After San Diegans turned down a new tax for schools last year, school board member John Lee Evans came up with a new idea: create a special fund that willing donors could chip into for school supplies.

Taxpayers who had been willing to pony up the $98 per parcel (or more) that the tax would have charged could give their money to the district voluntarily. He told the Union-Tribune that if just 10,000 people contributed that $98, they’d reap almost $1 million.

Five months later, the fund has raised a little less than $6,036. That is much less than the $50 million annually the tax would have reaped and less than some foundations drum up for specific schools. Evans said Monday that he wasn’t surprised. Nobody had made phone calls to rustle up more donations.

“We haven’t had any time to devote to it,” Evans said. “The focus has been entirely on the budget. I would be surprised if money was flowing in without any sort of effort being made, other than it existing on the website.”

The small change for the school supply fund may also be a result of too much competition: When Evans first dreamed up the school supply fund, parent groups pointed out that parents tend to be more motivated to give to their local school than the whole district.

For instance, parents were recently asked to chip in $1,000 each to help save teachers at Bird Rock Elementary. That could dampen their enthusiasm for giving more money that doesn’t necessarily go to their specific school. If San Diego Unified wants to encourage donors to give to the whole school district — and net more than a few thousand dollars — it has to overcome the inclination to give to the local school instead.

And this comes back to the key problem with fundraising in schools. If some schools can muster the money to save teachers and others cannot, some kids could end up getting advantages that others don’t because their parents aren’t as organized or able to donate.

Parents and principals in more wealthy areas often point out that schools in poorer areas get more federal money for disadvantaged students, but that money is supposed to plug the gaps for needy kids, who typically come to school already behind their better-off classmates. Hefty school fundraising in affluent neighborhoods could tilt the playing field back the other way, jeopardizing equity.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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