Friday, January 13, 2017

Would You Contribute to More Equity in Seattle Schools?

Charlie asked this question elsewhere:
I wonder how things would be different if there were an education fundraising group in Seattle that was less political and less in the pocket of the Chamber of Commerce than the Alliance for Education.

Would people contribute to it generously? What sort of grants could it make (or should it make)?
This is a question that comes up with some frequency around PTA fundraising which is inequitable in Seattle Schools. 

I'll first say this - bless each and every parent/grandparent/family member/community member who helps to raise money for any school.  You encourage the belief in public education (and I believe students remember this later on in life) and you strengthen public education with your support.

But yes, there are schools in communities who have children whose parents have more stable lives and are able to support their learning both before they start their K-12 education and after they start their K-12 education.  And, they have both the time and wherewithal to fundraise to support their child's school.  I will note that in some instances, the money raised for one school means more funds for another.

If parents at one school are paying for maintenance of their building or supplies for their building, that's money the district doesn't have to spend.  Theoretically, that's how it should work but I don't know if that's always so.

And, at least at this blog and at the Soup for Teachers Facebook page, there are parents and community members who want to try to make things more equitable for all schools.  Lend a helping hand if only on the theory that a rising tide lifts all boats.  (But many people do it for just for the good of children.)
Bellevue Public Schools enjoys the support of the Bellevue Schools Foundation.
We raise funds to improve student learning through district wide academic initiatives, curriculum material, training opportunities for teachers, and an array of programs that meet students' special needs. Our donors help bridge the gap between the basic funding provided by the State of Washington and what Bellevue students need to truly excel.
This sounds a lot like what the Operations Levy here in Seattle does.  They provide assistance mostly for district-wide initiatives (counting on PTAs to shore up individual schools which in Bellevue may be roughly equal but certainly isn't here in Seattle.)

I would like a foundation that is devoted solely to raising up schools, one by one, with as little direction as possible from business and more direct interaction with teachers, principals and students rather than senior management of JSCEE.  (Meaning, schools apply for grants on their own without the district's input which they do already.)

I'm wondering if people would support such a foundation.


Wonderful Idea said...

I would support it. And I wold imagine if it were handled well that we could get a lot of companies to support it. The way they support the arts. Like "Benaroya Hall, supported by the Boeing blah blah blah." If companies felt good about having their name associated with this, everyone would benefit. Because right now it feels like the Gates Foundation and people with money are donating to competing educational ideas.

The PTA at my neighborhood school is a tragic sight. It's a constant string of relatively low income families trying to sell things to other families who don't have enough money to buy their own essentials (like winter coats and new shoes for growing feet). There are no matching funds because the families don't work for the kinds of companies that provide those things. There's no auction because no one can afford babysitters to attend, let alone buy anything once they get there. It's heartbreaking

I would love to see something operating on a bigger scale, district wide. Some organization that made people feel good about giving. Since apparently our society has turned its back on the idea of taxes paying for education for the common good. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

I would support it, provided there were a focus on best practices and a strong evaluation component. I'd want to know my money is being put to good use--which in SPS seems often not to be the case.

Half Full

Kate Eads said...

As SPS graduate and now teacher, I would devote my career to making this happen if I had the personal resources. It is a key to equity in our city. I have seen, however, the extreme resistance to the notion of sharing resources - simply between libraries - and my optimism is fading.
Count me in.

Lynn said...

I would support it if I could direct my contribution to a particular project from a pre-vetted list. I expect most money would come from the people who are already supporting their children's schools. I would prefer we pay for everything with tax dollars so that everyone pays their fair share.

Anonymous said...

Save your pennies. SPS will simply continue to make cuts to areas where the know PTAs and other donors will backfill in order to not lose services. You will never be able to get ahead and actually improve the situation.

Mad Dad

Anonymous said...

I would support eliminating the JSCEE, selling off the building and having administration performed by volunteers and school based staff, even seniors could take part in OTJT for credit. Outsource facilities work by competitive biding process. Wholesale elimination of busing for 2 years to create a huge raining day fund. If and only if these things were done would I consider helping.

Penny Pincher

Melissa Westbrook said...

Many Many of the suggestions are just the kind of things I would do. Mad Dad, the problem is that poorer schools do not get any kind of "backfill."

PP, I can't support your entire premise but Charlie has advocated, for a long time, for the district to outsource the running of Facilities and I agree.

To note, I would like a foundation that has nothing to do with JSCEE.

Greg said...

I like the idea. But I also think that's also pretty close to the Seattle section of Donors Choose. There, teachers request specific needs for classrooms, and people and foundations directly fund it. Often the requests are for things like classroom library books or basic classroom supplies (even facial tissue sometimes, depressingly). But I'd definitely contribute to any well run organization like what you are proposing, Melissa, whether it helped directly, through Donors Choose, or both.

Related, I'd love to see a lobbying organization for increasing state funding for public education. Raising taxes is hard, but it's the only way to get substantial funds, and the only way to improve education for all children in Washington state.

