Early literacy campaign gets big boost from Kenney’s inaugural fundraiser

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

For Mayor Kenney, celebrations are about coming together to make Philadelphia better.

At his inauguration “block party” Monday night, attendees did just that, raising $650,000 in private donations for public education. Early literacy efforts in the School District of Philadelphia will be the main beneficiary.

The two largest donations, each $100,000, came from the city’s carpenters’ union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 98.

“Our goal was to raise more than what the campaign could have just donated — so, more than $250,000,” said Lauren Hitt, the mayor’s spokesperson.

About 100 individuals and 50 businesses, including the Automobile Dealers Association, Comcast, and Friends Hospital, contributed to the funds raised, said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, president and CEO of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, which collected the donations.

Kenney’s goal is to have businesses, nonprofits, and city government work together to improve educational conditions.

“Mayor Kenney and his team have been steadfast in their commitment to children and families,” said Diane Castelbuono, the District’s chief of early childhood education. “We are delighted that they have such confidence in the city’s early literacy efforts to devote their inaugural day fundraising efforts in support of this work.”

The city’s efforts in early literacy, through the READ! by 4th campaign, have been centered on getting every child reading at or above grade level by the time they enter 4th grade.

The independent, nonprofit Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, which brings private philanthropic donations to individual District schools or initiatives, will channel most of the $650,000 to its Right Books Campaign, which aims to raise $3.5 million by the 2017-18 school year to put a leveled library in every K-3 classroom. If the campaign meets its goal, about 48,000 students across 2,000 classrooms will benefit.

The leveled libraries, which contain books grouped according to reading levels, will be distributed as teachers participate in the District’s summer literacy training institutes. Forty schools that participated in the literacy institute last summer have already received partial libraries for all their K-3 classrooms.

But literacy efforts aren’t the sole beneficiary of Monday’s fundraiser.

“We know that there is some interest from the carpenters’ union in supporting mathematics instruction,” said Frisby-Greenwood.

The union wants to increase the number of students who enter apprenticeship programs with the right skills, Frisby-Greenwood said. The Fund is in the process of working with the School District to determine how donations can be used to support mathematics instruction.

“To have the mayor say education is his number one priority is important. And now, through the Fund, which we have rebooted, private donors can support the impactful work happening at the School District," Frisby-Greenwood said. “This is more than I could have ever imagined or asked for.”

The Kenney administration said it will focus on raising funds for expanding access to pre-K, building community schools, and working with the governor on state funding.

“We know that the money raised from this event doesn’t make up for the state’s funding obligation,” said Hitt.