Over the years, major Twin Cities corporate foundations have contributed to Minneapolis public schools, mostly through smaller grants for specific programs -- a few hundred thousand here or a million or two there to adopt a school, outfit a library, provide mentors or support the arts.
But last week, four area businesses announced a collaboration that holds promise to make an even greater impact on Minneapolis kids.
For the first time, Target, Cargill, General Mills and Medtronic wisely joined forces to provide a total of more than $13 million in grants to the Minneapolis district.
The sound reasoning behind the effort is that together, business foundations can do much more than they can separately.
After a year of behind-the-scenes discussions, the foundation leaders decided to focus a larger chunk of funds on a smaller list of proven, well-researched educational strategies.
"The issues facing our educational system are too large and complex for any single entity to solve alone,'' said Mark Murphy, executive director of the Cargill Foundation, during the announcement of the grants.
Smart funding priorities include early literacy (reading well by third grade); science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; leadership training for principals and administrators, and high school college and career centers.
The grants will also support Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID), a college readiness curriculum that has worked well for low-income and minority students.
That focus was carefully considered. Donors worked with school district leaders to identify areas that are known to expedite student achievement.
Speeding that progress is crucial for Minneapolis schools; 70 percent of the district's 32,000 students are of color, and 65 percent are lower-income. Like many urban districts, Minneapolis has large learning disparities between many minority and white students.
To help narrow that gap, Target plans to give the district more than $6 million for early-grade reading initiatives.
Some of those funds will support a larger presence of the Minnesota Reading Corps in Minneapolis classrooms. The grants will allow the program to almost triple the number of reading tutors, bringing the total to nearly 100.
Cargill is stepping up its support of Minneapolis schools with new grants totaling $4 million over the next three years to support the AVID and STEM programs.
And Cargill, General Mills and Medtronic have created a Collaborative for Education Excellence that will provide $2.8 million over three years to design a new approach to recruiting, training and supporting high-performing principals and leaders for the district.
The four corporations should be applauded for their commitment to education, especially as districts including Minneapolis struggle with funding levels.
The business support is an acknowledgement that stronger schools are essential to create the kind of workforce needed in Minnesota in the decades to come.
The grants are also part of the general trend among Minnesota foundations to refocus their education, giving with an eye on producing better results for kids.
And they demonstrate that the region's largest corporate foundations have faith in the plans and leadership of the Minneapolis school district.
That confidence should help leverage other contributions and encourage even greater levels of community support.
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