Sara Spafford Freeman was born in Rochester and raised in the small town of Eyota, Minn., the daughter, granddaughter and niece of teachers. Education, she said, "is in my blood." Fairness is, too. An activist and community organizer now living in Minneapolis, she is co-founder of the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Academics Advocacy Group, which is pushing for investments and improvements in literacy and math outcomes for all of Minneapolis' students. She spent three years researching, and now speaking publicly, about how private fundraising in public schools contributes to already glaring disparities within the district. She shares more about her passions and offers potential solutions below.

Q: Your recent EdTalksMN likely got some attention. The title: "How parent fundraising perpetuates inequities in Minneapolis Public Schools." What are you hearing since you presented it?

A: My EDTalk covered a lot of material in 12 minutes and I'm grateful folks have engaged with it. Lots of people have reached out to me since, interested in learning more and doing better. But it's also made some people pretty mad. When you talk about race and money, and especially when you talk about the harm done by systems many folks in white bodies would say are "harmless," it generates a strong response.

Q: One group you zero in on is seemingly harmless, but far from it for you: The school PTA. Might you say more about that?

A: No public school in Minnesota has enough funding because state funding for K-12 schools hasn't kept up with inflation for more than 20 years. But some schools with wealthier communities are able to fund-raise their way out of problems that other schools, with fewer advantages, just have to deal with. Within MPS, private fundraising is paying for staff, teacher training, curriculum, after school activities, athletics and more. This fundraising isn't happening everywhere. It's occurring in about a dozen of Minneapolis' whitest schools. And this isn't the PTA I grew up with, doing little bake sales. In Minneapolis, these groups are raising and spending millions of dollars a year.

Q: And that's not possible in less affluent Minneapolis schools?

A: It's critically important to acknowledge the racial dynamics at play in all of this. MPS is comprised of more than 60% students of color, and more than 60% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. That means that most schools in the district can't fund-raise their way out of these challenges.

Q: This isn't theoretical for you. I believe that your kids attend schools in north Minneapolis and you volunteer regularly?

A: Two of my children attend a Northside elementary school and I've been a volunteer at North High School for more than six years, helping with things like concession stands and field trips, and with the booster club and finance club. I've been a fan of North High School since the 1990s, when I saw the Polars win three state boys basketball championships in a row. So, when my oldest started in MPS, North was a place I wanted to be a part of.

Q: Let's do a quick review of how schools are funded.

A: The vast majority of K-12 funding — for MPS, about 70% — comes from the state through general education revenue, based purely on student enrollment numbers. But general education funding hasn't kept pace with inflation for more than 20 years; the average increase was as low as 1 to 2% per year for the last decade. When you chart K-12 spending in Minnesota over the past two decades, it's basically a flat line and represents a stunning disinvestment in one of our state's most valuable assets. And because this formula hasn't been updated since 1989, it devalues students receiving special education and English Learner services, as well as those students in lower socioeconomic groups.

Q: What about local taxes?

A: Local taxes currently make up about 20% of K-12 funding. One response to state disinvestment in K-12 schools has been growing reliance on local taxes. In fact, nearly three-quarters of Minnesota's K-12 districts have active, voter-approved levies in place, including Minneapolis. But obviously the local tax capacity of Minneapolis is vastly different than the tax base in Eyota or Wheaton or Winona (all towns I have family in). So this reliance on local taxes drives disparities between districts because some cities can raise more money in this way than others.

Q: Are you optimistic, despite these huge challenges?

A: I believe that most people have good intentions, and I trust in the power of doing better when we know better. I'm focused on offering folks data and information about these systems and recommendations for better practices to consider. It's hard, important, necessary work. And I trust Minnesotans can do it.

Q: How do we start to become the allies we want to be?

A: The Minnesota legislative session began this week and there's more than $7 billion of our money on the line. I've been disappointed that public education is almost nowhere in the discussions so far. First and foremost, I hope public school families and educators and people who care about public education will contact Gov.Walz and state legislators to urge greater investment in and commitment to it. And then keep calling them.

Q: What about those parent fundraising systems?

A: First, transparency is key. PTAs and foundations should make their fundraising and spending budgets public by posting them on the school's website. Transparency will help reduce the ability of those hoarding resources to deny the disparities they're perpetuating. The second action for groups to consider is using a portion of the funds they raise to invest in schools where historical disinvestment has occurred. Achieve Minneapolis is a non-profit that provides a vehicle for this type of giving. Groups and individuals can donate to Achieve Minneapolis ( and earmark the money for a school community with less fundraising capacity. The third step is more controversial. I encourage parents in white bodies to consider defunding their school's PTA. Imagine what we could do if we spent as much time and effort calling state legislators to demand increased K-12 budgets and improved academic outcomes as we do planning the next PTA fundraiser. But if not that, I hope parents will ask: "Do other students at other schools have this?" And when the answer to that question is "no" — have the courage to dig deeper.