The op-ed, entitled "Not Very Giving" is by Rob Reich, a professor of political science at Stanford and co-director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. (I'm linking the website but I haven't looked at it myself.)
He starts off in his own backyard with a bang:
Hillsborough is one of the wealthiest towns in the United States. Median family income is over $250,000, and residents enjoy one of the best school districts in the state. It’s not hard for Hillsborough families to donate to their own children’s school.
These funds supplement the annual public spending of $13,500 per pupil. In the process, they increase property values in Hillsborough. In 2012 private contributions to the foundation amounted to $3.45 million, or $2,300 per pupil.
Hillsborough is not an anomaly. The foundation supporting the Palo Alto school district asks for $800 per child; in Menlo Park, it’s $1,500; and at the Ross Elementary School in Marin County, it’s a staggering $3,400.
I lived in this area and the swing from city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood is staggering. I checked the comments at the Times and sure enough, there was the one that said that these people help keep public education alive by enrolling their children in public schools.
Okay, but there are public schools and then there's Hillsborough and other wealthy enclaves that have schools that look nothing like a regular public school.
He goes on:
Wanting to support your own children’s education is understandable, but it also has unintended, pernicious effects. The school foundations are legally registered as public charities.
But charity like this is not relief for the poor. It is, in fact, the opposite. Private giving to public schools widens the gap between rich and poor. It exacerbates inequalities in financing. It is philanthropy in the service of conferring advantage on the already well-off.
By lowering the taxes of the donor and diminishing the tax revenues that would otherwise have been collected and partly distributed to rich and poor schools alike, federal and state governments are in effect subsidizing the charitable activity of parents who donate to their child’s school. In this respect, the policies that govern private giving to public schools seem perverse. Tax policy makes federal and state governments complicit in the deepening of existing inequalities that they are ostensibly responsible for diminishing in the first place.
He is NOT recommending that anyone should stop giving to their child's school.
But he has some suggestions:
- First, wealthy school foundations like Hillsborough’s should honor the equality-promoting standards released by the National Commission on Civic Investment in Public Education (on which I served). At a minimum, this would require private giving to be aggregated across schools and shared equally with the entire school district.
- Second, because the root cause of inadequate school financing is ultimately political, not philanthropic, donors and school foundations should support political reforms.
- Finally, Congress should differentiate or eliminate charitable status for local education foundations. If a foundation raises money for a district with a high percentage of children eligible for free lunch, it could offer a double deduction; for a district below the average in per-pupil spending, the standard deduction; for a district with few poor children and higher than average per-pupil spending, no deduction. If private giving to public schools exacerbates inequalities, then at the very least we should stop subsidizing such behavior with tax dollars.