NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

ACLU Threatens Fight Against School Fundraising

December 3, 1999

Parents who want to raise money for their schools in some Vermont towns are being warned to desist by American Civil Liberties Union lawyers. As laws requiring towns to share property taxes for education statewide multiply, fundraisers are a way parents in wealthier communities have found to maintain funding levels while their taxes are sent to school districts in less affluent communities.

  • Vermont communities such as Stowe, Dorset, Rutland Town, South Burlington and Manchester have raised up to several million dollars to provide their children with the educational amenities they enjoyed before the state's "share the school wealth" edict went into effect.
  • Then in January the state legislature's Ways and Means Committee voted for a provision to force districts that raise more than $800 a child to share the loot with other communities, although that idea later died.
  • But local lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have vowed to sue if the legislature doesn't act.
  • Towns can't simply raise local taxes for their own schools since Vermont requires sharing any extra taxes raised in proportion to the town's real property worth -- meaning that Manchester is allowed to keep only 45 cents of any extra dollar raised and Stowe must content itself with just 30 cents.

The movement to establish school foundations began in California in the 1970s, following a 1971 court ruling that outlawed the financing of schools with local property taxes. Soon legislators and voters in 25 other states tried to abolish local funding.

As a result, the fraction of public school costs coming from local tax revenues has fallen from an average of 80 percent in 1930 to as low a 20 percent today in states such as Michigan.

Source: Brigid McMenamin, "Robin Hood Doesn't Approve," Forbes, December 13, 1999.


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