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Dr. John Deasy Talks Launching The Private LA Fund

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JOHN DEASY
LAUSD

Last week, news broke that a privately-run Los Angeles Fund For Public Education was launching when solicitation emails hit the inboxes of most major Hollywood players. The LA Fund is the brainchild of LAUSD superintendent John Deasy, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and longtime advocate for the welfare and education of children, Megan Chernin. Chernin, who is chair of the Board of Directors for MLA Partner Schools and a Huffington Post blogger will function as the Fund’s CEO. Friday’s solicitation email did not mince words:

Los Angeles public high schools have a graduation rate that barely surpasses 50%; and of the kindergarteners that make it to graduation, only 6% will be college-ready.

The email goes on to explain that the LA Fund will operate independently from the district and that the money raised will be used to "create system-wide change."

In Part 2 of our interview with Dr. John Deasy, The Huffington Post asks point blank what the fund is, why it's separate from LAUSD and how it just might save Los Angeles.

For Part 1 of the Dr. John Deasy interview, click here.

Huffington Post: So the biggest news right now for you is the rolling out of the Los Angeles Fund For Public Education. Tell us a bit about it.

John Deasy: The LA Fund is something we have been planning since last April and we are very thankful that Megan Chernin is the CEO. What we have been doing is laying out the fact that this is an opportunity for people to support important issues within LAUSD. We have a very aggressive plan for improvement – I think that’s pretty well known at this point.

HP: And the goal is to raise $200 million over five years?

JD: $200 million in the first three to five years, that is correct. And then I want $500 million overall. The fund allows people to donate at any kind of level, which I think is important and it allows them to donate in forms of choice. So we have four ‘buckets.’ The first includes all issues around Human Capital Development. How are we developing great teachers? How are we evaluating great teachers? How are we supporting great teaching? How are we dealing with improving teaching that is not great? How are we separating low performance?

The second bucket is the Arts – all of the access to the arts for youth who just fundamentally do not have any access to the arts. How do we get every youth to have at least two mediums in the classroom?

The third is System-Wide Transformation. Choice. People feel that they want to be supportive in terms of the reforms that we’re doing around public school choice, performance management. People can support those.

And the last one is Youth Health. And that ranges from all of the issues where people just outright struggle having glasses, having dental care, to sports, et cetera.

HP: People can choose out of those four where they want to put their money?

JD: Exactly. And then Megan at this point is putting together what we’ll call the foundation gifts and then we launch next month.

HP: Who will oversee where the money goes and how it’s used? Because it’s separate from LAUSD.

JD: The Fund is not part of LAUSD. It’s to support LAUSD. It’s an independent board and organization. They’re 501(c), they’re established, and already up and running.

HP: Have you done anything like this before?

JD: No. Nothing on this scale, and it’s modeled after the successful Chicago and New York City funds.

HP: It seems like people in the past, for various reasons, have been skeptical about giving money directly to LAUSD because of a fear of where the money will go.

JD: It’s a black hole. I can’t get anything to happen.

HP: So this seems like a potential solution – to work around the sytem in order to change it?

JD: Partly. Here’s what we’re gonna do, here’s how we’re gonna be measured, and here’s how we’re gonna deliver the money. If we don’t do it, take your money back. We want to be really clear that this is a social return investment for the investors that actually want to contribute to advancing the ball down the field—in a space that they’re interested in.

HP: What do you feel is a realistic goal for the first year? Versus five years down the line?

JD: I am very ambitious. I am seriously hoping that we are able to get half of it in the first year and begin implementing the programs next year. The number of people who simply sent me an email today and wrote a check shocked me. We want people to feel like they can give at any level. There’s no tiering. So it’s not like a million dollars or above. If someone wants to give $500, fabulous.

There’s kind of this sense of belief and possibility right now. But those are perishable moments—I’m very clear about that.

HP: But appreciate them while you have them. Who thought of this idea? How did it come about?

JD: I did, when I came here. It’s one of the two things I want to do.

HP: What’s the other one?

JD: I want to launch an equivalent of Robin Hood. Are you familiar with Robin Hood in New York City? It’s a giant organization that was launched by all hedge fund managers and it’s a huge pool of money that fundamentally deals with poverty in New York City. And I want to do the equivalent here. Robin Hood is a trademark name…it could be Zorro fund here.

HP: When do you think you might start that?

JD: A year after I get the LA Fund in order. LA Fund is just for public education. This is really about poverty in our city.

HP: That’s great. And something I’m assuming the Mayor would be happy about as well.

JD: I think he would be happy with it…on the days that he’s happy. [Laughs]