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Guest blogger Sean Corcoran on: Private Donations to Public Schools


Sean Corcoran is an economist who teaches at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at NYU.

One of my all-time favorite bumper stickers is the now-classic:


To my knowledge, the Air Force has yet to experiment with bake sales. But—according to three papers presented at last month’s National Tax Association meeting in Philadelphia—private contributions through local education foundations have become a significant source of operating funds for many of the country’s public schools.

Education foundations are not your grandmother’s PTA. School foundations organize as 501(c)(3) corporations, and in some cases mount sophisticated fund-raising campaigns, soliciting contributions from local businesses, parents, and philanthropies. Foundations fund more than occasional trips to the zoo, paying to supplement instructional programs, offer scholarships, and provide extra pay to recruit and retain teachers.

School foundations have grown over time. According to a 2005 report by Eric Brunner and Jennifer Imazeki, contributions to California school foundations rose from $123 million in 1992 to $238 million in 2001. If these contributions were divided up evenly statewide, they would amount to only $40 per child. Of course—as Brunner and Imazeki point out—these contributions are far from evenly distributed. Donations are strongly related to family income, and in some cases they are quite high, at more than $250 to $500 per student. (You can read about the $3.3 million education foundation in Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District here).

What explains the growth in private foundations? Two papers presented at the NTA meeting offer some hints. Julie Golebiewski of Syracuse University linked foundation giving in California to the restrictiveness of tax limitations in that state (the famous Proposition 13). In a nutshell, she finds that school districts that would have spent more on schools in the absence of the limitation were much more likely to raise funds through private foundations. Similarly, Tom Downes of Tufts found that private contributions in Vermont were highest in wealthy districts who—under their 1997 finance reform—would have been penalized for taxing themselves at higher rates.

Why do these education foundations matter? I find them interesting for several reasons. First, they stand in sharp contrast to the usual claim that school spending is out of control, and that teachers are adequately paid. If this were true, how can we account for the growth in voluntary contributions to public schools (some of which is channeled to teacher compensation)?

Second, foundations have the potential to undo school finance formulas designed to equalize educational opportunities. The evidence on school foundations suggests that communities with a high demand for school quality (or relative school quality) will find a way to meet this demand, regardless of the rules put before them. Thus, a policy based on promoting equity will not necessarily result in greater equity.

Finally, school foundations are likely to grow in importance as public education continues to decentralize control to individual schools. Charter schools and schools funded through a “weighted student” formula may come to rely on private giving whenever public funds are insufficient to meet the unique demands of their constituencies. As a result, school policies designed to level the playing field may end up tipping the balance in favor of schools most able to mobilize private resources. (For a terrific example from New York City, see this chapter by one of my colleagues Amy Schwartz).

Whether or not local school foundations will play a major role in the future of school funding remains to be seen. Eduwonkette readers, what do you think? Do private contributions play a role in your school district? Should they?


We are a fiscally independent charter school in a poor community (75% qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch) in San Diego County. We receive full funding from the state of California, on the basis of ADA, like any other public school. We benefit from having full access to our own budget, complete autonomy, and a fairly young staff at lower ends of the pay scale.

It's a good thing too. We simply would not be able to muster much of a foundation at my school. This is a working class community with high levels of poverty and underemployed adults.

Back in the early 90's, however, I was a principal in an affluent community in San Diego called Solana Beach. The foundation in our 5-school district was highly successful and poured tens of thousands of dollars into the schools every year for the "arts"!

The contrast between schools in affluent communities and schools in poor communities is striking for a million reasons. But to your point, the foundations definitely "undo school finance formulas designed to equalize educational opportunities". Foundations contribute to enriched curricular programs, off campus coaches, state of the art weight rooms and computer labs, uniforms for the marching bands, etc. So the rich get richer. Hardly what advocates for equalized school funding schemes envisioned when they argued Serrano v. Priest on the grounds of the Equal Protection Clause.

In fact, I lost track of the number of times I heard parents say that they loved their school because "it was just like a private school." Maybe so. After all, they were certainly paying for it!

