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Overview | '93 White House Announcement | Ambassador Annenberg |
Grant Characteristics | Grant Awards


    Announced in December 1993 at the White House, Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg's $500 million "Challenge to the Nation" became the largest public/private endeavor in U.S. history dedicated to improving public schools.

    Eighteen locally designed Challenge projects operated in 35 states, funding 2,400 public schools that served more than 1.5 million students and 80,000 teachers. Over 1,600 businesses, foundations, colleges and universities, and individuals contributed $600 million in private matching funds.

    Each Challenge project fit unique local conditions. Each was designed by a local planning group comprised of educators, foundation officers, and community and business leaders. Independent, non-profit entities - in most instances, specially created organizations that evolved from the collaborative planning groups and led by a community governing board - ran the projects.

    Grants ranging from $10 million to $53 million were awarded to sites in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, South Florida (encompassing Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties), and the Rural Challenge, which worked in hundreds of communities.

    Smaller "opportunity grants" of $1 to $4 million were awarded to sites in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chattanooga, Chelsea (MA), and Salt Lake City.

    Three additional Challenge sites focused on enhancing arts education: The Center for Arts Education in New York City, the Arts for Academic Achievement in Minneapolis, and the national Transforming Education through the Arts Challenge, comprised of six regional consortia members in California, Florida, Ohio, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Texas.

    The Challenge also awarded grants of $56.7 million to New American Schools, $50 million to the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, and $6.5 million to the Education Commission of the States. To coordinate and support the reform projects, the Annenberg Foundation provided supplemental funding to staff a small national Challenge office at the Annenberg Institute.


White House Ceremony for the Announcement of Ambassador Annenberg's Gift

    At a White House ceremony on December 17, 1993, President Clinton announced "a wonderful Christmas present to America's children," the unprecedented gift to American public education of a half billion dollars (Sommerfeld, 1993). The donor, who attended the announcement but spoke only briefly, was Walter H. Annenberg, a former U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain and an 85 year-old philanthropist. Annenberg said that in making his gift, he joined foundations and corporations already supporting American school reform, and he challenged other private donors like himself to "feel an obligation to join this crusade for the betterment of our country." To help stimulate such giving, he provided that most of the funds he pledged would become available only on a matching basis.

    The press announcement referred to his gesture as the Annenberg Challenge.


Profile of Ambassador Annenberg

    Walter H. Annenberg, born March 13, 1908, enjoyed a distinguished career as an editor and publisher, broadcaster, diplomat, and philanthropist. A Milwaukee native, he graduated from the Peddie School, Hightstown, New Jersey and attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He entered the family publishing business in Philadelphia where he became president of Triangle Publications, Inc. in 1940 and, subsequently, chairman of the board.

    While serving as editor and publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ambassador Annenberg saw the need for a publication for teenage girls and in 1944 established Seventeen Magazine. In 1953, as a result of his belief that television's growth would create a demand for more information on the part of viewers, he established TV Guide as a national publication.

    At Ambassador Annenberg's initiation, Triangle Publications bought a radio station in the early 1940s in Philadelphia and built a VHF television station, which was one of the first TV stations owned by a publishing house. The radio-TV division of Triangle grew to include six AM and six FM radio stations and six TV stations. The Philadelphia station pioneered a number of broadcasting concepts, among which was Ambassador Annenberg's decision to present educational programming through television. This resulted in a series of educational programs that ran for more than a decade. In 1951, Mr. Annenberg became an early recipient of the prestigious Alfred I. Dupont Award for pioneering education through television. He was also given the Marshall Field Award in 1958. In 1983, he received the Ralph Lowell Medal for "outstanding contribution to public television."

    A man with a deep interest in education, he founded The Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in 1958 and The Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in 1971. In 1983, The Annenberg Schools established The Washington Program in Communication Policy Studies in response to a growing awareness that difficult government and industry problems were emerging in a rapidly changing telecommunications fields.

    Mr. Annenberg was named the ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1968 and served in Great Britain until October 30, 1974. In 1970, Triangle sold the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, and in 1971, the radio and television stations. All remaining Triangle publications were sold October 31, 1988.

    A founder-trustee of the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowships, whose offices are in Philadelphia, and of the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California, Ambassador Annenberg was also a trustee of the Winston Churchill Traveling Fellowships and was honorary chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Eisenhower Medical Center and honorary overseer of the Board of Overseers of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He was emeritus trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Peddie School.

    He received honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, University of Notre Dame, the University of Southern California, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Northwestern University, Howard University, Brown University, Brandeis University and Harvard, among others.

    Ambassador Annenberg was named Honorary Knight Commander, Order of the British Empire, by Queen Elizabeth II (honorary because of his United States citizenship) and received numerous other foreign honors.

    In 1983, Ambassador Annenberg received the Gold Medal of the Pennsylvania Society. He was voted Magazine Publisher of the Year in 1984, and in June of 1994 received an American Academy of Achievement Award. President Reagan awarded Mr. Annenberg the Medal of Freedom in 1986, saluting him for being the pioneer in the use of television for educational purposes. In 1989, he received a George Foster Peabody Award. He was named Town & Country magazine's Generous American in December 1990. In 1992, he was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame, and in 1993 he received the National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Benjamin Franklin Award for Distinguished Public Service by the American Philosophical Society. He also was the recipient of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service.

    Peabody College at Vanderbilt University saluted him with the first George Peabody Education Philanthropy Award in May of 1995, and in June, he was presented with the 1995 Thomas Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service by a Private Citizen. The National Constitution Center presented him with the "We the People Award" in May of 1999 for best exemplifying the qualities of active citizenship envisioned by our nation's Founders. He was awarded by The Public Education Network the 1999 Crossing the River Jordan Award in recognition of his uncommon vision, dedication and generosity toward the education of America's children.

    Ambassador Annenberg's wife, Leonore, served as U.S. Chief of Protocol, with the rank of ambassador, from 1981-1982. Ambassador Annenberg passed away on October 1, 2002 at age 94.