As a parent of two children in public school, I sometimes feel as if the fund raising will never end. Our lives are like a perpetual giant bake sale, except the money is going not for a special class trip or band uniforms Ñ 'the extras' Ñ but to save teaching positions and keep class sizes down.
As a volunteer with the Ainsworth School Foundation, I would rather spend my time reading to students in the classroom than organizing auctions and pressing other parents to write a check.
But, like thousands of other parents across the state, I refuse to sit by when the quality of our children's education is at risk.
There will always be a role for private dollars to enrich public schools. Even when we stabilize Oregon's school funding revenues, there will be parents, grandparents, retired teachers, public school alumni and other community members who want to fund the margin of excellence that goes beyond what's provided by limited tax dollars. Many public services such as libraries, parks and higher education are enhanced by private dollars that supplement the public funds they receive.
Right now, the massive budget shortfalls facing the state mean that our donations are not supplementing a basic and adequate public commitment to our schools. Instead, they are going toward filling 'the hole.' Not only is this bad public policy Ñ private funds should be the icing on the cake, not the flour and the eggs Ñ but the hole is simply too big to be filled by bake sales.
At the same time, we can't abandon the bake sales. Political solutions are slow in the making. A statewide fix that restructures our tax system in Oregon and the way schools and districts are run will take several years. As a community, we need to do everything we can to show our children that their education matters. Each day of learning is irreplaceable. Raising private funds that go into their classrooms right now is essential.
The value of our public school system needs to be measured not by what it can do for the children of the most affluent, but also by how well it serves lower-income families. Private funds raised for schools need to improve opportunities for all children in our community, especially when the money is being used to provide the basics.
Parent-led foundations at Ainsworth, Duniway, Lincoln and a dozen other schools volunteer thousands of hours each year to raise funds that benefit not only their children but students across the district. Through a farsighted policy enacted by the Portland school board in 1995, one-third of the dollars raised by local school foundations are dedicated to improving teaching and learning in low-income neighborhoods through the Portland Schools Foundation.
And it's not just parents who are pitching in. Restaurants are donating part of their proceeds on a designated night to schools. An organic farmer from Hood River has teamed up with Fred Meyer stores and New Seasons Markets to create a 'School Aid' label that raises money for our kids. Schoolhouse Supplies, a free store for teachers, provides a way for businesses to keep surplus goods out of the landfill and get them into the classroom, lowering costs for teachers and districts. And the Albina Community Bank is donating 1 percent of purchases from its new 'Scholastic Plastic' credit card.
These examples of private initiative are no substitute for a stabilized system of funding for our schools. But they are part of what will get us there. Every dollar that is given to a school fund drive or the citywide Portland Schools Foundation, every product that's purchased to benefit schools, every hour that's donated in a classroom is a sign of this community's commitment to its schools.
By putting our money where our mouths are, we are demonstrating to our elected officials that we refuse to abandon our kids. We will do whatever it takes to make sure that our public schools provide a pathway to success for every child.
Katie Gold is the co-president of the Ainsworth School Foundation and founder of Schoolhouse Supplies, a sponsored project of the Portland Schools Foundation. She lives in Southwest Portland.