Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

Local schools fund struggles for money

Two years after becoming the first black president of an Ivy League university, President Ruth Simmons appointed a committee to investigate the University's formative ties to the Atlantic slave trade. In 2007, responding to the report submitted by the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, which singled out the University's need to address enduring inequalities in public education due to racial segregation, Brown committed to raising "a permanent endowment in the amount of $10 million to establish a Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence."

As Simmons prepares to step down this June, efforts to raise money for the fund that bears her unmistakable imprint have stalled, sidelined by other development projects in a difficult fundraising climate. The fund's current value of $1.26 million has not grown since 2009 and lags far behind its original $10 million goal.

The fund's largest grant payout of $118,000 — more than half of the $222,320 awarded in total — was used to purchase Texas Instruments calculators for public school math classrooms in 2009. Members of the committee that oversees the fund said the company's relationship with Simmons, who currently sits on its board, allowed the fund to take advantage of a steep discount on the calculators.  

The steering committee designated providing financial support for local schools particularly important given the troubled state of the Providence public school system, where 48 of the district's 49 public schools failed to meet minimum federal achievement standards at the time of the committee's final report.

Since the fund began accepting applications from charter schools in 2011, its increasingly large and more competitive applicant pool has added more fundraising pressure.

The fund awarded two grants to the Paul Cuffee School, the state's largest charter school. Paul Cuffee is the only school to receive this distinction since the fund's inception.

The fund's most recent grant totaled $24,320 and was used to purchase document cameras and LCD projectors for Paul Cuffee's elementary school classrooms in August.

 "The temptation is to give (funds) to the charter schools because they really perform," said Artemis Joukowsky '55 P'87, chancellor emeritus and chair of the fund, which is run by a four-person committee chosen by the Corporation. He said committee members were particularly impressed by the quality and effort of the schools' applications.

The fund has paid out successively smaller grants since awarding its first in 2009. If its endowment reaches $10 million, the fund committee will be able to give out up to $500,000, or 5 percent of its endowment, in grants per year.

"We still have a long way to go," Joukowsky said. He is uncertain if the fund will be able to reach its original financial goals and is currently in talks with the University's advancement office to solicit more donors. Current donations are also accepted directly through the fund's website.

School administrators applying for grant money fault hte fund's application for a lack of detail. Jennifer Steinfeld, grant writer for the Providence Public School District's planning and development department, said she appreciates past support from the fund but wishes its application forms were less open-ended.

"I'd like to see more clarity from them about what they're looking for," she said.

"They ask very few questions but want a level of detail that they're not actually specifying," said Julia Karahalis, director of institutional advancement at Paul Cuffee. She added that she appreciates the creative freedom the application allows grant writers.

Joukowsky said the fund committee does not select grant recipients based on specific school subjects or age groups. Instead, it favors grant proposals that provide the most direct benefit to students.

"Our mission is to help the kids and not the bureaucracy behind the public school system," Joukowsky said.

The fund committee hopes to maintain support for a wide variety of school activities, including the arts.

Karahalis would like to see more grants in the future to support electronic resources like Kindles for the school.

After the fund's grants are awarded, committee members ask schools to follow up with the fund once the money is spent. The fund committee asks schools for information on how the money has been allocated, Joukowsky said. In his opinion, some schools have not adequately acknowledged the University or the fund committee for the grants.

But the Paul Cuffee School invited fund committee members to observe students using the equipment purchased with grant money.

"Seeing their investment is one of the most delightful parts of this," Karahalis said of the visit.

Some of the committee members hope to invite a wider range of Providence schools to apply for grants in the future. Joan Sorensen '72 P'06 P'06, a Corporation member and member of the fund committee, said limited funding has prevented the fund from accepting applications from inner-city Providence private schools, where many students cannot pay full tuition.

Sorensen hopes the fund's close ties to the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, an important part of Simmons' legacy at Brown, will aid fundraising efforts.

"This committee was her baby," Sorensen said. She suggested at the last Corporation meeting that the University donate to the fund on Simmons' behalf as a way to acknowledge her dedication to it.

"We haven't done that with some of our other presidents," Sorensen said. "Ruth is a different story."



Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.