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A New Philanthropic Idea: Public School Alumni Associations

Millions of college graduates have strong ties to their alma maters. They go to reunions, join alumni associations, proudly sport school sweatshirts, and give generously when the fundraising pitch arrives by mail, email, or phone.

Alumni donations pour much-needed dollars into college coffers, bolstering endowments (or public funds, in the case of state colleges and universities), and helping schools to educate current and future students.

So, why isn't there the same alumni tie to high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools? Couldn't public school alumni associations be an enormous source of supplementary funding and form of community involvement in schools?

Trip DuBard, founder and president of South Carolina Future Minds, a private foundation committed to organizing private support for public education, recently and eloquently made this case.

"Few people would willingly pay more taxes," DuBard wrote in South Carolina's The State newspaper last month. "But many happily give to a charity that complements a government service. Think health care and hospital foundations. Or the many child-care and social support charities. Or higher education." Noting the $309 million in giving to South Carolina's three research universities in one year, he asks: "Why such largesse?"

"Mainly, I believe, the reason is the same for all great charities. People appreciate the tremendous good these institutions do, and often have a personal connection that strengthens their loyalty. But there's also this: It is easy to give money to these schools. Their private foundations work very hard at capturing each loyal graduate's contribution. Doesn't it seem odd that there is no equally easy way to support South Carolina's public elementary, middle and high schools?"

Indeed, public school alumni associations, which could be developed with the help of school records and social networking sites, could be a lot of fun&mdash:not to mention a huge, untapped source of public engagement in, and support for, public schools.

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