Campaign contributors should make matching donations to schools

Carl Cohn

Carl Cohn

The welcome passage of Proposition 30 by voters this week will help avert an immediate fiscal crisis in our schools. But it will not undo the damage of years of underinvestment in public education in the state.

Additional help could come from those who contributed to any number of federal, state or local campaigns during the just-ended electoral season.

While California and  the nation have recorded political contributions in the billions of dollars, schools still face enormous needs, as EdSource’s “Schools Under Stress” report documented.

It is true that a disproportionate share of funds spent on political campaigns have come from millionaires and billionaires.

Louis Freedberg

Louis Freedberg

But millions of small donors also generously opened their pocketbooks as well.

So here’s a modest proposal:

Contributors to political campaigns should consider donating matching amounts to schools and school districts of their choice.  Those newly elected (or re-elected) to public office, especially those who profess to believe in a free, high-quality public education for all children, should encourage their backers to do so.

Contributors would have the satisfaction of making a lasting investment in America’s future – our children – in contrast to having their funds end up mainly in the pockets of high-paid political consultants and the bank accounts of broadcast and other media outlets.

There is already a mechanism for contributors to channel their funds to the schools of their choice by going through the nonprofit, tax exempt foundations that exist in many schools and districts.

In California, there are an estimated 675 education foundations raising funds, typically for specific programs in their schools or district rather than for general support. In districts where no such foundation exists, the California Consortium of Education Foundations has offered to serve as an intermediary and channel funds to schools of a donor’s choice.

While some local education foundations are able to raise millions of dollars for their schools, they are the exceptions. The vast majority of foundations raise less than six figures annually – and ideally donors would contribute to schools and districts that are most in need.

This would be an entirely volunteer effort. The appeal would be rooted solely in the belief that Americans who collectively have opened their pocketbooks for political campaigns would be moved by a similar sense of civic responsibility to do the same for schools.

Ideally, contributions would be made throughout the election season. But it is not too late to do so.

In 1978, before the passage of Proposition 13, California spent at or even slightly above the per-student average in the United States. Today its ranking has slipped to 47th.

In terms of actual dollars, the numbers are equally alarming. A decade ago, California spent an average of just under $700 less than the average for the rest of the country. Today, that figure has widened to nearly $3,000.

Just imagine the impact on schools if contributors to political campaigns would make equal donations to programs to benefit children in schools of their choice across the state.

What’s more, this is an initiative that would not be limited to the super-rich. The millions of Americans who have made smaller contributions to presidential candidates – or candidates for their local school boards – could also participate. At a time when teachers increasingly must spend their own money for basic classroom supplies, every extra dollar going into the classroom would help.

 Louis Freedberg is executive director of EdSource.  Carl Cohn, the immediate past president of EdSource and former school superintendent in Long Beach and San Diego, is a member of the California State Board of Education.  An earlier version of this commentary appeared on September 1 in the Sacramento Bee.


Filed under: Commentary, School Finance, State Education Policy


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2 Responses to “Campaign contributors should make matching donations to schools”

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  1. Bill Younglove on Nov 9, 2012 at 6:59 pm11/9/2012 6:59 pm

    • 000

    Louis and Carl,
    Thanks for that suggestion. It is an idea whose time has come. Let us not, however, hold our collective breaths. The Republicans seem to think education is a commodity, which can be bought and sold. The Democrats seem to think it is an investment, albeit long-term. Anyone who has ever taught knows very well that education is a process–inputs over a decade and a half, as the child matures. How can we reconcile all three and get everyone on the same page–for once, even? Talk about re-forming!
    Bill Younglove :-)

  2. mcdez on Nov 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm11/9/2012 12:28 pm

    • 000

    Even with Prop 30 CA schools will remain 47th in the nation in per pupil spending. And even with prop 30 school districts will struggle financially to provide a well rounded, 21st century education for all students. It will be up to local parents and communities to fund their own educational foundations, PTAs and possible city parcel taxes to keep their local schools viable and vital. The gap between the “have” public school districts and the “have not” public school districts will grow even wider, inequity will remain rampant and our children, communities and state will pay the price.

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