Foundation Fallacies

10:18 pm

Discussion on the recent article PPS and the philanthro-capitalists touched on the inequities engendered by local school foundations. That discussion raised a couple common misconceptions about direct funding of schools, which I’d like to dispel.

1. “…my guess is that the [Title 1 funds] lower income schools receive equal, if not exceed, the amounts raised by foundations.”

If you browse through the school profiles published by the district, it’s easy to see where one could come up with this idea. In general, rich schools have positions funded by local school foundations (LSFs) and poor schools have Title 1 money. There are two problems with this assumption. First, it’s false. Second, even if it were true, it still wouldn’t be equitable.

Looking at dollars-per-student added to school budgets last school year from Title 1, Local school foundations (LSFs) and PTAs, eight of the top 10 schools in per-student additions are non-Title 1 schools: Abernathy, Chapman, Ainsworth, Forest Park, Irvington, Duniway, West Sylvan, Rieke and Stephenson. These schools raised between $273.60 (Stephenson) and $570.03 (Abernathy) per student.

Madison High, with over 65 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals got no Title 1 money. Benson High, with over 58 percent free and reduced, also got no Title 1 money.

One more example: Ockley Green K-8, with nearly 3 out of 4 students in poverty and 8 out of 10 non-white, got $189.84 per student in Title 1 money, while Ainsworth K-5, with less than six percent on free and reduced lunch and 80 percent white, added over $400 per student. Ainsworth’s teaching staff was increased nearly 33 percent through direct funding by parents.

More importantly, the idea that foundation money would simply supplant Title 1 money is misguided. Title 1 money is provided by the federal government to help ameliorate the problems associated with poverty, and there are very specific guidelines for its use. While foundation dollars reduce class sizes and preserve “enrichments” like certified art and music teachers and advanced college placement programs, Title 1 money is almost entirely spent on academic support (resource rooms, reading teachers, etc.) to help bring disadvantaged students up to grade level .

Even if Title 1 provided the exact same amount of money per student at poor schools as LSF money provides at rich schools, it still wouldn’t be nearly enough to overcome the disadvantages students affected by poverty must overcome, much less be equitable in terms of the kinds of programs schools can afford to provide their students.

2. “…one third of all funds raised goes directly to the Portland Schools Foundation, an umbrella organization that provides grants to close achievement gaps between students throughout the school district. One third to employ educators, a third to enrich our kids and a third to help others. Sounds fair to me.”

When you put it that way, it almost does sound fair. Almost. But there’s a problem with the assumption, and with the math.

First, until this school year, no money from the Portland Schools Foundation’s “Equity Fund” ever paid for a single teaching position at any school. This year, under the leadership of Dan Ryan, schools were finally allowed to spend this money on teaching positions; eight schools were awarded between $20,000 and $55,000. That’s a handful of full-time-equivalent teaching positions for the entire district.

For comparison, in one school year the LSFs at Lincoln High, West Sylvan Middle,  Ainsworth Elementary, Forest Park Elementary, Duniway Elementary and Bridlemile Elementary raised $224,680, $198,878, $193,766, $156,684, $113,187 and $110,005 respectively.

The problem with the math of thirds cited here is that only money used to pay for certified teachers is subject to the Equity Fund contributions, and the first $10,000 is exempt. So, for example, let’s say a school raises $150,000 at their auction, and decides to put $50,000 toward a teaching position. They’ll spend the rest on classroom aides, computers, books for the library, classroom supplies, and an after-school arts program, all of which is fully exempt from Equity Fund contributions.

For the teacher they hire, after the $10,000 exemption, they would tithe 30 percent of $40,000, or $12,000, to the Equity Fund. That’s eight percent of their total funds raised, not a third.

To be clear, nobody should be discouraged from supporting their kids’ school. But the system we have today is grossly unfair. Local school foundations have allowed wealthy neighborhoods to preserve pretty decent “public” schools while the rest of the district fights over crumbs. Dan Ryan is doing what he can to make the system more fair; allowing Equity Fund dollars to pay for teachers was an important first step in that direction.

