Thursday, November 14, 2019

PTA Fundraising and Spending; Let's Talk

A really informative article from The Atlantic on PTA fundraising.  Wonder if the new Board make-up, what with a former president of the SCPTSA and a former SCPTSA Board member, might have the courage to tackle this one.  But there is not just an "opportunity gap" but this:
A 2017 report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress found that of the roughly $425 million that America’s PTAs collectively raise each year, about a tenth is spent at schools attended by just one-tenth of 1 percent of the country’s students.
I also note that the district loves the money that flows into the district from PTAs because it certainly helps their bottom line.  Does the state fund education so that each teacher is not going into their own pocket to have the supplies/resources they need? No and neither does the district in turn.

SPS may have done nothing about PTA spending because there is so much money flowing to the district that it would be noticeable at JSCEE if it were curtailed.

 For example, the district likes it when PTAs do landscaping maintenance.  Bless the hard work of parents out there toiling but it then allows the district to hire fewer landscaping crew members.  The district likes it when PTAs replace carpeting because that's more money for other purposes.  (I recall when my kids were at Eckstein that the PTA paid for the library carpeting to be replaced - it had so many stains and tears - as well as making a commitment to pay for a new classroom's worth of desks each year.  I have no idea if the PTA kept that particular commitment up but it made my blood boil. That should be on the district.)

Different districts have different rules about PTAs’ activities and financial reporting, but few districts: 
  • put caps on the amount of money that can be raised, 
  • strictly regulate how PTAs spend their money, or 
  • mandate that funds be spread around equally within a district.
Let's think about each one.

Caps on the amount of money that can be raised

Does that cover PTA funding or all giving funding?  I recall when my sons' were in elementary, the district had a neighborhood business partner program where a local business "adopted" a school.  I thought it a good idea - the business attached to our school was Key Bank which helped get kids started with savings accounts - but so much work for the district person to oversee.

It would be interesting to know how many schools get additional dollars beyond PTSA, where and how much.

But especially for high schools, the big money is in booster clubs, mostly for music and/or athletics. Roosevelt and Garfield do not have their stellar jazz bands because of largess from the district.  It has been parents, who for decades, have supported these groups.  But I don't think the district actually notates these dollars as they do for PTSA.

And, there are donations, especially for playground renewal and school supplies, again, that may or may not be counted.  I think playground renewal dollars do get counted but school supplies don't.

To get the point of this item, should a district cap how much money can be raised for any given school?  Good luck with that but if not, the chasm between schools that much greater especially if it is for staff or field trips or specialty items.  (I will say that I have never heard of any school, not a single one, who used money for field trips that did not have a scholarship fund for low-income kids.)

Strictly regulate how PTAs spend their money

I think this item is poorly phrased.  PTSA is a private entity that is allowed to operate on school grounds in association with the school/district.  No one can tell them how to spend their money.  But districts can regulate what they are allowed to spend dollars on within a school/district.

As has been stated many times, many other districts do not allow PTAs to buy staffing.  I personally agree with this.  And, within SPS, there are a couple of schools where principals - I'm thinking here of Ingraham's Martin Floe - who will not allow it.  (Floe's theory is that it is a lot of stress on a PTA to have to, every single year, raise the money for someone's salary and then, if for whatever reason they can't, he then has to scramble to find the money or let someone go.  FYI, several years back, Ingraham voted to go to a PTO and left the PTA.  I went to that meeting and it was an exercise in modeling civility and transparency.)

Also, there is sometimes tension within a PTA about what the money gets spent on.  If you come into a school and question the spending you may find parents who have been there a long time saying, "This has always been what we do."  Plus, I have seen more than one school where a principal has sway over the final decision which I personally think is wrong.  If membership wants to spend the money differently from the principal, that should be their call.

Mandate that funds be spread around equally within a district

In the article, it cites several different ideas.
For instance, in Seattle, some well-funded schools now voluntarily share a small portion (typically about 5 percent) of their PTA funds with nearby schools that have less money. Vivian Van Gelder, a former PTA president of a well-resourced public elementary school, was one of the parents who helped add a fund-sharing initiative to her school’s yearly PTA budget a few years ago. She said the change was initially met with some pushback from parents who were adamant that their donations stay at their children’s school, and noted that the original budget item passed by only a small margin last year. Van Gelder calls this arrangement “a start”—she’d like to see the system for educational funding overhauled more broadly.
I hadn't realized that those PTAs were giving dollars to "nearby schools."  There are a lot of Title One schools in the southend; who shares with them?

