Education is one of the most important resources we have to help unlock the full potential of every child and give them the tools they need to pursue their passions. Unfortunately, access to high-quality education can be heavily influenced by zip codes and income levels.
Racism and the history of redlining in the United States has left Black students disproportionately in under-resourced schools. A recent study from the Economic Policy Institute found that Black children are two times more likely to attend under resourced schools than white children. Without proper funding, schools often lack enough textbooks to lend students their own copies, have large student-to-teacher ratios and may even be housed in buildings that are unsafe. All of these factors can hinder students’ ability to learn.
Teachers Are Forced to Fill the Gap (Out of Their Own Pockets)
In an effort to compensate for the school’s lack of resources, teachers often resort to using their own money to help students learn. In 2015, a Department of Education survey found that 94% of teachers around the United States have paid for school supplies without reimbursement. That same survey showed that teachers spent about $479 apiece annually to help ensure that students have their needs met.
As the child of educators, Robert F. Smith understands the importance of supporting teachers. To do this, Smith, along with Vista Equity Partners, joined together with PowerSchool, the leading provider of cloud-based software for K-12 education in North America, to donate $1.25 million to teachers to help them resource their classrooms appropriately. DonorsChoose, the leading education nonprofit that connects public school teachers with public donors, announced that this partnership was used to fulfill more than 1,800 teacher requests at more than 670 predominantly Black schools throughout Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Houston, Memphis, and New Orleans. These six cities are home to over 50% of the Black population in the United States.
Why Education Matters to Robert F. Smith
Helping people access affordable education is something Robert F. Smith has focused much of his philanthropic efforts on. In 2019, Smith paid off the student loan debt of the entire graduating class of Morehouse College, a historically Black college, along with the student loans their parents took out to support their children’s pursuit of a degree — a gift totalling $34 million.
Black students are more likely to take on student debt, and as a result, Black graduates are more likely to enter the workforce in debt. To help reduce this disparity, after the Morehouse gift Smith became the chairman of Student Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit providing an income-contingent funding alternative for rising junior and senior STEM majors attending a select group of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Recently, Smith teamed up with Rich Lesser and Dan Schulman, the CEOs of Boston Consulting Group and PayPal, to launch the Southern Communities Initiative. This initiative focuses on six racial equity pillars and enablers in the six cities with the majority of the country’s Black population.
By working to address racial inequity in communities across the country, we are creating a brighter future for everyone. Read more about the Southern Communities Initiative.