Some major money is headed to Philadelphia schools.  Today the William Penn Foundation confirmed that it has approved a $15 million grant to the "Philadelphia School Partnership."

Fifteen million dollars is a lot of money to shell out, even for the William Penn Foundation.

"It's a very large grant.  It's one of the largest grants William Penn has ever given," said President Jeremy Nowak.  He hopes this grant signals to other potential funding sources, both public and private, that they should financially support great schools too.

"I think the role of philanthropy is always to enable innovation," said Nowak.  "It can't substitute for significant amounts of public money, it can't substitute for the significant amounts of money in the marketplace.  It's a bridge between other kinds of public and private money."

Nowak says the Foundation will use data, including standardized test scores, to measure schools' growth.

"We believe strongly that you scale up and enable and facilitate the best things and you close down and stay away from the worst things," he said.  "You reward success and you don't reward failure.  And so this money is there to reward success and it's also there to reward innovation."

Mark Gleason is the executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership, the non-profit receiving the money.

"Philadelphia had, as of about two years ago 50,000 students or about one quarter of the system in chronically-failing schools," said Gleason.  "Our objective on its most basic level is, five years from now, have none of those students be in chronically failing schools."

Gleason says the partnership was formed to improve education in the city.

"We invest in schools of all different types -- all different kinds of public schools as well as charters, as well as Catholic and independent schools because in order to achieve that goal we need every school that can possibly contribute, to be part of the solution," he said.

Philadelphia schools would have to apply to the partnership to get a share of the William Penn money. Gerald Wright, a member of the group Parents United for Public Education, is skeptical about public schools' chances.

"I'm not sure if the School District of Philadelphia is able right now to appeal to private funders, mostly because I think they have not talked about the schools that have had the greatest level of success in the District and those schools unfortunately seem to fly below the radar," said Wright.

The Partnership's Mark Gleason admits typical public schools aren't prepared to apply for grants.

"Charters schools, which have had to fundraise from day one, and in many cases have a development director on staff are in some ways better equipped," said Gleason, "but we're working very hard to make sure that public schools are not at a disadvantage and that they can get to the point where they are able to go through our process."

The $15 million dollar grant will be divided over three years.

This disclosure, WHYY receives funding from the William Penn Foundation.