In thinking of that, I try to recall if the district ever did a story on their own about the sharing of PTA funds among schools. I don't think so.
Portland, Oregon, implemented a similar system, which has been around for a lot longer. In the mid-’90s, during a budgetary crisis, parents at many better-funded schools complemented PTAs by establishing school-specific fundraising foundations that could pay for additional staffing. Recognizing how this could lead to inequity, the Portland school district required that a central foundation serving under-resourced schools be created and that when the school-specific foundations spent money, they’d give an additional amount—roughly a third of whatever they spent—to that central foundation.
Sounds good but one parent points out a flaw:
First, if an expenditure falls outside the purview of the foundation—for instance, if money is spent on buying school supplies or building a science lab—no extra money needs to be set aside for other schools.
And second, parents’ contributions to schools don’t just come in the form of financial resources, but money is all that this policy addresses. “The scope of parent volunteerism [at these schools] is next-level—it’s like a second level of staff,” she told me. For instance, her daughter had been tutored for years by an engineer turned stay-at-home dad. While underfunded schools may also have parents who are willing to help, those parents’ involvement can be limited by less predictable work schedules and the different relationships they might have with public institutions.
Further, even if PTAs’ resources weren’t spread out so unevenly, their overall approach to helping schools doesn’t resonate with all parents. D. L. Mayfield, whose child goes to a school in Portland where 94 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, said that she and other parents feel “cast aside” by the “dominant cultur[al] model” of PTAs; they generally aren’t inspired to organize fundraising efforts to support a system that they don’t consider to be fair. “I think parent groups should focus less on raising money and more on advocating for systemic change,” she told me.
I would love to know what exactly that parent meant about "a dominant culture of PTAs."

That last sentence? That is exactly what state and national PTA are saying.  Less about fundraising, more about advocacy.

(As an aside, when I went to the WSPTSA website, I saw that they have a number of items of interest; I'll have to create a new post for all of those.) 
One of the more promising models for making PTAs a more equalizing force tries to account for the attitudes of parents at both well-funded and underfunded schools. It’s called the PTA Equity Project, and it’s run by two parents named Suni Kartha and Elisabeth Lindsay-Ryan in Evanston, Illinois, outside Chicago.
Three years ago, out of a shared concern about uneven PTA fundraising—Kartha’s children went to an under-resourced school, Lindsay-Ryan’s to a more affluent one—they gathered data on PTA funding at their district’s 18 elementary schools. They found that per-student parent-raised funding across their district ranged from $0 a student at some schools to almost $300 a student at others, and to remedy these imbalances, they began presenting some well-funded PTAs with their data and a suggested percentage that they could voluntarily divert to schools with smaller budgets.

In general, these suggestions have been received well, which likely has to do with their approach: “The start of the conversation is saying, ‘No one wants to punish anyone. No one is doing anything wrong,’” Kartha said. “Our goal is to help people broaden their lens and think about the district as a whole.” Kartha and Lindsay-Ryan noted that some parents from under-resourced schools said they felt heard as well, as they were able to share their perspective with other PTAs and ask for help advocating for reforms at the district level, as opposed to just having an opportunity to request financial support.
I gotta say, that "think of the district as a whole" is a big key to this whole issue.  The district gets so much out of the fundraising done at individual schools.  And, as you may have seen from the Moss-Adams report I posted, the numbers for the question of "do parents feel the district is responsive/listens to input" are very low.  That needs to change in order for parents to want to see the district big picture.

But this issue of parents understanding that big picture is yet another conversation that needs another post as there was a recent story at KNKX where I think the district is sending out messengers with talking points. 