While I appreciate Ryan’s good work and intentions, I advocate for the abolition of LSFs. Wealthy donors should be encouraged to donate to the district’s general fund and advocate for real, progressive tax reform, so that we can eliminate our two-tiered school system and all students can have access to a comprehensive education.

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Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

filed under: Data Crunch, Equity, Fundraising, Grants, PSF, Tax policy

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29 Responses

  1. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    Well said!

  2. Comment from Steve Buel:

    As I understand it, there is also a lot of money raised from schools which is raised for specific purposes which doesn’t go through the foundation. Adds even more to the disparitiies.

  3. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    This may not be the place for this statement, but it came up at my school (which feeds into Roosevelt) a few weeks ago. The athletic field at Lincoln was paid for (partly?) by PPS money, while Roosevelt has spent YEARS! trying to raise money for their athletic facilities. The person stating this is “in the know” (Roosevelt parent and PPS teacher). Anyone know what is going on here? I cannot imagine it is true, but then I know better.

  4. Comment from howard:

    Is it possible that PPS has too many clusters and stakeholders with competing interests that make financial and educational equity impossible to distribute?

  5. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    If we started with adequate funding, this wouldn’t be such a problem. Remember, the LSFs started in the wake of Measure 5.

    But even with inadequate funding from the state, there are ways of keeping things fair.

    Beaverton, with its neighborhood-based enrollment policy, centralized curriculum and larger schools (elementary, middle and high schools with about 600, 1000 and 2000 students respectively) has kept things very fair, and curriculum relatively rich (all schools have certified music teachers and library media specialists, for example).

    But while Beaverton stuck with this common sense model after Measure 5, PPS continued moving toward a free market model, with central control devolving to local autonomy and enrollment and funding flowing freely out of poor neighborhoods and into wealthy ones.

    The current HS plan seems to address this, at least for the top four out of 13 grade levels. But the size we’ve settled on won’t allow anything like the richness of programming they’ve kept in Beaverton, and will likely mean the current “haves” will either have to give up programming or redouble their private, direct funding in order to maintain it.

    In other words, the HS redesign appears to be playing into a trap of perpetuating the inequity of depending on direct funding to maintain a full curriculum.

    Yes, the plan will avoid the brutal political fight of closing more school buildings, but we’re left with a plan in the squishy middle that isn’t going to make anybody very happy, or provide anything on par with what every student in Beaverton can take for granted.

    And, more importantly, nobody in a leadership position at PPS has expressed a vision for a fair and comprehensive K-12 system.

    So the SS PPS appears to be sailing rudderless into an even more uncertain funding future. Not a good boat to be on if you care about the future of our city.

  6. Comment from Zarwen:

    “Yes, the plan will avoid the brutal political fight of closing more school buildings . . . .”

    Since when? I thought a stated element of this HS plan was to close 2-3 high schools. What did I miss?

  7. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I said “closing more highs schools.”

    To get to 2000+ students, and with PPS wanting a third in special focus, we’d only have three or four “community” high schools. Even if we get the focus option number down to 1000, we’d only have five community high schools.

    This would be vastly more controversial than the 2-3 they’re currently talking about closing/converting, but it might be the only way, given the perennial lack of funding from the state, for us to provide comprehensive education in Portland.

    But there is absolutely no will to even bring up this kind of thinking. The squishy, hand-wringing middle of the road rules our district.

  8. Comment from workingmom:

    I disagree but certainly respect your opinion on the matter. My children have to come first and for that I will make no apology and while I do a great deal of work around helping children like the one I once was I realized at some point that I cannot act at the expense of my own children which would squander my mother’s endless sacrifices and force me to put faith in some bureaucrat or system that has never come through for anyone I know in a meaningful way. Agree or disagree I still appreciate this blog even if I don’t share its faith in people and their committees.

  9. Comment from Sherwood:


    Don’t feel bad about stating the obvious about human nature. This proposal may bring down some successful schools, which would make a few people very happy, but would do nothing to help struggling schools. Active parents would either lobby hard to get more of the limited PPS resources or, far more likely, just give up and send their kids to private schools where they will be allowed some control. The result would be a hollowed-out public school system like every other big city in the US.

    PPS needs to make sure that every student has access to all the basic courses and that the heat works. That is ambitious enough. They cannot fix societies inequalities or change human nature.

