lausd fundraisingAmong the misconceptions that persist in the wake of Proposition 13’s ruinous toll on our public school system, is the notion that a school’s stakeholders will just personally make-up, or supplement the state’s funding liability.

The fallacy belies the fantasy that really, there is sufficient money available, it’s just (pick one) {improperly distributed/siphoned/spent/budgeted}. This is the caricature conveyed at a recent West Hollywood City Council meeting discussing a pernicious district maneuver that would flatten socioeconomic diversity by displacing Laurel’s regular K8 school with a specialized magnet school, gratuitously restrictive in both enrollment age and curricular focus. A city councilmember (@4:49.10) suggested then that “more affluent” parents could “do an event and … raise several hundred thousand dollars” while less affluent schools “might be able to raise $70-$80K.”

A few schools raise funds prodigiously and exclusively for their pupils to be sure, but most schools raise nothing at all. The entire practice is tremendously inequitable and inefficient; the expectation is socially and perhaps academically destructive.

Indeed there is a disparity in fundraising capacity between schools, but as it happens neither of these extremes accurately reflects modern fundraising or backfilling of missing services. A few schools raise funds prodigiously and exclusively for their pupils to be sure, but most schools raise nothing at all. The entire practice is tremendously inequitable and inefficient; the expectation is socially and perhaps academically destructive.

To better understand the actual extent and capacity of “extracurricular” fundraising at schools, each of the 615 elementary schools, 182 middle schools and 168 high schools in LAUSD’s footprint – including regular district and charters whether managed independently from or “affiliated” with their chartering agency – was randomized. This data set is described here. SPAN schools including grades from one or more school type {elementary-middle-high}, are defined by the lowest grade served. The IRS 990 forms (for 2016) which register Not-For-Profit (NFP) fundraising activity was recorded among a (approximately) proportional (and manageable) subset of twenty randomly selected elementary schools, six middle and six high schools.

Seven of the randomly chosen 32 schools are managed as “independent” charters, which administer the entirety of their operations via NFP. Consequently charity and operating funds of the entire school (and in some cases the entire charter chain) may be indistinguishable on the independent charters’ 990 forms. “Gross receipts” (defined as all income including direct, rental and sales expenses, plus all costs) of independent charters are greyed from the table below to reflect that these figures are not comparable as they do not represent fundraising events exclusively.

Charitable contributions reported on (2016) IRS form 990 among a random selection of LAUSD ES-MS-HS for SY 2017-18.

random sample of 990 filings

Of the 20 elementary schools, just two registered any fundraising activity at all. Half the schools do not apparently even have a NFP booster group registered with the IRS. And the success of the two active NFP groups differ by a factor of nearly five, reflecting the large difference in the school’s underlying free/reduced meal-eligible (FRPM) student population (42% FRPM among the school raising far fewer funds compared with 12% FRPM at the relatively more productive funds-raising school). Elementary schools with inactive NFPs – possessing a registered NFP for collecting charity, that simply reports zero funds raised in 2016 – are characterized by an FRPM-concentration very similar to that of the LAUSD system overall: near 80% (sample FRPM) vs. 80.5% FRPM (LAUSD K12 average FRPM). Sampled schools with no NFP at all have FRPM far higher than LAUSD’s overall average: 89% FRPM in this sample. Far from a ‘mere $70K-$80K’, no fundraising at all is happening at 18 of 20 (90%) of these schools.

At the same time the number of elementary students served in the fundraising-schools is approximately an order of magnitude fewer than the rest: 1042 pupils vs 8929 pupils. And within the fundraising schools, supplementation for the school of low-ranking FRPM concentration is $1,103 per pupil (pp) compared with $286pp for the more socioeconomically diverse school. Contrasted, of course, with nothing among the remaining 8929 sampled students.

The ability or capacity to raise funds reflects a deep distinction between schools. At the less affluent schools the affect of fundraising – say, funding classroom aides or arts instruction, etc – is absent altogether, but so too is the culture of raising funds. For better or worse, the inequity also reflects a difference in volunteerism and the use of avocational time, as well as all the cultural expectations surrounding all of this – supplementation, targeted charity, community structure.

By luck of the draw half the middle schools sampled were independent charters, which do not parse fundraising from management activity on 990 forms (see above) and thus their fundraising activity is unknown. Two of the sampled middle schools have no NFP registered with the IRS; one was inactive.

