The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is trying to balance parental donations with the need for equal education opportunities for all.If a well-heeled neighborhood of Los Angeles wanted better police protection, would it be OK for the residents to donate money to their local police station so it could assign an extra patrol car to their streets?
Most people would rightly say no. Law enforcement is a public service; taxpayers support it for the safety of all, to be deployed as needed to provide the best protection for the city. Residents might hire a private security guard for their neighborhood, but they cannot reshape public allocations of resources to benefit themselves through private donations.
So is it all right, then, for parents to lavish donations on one school, providing it with art and music classes, instructional aides and extra library hours, while a neighboring school in the same district might have none of those?
This question is being asked more often in these times of inadequate funding for public schools and increased donations to make up for lost programs. It came up, briefly, in the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights investigation of the Los Angeles Unified School District, where schools attended mostly by black students lack the library books, computers and other amenities found at mostly white schools — not because the district distributes public money unfairly but because of parental donations in white neighborhoods.