This is one of the talking points:
The challenge, as Posey-Maddox sees it, is that most parents are reluctant to have “hard conversations” about the extent to which “the system enable[s] their child to hoard opportunities.” 
This is what needs to happen:
Ultimately, though, she favors fixes that would take the onus off individual parents to correct for an unfair system themselves. This is why she thinks it would be helpful to have more robust government funding of education overall.
And here's an interesting idea:
When parents choose a well-funded school or write a check to their school’s PTA, it can be hard for them to see all the schools that aren’t receiving any of their money. New York City is trying to make these differences between schools a bit more visible: About a year ago, it passed a measure that will require schools to publish how much money PTAs raise, alongside demographic data about the race, ethnicity, and English-learner status of students at each school, by the end of this year.
But again, if the schools are not require to report ALL money given to their school from ALL sources, just PTA fundraising won't tell the whole story.


Anonymous said...

RE: the KNKX story and talking points:

The challenge, as Posey-Maddox sees it, is that most parents are reluctant to have “hard conversations” about the extent to which “the system enable[s] their child to hoard opportunities.” This is what needs to happen: Ultimately, though, she favors fixes that would take the onus off individual parents to correct for an unfair system themselves. This is why she thinks it would be helpful to have more robust government funding of education overall.

What insight!

Melissa Westbrook said...

What Insight, more robust government funding might solve some problems but likely not all. This defining of "equity" from school to school might be a tough nut to crack UNLESS the district says, "all schools can have X field trips, X cultural events at school, X amount towards playground renovation, X number of additional reading materials, etc."

Because making everything equal is easier than making everything equitable.

Anonymous said...

Both Hampson and Rankin have been working on equity in PTA funding for years. During her tenure, Hampson wrote a resolution that was approved by general membership and adopted by a large number of PTAs (our school did). The premise is "#TakeBackPTA is a resolution and a movement in Seattle to take PTA back to our shared history and mission of family engagement and advocacy, and it’s a call to action to our local leaders, members, and communities to take PTA back for ourselves. We aren’t ATMs, blank checks working at the whims of districts or administrators; we are organizers, problem-solvers, centers of school communities, support for families, and we are advocates for all children, for every child"
MW, I know you have been critical of SCPTSA in the last few years under the leadership of strong, talented women of color namely Burr-Hampson-Slye, but I am surprised you have not acknowledged their real work on PTA funding. As you know, council is not the PTA police and cannot tell PTAs what to do with their money or mandate not to fundraise.
Change is a coming. Watch.

Fed Up

Melissa Westbrook said...

Great! A resolution. "A call to action?" And what changed after that?

I have been critical of SCPTSA especially since their membership numbers have dropped by thousands. Doesn't matter how many good resolutions you put out if membership leaves.

Not the PTA police? Not expecting that but why did SCPTSA not work with the Board on creating a PTA funding/spending policy? Years of whining about this and no real action by either the district or SCPTSA.

Anonymous said...

Not going to argue with you. Just stating the facts.
Change is a coming I said.

Fed Up

Melissa Westbrook said...

Facts? Well, if you consider people who namecall, yell, judge people's racial background/upbringing to be "strong and talented", then we have differing standards.

As for Slye, I have heard nothing but good things about her.

Anonymous said...

Hale dropped out of the PTA organization and many other schools have too. The amount of time and money spent on satisfying PTA organizational requirements just wasn't worth it. It was harder and harder to find volunteers. Now Hale has a community organization that doesn't do fundraising. That is left to the Hale Foundation. In addition, Hale has many booster organizations for sports, music, drama, science, robotics, and more. A large portion of all the money is used to support F/RL kids. The money pays for homework help, uniforms/equipment for sports, field trips, etc. Hale tries to make sure any kid can participate regardless of their family income.


NSP said...

In terms of actions, the #TakeBackPTA resolution says SCPTSA will do the following:

"Therefore​, Seattle Council PTSA shall educate local PTAs about fundraising best practices.

Therefore​, Seattle Council PTSA shall encourage local PTAs to evaluate their current fundraising practices and budgets to focus on the mission of PTA and no longer fund parts of basic education that should be funded by the state.

Therefore​, Seattle Council PTSA shall advocate to the state legislature to effectively raise revenue to amply fund education.

Therefore​, Seattle Council PTSA shall advocate for reasonable and equitable fundraising policies for all parent organizations in Seattle Public Schools.

