Penn’s $100 million pledge has a backstory

Christmas came early this year for the Philadelphia School District. The University of Pennsylvania pledged $100 million to go toward fixing unsafe school buildings. Over the next decade, the Ivy League institution will send $10 million to city schools each year. 

Activist leaders on campus and across the city have called for a donation like this for a long time. They want Penn to pay payments in lieu of taxes, known as PILOTs, calling foul on the regulations that allow a nonprofit that owns $3.2 billion in city real estate to skip property taxes. Like the tax dollars contributed by other property owners in the city, their payments could towards public schools and infrastructure, these critics say.

Emily Dowdall, policy director of Reinvestment Fund, says the university has instead chosen to invest in public amenities in its own backyard, like the Penn-funded elementary school in West Philadelphia where university employees and their neighbors in the area can now send their children. She explains why Penn is now turning its attention to the school district as a whole and the difference the donation could make.

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