Anonymous said...

You mean like Washington's Paramount Duty?


not mc-t said...

we stopped outright supporting our schools after giving thousands of dollars to them. sorry you pay for what you get is unfortunately is the corollary of you get what you pay for. look at the title one games the district has played with hcc mixed with high frl schools which really only lowers the t1 funding from the feds.

if any of these new reform directors lets the district take support off the frontline who are needed instead of cutting the specialized orca card facilitators on the district level or ed, who no one can say what they do really, then i will fight for their removal too.

no caps

Melissa Westbrook said...

WPD is not a foundation to raise money for schools. Their purpose - which is making schools are fully funded by the state - is not what I am talking about.

Donors Choose is more a teacher-driven kind of thing. It can be hit or miss, depending on teacher/principal savvy/time.

Anonymous said...

This thread is the perfect place to ask --

my last child leaves SPS for private school next year. We've always given to PTA, and with corporate matching, it ends up being a nice gift. I want to continue giving something to the public system, because my children had almost universally great teachers and I really believe in public education. I don't want to just flee and ignore the system. (We're leaving for class size and stability, having one kid who's been in 4 buildings in 6 years, the other in 3 buildings -- and zero clarity on MS or HS placement year to year looking ahead, and I just couldn't do it anymore. Just could not.)

So what are the thoughts about either giving to a school where my kid/s were happy (that already has fairly successful PTA, and that uses the money to enrich a lot of kids, uses it well - but for expansion of things that already exist there, etc) vs. giving to a high FRL school that we have no ties to, never went to, but which has arguably greater need b/c it has less PTA funding, vs the third route - a school in the middle with mid-range FRL, so they don't get extra mitigation money, and yet don't raise much PTA money. I'm kind of leaning toward the last thing. It feels like the bang for the buck is really there, whereas the first feels not that necessary and the second feels like I can't even begin to help.

I'm curious about thoughts on which school to donate to - I wouldn't stay involved with the schools, I just want to continue to donate something to public education beyond my tax dollars -- because no one will pass a freaking income tax! (I want to pay more taxes, fair ones like an income tax, but that would take more backbone than Olympia can even find at the Burke Museum, I guess).

-- math counts

Anonymous said...

I meant in reply to Greg, who suggested a lobbying organization to fully fund education from the state.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Math Counts, I would tell you the high F/RL school if only because you have given to your current school. What a blessing that would be to that school.

NE parent, at this point, I don't think that's worth it.

Anonymous said...

The more important and difficult question is this --- would you contribute more money that would leave SPS and go to students/districts with higher needs?

Albert S.

SeaMom said...

There are many large urban school districts in this country that have outright bans on the use of PTA funds for core educational costs, especially staffing costs (which is the leading use of PTA-raised funds in our district: see the SPS Grants Inventory for 2016-17:

I would argue that we need the same ban - or that at the very least, that the Board should hold that accepting such donations is inconsistent with Board Policy 6114 on Gifts, Grants, Donations & Fundraising Proceeds (

Many of the districts that do have such bans have created education foundations that receives donations that can then be used district-wide for staffing purposes. No, this is not the equivalent of fully funding schools via equitable taxation, but at least it is less inequitable than the system we currently have here in Seattle, whereby the discretionary funding that is actually equitably distributed by SPS via the WSS is then massively outmatched by PTA funding at low-poverty schools, often by an order of magnitude.

Anonymous said...


I's so tired of SPS taking funds for one thing (maintenance, looking at you!) and using it for a pet project or the latest trend/study. This would just give them more money to play with instead of doing what they're supposed to be doing....educating our children.

I'm so sick of SPS.

Can someone just be an ADULT at JSCEE and do the right thing????

Mag Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

Again, this foundation would NOT take any marching orders from the district. It would only support school-based grants for enrichment purposes. Not staff or maintenance items that the district needs to pay for.

Greg said...

Thanks for the link to I don't know much about that particular organization or how effective it is at lobbying for state funding, but it definitely appears to be trying to do the right thing. I'll take a deeper look.

And, Melissa, I more meant that Donors Choose might supplement the efforts of the organization you are thinking about. It's hit or miss, as you said, but there is a lot of funding there, and perhaps complementary to what you are thinking. In any case, I'd love to see an organization along the lines of what you are suggesting.

Anonymous said...

Why did SPS cut ties with the Alliance for Education? Weren't they doing what Melissa describes? Why did the relationship fall apart? Bellevue and Mercer Island Foundations give out $1M + per year, other surrounding area Foundations give away around $100K per year.

Philanthropy Advisor

Melissa Westbrook said...

Albert (and others), you clearly are not hearing me. This money would be ONLY for schools in Seattle Public Schools.

Philanthropy Advisor, that's a longer story. In short, I believe the Alliance started during the reign of Stanford for the best of purposes. But the business types chafed at the district making decisions/choices for the money. The Alliance slowly morphed into a Daddy Warbucks org that wanted, more and more, to have say over what happened to the district, beyond the money they gave. They also started wanting to make a profit from managing PTA monies and I think that was not something that sat well with others.