  10. Comment from Steve Buel:

    All the people I know who have decried the inequities have no wish to see any school brought down. What they want is to have the schools that have struggled be brought up. Is one possible without the other? That is the question. If not, then we have already hallowed out the public school system.

  11. Comment from marcia:

    I am with you Mr. R…get rid of the Foundation…and just a reminder, folks…Vote yes on measures 66 and 67 and spread the word to your friends, relatives and neighbors. Having money available to properly fund schools in the first place would help alleviate this inequity. I, for one, am sick of thinking we have to fund our schools with fundraisers, auctions, raffles, etc. etc.

  12. Comment from Zarwen:

    Steve B. asks, “Is one possible without the other?”

    My answer: not with the crew we have in charge.

  13. Comment from Stephanie:

    This is the same conversation I have had at most of the high school redesign meetings ~ Is the district responsible for solving societies inequalities? ~ Attempts at doing the right thing sometimes cause a bad thing to happen. Ignorance of another persons point of view in decision-making is one reason why bad things happen. The district is at least trying to gain another point of view with all these meetings because of the history of painful top down decisions over the years. PPS is not responsible for societies inequalities but it owes Portland an attempt to address the obvious wrongs it has created along with the majority voters. An easy step is to only allow people to vote for the school board members in their area. This would at least be a way for PPS to gain some real perspective on the school board.
    Nobody wants successful schools to fail, we just want all kids to have an equal floor of opportunity to receive a free and appropriate public education. In the words of Billie Jean, “Fair is fair! We didn’t start this, we didn’t mean it to happen, but we’re not givin’ up til you pay.

  14. Comment from east vs. west:

    “Having money available to properly fund schools in the first place would help alleviate this inequity.”

    Out of curiosity, I went to the PPS website to check budget numbers. It looks as if the all funds budget for this year is about $630 million, while last year and the year before were about $450 million-ish. I can’t be sure that we have a funding issue when the budget appears to be increasing even in tough economic times. It seems like we could be spending less or at least prioritizing differently.

    I’m unsure, but it seems like we might need to take issue with the legislature for their funding priorities. The legislature makes the decisions on the programs they fund. It seems as if they might have chosen to short education knowing that the general public would rally to a tax increase in order to help the schools, and hence make the legislature’s job easier such that they could avoid the hard decisions.

    Again, I don’t really know, so I look forward to the discourse.

  15. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    East vs. West—when I started teaching in 1975 elsewhere, schools were not funded and I spent my first 10 years getting dumped and re-hired. Fun? Not! Came here to find schools nicely funded in PDX until Measure 5 in 1990, and we know where we are now.

    Curiously, I began reading Frank McCourt’s “Teacher Man”. Now, he started in the 50′s and the same complaints about shortages, funding, etc!!!

    Truth is, our culture does not value education, does not value teachers and teaching, and until we value education and teaching like other places do, well, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”.

    I don’t have a solution to this. But after being in education for FOUR DECADES (a dinosaur), NOTHING HAS CHANGED AT ALL.

    Dang, that was a depressing post, sorry!

  16. Comment from east vs. west:

    I actually think the opposite is true! But not for that public support, folks would not attend and support the fundraisers they do, whether they are the huge auctions or the small sales events schools hold.

    I think that folks don’t like hearing teachers complain about things – that definitely gets old. We know that we work really hard with very few resources and way more hours than we will ever get credit (or paid) for. We must be gracious in our statements of need and in our communication tactics both with our district folks and with the public image we put out there, dontcha think?

  17. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    East vs. West: Oh, poop on being “gracious”—been there, done that. Sorry. Sugarcoating never made anything better, and education has gone corporate (see other threads on this website). Clear example: the PAT went to Carole Smith way before our contract had expired, to get early and non-disruptive negotiations started. They tried being gracious, and after attending bargaining sessions, the union BENT OVER BACKWARDS ON THE GRACIOUSNESS METER. In my opinion, our union IS WAY TOO NICE, AND PLAYS BY THE RULES WAY TOO MUCH, compared to the PPS. Oh, that got us real far, didn’t it? (I do hope you are going to the rally tonight?