I can't say that I fault parents in higher income neighborhoods (who would have paid higher property taxes if not for Prop 13) for wanting to contribute to their schools. As a former teacher in California (who only taught after Prop 13), it seems that Prop 13 has a distinctively negative impact on school funding, causing district schools to ration paper and overcrowd classes, among other things. My understanding is that Prop 13 essentially fixes property taxes based on the value of your home when Prop 13 was passed - sometime in the late 1970's. If we want middle and upper income parents to keep their kids in public schools, in the face of inane taxing restrictions, what's the harm in allowing them to contribute some extra money to their kids' schools?


I think that the harm is that it continues the system as a social stratifying agent. I don't have a handy solution, except perhaps districts that are more widely inclusive of differing income levels and work to minimize population pooling (transfer ability, expansion of popular programs that tend to draw students, closing of unpopular programs rather than maintaining them for neighborhood assignees). It's pretty hard to pull off--we don't really believe in education as an equalizer.

Another CA voice here...

I think foundations are going to play a role until actual money reaching individual schools and classrooms is at the level parents and the community feel is appropriate. And I think you're right that the existence of Ed foundations is a pretty clear sign that funding is not at that level yet.

It's true that foundations tend to undo measures to equalize funding -- but I think that's in part because measures that equalize funding tend to equalize it at a level that many parents find unacceptable.

CA has one of the more equitable funding systems in the country -- but also one of the lowest overall levels of funding (at least when costs of living and doing business are taken into account).

Prop 13 is part of the problem -- as are the other anti-tax measures that were passed at the same time (2/3 votes needed to pass local tax measures, restrictions on the type of local taxes that can be raised, 2/3 votes of both houses of the legislature to pass a budget). CA is currently structured so that state spending is bound to be lower most people in the state want it to be.

I'd like to see foundations play less of a role because education funding was where it should be. But until that happens I'd rather see parents put their efforts into foundations that support public schools than give up completely and send their kids to private schools.

A couple more thoughts...

I think a lot of the controversy around education foundation has to do with the fact that though we give lip service to educational equality, we don't, as Margo/Mom points out, act in ways that suggest that we believe in it.

I'm not sure if the problem is that we simply don't believe in it enough to pay for it, or whether the problem goes deeper, and we don't believe in it because, in fact, a stratifying educational system is comfortable for the families currently in the top strata.

Probably, a bit of both. However good public schools are, there are probably always families who will opt for a private school that offers "more" so their kids will get a leg up. But I think there are also families who have basic criteria for what they are looking for in a school (reasonable size classes, arts, enrichment, clean safe environment) who will choose public schools if they meet those criteria, and opt for private schools otherwise.

Hi Sean! Just wanted to add a couple things. First, keep in mind that most of what we know about private monetary contributions comes from California data, which has pretty low spending, and a completely state-centralized school finance system that is ridiculously restrictive in what it allows districts to do with official monies. This means that other than regressive parcel taxes that require a 2/3 majority to pass, private contributions are virtually the only way that local communities can raise money for schools (though CA has seen an increase in the number of districts that pass parcel taxes too). No one would say education spending in California is 'out of control' and the rise in foundations is perfectly consistent with the system here but that I'm not sure how much we can generalize CA's experience to other states. Second, private contributions generally cannot be used for base teacher salaries (at least in CA). The only time they are used for teacher compensation is when they are used to buy a particular position (like a librarian or a music teacher). They cannot be used to pay teachers more across the board. And finally, contributions are completely consistent with the many surveys that have shown people would be willing to pay more for education if they believed the money would be spent well (again, this is from CA). Contributions are generally raised for specific things (librarians, sports teams, science equipment), often items that are on the chopping block in the regular budget. They are almost never used for central administration or general salary increases.

