Private funding expands student opportunities, but over-reliance could be detrimental
- As traditional public schools struggle with shrinking budgets they should consider partnering with foundations, administrators at Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut write in a column for District Administration.
- With financial support from private institutions, Meriden has been able to, among other things, create a program that increases instructional time by 100 minutes each day; implement student-centered learning; build out academic, attendance and behavioral reports, and get students access to free courses at a local community college.
- In order to receive funding from foundations, Meriden Superintendent Mark Benigni and grants coordinator Lois Lehman write that districts should publish information on successful programming, present proposals of what they’d like to accomplish with extra funding and build relationships with those in the private sphere.
As charter schools come under more public scrutiny, foundations are increasingly eager to build partnerships with traditional public schools, Benigni and Lehman write in their article. Meriden credits private funding for helping the district hit its highest test scores and graduation rates and reducing suspensions. But while private dollars can benefit a school district — especially in a time of shrinking budgets — there are concerns that relying too much on private institutions can exacerbate inequities.
Placing pressure on state lawmakers to return funding to pre-recession levels and ensuring funding can be accessed by all districts — not just the ones that can afford smart grant writers — is still deemed critical in the long term. Twenty-nine states provided less overall state funding per student in the 2015 school year than in the 2008 school year, according to a 2017 analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)
“Private philanthropy isn't the way to fix these disparities,” Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, wrote in a recent op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It's hit or miss – an underfunded school or district shouldn't have to worry about whether any of its graduates become billionaires to meet its students' needs. Under-resourced, under-performing schools and districts serving low-income communities are the ones with the greatest needs, but also may have the hardest time attracting donations.”
Good public policy should be the focus when it comes to addressing inequities and inadequacy of education funding, Gordon Klehr continued to explain before detailing her organization's decision to sue the state of Pennsylvania and demand that it “fund our schools in a manner consistent with its constitutional obligations.”
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