Saturday, February 5, 2011

Achieving Educational Equity

Caution!  This post contains sensitive subject material.

Let's start right of the chute by stating clearly and unequivocally that we believe parent-school-community organizations (PTOs, PTAs, SCOs, etc.) serve a very necessary and wonderful purpose.   By no means do we wish to incur the wrath (oh, but we will...we will!) of any of these groups.  On the flipside, however, these groups need to thicken their skins just a tad and take a closer look at the "greater good".   While some of these groups are veritable fund-raising machines...others struggle to raise funds for their "neighborhood" school.  Are the groups that raise beaucoup de bucks simply on better financial footing than the rest of the district?  Or, conversely, isn't it conceivable that it's a far more challenging proposition to raise funds from within a school that has a significantly higher percentage of economically disadvantages students (and parents)?

Some SCOs use funds raise to provide field trip funding for kids that couldn't otherwise attend. And that is awesome.  But what about other schools that don't have the same success in fundraising?  Do those kids just have fewer field trips?  

We looked at the 2010-11 Donations list, and zeroed in on how our elementary schools stack up against each other.  Mixed feelings result.  Take a look at Eastside elementary.  Their SCO is doling out funds in Phil Frei Our Dough pants-sized chunks, including $3,250 for "teacher gifts".  What about teachers in other schools?  Chopped liver?  

Clearly, some schools make out pretty well.  Others?  Not so much.  Without intent of "picking" on  any given school, consider the substantial investment in new playground equipment recently purchased for a school from their SCO funds.  That is an awesome and quite generous bounty.  But collectively, we have to look at the bigger picture.  Does this system create a culture of "Haves" vs. "Have Nots" within our school district?

Is there something we can do to better "share" the wealth?
One idea would be to pool the funds raised by all SCOs and then divide the money equally between all schools.  The downside to such an idea, of course, is that--faced with that reality-- some (perhaps many) would choose not to donate at all. Understandably, some want their donation to help their particular child's or "neighborhood" school.

We noticed that it appears only 3 of the 7 elementary schools are benefiting from Target's program to donate 1% of purchases to schools.  All parents have to do is sign up, identify the school of choice, and 1% of every purchase comes back to the school as a donation from Target.  Outstanding!  But...maybe we could tweak it so that monies go to the district rather than a school?  Of course, there would have to be CLEAR accounting to demonstrate that those donations get used at the school level.

Sadly, we can't offer a perfect solution.  But we're hoping it becomes clear that what's going on just doesn't sit well.  We talk about giving every student a fighting chance, but some schools--by virtue of being located in a zone of high affluence-- can fare much better through fund-raising.  But...isn't it the role of the district, and our elected school board, to ensure that there is equity within the district?  That all kids get the same quality education? 

How do we achieve these goals if we aren't doing everything we can to ensure equity across school boundaries? 

To those parents and residents who have donated or aided the cause by buying a ton of really tasty (???) pizzas, popcorn, and other things...we tip our hat to you.  We just ask if that you could step outside your shoes and see the bigger picture.   And we'd like to believe that if it was YOUR child that attended a school with less than stellar fundraising, you'd be concerned.