“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” –African Proverb
There are 899 public school districts in the State of Michigan, serving more than 1.5 million students. As state funding levels have failed to keep pace with changing educational needs, more and more districts are turning to private partners to provide critical financial support for technology, enrichment, and other innovative programs. Many of these needs are met through the work of a school foundation. Today, more than 60 public school foundations exist in Michigan to support their parent school districts. SAF is the foundation for the Grand Rapids Public Schools.
Six years ago, leaders from several Michigan public school foundations began meeting to generate ideas, talk through shared challenges, exchange notes on best practices and learn from each other. Eventually, the Michigan Education Foundation (MEF) (http://www.michiganef.org/) was formed, with the tagline: Enhancing Public Education. Members represent foundations for public school districts—both small and large, urban and rural, and from east to west. Meeting quarterly, the MEF shares best practices covering a wide range of topics including but not limited to: district funding needs, fundraising ideas, communications and public relations, board recruitment, and strategic planning.
On May 3, the MEF welcomed a special guest: Michigan State Superintendent Brian Whiston. In 2014, the Michigan Association of School Administrators voted him Superintendent of the Year. At the May MEF meeting, Whiston led a Q&A session about the state of education in Michigan and the unique role school foundations play in supporting school districts. Before addressing questions, Superintendent Whiston identified himself as a passionate and outspoken fan of Michigan’s public school foundations, sharing, “after a decade of cuts, it is now time to invest in education.” Superintendent Whiston’s goal was clear: to make Michigan a top performing education state.
Whiston reinforced the need for private dollars to support and shape a high-achieving public education system in our state. The unfortunate truth is that state funding alone is insufficient. School foundations are one of the best tools for school districts to engage with private partners.
Whiston offered the support and assistance of his office for the key role he believes foundations play in the success of our schools. In turn, he invited foundation leaders to consider serving on a state committee. Underscoring his request is the value he sees in having additional stakeholder voices in conversations about funding levels and priorities.
Superintendent Whiston ended his remarks reflecting on the broader realities facing many of our school systems. While experts have spent considerable time and energy examining and discussing the question, at the end of the day “poverty matters.” We as a whole community must work to achieve equity for all students.
“No matter what zip code you’re in, you deserve a quality education.” – Whiston
To learn more about the Superintendent’s commitment to making Michigan a Top Ten Education State, visit Michigan.gov/mde.