Here's Another Corporate Funder That's Keen to Help Traditional Public Schools

Don't be fooled by the buzz. Not all the funders in the K-12 space these days are focusing their dollars on national education nonprofits, charter school organizations, and other reform groups. Far from it. Traditional urban school districts—and the nonprofits that directly support them—still pull in plenty of philanthropic support, with much of it coming from local funders.

In many metropolitan areas, private foundations and corporate funders who concentrate their work in their communities have included K-12 school systems in their grantmaking programs. For financially troubled school districts, these funders can be a source of important support as they cope with such challenges as declining enrollment, aging facilities, and persistent gaps in academic performance. They can also bring new thinking and other kinds of resources to the table.

For instance, we've reported that Salesforce, the tech company, is deeply involved in helping San Francisco's public schools, contributing grant money, technology products, and the volunteer time of its employees.

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The latest example of such a local commitment comes out of Minneapolis, where the Cargill Foundation has just made a multimillion-dollar gift to support that city's public school system through an initiative intended to reduce achievement gaps between students of color and their white counterparts, and increase postsecondary preparation.

Cargill Foundation (not to be confused with Margaret Cargill Philanthropies, another Minnesota-based funder) is the Minneapolis-based philanthropic arm of the global food and agricultural giant. Like many corporate funders, it focuses heavily on its home region, supporting nonprofits in Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs. The funder concentrates its activities on education, especially access to STEM, improving college readiness, and improving childhood nutrition.

Cargill has long been an enthusiastic supporter of Minneapolis Public Schools, providing more than $10 million in support of AchieveMpls, a nonprofit organization that funds college and career centers offering career and postsecondary counseling and planning for Minneapolis students. AchieveMpls also offers other services not covered by state and local school funding.

As we report often, many funders are keenly interested right now in building stronger bridges between school and work. Corporate philanthropies are especially attuned to this area, since they depend on a steady flow of workers with the right skills to power their growth. 

This latest gift is $4 million over a three-year period. The funds will continue to support the college and career centers, as well as expand the Minneapolis school system's Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which offers tutoring and other supports to reduce achievement gaps between students of color and white students. This area, too, is of longstanding concern to K-12 funders. 

Local education organizations like AchieveMpls provide millions in additional funding for public schooling. In 2016, it raised more than $6 million in revenue from individual donors, businesses, and philanthropists.

The gift from Cargill is well timed for Minneapolis Public Schools. The district, like many urban systems across the country, is grappling with a budget deficit. Since the 1970s, the district's enrollment has shrunk from more than 55,000 students to its current enrollment of about 35,000. Such declines are costly, as most state funding formulas for public education are tied to student enrollment. In addition, more than 60 percent of students in Minneapolis are economically disadvantaged, as measured by eligibility for free and reduced-price meals.