Therefore​, ​be it resolved​ that Seattle Council PTSA shall support and encourage local PTA focus on advocacy and community and family engagement."

How are those action items playing out on the ground? Did SCPTSA give guidance to PTAs on their budgeting and fundraising at the end of last year? If so, did any PTAs change their fundraising/budgeting practices to eliminate basic education items? What advocacy have they done for equitable fundraising policies for all parent organizations?

Anonymous said...

And so this ties into an email recently sent by BHS PTSA to raise money. They used an example of our kids sitting on the floor in classrooms.

"The Chemistry classrooms were using decades-old tables that were held together with duct tape. One table actually collapsed onto the laps of students. Direct Appeal funds to the rescue! With money generously provided by you, the PTSA was able to purchase 16 lab tables with non-reactive epoxy surfaces so that students can safely perform chemistry experiments in the classroom.

So there is a move for PTSA to share funds. Yet how will equity be determined? Some schools with less FRL students are already receiving much less funding per pupil from the district. They also have much more crowded classrooms.

Will this leave middle class schools with no ability to remedy these kind of situations?

Will there a baseline and framework of what all schools should be able to provide? My guess is some schools really need PTSA funds to provide basic things not being provided for by the district.

BH Parent

Anonymous said...

All of the talk about PTA funding seems more about optics than making any real change. At an elementary level, some schools fundraise (some tremendously), others get outside resources (some very low income schools for example, partner with community organizations for music/field trips/tutoring).

Ultimately it seems we ought to be looking at what a reasonable baseline is and funding it. Ringfenced funding so that it cannot be spent on teacher salaries, etc. We should have done things BEFORE wrapping up McCleary and allocating all of the additional funds, but there you are. All elementary school students should have 30 minutes (60 minutes) of music and art a week, 100 minutes of PE, all students should have access to 3 field trips (or whatever), all 4th and 5th graders should have access to 30 minutes a week of instrumental music, all students should have an allocation of $100 for classroom supplies ($30), office supplies ($30), art supplies ($20), library books ($20), all classroom furniture should be refreshed every 10 years. It doesn't matter what the amounts are as much as it does that we plan for this stuff. Supplies happen, stuff breaks, kids need a baseline of education.

If you don't provide that baseline, you effectively require parents to fill the gaps and you end up with significant inequities. If you allow parents to fund it through PTAs/PTOs/etc, you have our current system of inequity. If you stop it, you will end up with an even more disproportionate system, one where kids are still supported through volunteer hours in higher resourced schools and where parents who can will support these enrichment things outside of school, making them even more exclusive.

Where is the discussion of the baseline?

NE Parent

Anonymous said...

Adding to my earlier post. The baseline should be just that, a baseline. We should still provide additional dollars to schools who have higher needs populations, as we currently do as discretionary dollars for every FRL student) to help provide the additional support those students need. We should also look very hard at HOW those dollars can best support students by looking at real schools that actually close gaps and have high satisfaction instead of letting every school reinvent the wheel. I see so much money in the Board Reports being spent on training, additional staff, etc and very little talk of what the schools that actually seem to be making progress in terms of test scores and satisfaction are doing.

NE Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

HP, I forgot about foundation dollars (and not every high school even has one). Those are completely unregulated dollars.

Just to note, New Jersey, which has some of the highest per pupil spending in the country, puts their money where their mouth is.

"One week after New Jersey schools were ranked best in the nation, they’ve hit another milestone.

New Jersey is now the first state in the country to have an arts program in every public school statewide.

Often when funding gets thin, it's art, music and theatre programs that are first to get cut. So many districts go without.

But officials say it’s not the money or lack thereof that dictates which schools have access to the arts - it's sheer commitment.

“This is indeed an historic milestone for arts education, not only in New Jersey but for our nation," said Robert Morrison, director of Arts Ed NJ, a non-profit dedicated to promoting arts education in New Jersey."

Anonymous said...

Real change keeps getting called "optics" by those trying to preserve privilege. Keep your eye on that talking point.

Kudos to the new board members for doing actual progressive work. It was apparently appreciated by the voters who elected them.


Greg said...

