Wealthy Communities Supplementing Schools with Fundraising


According to a new study, inequality among schools is on the rise — and it's exacerbated by private groups who fundraise for schools in their wealthy communities.

Local education groups in Coronado, California raised over $1,500 for each of the 3,200 students they support in 2010, which went to arts and music classes, sports medicine courses and even a digital media academy, teaching students about animation and using 3-D printers to design buildings. The nonprofit raised that money by sending a letter to each family in the district asking for a $1,200 donation for every child to compensate for a loss in state funding.

Hundreds of thousands more are raised by the group throughout the year at telethons and an annual auction.

Fundraising efforts that same year for the San Diego Unified School District amounted to $19.57 per student.

A new study, The Rise of School-Supporting Nonprofits, has found that pattern to be true across the country, as researchers discovered the number of parent-led nonprofits tripled in number and more than quadrupled the amount of money they raised between 1995 and 2010. High-income communities were more likely to have these nonprofit groups in place. In 1995, nonprofits linked to school districts or individual schools raised $197 million. That number rose to $880 million in 2010.

The rise in these groups can be attributed to the funding formulas in place in most states that redirect local property tax revenues in an effort to keep funding equal between schools. Those communities that used to raise money for schools by lobbying to raise property taxes took to creating or joining nonprofits as a new way to raise funds.

The study looked at the tax filings of nonprofits associated with an individual school or district that reported earnings of at least $25,000 annually. Between 1995 and 2010, the number of those nonprofits rose from 3,500 to 11,500.

Parents are asking "what alternative vehicles do I have that are a workaround" to property tax limits, said Ms. Nelson, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. "They are just becoming more sophisticated about creating innovative vehicles that they can use to finance public education at the desired levels."

Put together, nonprofits raise less than 1% of the total amount spent on education by federal, state, and local governments, and comes to just $28 per student.

However, across the country nonprofits are looking to change low-income schools for the better.

In Anchorage, Walter Ward runs a nonprofit providing low-income schools with supplies at what he calls the "Anchorage Teacher's Store." He provides the supplies once a month to teachers across the district at 11 different schools, free of charge, through fundraising. He said that although there are some generous individuals out there, it's sometimes hard to get all the supplies needed.

"I've got this school wanting 300 packs of paper, this school needing 2,000 pencils and we've got 10 dollars," said Ward.

In Omaha, the Seventy-Five North Revitalization Corp. is looking to help the district's poorest school, Howard Kennedy Elementary, by not only revitalizing the school, but the entire neighborhood. The nonprofit bought the area's housing projects, which it plans to transform into affordable housing for 300 families through private donors, tax credits and grants.

The corporation also intends to create an early childhood education program and community center with the help of local organizations.

The group is currently looking for ways to best help the elementary school, where 98% of the students currently qualify for free or reduced price lunches. Some ideas include offering more STEM-heavy classes and making sure the school has "a high-quality principal and best-in-class teachers."

"We don't want to be just another add-on, we'd like to figure out how our neighborhood and how our community helps that school reach its full potential," Meadows said.

10 28, 2014
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