School fundraising inequities: Should Oakland follow Portland’s lead?

During a town hall meeting last week at International High School, Superintendent Tony Smith talked about Portland’s efforts to make school-based fundraising more equitable. He said each school could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that anything over that cap was diverted to needier schools.

Well, he was partly right. I just got off the phone with Beryl Morrison, who’s president of the Portland PTA and a board member of the Portland Schools Foundation. Here’s the story:

Portland’s PTAs do not have a cap. But some schools, in addition to a PTA, have established local school foundations — school-based organizations that can legally fund teaching positions (on the district’s payroll). The foundations were established in 1995 by the Portland school board.

Of every dollar a local school foundation earns above $15,000, one-third of the money flows to the Portland Schools Foundation — and, later, to other schools. Right now, some of those proceeds are distributed based purely on need (a school’s socioeconomic make-up, as well as the size of its PTA budget, if it even has a PTA), and some money is awarded through competitive grants.

Morrison has an interesting perspective, as a leader in both organizations. She said that, for the most part, PTAs and local foundations tend to work well together; it helps that they usually raise money for different purposes. “It has been very favorably received,” she said.

She said this system was created because the disparities between the haves and the have-nots was so great. “It’s really easy to live in a bubble in your school,” she said.

What do you think of this model?

Stay tuned: Later this week, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about the expansion of the Oakland Small Schools Foundation, and how ed funds in some other cities operate.

Note: As someone graciously pointed out to me, I neglected to mention the existence of the Marcus Foster Education Fund in an earlier blog post on the topic. The Oakland-based organization supports a number of projects, including Family University, college scholarships and the Fund for Teachers. Founded in 1973 by the Oakland superintendent who was assassinated that same year — and later named after him — it was apparently one of the first ed funds in the country.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Hillcrest parent

    I believe several Oakland Elementary schools already have programs in place to fundraise for “under funded” schools. Hillcrest Elementary raises money each year for another Oakland school. Parents and kids also work several times a year at another school to help clean up, organize, donate computers, etc.

  • TheTruthHurts

    What I would say is that if public education has the goal of educating every child (debatable given the results), the system we have now is broken – including site-based foundations.

    How it gets fixed will involve all the political messiness that we’re used to in Oakland. At least the guy is calling out the problems and willing to name it. I guess that’s a start.

    He’s better off without a specific proposal at this point because all we do is put a bullseye on it and start firing – me included.

  • Nextset

    People will not contribute their hard earned money to schools they would never send an employees child to. If the urban public schools continue disidentifying with middle class values – producing products who are self centered, disrespectful, illiterate and espouse counterculture values (socialism for example) there will be no significant money collected in these foundations.

    Unlike Piedmont Unified School District’s fundraising.

    As far as “inequities” – well they are there for a reason.

    Nobody wants to feed a cancer.

  • Katy Murphy

    It is true that families at some Oakland schools raise money for schools in the city, and/or volunteer at them.

    Hillcrest Parent’s post reminded me about the school’s work day at the Lockwood campus almost two years ago, which I blogged about at the time: http://bit.ly/aKbVV

    What other examples of partnerships and school-to-school cooperation can you think of? And how can these efforts grow?

  • Katy Murphy

    Oh, and I have an addendum to that question:

    Are such inter-school partnerships (in addition to local foundations that serve schools in low-income areas) enough? Or should OUSD make a more systemic change, a la Portland?

  • Pollyanna

    I know we did a book drive for another school last year. It was a big success – there were so many books brought in!

  • Helen

    I’d suggest a variation on Mr. Smith’s formula. Above the cap, some percentage of the money raised would be shared with the rest of the schools. That way schools would still have an incentive to keep raising money, but also would be sharing with the other schools in the district.

  • Katy Murphy

    Helen: It sounds like you were describing something similar to the Portland model, where 1/3 of the money above $15,000 is shared with other schools and the rest of it stays put.

    Do you think such a model would work in Oakland?