This really seems like a symptom, not the problem, to me. Fully funding public schools is the solution. Our public schools are pathetically funded, many receiving under $10,000/year/student compared to the $30,000+/year/student many private schools enjoy.

Some schools have parents that are able to band-aid a small fraction of the underfunding with donations, but that's not the problem, the problem is the underfunding.

This feels like people fighting each other for tiny scraps rather than working together to fix the much bigger problem. PTAs raise tiny amounts, $100/year/student or so even at the schools with the most generous donors, and that is nothing compared to the gap of $10,000+/year/student in public school funding.

Instead, we could be working together for real fixes. A Washington state income tax, for example, could fully fund Washington public schools. Or we could look at a national solution like what Elizabeth Warren has proposed to substantially increase federal funding for K-12 education. But it is silly for us to fight each other over the tiny amounts PTAs are able to raise when the real problem is elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

"Wonder if the new Board make-up, what with a former president of the SCPTSA and a former SCPTSA Board member, might have the courage to tackle this one" Don't forget, current board director Mack is two years into her term and is a former SCPTSA Legislative Chair AND a co-founder of Washington's Paramount Duty. One would think she could weigh in as well. Or are you going to hold Hampson and Rankin solely responsible for making meaningful changes or failure to do so? You are also a former PTSA President. Care to contribute or just preparing to criticize?

Fake concern

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good point, Fake Concern (bad tone, though).

Well, as a former co-president, I DID advocate for the spending to go in a different direction and got the "but this is how we always do it." Even as a co-president.

When I was on the Board in elementary school,our beloved principal left to work in a Title One school (by choice, he wanted a challenge) and we raised funds to help kickstart the PTA in that school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Come to think about it, Mack DID do something - she helped co-found Washington's Paramount Duty. That's pretty huge. Now what did Rankin and Hampson do? Oh, right, a resolution.

Data Decisions said...

There is a document called the Big Sheet which outlines per pupil funding. Some high poverty schools receive approximately $2000 more per student. Other schools that serve severely at-risk students receive higher percentages.

The board office can probably provide individuals with the Big Sheet.

PTA funding can not be considered without looking at The Big Sheet.

Let's not forget that there are schools that receive a lot of private funding. For example, South Shore receives $1M per year.

Data Decisions said...

Family and Education Levy dollars, and private grants need to be considered.

Anonymous said...

Oh Melissa. Don't let your petty contempt for those two women make you post such silly comments. Remind us what WPD has done, exactly? Is there an increase in state funding? A decline in PTA fundraising because of WPD? No. Mack co-founded and then left.

On the other hand, Hampson and Rankin have put equity at the forefront in this district. Seattle PTAs would be business as usual without Liza in Soup for Teachers and Chandra as SCPTSA president, guiding the conversation and pushing people to act locally and at the state. If you think a resolution is all there is to their credit, you have not been paying attention. Agree with Kudos above - voters noticed.

Fake Concern

Anonymous said...


You are right. We need much more funding per pupil IMO. Some schools are funded higher per pupil than others for equity, but all students should be funded much higher in my opinion.
A state income tax is really needed in WA state for many issues we are facing. This has been an issue for years. I don't understand why the state constitution cannot be amended, and things have not changed under a democratic governor and majority government.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Data Decisions, you can't compare Title One funding to PTA. Title One funding is very restricted as are city levy dollars.

"Seattle PTAs would be business as usual without Liza in Soup for Teachers.."

Don't even know what that means. You might want to make your case more clearly.

And you seem to be ignoring because of - "pushing people to act locally and at state" - that during their tenure SCPTSA lost hundreds of members. Not as many people to act if they don't belong.

Question said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Liza Rankin posted about PTA funding on this blog two summers ago. Melissa responded with an on-the-fence, at best, comment. Do a blog search for yourself.

Rankin has been on the cutting edge.

If privileged parents went south during their progressive tenure in SCPTA, isn't that expected?

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

They literally won.


Who Won said...

Did Rankin and Hampson engage with north end PTAs?

I'm finding it hysterical that Wayne Au endorsed Hampson; a charter school supporter!

Anonymous said...

