January 09, 2023
Comedian Kevin Hart, rapper Meek Mill and former 76ers owner Michael Rubin are joining forces again to donate $7 million in scholarship funds that will support low-income students at 60 private and parochial schools in the Philadelphia area.
The recipient schools, which were not named, were chosen as part of "concentrated efforts" to make an impact in areas of need, a spokesperson said Monday. The donation will fund scholarships in the 2023-24 academic year and at-home technology such as laptops, tablets and WiFi connections.
Investments in education have been a growing focus for Meek Mill and Rubin, who co-chair the REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice reform established in 2019 to advocate for policy changes around parole and probation. Hart has donated to Philadelphia schools on several occasions during the last five years.
The trio also donated $15 million to 110 private and parochial schools in the Philly area to cover tuition costs for the current academic year.
Meek Mill, who spent most of his upbringing in North Philadelphia, previously joined forces with Rubin, the CEO of Fanatics, in 2020 to create a $2 million scholarship fund to assist students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hart, also from North Philly, donated $250,000 to the School District of Philadelphia in 2020 for technology upgrades and previously has given $50,000 scholarships to local high school students in need. In 2018, Hart provided $600,000 in college scholarship funds to eight Philadelphia students.
More recently, Meek Mill paid off the bail for 20 Philadelphia women to reunite them with their families on Christmas Eve.
The latest donations from Hart, Meek Mill and Rubin do not support the School District of Philadelphia, a point that drew criticism during their last round of donations. About 70% of students in Philadelphia public schools are considered economically disadvantaged.
The district's longstanding funding challenges remain a contentious subject in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania has among the worst educational opportunity gaps in the country based on race and income, according to a dashboard maintained by Philadelphia-based Research for Action, a policy group that assesses student access to quality education.
The School District of Philadelphia, the eighth-largest in the country, scored lower than national and state averages in reading and math proficiency last year, according to a report card from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Just 36% of district students met state standards in reading and 22% met those standards in math, WHYY reported last fall. The district said the declines were not statistically significant compared to pre-pandemic performance levels in 2019, though Philadelphia students already were below national standards.
With a budget of nearly $4 billion, the district ended the last fiscal year with a surplus of about $515 million. The district was allocated $1.1 billion in federal support as part of the pandemic-related American Rescue Plan Act in 2021, which will support a number of educational, student wellness and safety initiatives in the coming years.
But the district's chief financial officer, Uri Monson, warned last summer that a shortfall of $484 million is expected by 2027 as costs outpace revenue growth and ARPA dollars get spent.
Public school districts statewide are awaiting the outcome of a landmark school funding lawsuit filed in 2014 by a group of parents, advocacy groups and school districts. The lawsuit argues that public schools are so badly underfunded that Pennsylvania is in violation of its constitution. The case went to trial in Commonwealth Court in November 2021 and concluded with final arguments from the plaintiffs late last year.
During the trial, former Superintendent William Hite testified that the district is short $5,583 per student based on a state-established benchmark for adequate funding. Incoming Gov. Josh Shapiro submitted an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit last May.