We must clarify the role of philanthropy and the Robins Foundation in supporting local public schools and government services.
The mission of the Robins Foundation is to lead transformational change in the greater Richmond community by listening, learning, and engaging through innovative philanthropy that inspires solutions to society’s greatest challenges. Specifically, we focus on the birth-to-postsecondary education continuum, knowing that education above all can unlock an individual’s fullest potential. Robins supports Richmond Public Schools (RPS) and surrounding school divisions through six-figure strategic partnership grants, by funding the City-led expansion of high-quality afterschool programming, and by supporting a vibrant nonprofit sector that offers critical services to students both during and outside of the school day.
Richmond’s public schools, as Superintendent Kamras and Mayor Stoney have detailed at length, have been chronically underfunded at the state and local level by tens of millions of dollars, year after year, decade after decade. Research suggests that providing an excellent education that meets the needs of our student population would require, in an ideal world, at least double the per-pupil expenditures currently issued. Robins provides grants totaling roughly $6 million a year. If the Robins Foundation did nothing every year but transfer that money to the RPS bank account, their approximately $300 million operating budget would still face at least a double-digit gap and schools would remain in desperate need of additional financial support to provide a high-quality education to every student. As the conversation continues in Richmond around the Mayor’s budget proposal, one thing should be clear: neither Robins Foundation nor philanthropy writ large has the funding capacity to stand in the gap.
Even if this region’s funders did have the capacity, it would be inappropriate for philanthropy to supplant government as the primary funder of public schools, roads, or any other government service. Taxpayer dollars support these public goods because they belong to and benefit all of us. This is why we have elections to put into place democratically accountable leaders to oversee those dollars. There are reasonable arguments against tax increases but expecting philanthropy to step in when elected representatives fail to meet our community’s needs allows both taxpayers and leaders to abdicate responsibility.
At their best, philanthropy and government work hand in hand. Government provides the vehicle for progress while philanthropy provides the booster fuel for innovation and ancillary services. Philanthropy cannot, and should not, displace government, and those who would point to philanthropic dollars as a reason to not support tax increases are relying on a myth.
We are community partners. We invest in this community and its people. We look forward to continuing our support of city and school division leaders as they consider the courageous choices needed to fully fund our schools and lift up our students, teachers, and community.