways. In major transformation efforts under way in Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Memphis—all of which Bridgespan teams have worked with—local donors are:

  • working hand-in-hand with the school district to develop and pursue bold strategies to ensure that every student graduates ready for college and career,
  • investing together over multiple years in these shared strategies, and
  • engaging the community to shape and sustain the work.

While none of these three cities is close to its ultimate goal, each is on the path. In the face of one of America's most daunting challenges—making sure public school students, whatever their income level and background, are ready for college and career—the structure, scale, and energy of these donor partnerships demonstrate what it takes to transform local school systems.

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