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The Lede, Solution Watch: Private Funding for Public Schools. Plus Atlanta held hostage, and the new Saudi Arabia

The Lede, Wednesday, March 28, 2018
By David Royse

The new school funding formula is increasingly relying on an old school funding formula: private donors

In 1892, a Louisville factory owner named Alfred Victor duPont saw a need for school in the city that could teach a curriculum that would be useful to what was at the time, an industrial juggernaut.

So, duPont – part of THE duPont family, one of America’s richest at the time – donated $150,000 to the local public school board to start my alma mater, duPont Manual High School, which was essentially an early precursor of today’s STEM schools – a public technical school that could teach kids what they’d need to know to be part of Louisville’s growing industrial might.

Manual, still a public school, has since graduated generations of students who have become leaders in a variety of fields, including tons of top-notch people who work or have worked in science and technology. (Its graduates also include the current U.S. Senate majority leader, some would acknowledge, though others may not).  Thanks to that duPont donation, without which, who knows?

This school funding idea – the richest guy in town chips in to help the kids get some learning– wasn’t unique. And of course, it is part of the backbone of the funding structure of our colleges and universities. (As an aside, if you are interested in philanthropy in the university sphere, one of the most interesting podcasts I’ve ever listened to is about the topic, about how Hank Rowan gave $100 million to a tiny state university in New Jersey.)

Of course the main public school funding mechanism in the United States is now general taxation – but that’s been a mixed bag at best. We’ve seen plenty of cases where the wealthiest taxpayers have taken their tax dollars and gone home, creating exclusive school districts where the middle class and poor kids can’t go. We’ve seen plenty of places where people just don’t want to pay any more in taxes, or where the tax base is just too low, and the schools have gotten less than they need.

Enter a new generation of duPonts, Carnegies, and other benefactors who are, it seems to me, increasingly being relied on to pay for our otherwise underfunded public education system.

Two stories in the news today reminded me of this.

One is in the San Francisco Chronicle, which had this headline today:

“Bonanza for schools as SF crypto king Ripple gives $29M to DonorsChoose.org”

Ripple, a San Francisco-based cryptocurrency startup, is using the $29 million to fund 35,600 requests from teachers around the country, requests they made on a crowdfunding platform. They’ll pay for everything from microscopes to trombones to a trip to the Grand Canyon for a science class from Oakland.

And Apple was in Chicago this week for a big event – it was more about a product roll-out than funding education. But the company has been a giver when it comes to school tech, and followed up today with an announcement about how it does plan to help Chicago students, by helping their teachers get some of the training they can’t get from the financially strapped city school system alone. Apple announced today it is expanding its collaboration with the city of Chicago, a program focused on teaching coding. In a new partnership with Northwestern University, the program will train high school teachers in technology.

Now, of course, this benefits Apple – it creates a whole new “class” of users of their products. But, if our governments aren’t going to adequately fund the public schools, particularly in neighborhoods where the kids are far behind, why shouldn’t the private sector step up?

“There’s no better place than Chicago Public Schools — the first urban school district to make computer science a graduation requirement — to see the benefit that computer science instruction is having on students,” said Dr. Janice K. Jackson, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. “Our innovative collaboration with Apple and Northwestern will prepare more educators to lead 21st Century classrooms and help ensure Chicago students have the resources, support and high-quality instruction needed to become tomorrow’s leaders.”
It’s also worth noting, of course, that much of the philanthropy from business, is, like Alfred duPont’s donation to start my alma mater, rooted in self interest. A technically trained populace provides for a workforce that helps moguls make even more money. STEM programs, like the Apple-funded coding program in Chicago, get more attention and help than, say requests for musical instruments, or English literature.

And in some cases, the private funding of public education has been quite controversial – because it has come in many cases with strings attached. Like Mr. duPont, the donor wants to create a certain type of school. In a lot of cases today, it’s a charter school, and they come with their own controversies. In Chicago, the Noble network of charter schools has been extremely successful in sending students to college, despite backgrounds that would make that less likely. Noble has raised millions in donations from Chicago’s wealthiest business titans, including Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who gave enough to get one of the schools named after him.
Just as with the taxpayer-based funding, there remains the distinct possibility of inequity when you start having donors choose funding winners and losers among schools. But ask the teachers and students in schools who get some of the cash and I’m sure they’ll take it.

Does it blur the line between the private and public schools? A little. Does it help kids who might not otherwise get access to quality education have a little bit better shot? You bet.

These companies and individual benefactors are providing a solution that the public sector has failed to adequately provide.


An important Read for anyone running a city. Could this happen to you?

From the New York Times:
Atlanta residents this week “could not pay traffic tickets or water bills online, or report potholes or graffiti on a city website. Travelers at the world’s busiest airport still could not use the free Wi-Fi. Atlanta’s municipal government has been brought to its knees since Thursday morning by a ransomware attack — one of the most sustained and consequential cyberattacks ever mounted against a major American city. …. ‘We are dealing with a hostage situation,’ Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said this week.”


Because this isn’t really just about politics – it’s about how we vote, how we choose people to make public policy choices. And it’s an interesting public policy story in itself – what’s the best way to have an election? In Maine, they’re about to try a wicked big experiment, ayuh. They’ll be talking about this one by the bubbler and over grinders.


Think Saudi Arabia is a tradition-bound place closer to the 19th Century than the 21st Century? That might be changing thanks, in part, to a forward looking prince who is luring the foreign-educated, outward looking generation of Saudis back home.

Check out this, written by a Saudi who has lived in the United States for a long time but is moving back.

“Our country is roughly the size of the Western U.S., and much of it criss-crossed with infrastructure for the distribution of oil, energy and connectivity. It’s not hard to imagine combining the latest drone and satellite technologies with sophisticated machine learning vision systems to create a home-grown monitoring industry that then becomes a global standard. Everywhere we look, we see opportunity.”

READ more about Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s generation and the new Saudi Arabia


Won’t Renew its Permit to Test Driverless Cars in California. NYT

Toronto Tech Companies
Are benefitting from large numbers of foreign tech workers coming there to work because of anti-immigrant stance of U.S. government. Axios

News from the Cannabis Industry

California marijuana sellers are having to contend with an online black market. Axios

Effectively immediately, doctors in New Jersey can recommend their patients use medical marijuana to treat anxiety, various forms of chronic pain, migraines and Tourette’s syndrome. NJ.com

Nevada: Jackpot. LedeTree

Oakland is trying to change the color of legal marijuana. Politico

The five Iowa cities that will get medical marijuana dispensaries. AP


As always, I welcome your thoughts. @daveroyse on Twitter or dave.royse@ledetree.com

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About David Royse

David Royse
David Royse is the Editor-in-Chief of Ledetree.com. He has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years, including stints with The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida. He enjoys writing about health and medical science, and hopeful stories about scientific breakthroughs and new technology.

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