Do federal and state governments subsidize inequality in schools by offering tax breaks for school donations, which benefit wealthier communities?
In a back-to-school opinion column published in Thursday’s New York Times, a political science professor at Stanford University argues that parental donations to local education foundations and PTAs ought to be aggregated and shared with schools boasting fewer wealthy parents.
Rob Reich writes that “by lowering the taxes of the donor and diminishing the tax revenues that would otherwise have been collected and partly distributed to rich and poor schools alike, federal and state governments are in effect subsidizing the charitable activity of parents who donate to their child’s school.”
Like the Peninsula families profiled in Reich’s column, parents and guardians in Contra Costa County are used to being asked for annual donations that easily run to the quadruple digits. In some communities, these contributions come on top of parcel taxes that are well above the state average of $89.
For example, in a letter to parents, Northgate High principal John McMorris asked parents for help with volunteering at events and social functions. Much of the letter was devoted, however, to spelling out the school's ongoing need to fund teachers, programs and facilities.
"Your financial generosity is critical in providing Northgate the resources to focus on quality learning in every class every day," the letter said in part.
Other Contra Costa schools routinely make the same requests at the beginning of the school year.
Perhaps most controversially, Reich argues that Congress should stop granting charitable status to educational foundations: “If private giving to public schools exacerbates inequalities, then at the very least we should stop subsidizing such behavior with tax dollars.”
Would you be less inclined to donate to educational foundations if it was not deductible?