  • Hills Mom

    Katy, you know the answer to this one. The vast majority of the 77 elementary schools don’t fundraise. You can take 50% of the money raised by the <10 schools that raise significant amounts of money, put it one pot to distribute it and each of the receiving schools would receive very little money. Now picture trying to distribute 1/3rd of each dollar after the threshold chosen.

    Before we praise Portland I’d like to know what their schools are raising money to cover. Teacher aides? Music and art? The majority of OUSD hills schools’ PTA budgets consists of personnel expenses to cover such basics. I can’t see families that work hard to raise this money too thrilled about getting their budget slashed, especially given what little impact it would have (and it would be small…77 elementary schools!).

  • Katy Murphy

    You make an important point about the number of schools in the district that would potentially be sharing the redistributed funds — although I’d be surprised if there were fewer than 10 schools that raise significant amounts of money. I guess it depends on what you consider significant.

    (As an aside, there is some talk in Portland of upping the redistributed amount from 1/3 to half.)

    In case there was any doubt, I’m not holding up Portland’s model as Oakland’s answer — or saying that it wouldn’t work. I’m just laying out what I’ve learned since Oakland’s superintendent has cited Portland’s example.

  • Debora


    Use this website to find out the funding for the schools in the district. Use the Historical figures, then click the latest year.

    For example you will find Hillcrest, which receives $5,400 (approximately per year) then add the $800 per student they raise from the PTA and you come up with about $6,200 per year per student.

    Then take a school such as Hoover elementary which receives approximately $7,100 per student with no fundraising.

    To use Tony’s own words, “That’s a pretty significant amount of money.”

    Of course there are different practices in play. Of course it costs a lot more public money to educate a poor child than a middle-class child. But Tony should be completely transparent about the money. Just as parents who collect PTA money should be completely transparent about the amount of money they fundraise and the number of volunteer hours. Every single parent, every one, should have to volunteer hours at their child’s public school. Parents who work two or more jobs should not have to volunteer as much as other parents. But EVERY parent must give their time, their talent and their effort toward their children’s education.

    I have offered to help three different schools start their PTAs. I have even been confronted on this blog. There are many, many parents from schools with underperforming students that choose not to attend meeting, choose not to volunteer and have a belief that $7,000 per year of government money is enough to educate their children.

    We need a massive education effort directed to parents whose children are not performing well. We need to teach them to read the STAR test results. We need to teach them how to read the standards for each grade. We need to teach them how to read the periodic assessments between report cards so they are not surprised at the results. We need to make sure that if they cannot help their students with the assigned homework, that their children stay after school with someone who is able to help the students with questions about their homework.

    We need to hold parents accountable for parenting their children. We need to hold parents and administrators accountable for transparency in funding. Everyone associated with a school needs to volunteer at that school.

  • Debora

    Flatland Oakland School API 906 $6,700 per year (approximately)

    Socioeconomically Disadvantaged 81 %
    English Learners 51 %
    Students with Disabilities 6 %

    Parents who are at the school volunteering and making sure their children’s homework is done every night, students arrive to school on time, rested and ready to learn.

    Lincoln Elementary

  • Nextset

    Debora: That’s good news about Lincoln Elementary.


    The difference between the brights and the dulls become manifest after puberty. When Educrats want to deceive people into thinking that all is well, they will always use stats from elementary schools. It’s a very old trick.

    Elementary public education is important. It’s great when things seem to be going well. But I cringe when I see politicians and Educrats posing for photos with some good news event about a school for younger children. I really love hearing something positive about some 11th grade somewhere. I don’t see much of that.

    As far as what parents should be doing for the schools – No. It doesn’t work that way. Parents work to keep the PG&E turned on and there will be (few) no parents hanging around the schools doing volunteer work thanks to our Brave New World tax policies that forces women to work outside the home – indeed forces middle class people to work 2 jobs nowadays to keep the family in a middle class existance. You are dead wrong to speak of parents donating their time in the schools. In 6 to 12 months you will see the economy worse than ever. People are hustling to make it.

