Friday, July 21, 2006

Inequity in School Fundraising

An article called "Cashing In, Getting Extras" describes inequities in school fundraising in Chicago. But you could replace "Chicago" with "Seattle" througout the article and have a pretty accurate picture of what is happening here.

I'd like to explore the idea of pooled PTA fundraising, with some percentage of funds raised by each school put in a district-wide pool that is divided and sent back out to schools on a per-student basis. Palo Alto explored this option. Read "School-based fund-raising must be curbed" for one perspective on this issue.

And an article called "Can Parent Groups Do Too Much" raises additional interesting issues on this topic. When parents are paying teacher salaries and providing essential classroom materials, does that let the state off the hook for adequate funding of schools?

Offerings like art and foreign language, which are funded by parents, contribute to a public school system that provides unequal opportunities to children depending upon the wealth and fundraising abilities of parents at the school. That is clearly wrong.

4 comments:

Jen said...

These look like really interesting articles which I look forward to reading (but don't have time now). I did want to make some comments now though - please keep in mind my oldest is entering kindergarten this year, so I have no experience w/elementary fundraising or PTA).

First, I want to support your thoughts of how schools fundraising do, to a certain extent, let the state off the hook. I was really discouraged when I went on tours this year and saw that fundraising provided what I felt should be a part of the school already based on my elementary school memories. I don't think schools should not fundraise to prove a point at the cost of the student's - but I think the State should wake up to this even more by seeing the inequities in school districts which I feel they have caused by not funding schools adequately. It is not just urban cities that fundraise for what should be essential services - it's all through out the state.

I think requiring schools who fundraise to give part of the fundraised money to a pool to help other schools is a bad idea. I think parents are exhausted fundraising, but do it so they can help their own kids/school/community because they see the results and their kids benefit. I think a better idea in that line would be to have a fund the PTA's from different schools could donate money to - the "requirement" stigma is not there so I feel there would be a lot more positive thoughts of "helping" other schools. Maybe this already happens - I don't know. I know that my daughter's co-op preschool this last year raised a ton more money than normal with a fundraiser and we donated $500 to a scholarship fund voluntarily. I also think if a formalized system like this happened and worked, it would further let the state off the hook, but I also think there would be a danger of losing more families to private schools. I don't think these parents would be selfish - they would be discouraged that they would have to volunteer more hours/fundraise harder (which is already hard for them to do - I know some moms who have chaired auctions and it really takes them away from their family w/the hard work) or work the same and get less benefit.

I feel the business community in the areas should definitely be helping out. I also know so many moms who want to volunteer to help kids who belong to guilds for Children's Hospital...with a little marketing out to these moms, especially the moms w/kids in private school, I don't see why similar things couldn't be set up for underfunded schools.

Those are some of my initial thoughts from an "unexperienced" SSD parent.

Mel Westbrook said...

It's a sticky wicket.

On the one hand, you have programs like Roosevelt's and Garfield's jazz bands being almost completely parent-paid for. (A sad side effect; nearly all the members are white. So many kids either go to Eckstein or Washington - the major feeder schools for these bands AND have private music lessons that an average kid going into one of those high schools would not have any chance to get into those jazz bands.) Thank goodness these parents want to step up and pay because these are nationally-recognized jazz bands. It means something to many people through this city.

One interesting item of note; I had more than one parent from the NE, not from a school on the closure list, complain that they were paying down their class sizes and didn't want to have to take any Sacajawea kids (should Sacajawea have closed). It is still confusing to me how the I=728 money is going up (slowly) and yet class size is all over the place in this district (I suspect a combination of site-based management choices and parents who are able to raise money to buy-down class sizes.) And, these parents said we would drive them out of the district should their child's class size go up.

(My personal belief on this issue is that unless your child has a special need, don't pay for private elementary school. You can get a wonderful elementary education in SPS but with higher class sizes. I think that is off-set by good teachers and good schools. But I understand why people would easily perceive that 18 kids would be better than 24.)

I don't think that teachers should be paid for by parents. I think enrichment, a teacher's aide, school improvements are fine. But buying a teacher really divides the haves from the have nots. I would like to see the Seattle Council PTSA's position on this issue. I know Sherry Carr (the president) so I'll ask her. I can see creating an "equity" line where a PTA can't raise over $30,000 (or whatever) for just its use. If there were a pool of $10,000 for all the elementary schools that have no PTA, I think it would help. It would also help to have a "sister" school relationship between PTAs because some people don't know how to run an auction or solicit businesses for money or donations. That kind of help could go a long way.

I don't believe fund-raising lets the district off the hook. But it is sad that parents have to work harder and harder and it burns people out. That's probably why you see a huge drop-off in middle and high school. The needs are even greater then and yet it is harder to fundraise. (One example, though, that comes to mind on this issue is at Eckstein the PTSA is paying for one classroom a year replacement of desks. The desks are just falling apart and the district doesn't fund the money to replace them. The principal came to the PTA, humbly, and asked if that could be considered for part of the Annual Campaign money. So far, it has been done for about 3 years.)

I think that it also is an issue who decides what the money is used for? The principal can state what he/she would like the money used for but if the parents raise it, they should get to determine what it is spent on. What also happens, in my experience, is at schools that do fundraise a lot, there is an expectation by the principal and teachers that the money will always be there and a little bit of entitlement seems to set it. I don't expect any one on their hands and knees in gratitude but I also do expect the PTSA to be thanked publicly by those who benefit.

In the end, if these kids all stay in public school, they will meet up with each other in middle and high school. If a one child comes from an enriched elementary school and another from a school where they barely had supplies, who might be further behind?

Charlie Mas said...

I will begin by saying that I am a proponent of two changes in private fundraising for schools.

First, I advocate revenue sharing whereby a portion, 10%, 20%, whatever, of all money raised privately for schools through non-competitive grants go into a pool to be divided among all schools.

Second, I advocate a ban on any of that money being spent on basic education. Here in Washington we're not supposed to have rich schools and poor schools. That's the idea behind the levy lid. When the City of Seattle wants to spend money in schools, with the Families and Education Levy, for example, they are not allowed to spend it on basic education services. I don't think this money should be available for spending on basic education services either.

If you believe in any kind of equity at all, you cannot countenance the grotesque diversity between school fundraising.

Seattle Public Schools suffers much more greatly from economic segregation than from racial segregation. Review the neighborhood elementary schools and the concentration of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches. You will find a bi-modal distribution. The line graph looks like the Golden Gate Bridge. There are a whole lot of schools with very low concentrations of FRE students, fewer than 20%, and there are a whole lot of schools with very high concentrations of FRE students, more than 80%, but there are very few schools close to the district average of 40%.

We are a District with a huge gap between the haves and have-nots, and we need to address that gap. There are a handful of schools that have six-figure fundraisers every year. And you better believe that money makes a difference.

angiedorman said...

Also, as you think about, consider all of us out here in the great desert land of central Washington where we have high levels of poverty and very high levy rates just to keep our programs going.

I am not for taking a percentage of funds raised by more wealthy districts, but I am for encouraging them to adopt sister/brother schools and fund raise for them. Something like an Issaquah/Warden partnership and as we raised funds, they could help us with challenge matches.