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.