    The middle class have a right to expect the schools to do their job without demanding donated labor from the parents. And parents want pros working in the schools not unemployed/unemployable other parents. We are all taxed too much already. There will be no forcing of people to donate their time. (Although some private schools do have such a policy and those parents know what they are buying into.)

    Maybe the public schools should better spend the money they are allowed.

  • Debora


    The money that my daughter’s school raises for the PTA means that when you take total profit minus expenses of our fundraising efforts divided by the number of hours volunteered to pull off the events, we hit a ratio of about the minimum wage. Some events are a little higher than minimum wage, some a lot less than minimum wage.

    What fundraising, PTA attendance and participation in schools does is raises the learning levels of children. If the “politicians” and “educrats” were honest, they would tell you that the data shows parents who participate in their children’s education AT THE SCHOOL, have students who learn more of the material faster, more deeply and are able to demonstrate that knowledge on standardized tests – not just the fill in the bubble, multiple-choice type questions but essay questions as well.

    The volunteering is for the benefits of the learning environment as well as the benefit of the school grounds and fundraising.

    If there had been parents at the school in Chicago would the bullying have risen to the point of murder? I sincerely doubt it. I see the mothers of the accused young men out on the streets holding pictures of their “innocent” sons and I want to ask “Where were you the morning that young man was murdered? Were you actively walking around the school as you are now?” I believe the answer would be no. I believe that parents at the school would have resulted in nothing more than “mean mugging” on school grounds if parents were present.

  • Nextset

    Debora, I agree with you on the difference parents being present makes.

    It’s not going to happen.

    Ghetto children don’t have “parents”. They are produced typically when a badly raised female mates with a casual male acquaintance who never committed to her and has no intention of raising children or committing to the particular female for long. The resulting children are dumped on an older female who herself is part of the same syndrome. Otherwise the children are carried along by the single female herself who continues her pattern of dallying with casual acquaintance males. In such a family grouping, education is not taken seriously and life is chaotic with a series of upsets from financial to violence to housing to health. Nuclear family is the exception not the norm.

    Intact families are part of middle class structure. Since government policy compels such people to be two incomes in order to have any chance of a middle class existence there is no time for volunteer work during business hours. The trend is for much worse. The middle class is shrinking and we are becoming a society of haves and have-nots. (rotten schools are a big part of this)

    Unemployed mothers acceptable for hanging around a school tend to be higher up on the socioeconomic ladder. There are fewer and fewer of these women. We are about to enter a period of economic collapse where retirees will have to unretire – if not to support themselves than to support their extended families.

    The PTA is on the way out. You may want to read accounts of the fall of the Soviet Union and the living conditions post collapse. Things are getting real interesting here in the USA.

    And remember – the superinflation the USA is about to undergo will quickly make worthless fixed incomes such as social security and pensions. The US government will impose rationing to try to protect living standards of the fixed incomes. That will fail (to halt the decline in living standards) as it did in the USSR and as rationing always does.

    The schools cannot count on any supply of free employable adults as guest workers.

    Brave New World.

  • Katy Murphy

    I just came across another city-wide foundation model — the recent merger of San Franciso Education Fund and San Francisco School Volunteers.

    I’d like to know what you think about this approach to improving the city’s school system as a whole. In addition to fundraising and other initiatives, the San Francisco Ed Fund drums up and organizes the support of local businesses (which connect with individual schools) and community volunteers.

    You can read more about it here:


  • Helen

    There is another point to ‘sharing the wealth’ that hasn’t been raised. Even if it doesn’t raise a significant amount of money for any one school, it does create more of a sense of total Oakland community — that we’re in this together — instead of the us vs. them that I sense today. I don’t think that this alone will break down any barriers, but it might just nibble a bit at the edges. We need to keep looking for a lot of different ways to working together. And keep doing them all.

  • Caroline

    Katy, as an involved SFUSD parent I’m familiar with the SF Ed Fund and SFSV, of course — as well as another organization, the SF School Alliance.

    The Ed Fund’s historic mission has been to fund specific projects, while SFSV has been a conduit for getting volunteers into the schools. Neither serves as the kind of all-around foundation raising funds for all schools that we see in the suburban school foundations.

