This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia is preparing for another year of fundraising with its Philly FUNDamentals website.
The Fund connects the private sector and individual donors with the School District. Individuals can contribute to a school’s specific goal to help with a particular need.
Last year, the Fund raised more than four times its $100,000 goal, bringing in $413,000 since launching in November 2017. This year, the fund is seeking to raise $200,000.
“Now that we have exceeded our first year’s goal three-fold in less than eight months,” said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, president and CEO of the Fund, “it’s clear that allowing individuals and businesses to contribute directly to a particular school has instilled confidence in donors and given our community a sense of ownership in our students’ success.”
Now, 223 schools have 671 active campaigns running through the website, and 19 have reached their goals.
The Fund benefited heavily from the Philadelphia Eagles’ historic Super Bowl run when offensive tackle Lane Johnson helped design and sell underdog T-shirts and masks, which generated $185,000 of last year’s total.
And thanks to advocacy from Johnson and teammate Chris Long, $125,000 more came from the NFL Foundation. The two flagged the league for trying to profit from the Underdog shirts ahead of the Super Bowl. The league made its donation shortly after.
Frisby-Greenwood expressed her gratitude to both Johnson and Long.
“The whole city came alive when the Eagles began their playoff journey and led Philadelphia to its first Super Bowl win, but the real winners were the students in Philadelphia’s public schools,” said Frisby-Greenwood.
“Lane’s underdog T-shirts and masks took on a life of their own, and we are so pleased that he chose to share this success with our deserving students.”
Local businesses Re-Animator Coffee Roasters and Federal Donuts raised $33,000 through sales of limited edition coffee and doughnuts inspired by the Eagles.
The remaining $70,000 came from contributions through the site. This year, the Fund expects to double the support from businesses and donors.
Robert Morris Elementary School was one of three schools that completed two goals totaling more than $2,900.
The school selected soft furniture for its youngest students to create an environment that encouraged students to read and playground equipment to provide children with a play space, said principal Carolyn Williams.
Superintendent William Hite praised the businesses and community leaders that have contributed to the Fund.
“We are so grateful for their dedication and creativity when it comes to supporting our city’s students,” he said.
The District is constantly struggling to serve its students’ needs without running deficits in its $3 billion budget. Deficits were the hallmark of most budgets since massive state and federal cuts starting in 2011. More recently, with boosts in state aid under the Wolf administration and an infusion of additional money from City Council, the District is running small surpluses. That fiscal stability gave the School Reform Commission the window it needed to dissolve itself and return control to a local Board of Education.
City Council increased its contribution to the schools in next year’s budget by a projected $600 million over five years, most of it through a freeze on a planned wage tax reduction. However, it rejected Mayor Kenney’s call for an increase in the property tax rate to create a stable and recurring funding source for the schools. Instead, it counted on additional money from increased tax collections, cuts in prison spending, and a $100 million one-time grant.