@Who Won,
They engaged with a large number of PTAs before and after their campaign.
I don't know Eden Mack enough to say good things or bad things about her. But I do know Leslie Harris and where she says she stands on regarding PTA funding. She says one thing (pta equity, transparency, etc) but then she turns around and gladly approves requests from wealthy schools.
I have no idea what others have done but I would say Burke did nothing to fix the problem at schools in his area where suggested donation per kid is $1,000 (John Stanford and Mc Donald). Let's see what Lisa Rivera Smith has in mind.

Fed Up

Melissa Westbrook said...

Kudos, hundreds and hundreds of PTA parents? No, that's not a regular thing.

I agree, the Board has done little but talk about the issue. Just like Rankin and Hampson.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So Kudos, Rankin did not post here on what she, Hampson and a couple of other Soup for Teachers were doing - I did. And I wasn't on the fence; I didn't think what they were doing would accomplish much.

And, where is this study that "a professional researcher has initiated and is leading? And how was it that Hampson couldn't get PTAs to show their budgets, wasn't she president at the time?

I note that many readers thought this misguided as well when we were trying to focus on McCleary funding.

I recall now that I also didn't think much of this because - again - the big money is in booster clubs and school foundations.

Making PTAs the whipping boy for equity is akin to trying to make HCC the source of all equity problems in the district. Neither thing is true.

Anonymous said...

Both HC and PTA funding are very inequitable and way overdue for serious reform. "Whipping boy"? is rhetoric that attempts to victimize those who have been benefitting from business as usual. We are way past that now. Real reform is coming.


Anonymous said...

MW: "I didn't think what they were doing would accomplish much."

Looks like you were wrong to underestimate their abilities. They are now board members with a voter's mandate: the public voted for the reform candidates.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Overdue, you are conflating one thing with another. And years apart to boot. C'mon.

Anonymous said...

All the PTA requirements etc, drove Hale to drop the PTA. Wasn't worth the money or time.


Anonymous said...

I don't see how the school board can control money of non-profits like foundations, alumni associations, booster clubs, PTAs, PTOs, etc. What could Rankin & Hampson do to them?

They could forbid schools from accepting donations from them. But most of the money doesn't go directly to the school.

A lot of the money is funneled through ASB for sports & clubs, but there are RCWs that direct how that money is accounted for & controlled. I don't think the district can take control of it.

One common funding issue that donations help alleviate is that many times poor children in wealthier schools don't have access to the same supports available in high FRL schools.

Basically people will continue to spend money on their own kids. If it doesn't go to a school program for music or sports or field trips, they will just pay for those things outside of school. The advantage to doing it through schools is that it extends the experience to other students in the school who can't afford it otherwise.

There could be a city-wide fundraising organization for schools like the old AFE. I don't think PTA structure lends itself to that model. But I don't know why the PTA leaders who are worried about this don't start one. Could it be started by board members?

Schools are segregated by wealth geographically as much as by race in our city. If we wanted it to be more mixed we could have made FRL a tie-breaker for choice seats at schools. That would be another way to spread the advantages of donations & volunteering. Instead we have cemented the divisions by decreasing choice seats.

-HS Parent1

Melissa Westbrook said...

HSParent1, the Board can not tell PTAs what to do with their money. I said this in the post. BUT, they can make policy that says outside dollars cannot buy staff. They do this in Bellevue, for example. The Board and the district can make a policy on what they use outside dollars for.

Same with foundations and booster clubs. And it is much harder to see their financials so the district should be careful.

I don't think current Board members could start a non-profit org like that but anyone else could, including former Board members.

Anonymous said...

I agree The district could just have a policy not to hire staff using donations & grants. I think that is a good idea & have always had great respect for Principal Floe.

But I was questioning more broadly about the board or district staff redistributing donated funds in the district, in a way that seems more equitable to them. Especially since most of the money doesn't flow through the district at all.

-HS Parent1

Melissa Westbrook said...

Oh, I see. Could the district say, "If you don't share, then we won't accept any funding at any school." Sure but that would be dumb.

I'd have to look at the history in Portland but I suspect it was created by PTSA, not their district.

Real Dollars said...

The board holds the keys to big expenditures. They have just provided teachers with salary increases of 21%. PTA is chump change, by comparison.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Real Dollars, well, that's really apples and oranges so I'm not sure what the point is of saying it.