Monday, June 19, 2006

Non-profit Foundation Created To Augment School District Money

Here in California, local property taxes do not pay for schools--since poor areas could only support poor schools, the state Supreme Court ruled that such a funding mechanism was inherently unjust and hence unconstitutional. Now the state, using some byzantine rules and formulas, doles out money to school districts.

However, I doubt there's any school district in the state that thinks it gets enough funding. Some schools and districts get around this issue by simply flouting the law and charging illegal fees. In the first of those two links I proposed several legal ways for districts to get around the illegal fee issue; one that didn't occur to me was creating a charitable foundation.

Spurred by the field trips, art lessons and well-equipped classrooms they remember from their own school days, parents and community leaders are launching a nonprofit foundation to raise money for the cash-strapped San Juan Unified School District.

The charitable organization will make its debut the first day of school, sending students home with fliers asking parents to lend their support.

It's questionable whether the San Juan District is truly "cash-strapped"; there are plenty of arguments that can be made that show the district spends its money in not the wisest of fashions. Undisputed, though, is that the number of field trips and other "exotic extras" is down from years past.

So here we have parents' being asked to donate money to a foundation, the purpose of which is to provide students with more than just the basic, state-sponsored education. Is that a good idea or bad?

Some experts say foundations are a partial return to the days when districts' reliance on local property tax led to funding imbalances eventually ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

"These organizations create inequities because they're organized around schools and school districts," said Bill Koski, a professor at Stanford Law School who specializes in education policy. "To what extent is it appropriate for them to have tax-deductible status when they do create such inequities?"

I'm not sure about law, but I can answer that last question with some common sense. There will always be inequities between rich and poor--one of the great benefits of being rich (I just assume here, never having been rich) is being able to provide so much for your children. The state provides money for an adequate education for all students; there's nothing immoral or unfair about well-off people helping to ensure that their children receive more than an adequate education. Not receiving a benefit is not the same as being shortchanged; in other words, children in poorer areas are not being shortchanged because children in more well-off areas get more. In fact, it's quite socialist to insist that richer parents shouldn't provide more for their children because doing so isn't fair, somehow, to those who aren't so rich.

And let's remember here, the richer parents already are paying taxes to support their schools. The money they'd be giving to this foundation is above and beyond their taxes, it's a donation. The state isn't creating any so-called funding discrepancy, as it did when local property taxes determined school district budgets. Is there really a reason, other than class envy, not to support foundations of this type?

There is one, and only one reason, but it's not the reason our Stanford Law professor quoted above gives. That reason is that field trips, lab equipment, etc. are not "exotic extras" but are, in fact, valuable and integral components of the curriculum and should be budgeted by the schools, districts, and state. Fix that underlying issue, and the need for these foundations evaporates. Short of that, though, seeking voluntary donations (as opposed to charging illegal fees or just doing without) is the best approach. Here's an applicable quote from the article:

"I would rather that no foundation needed to exist at all," Wake said. "I would much rather there would be enough funding … but our kids are in school now. We can't sit down and wait for there to be enough."

But let's get back to socialism, as this concept of what's fair just won't go away.

On the other hand, it's not clear how much inequity really results from the work of foundations. Researchers at San Diego State University found only about 7 percent of California's elementary and unified districts with foundations raised more than $100 per student in 2001. And the vast majority of foundations didn't use the money in a way that promoted inequity by affecting resources such as class size and technology, they found.

In districts where income levels vary widely -- such as San Juan Unified -- foundations may help distribute donations more equally across wealthier and poorer areas, advocates point out.

Apparently, one way to sell this idea is to point out how fair it is to low-income kids within this particular district--whose schools already get Title I money. I know, I taught at a Title I school. I never had to ask more than once to spend any amount of money I wanted to. No, I didn't waste your tax dollars; at heart I'm a very frugal person. But my point remains that schools in poor areas have access to money that schools in better off areas do not.

Here's another interesting point from the article:

Eventually, Wake said the foundation will play a role in driving programs across the district, perhaps finding businesses to sponsor a theater program for all third-graders or paying for all fifth-graders to learn to type.

Apparently great minds think alike. Notice what I said in a previous post regarding ways to fund what I call "margin of excellence" programs:

Solicit corporate sponsorships. The FujiFilm Photo Lab, the Michael's (arts and crafts store) Art Gallery.

So what is the bottom line? Should we fault parents for banding together to solicit donations in order to improve education across their school district? Or should we support them for not accepting the status quo and for putting forth extra effort to ensure that students across the district receive more than an adequate education?

I think you know where I come down on this issue. Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.


antohnnio said...

