School & District Management

Supports in Every Title I School? A Community Schools Group Receives Record $165M

By Denisa R. Superville — February 14, 2023 6 min read
Photo of shadow of children holding hands.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Communities In Schools, the national organization that provides wraparound services to students in high-poverty schools, will receive up to $165 million from the Ballmer Group, the largest gift in the organization’s 45-year history.

The announcement comes just a little more than a year after MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist and writer, gave a no-strings-attached $133.5 million gift to Communities In Schools’ national office and select state affiliates to expand its in-school support services to low-income students.

The latest gift from the Ballmer Group, which was founded by Connie and Steve Ballmer will go toward taking the Communities In Schools’ student-support model to 1,000 more schools, both in new locations and in places where the organization already operates. Steve Ballmer is the former Microsoft CEO.

Rey Saldaña, Communities In Schools’ president and CEO, called the gift “a welcome boost of adrenaline” that will give the organization a chance to make the kind of generational impact that many nonprofits, which often operate on year-to-year funding cycles affected by the political climate, can only dream of.

“This is not about pouring buckets into the ocean; this is about shifting the tide of the wave to move in a different direction to support public education in a way that focuses on non-academic supports,” said Saldaña, who often credits the Communities In Schools’ site coordinator at South San High School in San Antonio with setting him on the path to college. “That’s what our students need right now.”

The Ballmer Group gives to programs connected to improving economic mobility with initiatives that have supported formerly incarcerated women in Los Angeles, homeless and unaccompanied minors in Washington state, and Aspire Public Schools, a charter management organization in California.

“This investment is designed to show how school site coordinators using the CIS model can meet students’ needs on an ongoing basis in order to improve high school graduation rates and, ultimately, economic mobility,” Steve Ballmer said in a statement about the donation.

“With schools being asked to do more than ever, CIS has demonstrated how important it is to have dedicated staff who receive comprehensive supports to ensure K-12 students and families have access to high-quality resources that meet pressing needs in real time and help overcome barriers to learning in the classroom.”

Expanding to 1,000 schools

Communities In Schools has long dreamed of taking its brand of student-support services—through which a trained school-based coordinator works with principals to connect students with services such as housing, food, healthcare, and even facilitating college visits—into to every Title I school in the country. Coordinators also collaborate with principals on student attendance and graduation goals.

The organization operates in 2,900 schools in 26 states and serves 1.6 million children. It hopes the growth from the new financial commitment will put its program in close to 4,000 schools and reach another half a million students.

The gift comes at a time when many of the students the organization serves are dealing with the fallout from the pandemic—including family deaths, job losses, and even the stress of becoming breadwinners themselves, Saldaña said.

“Oftentimes we think about our work as connecting the disconnected,” he said. “There are so many resources that exist for students all across their communities that oftentimes it takes a Ph.D. in systems to navigate how to access the local housing authority, or the food bank, or mental healthcare services, or medical support.”

How the new funding will work

Local affiliates will be able to apply to the national organization to expand the number of schools in the areas where they operate. They will need matching local funding—from the school district or local funding source—for the first three years and a commitment to cover the program’s cost over time.

Saldaña is hoping that 600 of the new schools will be in the areas in which the organization already works, and the remaining 400 will come through licensed partnerships, where Communities In Schools trains school and district staff to use and implement the group’s model.

Licensed partnerships are a relatively new approach, but the group has tried it, including in West Virginia, where it’s worked with the state to grow to 191 schools from nine in 2018, Saldaña said. The new grant could give Communities In Schools the means to expand to every Title I-eligible school in the state.

“Can we do it in Vermont, Rhode Island, North Dakota?” he said. “If we do it in Newark, can we do it in Jackson, Mississippi, or Montgomery, Alabama? For us, it is growing through nonprofit affiliates, but [also] thinking about how to teach school districts how to use existing staff to do this.”

The big donation was more than a year in the making. The Ballmer Group had given to Communities In School before, including a $15 million, no-strings-attached grant in 2018.

“The impact from that was significant in our mind, both contributing to what they have achieved in improving high school graduation rates and by innovating by finding new ways to scale through their licensure approach,” said Jeff Edmondson, the executive director of community impact at the Ballmer Group.

While discussing another $20 million gift, the Ballmer Group asked Communities In Schools to think about what it would look like to scale up the program into new communities, and bring along state and local community partners.

The last time the organization did something similar was in 2018, when it got a $12 million grant from a Chicago-based pharmaceutical company and asked local affiliates to expand into 145 schools. After three years, it had exceeded the goal, adding 161 schools, Saldaña said.

The organization kept working with the Ballmer Group to figure out what it would cost to grow from 200 schools to 500, he said. The back-and-forth challenged the organization to remember what had always been its North Star, he said.

“We truly just stopped ourselves. We said, ‘Look, here’s the truth: It’s our goal to get to every eligible Title I school in the country. There are 70,000 Title I schools, serving majority students living in poverty, suffering from the impact of what the pandemic has done, what the recession has done to many of our families. So the scale is 70,000 Title I schools.’

“They said, ‘OK, we can’t fund 70,000 Title I schools. That’s a role for the federal government, that’s the role for state governments. But what can philanthropy do to allow you to really figure out how to use your evidence base and your infrastructure and … within the next five years to prove what’s possible?’”

Edmondson, from the Ballmer Group, had worked as a peaceable schools coordinator—a kind of violence prevention staffer—at the then-Woodrow Wilson Senior High School, now Jackson-Reed High School, in the District of Columbia. He said a proactive approach like the Communities In Schools model—backed by training, professional development, and data—would have been more effective in meeting students’ and families’ needs when he was working in schools.

“We are just really excited about [the] next five years to see this type of growth,” he said. “Our hope is that more and more local communities will begin to prioritize investment in this type of work that gives teachers and administrators a trusted partner, to bring in community resources and do case management with students who need it most, to make sure that all of their learning barriers are addressed. We just can’t wait to see what happens.”


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management What the Research Says Most Schools Have Early-Warning Systems. Some Kids Are Still Getting Lost
A study finds that one such system prevented absenteeism among some students but not others.
4 min read
Illustration of a warning symbol.
Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Restorative Practices Don’t Just Belong in the Classroom. Leaders Should Use Them, Too
Respectful conflict resolution, starting meetings with a talking circle, and other ways this administrator is walking the walk.
Sonja Gedde
5 min read
A team of colleagues comes to a resolution in a conceptual illustration about building bridges
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management Electric Buses Hit Some Road Bumps, But They're Still Catching On
The number of electric school buses is rising—and there’s no shortage of growing pains involving funding, legal mandates, and operations.
8 min read
Yellow electric school bus plugged in at a charging station.
Thomas W Farlow/iStock/Getty
School & District Management This State Created a Retention System for Principals. Here’s Why It Worked
Missouri has deepened the support it offers to new principals through a partly federally funded, two-year mentoring program.
6 min read
Photos of principals walking in school hallway.
E+ / Getty