Portland Education Foundation brings in much-needed cash for schools

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PORTLAND — In the three years since it was formed, the Portland Education Foundation is making a substantial impact on funding and initiatives in the city’s schools.

The foundation recently announced a $50,000 grant from The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, which followed a smaller grant of $15,000 from a local family to support educational opportunities for students at Reiche Elementary School.

The education foundation is important, according to Executive Director Kate Snyder, because “public schools (are having to) look to private philanthropy more and more in order to achieve district goals for students.”

“Private investment in public education is needed,” Snyder said, particularly with ongoing funding pressure as federal and state money for school districts with high property values, like Portland, continues to wane and taxpayers feel squeezed.

The grant from the STK Foundation, for example, “addresses a general lack of funding for books and literacy resources” in the state’s elementary schools and “helps to build collections that honor and celebrate culture and language differences,” the foundation said in a press release.

“We know that students benefit greatly from having a variety of reading materials at different levels and genres,” Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said in response to the grant. “(But), we rarely have the opportunity to make this level of investment in classroom libraries.”

At the Portland Education Foundation the mission is “to raise philanthropic support to enhance educational opportunities … (and) to strengthen our schools through community investment,” Snyder said this week.

She said as the education foundation becomes more established its efforts have become “centered around sharing stories of the good work happening in the Portland Public Schools (and) cultivating relationships with community partners who value public education.”

But, “as with any new proposition, it takes time to spread the word and build relationships. In our case, what is starting to happen with more regularity is that people are becoming more familiar with the Portland Education Foundation and the important work that we are trying to do, and they want to be a part of it,” Snyder said.

Along with the funding already announced this spring, Snyder said the education foundation also has “several pending grant applications and proposals for funding and/or partnerships” in the works and hope more announcements of pivotal financing will be forthcoming.

“We continuously work with the district to identify needs and to find opportunities to meet those needs through philanthropy,” she said. “Our goal is to make connections between donors’ interests and school district funding needs.”

Before the bylaws for PEF were created in the summer of 2015, there was an effort in place to boost outside funding. But Snyder said, “philanthropy management requires consistent attention to prospective, current and past donors.”

That’s where the education foundation comes in.

“We are here to implement best practices, to cultivate opportunities and manage the process (of giving),” she said. “Public schools are not always set up to properly manage the work of, say, an advancement or development department.”

So, the education foundation has stepped in to “generate additional sources of support for the Portland Public Schools that offer opportunities for (both) students and staff,” Snyder said.

The foundation generates funding through a variety of means, including the second annual Spring for Teachers event slated for Monday, May 7, at the Bunker Brewing Taproom. Tickets are $25 per person and are available online.

In addition, grants from organizations like The Stephen & Tabitha King Foundation provide funding for specific programs or purposes.

Through its work, Snyder said the Portland Education Foundation hopes “the community recognizes the impact it can have on public education in Portland” and that “individuals, foundations and corporations (see that they) can make a huge and positive difference in educational institutions and the lives of students.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

With assistance from the Portland Education Foundation, city schools are able to provide programming that would not otherwise be available, including the opportunity to closely explore nature.