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Public Education as Charity

November 17, 2013

An article by Edward Husar in the Quincy Herald-Whig breathlessly reported on the many ways Quincy (MA) public schools were raising money… and they are doing an amazing job. Julie Ross, executive director of the Quincy Public Schools Foundation reported that more than $750,000 was donated to the foundation’s Dream Big campaign, which is raising money for pressing needs in the areas of technology, curriculum, fine arts and athletics. Funds also are being allocated for long-term endowments. She reported on large donations received from two families that would be used to “… help implement a major technology upgrade in local schools” and to renovate the school’s band room.

Ross said donations like these — and many others — reflect continuing strong support for Quincy’s schools.”You have to look at what we’re able to do when our community gets behind education,” she said. “We can have better technology. We can have better facilities. We can have more opportunities for our kids.”

If we had to live on tax dollars alone, our kids might get a meager education, despite the fact that we have excellent teachers who do amazing things,” she said. “These are the things that help us go above and beyond. We want to give our kids the very best. We don’t want them to have average.”

I am glad for the children in Quincy that they have businesses and individual donors they can cultivate and, as a result, will receive something more than “…a meager education”, but am deeply troubled to read that essential technology upgrades and facilities improvements are contingent on fundraising. As noted in earlier blogs, over my 29 years as Superintendent from 1981 through 2011 I saw education funding evolve from purely tax-payer funded to one where fees are charged for “non-essentials” and the establishment of a Foundation is a necessity if a district wants to have a high quality arts, music, or athletic program.

Costs for technology should be paid by taxpayers and should include not only the costs of installation of infrastructure and hardware, but the back-room support and continuous upgrades that are a “given”. The arts are essential and part of the arts program is having studio space, a large room for band and choral practices, an auditorium for performances, and sufficient staff . Taxpayers should also fund an adequate sports program: one that provides uniforms on a reasonable cycle and a coaching staff and medical services that go along with a sound program. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to buy “warm-ups” or multiple sets of uniforms, stadia with Jumbo-trons, or luxury buses to away games, but locker rooms, coaches, bleachers, and athletic fields should be funded by taxpayers to avoid opening the door to the influence of booster groups dictating policy. And ALL teaching and support staff should be funded by taxes to enable to school boards to provide an equitable opportunity for students within the district, a door that is opened more than a crack when parents and private donors are invited to contribute to their favorite cause.

I wish there was a way to put the genie back in the bottle… because every time a newspaper article celebrates the power of public school foundations they undercut the public’s responsibility for funding some portion of the public school. The message in MA will be, “You don’t need to raise money for technology and the arts, start a foundation and THEY will go to donors and find the money for those programs”…. or “You don;t need to fully fund athletics, you can charge a fee to help underwrite the costs”… This strategy exacerbates the economic divide, as affluent districts have a “donor base” and “business partners” while less affluent districts have neither. THIS JUST IN: The only way to improve ALL public schools is to help those with the least resources and that can only happen through broad based taxes.

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