The Target Foundation and General Mills Foundation pledged $3 million each to the Northside Achievement Zone on Thursday with the goal of closing the yawning achievement gap between students of color and their white classmates.
 
The money will be distributed by the companies’ charitable giving organizations over the next three years to fund core elements of NAZ, including parent education courses, academic coaching for kids, “expanded learning” courses after school and during the summer and health and wellness initiatives. NAZ—and 43 of its partner organizations that will get some of the money to provide services in collaboration with the nonprofit—will need to meet certain benchmarks to continue receiving the funding.
 
“Closing the academic achievement gap is not just about what’s fair,” General Mills CEO Ken Powell said in a statement. “It’s essential to our future workforce and ensuring the economic health of our region.”
 
NAZ has a goal of serving 1,000 families in North Minneapolis, which equates to about 2,500 kids. Their end goals are to ensure all children in the program graduate and college readiness.
 
The organization currently had a budget of about $10 million, of which 80 percent goes to core services within the organization while the rest is distributed to partner organizations, which includes 33 nonprofits and 10 schools. The donations from Target and General Mills will partially supplant a federal grant that ends in 2016 that helped the group scale from 150 families when they started to 870 today.
 
NAZ was founded in 2010 by Sondra Samuels—the spouse of Minneapolis councilman Don Samuels—modeled in part on the Harlem Children’s Zone. The idea behind NAZ and HCZ is that a child’s academic success is also dependent on what happens outside the classroom, such as their family life, housing and health.
 
“NAZ is making great strides to close the achievement gap in Minneapolis through an innovative model that emphasizes a holistic approach to education and a growing focus on wellness,” Target CEO Brian Cornell said in a statement. “We’re proud to support the inspiring work by Sondra and NAZ partners to ensure children and families are prepared for the workforce and to reach their full potential.”
 
Minnesota has a poor record on educational achievement for minorities, with the second-worst results in the nation. That’s of particular concern, especially to the state’s overall reputation of being an education leader, because the number of people of color in the Twin Cities will group from 24 percent today to 41 percent by 2040. With 70 percent of jobs in 2018 projected to require some post-secondary education, lagging performance by fast-growing groups could lead to a job-skills mismatch.
 
Target and General Mills had both given money in the past, but the latest donation promise is by far the largest. Target had previously given $150,000 for program and sponsorship support, while General Mills had given $105,000.
 
The Northside Achievement Zone’s efforts appear to be paying off. A study by the Wilder Research Foundation found that every dollar invested in the organization results in a societal gain of $6.12 through increased lifetime earnings, improved health, high tax revenues, and savings in education, public assistance and child welfare.

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