January 3, 2000

New foundation sets $10 million grants goal

CHICAGO—The Chicago Annenberg Challenge will close up shop in June 2001, but its efforts to improve public education will live on through a new community foundation, which will be formally introduced to the city this month.

In development for 18 months, the Chicago Public Education Fund is scheduled to announce its first round of grants March 28.

The Chicago Annenberg Challenge spawned the fund and became its first donor in June 1998 when it committed to donate $2 million in seed money. Chicago Tribune Charities became the second lead donor when it added another $500,000 to the pot. Substantial gifts from the Pritzker Foundation and the Polk Bros. Foundation and a number of smaller donations have boosted the fund’s total to nearly $4 million. Its fund-raising target this year is $10 million.

The new fund will raise money annually, with virtually all of the money slated to be given away in grants.

Fewer, larger grants
While the Chicago Public Education Fund grew out of the Annenberg Challenge, the two philanthropic efforts differ in two significant ways. First, Annenberg drew its money from one source; the Public Education Fund expects to have a broad base of contributors. Second, Annenberg had a grass-roots funding mission that focused on small groups of schools; the Public Education Fund will make fewer, larger grants in the hope of impacting the school system as a whole.

Initially, the Chicago Public Education Fund will have a single grant-making focus: programs aimed at improving the recruitment, retention and effectiveness of teachers and principals.

The Annenberg Challenge identified those needs as key to school improvement, and they are ones that potential corporate donors can understand, notes Marianne Philbin, former head of the Chicago Foundation for Women and the consultant hired by Annenberg to set up the fund.

“If you’re running a business in which 30 percent of the employees leave each year-and 30 percent of new teachers leave within five years-you understand that is a key place to put money to leverage change,” she explains.

Indeed, the fund is speaking the language of business. A draft of its brochure quotes Mayor Daley describing the fund as an “investment opportunity that promises great returns for our children, our schools and our city.”

Janet Knupp, former executive director of Chicago Communities in the Schools, became the fund’s first president last September. She says the fund plans to make grants to a limited number of organizations and work closely with those groups. She envisions the fund acting much like a a venture capitalist.

“We believe that if we invest significant dollars and form an active partnership, we will get great results,” says Knupp.

The fund, which was incorporated in January 1999, issued its first request for proposals in the fall. It identified about a dozen school reform organizations working on issues related to the professional development of teachers and principals and invited those groups to apply.

The fund will be overseen by a working board chaired by Scott Smith, president and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, who also is a member of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.

He is joined on the fund’s board by a who’s who of Chicago’s elite. Among them are Penny Pritzker, president of Pritzker Realty Group; venture capitalist Martin “Mike” Koldyke, founder of the Golden Apple Foundation and former head of the Chicago School Finance Authority; and Adele Simmons, former head of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and now vice president of Chicago Metropolis 2020.

A supplemental advisory “Leadership Council” is equally impressive: John Rogers, president of Ariel Capital Management; sports magnate Jerry Reinsdorf; and lawyer Newton R. Minow.

To assure that the fund works in consort with central administration goals, Clare M. Muñana, a member of the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees, also is on the fund’s board. To assure the fund doesn’t get too cozy with the central administration, she serves as an ex-officio, non-voting member.

Community education funds across the country strive for a balance between collaboration with school officials and independence from them; they need the former to be effective and the latter to ensure community input.

Smith says one of the fund’s goals is to seek donations from “people who are already engaged” in the public schools. “We see [support] coming from an array of companies, individuals, families and foundations, many of whom already are providing support in meaningful ways.”

For example, a company that already has a relationship with an individual school might also contribute to the public education fund because the fund can leverage that contribution to have an impact on the whole system, Smith explains. “We see that as complementary to programs that focus on one or several schools,” he says.

The Chicago Public Education Fund also is seeking to attract donors who haven’t previously given to school reform efforts. Fundraisers will target people who want to help improve public education but don’t have the time or resources to sift through the programs and problems to determine where their money will do the most good, says Knupp.

“I think that with 591 schools, unless you are engaged on a daily basis with the needs of the system, it’s very hard to identify how to make your investment have the best yield,” she says. “If we’re doing our job right, they will see their donation being leveraged into a much more meaningful investment.”