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Foundation Funding Widens the Gap Between California's 'Rich' and 'Poor' Schools

April 3, 2014

Southern California researchers are finding that foundations, set up to raise money for public schools, are reintroducing funding inequality that was supposed to be eliminated back in the 1970s, when the California Supreme Court ruled on the Serrano vs. Priest case.

“The court said spending needs to be equitable between school districts, you can’t have Beverly Hills spending twice as much as the other guys, per pupil, because a child’s education should not be dependent on the wealth of the area in which they happen to live,” said Cal State Fullerton professor Sarah Hill.

She and two colleagues have compiled information from about 1,500 education foundations and other fundraising groups such as booster clubs and PTAs, along with Internal Revenue Service data, to create a database Hill said is the first of its kind.

“We’re doing more of a sophisticated analysis looking at how wealth matters for which school districts are able to raise money. How demographics matter,” she said.

Some Northern California public school foundations are raising additional funds of about $2,000 per student. Researchers say that figure is a significant addition to the roughly $8,000 per student the state gives public schools each year. California's current level of per pupil spending is the second lowest in the country.

Seven of the 15 foundations that raised the most money in California are in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Manhattan Beach’s foundation, according to Hill’s data, raised $7.5 million in 2011 to boost instructional programs for roughly 6,800 students in the district. Irvine Unified’s foundation is number three on Hill’s list, with $5.1 million raised in 2011.

“This community in particular always wants more and wants better,” said Neda Eaton, CEO of the Irvine Public Schools Foundation.

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