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Parent fundraising makes it easy to reopen some schools in Chicago, but leaves others without any support

Teachers at the recently renamed Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Lakeview would be simultaneously teaching students online and in person, without having money for additional booths and displays. Lenkov, an attorney, helped plan a fundraiser to get monitors and tripods for the teachers.

“There are many things our school needs that [Chicago Public Schools] cannot provide,” he said.

Such an effort would be welcomed at the Hyde Park High School Academy in South Chicago, where many families have found their income destabilized by the pandemic, even as technology needs in their homes have increased significantly.

But members of the school community, often focused on meeting their basic needs, have not had the ability to launch a virtual fundraising campaign. “It’s not that we have large individual fortunes to fund the needs of our students,” said Maira Khwaja, a member of the Hyde Park School Site Council. “That shouldn’t have to depend on our families.”

What is the difference between these two schools? Lincoln Park Elementary has a group known as Amigos De ( Friends Of ), a legally independent non-profit organization whose purpose is to raise funds to pay for field trips, creation of staff positions, or construction needs in schools. from Chicago. Hyde Park doesn’t have that kind of help.

In Chicago, as in other cities, proxy fundraising fills in critical gaps in some schools, but not in others. That dynamic, in a city deeply segregated by race and money, has long contributed to inequalities between schools, and over the past year, amid a pandemic, the divide has become increasingly apparent as Some schools take advantage of these outside resources to purchase additional safety equipment or remote learning technology.

Of the 513 Chicago public schools run by the district, a Chalkbeat analysis found that at least 100 schools had Friends Of groups, with the majority concentrated on the north side where more affluent and white communities live. Some schools in the Loop to the south side, Mt. Greenwood and other areas have them as well. Because Chicago Public Schools does not maintain a centralized list of groups and how much they raise, or represent their fundraising when determining the school-wide budget, their influence within the school system can be difficult to pin down.

The Friends of Beaubien Elementary School in Jefferson Park gave each classroom $ 250 to spend on cleaning supplies before the school reopened this spring. Friends of Palmer, a group of parents who support the Mayfair neighborhood elementary school, raised $ 2,900 to fund protective equipment to support the school’s reopening, including desk protectors for the students. And, the Friends of Lyman A. Budlong Public School group in the Lincoln Square neighborhood contributed $ 6,000, plus other funds from last year, to pay for 60 Chromebooks that students would supplement the district’s technology outreach efforts (which sometimes they came slowly or gave the children lower-quality devices), in addition to purchasing the necessary software to help teachers use Google Classrooms.

“This year has looked very different,” said Mary Harris, president of Friends of Budlong. This has led parents to rethink their own mission. The group is considering a plan to launch a community pantry to provide basic hygiene and food items. “People are suffering and struggling, so it is essential to change the way we do some things.”

A long history

Organizing among proxies to help with a lack of school district funding is not new in Chicago, said David Stovall, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Amigos De groups became more common in Chicago in the 1960s, he said, when white families — as more African-American and Latino families arrived in their neighborhoods — moved their children to magnet schools or other schools away from the city. area where they lived. So the Amigos De groups were created to support these schools, which always had insufficient funding, but at the same time the division between the schools that have had it and those that have not has increased.

Despite being a huge district and with a budget of $ 7 billion, Chicago Public Schools faces repeated debt and pension costs, which means that funds generally do not benefit classrooms. Instead, they are used to cancel invoices inherited from previous administrations.

In the state accounting system, CPS is not considered a fully funded school district: A 2020 approximation of it estimated that it would take about $ 5,000 more per student to adequately meet the needs of the entire student body. Chicago splits its federal, state, and local funds into roughly $ 12,000 per student, but taking into account larger education costs, individual schools receive between $ 4,600 and $ 5,700 per student, with a little more to add, depending on the needs of the students.

This pressure on the budget has historically meant that schools have had to launch a wide web to fund additional demands. Proxy fundraising to pay for art and music teachers is now common in some schools, but during the coronavirus pandemic, that fundraising continues to give schools critical advantages.

Friends of Blaine, an elementary school near Wrigleyville, racked up $ 382,660 in revenue in 2019, the last year for which tax records were available. In the same year, Friends of Coonley in North Central reported $ 687,032 in revenue, while Amigos De group at a selective enrollment high school, Walter Payton High School, raised $ 713,750 in revenue.