I'm not going to wade into the equity debate except to say that for those concerned about contributions disrupting equity, I'd urge you not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Capping or restricting contributions doesn't do anyone any good. But districts with large foundations might consider pushing for equalizing how those monies are spent. I'm not sure if they are still doing this or not, but at one point, Santa Monica had a policy where a portion of all contributions were distributed in such a way as to equalize how much different schools got (i.e., parents could donate to their own kid's school but at least some part of that money went to less affluent schools). Of course, the trade-off is that this will likely reduce the total amount raised but may make contributions in general more palatable.

Wow! Thanks to everyone for the terrific comments. I should make all of these required reading for my school finance course. (Jenn Imazeki is already on the reading list!)

Just a couple of quick thoughts before I get back to work:

First, while most of what we know about foundations comes out of California's experience (as Jenn points out), they do play an important role in many other states. Tom Downes' paper illustrated their growth in Vermont, another NTA paper by Marilyn Hirth of Purdue explored their use in Indiana, and they've long been serious business here in NYC. While foundations may not support teacher pay in California, they do in some other states. (See for example the annual report of the $44 million Consortium of Florida Education Foundations). You can view a list of all school foundations nationwide at the National School Foundation Association.

Second, the real explanation for foundations may not be a lack of public resources, but a lack of autonomy over the use of those resources. Foundations may offer flexibility that the public budget does not. (Though in California, I think most everyone here will agree that there is an accompanying lack of resources). Still, as many of you point out, foundation spending isn't fundamentally about flexible budgets. It's about constraints on the demands of wealthy communities, and a desire by these communities to maintain their relative advantage (Margo/Mom hit the nail on the head).

I think the takeaway message from my post should be that school policies designed to equalize educational opportunity or outcomes don't always play out that way, despite our good intentions. The question for lawmakers should be: is the new system better than the one it replaced?

At some level, Ed Foundations are a more equitable approach to fundraising than the traditional school-based approach. In our district, parent demographics vary a lot -- particularly in the elementary schools -- and having one PTA be able to raise $100K while another raises $20K leads to significant inequities, and I'd like to see more of the high level parent giving going towards the district-wide foundation to reduce the focus on school-based fundraising.

I'd like to add a voice here from Oregon where there was also a rise in the number of school foundations as a result of anti-tax measures. The establishment of a majority of these foundations occurred after 1990 when Measure 5 went into effect. This created a more centralized state funding system to equalize school funding. Parents in our wealthiest districts began contributing to these foundations where, unlike California, funds can be spent on teacher salaries. The choice to fund teacher salaries is an individual foundation choice, and some have the explicit goal of reducing class size. These are district level foundations. If you drill down one level further to look at how individual schools differ in abilities to raise and access private donations, the equity questions are even greater.

In Portland, individual schools have a local foundation under an umbrella of the district's school foundation. Each school can raise thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands, of dollars, primarily spent on teacher salaries. But there are others that raise nothing. Portland has started to address this equity question by creating an "Equity Fund." The individual schools give 5% of their donations above $5,000 to this fund that is then accessed through grant programs. The concern originally was whether or not such an equity fund would reduce contributions to school foundations. When creating the school foundation and the equity fund, Portland involved parents from multiple communities. Now parents from many of the schools giving money to the equity fund have some involvement in how it is distributed. I don't believe the school foundations have seen a major impact in donations as a result.

I think Jennifer Imazeki has a point that it may not be about placing restrictions on raising such money but in looking at how to equalize the way it is spent. We cannot fault parents for wanting the best education for their children, nor do we want to discourage them from donating money. However, as the way that the use of foundation dollars has shifted to things that do directly impact education in the classroom, we do need to consider the policies that will impact equitable spending.

I have a question for anyone out there: Why don't foundations in California allow money to be spent on teachers' salaries?

Education Foundations and other private donations do much good.

That said, I'd like to point to two things that bother me.

First, there is the possibility that attractive programs are more likely to be funded than the real needs of a school or district. We've seen this for years with athletic programs, but most private donors (not all) would rather build an auditorium or computer lab than fund a remedial education program or outreach to immigrant families. The result of reliance on private money is that the priorities are increasingly set by donors and not our elected Board members.