    The SF School Alliance is more that kind of foundation, but doesn’t have the high profile that it seems evident would be desirable — in fact, they’ve kind of laid low as a strategic policy, for some reason. The most effective strategy, in my book, for getting serious about fundraising for SF schools would be for the SF School Alliance to do the whole high-profile community campaign that we see in Mill Valley and Orinda, and for one, two or all three foundations to get very serious about grant-seeking for the benefit of all SFUSD schools.

    An important corollary effort would be to convince the big funders who are pouring millions into education fads-of-the-moment, like charter schools and Teach for America, that it would be more effective to truly support public schools. There are many voices making that case right now, but we’re pretty marginalized voices.

  • Michael Siegel

    A city-wide education fund would be challenging, from both a fundraising and management perspective. To approach potential donors and ask for, i.e., a $25 donation to support “Oakland schools,” would be to ask for a drop in the bucket. Also, to administrate a fund that is supporting 100+ schools would be pretty challenging, from efficiency and equity perspectives.

    I was a part of the founding of the Oakland Small Schools Foundation, which might serve as a good model. The idea there was to support the nascent small schools movement (then called “new small autonomous schools”). The original Board of Directors consisted of principals of those five schools. The idea was that each school could conduct fundraising that would be tax-deductible, and that the group of schools could also seek grant funding together (i.e., to support after-school education and enrichment). From what I know, OSSF has experienced considerable success and has expanded greatly since.

    A similar approach might be useful to approach discrete areas of the Oakland schools. Examples might be: a fund to support high school sports; to support music; to support West Oakland schools; and so forth. I think that you need a particular focus in order to attract people to serve on the Board of Directors and to get funding. Otherwise, you are essentially asking for a donation to OUSD, which is probably not an attractive idea for most people.

  • anon

    Katy– I’d like to know if all the Portland schools get the same amount of money from the district. If so, I think we need to see that happen before there’s any foundation-building. It’s utterly unjust that Montclair school (as just one example) has to raise money for computers, teacher training, sports equipment, or yard supervision, when many other schools all over the district either get this from district or Title I money. The parents are raising money and putting in a huge amount of voluteer time to fill a void that should be filled by our district. I would find it hard as a parent to start volunteering even more or diverting hard-earned funds elsewhere, when elsewhere already gets much more than my own kids’ school. It’s a shame that this feels so political and the focus is so much on money. If parents at every school were really involved in reading to and with their children, attending parent nights, etc. we’d all be better off, and we’d do it without spending a dime. A district like Orinda or Piedmont gets WAY less than Oakland from the state, and their foundations don’t really raise that much more overall, but you’ve got a group of educated, committed parents who want their children to thrive and love learning. They also don’t have the crazy huge overhead and bureaucracy of a gazillion staff members working for their districts. Maybe the superintendent could streamline his staff structure and focus on educating parents about how best to support their child’s education? I think we could go a long way at every school…

  • Gordon Danning


    Title I is federal money that is distributed according to the number of qualifying students at each school. The District can’t give it to other schools. Moreover, the District cannot reduce general funds to a school because that school gets Title I money; Title I is meant to supplement, not supplant, regular funding.

  • anon

    Thanks Gordon, I am aware of how Title I money is awarded. I’m simply stating that a school that gets Title I money for things like computers, teacher training, classroom aids, and more might not be totally deserving of funds raised by another school, if the other school that raised the funds is starting with so much less money and has none of those things, since they didn’t receive anything from Title I to cover the costs. It’s also interesting to see how Title I money gets spent– one school recently had a wonderful catered retreat for the teachers. Should a school that doesn’t get Title I money have to divert 20-30% of their funds raised to support more catered events at another school, when their own teachers get a potluck put on by the parents in the staff room, if they’re lucky? I did hear that the superintendent is considering giving less money to schools that have an active PTA that knows how to work hard as both volunteers and fundraisers, and this again seems patently unfair– just as wrong as what you pointed out: that the district can’t give Title I money to other schools that don’t have as many qualifying students. It’s also documented that schools in Oakland get very different amounts of money per student from the district (not considering sources like Title I), and this is something that should be looked at, before we start the redistribution of money raised by indivduals and the community. Some schools are raising a lot via their PTA becuase they don’t have any other way to pay for such basics as supplies in the classroom, paint for the walls, and more. If we were all on the same playing field (at least in terms of the amount of money spent per student by the district), I think folks would feel better about working together as a community to better ALL of the schools across all socio-economic levels and cultural ways.