What do you think about this?

Darren said...

I agree with his comments about education.

The rest of the piece? Crap. You can't take just a couple of quotes, say that demonstrates a marked decline in speaking ability, and then suggest dementia--and be credible.

EllenK said...

Stay on top of this. Due to school districts being funded through property taxes, the State of Texas was forced to implement a share the wealth program known as "Robin Hood" in common day. So-called "rich" school districts were made to give chunks of their tax reciepts to "poor" districts. The problems were that a district of residential $200K homes without industry, would be considered "poor' and a minority/majority district with industry was considered "rich" even though their population were required to get federally mandated services that had to be funded locally. There was no oversight of how the funds were spent, and due to site based management, they could be used for anything from facilities to books and everything in between. I have no doubts that audits would show some pretty strange expenditures. Right now in local districts, the theme is "Pay to Play" which means that any activity from band to baseball must be paid for through fees and the endless endless endless fundraising. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I don't think many districts here would attempt it due to fear of court mandates raising their share to be sent out of district. It's a problem.

cassandra said...

"Stay on top of this. Due to school districts being funded through property taxes, the State of Texas was forced to implement a share the wealth program known as "Robin Hood" in common day."

When? Who did what? This happened after GWB became governor? What does "Robin Hood in common day" mean? This is interesting because my state may be about to go through this too.

Mike in Texas said...


The system is referred to as Robin Hood b/c the state takes money from property rich school districts and re distributes it to property poor school districts. In short, the wealthy subsidize the poor. However the state has some really strange ideas about how to determine property-rich and property-poor. The state of Texas was sued by both the rich and the poor school districts, claiming the whole set-up, which came about due to a court ruling in the early 90s, was unconstitutional. The Republican controlled Supreme Court sort of agreed, claiming there was plenty of money in the system (despite that per student spending in Texas went down last year, the only state to do so) but it was unfair (to the rich) to fund schools this way. In a special session the legislature passed a dubious, problem filled short term solution.

Matt Johnston said...

Why can't parents band together to raise a little more money for their kids' education. After all, is that not a form of parental activism that schools encourage? Oh wait, I am sorry, that is not what schools want. Parents should be seen and not heard and certainly not be involved in raising money outside the PTA--right?

Of course, there are always inequalities and always will be inequalities between schools in terms of how much money their parents can and are willing to spend over and above their tax dollars for their child's education. Anyone who believes differently is not living on earth.

But here is something to make every "public education only" supported pause. The rich people who set up these foundations pay far more than their fair share of taxes per capita than anyone else. In most states, like the federal government tax revenue, a very large percentage of individuals pay little or no taxes into the system, yet they tend to be the ones who use the most governmental services. The people who pay the most in taxes, use governmental services the least. This type of redistribution of wealth inherent in our tax system. But if someone makes a contribution to a charitable foundation, they deserve the tax break, because that donation will no doubt help some kid in the school whose parents didn't pay into the foundation. That is the nature of the beast.

To answer the question succinctly, this is a brilliant idea and should be copied more often around the country.

Darren said...

Dang, Matt, you need to quit beating around the bush and start calling it like you see it :-)

I, too, like the idea. I just wonder why I had to hear about it from the newspaper when I'm both a teacher and a parent in that district!

Garimundi said...

Here's one reason some people are worried about foundation funding for schools. Most states are either just barely or not providing "adequate funding" (see recent court decisions in NY and elsewhere)for public education- and money gets tighter overall each year. If well-off districts supplement state funding with foundation $, they are somewhat buffered from state budget cuts. So when the budget knife cuts deep, they're the last to feel it. And the ones who feel it most are the ones with the least powerful voice in the capital- the poorest districts. I agree, inequality has always existed. That doesn't mean the state should always ignore inequality.

This foundation funding model actually resembles public/private school models in (gasp) the socialist countries of France and Spain. Merde!

Darren said...

I don't accept that logic. All districts feel the budget axe when the state lowers it. The educational program of richer kids is somewhat spared that axe because their parents pay more for it.

Is your idea of "fair" that everyone should have a pathetic education?

Could an argument not be made that if these "quality of excellence" programs, these "above and beyond" programs, were not available, the school district would lose out because the parents--who can afford to do so--would put their kids in (private) schools where such programs *are* available?

I'll a firm believer that the states should adequately fund education. But like the parent said in the article, this is the here and now. This foundation model is the least worst alternative to adequate state funding--unless and until you can tell me about an alternative.

Anonymous said...

The Irvine Public Schools Foundation "promote[s] inequity by affecting resources such as class size and technology."