Inside the Boston Foundation's New $80,000 Charter School Prize

As with much of the country, charter schools are a big deal in Boston. Given the dismal state of education in Boston these days, charter schools might be the best hope for the city's future. Clearly, the Boston Foundation buys into the charter school hope hype because its finding new and innovative ways to pay into the system. The foundation recently announced a partnership with individual philanthropist, Robert Pozen, which will provide a $80,000 annual award to Boston's best charter school. (Read Boston Foundation: Boston Area Grants).

The very first recipient of the Pozen Prize will be announced in June 2014 based on a qualitative and quantitative review by the Boston Foundation and an independent selection panel. If you're running a charter school in the city, here's what you need to know:

  • Your school must be invited to apply for the prize
  • Your school must be located in Boston city limits
  • Most of the grant money will go to the school, but the educational staff will receive some too
  • To be eligible, your school can't quality for an EdVestors award

But the Boston Foundation can't take credit for coming up with the idea for this prize. This idea is all Robert Pozen, a financial executive (Fidelity Investments and MFS Investment Management) who's interest in public policy has made him relevant in the education reform debate. “Charter schools in Boston are public schools open to all students, yet many charters have closed the achievement gap for low-income students,” said Pozen. “We want to reward the efforts of the charter schools and disseminate their best practices to the larger community.”

Although charter schools are tuition-free, non-sectarian, and funded by tax dollars, they've gotten a certain reputation for financial mismanagement and student segregation. But Pozen insists that they should not be viewed as “separate and competitive with regular schools.” Instead, charter schools, with their longer days, gifted teachers, and emphasis on arts and science, should be “another alternative way for parents and students to get a quality education.” “Charter schools in Boston are public schools open to all students, yet many charters have closed the achievement gap for low-income students,” Pozen said.

Although Pozen is a big believer in the power of charter schools, the Boston Foundation has taken a more middle-ground approach. On one hand, the foundation has vowed to double the number of K-12 seats in autonomous (i.e. charter, pilot, and innovation schools) by 2015. On the other hand, it has vowed to double the college completion rates for Boston Public School graduates by 2017. So for the immediate future, its seems like charter schools are everyone's top priority.