Chicago Public Education Fund: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: This funder exclusively supports education in Chicago public schools, with an emphasis on teacher and principal professional training and development.  

FUNDING AREAS: Public education, K-12 education, teacher & principal training.

IP TAKE: This is a great funder for Chicago public schools and educators to get involved with. Pitch a new idea for teacher and principal improvement to get noticed.

PROFILE: The Chicago Public Education Fund was formed in March 2000 when a group of civic and corporate leaders met and developed the city-based philanthropic venture fund—one of the first of its kind in the nation. With entrepreneurial principles at the heart of its philanthropic mission, the group is solely focused on public education in Chicago.

Janet Knupp, a former special education teacher, was the founding president and CEO for the first 10 years. She directed the fund’s focus to teacher and principal performance to boost student achievement. Over 60 percent of Chicago’s public school principals have been leaving their schools after less than five years, so this has issue has received attention. Heather Anichini, a former Chicago public school teacher, took over for Knupp when she resigned in 2011.

The fund has a couple key programs, starting with the Summer Design Program and the Discover Series. The summer program was created to help educators create and use strategies to improve classroom learning. Sessions are held each summer for public school educator teams in the city to identify new solutions and get a chance at $7,500 and additional support to put their findings to use in the upcoming school year. CPEF’s design studios were created to help principals and teachers learn and use collaborative design thinking approaches to classroom challenges. These hour-long sessions aim to help educators make small-scale innovations right away.

The fund is perhaps best known for its Chicago Principals Fellowship, which is a unique 12-month program that serves 20 to 25 principals each year. This fellowship is a collaborative effort between CPEF, Northwestern University and the Crown Family Philanthropies. Northwestern’s Center for Nonprofit Management at Kellogg and the School for Education and Social Policy provide executive leadership training, coaching, and conference opportunities in exchange for a three-year minimum commitment to Chicago public schools.

Breakthrough Schools: Chicago is a $2 million competition aimed at school designers and entrepreneurial educators supported by the fund. The fund is looking for personalized instruction, and the fund partners with LEAP Innovations and Next Generation Learning Challenges to push this initiative through. Past grantees include new startups, traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, and turnaround efforts.

Not long ago, the fund released a report that detailed the state of principal quality and high turnover rates among the city’s public school principals. Based on the fund’s assessments, many CPS principals say their jobs are unsustainable, that compliance is standing in the way of their job satisfaction, and that they are unable to effectively organize their schools’ budgets, schedules, and curricula.

You can learn more about where the Chicago Public Education Fund’s money has been put to use by reviewing the Investments History page and the Investment Portfolio. Keep up with recent events and press releases by checking the Media Center page or signing up for the fund’s newsletter.

Specific grantmaking inquiries can be emailed directly to the program staff, and general inquiries can be sent to The staff is split up into the program team, operations team, and executive team.


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