  • Gordon Danning

    Anon: IS it documented that different schools get different amounts of money per student from the District? I thought that, under result-based budgeting, everyone got the same amount per student. But I am no expert; perhaps someone who is in the know can post that information.

    Also, if certain schools have more excess money, it might be because those schools have more inexperienced, and hence, inexpensive, teachers. Whether that is equitable or not is an interesting question.

    Your point is well taken re: how money is spent; we certainly waste plenty of our money.

  • Katy Murphy

    Below is a link to a document that OUSD’s financial services put out in the summer of 2008. It tells us how much money each school was allocated in 2007-08, broken down by funding source, and how much the schools were projected to get in 2008-09. (With one major caveat: Much of the state grant money wasn’t yet “loaded” into the 2008-09 budgets. I’m trying to see if where I can find updated info for that year).


  • anon

    Thank you Katy!

  • On The Fence

    Nextset is on to something when he writes about OUSD needing to attract support or re-enfranchise the middle and upper middle classes. These are the folks who can and do leave the system for private schools, taking their funding, extra dollars and volunteer efforts with them.

    Some middle and upper middle class families stay due to various personal and philosophical reasons. Many of these reasons are already for the ‘greater good’ as they could simply worry about their own brood and leave the system. My experience is that many of those families work VERY hard to make their public school option viable for their children and every other child who attends. Believe it or not, many of the families in the hills school struggle to give both financially and through their time for the benefit of MANY, MANY kids at their local schools. These schools are often models of success. Why would anyone want to thwart their efforts by taking away their HARD earned funds?

    This model of biting the hand that feeds (volunteers/donates) does not work. The City of Oakland just tried this by initiating predatory parking fees against its tax base and citizenry and the outrage was monumental! I suspect that this would be the final straw for many families who are trying to make their public option work.

  • Concerned Parent

    On The Fence, you are sooo right! We can only hope that our new superintendent and other decision makers read your words and take them into careful consideration as they plan for our schools and our children.

  • peter

    A few points of fact before we get too carried away—
    Some schools do receive more funding “per student” than others, but that is due to what is called “categorical” (or “restricted”) funding. This funding is received for a reason (the most typical is Title 1: students who are “at risk”), and the funds can only be spent on certain things that specifically assist the targeted students. Every expenditure has to be justified if it comes from categorical funds.
    For example, if a school receives funding for English language learners, they will receive a certain amount for every language learner at the school and no more. This might make it look like some schools are funded at higher rates but in fact every language learner receives the same extra funding. Some schools just don’t have that many. Additionally, this funding can only be spent on items that would assist these students in learning English, which means no catered retreats, no supplies, no computer lab, etc.
    Title 1 is the most well known and largest categorical fund, and as I mentioned covers students who are “at risk.” I do not know of any school in Oakland that does not receive these federal funds, but certainly some schools receive a lot more than others, and if you cross a certain threshold of students “at risk” you are funded for the rest as well (that threshold is pretty high, not sure the exact number but it’s more than 80%). There are schools in other districts that do not receive any title 1 funding for various reasons—some just don’t want to bother with the compliance, others wish to avoid NCLB-based labels & penalties (only schools that receive federal funding are at risk of being labeled “program improvement” no matter how lousy they may be). Again, these funds are to make up for what the students presumably do not receive due to their “at risk” status, not for catered lunches, etc. Much of this goes to supplies, as by law title one students MUST be supplied the paper, pencils, etc. that they need.
    One area that does really change the bottom line from school to school is teacher salaries, which manifests itself in many interesting ways. Many experienced teachers are more interested in working at more affluent schools, which decreases the amount of general purpose (non-restricted) funds available. Also, as these schools are more affluent, they receive less from other funding sources… except from parents (many of whom seem to think that title one schools are blowing their cash on decadent parties!).
    PS: much of what I wrote can be seen easily in the school by school budgets Katy posted, hopefully my words make them a little more understandable.

