Leadership needed for schools

By Todd Cohen

Our public schools need a huge booster shot, and philanthropy can help deliver it.

While they never can replace government support, private donors can provide critical research-and-development investment in public education that government typically will not support.

Public schools are not known for their entrepreneurial spirit or expertise, and philanthropic dollars can underwrite innovative pilot projects.

If those initiatives work, public officials then can decide whether to pay for putting them into effect throughout the schools.

Years ago, for example, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation invested in testing the addition of kindergarten classes in North Carolina’s public schools, an experiment that led to public funding for kindergarten in all the schools.

Now, North Carolina’s schools are a testing ground for a growing number of philanthropically-funded projects, from new high schools funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to capacity-building projects in five Triangle-area school systems funded by Triangle High Five, a dropout-prevention effort funded by five local companies.

And in the absence of leaders with the courage or vision to spend more to improve our schools, it becomes the job of foundations, nonprofits and businesses to persuade government officials and voters to invest more in our schools.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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