What is an Education Foundation?

According to the National School Foundation Association (NSFA), an education foundation, also called a school foundation, is a not-for-profit organization that is established independently of a school or district. The charitable foundation should have the purpose of providing financial and volunteer support to public schools, districts, or other types of educational programs that are associated with them. The NSFA reports that as of 2001, there were 6,500 school foundations in 14,500 school districts in the United States.

Reasons for School Foundations

Increased demands on public schools and educators, combined with decreasing financial resources, led to the establishment of school foundations starting in the 1980s. Community members across America decided to organize foundations to meet many different needs of their local schools, from support for athletic and arts programs to ensuring new facilities were built when needed. Some foundations were also established to prevent local schools from losing students to private or charter schools. Parent expectations have also grown over the years and school foundations help to provide equipment and curriculum that meets higher expectations.

Benefits of School Foundations

The Michigan Association of School Boards described a number of benefits of not-for-profit foundations supporting local school districts or individual schools. First, the foundations can act as good public relations representatives for the schools. Second, the organizations can engage the community and attract financial donors and volunteers. The foundations may also be eligible to receive private foundation and corporate grants to benefit local schools which school districts, as taxpayer-funded entities, are not eligible to receive.

Assistance for Students and Parents

School foundations can offer financial and volunteer assistance in case of unexpected emergencies and disasters. Education World described a foundation in Mississippi which helped to provide new clothing and assistance for students and families who lost their homes and their school classrooms during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Individual financial and volunteer aid can be offered to students and families who are suffering from economic distress due to job loss or parental illness. Funds for athletic uniforms, field trips, and musical instruments can also be provided by school foundations.

Tax Benefits to Donors

A foundation supporting a local school district or individual school can apply for tax-exempt status. Donations to a foundation that has been determined to be exempt from taxes under the Internal Revenue Code 501(c)3. are able to be deducted from the donor’s taxable income. Donations made directly to a public school district or individual school are not tax-deductible. Buying tickets for a school’s athletic team raffle is not a deductible activity, but a $25 donation to the local school foundation would be deductible. The ability for donors to receive tax deductions is one of the primary reasons school foundations have been established in the majority of America’s school districts.

School foundations are operated independently from local school districts or individual schools, although they may share board members with Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and other members of the local education community. With proper planning and a strong legal basis, an education foundation can be established which can enrich many different aspects of local public schools. Students can receive help with uniforms, classrooms can receive new equipment from tablet computers to new desks and chairs, and facilities maintenance and even new buildings can be constructed with carefully-planned aid from school support fundraising foundations.