The Fund for Public Education has a lot to celebrate.
In its first end-of-year fundraising push since changing its name from the Teton County Education Foundation in June, the nonprofit set its sights on what Executive Director Jennifer Jellen thought was a reasonable ask: Patricia Russell and Greg Prugh Real Estate offered a $12,500 match to donors, meaning the fund would make a clean $25,000 if the match were met.
Instead, December’s fundraising total reached $163,575.
“We’re absolutely astounded with the return,” Jellen said. “The message is that the community likes to support new, exciting initiatives in the public schools.”
The Fund for Public Education works closely with Teton County School District No. 1 to fulfill unmet student needs. It used to function primarily as a pass-through. Donors would give money to support something specific like the robotics team traveling to a competition.
Under Jellen’s tutelage, the nonprofit is focusing its money on programs that address certain parts of its mission, which includes educational inequity, whole-child wellness, providing excellent educational opportunities, leadership development for both teachers and students, and district capacity. Donors can give money to a particular program or to the nonprofit’s unrestricted fund.
Though donors have individual issues they are passionate about, the end-of-year haul wasn’t centered on any one part of the fund’s mission.
“The money went across the board,” Jellen said.
December’s fundraising brings the fund’s total for the fiscal year, which started July 1, to $337,463. Jellen said that’s already more than it has ever raised in one year. She credits the breadth of student support programming available through the school district with the heightened donor interest.
Of particular interest in the end-of-year giving were programs that address childhood hunger. Director of Food Services Wes Clarke works with Jellen to raise money for several programs, including the Teton Meals Support Program, which addresses student food insecurity.
“It helps with students who are caught in between the federal guidelines for free or reduced meals but are still food insecure,” district information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds said.
Students whose family incomes are less than or equal to 130% of the federal poverty limit can receive free breakfast and lunch at school. To qualify for reduced-price meals, students’ family income must fall between 130% and 185% of the poverty limit.
In a town like Jackson, families that make more than 185% of the poverty limit may still struggle to buy enough food because the cost of living is so high. The Teton Meals Support Program targets that population to ensure students have the chance to eat during the school day.
Reynolds said 137 kids participate in the program. The new funds Jellen will be able to provide to Clarke will feed those kids, but they will also serve another purpose.
“We’ll be able to wipe out almost $20,000 in student meal debt,” Jellen said.
In addition to the support program, the fund received a donor-advised gift from the Scarlett Family Foundation to feed every student breakfast on school days at Summit Innovations School. School officials found that when all students are able to eat breakfast, truancy and tardiness rates go down.
With money also going to classroom enrichment grants for teachers and new shelters for the sidelines of the soccer field, Jellen is happy to spread the help. But she said the big haul in no way indicates her work is done.
“While we celebrate the generosity of all our donors and are so grateful to everyone who supports public education,” she said, “we ask the community to please keep giving, keep digging deep, because every dollar given to our public schools directly impacts the lives of kids and shapes the future of our community. “