The second problem is that these donations shift the focus away from a tax and funding system that in most states isn't working. Headlines about donations disguise the inadequacy of funding mechanisms and the reality that large donors are likely under taxed. As the post points out, they can and should call attention to these issues, but they rarely do. It is rare that a story on a donation by the Wal-Marts of the world or the Gates Foundation points out that the donation itself demonstrates that these people can afford to pay more in taxes and that the "needs" addressed by the donation should be met through federal, state and local school finance systems.

Here is another way to look at it. Now that I have experienced 2 different models: a school supported by a generous and successful foundation (as I described in my comments above...) and a fiscally independent charter school... I can tell you there is is no comparison in the advantages inherent in the charter model. Here are three biggies:

DISCRETIONARY SPENDING: My staff and Board have full authority to allocate resources any way we choose-- including salaries, bonuses, an extended day and extended school year. We keep our charter as long as we are fiscally responsible, we follow the law, and we get academic results! The Solana Beach foundation, on the other hand, stipulated that the money be spent only on the arts and athletics.

MORE RESOURCES: Charters in California are funded based on ADA. We have full authority over a 7.5 million dollar budget. Even after salaries, expenses and operational costs we have far more left over for programs and services than any foundation could ever hope to raise.

EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION: In the end, children from a low income community that could not otherwise maintain a thriving foundation, enjoy the benefits of a fiscally disciplined charter school that provides a range of services that no traditional public school could afford (e.g. full time nurse, psychologist, counseling staff, instructional aides, and teacher interns)!

@Attorney DC: I am not positive about this but I think that the main reason donations can't be used for teacher salaries in California is union contracts. I do know of cases where a position was about to be terminated because of lack of funds and contributions were used to save that teacher but those tend to be specialists, not core teachers.

At the risk of finding out our district is doing something fishy....

I don't think the issue is that foundation money *can't* be used for salaries (though some districts may have a policy against it) in the sense of hiring teachers -- but any foundation or grant money must be able to guarantee the salary for the whole year since teachers (with a very few exceptions) are hired on year long contracts and can't be laid-off mid year. But a few years ago our local Ed Foundation provided a grant to allow the district to participate in the 9th grade class size reduction program, in effect funding the salaries of about two teachers for a full year.

Using foundation money to fund salary increases is much dicier, and I can't think any district would do it unless it was really clear that the increase would sunset if the funding ceased. Salary increases are on-going commitments, and districts are pretty careful to make sure there is on-going money behind them.

Generally, the assumption has been that state per-pupil funding is on-going. Our district gave cost-of-living increases last year based on the COLA in our funding, which makes the current plan for what amounts to a negative COLA this year so problematic for school districts.

I would actually like to see a GREATER reliance on voluntary private contributions in funding government-run schools rather than compulsory tax money. If families want to spend their own money on frills in the schools, that's their business. But why should the rest of us be stuck with the bill for them?

Many suburban schools these days have lavish facilities that rival ritzy country clubs in their amenities. The upscale town of Newton, MA is spending a whopping $200 million to build a top-of-the-line high school while similar sized projects in other nearby towns have cost in the $65-80 million range.

Taxpayer-provided funding should be adequate for a decent basic education but any extras should be paid for through voluntary donations.

At the risk of finding out our district is doing something fishy....

I don't think the issue is that foundation money *can't* be used for salaries (though some districts may have a policy against it) in the sense of hiring teachers -- but any foundation or grant money must be able to guarantee the salary for the whole year since teachers (with a very few exceptions) are hired on year long contracts and can't be laid-off mid year. But a few years ago our local Ed Foundation provided a grant to allow the district to participate in the 9th grade class size reduction program, in effect funding the salaries of about two teachers for a full year.

Using foundation money to fund salary increases is much dicier, and I can't think any district would do it unless it was really clear that the increase would sunset if the funding ceased. Salary increases are on-going commitments, and districts are pretty careful to make sure there is on-going money behind them.

Generally, the assumption has been that state per-pupil funding is on-going. Our district gave cost-of-living increases last year based on the COLA in our funding, which makes the current plan for what amounts to a negative COLA this year so problematic for school districts.

