Donation inequality felt among Sonoma County schools
|By Kerry Benefield, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Exactly 635 yards to the north,
Donors, including parents, grandparents, businesses and nonprofit organizations, stepped into the breach during
What is at stake is not just a lack of field trips or art docents. Children from low-income families often start school already behind their peers who come from more affluent families, and without significant intervention, the achievement gap widens over time.
"It's exacerbating an existing problem," said
"I think it's a fundamental inequity," she said "You could say, 'Did they have the same classes?' But all the extras do add up. That could be a lot of enrichment stuff for kids who lack that."
Under a new state funding formula, those schools with a greater percentage of disadvantaged and poverty stricken students are slated to receive supplemental funds. And for years, federal Title
But officials said it remains unclear whether the state's new Local Control Funding Formula will even the playing field. In the meantime, parents at some schools continue to donate -- in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars toward technology, field trips and other programs. Meanwhile, students just a few miles away get pennies on the dollar.
A list of donations analyzed by The Press Democrat only includes those reported to the district office. In in many cases, it does not include giving by booster groups specific to programs such as athletics, agriculture or arts. But officials acknowledged that the patterns would remain largely the same, even with such donations included.
"If it's perceived that a school over there has more services than a school over here, then we should look at balancing that," said veteran trustee
But Pugh and others were careful not to criticize parents and boosters who have volunteered countless hours and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support schools and programs.
"It's a legitimate issue and one that begs the question of what do you do about it," he said. "We don't want to get in the way of parents raising money. Trouble is, right now we don't really have a plan that addresses that."
It is not a new issue and is not unique to
"The constitution requires some sense of equity, but it creates a baseline of equity," said
"Parents can raise money to their hearts' content and there is plenty of evidence that those enrichments are contributing to an opportunity gap," she said. "There is a set of kids getting it and a set of kids that don't."
But the problem isn't with parents being generous; it's with a state funding system that has not yet fully attacked funding imbalances, she said.
"I don't think any parent is ever the bad guy," she said.
"From a historical basis, it has been a problem on and off for many years," said Pugh, who was first elected in 1990.
In the past, caps on giving were put in place, but that prompted push-back from parents intent on helping their child's school.
And when budget times are tight, parents are asked to do even more.
Whether it's Project Graduation, field trips or school supplies, parents are encouraged to chip in. But that too, has been complicated recently.
Under a new state law that went into effect in 2013, public schools cannot demand supplies or charge fees for most equipment and activities. Under the new rules, a parent of a student in band can give a donation to fund a performance in
Schools can also ask for per-pupil donations at the beginning of the year but cannot exclude any student from participating in educational activities based on their family's donation.
Among middle schools,
At the district's five high schools,
"Of course Elsie has the least amount; that shouldn't surprise anybody," Gonzalez said. "They already had less to begin with. When they have fundraisers, they can't do all that stuff and they don't have a foundation to rely on."
But telling parents and alumni who have the means to give not to, especially when
And experiments in pooling funding or capping donations have failed in the past.
"I think we have shown that does not work," said trustee
Officials said it remains unclear how the new Local Control Funding Formula will affect school financing.
"There really is a move now, especially by
Gonzalez, who said her own schooling included enrichment opportunities that her family was unable to provide, does not begrudge parents who chip in for their child's school.
"I appreciate parents donating where they found a need. I have no qualms with that," Gonzalez said. "It's more a philosophical level. They shouldn't have to do that. The state should take care of that."
Who gets what?
School Donations--Per pupil donations % of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch--API*--
Elementary and K-8 schools
Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School**--
--Between June 2013-June 2014
--Based on 2012-13 figures
*--2013 Growth API
****Serves fifth and sixth graders
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