Fund for New York City Public Schools Raises Record $47 Million

The Fund for Public Schools, the fundraising arm of the New York City public school system, raised an estimated $47 million in pledges over the past year, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The total — raised largely from foundation and corporations — more than doubles total pledges to the fund over the previous two years and exceeds the pre-financial crisis level of 2008, due in part to gifts structured to be paid out over several years. A number of donors told the Journal they wanted to ensure that the educational reform work begun under Mayor Michael Bloomberg would continue after Bloomberg's third and final term ends in November. In addition to libraries and afterschool programs, the fund has quietly bankrolled controversial pilots of new curriculum standards, a tougher teacher evaluation regime, and the School of One, an experimental method of using technology to teach math.

Using private funds instead of tax dollars has enabled the mayor and New York City schools chancellor Dennis Walcott to sidestep controversy and opposition from teachers unions while experimenting with new methods. But critics of that approach say it all but eliminates public input, since pilot programs are usually fully developed by the time they are funded by taxpayers. Moreover, private donations are difficult to track, and the mayor's office has provided little information on projects for which it has sought private funding. "It adds yet another layer of distance between open public decision-making processes and how policies are set in the district," Sarah Reckhow, an assistant professor in urban politics and education at Michigan State University, told the Journal.

Although Bloomberg was first elected as a Republican and is currently registered as independent, the next mayor of the overwhelmingly Democratic city is likely to be a Democrat — and less critical of teachers and the teachers union. It is also unclear whether the new mayor will be as successful at soliciting private donations as the Wall Street-connected and philanthropically active Bloomberg.

"There is great concern that a lot of the progress that has been made in education innovation will get lost in the switch to a new administration," said Rick Smith, president of the Pinkerton Foundation, which helped fund Summer Quest, an academic summer camp for disadvantaged youth. "There's no way of knowing that until you get a sense of whether the next mayor is committed to using these privately generated dollars to test and try new things."

"Schools Rake In Private Funds." Wall Street Journal 07/28/2013.