Report Cites Paucity of Education Philanthropy in the South

By Jonathan Weisman — September 25, 1991 3 min read
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Education philanthropy in the Southeastern United States lags well behind other regions of the country, despite the fact that the stubborn problems associated with schools in the South cry out for the kinds of innovative answers traditionally funded through private sources, a new report says.

For its study, “Fulfilling Reform’s Promise: The Need to Expand the Vision of Education in the South,” the BellSouth Foundation surveyed educators and philanthropists in the nine states that make up its service urea: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

The 938 philanthropic institutions in the South, where 20 percent of the U.S. population lives, represent 12 percent of the nation’s total and 7.9 percent of total giving, according to the 1 1/2-year study.

Given the fact that those foundations are concentrated in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, the report notes, large areas of the South are virtually devoid of philanthropies. Florida, for instance, has 303 philanthropies listed in the 1991 Foundation Directory; Mississippi has 18.

Nationally, foundation contributions to precollegiate education have inched up from 2.7 percent of total foundation giving in 1984 to 3.5 percent in 1989, but the South has not kept pace. (See Education Week, Feb. 24, 1988.)

Moreover, what education giving does exist has largely come in the form of general support for colleges and universities or individual scholarships.

In other regions, philanthropists have increasingly seen their roles as change agents, especially in K-12 education, where grants have been channeled to pilot reform projects, staff development, and teacher training.

The relatively low levels of philanthropic activity in the South is all the more jarring when compared to educational statistics that place the region at the nation’s bottom.

According to the study, only Alabama had a high-school graduation rate above the 71.2 percent national average in 1988. Of those students in the South going on to higher education, 25 percent of entering freshmen required remedial reading and writing help and 33 percent required remedial mathematics assistance.

Despite some dramatic increases in education funding, all states but Florida ranked in the bottom half of per pupil public-school expenditures in 1988, the study said. Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi ranked 45th, 48th, 49th, and 50th, respectively, in per-pupil funding.

Cause for Hope

Negative statistics aside, the study found causes for hope.

Poor educational performance in the South has sparked some of the most ambitious reform agendas in the nation in such states as Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and South Carolina. These programs present philanthropists seeking a leadership role in leveraging reform with an immense opportunity, according to the study.

The BellSouth Foundation, which has awarded 110 educational grants worth $11.8 million since its creation in 1986, has pledged to refocus its priorities.

The foundation, a unit of the BellSouth Corporation and the nation’s 19th-largest corporate giver, will set as priorities grants for teacher-education reform, leadership development, teaching innovation, community support for education, accountability, assessment, and the study and application of information technology in teaching and learning.

The foundation called on other givers to serve as convenors and catalysts of change, and to work collaboratively rather than competitively to marshal the South’s scant philanthropic resources.

Observers predicted that the report could spur on the change it seeks.

The BellSouth report was compiled by 22 education and business leaders, with an advisory committee chaired by U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and Richard W. Riley, a former governor of South Carolina.

Copies are available from the BellSouth Foundation, 1155 Peachtree St., N.E., Room 7-G, Atlanta, Ga. 30367-6000.

A version of this article appeared in the September 25, 1991 edition of Education Week as Report Cites Paucity of Education Philanthropy in the South


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