Some Thoughts on the Giving Season: Rural Schools and Philanthropy

December 28, 2017 |

The "Giving Season" should be a time for reflection, and we invite you to consider the role of philanthropy and its potential impact on rural schools.<\/strong> <\/p>"

The Rural Schools Collaborative believes school foundations can bolster public education by engaging citizens, facilitating partnerships, and providing additional resources to the school community. Furthermore, we strongly suspect this work will become increasingly important as rural regions face the continuing challenges of depopulation, shrinking state support, rural capital flight, and small town brain drain.

We were reminded of the importance of school foundations during a recent conversation on the relationship between philanthropy and public education with Columbia University’s Erika Kitzmiller, Ph.D., who is a lecturer in the Program in Social Studies at Teachers College. Kitzmiller studies educational equity issues, and she has written on the impact of philanthropy on public school systems.

It may be a “far piece,” as they say, from New York City to America's hinterlands, but Kitzmiller has a keen understanding of rural issues. She grew up in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, (pop. 20,000) and was a classroom teacher in Wayland, Massachusetts (pop. 13,000). Wayland, in spite of its relatively small size, had an active public school foundation that provided strong support to the district’s teachers. “As a teacher,” Kitzmiller recalled, “I benefited from the school foundation and community foundation.” Her Wayland experiences also demonstrated to Kitzmiller how thriving school foundations could engage the community in the workings of the school.

“If you create a school foundation,” Kitzmiller noted, “it is about people in a joined space donating to their own school.” She added, “In many ways, it is democracy in action.”

Kitzmiller suggests school foundations serve a number of good purposes. These include:

  1. Augmenting public tax dollars,
  2. Allowing for better communication between the school and community,
  3. Creating more transparency on how school dollars are spent, and
  4. Providing opportunities for community problem solving.

As for rural implications, Kitzmiller senses that “rural people often prefer to give locally.” Through this kind of local engagement she hopes more people will gain an “understanding of the relationship between philanthropy and public education.” Kitzmiller believes this type of personal insight “is of the utmost importance.”

The Rural Schools Collaborative would never suggest that school-centered philanthropy should supplant a strong public funding commitment for our schools. However, we do believe that investing in public education through charitable means is a tangible vote of confidence for rural schools and their respective communities.

In these times when select numbers of Americans hold unprecedented wealth, we should do all we can to encourage those with the means to generously support rural school foundations and rural school communities. This purposeful redistribution of wealth will contribute greatly to the common good.

On behalf of our board of directors and my colleagues, I wish you a Happy New Year!

--Gary Funk, director

Read more about RSC's work to support small towns and small schools in building local rural philanthropy.

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