After recently writing big checks to support fundraising at my kids’ Seattle elementary schools, I wondered if it was time for Seattle to talk about the inherent inequity of local school fundraising.
Seattle’s gentrification allows some elementary schools to raise six-figures with a simple, direct request, while a $5,000 goal is a stretch at high-poverty schools. That means wealthy neighborhoods can fund enrichment – art, music, after-school activities, or, at my son’s school, a computer lab – at a level unattainable for poorer neighborhoods. Fair?
This, of course, is on the state Legislature. The state has has systematically shorted school districts on funding. Parents pay taxes, and expect fully funded schools. Fully funded schools, theoretically, shouldn’t need to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hopefully, the McCleary decision will result in full funding. Years down the road.
But even with full funding, parents inevitably will want to help their kids schools excel, tipping the pitch toward wealth. My Seattle Times colleague, Brian Rosenthal, wrote about the disproportionate fundraising results last year, and that was before Garfield High School auctioned off a donated Tesla S Sedan to pay for career counseling.
If it’s a problem, I’m part of it. McDonald International School, where my daughter goes, asks for $1,000 per child, to pay for instructional assistants vital for the Japanese and Spanish immersion instruction. Exhaustive efforts by parents with day jobs raised nearly $300,000. My son’s school, West Woodland Elementary, set a goal of $350 per child. Accustomed to paying their combined amount, each month, in child care, my wife and I coughed up, grateful that they both go to great public schools. But I know $1,350 in disposable income is a privilege.
In an email, Melissa Westbrook of the Save Seattle Schools blog notes the stellar jazz bands at Garfield and Roosevelt high schools are largely PTSA-funded. So are basics.
… As the recession forced cutbacks at schools, you could see an uptick of PTAs funding teachers or aides as well as maintenance items like shades, carpeting, etc. Two schools raised over $400k each just to fund IAs for their foreign language immersion. That is a huge burden for parents. Last count I saw, PTAs fund about 37 FTE in Seattle Schools. (Some principals will not allow PTA funds to be used for staff because of the year-to-year burden to parents.)
I think it’s time to have the conversation about equity (as does Melissa). I’d like to hear in the Seattle School Board elections and the mayor’s race what candidates think about district-wide revenue sharing. If we’re serious about closing an appalling achievement gap in a wealthy, liberal city, shouldn’t sharing at least be on the table?
In Eugene, five percent of school fundraised dollars go into a pot, accessible for poor schools. In Portland, it’s one-third. In Seattle, it’s zero. Is that fair?
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