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General Ramblings: A Debut

By Paul Clolery - October 1, 2013

There’s no official count but the guess is that roughly 140,000 words have been expended in the General Ramblings column over the years. Many words have seen repeated use, such as of, and, that, who, whom. There have been many humorous words and occasional harsh language but verbiage has generally been tempered in a voice of idea exchange.

Here’s a descriptive adjective making its General Ramblings debut. Asinine. That’s right. Asinine.

That’s the only word that adequately describes Rob Reich’s recent New York Times opinion column. In it he suggests that public schools should not be allowed to have private foundations and if they are permitted then the cash should be distributed across the school district, especially to those that are the poorest.

It is a basic tenant of fundraising that the vast majority of donors give to something that is personal, where there is a connection for the donor. Two schools might be in the same district but on any given day they become rivals – whether it’s the athletes or the mathletes. Those chess club kids can be ruthless. There is a close to zero chance that a parent will give to help a school to which their child is not directly connected.

Reich is as an associate professor of political science at Stanford University and co-director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. Stanford was where Reich did his undergraduate work and he received his law degree from Yale University. Combined, the endowments of the two schools hits $36.3 billion, give or take a few million and they ain’t sharing. Sure those are private schools but they are tax exempt and deplete resources in their communities.

Is it fair to Southern Connecticut State University that Yale doesn’t share its endowment riches with its neighbor in New Haven? Yes. Yes, it is. While this is higher education, the premise stands.

Reich argued in the op-ed: “When donors give to their own child’s school or district, they are making a charitable contribution that the federal government treats in the same way as a donation to a food bank or disaster relief. But charity like this is not relief for the poor. It is, in fact, the opposite. Private giving to public schools widens the gap between rich and poor. It exacerbates inequalities in financing. It is philanthropy in the service of conferring advantage on the already well-off.”

Taking his suggestion to the next step, UC Berkeley donors shouldn’t get a tax break for giving toward the capital campaign unless UCLA gets a taste.

He wrote: “There is still a lot we can do to improve this upside-down system of charity.” Donating to a school is not charity, just like the tax-deductible greens maintenance fund at a private golf club is not charity. It is a tax-exempt transaction but it is not charity.

States are required to educate children. That is funded with local, state and federal money. Disparity between school districts has been litigated. The disparities Reich described in his article are unfortunately common. In New Jersey, for example, litigation brought about “thorough and efficient education” standards. While there are standards, the disparity between districts remains.

Many state representatives believe education is a states’ rights issue. Without getting into the evolution versus creationism argument, or the impact of tax-exempt teachers’ unions on dollars to classrooms, officials want the right to educate children in the manner locally deemed responsible.

Forcing private foundations to spread the money across the school district defeats the purpose of donors seeing an issue and attempting to address it.

Philanthropy can’t be seen as the only way to fix societal problems, particularly education. Government can’t abdicate its role of ensuring a next generation its education to a community standard.

Families are already taxed to pay for schools. They should not be penalized a second time for attempting to make things better for their children.  NPT

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