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 Bree Tracey/MEDILL

U.S. Secretary of Education addresses the Grantmakers for Education group, a national network of foundations and corporate giving program leaders.

Duncan encourages and challenges education funders

by Marissa Mitchell
Oct 07, 2009


Marissa Mitchell/MEDILL

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Rev. Jesse Jackson talk at the Grantmakers for Education conference Wednesday.

The philanthropists that lend a hand to public schools got a helping hand themselves from the Obama administration Wednesday.

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, told more than 400 of the nation’s leaders in educational philanthropy gathered in Chicago that reforming education is a collaborative effort of schools, funders and his department.

“Now the responsibility for speeding that transformation lies not just with nonprofits and districts, but right at our feet at the doors of the U.S. Department of Education,” he said.

Duncan, who headed Chicago Public Schools before taking his current post, challenged funders and nonprofit organizations to work collaboratively, not competitively to make the most of limited resources.

“We need to move beyond the separate silos of education reform that have prevented districts, practitioners and nonprofits from sharing and replicating solutions from the past,” said Duncan.

Duncan outlined the department’s Investing in Innovation grant program, a $650 million slice of the nearly $100 billion for education in the American Recovery Act and Reinvestment Act.

Duncan said applications that aim to serve high risk groups, such as special needs students, English-learning students and those in underserved communities, would receive priority.

Proposed ground rules for the program will be released tomorrow. Grants will be awarded by Sept. 30, 2010.

Duncan told the Grantmakers for Education group that preference would go to nonprofits and school districts that show evidence of success of their programs, create ways to sustain that improvement and secure a 20 percent match in funding from the private sector, which is where the grantmakers come in.

“Secretary Duncan was wise to caution us to set aside our individual agendas and to really work for the common good and work with a collective agenda,” said Danny Shoy Jr., responding to Duncan’s challenge to collaborate.

Shoy is the senior program officer of the Atlanta-based Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, which gives money to foster educational, environmental and artistic improvement in lower-income communities.

Peggy Mueller, of the Chicago Community Trust, agreed with the need for coordination and urged that it reach beyond just education groups.

“It has to be a very strong wrap-around service for our children lives, has to go beyond the five hours we have them in school. It has to extend into their afterschool hours, their Saturdays, their communities and help them get engaged in ways that are productive for them and fulfilling,” she said.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Mueller said.