He Sean, Nice to see you in the blogoshere! Great post and comments.

Clearly this is a subject that needs more research and public discussion. My main concern with the rise of these school and district foundations is the lack of detailed public reporting. I’d like to know how much is raised, where it is spent, how it relates to other school level public expenditures and be able to connect to some metrics that tie student outcomes to expenditures.

As much as it bothers me that Beverly Hills and Palo Alto have huge foundations to support a variety of programs when the surrounding districts are struggling to get their low-income kids to basic levels of literacy, I think it would be a huge mistake to limit these foundations in the name of equity. We need to rethink the whole idea of school districts and school finance if we are serious about tying public resources to needs. I think we have to move away from the relatively simple discussions about spending and move more to discussions about “return on investment” which should get at the spending and the achievement outputs. Do you economists care that much about how much or little is spent on some new GM plant if the cars don’t sell or work?

Is that $40 dollars per student per year? Or since inception? If that's $40/year I can just see the principals and teachers salivating. With a school of 600 students that would come to $24,000 dollars a year. You could outfit a new computer lab with that amount of money. Even if its only a one time payment, a lot of schools would be ecstatic to get that money.

I've written a blog post in reaction to this here: http://jaypgreene.com/2008/12/02/violating-the-denominator-law/ . Basically, I argue that when you put the private giving in perspective (even in Santa Monica) it is remarkably small and hardly contributes to spending inequities. In other words, this is a non-issue.

Jay makes a good point in his blog post that $40/kid is not a huge amount of money, in the greater scheme of things. But it isn't nothing. In an elementary classroom of 25 kids, $40 per kid is $1,000. If a teacher could use even half of of that money ($500) to purchase art supplies and classroom supplies that the teacher might otherwise have bought out of his or her own pocket, that's helpful. Surveys show that a typical teacher usually spends a couple hundred bucks a year out of his or her salary to purchase supplies that the school district doesn't provide.

But has Jay Greene broken the law of trends? Unfortunately with the data reported its hard to tell, because two points don't make a very interesting graph. I think the concerns over equity are much more around the direction than the current state of affairs.

Hi everyone -
Thanks so much for keeping the discussion alive while Eduwonkette is away!

First, to respond to Jay Greene's point. Yes, $40 - $500 per student is small relative to per pupil spending in most districts, and particularly in districts like Santa Monica. But--as pm points out--these amounts add up.

In a school of 600, $40 per pupil per year amounts to $24,000. $400 per pupil per year amounts to $240,000. This is not chump change for most schools, and could easily fund class size reduction, teachers' aides, a computer lab, or whatever else might work for a given school.

Scholars like Jay Greene might refer to this as the "law of multiplication."

Second, on the restrictiveness of school budgets. It is true that most public school budgets are overly restrictive and should be less so. But dollars are fungible in ways that might not be immediately obvious.

Suppose that a district will allow its schools to use its budget solely on teachers, teachers aides, and--what's left over--everything else (computers, band uniforms, etc). School A has the support of a large foundation that takes care of all of its discretionary items, freeing up its fixed budget to buy more or better personnel. School B--which has the same budget as A but no foundation--must meet its discretionary needs with the budget it has. Which means, no additional personnel for B.

The point is, even if School A uses its foundation to buy only "frills," these expenditures free up pressure on the district-allocated budget. Even if A is prohibited from using its foundation to buy teachers, the foundation may indirectly allow A to buy more teachers by relieving budget pressures elsewhere.

Finally, in response to Van Schoales' (and others) comment: I never meant to imply that foundations themselves are a bad thing. If some parents want shiny new band uniforms for their kids, I'm all for it. Rather, I wanted to illustrate two things:

(1) Foundations are indicators of something much larger--unmet needs, a tax system that is not working, overly rigid school budgets, a desire to maintain relative advantage, or perhaps something else. They shouldn't be ignored.

(2) Foundations perpetuate inequalities that states may have specifically set out to eliminate. These inequalities may or may not be OK, but let's put all hands on the table and not call School A the school that's "out-performing" School B with the same budget.

