I grew up in West Virginia and received my education in public schools. My wife taught for more than 25 years in public schools in various states. Prior to her retirement, she taught at the elementary school level in Indiana. Because I spent hours helping her on weekends in the classroom, I wanted to help public education in a broader way, so I decided to serve as president and board member of the Lawrence Township Education Foundation in Indianapolis.
I recently attended a founders luncheon at Lawrence Township Schools. Each year, all former presidents of the foundation are invited to meet the superintendent of schools and receive an update on public education in the township and state of Indiana.
Is public school education in the United States important and significant? Fast Facts regarding back-to-school statistics prepared by the Center for Education Statistics (NCES) noted that in the fall of 2020, more than 49 million students attended public schools. About 3.3 million students were projected to have graduated from public high schools during the 2018-2019 school year. That figure represents a large constituency in this country that rely on getting a public education.
There is compelling evidence of a causal relationship between increased school spending and student outcomes, Kirabo Jackson’s economics literature. This finding indicates that money matters in public education. Unfortunately, because there are varied levels of income throughout the United States, education funding suffers from inequalities, where some communities have too much funding while other communities do not have enough public educational funding.
As funding issues continue to involve public schools, public education foundations support their local school districts by generating private financial support that helps underwrite new initiatives as an additional feature to public funding. Public education foundations secure time, talent and treasure that gives administration, teachers and students a wider array of educational possibilities.
Examples of these initiatives in Indiana, according to the Indiana Association of Public Education Foundations, include classroom and teacher grants, scholarships for students, literacy mentoring, summer science camps, backpack program support, robotics, science and creative writing courses, IT services, and homework after school clubs.
Besides raising private funding support, the School Superintendents Association notes that public school foundations serve as an advocate for public education and school improvement, provide positive public relations for their schools, serve as a public communication vehicle for the school districts they represent, help build bridges between schools and the public, and provide speakers bureaus that speak to a variety of community groups. Public school foundation board members strive to establish relationships with community leaders.
Foundation board members engage with foundations, corporations, associations, organizations and individuals. Foundations also help recruit staff and honor teachers. The most important relationship of a public-school foundation is between the school district and foundation board members. Foundation board members must consist of an array of backgrounds ranging from alumni, parents, friends and people outside the school system.
The Michigan Association of School Boards stated six reasons a school district should have a foundation:
- It’s a positive PR tool.
- It engages communities with school systems.
- It builds a new audience of ambassadors.
- It builds bridges with interested constituencies.
- It establishes new vehicles for raising private funding support.
- It gives a new means for having citizens’ voices heard.
The Center for American Progress pointed out through a large body of research, that money matters in education. When school districts have money and spend it wisely, there are better student outcomes, including higher test scores, increased graduation rates and other indicators of student achievement.
There are more than 3,000 public school foundations in the United States. These foundations seek to enhance public education funding in addition to traditional government funding. I am proud to have served in a role to help a public education foundation. I encourage others that care about the future of public education in the United States to do the same.