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Fri., Nov. 29, 2013, midnight

Editorial: Educational innovations need more funding

High tech plus high touch equals high cost, an equation that has some Mead educators looking for extraordinary solutions.

The school district’s Riverpoint Academy combines computer-based instruction with hands-on manufacturing. Few of the necessary tools come cheap.

The wish list of Director Dan Butler includes software for computer-aided drafting, DNA copiers and electrophoresis machines. 3-D printers are on the list as well for a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and math – STEM. If only they could print a pile of money to help put all this equipment on the desks and bench tops of the academy’s digs in a former motorcycle dealership.

His proposed solution – the raising of a $1.5 million endowment – will test the flexibility of Washington’s formulas for funding education, and the willingness of Mead patrons to expand their conceptions of public – and publicly funded – education.

The Mead School District, like the Spokane Public Schools district, has an independent foundation that pursues grants and corporate and individual donations that help officials respond to special needs or encourage innovative teaching within regular classrooms. In its first six years, the foundation has distributed $80,000 for everything from books to marimba band instruments.

The Spokane district’s foundation distributed about $20,000 last year, a token compared with a budget of $300 million, but a boost for morale and an incentive for experimentation.

Both foundations are relatively new and rely on one-time fundraising events and grants to generate money for the next year’s teacher and school grants. Endowments – pools of money that can sustain foundation programs over many years – are resources mostly reserved for private schools and universities. The Spokane district foundation has begun building an endowment – $11,000 to date – by setting aside a small share of contributions.

By comparison, the Bellevue School Foundation had an endowment of more than $500,000, and almost $1 million in other assets at the end of August 2012.

But endowments benefiting a school, rather than a district, are rare, and a potential sore point with other schools. Butler is aware of the legal and political pitfalls and wants to structure something that will rebate funding to other schools as Riverpoint Academy accumulates other resources. The question is: How?

Restructuring as a charter school, or forming a separate foundation, could strain links to the highly regarded Mead district. Working through the existing foundation would be preferable, but he’s not sure that is workable. He’s taken some of his questions to the Washington attorney general’s office.

There is something of a model, Delta High School in the Tri-Cities – the beneficiary of the Washington State STEM Education Foundation. Three school districts support Delta, which also profits from the proximity of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories.

Even as the state of Washington catches up on its obligation to fully fund schools, demand for more learning pathways will force public schools to find new money in unconventional places. If the academy and the like deliver high-performing students, they’ll deserve the extra support.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:



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