Meeting unmet needs, promoting transparency, and re-thinking the way schools are funded. Three prescriptions even Jay Greene would love!

Happy holidays everyone...


This is a great post and the comments were also greatly instructive, particularly the comments you last made.

I would note to Van Schoales, that any organization that is a 501(c)(3) organination must file tax returns with the IRS and other information as well that relates to where they get their money and how they spend it. So there is transparency to a certain extent.

the other problem that foundations perpetuate is that the problem with schools is one of resources and thus providing more resources (read money) will solve the problems of the school. Clearly we know that not to be the case, otherwise places like Washington DC and Newark, NJ would have extraordinary schools based simply on funding.

I do think that the inflexibility in school budgeting (which apparently is a huge problem in California) creates a greater problem that needs to be discussed. Why are not individual schools or even subdistricts within schools permitted to manage their own budget. School A may not need new teachers, but School B might. School A instead needs to have their library upgraded. Why can't school principals be able to direct more of their discretionary spending?

Just a comment about the proliferation of foundations in general, as I have seen this happen already in the non-profit sector. Prop 13 led a "tax revolt" in this country, so that even midwestern states that had never had tax rates to rival those of California, have been cutting taxes to beat the band for decades. This has necessitated decline in public support for all things public--from parks and highways to libraries and schools. At certain income levels folks are able to insulate themselves from the loss through individual expenditures (larger homes and yards, private schools, etc). Others have transferred the expense to their local community and moved further from cities--resulting in increased disparities. The foundation response seems to be part and parcel of this reluctance to fund common needs through taxation (which risks the loss of control and brings with it the possibility of progressivism).

But, I think Sean is right. This is just a symptom.

Apologies for the double post earlier...

A couple of responses to Matt Johnson. The Newark and DC schools systems are not evidence that money doesn't solve problems in schools. They are evidence that some districts have problems that large amounts of money alone can't solve. Just because money doesn't solve all problems does not mean that it can't solve a lot. Many private schools have tuition levels higher than the per-pupil spending in urban districts. Presumably the people who pay it feel they are getting value for money.

Second, a major factor in the inflexibility of school funding is micro-management at the legislative level. However much people talk about giving principals discretion, when the legislature decides to increase funding, they tend to do it for specific programs (in CA the governor pushes P.E. and the arts). There is also a preference for building schools over staffing them that gets really frustrating.

I'm glad you raised the question of trends, pm, because it also shows how important obeying the Denominator Law is. It's true that private giving, according to Brunner and Imazeki's report rose from $123 million to $238 million in CA between between 1992 and 2001. But it is also the case that total revenue for public schools in CA increased from $28 billion to $52.2 billion during the same period.

If we follow the Denominator Law and divide $123 million in private giving in 1992 by the $28 billion in total revenue in the same year, we find that private giving constituted .4% of the total in 1992 -- exactly the same as its share in 2001. In other words, there is no rising trend in private giving relative to total school revenue.

Be sure to add the denominator. It's not just a good idea. It's the law. : )

While I agree with Sean that understanding the motivations and effects of private giving is interesting, I don't agree with the effort to reframe the magnitude of the giving by computing how much revenue it would generate per class or school and how many computers that could buy. The reality is that the annual rate of increase in revenue for California schools far exceeds the share of revenue from private sources. Remember that spending almost doubled in a decade, which puts the annual rate of spending increases at about 6%. If the .4% of extra money that private giving provides purchases crucial items or services that make all the difference, then couldn't schools use some portion of their 6% annual increase to buy those items or services? This isn't a zero sum game. So if Santa Monia has something great this year because of its 2.4% in private giving, everyone else should be able to buy it next year using a portion of their 6% annual increase in spending.

So if Santa Monia has something great this year because of its 2.4% in private giving, everyone else should be able to buy it next year using a portion of their 6% annual increase in spending.

I think this is a case where different parts of the organization define "something great" differently. Very often parents (and the media) notice things like computers and arts supplies, whereas principals are often looking at things adding teachers or support services -- particularly with NCLB pushing the focus towards closing the achievement gap.

