The solution to our school-funding problem is actually pretty simple. We need more wealthy parents. I think that's the right approach for...

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The solution to our school-funding problem is actually pretty simple. We need more wealthy parents. I think that’s the right approach for an ownership society.

Last weekend my son’s school had its annual auction, which is one of the ways the PTSA raises money to pay for stuff the state won’t because taxpayers won’t give up the green.

People will, of course, spend on their own children, so schools benefit in proportion to the share of financially comfy parents they have. A school doesn’t have to have a bunch of millionaires, but it does need a critical mass of parents with a cushion of disposable income.

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We have some of those parents. Our PTSA can buy chairs for the cafeteria, for instance, so that students won’t have to sit in the residue of several years’ worth of spilled juice and pizza sauce. The PTSA raises money for everything from paying teachers for a parent-conference evening and funding field-trip time to buying classroom supplies and replacing worn equipment.

This year’s auction raised thousands of dollars for computers and a new music program.

The money parents donate isn’t spent just on our own little darlings; sometimes it isn’t spent on my child or your child at all. But there’s just something satisfying about direct giving compared with filling out a tax form.

Maybe principals should go door to door with a little bucket for donations. A smart principal might bring along a few especially angelic-looking children.

Really. People like to see what they’re getting for their money, and if you can get to their gut, you have a much better chance than if you make a purely logical appeal.

Kids in the new music program perform with drums. During the auction dinner, the drum line marched in and played for a few moments before the auctioneer asked people to contribute.

Parents were rocking their shoulders, tapping their feet and nodding their heads in time with the music. Numbers on a sheet of paper can’t match that.

People were also feeling something because the drumming program is in danger of falling to the cuts the district has ordered because the school system is way short of money.

A lot of families are short of money, too. Our school has excellent bands and orchestras, but they are taken from a narrow demographic spectrum of the school. Many parents can’t afford instruments for their children.

It is striking how different the drum line (mostly black) looks from the other band programs. People notice that, and most folks want to keep it alive for the sake of those kids.

And it felt good to contribute because we know how much music has meant to our son, who can have private lessons and his own instrument. All of our different contributions made us feel part of a community.

There was a lot of emotion in the room when numbered cards rose to signal contributions to the drum program.

The state constitution says providing children a basic education is the top responsibility of the state government. But when money is tight, what’s considered basic shrinks.

During the past decade there has been a boom in private fund raising for public schools as parents — those who can — try to fill in some of the gaps.

Education looks less like a pubic responsibility, or a shared community service, than a pay-as-you-go business. Which might be fine, except that not all schools are blessed with the right parent demographics.

Tough luck, you might say, but there is a reason education is supposed to be the state’s top priority. A state is better off the more well-educated its residents are. An educated work force is a magnet for business, for one thing.

I’m not talking about software engineers or nuclear physicists. Just this week, the National Association of Manufacturers said lots of its members have openings they can’t fill because they can’t find workers with the basic skills needed for factory jobs.

They need people who can do some math and have a little understanding of science and technology, but we aren’t turning out enough qualified graduates.

Maybe we ought to look at this thing differently. Maybe we should separate out the tax dollars that go to education, sort of make it clear who is getting what benefit.

When a business hires someone, it would pay into the education fund. We could present each person and business in the state with a bill itemizing each benefit they get from having an educated citizenry.

Now, generous parents are letting the state — and by extension, fellow residents — off the hook.

It’s great that so many parents are willing and able to contribute, but we’d be better off if everyone were willing to put in a fair share. We might even create more well-off parents and spread the tax burden around.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com. His column runs Thursdays and Sundays and is also at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.