The district stated that it considers the Amigos De groups as independent entities of the school communities, and does not take into account the collection of their private funds when evaluating their investments.

“(Not that) the district … does not view these independent school fundraising efforts as a zero-sum proposal,” spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement. “The district consistently prioritizes schools in lower-income communities for programmatic investments, grant opportunities, and additional support from private donations.”

Because the federal government recently approved the largest federal outlay for K-12 education in American history, Chicago Public Schools will have this money as if it were out of the blue and have until 2024 to share it.

But without considering other resources communities have to support students, critics say the money will not help address local disparities among Chicago schools.

Some school districts have tried to implement rules to create transparency around private fundraising. In New York City, for example, the city council passed a bill in 2018 that required the Department of Education to publish an annual report on how much each parent-teacher association or proxy association collects. Also, in the Santa Monica-Malibu school system, proxies can donate directly to their schools as long as it is to beautify the campus or sponsor field trips. But if parents want to pay teacher salaries or school programs during the day, they must also donate to other funds that are then redistributed to the neediest schools. And in Portland, a major foundation raises a third of the profits of any school that raises over $ 10,000. So for every dollar over that limit, 33 cents go to equity grants that are given to low-income schools in the district.

Stovall said Chicago would also be in a better position to consider which schools are capable of bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from private individuals each year.

“What they have essentially done is create another revenue stream that the schools on the south and west sides will never have access to,” he said. This only deepens a dynamic where schools with people who already have more economic stability, such as those with the Amigos De groups, can increase access to more money, while those in which many families live on their monthly salary do not. they have neither time nor money to raise funds, he said.

In search of new connections

Some school communities that have been hard hit by COVID-19 have found other ways to deploy the work of Amigos De groups.

Friends of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Albany Park organized free online cooking classes, called Roosevelt Dinner Club , to offer students and families a place to gather, fulfilling another urgent need for their remote high school students: connection. .

Lauren Sivak, president of Friends of Roosevelt, said the group was trying to think about how to harness the talents of its members, one of whom was a sous chef (second in command in the kitchen) at several renowned restaurants. They came up with the idea of ​​cooking with families through Zoom, and more than 20 families participated. “The mental health pressure young people and their families face is unprecedented,” he said.

For the Friends of Bulldogs group at Tubman School that has meant taking a turn from fundraisers they paid to retain staff to getting working Chromebooks for students and starting a special assistance fund to help families with basic needs like the rental support.

School communities have been resourceful and creative in trying to meet the additional needs of families this year. School-based mutual aid groups have grown to meet family needs for rent or health care expenses, and special education teachers have used GoFundMe or Donor’s Choose to build pop-up food pantries and run coat drives for winter.

Jhoanna Maldonado, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union who previously taught at Richard Yates Elementary School in Humboldt Park, said her school considered starting a Friends Of group, but scrapped the idea when they saw they would have to hire an attorney to create a non-profit organization and pay fees.

Maldonado works with the union as an organizer supporting the Sustainable Community Schools program, an initiative that grew out of a 2015 hunger strike to save Dyett High School in Washington Park from being closed. The program provides financial and organizational support to a group of Chicago schools in accordance with the union’s contractual agreement. For her, giving communities a voice on how the extra money is distributed is key, and it was one of the reasons why the Yates community decided not to create a Friends of group.

At the March Board of Education meeting, a student from Marie Sklodowska Curie Metropolitan High School on the Southwest side spoke passionately during turn for public comment on her school’s need for more mental health support. . He demanded that mental health support come from the district because his school doesn’t have access to private fundraising. “In my years at CPS, I have never seen money used effectively on us, instead I see that it is used that way in metal detectors and (security) cameras,” said Reina Torres, who also organizes with the Youth group Niños Buenos Ciudad Loca ( Good Kids Mad City ).

She wants her school to have a mental health room so that students can go to a quiet place while at school and have easier access to counselors. “The schools on the north side have private donors. We have to understand that the schools on the south side do not have private taxpayers, ”Torres said.

This article was originally posted on Parent fundraising makes it easy to reopen some schools in Chicago, but leaves others without any support

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