The Teton County Education Foundation has had a makeover. New name, new mission, new executive director, all in the course of about a month.
Jennifer Jellen, who took over as its first full-time executive director in mid-May, was tasked with updating basically everything about the nonprofit. The most easily recognizable alteration is its new name — the Fund for Public Education — which became official Monday.
“The name change has been on the minds of several of us for a while,” said Patricia Russell, president of the foundation’s board. “I think the name was not clear about what we do.”
Though the new moniker may be the most visible adjustment, the big changes lie in the nonprofit’s new strategic plan, which outlines its new scope. The foundation has always provided ancillary support to Teton County School District No. 1, but in a much smaller way than Jellen and the board would like.
Historically, the foundation has operated as a pass-through, collecting money from donors for specific schools or campaigns, such as when an extracurricular team sends some of its members to a national championship. That arrangement gave donors freedom, but it had some consequences.
“It was creating a lot of inequity between the schools,” Jellen said. “So some schools were raising a ton of money and had nothing to spend it on.”
Addressing educational inequity is one of the five focus areas laid out in the foundation’s new strategic plan. The others are whole-child wellness, which includes things like ensuring kids have meals; providing excellent educational opportunities; leadership development, both for teachers and students; and district capacity.
With new programmatic areas the foundation needed an updated funding model. Because it is no longer merely a pass-through for donor funds, it will now put most donations into a general fund and choose how the money is spent.
The foundation is “asking donors to give to the fund and to trust us to put that money to work where we’ll have the greatest impact,” Jellen said.
The nonprofit will still have a “donor-designated partnership fund” as well, Jellen said, but for the Old Bill’s fundraising cycle donors will have only the option to donate to that general fund, which is a departure from past years.
Donors used to be able to choose the school they wished to give to, but that created the inequity Jellen and the foundation’s board want to avoid. They hope the adoption of the strategic plan is a catalyst in making the nonprofit more sustainable and productive in the long term.
“We’ve been stagnant for a long time,” Russell said. “Based on other education foundations in other places I know, we’re not nearly as large and able to be as effective.”
Becoming a larger nonprofit means raising more money, which Jellen said will take several years. The nonprofit wants to create the general and donor-designated funds, as well as an endowment that will can be invested. The financial diversification, in addition to a push to increase the funds it keeps in reserve, should make the nonprofit more financially sustainable.
The fund also created a new granting system in which programs can apply for money. That, along with information on a new donor recognition system, can be found at the fund’s new website, FundForPublicEducation.org.
All the changes are meant to augment the state funding the district receives. Though Wyoming’s per-student funding ranks among the highest in the country, according to Education Week, Russell believes the fund can use the concentrated wealth of Teton County to create even better educational opportunities.
“There’s a lot of assets here,” she said. “Students should have the right to a superior education with all the added things the foundation can provide.”