    People who know teachers, many parents, people are related to teachers, or were profoundly affected by one—well, they are on our side. Not everyone is sour about education, but Joe Six-Pac,k and our culture in general, does not support PUBLIC education and teachers either empaththetically, or financially!

    Ok, I’m done with this, made my point. Here’s another good book to digest: “Bright Sided” by Barbara Erenreich–not specifically about education, but we are in there!

  18. Comment from Sarah Carlin Ames:

    A breakdown of Title I support and staffing by school is on pages 45 to 48 of the budget document (starting on page 52 of the posted PDF):

    Elementary and pK-8 schools with more than 40% of kids eligible for free and reduced priced meals get $725 per eligible student. Middle schools eligible for Title I get $652 per eligible kid. Any school (high schools included) with 75% F/R eligible kids gets $735 per student. And Title I kindergartens get $1,900 per kid to cover the full-day costs.

    Ockley Green, with 245 F/R eligible kids (out of just over 300), is getting $177,625 in Title I dollars for school programs and $47,500 for kindergarten program support. A total of $225,125.

    The school district also allocated a total of 91.5 staff positions this year to schools based on socio-economic status (the SES FTE in the table). To stick with Ockley Green, that school got 1.12 FTE based on its relatively low income student body.

    Again, it’s all in the budget document.

  19. Comment from Susan:

    Unfortunately, what’s not in the budget is how Title I funds are used. Also not in the budget is the amount of private funds that are raised annually by each school and of that amount how much is either raised or donated to the school’s foundation.

    Maybe also in the budget, but not mentioned above is that kindergarteners who qualify for free or reduced price meals are also eligible for free full-day kindergarten even if the school they attend is not enjoying Title I status. So say, even Laurelhurst which is nowhere near Title I status with 10% free and reduced price meals does have access to free full-day kindergarten for those qualified students.

    “Scholarships are available to all families who qualify for free or reduced price meals. This year, 238 kindergarteners received those scholarships (an increase of 82 over the previous year) and 8 additional students received severe hardship discounts (implemented this year), for families who don’t qualify for F/R meals but who feel they cannot afford full tuition based on severe hardship”

    Because of the nature of the original post, it seems strange to offer how much money Title I schools enjoy, while not balancing it with how the funds have to be used or how much funds are raised and used by private means at non-Title I schools.

  20. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Sarah Carlin’s comments give me the impression that she thinks poor people should just be happy with what they get (crumbs).

    As for Title 1…Sarah forgot to mention that annually Title I schools return (they now call it carryover) hundreds of thousands of dollars due to poor planning by Title I principals and administrators.

    From the Portland Tribune in 2003…”Thirty-three of the district’s poorest schools last year failed to spend more than $500,000 in federal money given to them to help their struggling students.”

    In 2007/08, Title I schools failed to spend $466,553 in Title I funds.

    I also find Sarah’s comments odd.

    Let’s put this in perspective. The Lincoln High School Long Term Development Committee is looking at building a new $63 million school because Lincoln is “antiquated”.

    Meanwhile, Jefferson High School lacks fire alarm horns/strobes, smoke detectors, emergency exit signage, and emergency lighting systems.

    In addition, there are 10 drinking fountains and 5 toilet rooms that are not accessible.

    Where is Jefferson, Marshall or Roosevelt’s $63 million (conservative estimate, I’m sure) building?

  21. Comment from marcia:

    The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

  22. Comment from Clarity:

    Just offering some clarity… Most foundations you have named (all that I’m aware of) use their funds for staffing only. They don’t buy supplies, computers, materials. So 1/3 is for nearly every dollar raised. And it doesn’t matter if the employee is a teacher or an EA or other classified staff. If they are a employee, they must pay via the PSF and must pay the 1/3 on top of all expensive… that’s salary and 100% benefits. So a third year teacher making $37,985 teacher will cost a foundation $60,807. No lie! plus 1/3 (see the foundations formula for calculating – it is not a straight 1/3 calculation) minus the first 10,000 = $86,000… for a 3rd year teacher.

  23. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Clarity, since only Foundation money can be used for staff then it would make sense to raise money for other things like supplies, materials, and computers outside of the Foundation since that money would not have to be shared. Hence, the Foundation money of course would be used for staff only. Wonder what the totals are when all the money raised is counted?