Among high schools, the only one sampled that was discernibly raising funds served approximately the same number of students as benefited from funds raised for elementary students, but the funds raised were more than an order of magnitude fewer ($27K vs $765K).  That is, the huge high school over the course of an entire year raised less than half that the city councilmember presumed to be a low-ball estimate of a single fundraiser at a “less affluent” school. High schools have famously less success than middle schools, which in turn have a notoriously harder time raising funds than elementary schools. Though consider that this method of estimation from 990 forms may more accurately capture the structure and culture of fundraising in elementary schools than high schools.  Student clubs and teams typically comprise these larger, complex societies and funds may more usually be raised explicitly for the subgroups, sometimes separate and perhaps distinct from school-wide fundraising.

While the sample is not an accurate accounting of fundraising at our schools, it estimates the comparative rate of fundraising between schools. And while a few schools do draw on tremendous amounts of stakeholder energy and funds for exclusive benefit of their small subpopulation of LAUSD, most schools rely on no direct supplementation at all. It is misleading to anticipate or expect relief from privation in this way.

Yet the District does send relatively more money to schools with a higher FRPM concentration. As reported by LAUSD or the California Department of Education (CDE) in each “School Accountabilty Report Card” (SARC), per pupil expenditures in this sample range between $8,612 and $15,908 (an 85% differential). The per pupil background funding rate is not flat between schools, varying according to a (“proprietary“) formula that considers many risk factors including FRPM, English language learning, homelessness, foster assignment and other indicators of disadvantaged status. SENI (“Student Equity Needs Index”) corrections notwithstanding, expecting that the impoverishment of our public schools can or should be addressed through individual funding is mistaken. Most schools do not have this fundraising capacity.

This random sample of schools in LAUSD’s footprint suggest most schools raise essentially no extracurricular funds.  However what of those that do? If fundraising capacity is associated with the concentration of FRPM-eligible (“Title I”) students, how successful is fundraising at LAUSD’s schools with the lowest percentage of Title I students?

The same proportion of 990 forms from LAUSD-area’s elementary, middle and high schools with the lowest concentration of FRPM-eligible students were abstracted.

Most of these low-FRPM schools are elementary schools.  No middle or high school ranks below number 39. Elementary schools are significantly more “affluent”, as shown elsewhere.

Per pupil funds raised among the lowest-ranked FRPM-schools in LAUSD ES-MS-HS for SY 2017-18 as reported on (2016) IRS form 990

These schools all have NFP ready to go and actively accepting donations. The only exception is Valley International Preparatory High, compelled by State law to transfer its charter from neighboring Acton-Agua Dulce Local Education Agency (LEA) to LAUSD. Both its NFP paperwork and indeed School Accountability Report Card which includes information about per pupil expenditures, are missing, presumably due to the charter-shift.

As previously, gross receipts abstracted from form 990 for independent charters are greyed because all general operations for independent charters are managed via their NFP (which may also include a charter chain’s multiple sites), intermingling individually raised funds with grants and governmental distributions. Consequently Gross Receipts for independent charters are not comparable with reports of funds raised for affiliated charters or district schools. All the high schools of lowest-FRPM concentration are independent charters.

School management distinctions {district/independent charter/affiliated charter} are less important to fundraising success than the distinction between school type. Elementary schools of this lowest-FRPM concentration raised over $1K pp ($1,153 among district schools, $1,429 among affiliated charters), and less than half that in middle schools ($472 among district schools, $194 among affiliated charters). Even while the preponderance of LAUSD schools are estimated (above) to have raised no supplemental funds at all.

Per pupil funds raised among the lowest-ranked FRPM-schools in LAUSD ES-MS-HS for SY 2017-18 as reported on (2016) IRS form 990

Per pupil supplementation from 990s

Three elementary schools raised more than one million dollars (purple diamond in graph below; the first image can be zoomed) but the size of elementary schools ranges by a factor of four, affecting the total amount available per pupil (red triangle).

pp expendit and raisedfunds

It seems that large schools have fewer funds available per pupil for both operating and raised funds. There may be some economy of scale available for operations at the school site that mitigates the apparent deficit.

While the funds raised at independent charter schools is hard to discern, the different financial management suggests a very different culture of raising funds between schools. There is at once an expectation of financial supplementation with perhaps less of an “earning” or transactional component to the effort. Associated with these very different school types are very different cultures and expectations as well as capacities. Overlaying one set of schools with the expectations of another results in great political misunderstanding of the resources available at our schools. Which in turn translates to a very differently-resourced landscape.

Sara Roos
RedQueenLA