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How Donations Can Hurt Low-income K-12 Students

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A study released by the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs points to growing disparities between low-income and high-income school districts due to voluntary donations. The study zeroed in donations made to nonprofit organizations like booster clubs and parent-teacher organizations, and did not include large national foundations or large business donations.

Some of the key findings of the study include that:

  • Money raised through nonprofit organizations for K-12 schools grew 350 percent from 1995 to 2010, adjusting for inflation
  • The amount of nonprofit school organizations more than tripled from 1995 to 2010
  • Though total donations rise for larger schools, the amount per pupil decreases -- presenting a disadvantage for urban schools

In Indiana, as in many other states, the money allocated to schools is based on a per-pupil formula that strives to keep funding equal. Donations, the study contends, create a different kind of inequality though that furthers the disadvantages in schools that have a lower income student body.

The study authors say that Indiana schools could come up with a system where nonprofit donations are pooled between all schools districts (some districts in California do this), but the authors admit this could lead to a decrease in donations.

"If you tell parents that their voluntary contributions aren't going to stay in their local schools, it creates a huge disincentive to engage in voluntary contributions," study author Ashlyn Aiko Nelson told Indiana Public Media

Parents and other community organizations who donate to specific schools do it for the right reasons -- to fill the gap where funding stops when it comes to their schools. Unfortunately, this puts already-disadvantaged schools at an even greater one.

What do you think the answer is to narrowing the funding gap between low-income and high-income school district?

If you would like to invite Dr. Lynch to speak or serve as a panelist at an upcoming event, please email him at [email protected].

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