Donations to Fund for NYC Public Schools Down Under de Blasio

New York City's Fund for Public Schools has struggled to attract donations under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York Times reports.

The nonprofit organization that former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his schools chancellors built into a fundraising juggernaut has raised just $18 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30, down from an average of $29 million a year over the last decade. And almost half of the total is the result of multiyear grants made in the 2012 fiscal year — while Bloomberg was mayor — from the Open Society Foundations and the Wallace Foundation, the former for programs aimed at improving outcomes for young African-American and Latino men, and the latter for principal development.

While Iris Chen, the fund's executive director since last August, said she had anticipated a decline in donations given the changes at City Hall and in the leadership of the fund, there also appear to be other factors at play, the Times reports. De Blasio and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, are not connected to wealthy donors the way Bloomberg and his first schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, were, and their education policies aren't aligned with the priorities of many of the philanthropists who supported Klein's efforts to promote privately run charter schools, use test scores to guide important decisions, and close schools deemed to be failing. As a result, Mayor de Blasio's educational priorities — the expansion of prekindergarten and the creation of so-called community schools, with social services provided on site — are being funded entirely by tax dollars.

Richard M. Smith, president of the Pinkerton Foundation, which awarded the fund $1.4 million from 2012 to 2014 to pilot a summer program, said city government could take risks with funds raised from the private sector that it could not with public dollars. Private money helped get programs up and running quickly, Smith said, because the rules of public procurement did not apply. "The great value of the role of private philanthropy is that it can experiment with potential solutions to major problems that would be politically too controversial if attempted with public money," he added. Klein also used private funds to open small high schools, create a training institute for new principals, and undertake other experiments in overhauling the school system — some of which the current administration has not embraced.

Peter Sloane, board chair and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children, which awarded the fund nearly $1.2 million between 2006 and 2008 to expand a free breakfast and lunch program, told the Times that if the fund were having difficulty raising money, "it may reflect a more basic discomfort with the education agenda of this administration."

Chen disagrees, telling the Times that, on the contrary, she thought donors were supportive of many of Fariña's priorities, including career and technical education, college and career readiness, and arts education. "All those things I think are really galvanizing for our funding community," she added, "and so we're going to be building major initiatives around them."