A new fund-raising and lobbying organization plans to generate $100,000 to offset fee increases imposed on Lawrence public school students.
Citizens for Students, started by Rosy Elmore and Jackie Ferguson, intends to pair its campaign to raise cash with a crusade to convince the Kansas Legislature to appropriate more money to all public school districts in the state.
"I think people are passionate about the schools and want to help," Elmore said.
Ferguson added: "Years past, people wanted to help but didn't know how. This is an opportunity."
Citizens for Students will use tax-deductible donations to help students pay enrollment fees and subsidize extracurricular sports and activity fees.
In addition to a broad appeal for contributions, the group will sponsor two events.
Elmore said the first centers on the collection of "pocket change" at Lawrence schools and participating businesses from Sept. 23 to Oct. 18. Money raised in this phase will be used to offset enrollment fees. Families can apply for the program and receive support based on eligibility rules set by the district.
A silent auction Feb. 2 at Abe & Jake's Landing in Lawrence is designed to generate money to cover part of the sports participation fees and extracurricular-activity fees assessed students.
In an effort to balance this year's budget, the school board adopted a pay-to-participate fee structure that required students to pay $50 for each sports, cheerleading and program they joined. In addition, a $25 fee was created for nonsports activities, such as debate, orchestra, choir and band.
Ferguson said students would be obligated to pay only their first sports and activity fee. Citizens for Students plans to raise enough money to cover the remainder of these fees.
For example, a student playing football would pay the $50 fee to their respective school. If that student later went out for track, the fund would pay the $50 for that sport.
"The fund is designed to eliminate the possibility that a student would have to choose one activity over another because of an inability to pay the extra fee," she said.
Elmore said it's important for students to remain engaged in a variety of after-school activities.
"If kids are busy, whether it's basketball, choir or debate, to me that is almost as important as the classroom," she said.
Approximately $10,000 has been donated to the project, with checks arriving from as far away as Wichita.
The fund drive isn't affiliated with Lawrence Schools Foundation, which primarily raises money for early-childhood programs.
Donations will go into an account administered by the district.
Ferguson said the lobbying part of the project was designed to find a broad solution to underfunding of public education in Kansas.
Lawrence school board member Leni Salkind praised the organization's effort.
"It's a great thing," she said. "You've come up with a good, viable option."
Sue Morgan, the board's vice president, said she was equally impressed with the organization's advocacy mission.
It's more meaningful to legislators when ordinary citizens, rather than elected officials, lobby at the Capitol, she said.
"People are upset now," Elmore said. "Now is the time to look at our legislators. Maybe they need to be educated."
Elmore and Ferguson, who both have children in Lawrence public schools, said they know of families that struggled greatly to keep pace with big increases in student fees this year.
"It is painful for the families," Elmore said.
During meetings to get the organization off the ground, she's met many people supportive of public education.
"It's a good time to be in Lawrence as far as putting people together in bad times," she said.
Unfortunately, Ferguson said she had to dispel a rumor that someone donated $50,000 to the fund drive. No such gift exists, she said.
"Anybody who has information on the location of that donor, let us know."
For more information on Citizens for Students, contact Jackie Ferguson at 841-8204 or Rosy Elmore at 841-3639. Checks are payable to Lawrence Public Schools. Send to Lawrence School District Offices, in care of Julie Boyle, 110 McDonald Drive, Lawrence 66044.