Several Philadelphia grassroots organizations were tapped yesterday to receive a combined $450,000 to continue "to work to unite community leaders, parents and students to help shape school reform."

Launching yesterday, the national Communities for Public Education Reform said the Philadelphia groups are getting the money as part of a $6 million national campaign to provide direct support to grassroots and allied education groups.

Among the 40 local and national funders backing the community organizations are the Ford, Bill & Melinda Gates and William Penn foundations.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Communities for Public Education Reform groups include: Philadelphia ACORN, the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project, Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change, Good Schools Pennsylvania, Education Law Center, Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Research for Action.

Len Rieser, co-director of the Education Law Center, said the funding proves that "a school administration, an SRC [School Reform Commission] or a CEO alone cannot create a better school system.

"We put too much stock in the idea that if we just get the right person in charge, or the right group of people in charge, the schools will improve," he said. "What we need in Philadelphia is much greater public engagement in the process of improving schools.

"And the public needs to have information, needs to have a chance to be heard and participate in decisions," Rieser added. "That's how you get the community to buy-in and that's what you need to turn a system around."

Paul Socolar, editor of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook said, the funding means "people are paying attention to the fact that small, independent organizations are an important part of the conversation about how to make schools better."

Communities for Public Education Reform also launched programs yesterday in Chicago, Denver and New Jersey, said Julie Kohler, of Public Interest Projects, which will manage the funds. The grants, including those to Philadelphia, totaled $2.3 million. Kohler said the groups expect to donate $6 million over the next three years.

In addition to the William Penn Foundation, other Philadelphia-area funders include the Advanta Foundation, Allen Hilles Fund, Annenberg Foundation, Douty Foundation, Samuel S. Fels Fund, Lanham Fund and Western Association.

Other national funders are the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Marguerite Casey, Edward W. Hazen, Charles Stewart Mott, Prudential and Surdna foundations. *