One of the roles Ed Foundations play is to provide the extras that may not be seen as educationally crucial, but make communities -- and particularly middle class parents -- feel good about their schools.

I don't mean to belittle that role -- I think it's actually pretty important if we want to avoid a two-tier educational system. But -- in part because they tend to focus on "gifts" -- it's a different role than state funding will play.

"Remember that spending almost doubled in a decade, which puts the annual rate of spending increases at about 6%."

Seems that you left out your denominator, which I think would be the number of students the system is serving for the given dollar amoun. Did I miss something?

"Remember that spending almost doubled in a decade, which puts the annual rate of spending increases at about 6%."

Seems that you left out your denominator, which I think would be the number of students the system is serving for the given dollar amount. Did I miss something?

I think that both Sean and Margo/Mom are confusing "needs" with "wants". This, incidentally, is a perennial point of contention with my children. They're always claiming that they "need" some non-essential item when it's actually something they "want". Big difference!

Taxpayer funding of schools should be set at a level adequate to cover the items that are truly needed. Foundations and other private sources of funding should cover the "wants".

I think that both Sean and Margo/Mom are confusing "needs" with "wants". This, incidentally, is a perennial point of contention with my children.

But say you had two kids in the same family with different god-parents. One set of god-parents was wealthy and into gift giving and sent their god-child something cool and sought after each birthday. The other set of god-parents was less wealthy, and less inclined to lavish gifts and sent their god-child a nice card with a $5 bill each birthday. Don't you think you'd be a little uncomfortable about the situation?

It seems to me that private giving to public schools is somewhat analogous. Its generous, and it improves the overall quality of education, but there are discomforting issues.

You're right, pm, that you need to calculate the rate of increase on a per pupil basis. Per pupil spending increased from $5,334 to $8,355, which is an annual rate of increase of 5.1%. I was estimating it at 6%, but that was a bit high. But I think my point still stands if the number is 5.1%.

I'd see the godparent situation as an excellent way to teach my children that life isn't always fair. When faced with unfairness, one can either waste time wallowing in self-pity whining and complaining or one can move on and make the best of things.

I could look at the fact that my DH and I share a single 4 yr old economy car while so many of our neighbors own multiple luxury vehicles and moan about the unfairness of the situation. But since our basic need for transportation has been met, there's really no point in dwelling on it. It's their money and they can do what they want with it.

With all due respect, I think the crux of the matter is described by Kevin W. Riley | December 2, 2008 2:35 PM.

Kevin points out the issue is less about the amount of money than the way it is spent. Based on his description, I think he modestly left out the real independent variable. The skill, experience and focus of the people making the budget allocation decisions.

IMHO, the discussion of funding distracts focus from the more relevant discussion of spending and investing.
For perhaps the first time in it's history, America is now entering a world of limited resources. While the focus has been so far on limited physical resources, it will shift quickly to limited financial resources.

Overall there will be less credit, both for individuals and most importantly for the Federal Government.

In that context, it could be very helpful to encourage the discussion about what to do with what we have. As opposed to focusing our energy on getting more.

As for private foundations. Contributing to Education is like Mom and Apple Pie. There is no risk of ever having to defend education-giving at a board meeting or fund raising dinner.

I just received a nice little card telling me that a parent had made a contribution in my name to our district's Foundation. Actually, we have several groups raising money for special projects -- alumni, the Foundation, a parent group, etc. These groups fund everything from athletic stuff (I think some of it quite lavish) to a set of books I wanted mid-year to try something new. Our district isn't large, but we have huge income disparities: the money is spread evenly among all the schools. Our tax funding has been flat for decades, and the foundations are one way of funding programs (and in one case an addition to a building) without asking for bond issues. These programs might seem like extras, but they're the sorts of things the community expects to see in its schools (excellent music programs, technology, etc.).

Actually, the Foundation just gave us a grant to implement a new achievement gap program.

Comments are now closed for this post.


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