Education 101: Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation Created to Supplement K-12 Funding

Education 101:  Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation Created to Supplement K-12 Funding
By Save Our Schools Los Alamos

Many of us are aware of the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation; we’ve seen the organization included in the LANS Employee Giving Campaign or heard speeches from Foundation members at the beginning of a school year asking for our support. 

But why was it created and is it something that can help with our K-12 funding issues?

If you ask a founding member of the organization, you’ll be told that the chief goal of the Foundation and the reason for its creation was to channel more money into Los Alamos Public Schools. About 10 years ago, some prescient community members realized that funding is an issue for LAPS and that raising supplemental funds would help the community sustain an excellent educational experience for Los Alamos children. Working with Los Alamos Board of Education and LAPS, and with training support provided by the LANL Foundation, in 2005 the group created a tax-exempt (IRS Code 501(c) (3)) non-profit organization to raise funds for community-supported school projects and initiatives. 

Joanna Gillespie, a founding member and the Foundation’s executive director, says the LAPS Foundation is coming close to reaching its target of raising $150,000 per year. Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded about $7 thousand per month to LAPS. Seventy-five percent of its contributions come from individuals, mainly through the LANS Employee Giving Campaign, which provides a matching donation from Los Alamos National Security, LLC.  Individuals also contribute through the Foundation’s website; some people include the Foundation as a beneficiary in their estate plans; and others volunteer time for Foundation work. The Foundation is actively looking for volunteers who can help with administrative support or program management. 

Gillespie states that the Foundation has a goal of building an endowment, which will provide more stability for long-term sponsorship of K-12 projects and which would allow for the consistent support of recurring expenses.

As a 501(c)3 non-profit, the Foundation is prohibited from lobbying on the issue of K-12 education funding. (Since Save Our Schools Los Alamos isn’t registered as a charitable organization, we’re free to raise those issues as an advocacy group.)

In New Mexico, Albuquerque and Santa Fe have also created foundations to raise funds for K-12 public education. 

The Albuquerque Public Schools Foundation was established in 1995 to serve as a conduit when a national group offered to provide the Albuquerque School District with funds for teacher development. This foundation focuses on providing financial support for fine arts, middle and high school activities, literacy and STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) programs. They’ve built up an endowment to provide an ongoing revenue stream to support the 90,000 students in the Albuquerque Public School District.  In 2012, this Foundation had net assets of almost $4.5 million.

The Santa Fe Public Schools Foundation started out in 1988 as a way to link the community with its public schools. It registered for tax-exempt charitable status in 1991, and became a Foundation in 2007; supporting Santa Fe’s K-12 public schools as well as the New Mexico School for the Deaf and the Santa Fe Indian School. The key objective of the Santa Fe Public Schools Foundation is to support student achievement by providing teacher grants to support innovative teaching strategies. While size of the endowment is not clear, the Foundation reports that in the 2010-2011 school year, 74 teachers at 23 schools received a total of $60,000 in grants.

The Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation supports K-12 education in our community in three essential ways: by funding innovative opportunities and materials for our schools, creating a school environment in which students are inspired to learn and by providing quality professional development opportunities for district educators.

The Foundation’s Great Idea Grants are funded every year, providing up to $1 thousand per project and sponsoring up to 10 grants per year. The Foundation depends on ideas from members of the community for these grants, with teachers and parents identifying and proposing specific opportunities. In spring, 2013, the Foundation sponsored projects at the elementary and middle schools that included new textbooks, homework games, and support for the Battle of the Books program for a total of $4,700.

The Foundation also provides money to teachers to help them pay for the expenses incurred as they advance to new tiers in the New Mexico State Teacher Licensure program; or as they pursue National Board Certification.  In 2013, the Foundation supported 13 teachers through the licensure process. Additionally, the Foundation provides Professional Development Grants for teachers; paying for things like conference fees and travel expenses under a “train-the-trainer” approach where a few professionals participate in formal development and in turn bring those practices to a broader Los Alamos cohort.

As an example, the Foundation provided funding for a number of teachers from Aspen Elementary School to attend a National Conference of Teachers of Mathematics. Afterward, Aspen Elementary School was able to illustrate the impact of this professional development opportunity on student achievement  through increases in Aspen math scores (proficient and advanced):  2011 — 67.3 percent; 2012 — 74 percent; 2013 — 79.3 percent.

The Foundation is able to provide excellent educational opportunities for students and teachers that are consistent with our community’s values and that fall outside of the district’s current funding abilities. Its meaningful impact on K-12 education is a testament to those individuals and businesses that donate to it; as well as the dedicated people who volunteer and run the organization.

For those who are concerned about K-12 public school funding and who are looking for a way to contribute, Gillespie encourages people to work with their children’s teachers to develop proposals for the Great Idea Grants, to include the Foundation in their annual giving program, and to consider the Foundation when making estate plans.

To learn more about the Foundation, go to

To learn more about Save Our Schools Los Alamos, go to

Save Our Schools Los Alamos will take a break over the holidays and resume our Education 101 column in January. We wish you all a safe and joyful holiday season.