I think the Bellevue and Mercer Island Foundations do far less to try to insert themselves in their districts.

Anonymous said...

So what is the current relationship with Alliance 4 ed? Their mission and work still describes amazing support for SPS. Why recreate the wheel?

Philanthropy Advisor

Hard working said...

Give me a break, I worked my ass off my entire adult life and want to contribute to my child's school, but according to guilt ridden parents I either should not be allowed or I should have to give the money to all of the students on the district.
Life is unequal and sometimes unfair, you want to punish my student in some misguided sense of equity, justice or guilt, or belive that my student should be brought down because another students parents don't come from the same means tHan I do.

Anonymous said...

Bless your heart, Hard working. Don't sweat it. Please. You don't have to give one coppery cent. It's voluntary.


Megan Hazen said...

Awe, Kate Eads - don't give up! Last week seemed like a good week for libraries. We're learning; just slowly.

I would be interested in this solution. I think something depends on the implementation, but, assuming the foundation works reasonably I would like the opportunity to streamline my contributions.

Kathy barker said...

SeaMom, yes- a prohibition against PTAs paying for staff, etc should definitely happen. I didn't realize other cities had these, and had thought the only way to deal with the inequity of PTA funds being so different from place to place was to put the pta donations in one pool for the district. (Which I still think is a good idea...even having a percentage go into a pool, or to a sister school, would help school's whose PTAs can't raise the money others do.)

Melissa Westbrook said...

The current situation with the Alliance is that
1)there is no formal relationship,
2) the Alliance continues managing PTA funds for PTAs that sign up for that (and they make money off that which a bit of a sore point to the district),
3)they give out a few student scholarships,
4)the so-called Seattle Teacher Residency program that got started with SEA, SPS, UW Ed and the Alliance is slowly falling apart because no on wants to pay for it (but now SPS is paying thru the nose),
5)they pay for the district to be in the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy and
5) some other smaller investments.

While I applaud any group that wants to help Seattle Schools, I'm not sure this is "amazing work" and they have doubled down on their OWN agenda. Not the district's.

The people on the Board are mostly business types which is fine for the kind of foundation they want to be. I don't think it truly works for the district needs.

I don't trust the Alliance and I have no idea what real relationships still remain with them. I note that the last blog entry they have is September 2016.

From the website:
"Can the Alliance make a donation to my school or organization?

No, the Alliance does not make donations or grants directly to schools."

What the Alliance does is the opposite of what I am suggesting. These would be grants made directly to schools.

Cap hill said...

The notion that parents should not be able to give money to a PTSA because other schools don't raise equivalent funds is foolish and counterproductive. First, enacting that rule would just serve to strengthen private school attendance. Secondly, as a net it just reduces overall investment in public education. Similar in thinking to the notion that you can accelerate the closure of "opportunity gaps" by elimating advanced learning.

I believe that really only a small number of people advocate these kinds of stupid ideas. Unfortunately it is a very loud and deeply embedded group in SPS.

Cap hill said...

And yes, if there was a good governance model (i.e. Not SPS) I would give AND it would probably raise several million per year. Big if.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Where do you guys get this stuff?

I didn't say anything about
1) having to give money to any school you don't want to
or 2) not being able to give money to your own school if you don't share it.

I mean, right now you could give to any school via their PTA or Donors Choose. But, if there was pooled money, then a school could get a grant to get something big done for students.

Another Name said...

The A4E considered themselves a 'critical partner', which meant they were critical of the district. A4E did not have healthy boundaries and utilized the media for retaliatory efforts. At one point A4E inserted themselves into Collective Bargaining Agreements.

As I recall, A4E was using SPS's logo for fundraising purposes.

I'm glad they have been

Anonymous said...

"Would You Contribute to More Equity in Seattle Schools?"

Absolutely not. The problem with the whole "equity" discussion is that we don't have a common definition of what "equity" is. We all seem to have our own internalized definition, but no common understanding. SPS administration seems to use the term "equity" to justify whatever it wants to do. This is a recipe for continued confusion and frustration. Our goals, priorities and plans need to be clearly spelled out in well understood terms.

Fed up with "Equity"

Chris S. said...

What Lynn said.

Anonymous said...

"I would support it if I could direct my contribution to a particular project from a pre-vetted list."

Hmmm, why don't we do that with our donations at our own school?

Do we only micro-manage poor people?

Please explain.

M. Faraday

Lynn said...

Nope. I do the same thing at my children's schools. I'm not paying for math textbooks for example when the district just bought a perfectly good curriculum.

Anonymous said...

Great idea Lynn but how can I direct my PTA contributions where I want them? I send my daughter to art classes and don't like the art docent program at my school. Can I ask them to use my money for other things, I meanwon't they just blend it all together?

How does that work?