I was once asked to say a few words at the start of a golf tournament benefitting the local education foundation I led. In a conversation just before that moment, I shared with a business leader how the tournament proceeds would provide classroom grants. His response: “I don’t know what that means. What is a classroom grant?”
Inspiration struck! I asked the golfers to imagine that, as they enjoyed their day, they came up with an idea to improve outcomes for their business. Then, when they shared that idea with their boss the next day, they got this response: “Great idea! How are you going to pay for it?”
Florida’s local education foundations have been investing in the great ideas of educators and the future of our students for more than 35 years. With a member foundation in nearly every countywide school district, our network now raises more than $83 million annually to innovate learning and power potential through locally driven grant, scholarship and direct-service initiatives.
Our momentum grew during the pandemic with creative solutions implemented from coast to coast. Science kits were sent home to keep kids engaged in hands-on learning. College tours were conducted using virtual reality headsets. Volunteer mentors, reading support and FAFSA assistance went online. School supplies and even fresh produce from school gardens were delivered through drive-through events. Programs to address the digital literacy and support were quickly developed and implemented.
Now with the return of face-to-face learning, our work takes on greater urgency. We need to re-engage students who became disengaged. We need to retain and provide leadership opportunities for strong teachers. I see evidence we’re doing just that.
Students returning to elementary schools in one district were greeted with vending machines where they can earn the privilege of selecting a book to keep. A teacher fellowship program developed by one Florida education foundation is being replicated by colleagues in another district. Education foundations have stepped up support throughout the state to help high school students return their focus to attainment of a post-secondary degree or credential.
Our legislative leaders see the value of our mission of engaging communities to close opportunities gaps in our diverse state with locally driven solutions. This year alone they increased support for our School District Education Foundation Matching Grant Program by 20%, to $6 million. We’re grateful that business and philanthropic partners like Helios Education Foundation support our efforts to build the capacity and effectiveness of Florida’s local education foundations.
Throughout our state, students are having learning experiences every day that are made better by the work we do. Together, we are making sure those great ideas are funded and implemented. Together, we can be difference-makers for Florida’s future.