An expected flood of new state money for San Francisco schools next fall was intended to offset educational inequities affecting students from low-income and immigrant families. But many school officials say other, more pressing needs will make it hard to target the extra dollars to schools or programs serving disadvantaged communities. They say most of the funds are needed to fill structural deficits, pay for existing districtwide programs and boost teacher pay across the board. School officials say it is not likely that the district will make drastic changes in programs for disadvantaged students the first-year rollout of California’s new Local Control Funding Formula.
PTA fundraising at public elementary schools in San Francisco is wildly uneven, with only a small number of schools raising enough money in recent years to avoid the worst effects of state budget cuts. Based on Public Press research and conversations with experts in the field, here are some options for addressing uneven access to funding for San Francisco’s public elementary schools.
Concerned about equity, 3 elementary school PTAs pool money for daytime enrichment
The tiny Albany Unified School District in the East Bay was, until 2011, like many others in the state: Schools with the best parent fundraising were able to reap all the benefits for their own kids. Superintendent Marla Stephenson said the disparities had been immediately apparent when she began working for the district in 2008. Three years later she led the switch to a single annual campaign for all three schools — one that could provide an example for San Francisco and other districts struggling with inequities made worse by parent fundraising.
Photo essay: Ana Hernandez, Junipero Serra Elementary; and Barry Schmell, Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy
Today, after five years of severe budget cuts in the San Francisco Unified School District, PTAs are being asked to pay for teachers, reading specialists, social workers and school psychologists, computers, basic school supplies, staff training and more. But not all PTAs can afford those things. Parents at just 10 elementary schools raise more than half the PTA money that all 71 elementary schools in the district take in. Many of the rest raise nothing, or almost nothing.
Ana Hernandez and Barry Schmell come from very different backgrounds, but they have at least one thing in common: They both lead their schools’ parent-teacher associations
The San Francisco Unified School District aims to spend its funds equitably, not necessarily equally. That means giving more to schools with the highest needs, based on a complex formula. But in the past decade, parents at some schools have developed sophisticated fundraising operations to make up for years of tight districtwide budgets. The result: parents at a few schools are able to significantly supplement their children’s education, while most are not.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS, PRIVATE MONEY: Parent fundraising for elementary education in S.F. skyrocketed 800 percent in 10 years. The largesse saved some classroom programs, but widened the gap between rich and poor.
In an era of shrinking public investment in schools, parents have struggled to hold the line one school at a time. Since the pre-recession year 2007, elementary school PTAs in San Francisco collectively managed to more than quadruple their spending on schools.
With this money, some schools have been able to pay teachers and staff, buy computers and school supplies, and underwrite class outings and enrichment activities. These expenses, previously covered by the taxpayers, are increasingly the responsibility of parents.
But school district finance data, PTA tax records and demographic profiles reveal an unintended byproduct of parents’ heroic efforts: The growing reliance on private dollars has widened inequities between the impoverished majority and the small number of schools where affluent parents cluster.
New state dollars will begin flowing into the San Francisco Unified School District in the fall — and policymakers and activists have already begun arguing over how to spend them. Should the San Francisco Board of Education use the $22 million from a new funding scheme to increase teacher salaries districtwide? Should it hire more classroom aides? Or should it adjust its decade-old equitable funding policy that gives a leg up to schools with many children from poor families?