District-Wide Fundraising in Santa Monica-Malibu

Advocacy Team (if applicable): 

Dr. Lisa Golden Balfus



A New Era and Amazing Opportunity

by Lisa Golden Balfus




On November 29th, the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District entered a new era by voting unanimously to pass a policy change which will move the district toward a centralized model of fundraising for schools in Santa Monica. 

This means that instead of parents in PTAs working to raise funds exclusively for their own children’s schools, we will now begin raising money through the Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation, which will use those funds together with the school district to more equitably address the needs of students throughout the district. 

This is not a new idea in Santa Monica or in the rest of our drastically educationally underfunded state.  Finally, for us it is becoming a reality. 

As school funds have drastically diminished since the passage of Proposition 13 and continuing through the current fiscal crisis in the state, parents have increasingly filled the gaps in supplies, staffing and even the physical repair and maintenance of school campuses, both by raising money and contributing their time and labor.  As the crisis has deepened, the contrast even between schools in wealthier parts of Santa Monica and Malibu and those where parents do not have as much money has become even more dramatic. 

As the parent of two children who attended two elementary schools on the opposite sides of the spectrum, I personally experienced the dramatic difference in what the schools looked like, how they were able to raise money and the impact on the culture of the school community.  Of course, this affected access to arts education for both of my children.  From the more highly funded school my son attended, I still treasure a large collection of ceramic projects he completed during each year of elementary school, while my daughter, attending a school with far fewer PTA resources, has no significant visual arts projects to speak of from six years of elementary school.

We now find ourselves in a situation where some schools can raise well over $1,000 in PTA dollars per student, whereas Santa Monica High School, which serves more children than any other school in the district, raises under $60.  These inequities effectively create a two-tiered educational experience in the Santa Monica schools. 

If you attend school in Malibu or North Santa Monica, schools are often said to look "like a private school," but if you attend a South Santa Monica school-- one which may have a far higher portion of low-income families-- your school looks very different. 

It is, of course, natural for us as parents to want the best for our very own children.  But the principle PTA is founded on is “Every Child One Voice,” and as a public school community, we have a responsibility to come together for the good of all of our district’s students and do our best for all of them together, regardless of what neighborhood they live in.

Parents from schools who might end up with less PTA money for their own campus and parents who advocate for equal funding for all schools are now faced with the task of working together to implement a policy promoting greater equity, and allowing the Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation to be the primary entity charged with the task of moving toward centralized fundraising over silo-centric fundraising.  This is a good thing, because education foundations can bring communities together in a way that is very difficult for individual school and parent groups in a system where they compete with each other to have the most enriched school for their kids.  

An excellent public school system adds value to the entire community, and it is the collective responsibility of all of us parents and community members, businesses and philanthropists to raise up our schools for all children.  This can be done; it can be accomplished in a way that builds community and brings our schools into line with each other in terms of the experience being offered to all children in Santa Monica and Malibu during the school day.



Lisa Golden Balfus is a native of Southern California. She attended UCSB and Boston University for her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Psychology.  She is a psychologist in private practice and the proud mother of two children attending schools in Santa Monica. She is married to an attorney and guitar lord.  She also serves as the Parent Education Chair for the John Adams Middle School and the Vice President for Parent Education of the Santa Monica Malibu PTA council.