963,000 Millionaires in NYC COULD Make a Positive Difference
An essay by Mike Jackson in the Daily Beast has me re-thinking my stance on private donations to public schools. He opens his essay with a startling statistic: 963,000 millionaires reside in New York City! Mr. Jackson contends that asking these millionaires to pay higher taxes to underwrite public education is a bad idea because there is no way public schools could ever raise enough taxes to match the amount spent in private schools. He writes:
…Some activists and educators believe that private support for public schools isn’t “progressive.” They believe that the mere mention of the words “external” or “private” are threats to teachers and insults their understanding of the role that poverty plays in the existence of the achievement gap. In their view, the only ideologically pure way to improve public education is by demanding more public funds.
I believe there’s a practical problem with this approach. This year, the New York City Department of Education will spend $23 billion to serve just over one million students, translating to $23,000 per student. That’s roughly 25 percent of the entire New York City budget, and it’s unrealistic to think there will be the political will to raise taxes enough or cut other areas sufficiently to allow for a doubling of the education funding.
That’s likely what it would take to achieve something close to parity with private schools. At many private boarding schools, tuition now regularly exceeds $58,000 per year. Their boards then direct additional funds annually from multimillion-dollar endowments to offer scholarships to low income students.
Instead, he suggests that some of these millionaires become engaged with a particular public school by committing TIME in addition to MONEY and, in doing so, gain a better understanding of the challenges urban youngsters encounter day-in-and-day-out. That engagement, in turn, might lead the engaged millionaire to make contributions to their adopted public school in the same way an affluent parent makes donations to their child’s PTO. As Mr. Jackson notes:
The difference isn’t just money—it’s the culture of support surrounding the students. Most urban, lower-income parents don’t have the means, the time, or in some cases the education to advocate for their children in the same way a private school’s PTA can. And public schools don’t have individual boards of trustees to advocate for them.
As one of those “ideological purists” who sees the need for moe funding for schools across the board, I am opposed to funding schemes that allocate equal (and and often low) funding levels to all schools in the name of equity and then allow affluent schools to raise millions from their parents. This model DOES undercut funding equity and DOES undercut the notion of equitable opportunity for all students. But as a pragmatist, I find Mr. Jackson’s ideas appealing. In his concluding paragraphs, he notes that there are “…500 millionaires in NYC for each of its 1,856 public schools” and imagines what it would be like for children at those schools if 500 volunteers showed up at an urban school in an under-served neighborhood to help kids write better college essays. He concludes with this heartening idea:
Education reform has barely been a topic of conversation in the general election, let alone the presidential debates. But it’s one of the few areas where there is a proven path for transcending the divisiveness that characterizes contemporary politics while making measurable progress in closing the income gap and achievement gap, one person at a time.
Mr. Jackson, unlike some of his wealthy counterparts, acknowledges that money DOES matter, and also understands that the “culture of support” matters even more. His form of reform makes sense… there must be a way some imaginative and creative politician in NYS or NYC could help Mr. Jackson spread this idea around.