The New Fundraising

By Sheldon Frankel and Carol Merz Frankel

For years, parent-teacher organizations and booster clubs have raised money for the “extras” -- special equipment and learning opportunities such as field trips and band uniforms. But as districts are forced to pinch pennies, fundraising has taken on new meaning.

Today, a large number of school districts have formed foundations to raise money for school projects, supplies, books, and classroom equipment. In some cases, these foundations have become so sophisticated and effective in fundraising that the districts have used the proceeds to pay for teacher salaries.

Oregon’s Lake Oswego Schools Foundation, for example, raised $1.5 million in 2004 to restore teaching positions lost because of state budget cuts. Similarly, the Beverly Hills Education Foundation in California increased its 2003 fundraising goal to $1.4 million to cover cuts, where before they had raised $250,000 for teacher grants.

School foundations take many forms, from large professionally run organizations that seek grants from other foundations and corporations, to smaller units closely tied to the residents of a town. The smaller foundations can raise sizable amounts of money from constituents, sometimes amounts equal to what those citizens would pay in locally levied school taxes.

The political, social, and legal consequences of such foundations can challenge our notions of public schooling in America today. In some ways, these foundations seem to undo the court-ordered and legislature-sponsored gains in equity in school funding of the past 30 years. But if we question this conclusion more carefully, we may change our minds.

What is the source of a foundation’s money? Could that money be otherwise allocated to public schools through the usual routes of taxation and distribution? How does the existence of these groups change the general makeup of public education? On balance, should such efforts be encouraged, prohibited, or simply tolerated?

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