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Funders' Meeting: More than 175 funders from philanthropies around the country discussed schools' needs and ways foundations can help during the third annual Grantmakers for Education conference in Chicago last week.

The three-day forum provided overviews of prime issues in education, including public engagement in schools, parental choice, and high school improvement.

Sessions on higher education were added to the agenda for the first time this year. That was an attempt to address rising interest in K-16 partnerships and the fundamental links between the precollege and college years, said Warren Chapman, a conference co-chairman and an education program officer at the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation.

"Our topics were more diverse this year," Mr. Chapman said. "It was really geared toward helping grantmakers think about their role in school reform and how our money can be used to leverage change."

Growing attendance at the conference reflects the growing interest in education philanthropy, he added.

"We had 150 in attendance last year, and 80 two years ago" at the group's first conference in Memphis, Mr. Chapman said. "The issue nationally is a bigger issue, and foundations are paying more attention."

Gifts from grantmakers to K-12 causes made up 4 percent of all grants given in 1990, about $175 million of the $4.5 billion donated, said Steven Lawrence, the director of research for the Foundation Center in New York City. Such gifts made up 6 percent of all donations in 1997, the most recent figure available, or about $501 million of the $7.9 billion donated that year.

The opening session of last week's conference delved into the issue of public disengagement from local schools.

Foundations can play an important role in opening up the lines of communication between parents and teachers and administrators, said Ann Hallett, the executive director of the Cross-Cities Campaign for Urban Schools in Chicago and one of the panelists. "Foundations have the ability to catalyze," Ms. Hallett said.

"In an era of ever-changing political and school leadership, foundations can provide not only the money for such endeavors, but give the project continuity," D. Carr Agyapong, a senior program director and communications officer at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund in Morrisville, N.C., added later in a round-table discussion.

"If you can bring in key players--parents and teachers--it is a powerful group," Ms. Agyapong said.

--Julie Blair

Vol. 19, Issue 7, Page 14

Published in Print: October 13, 1999, as Philanthropy

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