Underfunding demands parent donations to keep programs afloat
With the growing need for funds, public schools turn to parents for monetary support.
By Michael Aling | Staff Writer
October 1, 2012
At the beginning of this school year, parents were requested to donate as much as $500 (or more) to various school programs.
The largest single chunk of cash was $263.00 for the Charger Challenge program, which goes directly into funding the school.
Many have questioned, or are at least confused by, the school’s apparent need for donations.
In a system where public schools are supposed to be free, why should such expenses be diverted to parents?
The answer lies in a convoluted entanglement of local, state, and federal laws–the complexity of which is largely due to successful lawsuits against the government and schools concerning, for the most part, equality of funding.
Even so, there are great inequities in per-student spending.
The amount of general purpose funding that a school receives comes from two primary sources in California: local property taxes and state aid.
Each school has a revenue limit that must be satisfied, which is based on the average daily attendance of the school and a series of complex formulas.
The revenue limit is the minimum funding level that each school is required to be granted.
If the local property taxes don’t cover the revenue limit, then the state steps in and hands the school a little more cash to even out per-student spending in districts where property values are lower.
School districts that can cover their expenses purely with property taxes are allowed to keep any money that exceeds their revenue limit and are subsequently referred to as ”basic aid” districts.
This system is better than it might be, but the state’s standards for appropriate funding aren’t always satisfactory.
Even schools that receive state aid are underfunded.
Proposition 13 also has a hand in the problem and in reducing the number of basic aid school districts, since it limits property taxes to 1% of the full cash value (the passage of the law in 1978 was largely due to concern about how elderly citizens could continue to pay property taxes if housing prices continued to skyrocket).
Local parcel taxes (which require a 2/3 vote to pass) are often used to make up for underfunding.
Currently, Santa Barbara County has measures A and B on the November ballot, that propose parcel taxes to replace previous ones that will expire next year.
Similar measures already failed on the June primary ballot.
If A and B don’t achieve the 2/3 majority vote, the Santa Barbara Unified School District will greatly suffer.
But even with state aid, property taxes, and parcel taxes, schools are short on cash, and are forced to make up for what the state funds don’t cover by asking parents for donations.
For many parents, these requests are bruising to the wallet, especially for those who have multiple children enrolled in school.
Beyond the approximately $500 figure previously mentioned are expenses for sports (mainly in the form of spirit packs, fundraisers, and equipment), certain electives, school projects, and extracurricular activities such as music lessons, and bus passes for those who need them.
Even though most of these costs aren’t strictly donations, most parents end up paying for them anyway.
And yet, there seems to be little shortage of funding for things like the recent construction of the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy building.
Above-average facilities are often a feature of public schools in suburban areas, even though they often only affect a small portion of students at the school.
In its current state, some might even ask if public schooling is worth paying for.
A 2011 report claimed that 23.7% of Californians who entered high school in 2007 didn’t graduate; nationwide proficiency rates are frightfully low.
In global rankings, the U.S. lags behind many other nations in their schooling systems, and there’s a general sense of disapproval of the public educational system in America.
However, the primary alternative to public school is private school, and while success rates are generally higher in such institutions, so are the fees–far too high for most people to afford.
The reality is that there will always be certain expenses involved with keeping our schools operational.
Regardless of whether it comes directly from parents’ pockets or from taxes statewide, in the end, the money has to come from somewhere.