The strength of public schools depends on all of us


With funding for public education always in question every legislative session, it’s evident that local, state, and federal governments can’t be the sole funding sources.

The task of educating our youth falls on all of us. Individual and corporate giving has become essential to ensuring the best education possible. Our local schools need not just dollars.

They need us on the ground as volunteers and in the classrooms. They need our voices advocating for change. They need our ongoing commitment to not only fill in the gaps, but also to build the foundation of a quality education.

I see the need first-hand as board chair for The Education Fund, a nonprofit that has funded innovative programs for principals, teachers, students and families in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for 30 years.

The organization’s impact has been felt well beyond South Florida. The Education Fund launched the first free school supplies warehouse in the country.

Its college prep program is among the nation’s most successful in improving high school graduation rates and the number of students applying for and attending post high school programs. Its ever-expanding edible garden program now reaches 31,000 elementary school students and their families.

Like many nonprofits, The Education Fund reaches out to donors to support its efforts. Corporations, foundations and individuals make up the majority of the organization’s funding.

Since 1985, The Education Fund provided $46 million in financial support and services via a variety of innovations aimed at improving local public schools; and thousands of volunteers have provided tens of thousands of volunteer hours.

In fact, The Education Fund’s Teach-A-Thon recently engaged 200 business professionals who donated their time. Each one spent time learning from their teacher mentor and then stepped into the shoes of a teacher teaching a class.

They discovered the critical role teachers play and communicated that to hundreds of colleagues.

Companies like Ford Motor Company, FPL, Verizon Foundation and Assurant, among others, help ensure our school district’s 20,000 teachers have an opportunity to learn about colleagues’ best practices.

Supporters like the Health Foundation of South Florida, Peacock Foundation, and Humana Foundation help improve students’ eating habits by more than 50 percent per year and science scores by more than 73 percent — in 51 elementary schools across the county.

Banks play a large role, too, including Citi, Ocean Bank, TD Bank and my own employer, Wells Fargo. Each contributes significantly to ensure The Education Fund’s innovative programs help improve and support public education.

Our work is not over. With our community facing the influx of immigrant students, more than 4,000 arrived in just the last six months, schools need resources more than ever.

They need to share “best practices” and build the best teaching force ever, and to align resources so that every student graduates with opportunities for success.

All local companies have something to offer, whether time, talent, or treasure, to ensure all our students are educated and prepared to step into our shoes one day.

I urge local businesses to find ways they can support our public schools, and help ensure students receive the best education our community can offer.

Hector Ponte is area president for Wells Fargo in South Florida.