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Critic Says Parent Donations Widen School Funding Gap

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Most parents are used to the back-to-school tradition of wandering the aisles of Target searching for the pencils, paper, and yes, even disinfecting wipes requested by their children's schools.

And now it's become almost customary in some parts of the country that parents make large cash donations to their local education foundations as well.

In addition to Parent Teacher Association fundraising, school districts across the nation have private education foundations raising big money for their schools. Rob Reich, an associate professor of political science at Stanford University, criticizes the growth of this school fundraising strategy in an opinion piece for The New York Times on Sept. 4.

Reich, who also is the co-director of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, wrote: "Private giving to public schools widens the gap between rich and poor. It exacerbates inequalities in financing. It is philanthropy in the service of conferring advantage on the already well-off."

In California many school districts have education foundations. Last year, the Hillsborough Schools Foundation, in Hillsborough, which is in the San Francisco Bay area, raised $3.45 million in private donations or about $2,300 per pupil, according to Reich's piece.

But Reich said that such philanthropy in wealthy communities, like Hillsborough, is misguided. Instead, he contended that the focus of education foundations in California should be on efforts to "amend the property-tax slashing Proposition 13 to require fair market value taxation of commercial real estate, which would raise tax revenues."

Ideally, he said, private donations to education foundations should be shared equally throughout the school district with some of those dollars given to poor districts as well.

It's an interesting proposal that deserves more thoughtful discussions. As a recent transplant to California from upstate New York, to say I was shocked by the lack of state education funding for my boys' public school would be putting it mildly.

This year, the education foundation that supports my children's school district is paying for the physical education teachers and music teachers at the elementary schools. In contrast, the education foundation in my old New York suburban neighborhood raised money for college scholarships for its high school graduates. Education Week's Nora Fleming explored the increasing demands on parents and education foundations to raise money to make up for school budget cuts in an article last year.

Public elementary schools should have music and gym classes for students. But who should pay for it?

See our full coverage of parent empowerment issues.

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