Public Education and the Real Cost for Parents

By California law, all residents are guaranteed a free public education, but that's not exactly how it plays out, as some parents with kids entering the San Ramon Valley Unified School District for the first time this fall are finding out, writes Kirsten Branch at Danville Patch.

Various additional "suggested donations" that each school seeks from parents, and their varying amounts from school to school, poses the question of whether public school is actually "free".

Each school has their own foundation or organization that provides support, through parental volunteering as well as through fund-raising. Typically, money is raised from family donations, eScrip contributions and special events, writes Branch.

"The money raised is used to pay for additional classroom aides, librarians and administrative personnel, as well as sports, music, and arts and science programs that would otherwise be severely reduced or eliminated in an era of deepening cuts to public education funding."

According to data from California Watch, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District spends $7,824 per student, which is just under the state median average of $8,234 per student.

There is a wide disparity between district and individual school funding levels around the state, ranging from $21,932 per student at the highest to $6,112 at the lowest.

"In view of the challenges the district faces, many local parents say they don't mind chipping in extra because they feel the schools are doing their jobs well, despite the funding gaps, as consistently high API (Academic Performance Index) state school ranking scores and other testing scores indicate," writes Branch.

The district ranks well above average in test results, in the highest 25 percent, as compared to other schools and districts throughout the state, despite spending below the median per student,

First-time parents are also finding out that suggested family donation amounts vary, sometimes significantly, from school to school.

Greenbrook parents are asked to contribute $225 per student for the 2011-2012 school year, while parents at Rancho Romero Elementary School in Alamo are asked to contribute more than double that amount at a requested family donation of $500.

"Throughout the year, various fund-raisers will keep pulling at the purse strings. Not to mention a new pressure — to volunteer."

But it doesn't seem that district parents will be given respite from these pressures any time soon, as there seems to be no end in sight to school budgetary woes.

It's a price most say they are willing to pay for a quality education, writes Branch.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.
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