  • anon


    I don’t think it’s fair to say that parents think title I schools are blowing their money on decadent parties. I do know that the “restricted money” is really restricted. For example, a friend of mine teaches at a Title I school and wanted to use the money for new books and sorely needed supplies, but was told it had to be used for computers. According to my friend, her school has “computers coming out of its ears in every corner”. Why is that the case, and why can’t they share with schools in other places such as the hills, where not every classroom has a computer, and the ones they do have are mostly not working? I’m so tired of hearing/reading that the “at risk” kids are only in the flatlands and the “haves” are only in the hills! It’s just not that simple, and I also really, really like what On The Fence has to say.

  • peter

    This is your quote from above:
    “It’s also interesting to see how Title I money gets spent– one school recently had a wonderful catered retreat for the teachers.”
    That makes it fair to say that at least YOU think title 1 schools are “blowing their money on decadent parties,” and also makes it clear that you don’t (or didn’t) know that restricted money is really restricted.
    As far as why that school has so many computers I cannot possibly guess, but I can say that (again) since the money is restricted, of course they cannot trade the things they buy with it for other equipment (or money) at other schools.
    This is not to imply in anyway that “haves” are in one area or that “have-nots” are in another area—it is a clarification of the laws that govern all this money! And if you don’t like the way it is governed, let your state and national representatives know. Mr. Smith clearly doesn’t, and is trying to adjust things so that ALL schools have access to discretionary funds like the few schools with fund-raising schools.

  • anon

    Peter– I don’t think catering for a teacher training is “lavish”, that’s your choice of wording. I am actually a California credentialed teacher, have worked in a Title I school, and know more than you may think or assume I know about things like Title I funding. My main point is that things are really broken across the schools in ALL areas, and taking from some schools, a la Robin Hood, isn’t going to fix anything in the short or long term. I do think it would be good to get the state and national representatives in on this, and maybe we oould say bye to the high-priced “consultants” while we’re at it.

  • peter

    In that case I recommend you stating your main point more clearly and earlier in your posts, and avoiding inflammatory & incorrect statements that suggest title one funds are being spent on retreats. I am not trying to belittle your knowledge of the subject and I think that the “main point” you state above is as worthy of debate as any other opinion, however it is no assumption to suggest your knowledge of school funding is lacking—your statements about retreats and trading computers are simply factually incorrect, which reflects negatively on the rest of your posts.

  • A Life Time Educator

    Unfortunately the conversation about PTA funds clouds the true problem. RBB, the districts current modle for funding schools is causing great inequities.
    Schools with a more veteran staff or who have a large number of its population in the Special Education program have increased expenditures. But not increased revinues. Several of our small schools start off each year in the red. PTA funds are the only way that they can fund teacher resources, field trips, parent trainigs etc…
    Unfortunately PTA funds are surplanting some of the basics that should be district funded.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Also, note that RBB (State Administrator Ward’s budgeting system) was designed with an attendance component. Schools with higher attendance get more dollars per school site. A study of S.F. and Oakland’s student weighted budgeting systems found that in Oakland the money did not improve attendance. San Francisco did not include attendance in its budgeting system.

    The RBB system increases inequality between middle class and poor Oakland schools, but the Board has not made the change to drop attendance from the RBB budgeting system.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Debora


    Look at San Leandro School District and their education foundation SLED – http://www.sledfund.org/

    It’s interesting that they have a similar school district with similar poverty in most of their school communities and they are still asking parents to give a dollar a month. I believe we need to ask more from those who can, but I believe that by asking everyone for a dollar a month they are saying that EVERY FAMILY should contribute to the schools. The foundation website shows other ways to raise money as well.