When the state leadership fails to adequately pay for public education, as it has failed to do for years, parents and local businesses step up, not only with higher property tax payments but also, in many cases, with private donations.
These donations, although well-intended, worsen an already inequitable funding system, not only among school districts but also among schools within the same district. And, to no surprise, the low-income kids who often need the most help are left behind.
The Dallas Morning News story linked below tells how the Dallas ISD administration, with an enrollment that is about 80 percent low income, is struggling to keep up in its private fundraising effort with wealthier suburban districts. Dallas ISD, with 156,000 students, raised about $600,000 last year, mostly from Texas Instruments, a private employer. That amount averaged out to about $4 per student.
By contrast, nearby Highland Park ISD, one of the state’s wealthiest districts, received $10 million in one donation alone through the Highland Park Education Foundation. The foundation spent about $2.5 million last year, or about $350 for each of the district’s 7,000 students, over and above what the district receives in tax money. And none of the Highland Park kids are poverty stricken.
This additional money can be spent on a number of things, including extra teacher pay, professional development for educators, college-readiness programs for students or various academic initiatives.
Nonprofit education foundations aren’t the only inequity problem. PTAs, although well-meaning in fund-raising efforts, add to inequities within the same school district. I have heard of some PTAs at schools in middle- or upper-middle-income neighborhoods raising thousands of dollars at a single fundraiser, figures that can only be dreamed about in poorer parts of town.
Thousands of dollars will purchase extra school supplies or help pay for field trips, but dreams… not so much. This problem was cited several years ago in a report by the Texas Civil Rights Project.
PTAs can share their money with other schools. Perhaps some do, but not many, I suspect. Most parents understandably want to spend their money on their own children’s schools.
But it’s the Legislature’s and the governor’s job to see that tax dollars, the public’s money, is distributed equitably – and in sufficient amounts so that superintendents and principals aren’t constantly having to hold their hands out to private donors. Private donations for education extras are fine. But all too often in today’s under-funded climate, schools need the extra cash for classroom essentials, and many schools can’t raise it.