  24. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Buel, you’re right, only money used for staffing is channeled through the foundation. I’ve got some numbers on other money raised, but it’s not necessarily consistent or accurate.

  25. Comment from mary:

    Solve societies’ inequities? Is balancing enrollment and offering similar curriculum at district high schools really an attempt to solve the inequities of society? There will still be plenty of advantages for middle class and up children after the high school redesign. The district does have a responsibility to provide equal opportunity for students within the district. This is well within the district’s scope. Fear not that a successful school will be “brought down.” A moderate decrease in enrollment for crowded schools may ensure your student is not in a biology class with 50 children or a PE class of 80. Parents with adequate financial resources may continue to choose to fund the foundation, pay for Saturday Academy, SAT prep classes, tutors, private athletic coaches and all the private sector enrichments they are currently buying.

  26. Comment from Sarah Carlin Ames:

    One reason I usually refrain from posting on this blog is because people often take the opportunity to put words in my mouth or imply motivations for my words. Carrie did that in this case.

    For the record, I read over Steve’s original post, saw the Ockley Green numbers and thought those couldn’t be right. I then looked up the numbers and shared the data and cited my reference.

    I did not engage in a debate about his points, and I certainly did not mean to imply that I “think that poor people should be happy with what they get (crumbs).”

    Perhaps I should just stop engaging in this blog entirely.

  27. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Also for the record, the numbers I posted are directly from the Portland Schools Foundation. I haven’t had time to reconcile the differences between those numbers and what Sarah posted.

    Suffice it to say, it is exceedingly difficult to get consistent, accurate data on private funding of our schools. Even PSF doesn’t know what schools are bringing in if it doesn’t go through the LSF channels, and they don’t have a reliable way of finding out. They basically call PTA presidents and ask them. Most of us know how difficult and error-prone that is.

  28. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Sarah, you are right. This is a tough blog. All the work PPS is doing is tough work. There are so many past errors to rectify it is rediculous. I was impressed by the panel last night at Franklin — district administrators under Carole are really trying to be more empathetic and give the impression of listening. While also admitting past errors. Errors incidentally that people on this blog pointed out prior to the district making them over and over again. I know the district is overwhelmed with trying to fix so many things that have gone wrong and are screwed up. As one of the administrators said last night in a private conversation — we don’t have anything that works. Yet, instead of climbing out of the hole(s) they continue to disregard advice from sources such as the people on this blog who are not in it to be important or make sure their kids get theirs.

    For instance, the high school redesign plan presented to improve the equity sitution is pretty much unworkable and not saleable. It would be massively improved if the district would move the “boutique” schools into the comprehensive high schools then three things happen. 1) there is even more flexibility in offerings 2) kids have easy access to after school activities and sports since they are right on campus at the end of the day, not across town, and 3) it avoids huge school closure fights and school closures which will have negative impacts throughout Portland’s neighborhoods.

    It is easy to say “I am sorry and I feel your pain.” It is much harder to say, “that is a great idea and we need to make sure it gets done.”

    I am just afraid that the new empathetic approach is not much different in the end from the old defensive and dismissive “we have the power approach.”

  29. Comment from John B. Tang:

    Community members should be asking for an exhaustive investigation of how Title I is being spent. Important issues need to be raised as to whether title I has been spent equitably. For example, many ELL students qualify for Title I, but how many of them are being served by Title I monies. We as community members should also be concerned about how ARRA money is being spent. This is federal stimulus money and it should be transparent to the public as to how it is being spent. There should have been public input as to how this money is being divided into programs. And why was the authority to use ARRA money given to the person responsible for Title I funding? There seemed to be very little process as to how the central office reached these decisions. Reorganization of the central office was another example of top-down approach. Some of it makes sense, some of it does not make sense at all. Take Robb Cowie’s department as an example. How people were lumpsumped together did not make any sense at all. Was this an effort to justify his pay and his promotion. TAG and Student Voice are now part of his department as well. What logic does the district follow?

    Let’s ask for transparency, explanation and inclusion of public input in what PPS central is doing!!!