William Penn Foundation Suspends Grants to City Agencies

The William Penn Foundation, the powerful grant-making foundation, has suspended new grants to city agencies while it faces a complaint before the Philadelphia Board of Ethics that it improperly guided development of a restructuring plan for city schools.

City Paper’s Dan Denvir reports:

The William Penn Foundation has suspended grant-making to city-related agencies after public education advocates filed a complaint charging that the $2 billion philanthropy violated Philadelphia’s new lobbying code when it funded and directed millions of outside dollars to pay the Boston Consulting Group to develop a controversial restructuring plan for the School District of Philadelphia.

“A citizen complaint was recently filed with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics alleging that certain grantmaking activities of the Foundation are regulated by the City’s lobbying registration and reporting ordinance,” according to an email from Interim President Helen Davis Picher. “The Foundation wants to ensure our full compliance with the ordinance and is awaiting further clarification with regard to its scope concerning permissible grant activity.”

The city says that it received a letter announcing the decision in reference to a grant application seeking funding for Bartram’s Mile, a proposed 1.1-mile trail extension linking the east and west sides of the Schuylkill River.

The complaint against the Penn Foundation was brought by Parents United For Public Education, which on Monday criticized the foundation’s latest action, saying its complaint had little to do with the vast majority of its “responsible” grants.

Denvir last year profiled Jeremy Nowak, then the foundation’s chief executive, suggesting that Nowak was using the foundation to reshape public education in Philadelphia; Nowak stepped down from the position several months later, citing his “lightning rod” status as a reason. I named Denvir’s profile a piece of “Philly Journalism That Mattered” in 2012. And you can read PhillyMag’s new profile of Nowak in our most recent issue.