Local billionaire and Phillies owner John Middleton and his wife Leigh have promised to give $16.2 million — largely dedicated to technical education — to Philadelphia schools over the next four years.
“No one can argue that the district is not in serious trouble today and needs us to embrace its troubles in order to fix them,” said Middleton, urging all Philadelphians to rally around the city’s education system.
His family felt compelled to come to the assistance of the embattled district — which faces a $282 million deficit — and the city’s youth for the sake of Philadelphia’s future.
“Well educated citizens of good character are the foundation upon which both our democracy and freedom rest upon,” he said.
He noted that recent changes in the make up the School Reform Commission, the strong support of Mayor Michael Nutter and an overwhelming realization that education reform is critical made it the right time for the donation.
“In every great struggle, there comes a tipping point, that critical moment when an infusion of resources — people, effort and assets — is necessary to prevail,” Middleton said. “For the school district, we believe that tipping point is now.”
The funds, which will go to the district, Drexel University and two education non-profits, will be administered by the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
Approximately $5.7 million will go to the school district to expand its technical education program with the hopes of expanding its capabilities to serve up to 12,000 students over the next five years — an increase of 6,800 students.
Philadelphia Academies Inc., which is headed by Lisa Nutter, will receive $2.25 million to fund an expansion of its Career Academy model throughout the district. Plans are to expand the program to reach 5,000 students enrolled in 16 career academies at four target schools.
Philadelphia Youth Network will receive $5 million, and Drexel University will get $2 million to expand online learning and workforce development and $1.34 million for its Center for Strategic Leadership.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan praised the Middleton’s gift via his blog, and suggested the school district should do more to ferment these types of public-private partnerships.
“It is welcome news for our district, which faces an enormous challenge: preparing our kids for college, career and a future while wrestling with a huge deficit. But the Middleton family’s donation underscores a more important point: When it comes to education, genuine partnerships between public and private entities can achieve amazing results,” Jordan wrote. “As we continue to grapple with a $282 million dollar shortfall, we need to keep a collaborative model in mind. If we continue to let private interest groups make all the decisions for us, the focus will shift toward the bottom line and away from building innovative programs that provide the learning environments our children need.”
The Middleton donation will have no impact on the current budget, spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed; the donation will help also fund several programs the district did not budget for in fiscal year 2013.
Middleton, Nutter and the mayor’s wife, Lisa, made the announcement Tuesday at City Hall.
“The Middleton family is making a game-changing investment in the future of the City of Philadelphia,” said the mayor.
He stood flanked by a chart filled with stark education statistics. Among them the facts that 37 percent of Philadelphians lack a high school diploma; 77 percent lack college degrees; 42 percent are outside the traditional labor force and 25 percent live in poverty.
“We hope that this announcement today will inspire others who have the interest first, and maybe the means, to join us in a new quest to turn this city around,” the mayor said.
Middleton, who sold his family cigar company to Altria — formerly Philip Morris for $2.7 billion, is also part owner of the Phillies.