When a $1 million donation isn’t enough

Allie Leckie is a mom, a grandmother, a real estate agent, and a visionary. Her vision: raise $1 million in 30 days to support the Washoe County School District in the face of its crippling budget cuts—$33 million over the past two years alone.

Leckie began her drive in January by pledging to donate 10 percent of all her real estate sales to the schools. In the past several months, she’s built upon these efforts by creating the foundation “It Takes a Community,” and has set a goal to get 50,000 donations of $20 or more in the 30 days between May 15 and June 15. “This [budget shortfall] impacts all of us greatly,” Leckie told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “These [students] are our doctors, these are our attorneys, these are our news writers. Without an education, they have no future.”

I couldn’t agree more. Education is key to this state’s economic future, and Leckie’s effort is a terrific demonstration of the creative entrepreneurial spirit that makes Nevada unique. That she has received a very positive response from local businesses as well as individuals speaks to the goodwill and caring nature of our community. Support for her fund will send a strong message to our political leaders that education does matter.

But we have to be honest with ourselves. When you factor in cuts over the past five years, and look forward to what will happen with the $2-3 billion state budget shortfall projected for the next legislative session, the budget shortfall for Washoe County School District alone is close to $80 million. For a single school struggling to get teachers in the door, textbooks in the backpack, and kids in their seats long enough to graduate, a million dollars seems like a lot of money. It would pay one year’s salary for 25 teachers (approximately), or solar panels so the school would never have to buy electricity again. And this would be a good, huge, important step that could cascade into expanding levels of support. But for a district facing this magnitude of cuts, a million dollars is a tiny drop in a very big bucket.

The potential that I see in Leckie’s fund-drive is that our community would get excited about supporting education over the long term, that her million dollars becomes a catalyst for engaging parents, businesses, and families to stand together and work toward a long-term funding solution. The danger that I see is that people would donate their 20 bucks and then check out. Getting that great feel-good rush from a one-time donation might allow people to ignore the full magnitude of the problem. The biggest problem I see with the fund drive is that it accepts our current tax situation. Indeed, Leckie notes that one of the reasons she has gotten positive support is specifically due to the fact that she is not advocating raising taxes.

I repeat, if Leckie’s efforts could cascade out into a sustained revenue stream to get anywhere close to closing that $80 million gap, I’m all for it. But if it is a one-shot effort that ends up distracting us from developing stable and sustainable fiscal policies for the long-term health of our children and the state, then it would contribute to the problem rather than the solution of it. Leckie’s initiative is a good one, but the outcome depends on our community’s response after the drive.

Oh, and by the way—there is already a system in place for citizens of this fair state to contribute a portion of their money to support education. It’s called taxes.