School funding is an important issue with broad implications for both education and society at large. Whether it’s for art supplies and music lessons, cheerleading uniforms, and sports equipment, or math competitions and debate teams, school administrators, parents, and policymakers are always looking for alternative avenues for raising funds needed to support critical school programs.
Such financial need in education traces back to years of unprecedented budget cuts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, twenty-nine states allocate less funding per student today than they did in 2008. As a result, many school districts have been forced to seek an even more significant share of the cost of a child’s education from parents.
A ‘fee’ education?
Challenging the idea that all U.S. students should have the option of free public education, increased parental involvement in school fundraising has led to a growing sense of fee-based public education. As highlighted in the Wall Street Journal, “Schools are charging parents for programs and items that have traditionally come standard — including fees for course supplies, school-run extracurricular activities, transportation and even basic registration fees.”
Education Funding Partners (EFP) conducted a nationwide survey to examine this trend, and the results confirmed that the vast majority of Americans with children enrolled in public schools pay additional fees to support their education. To illustrate, listed below are some programs parents reported as being funded by such fees:
Moreover, these fees can be costly, with 53% of families reportedly paying between $100 and $400 per child, and 23% spending more than $400 on each student in their family. It’s not a surprise that 52% of families surveyed said these fees have a meaningful impact on their budgeting.
Parental opinion differs on whether these fees should be considered the families’ responsibility. On the one hand, 61% of parents reported a willingness to include checks for those essential supplies, activities, and extracurriculars in their annual budgets, the other 39% feel these additional fees are unfair.
With such unsettled consensus, turning to parents to help bridge the school-funding gap is not a viable long-term solution in building public education. As a result, many administrators are looking beyond traditional sources of funding to maintain significant programs and to enrich their learning environments.
One such innovative avenue of fundraising brings the private and public sectors together in the form of corporate partnerships. These partnerships allow responsible brands to support education without encroaching on classrooms and curricula. Both schools and socially conscious companies benefit from these connections through their short-term revenue generation and long-term investment in the future workforce, which contribute to U.S. economic security for years to come.
This concept of sensible corporate sponsorship has garnered both attention and support in recent years – not only for U.S. schools but also for the future of education worldwide. UNESCO, UNICEF, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, and the UN Global Compact (GC), for example, have developed a framework for such collaboration entitled, “The Smartest Investment: A Framework for Business Engagement in Education.” This collaborative guide sheds light on research-backed initiatives and programs that allow businesses to play a transformational role in education.
To visualize such a framework’s potential impacts, picture high-tech computer labs sponsored by a leading computer manufacturer, music education programs financed by the producers of a Broadway hit, or lifestyle seminars funded by a national insurance provider. This model provides companies a unique opportunity to support both their corporate marketing objectives and public education at this time of great financial need. As an added benefit, these companies hold a venue for improving brand perception with parents and teachers and building relationships with the next generation of both workers and consumers.
From a district perspective, corporate partnerships introduce new funding sources while the district maintains control over participating brands and the matter of how dollars are invested in educational programs. The core decisions surrounding field trips, health campaigns, and supply purchases will remain in their court while gaining both the financial and widespread support to make them a success.
It is a critical period in American education, with the financial burdens of public education putting quality programs out of reach for too many. Strategic, well-orchestrated and innovative approaches to funding are needed to improve the situation. Corporate partnerships may provide a solution. In allowing carefully screened, education-friendly brands into public schools, it is possible to ensure a better future for our students and to sustain our economy for generations to come.