For decades, Duval County Public Schools had a troubling record of student achievement and low graduation rates, especially for low-income students and students of color. By the early 2000s, the issue had become a roadblock to progress, affecting not only students and their families, but also economic development for the city as a whole.
Enter The Community Foundation. In the fall of 2005, we launched the Quality Education for All (QEA) initiative to bring the community together around this critical issue.
Capitalizing on our role as convener, catalyst and funder, we committed to engaging the community, using data-driven research, and investing $2 million to jumpstart an end to the achievement gap. Our work had three components:
The Community Foundation stepped into the arena on public education reform in 2005 with the 10-year Quality Education for All Initiative, which directly invested $2 million and leveraged an additional $10 million for public education innovation. It made a lasting impact on education in Duval County through three strategies: community learning, direct investment, and public policy and advocacy. As part of the Initiative’s community learning strategy, the Forum on Quality Education brought together 27 community leaders for nearly two years of intensive learning about public education, nationally and in Duval County.
As part of the Forum on Quality Education, community leaders learned about the need for a high-capacity local education fund. Research showed that student outcomes improved where there was a well-resourced, community-owned institution to engage a broad stakeholder group and ensure a sustained commitment to systemic public education reform. The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida helped create, capitalize and sustain the Jacksonville Public Education Fund to champion high-quality education for all students, transcending changes in superintendents and in school boards.
The Quality Education for All Fund focused on great teachers and leaders for all students in Duval County, following a philanthropic investment strategy developed by the Bridgespan Group. It deployed $38M directly and leveraged $57M in other grants for Teach for America, the Jacksonville Teacher Residency at UNF, the School Leadership Fellowship, data systems, and more, which continue to make an impact today.
The Forum on Quality Education brought together 27 community leaders for nearly two years of intensive learning about public education, nationally and in Duval County. The Forum built community knowledge, networks and relationships.
The Community Foundation launched (and continues to support) the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, a high-performing research and community engagement institution. It works tirelessly to close the opportunity gap for low-income students and students of color by investing in great leadership in our public schools.
Through a myriad of activities, The Community Foundation made public education an important local issue. With the involvement of local school administrators, passionate donors, and committed community leaders, the impetus to advance public education reform continues to be seen today.
We heard loud and clear that we were jumping into the St. Johns River. But we chose public education, as we wanted to advance the state of knowledge and practice around what had been neglected for too long. And we were willing to deploy moral, social, reputational and intellectual capital around it.
– Cindy Edelman, Co-Chair, QEA Initiative
Explore more about the work of The Community Foundation in public education reform through the following publications and resources.
At the time The Community Foundation entered the public education arena, only one in three students was graduating high school on time. The ONE in THREE exhibit at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens explored the stories of students and their struggles to mobilize the community to engage in solving the dropout crisis.
Private philanthropy can play a unique role in supporting public education: by piloting innovative practices and handing them off to the district to scale. In the Learning to Finish collaboration, The Community Foundation found a best-practice model to better serve high school-age students who were at risk of dropping out. In a unique partnership, Schools for the Future Academy (SFF), a Duval County public school, opened at The Bridge of Northeast Florida in Fall 2011, blending remediation, acceleration, small class sizes and social/emotional supports and job skills. After seeing impressive learning gains, the district scaled the model up across Duval County.
The Community Foundation undertook public polling to understand community perceptions of public education, including their support for a small tax increase for schools. Informed by this data, the school board pursued a sales surtax for school infrastructure in 2020 and a millage increase for teacher raises in 2022.
Over the course of the initiative, we engaged thousands of citizens, sponsored vital outside research to spotlight where our efforts should be focused, and created the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, an independent non-profit with a mandate to use research to mobilize the community and advocate for quality education.
Our efforts created Learning to Finish—a national drop-out prevention collaborative—and we funded One in Three, a powerful exhibition of student’s stories that highlighted the potential that existed in the ‘one in three’ students who failed to graduate from Duval County high schools in the early years of this work. This focus helped propel the schools and the community forward, and today, nearly 90% of Duval County high school students graduate, with far more parity between majority and minority students.
As a capstone to our efforts, we launched the Quality Education for All Advised Fund, a multi-donor fund to support Duval County public school teachers and leaders. They invested more than $37 million in our local public schools, and their support was able to leverage an additional $57 million in additional grant support.
Today, there is a permanent field of interest endowment at The Community Foundation to support public education reform. Read more about the Quality Education for All initiative here.