Update: The school board–politically weighted toward less-wealthy Santa Monica–is pushing ahead with this, despite widespread and vehement opposition from Malibu parents. See the Malibu Times for further details.
I believe that both parents (citizens) and government officials need to find ways to increase equity for students in poorer neighborhoods, but this California proposal may be heading straight for the Land of Unintended Consequences by butting heads with parents’ self-interest.
The plan before the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District–which has strong support among school board members despite vocal parent opposition–would take funds raised by individual PTAs and put them in a district-wide pot (the nonprofit Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation) to be divvied up equally among all schools, rich and poor.
From the Malibu Times:
Supporters say this type of change is needed because schools that raise more money through their PTAs are able to provide better classes and programs to students that others cannot. The new policy, they say, would help create economic parity by helping to close the widening achievement gap.
Those against the plan believe it is unfair to take the PTA money from schools that raise more. Opponents who showed up at last week’s meeting, mostly comprised of Malibu parents and PTA members, said it would level the achievement gap only by lowering the standards of schools that excel in funding and academics. They also called the plan rushed, unclear and lacking in transparency. Some vowed to withdraw their support and stop donating money to PTAs if the change goes through the Board of Education at the end of this month.
While the school superintendent points to other school systems that have successfully adopted this approach, such a conclusion does seem counter-intuitive and perhaps counter-productive. One parent reported that her PTA stopped fundraising efforts upon hearing news of this plan.
Of course, draconian budget cutbacks are the driving force behind all this:
State funding for Santa Monica and Malibu schools was reduced last year by 19 percent, reverting the SMMUSD back to 2005-2006 budget levels. Locally, PTAs did an exemplary job raising money in the 2009-2010 school year, just under $4 million total, but from school to school, the money is distributed unevenly. The average cost per student on the elementary school level ranges, according to the presentation, from a high figure of $1,100 to a low $65. The Education Foundation raises an annual $400,000 to $500,000.
It’s a fascinating article. You can read it here.
Do you think this plan has merit, or is this another example of Mark Twain’s adage (and my epigraph to Chain Gang Elementary): “In the first place, God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.”