New Campaign Seeks Community Support for Equity Work in Portland Schools

On July 13, the Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) launched a new community campaign called Addressing the Opportunity Gap to raise money for systemic equity work in the Portland Public Schools (PPS). The PPS strategic plan, the Portland Promise, calls for rooting out systemic and ongoing inequities in the city’s schools. The district has been focused on equity work for many years, but is calling on community members and local businesses to deepen and accelerate these efforts in a challenging budget year.

In recent months, both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have heightened community awareness of decades old inequities in the way that schools are funded, structured, and run. “In conversations with parents, community members, and business owners, I have heard that people are looking for ways to address systemic racism and oppression locally,” said FPPS Executive Director Andrea Weisman Summers. “The initial response to the campaign has shown this is true. We’ve been thrilled with the level of interest and donations in the first two days of sharing it with our community.”

The specific objectives that the schools are seeking to fund include additional supports for English language learners that were initially intended to be in the local budget but were ultimately cut due to fiscal constraints; work to decolonize the curriculum, including developing Wabanaki and Africana studies materials for all three high schools; professional development for staff; and the creation of a pilot program to mentor a small group of multilingual, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) social work interns who better represent the racial and language diversity in Portland. PPS is the largest and most diverse school district in Maine, with 47 percent BIPOC students and over 60 languages spoken at home.

Although a public campaign to create this type of change in schools is unusual, the district budget has many unmet needs, and it’s challenging to reallocate funds for systemic change work. One local business owner, who prefers to remain anonymous, has pledged a substantial donation. In coordinating his support he said, “This is the best opportunity I’ve ever seen for the community in general to support something so significant. I have always believed that Portlanders would step up when provided the chance to make a difference.”

Xavier Botana, Superintendent of the Portland Public Schools said, “Portland voters are generous supporters of our schools.  But, we still have many unmet needs. The Foundation was created to leverage the energy and passion of our community to targeted and specific unmet needs.  In this particular moment in our City, State, and Country, it is clear that we must do more than what we’re doing to close the opportunity gaps and I am hopeful that Portlanders will rally to this campaign.”

To learn more or to donate to the Addressing the Opportunity Gap campaign, click here.